Advent thoughts: December 12

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive a bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14—read Isaiah 7:10-20).

King Ahaz of Judah feared the alliance the kings of Israel and Syria had made against him. Ahaz did not turn to the Lord, but the Lord sent the prophet Isaiah to speak to Ahaz. God already had a plan to rescue the people of Judah and to overthrow their enemies. Ahaz clearly did not believe the prophet’s news, so Isaiah invited the king to ask for any sign, any miracle from God to show that his promise was true. Ahaz, with false modesty and phony religion, refused the offer of a sign from the Lord. He perhaps remembered that one was not to demand a sign from God (Deuteronomy 6:16). If that is the case, he failed to see the difference between demanding a sign from God and accepting God’s offer of a sign.

When the Lord makes an offer, we should never refuse it. When he offers to forgive our sins, free of charge, we should accept. When he makes an offer to claim us as his children, we should accept. When he makes an offer to defeat our enemies, pay all our debts, and grant us eternal life, we should accept. There is no power in our acceptance of God’s offer: the power is in God’s Word, given to us. At the same time, refusal of the Lord’s offer has bad consequences that are eternal.

Because Ahaz would ask for no sign, God chose the sign. “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” The Hebrew word “alma” can be translated “young unmarried woman, “but young unmarried women who became pregnant were called other names—either victims or sinners. They were not called “alma.”

Who is this virgin who conceives? Matthew indicates that this prophecy was fulfilled when Mary conceived and bore Jesus (Matthew 1:23). That should be enough for us. But some people point out that the conception and birth of Jesus, hundreds of years in the future, could hardly be relevant to Ahaz with his problem. They wonder if some other virgin, or at least some young woman, conceived and gave birth in the months following Isaiah’s prophecy. If so, there might be two fulfillments, one immediate and a more important one later. Others say that there can be only one fulfillment to a prophecy, and that if Matthew says Mary is the virgin, then Mary is the virgin; no more can be said.

On the other hand, it might be even more complicated than that. For the book of Revelation—surely the most complicated book of the Bible—describes a woman who is clothed in heavenly glory, is about to give birth, and is threatened by a dragon. The dragon is later identified as Satan. The woman gives birth to “a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Revelation 12:5). That can only be Jesus. After he is born, the woman is hidden and protected in the wilderness, the dragon is thrown out of heaven, and he seeks to destroy the woman. Bu the woman is preserved as the earth swallows that which comes from the mouth of the dragon. This woman is later revealed to be the Queen of Heaven.

Who is this Queen of Heaven? Not Mary the mother of Jesus, but God’s people the Bride of Jesus. In the Old Testament God’s people are called Israel. In the New Testament God’s people are called the Church. They are one and the same. Israel trusted God’s promise that a Savior would come, and the Church trusts God’s promise that a Savior has come, but they have the same promise and the same Savior. Before Christ came, Israel was a virgin bride awaiting the bridegroom; the Church is still waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. Yet it was God’s people who produced the Savior, as Matthew and Luke reveal with their genealogies.

Matthew was not wrong to say that the prophecy was fulfilled in Mary. Mary was all of God’s people condensed into one historic individual. Her submission to the will of the Lord is shown in our faith. Nothing is impossible for the Lord—not the virgin birth, and not our salvation. The sign given to Ahaz is a sign for all people, past, present, and future. It is a sign of the defeat of God’s people and the victory of God’s chosen Savior.

Ahaz was worried about Israel and Syria. God answered his problem with a bigger problem: the Assyrian Empire. The Egyptian empire was like a swarm of flies, but the Assyrian empire was like a swarm of bees. They came with great power, bringing destruction in their wake. Yet they too were repulsed when they took their stand against Judah and Jerusalem, the people and the city of God. They were defeated by the Babylonians, who were defeated by the Persians, who were defeated by Alexander the Great, who died young, leaving his generals as his heirs, and the descendants of those generals were defeated by the Romans. And so it goes.

But a power stands greater than the power of Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Alexander, and Rome combined. That greater power is Immanuel. God is with us. God became one of us as Jesus Christ, and he defeated greater enemies even than the Assyrians or the Romans, those who made the power of Israel and Syria seem puny by comparison. Whenever we worry about the things that seem big and fearsome to us, God responds with promises that are far bigger and grander. He responds with redemption, the grandest promise and victory of all. Thanks be to God!

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Advent thoughts: December 11

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Psalm 45:6-7—read Psalm 45:1-17).

The Psalms contain too many pictures and descriptions of Jesus to be covered in one Advent season. Keeping with the theme of the royal Messiah, Psalm 45 portrays his rule and also the King’s wedding. We know that the Church is the Bride of the King. So the first verses of this Psalm are addressed to Jesus, and the remaining verses are addressed to us.

Jesus rules an eternal kingdom, as was promised to King David. Yet Jesus has enemies that oppose his rule, sinners that revolt against him and break his commandments. Psalm 2 threatens judgment upon sinners. Psalm 45 portrays the victory of the King over his enemies.

Yet Jesus has chosen not to treat sinners as his enemies. He treats us instead as sheep to be rescued. His true enemies are also our true enemies: the devil, the sinful world, the sin still within us, the sins we have committed, and the final enemy: death. All these enemies Jesus fought, and over each of them he won. His resurrection was the final announcement of victory, although he has delayed claiming that victory in its fullness until more sinners have heard his message, have repented, and have come to saving faith.

Jesus is the true Messiah, the true Christ, the true Anointed one. Kings and priests were anointed in Old Testament Israel. They were messiahs, but Jesus is fully the Messiah. They were christs, but Jesus is fully the Christ. He is the true King, the One of whom others are only pictures. He is also the true Priest, offering a sacrifice which his predecessors could only imitate with bulls and sheep and goats and doves.

Now our King has come to claim us as his Bride. “Forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty” (Psalm 45:10-11). We turn away from our old sinful ways, turning instead to the Redeemer who has ransomed his life to rescue us forever. No longer do we wear the old sinful rags of our tarnished righteousness. No longer do we seek to hide our shame with fig leaves that wither and dry and fall to pieces. Now our King dresses in the royal gown of his righteousness. Now we enter his presence with no shame, but adorned with the glory he has given us.

As yet we are still engaged to Christ. He has not yet come to claim his Bride. But in the darkest night we will hear the shout: “The Bridegroom comes!” We will rise to approach him and we will enter his Kingdom to live with him forever. Thanks be to God!

Advent thoughts: December 10

“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you’” (Psalm 2:7—read Psalm 2:1-12).

The doctrine of the Trinity was not invented in fourth-century church conferences, as some conspiracy-minded historians claim. Nor was the doctrine of the Trinity first revealed in the New Testament. The Old Testament is filled with Trinitarian language. Moses writes of the Lord, the Angel of the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord in a way that shows that they are one God but three Persons. Psalm 2 also speaks of the Father-Son relationship in the Holy Trinity. As John describes Jesus as the only-begotten Son of the Father, so this Psalm also pictures the Messiah ruling on his throne while also being eternally begotten of the Father.

Among humans and in the animal kingdom, sons are born as babies and must grow up into adults to become the equals of their fathers. God is eternal and timeless. Jesus is always being begotten of his Father; but, as the Son of God, he is always fully mature, always equal to his Father. As a man he experienced moving through time, growing from a helpless baby into a boy, a teen-ager, and then a man. As the Son of God had had authority over the universe, yes, even as he lay swaddled in a manger in Bethlehem.

When it comes to Jesus, all people must take a side. You are for him or you are against him; there is no neutrality. You cannot say, “He is the Jewish Messiah, but I have my own religion.” Jesus rules over all the nations; the entire earth is his possession. Those who oppose him are rebels who will be crushed. Those who serve the Lord and kiss the Son are safe and secure; he is their refuge forever.

Yet all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. Christ alone is righteous; the rest of us are polluted by sin. We are rebels against the King, for we have not done all the things he commanded, and we have done many of the things he prohibited. His Law judges us and condemns us as sinners. We deserve to be told to depart from him and to spend eternity in the outer darkness, in Satan’s prison, in the place where rebels belong.

Jesus has the right to break us with a rod of iron and dash us in pieces like pottery. He would rather be our refuge. Because we could not come to him, he came to us. The Shepherd went into the wilderness, seeking his lost sheep. More than that, he became the Lamb of God to redeem his lost sheep. He offered his life as a sacrifice to take away our sins and to cleanse us from the pollution of sin. He defeated all our enemies. Now that he has found us, he carries us home with great joy, where our Father will welcome us with equal joy. A celebration of victory and reunion is planned, a celebration that will last forever in the new creation, the kingdom of God.

Even kings are warned to be wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. When Jesus makes himself our refuge, we take our shelter in him. Then we need to fear nothing. We are always safe in his loving care. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 9

“Jesus [said], “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’… But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:19, 21—skim II Chronicles 6:12-40).

King Solomon knew that God cannot be contained in a building. Other religions of the ancient world built temples for their gods, seeking to give their gods a dwelling place so the gods would be accessible to mortals. The true God fills the universe with his presence. No one can hide from God. No tree falls in the forest without God being there to hear it. Wherever we go, God is already there.

God directed Moses to have a tent built so God would have a visible presence among his people. God accepted the temple that Solomon dedicated to him. When the exiles returned from Babylon, God demanded that the temple be rebuilt. God cannot be contained, but he does want to be accessible. He wants his people to know where he can be found.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Jesus Christ is truly God, yet he allowed his Being to be contained within a human body. Like God’s tent in the wilderness, Jesus was God’s presence in the midst of his people. And as first the Babylonians and later the Romans demolished God’s temple in Jerusalem, so Jesus gave up his body on the cross to rescue and redeem his people.

When Jesus ascended after his resurrection, he filled the universe with his presence. His body is not in storage somewhere waiting for the Day of the Lord. The human Jesus and the divine Jesus cannot be separated. Jesus, who is everywhere, is as human as we are. He understands our thoughts. He comprehends our needs. He knows what we experience when we face temptation, when we face danger, and when we face death. Jesus has already done all that.

Although we cannot see Jesus, we know where he promised to be found. “Where two or three gather in my name, there I am among them” (Matthew 18:20). The Christian Church is now the temple where Jesus can be found. Wherever Christians gather to hear the Word of the Lord, to baptize according to his command, and to eat and drink the special meal which Jesus gave to his disciples, Jesus is present. He is present to forgive sins. He is present to share his victory over sin and all evil. He is present to guarantee eternal life to all who trust his promises.

Jesus is the only temple we need. No one can come to God the Father except through Jesus. But wherever Jesus is found, the Father and the Holy Spirit are also present. And Jesus has promised to be found when believers gather in his name. He has established his Church, and no evil power can overcome the Church. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 8

“Moreover, the Lord declares to you [David] that the Lord will make you a house…. I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (II Samuel 7:11-13—read II Samuel 7:1-17).

David wanted to build a Temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to provide a house for the Lord. Since the days of Moses, the house of the Lord had been a tent, a temporary structure that could be dismantled and moved from one place to another. While the Israelites were in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land, the dwelling of God had been in their midst, one special tent among many other tents. After they crossed the Jordan River and began to displace the Canaanites, the Israelites continued to gather at the Lord’s tent for sacrifices and religious festivals. Now that David had made Jerusalem the capital city of the tribes of Israel and had built himself a palace, he wanted to provide a fitting structure for the worship of the Lord.

God declined this gift. He did not want King David to build him a house. Instead, God said that he would build David a house. One of his descendants would rule an eternal kingdom. The name of David would be remembered forever because of his greater descendant.

David appears to have assumed that his son Solomon was the promised offspring. But God said that the Son of David would receive his kingdom after David died; when Solomon began to rule as king, David was still alive. God said that he would discipline the Son of David when he was found to be guilty of sin; but when Solomon sinned God did not discipline him as he deserved—he tore away the kingdom from Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. God said that the Son of David would rule an eternal kingdom; Solomon ruled for forty years and then died, and the kingdom he once ruled was eventually overthrown by the Babylonians.

“I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son,” God said of the Son of David. Therefore, the Son of God took on human flesh and was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, so he could inherit the throne of David. David had long since been dead and buried when Jesus claimed his kingdom. Although Jesus never sinned, he took on the guilt of the entire world and, bearing that sin, he was disciplined with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men. Solomon built a Temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus built a house out of living stones—the Holy Christian Church, which is his body and, therefore, is his Temple.

The Son of God is David’s son and also David’s Lord. He has received all authority in heaven and on earth. He rules an eternal kingdom, and he grants royal citizenship in that kingdom to all who trust in him. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 7

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 18:15—read Deuteronomy 18:15-22).

The roles or tasks of the Messiah, as described in the Old Testament, are generally listed as prophet, priest, and king. A priest offers sacrifices; a king rules. The job of a prophet is to deliver messages from God. One might consider a prophet to be a press agent for God. The prophet is authorized to speak for God; whatever a prophet says in the name of the Lord is the word of God.

Jesus is the perfect priest, offering himself as the final sacrifice for all sins. Jesus is the perfect king, ruling the entire universe with authority given to him from his Father. Jesus is also the perfect prophet. Jesus is God, so anything he says is automatically a message from God.

As all the priests are pictures of Jesus and all the kings are pictures of Jesus, so likewise all the prophets are pictures of Jesus. When Moses speaks of one prophet who will rise in Israel, clearly Moses is thinking of Jesus. But before Jesus was born, other prophets also preached God’s Word. Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many more were inspired by the Holy Spirit. He guided them as they spoke and as they wrote, so we may consider all their messages to be trustworthy and true.

Jesus is the ultimate prophet. The last prophet to precede him, John the Baptist, emphasized the difference between Jesus and all other prophets. John said that he was not worthy to deal with the sandals of Jesus. “He must increase,” John declared, “and I must decrease.”

When Muslims say that Jesus is one of the prophets, they severely demote him from his true position. Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him, and they answered, “Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and some say one of the prophets.” Jesus then asked the key question: “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered correctly: “You are the Christ, the Son of God.”

When God spoke the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai, the Israelites were so terrified that they asked for a mediator so they would not have to hear the voice of God. God agreed to their request and named Moses as the mediator between God and Israel. The other prophets, speaking for God, also served as mediators. But in the Christian Church we have one Mediator between God and his people: Jesus Christ, who is the perfect Mediator, because he is fully human and fully divine. As our great High Priest, he pleads to the Father for us, reminding his Father that the price has been paid for all our sins. As our great Prophet, he reminds us why we were created by speaking the Law of God, but he also promises us forgiveness by speaking the promises of God. Being human, he fully understands our needs and our requests. Being divine, he is able to do anything, and he does what is best for us.

Jesus is our Prophet, our Priest, and our King. Through him we have forgiveness of sins, fellowship with God, victory over every kind of evil, and the guarantee of eternal life in a perfect new creation. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 6

“And when he [the king of Israel] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statues, and doing them” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19—read Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

When the people of Israel wanted a king, Samuel told them that having a king was a bad idea. He told them that God was supposed to be their only king, and he threatened them with the cost of a king—both in terms of money and in terms of freedom. God told Samuel to listen to the people, and God guided Samuel in choosing and anointing Saul as the first king of Israel. God had already anticipated that his people would one day have a king. In Deuteronomy 17 God gave directions for the king of Israel, requiring him to be an Israelite rather than a foreigner, telling him not to acquire many horses or many wives, and instructing him to keep a copy of God’s Law with him at all times, keeping the Lord’s Word and doing what the Lord commanded.

The name “Deuteronomy” means “second law.” It contains, not a new set of laws from God, but a restatement of God’s laws and promises. Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell message to Israel. He spoke the words of Deuteronomy shortly before he died and was succeeded by Joshua. The book of Deuteronomy includes a succinct history of Israel leaving Egypt and traveling through the wilderness. It also provides instructions for their life in the Promised Land. Deuteronomy is famous for its covenant language, promising blessings to the nation when they obeyed God’s Word and threatening curses when they disobeyed. Yet, like every book of the Bible, Deuteronomy is also about Jesus. The commandments in Deuteronomy are commandments he obeyed in the place of sinners. Because Jesus obeyed these commands, he can bestow the blessings he earned on his people while he takes away the curses they earned and endures them himself upon the cross.

Every priest is a picture of Jesus. Every king is also a picture of Jesus, for he is King of kings and Lord of lords. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. He rules the universe, and with his royal authority he takes care of his people, those who trust his promises, the members of the Holy Christian Church.

Therefore, as King of God’s people, Jesus was required to know what is written in Deuteronomy and to be guided by its teachings. We see this clearly in Matthew 4:1-11, when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Three times Satan tried to steer Jesus into sin, and three times Jesus resisted by quoting from Deuteronomy. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3); “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16); “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Deuteronomy 6:13).

When Jesus defeated Satan, he won a victory which he shares with all the members of his kingdom. Ruling faithfully as God’s anointed King, Jesus provides peace and comfort to his people. He has forgiven us all our sins, washing us and making us pure and acceptable for eternal life in his kingdom. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 5

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Hebrews 4:14—skim Leviticus 16).

A priest is a mediator between God and his people. A priest speaks to God on behalf of the people and offers sacrifices for them. A priest also teaches the people God’s Word. In the Christian Church, every believer is a priest. We pray for one another, and we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord. We also share with one another God’s warnings and God’s promises.

Aaron, Moses’ older brother, was chosen by God as the first high priest of Israel. When Aaron died, his oldest living son replaced him as high priest, and the Law of Moses required the same thing to happen whenever a high priest died. During the lifetime of Jesus, the Roman government interfered with that process, and the Sadducees—including the priests in the Temple—permitted that interference. Therefore, Caiaphas acted as high priest while the rightful high priest—Annas, his father-in-law—was still alive. Whenever the Gospels mention “the high priests,” that plural is a reminder that things were not happening in the Temple according to God’s commands.

One of the special jobs of the high priest was to offer the annual sacrifice for the nation Israel on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Leviticus 16 describes the high priest’s tasks for that day. He was to enter the Holy of Holies, the most holy place in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) unaccompanied to present that sacrifice to God. No one else was allowed in that space. No one but a priest—from the tribe of Levi—was ever to offer an animal sacrifice to the Lord. Both King Saul and King Uzziah were disciplined by the Lord for daring to do what the Law said only a priest could do.

Other cultures and other religions combined the offices of king and high priest. Melchizedek was both king and priest in Jerusalem at the time of Abraham. In Israel, only one person was ever allowed to hold both offices. That one person was Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus, as our great High Priest, offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice, paying for our sins to make us acceptable in the sight of God. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we are welcome in the kingdom of God and are even called children of God.

There is no need for animal sacrifices because Jesus has accomplished the work of which they were only a picture. There is no need for a Temple, because the body of Jesus Christ is his Temple. We need no new high priest, because Jesus the great High Priest is risen and will never die again. We no longer need to send a goat into the wilderness bearing our sins, because through his sacrifice Jesus has removed our sins from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

In the Law of Moses, if one person killed another person by accident, the killer could flee to a city of refuge and be safe from punishment. So long as the killer was not guilty of premeditated murder, he (or she) was safe in that city. But the killer could not leave the city, not until the high priest died (Joshua 20:6). After the death of the high priest, the killer could return home. So also, because of the death of Jesus our High Priest, we are able to return home to our Father in heaven, because our sins have been removed and we are counted as guilty no more. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 4

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17—read Numbers 24:15-19).

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men came from the east, following a star. From the appearance of that star, they knew that a king had been born in Israel. The wise men came to worship him and to offer him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Why would wise men associate the appearance of a star with the birth of a king in Israel? And why would they wish to worship such a king? The answer appears to lie in the prophecy of Balaam as recorded in Numbers 24. Balaam was a prophet of the true God, even though he was not an Israelite. He was not descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even though God had chosen that family to be a holy nation, God’s grace was not exclusively for that one family or that one nation. There were always believers among the other nations of the world, even kings and prophets who honored the true God. Balaam was one of those prophets.

The Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land. God directed them around the countries of Edom, Moab, and Ammon, because those nations were kindred to the Israelites. However, Balak king of Moab feared the Israelites and their might. Therefore, he tried to hire Balaam, prophet of the true God, to curse the Israelites.

Balaam did not curse them; instead, he blessed the Israelites. Three times he blessed them. The third time the blessing turned to prophecy, and Balaam spoke of the blessing for the entire world that would come from Abraham’s family while they lived in the Promised Land. Balaam spoke of the coming King as a star and as a scepter. These words were preserved by Moses in the book of Numbers. They quite likely were written and remembered in other places as well.

Therefore, when Jesus was born, wise men were led by a star to come and honor him. These wise men, or Magi, were scholars, advisors to a government. They could be compared to Cabinet officers in the American government. The first group called Magi arose in the Persian Empire, but Egyptian kings and Babylonian kings had also had advisors. Their job was to know as much as could be known about everything: history, languages, literature, religions, science, and any other subject that might influence or affect the government they served. If anyone outside of Israel would have known Balaam’s prophecy, it would be a group of Magi.

From where did they come? Some say Babylon, and some say Persia. There is a significant clue, though, in the gifts they brought. Since ancient times, when representatives of different governments have met, they have exchanged products of their homeland with one another. Presidents still do this today. Only one place in the world produces gold and frankincense and myrrh in any abundance. That place is Arabia.

This would not be the last time that a group of Arabs caused consternation to the government in Jerusalem. That was not their intention, though. They came to honor a King. And the gifts they brought, products of Arabia, were also highly symbolic of the nature of that King. Gold recognized his kingship. Frankincense recognized that he is also a Priest, for incense is used in the worship of God. Myrrh recognized that he would be not only Priest but also Sacrifice. In fact, when Jesus was buried after offering the sacrifice that defeated his enemies, his burial was accomplished with strips of linen, with aloes, and with myrrh.

Balaam is remembered largely for the fact that his donkey once spoke to him (Numbers 22:28-30). Far more important is that he foretold the star that would signal the birth of a King. That King would be honored by foreigners even though he was rejected by his own people. From this we see the growth of the Church which contains people from every nation, language, tribe, and culture, all honoring the same Savior and citizens of the same Kingdom. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 3

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes” (Genesis 49:10—read Genesis 49:8-12).

The book of Genesis is filled with pictures and promises about the Messiah. God’s Old Testament people knew they were waiting for a deliverer, one who would defeat their enemies and set them free from their sins. The enemies to be faced are sin and evil and death. Jesus won against these enemies by his sinless life, his sacrificial death, and his triumphant resurrection. These themes are illustrated by the obedience of Noah in building an ark, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Joseph’s rescue from death from the hand of his brothers, only to later forgive and rescue them, as well as many other depictions of the work of Jesus.

One repeated theme in Abraham’s family is that of the younger son receiving what belongs to his older brother. Isaac receives the inheritance and blessing that, by law, should have been given to Ishmael. Jacob robs his brother Esau of his birthright and his blessing. Reuben was the first-born son of Jacob, but Joseph receives the double-portion belonging to the eldest son—he has two tribes in Israel, Ephraim and Mannaseh. Judah, not Reuben, carries on the family blessing that will produce the Messiah. Even Ephraim is placed by Jacob ahead of Joseph’s older son, Manasseh. Each time the oldest son is cheated, we see a picture of God’s only-begotten Son being cheated of justice and of life itself so sinners like us can receive the rewards Jesus earned by his obedience.

Therefore, Jacob prophecies the royal family that will come from the tribe of Judah. This family began to rule in the person of David, but David was only a forerunner of the coming Messiah. Matthew opens his Gospel by tracing the family tree of Jesus from Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, and Judah, and on to David and his royal descendants. Thus, Jesus is both the son of Abraham and the son of David, with all the promise and all the authority those titles suggest.

“Until Shiloh comes” is a phrase that has puzzled translators and interpreters for centuries. “Until tribute comes to him” is found in one translation; “until it comes to whom it belongs” is another. Within the Hebrew word Shiloh is a suggestion not only of tribute, but also of rest and peace. This prophecy anticipates the coming of Jesus, the One to whom all tribute should be given, but also the Prince of Peace. Inheriting the throne of David, Jesus also says that “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to” him (Matthew 28:18). He rules, not just the nation Israel, but also the entire universe. God the Father “put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23. Thanks be to God! J.