Mary’s Song

As we approach the last Sunday of Advent, I’d like to draw our attention to the words of a young teenage girl who just received news that she would become pregnant. 

46 And Mary said: 
“My soul glorifies the Lord 
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
48 for he has been mindful 
of the humble state of his servant. 
From now on all generations will call me blessed, 
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— 
holy is his name. 
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, 
from generation to generation. 
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; 
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
but has lifted up the humble. 
53 He has filled the hungry with good things 
but has sent the rich away empty. 
54 He has helped his servant Israel, 
remembering to be merciful 
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, 
just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1:46–55 NIV

Rather than dread, and fear, Mary sees her life mission as a blessing. But look specifically at how she saw this as a blessing. First, she acknowledges that God has chosen to use someone of a “humble state.’ (v. 48) We know from Luke that Joseph and Mary lived in poverty (Lk. 2:24, Lev. 12:8). Second, she realizes this is a reversal of the power structure. Thrones will be toppled and humble (poor) will be elevated, the starving are filled and the rich are not. (vv. 52-53) The last statement I want us to consider is vv. 54-55. Within her womb resides the help of Israel, the mercy of God, and the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, and subsequent promises to his “descendants.” (Gen. 12:3)

This is the moment the prophets foretold, and would confirm again at the temple (Lk. 2:25-38). This is the promise of a Savior, of a King, of a Messiah. It is something brand new, and yet very old. It is the end of centuries of waiting, and the beginning of more. It is a moment on which everything that was, everything that is, and everything that will be hinges. 

Praise our faithful God! He has come, and He is coming again!

Sermon Text for 12/22/19 – Psalm 113; Psalm 146; Luke 1:67-80; Luke 1:46-56; Luke 2:1-14

Why You Really Need Joy and Sorrow

Our thoughts for the past couple of weeks have centered around a Season of Hope, and our theme at East Side this year has been “Hope.” Advent is a season of hopeful waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises.

The last several weeks have been looks at the prophecies leading up to the destruction and exile of Jerusalem & Judah. Last week we looked at Isaiah 40 and the hopeful promise that God’s people would return home, and he would come to them! This week we see the fulfillment of God’s promise that the people will return home, but not all is joyful.

Ezra begins in the same way 2 Chronicles ends with a proclamation from Cyrus king of Persia. Ezra also wants us to remember that this fulfills the Jeremiah 25 & 29 prophecy that the people would return home from exile. God is keeping his promise to the people!

Ezra 3 tells the story of the reestablishment of worship in Jerusalem. The altar was rebuilt and the people celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-43). I find this a fitting first celebration for the newly resettled exiles. Tabernacles was to remind the Israelites of the time they lived in temporary huts during the journey out of Egypt. The entire festival recalls the journey out of Egyptian slavery/exile to the promised land; a fitting reminder to those having just journeyed back to the promised land from Babylonian exile. In both generations, God was faithful in keeping his promises.

Our text in Ezra this week ends with the end of chapter 3 and the laying of the foundation of the temple of Yahweh. I find this text both beautiful and haunting.

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Ezra 3:11-13 NIV

Notice that everyone praised God in this moment, but the emotions were very mixed. Some were joyful to see this day come. Some were lamenting the loss of the original temple. What brought joy to some brought mourning to others. Excitement and weeping. Yet a great shout of praise came from all.

Our church family is much like this group in Jerusalem, a place of rejoicing and mourning. Sometimes those two feelings are so intertwined that we feel them all at once, especially this time of year. A friend recently reminded me Advent is a time for the church to come together as one, despite our emotions, in hopeful expectation of the second Advent of Christ.

For some the waiting brings joy, for others sorrow. We need both. We are called to rejoice together and mourn together because we are called to be together! The church becomes more like Christ when we rejoice and mourn together.

Wherever you find yourself in the emotional spectrum, you are welcome here. Join the body of Christ as we worship our God in hopeful expectation of his Advent! Come Lord Jesus!

Sermon text for 12/15/19 – Ezra 1:1-4; Ezra 3:1-4, 10-13; Luke 2:25-32

Waiting Beyond Death

During this Season of Hope, we are studying texts related to the Advent, or coming of the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Messiah. Just like ancient Israel had to wait for his coming, we too wait for his second coming.

Isaiah 40 makes reference to this time of waiting.

6 A voice says, “Cry out.” 
And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
“All people are like grass, 
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
because the breath of the Lord blows on them. 
Surely the people are grass. 
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40:6–8 NIV

In these verses we have a heavenly voice (the speaker is unclear, perhaps Yahweh, an angel, or some other heavenly being) telling Isaiah that humans are like grass and their works like flowers. What the voice is reminding us is that grass and flowers are only around for a season before they wither and fade away. They do not last forever. But the word of God does indeed last forever.

Let’s put this in the context of Israel coming out of exile. They have been away from their homes for a generation, and there is this promise of return. God will make the path easy, he will restore Jerusalem, he will keep his promises. His word will not fail! But humans don’t live forever. We all die. God’s promises, however, do not die.

Isaiah is trying to remind us that we may wait for God to fulfill his promises, and they may not be fully fulfilled in our lifetime before we “wither.” Isaiah wants us to remember that our waiting does not negate God’s promises. Even if we never see them fulfilled, we can rest assured that they will be fulfilled because God’s word endures forever.

Centuries after this text was written, one would come as “a voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD.” (Isa. 40:3, Mark 1:3). Mark, as well as the other Gospel writers, want us to realize that God kept this promise fully in the ministry of John the Baptist, “and the glory of the LORD” was revealed in the Advent of Jesus (Isa. 40:5).

Though Isaiah’s words to exiled Israel were not fully realized in their lifetime, God fulfilled his promise through the Advent of Jesus. And though God’s kingdom has not fully come, we can rest assured that God will fulfill his promises through the Advent of Jesus.

Sermon text for 12/8/19: Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-4 

Awaiting The Promised Messiah

Our faith heritage in the churches of Christ has often shied away from the season of Advent as being “unauthorized in Scripture.” However, the word “advent” simply means “coming.” The OT is full of hope in expectant waiting for the coming Messiah, the only one who could set the world aright.The NT is also full of the same hope as the church expectantly awaits Christ’s return. Advent is a season of expectant waiting for the return of Jesus at the Second Coming. We look forward to Christ’s return through the lens of those who waited for his first coming. 

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.”

Jeremiah 33:14 NIV

This week we turn our attention to Jeremiah 33 and Mark 8, and the promise of the Messiah. God had promised in the Garden that a descendant of Eve would eventually crush the head of the serpent, and in doing so the human would be struck (Gen. 3:15). God promised to Abraham “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). God promised through Moses that he would “raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” (Deut. 18:15). 

This promise from God had been a long time in coming. Centuries of waiting for the one who would defeat evil, bless all nations, be the voice of God that we listen to, and many other prophecies, came at the perfect time, but for humans, the wait seemed endless.

And when the Messiah came, the majority of the people were not prepared.

As Israel and Judah awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise, we also wait for the fulfillment of the second coming of the Messiah Jesus. Many of us have forgotten that we are called to watch, to listen, and to open our hearts in expectant preparation for his coming (Matt. 25:1-13). 

We are called to listen to his Word. We look for signs of his presence in this world…a light in the darkness, a voice in the silence, and a stirring deep within us. We’re good at singing worship songs that reiterate these things, but do we truly expectantly wait and prepare for his return?

All of the Gospel writers want us to realize that the life of Jesus was the fulfillment of promises of old (Mt. 1:22-23; Mk. 1:1-4; Lk. 4:17-21; Jn. 1:45; etc.) and the renewal of promises yet to come (Isa. 65:17; Mt. 14:37; Lk. 12:40; Mk. 13:35; Jn. 14:2-3; Rev. 21:5). In Christ, God has and will continue to fulfill all promises.

And so we wait.

And the question that we all must answer is, “Am I ready for the coming of Christ?”

What Jesus Knew and When

The Gospel reading for this week is John chapters 18 & 19. We have one more week to go before we have completed 50 weeks of study on the life and ministry of Jesus. Today we focus on his crucifixion.

John reminds us of several key points as we read his account. Jesus is in complete control the entire time he goes through being arrested, his trials, and his death. Even his surrender to the authorities shows his power (18:6). He is fully aware that all this was happening to fulfill prophecy (18:9). Jesus also knew what he was facing. He predicted the betrayal of Judas (13:21), the denial by Peter (13:38), the manner of his death (12:32-33), and his resurrection (2:21-22).

John also includes a detailed listing of everything that Jesus suffered during this time. He was bound (18:12), he was put on trial in the middle of the night (18:13), he was interrogated (18:19), he was struck in the face (18:22), they kept him awake all night (18:28), they called him a criminal (18:30), they detained him and released Barabbas as well (18:40). They flogged him (19:1), the crowned him with thorns and put a purple robe on his shredded back (19:2), they mocked him and struck him again in the face (19:3), they forced him to carry his cross (19:17), they crucified him (19:18), they killed him (19:30), and they pierced his side with a spear (19:34).

Now, put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. If you knew what was coming, would you have gone through this? Knowing everything that was about to unfold, would you have allowed yourself to be treated this way by the very creation that you yourself created? (John 1:1-3) Would you have deemed the human race worthy of saving? Would you willingly humble yourself so much and allow your creation to pummel the life out of your earthly body all the while you have the power to wipe out all creation and start over with just a word?

Jesus did.

Jesus felt you and I were worth the unbearable pain and agony of the cross. If that doesn’t move you to follow him, I don’t know what will. The Creator of all things gave up everything for you. How will you live in light of that? How will you serve him knowing his servant heart through this process? That is the Christian life in a nutshell. We live each day seeking to serve him because of what he did for us on that cross.

As we enter the Christmas celebrations, keep in mind that he willingly came into this world. But that’s not the end of the story. The story of the cross is key to understanding why we follow him. But we must also remember that the story didn’t end at the cross. It continues each day in the lives of his followers until the day he returns. How will you live in light of that?