December 11: Jesus the Shepherd, Advent Day 16

Read John 10:1-21

“I am the good shepherd” (v. 11a).

Just hours after His birth, Jesus, Joseph and Mary received visitors in their humble, barnyard accommodations. Shepherds stood there asking if they dare enter. Although they may have seemed out of place as commoners visiting the Creator, they were likely not strangers to mangers. They fit into the barnyard motif.

Jesus used the shepherd imagery in describing Himself about thirty years later.

Few of us in the Wayne County, Ohio area have an experiential hook onto which we can hang this statement of Jesus. Although we live in an agricultural community with crops and livestock, the livestock consist of  mainly cows, pigs, and chickens. Sure, sheep are shown at the fair, but we typically don’t see large flocks of them along countryside. And, at least in our area, the first-century shepherd has been replaced by some kind of fence.

Christ’s description of His own role as the Good Shepherd allows us to appreciate nuances of the shepherd’s care. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus said these things about Himself.

  • He knows His sheep. (See vv. 3, 14, 15.) He has an intimate relationship with His followers. He knows them personally, calling them by name. And they know Him and recognize His voice.
  • He leads His sheep. (See vv. 3, 4.) He goes out ahead of them. His leading sometimes takes the sheep past a quiet stream. At other times, it may lead into the valley of the shadow of death. No worries, though. He is with them.
  • He lays down His life for the sheep. (See vv. 11-13.) Because He cares so deeply for the sheep, Jesus is willing to give His all for their eternal welfare. He did not flee when the risk was greatest, but surrendered His life so that the sheep might live.

Jesus is a good shepherd. David was right when he said in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want” (Ps. 23:1). With His intimate concern about, careful leading of, and sacrificial love for sheep like you and me, we can be completely content, full of true joy. He provides all that we need so you and I can know the real joy of Christmas.

sbk

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December 10: The Shepherds’ Joy, Advent Day 15

Read Luke 2:8-19

They were the first ones on the scene. At least the first ones we know about. The stinky, dirty, third-shift shepherds couldn’t wait to check out what the angel told them.

“(G)reat joy . . . 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” (Lk 2:10-12).

I have to wonder what they were most excited about. Was it the fact that they’d just witnessed an angels’ hymn-sing or that a Savior, a King, was just born in their teeny little town? Or maybe it was the sign that had them most curious. A baby King who sleeps in a food trough.

Whatever it was that had them most excited, the shepherds responded post haste to the message that God had sent a Savior. A Messiah King for even them.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2:14).

Then Jesus stepped in to the shepherds’ lives even as they stepped in to that smelly stable on Bethlehem Road. They found the Savior of the world, red-faced newborn, Almighty King who offers peace and delights even in shepherds who work all night.

And when Jesus stepped in, they couldn’t not share the news. Because that’s how it works. When people hear the truth that Almighty God cares for even them, He changes things. When people like those shepherds experience the living God, they have to make Him known.

“And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” (Lk 2:17-18).

I wonder if you’ve experienced Jesus like that. Have you let His presence step in to your life? Have you let Him change you in such a way that you can’t keep it in — this amazing Savior’s peace, His pleasure with even you?

That is why He came, you know. Joy to the world is more than just a title for a song. It’s the message of God for all people. Shepherds. Kings. Teenage girls. Engaged men. You. And me.

And third week of Advent, we celebrate the true joy of Jesus Christ.

brw

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December 9: Advent Peace Day 14

Read John 1:19-51

“Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Jn. 1:36).

For most Americans, I suppose the term “lamb” conjures up images of a somewhat frail and perhaps playful barnyard animal — the kind of animal a pre-teen girl might look at and say, “Awe! How cuuuuuute!” It is the kind of animal that is still weak, maybe naive, and certainly in need of protection.

But that is not the image John the Baptist was trying to convey when he called Jesus the “Lamb of God!” In fact, John referred to the very One whose coming he was born to announce (v.23). This Lamb would do what John could not — baptize with the Holy Spirit (v.33). This Lamb came after John in birth, predated him in existence, and exceeded him in priority (v.30). This Lamb was no frail human to be protected from the evils of the world. He is the very One who had come to deal powerfully with those evils. He is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (v.29).

You see, for those with an Old Testament background, lambs brought thoughts other than frailty and protection to mind. The blood of a spotless lamb was the very thing God required to be painted on the doorposts of homes at the time of the first Passover in Egypt. (See Ex. 12.) Such lambs were part of the daily sacrifices made by God’s people. (See Lev. 14.) And here, with the title “Lamb of God,” we are given a glimpse of Christ’s future sacrificial death and its end result — peace with God for all who would believe. Through His death, Jesus dealt with the sin of the world. This Lamb represented sacrifice and forgiveness. This Lamb would offer Himself so mankind might know true peace.

So on that first Christmas, there were not only lambs being tended by shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem. There was also a Lamb placed in a manger. It is more than a term of endearment for a cute little baby in need of the protection of his parents. That manger was already in the shadow of a cross to which the Lamb of God, the Christ of Christmas, would willingly go. So you and I might know peace and live.

sbk

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December 8: Advent Peace Day 13

Read Matthew 1:18-25

“…they will call Him ‘Immanuel’—which means ‘God with us’” (Matt. 1:23).

With whom are you planning to spend Christmas this year? Chances are, they are some of the people you would consider closest to you. Their presence is the source of much joy. Maximize it! Smile broader! Laugh louder! Hug tighter!

But perhaps, there is a chair this Christmas that will remain empty. Maybe someone had other commitments that prevented them from sharing time with you. Perhaps a relationship has been severed through disagreement, divorce, or even death. I am sorry if you will feel the pain of someone’s absence.

Meanwhile, God can’t bear the thought of absence from you. Jesus, is named “Immanuel.” It mean ”God with us.” That is what Christmas is all about. Through His birth, Jesus entered into our world. He is not a distant possibility or a sometimes feeling. He is a present reality, who has come to chase away your pain and to be the source of your greatest joy.

“God with us.” It’s not just the experience of those with whom He rubbed shoulders during His earthly ministry. Even now that He has ascended into Heaven, He assures us of the reality of His presence.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”(Is. 41:10).

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20).

“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).

You can choose to acknowledge His presence and know His peace in one of two ways this Christmas. You can celebrate it on the fringes, allowing Him to be One who is close but not right there. Or you can experience the deepest dimensions of His presence by inviting Him into your life in an intimate way. Here is how Jesus described it to a first-century church: “Here I am!I stand at the door and knock.If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).

Celebrate His presence in your Christmas even now! He came to bring you peace. Now let Him.

sbk

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December 7: Advent Peace, Day 12

Read Isaiah 6:1-13

“’Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’” (Isaiah 1:18).

Have you ever seen a drop of blood on fresh white snow? It stands out. How about a nice, clean white tablecloth with a grape juice stain on it? You notice the stain.

Now, imagine what Isaiah experienced in Isaiah 6. He saw God in the temple building in Jerusalem. God was seated on a throne like a king while Isaiah just stood or sat in a normal seat. The Lord’s throne was lifted up high while Isaiah was at floor level. God was wearing an impressive royal robe of honor while Isaiah wore plain clothes. Angels hovered around the Lord while . . . who knows . . . maybe insects buzzed around Isaiah. As the angels spoke, they drew attention to the Lord’s purity and glory by saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (v. 3)!

Isaiah stood out. He was much different from God. More than ever, he was suddenly aware of something that is true of all of us. He understood how imperfect he was and how unworthy he was to be in the presence of God who is holy. But God did something to change that. An angel touched Isaiah’s mouth with tongs holding wood from a fire and his sin and guilt were gone.

The tongs and fire did for Isaiah what only Jesus can do for you. They removed sin. When you believe in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection for your sin, you are changed from imperfect and unworthy to forgiven and part of God’s family! He makes you whole, acceptable to God and and at peace with Him. That’s why we celebrate Christmas!

sbk

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December 6: Advent Peace, Day 11

Read Isaiah 53

It was another one of those Christmas letters–you know the type–a picture of a perfect family along with a letter detailing every success of every member of the family throughout the year. This one was from an old friend, who truly was successful by most standards. Out of humble beginnings and personal tragedy, he had built up his own business, had a beautiful home and a wonderful family. There was a long list of amazing accomplishments throughout the year. But then this: “Now, to show that we are human/definitely not perfect…” He went on to detail their struggles with faith, finances, depression, lawsuits, betrayals–a long list–followed by an affirmation of God’s grace and their desire to serve Him.

No matter how hard we try to avoid them, none of us are immune from the things that would rob us of our peace. I remember reading the words of Isaiah 53 after experiencing what I perceived to be a betrayal:

“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
   a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (NIV, Isaiah 53:3).

In my moment of despair, I realized that Jesus knew exactly how I felt because he had experienced the same thing. He not only knows me, he knows what I’m going through. When it feels like no one understands, Jesus does.

The difference, though, is that while we try to avoid such things, Jesus took them on himself by choice.

“Surely he took up our pain
   and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
   stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
   and by his wounds we are healed” (NIV, Isaiah 53:4-5).

Jesus would have never known our pain unless he chose to take it on himself. He took on our pain, our suffering, our transgressions, our iniquities, in order for us to have his peace.

Take a moment and reflect on what is robbing you of peace today. Whether it is coming from other people or from our own actions, Jesus is offering you his peace. He knows you and understands how you feel. Thank him today for willingly taking on our pain and suffering so that we might know him and his peace.

prv

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December 5: Advent Peace, Day 10

Read Matthew 2:1-18

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).

I want to believe that when Jesus came, things got better everywhere He went. But for Bethelehem, at least at first, things only got worse. Way worse.

“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Jer. 31:15).

From the time David, the youngest and least likely of Jesse’s sons, was anointed Israel’s king, God had used this tiny town to display His upside-down-to-us ways and reveal His hand unexpectedly.

“Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

Still, I will never understand (at least not this side of eternity) why God saw fit to allow such horror in that place after Jesus stepped in. When Herod issued the orders for every baby boy in the region of Jesus’ birthplace to be murdered and all those mothers mourned and weeped and the reality of death and the need for a Savior became clearer than ever, I can’t help but question why that teeny tiny town in Judah didn’t find immediate reprieve from utter despair.

It’s a question for the ages, really. Why God lets bad things happen. A question we could probably argue for the rest of the ages as well. One that you and I will likely never resolve.

But here’s what we can know:

  • God is almighty and good. That’s why Jesus stepped in.
  • Mankind, without clinging to the rescue of Jesus Christ, is lost in darkness and is held captive by sin and self.
  • Herod chose to cling to the darkness of his sin and pride rather than trusting the freedom Jesus Christ came to give.

You see, when Jesus stepped in, He brought life and light and a way to really live. But every one of us has to choose to trust Him. When we do, we find true peace even in terrible circumstances.

brw

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