Saturday, October 31, 2009

11/1- All Saints and the Beatitudes

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

11/1- All Saints Day

He said:
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

John Calvin- sermons on the Beatitudes: “How, indeed, can we explain our soul’s salvation except in terms of God’s good pleasure, and his free gift of mercy? For if we think that we are better than others whom he has passed over or abandoned, we simply demean God’s unconditional kindness through which we obtain salvation. And this we do every time we seek to gain a measure of importance or esteem in men’s eyes. Every mouth must of necessity be shut. We must learn that God has chosen us, not because he saw something good in us, or found us, more amenable than in those whom he rejects, but simply that he might reveal the full splendor of his generosity.” (Banner of Truth 2006).

Thoughts: John Calvin really began his career when he helped Nicolas Cop write a sermon on the Beatitudes. His last series of sermons were on the Beatitudes as well ending in 1564 with his ill health. When Calvin and Cop spoke on the Beatitudes (especially “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit”) All Saints Day to the University of Paris, they aroused such opposition by saying we are saved by grace not by works, that they had to flee the country. Calvin escaped the chief of police by some friends delaying them downstairs while he went out a back window using a rope made of bedclothes! The Beatitudes are reminders of God’s grace and love, which we need every day.

Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to cling to your grace and mercy- as the saints before me have done.

Friday, October 30, 2009

10/31 Luther

(Luther translating scripture into German)
10/31/09 Luther and Calvin-

17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[a] just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:17)

(Calvin's Letter to Martin Luther 1545- excerpt): Would that I could fly to you, that I might even for a few hours enjoy the happiness of your society; for I would prefer, and it would be far better, not only upon this question, but also about others, to converse personally with yourself; but seeing that it is not granted to us on earth, I hope that shortly it will come to pass in the kingdom of God. Adieu, most renowned sir, most distinguished minister of Christ, and my everhonored father. The Lord himself rule and direct you by his own Spirit, that you may persevere even unto the end, for the common benefit and good of his own Church. — Yours,John Calvin

Today is the day we call Reformation Day (No, it's not just All Hallow's Eve or Halloween). It is the day that we remember that Marin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenburg Door- mainly protesting the idea of indulgences (bought forgiveness). Luther was convinced that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. He stood alone on the Word of God.

Calvin called Luther an apostle of the Reformation. In the beginning Calvin probably saw himself as a Lutheran before he developed his Reformed theology. Calvin said very little against Luther, though he spoke against his view of the church Calvin had real hopes that the Lutherans and Reformed would get together, but this didn’t happen. He had made friends with Melanchthon, Luther’s right hand man. But Melanchthon died before he could cement their bond. Later Lutherans criticized Calvin, so that he had to back off. Yet he still longed for a concord between the two. The Reformed actually allowed Lutherans to take communion in their churches, though that favor was not returned. Only in the last thirty years have the Lutherans and Reformed made realy progress in recognizing each other. Calvin would have been proud.

In our day, we can learn from Luther. Too many are consumed with doing good to earn someone’s favor or popularity. But in reality we need God to come and save us.

Prayer: Thank you for brave souls like Luther who stood up for their beliefs and changed the world.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

10/30- Simeon the remnant

(Simeon, Hans Gruener)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

10/20- Luke 2:22- 32
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord" ), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel."

Calvin abridged: 22- “When the time came for purification”- On the fortieth day after birth (Lev. 12:2,4) it was necessary to perform the rite of purification. But Mary and Joseph come to Jerusalem for another reason, to present Christ to the Lord, because he was the first-born. Such a purification was not just political as if her impurities were only present to her husband and not to God. But this purpose was to remind the people of God of the corruption of their nature, and the remedy of divine grace. A sign of original sin is that a child was considered unclean and polluted when it came from its mother, and the mother was also considered defiled by childbearing. 23 –“Every firstborn male”- The Lord commanded that all the first-born males be dedicated to him, in remembrance of their deliverance (Ex. 12:29; Nbrs. 3:13). They were allowed to redeem their first-born for a price. Joseph and Mary obeyed the law.
24- They offered a sacrifice- this was for the purification and not for the redeeming of the first born. They offered two doves because they did not have enough money to offer a lamb (Lev. 12:8). Joseph and Mary gave as much as their circumstances allowed. 25- “who was righteous and devout”- This narrative reminds us that though the whole nation was profane and irreligious, yet a few worshippers of God remained. These were the remnant (Rom. 11:5), and within this small band the Church of God lay. We do not know what Simeon did for a living- he may have been poor. But we know he was righteous, devout, and a prophet. Proof of his devotion was that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel. No true worship of God can exist without the hope of salvation which depends on the faith of his promises- and the promised restoration. Simeon came into the temple by the spirit, that is by a secret movement and revelation that he might meet the Christ. 29- “you may now dismiss your servant in peace”- Simeon was not looking on Christ with the eyes of the flesh. He means that he could be sent away with composure of mind now that he had obtained what he desired. 30- “For my eyes have seen your salvation”- What he had seen with his mind’s eye, he now sees in the flesh. If the sight of Christ as a child produced such revelation, how much more materials of abundant peace are given us. 31- “Which you have prepared”- Christ had been divinely appointed, that all nations might enjoy his grace. 32- “A light for the Gentiles”- Christ is for all nations, and we are adopted into the fold. He is a light- the “sun of righteousness” (Mal. 4:2).

Thoughts: Luke speaks more of the temple- a physical symbol of the presence of God- than any other evangelist. Luke ends with the temple, and he almost starts with it. The visible presence of God, came to the building that symbolized the presence of God. When my wife and I went to the wailing wall (a remnant of the temple), we were surprised at how powerful the sense of the presence of God was there. Joseph and Mary were poor, but they gave what they could, and did their best to keep the law. In our recession, there are still most who have more than Mary and Joseph had. But we ought not to stop giving. To give is a blessing. The widow’s mite story illustrates it is not how much we give, but the spirit and sacrifice which is important. Seeing the Messiah was on his bucket list. It was the only thing. Would that all of us seek Him as Simeon did. Would that we could be part of a faithful remnant (as Simeon and Anna) when so many are turning away. Our faith is not dependent on some popularity poll, but on the poll of God- how we might please him.

Prayer: Give us grace ,Lord, to search for you with our whole heart, and find you anew. In our search for more of your presence, help us to remain faithful to you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

10/29- Luke 2:15-21 Praise of shepherds

(circumcision of Jesus by Tintoretto of Venice)
10/29 Luke 2:15-21

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
Calvin abridged: “15- “When the angels had left them”- The obedience of the shepherds is described here. The Lord had made them witnesses of his Son to the whole world. They were not commanded to come see the Christ, but aware of God’s purposes, they hasten to see him. In the same way, Christ is held out to us, in order that we may approach him by faith; our delay in coming to him is inexcusable. The shepherds left after the angels departed, to remind us that when we receive a word from God, we should respond and not forget it. The shepherds leave us an example by exhorting one another to action. “The Lord has told us about”- They had only heard it from an angel, but they intentionally and correctly say that it was from the Lord; for they considered that the messenger of God had the same authority as if the Lord himself had addressed them. Our attention is not focused on the messenger, but on the Word. All of us, like the shepherds, should follow wherever God calls. 16- “Found Mary” This was a revolting sight, that the King of the whole people should be lower than most and in a stable. But these things did not prevent the shepherds from admiring and praising God. The only reason why our faith is slowed or detoured is that we do not look steadfastly enough on God. 17- “They spread the word” In spreading the word they were a type of secondary angel. The Lord, who called them to spread the word, made it fruitful, though their low rank diminished their credibility. Though many were astonished, no one moved a step to come to Christ.
19- “Mary pondered them in her heart”- If we are wise, it will be our chief business, and the great object of our life, to consider carefully those works of God which build up our faith. 20 “glorifying and praising God” – The shepherds knew with certainty this was a work of God. Their gratitude implies our ingratitude. If the stable had that effect upon them, why doesn’t the death and resurrection have greater effect upon us? 21- :it was time to circumcise the child” – God appointed that his son should be circumcised to be under the law (Gal. 4:4,5). By circumcision, Christ became a slave of the law that he might procure our freedom. The custom at that time was to give names to their children at circumcision, just as we now do at baptism. Two things are mentioned here: First, Jesus was not given accidently but was the name given by the angel. Second, Joseph and Mary obeyed the command of God. The relationship between faith and the word of God is that when he speaks, we follow- so that our faith answers his promises. Salvation by Christ had been promised by God through the angel, and then proclaimed by the voice of others.

Thought: Unlike Zechariah the priest on duty, these lowly-untrained shepherds responded to God’s word. It doesn’t take an expert to respond to God. Sometimes experts in their pride, keep us from belief. Experts are trained to doubt, to criticize, to be skeptical. It takes an unusual scholar who will also believe. In our times of humility, we are more apt to believe than our proud times. It is worrisome when in our humility we turn to shear skepticism which has no hope, or turn to other gods. If we really believe, we will be witnesses of what God has done. If we are really skeptical we will hold back, and remain silent- even thinking our truth is on the same par as another’s differing truth. So today, many Christians have so much doubt combined with pride, that we won’t speak. The shepherds were not proud- but were willing to leave their flocks, their welfare in response, and to risk everyone thinking they were crazy in order to tell what they had seen. Our pride keeps us silent. Our skepticism keeps us quiet. So we leave nothing to go and see. Our religion has become convenient, and powerless. We have a form of godliness without the power. We have no room for the improbable or for people doing foolish things motivated by their faith (as the shepherds did). Mary remembered the foolish shepherds, and the angel stories- and maybe she told Luke what had happened later. Mary and Joseph were practicing their faith when they circumcised Jesus. God honors us for being faithful to what we know we should do. This whole section is about proclaiming the name of Jesus- our Savior.

Prayer: Lord, help us to not only hear your Word, but to believe it and respond to it with the praise of our lives.

10/28 Luke 2:8-14 The Message of Good News Spreads

(Govert Flinck c. 1600)
Luke 2:8-14

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

John Calvin Abridged: Christ’s birth in Bethlehem would have been purposeless if this event were not told to the world. But God’s method of proclaiming the birth appears unsuitable to human eyes. First Christ is revealed only to a few witnesses, and that in the midst darkness. Though God had available many honorable and distinguished witnesses, he passed over these and chose shepherds, poor people, and not highly regarded. This too was a part of Christ’s “emptying himself” (Phil. 2:6). This treasure (of the gospel) was deposited in earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7). If we desire to follow Christ, then let us not be ashamed to follow those whom the Lord has taken from the dung heap to be our instructors. 9- “the glory of the Lord shone around them”- he angel appeared not in an ordinary form, or without majesty, but surrounded with the brightness of heavenly glory, to affect the minds of the shepherds powerfully. So the “fear” by which God humbles us helped them to receive his word with reverence. 10- “Do not be afraid”- though it is profitable to be struck with awe that we may give God the glory due his name, it is also important that they be consoled and not be overwhelmed with fear. The angel did not come to announce judgment but the mercy of God. “Great joy…a Savior is born”- Until people have peace with God, all the temporary joys they have in life are deceitful. The ungodly indulge in laughter and reveling and flatter themselves with luxurious indulgence, but their own lusts torment them. But there is a joy that gives peace of mind- the joy of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:7). We should not only rejoice in the salvation brought to us by Christ, but this blessing is so full in order to help us cope and compensate with the pains, distresses, and anxieties of the present life. “Shall be to all people” means that this salvation that the shepherds heard was not for their private joy, but was a joy common to all people and others should hear of it. This joy is indiscriminately offered to all. For God had promised Christ not to one person or to even one nation, but to the whole seed of Abraham- all those who would believe. If we are deprived from this joy, it is because of our unbelief. Now the middle wall of partition (Eph. 2:14) has been broken down opening up the gospel from one nation to all nations. Christ proclaims peace to those near and also to those far off (Eph. 2:17). 11- “This day is born to you in the town of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord”- “This day” means the day spoken of by the prophets and in the law. “Town of David” recalled the promises universally known among the people of God. “To you” personalized the birth emphatically. It would have given no delight if people didn’t think he was born for them. Isaiah likewise says, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Is. 9:6); and Zechariah “Behold your King comes to you, lowly” (Zech 9:9). 12- “And this shall be a sign for you”- The angel meets the doubt of the shepherds which might naturally hinder their faith; for what a mockery it is that the King the only Savior, is seen lying in a manger. The Lord uses this method every day, though it may seem ridiculous among those who do not believe. He holds signs out to us though they are made of earthly and fading elements, to raise us to the glory of immortality. 13- “A multitude”- what God had made known by one angel was confirmed by many. Among us, the testimony of “two or three witnesses” (Mt. 18:16) is sufficient to remove all doubt. But here is a heavenly host, with one voice testifying to the Son of God. What stubbornness we have if we refuse to join with the choirs of the angels! The Lord intends for us to join in full harmony and unity in faith. “On earth peace- good will towards others”- The peace spoken of hear is not an outward peace, but an inward tranquility. We are born “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), and are by nature enemies with God, and must be distressed by fearful apprehensions as long as we feel that God is angry with us. But Christ’s peace alleviates the wrath of God and the dread of death. “Peace on earth” means that so long as we trust in the grace of Christ, no troubles (temptations, dangers, attacks, fears) can arise that will prevent us from enjoying composure and serenity of mind. “Good will” is not the good will of people toward each other, but God’s good will toward us. The One with whom we were at deadly variance has bestowed undeserved favor, and this is the source of our peace.

Thoughts: The angel and the shepherds were the first evangelists. The angels broke the darkness of the night, and the darkness of their humility with good, joyful news. The good news is that the Prince of Peace, the source of our joy and peace has come and broken into the fortress of darkness. We who were prisoners are being rescued, and the rescuer has arrived. Lowly shepherds would not be shocked at the news of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, being born in a sheep’s pen. To them, this message of relief is much more meaningful than kings (like Herod) who were jealously holding on to what they have in this world. In our day of abundance, many hold onto the world as if it will last forever. This severe recession is a reminder that we cannot have everything. Perhaps we need to let go of the world a bit in order to receive the peace of the gospel. We can do this by giving. God gave His only Son, and his example of giving everything for us, is a great example for us to follow.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for coming to earth for us. Help us to give to others in response to your greatest gift.

Monday, October 26, 2009

10/27=- Luke 2:1-7 Birth of Christ

(Sheep Cave in Bethlehem traditionally place of birth of Christ)

10/27- Luke 2:1- 7

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Calvin abridged: Luke relates how Christ was born in Bethlehem. First he sets aside the idea that he contrived to make it up, by saying that they returned home according to their family and tribe. Mary did not intentionally go to Bethlehem to have the child born there, but their purpose was to obey the edict of Augustus. They were led like blind persons, by the hand of God, to the place where Christ must be born. This would appear to the irreligious (like everything else to them) to be by accident or Fortune. But we must not look only the events themselves. We also must look to the prediction of the prophet many centuries before (Micah 5:2). A comparison will clearly show it to have been accomplished by the wonderful Providence of God, that Augustus’ edict to go to Bethlehem was at that very point in time. Thus we see that the holy servants of God, even if they are unconscious where they are going, still keep to the right path because God directs their steps. God even uses tyrants who were subjugating his people to accomplish his ends. Thus the governor who made this decree of Augustus’ known was a herald of God to Mary- calling her to his appointed place. So God employs wicked tyranny for the redemption of His people. Eusebius says that this registration was an edict by the Senate, but I don’t know what his sources are for saying this. 7- No room for them in the inn. We see here the great poverty of Joseph, the tyranny that made him bring his wife with him in such a poor state. It is probably true that those who descended from the former royal family of David were treated even harsher than the rest. We see what sort of beginning the Son of God had, and in what cradle he was placed. His condition at birth was because he decided to empty himself for our sakes (Phil. 2:7). When he was thrown into a stable, placed in a manger, and a lodging refused him, it was that heaven might be opened to us- not as a temporary lodging, but as our eternal country and inheritance, and that angels might receive us into their house.

Thoughts: Joseph was not a rebel against Rome. He was a powerless, humble carpenter, whose care for his wife meant he had to bring her with him. He went to Bethlehem not knowing he was going to fulfill a prophecy of the King of kings, but thinking he was fulfilling a tyrannical edict from an empire a thousand miles away. Political power has the illusion of accomplishing great good or evil. Many panic over the great power of the United States congress or presidency. But God is in control. The Prince of Peace still gives us peace though worldly powers have great strength.

Prayer: Give us grace to believe in your grace and power Lord. So often we are overwhelmed by human ability and power. Help us to believe your grace – that shows in your coming down to earth for us.

(John the Baptist in the wilderness- Da Vinci)

10/26- LUKE 1:76-80

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Calvin abridged: “And you my child” Zechariah speaks of Christ’s grace through his son who instructed others. “Called” here means to be considered and openly acknowledged as the prophet of God. A secret inner calling had already taken place. Now that calling was to be shown to others. John would turn people by his preaching to hear the Lord. 77 “to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins”- The knowledge of our salvation consists in the forgiveness of our sins. By nature we are ruined and subject to God’s wrath (Eph. 2:3). There is no other way to escape eternal death than by God (2 Cor. 5:19). Righteousness must not be sought in any other place. Proud people want to manufacture a righteousness out of the merits of their good works. But true righteousness is nothing else but the imputation of righteousness, when God, out of free grace, acquits us from guilt. 78- “because of the tender mercy”- This mercy proceeds deep from the innermost part (bowels) of God. Zechariah extols the mercy of God used in dispelling the darkness of death, and restoring to the people of God the light of life. Malcahi calls Christ the “sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2), meaning that he brings health in his radiance. Isaiah also says, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, have a light shined upon them” (Is. 9:1; 60:2). The people of God sit in darkness when they are surrounded by the law. For the godly of every age, Christ’s coming is a light of hope that cheered and preserved them from death. “To guide our feet in the path of peace”- The highest happiness is found in Christ alone who is the author of blessedness. The illumination of the light of Christ tends to pacify people bringing true and all-sufficient happiness (Is. 60:19). 80- “And the child grew”- John became stronger in the spirit meaning that the uncommon excellence of the child showed the Heavenly Spirit lived in him. John made no advances until the appointed time- but waited on the calling of God.

Thoughts; Zechariah shows he was not only a priest, but a prophet, and the father of a prophet. He was prophesying that his son would be greater than he was, and that the messiah would be greater still. He prophesies that Jesus would be a light, a “sun of righteousness” to the people of God who lived in the shadow of death. God has given us the ability to see the beauty of contrast in light and darkness (I think of the paintings of Thomas Kinkaid- I also think of that great line in “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” (my favorite Christmas song) that says, “Hail the Sun of righteousness. Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.” When we sang this in my Bible study someone asked, “Is that a mistake?” Did Wesley mean “son” instead of “sun?” The sun is a symbol that points to Jesus just as the cross is also his symbol. Yet we don’t use the “sun” much because too many worship it in different ways in our culture. Light brings guidance, it helps us to see where we are going- eliminating stumbling and worry. Jesus does the same for us.

Prayer: Lord, you are our light and our salvation. Help us to live in your light, and reflect your light to the world around us and even to the ends of the earth.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Luke 1:67-75 Zechariahs praise

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Luke 1:67-75 Benedictus

67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Calvin abridged: “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit” This phrase means that the servants of God receive more abundantly the grace of the Spirit at some times more than others though they were not without it. When the Spirit was given to the prophets, the Spirit was more fully exerted in them when they were brought into the public view to discharge their office. This was a remarkable instance of the goodness of God, that not only did Zacharias recover the power of speech, which he had not enjoyed for nine months, but his tongue became the organ of the Holy Spirit. 68 “Blessed be the Lord God”- He starts with thanksgiving, and by the Spirit describes Christ on which the safety and prosperity of the church depended. The people of God had sunk to such a depth of calamity, and were overwhelmed and distressed, that no one entertained the thought that the eye of God was upon them. The visitation of God is said to be the cause and origin of redemption. The efficacy of Christ’s redemption was the same for those who believed before Christ came. 69- “Raised up the horn of salvation”- speaks of God’s saving power. When the rhtone of David was cast down, and the people were scattered, the hope of salvation had to all appearance perished (cf. Ps. 132:17). David was the chosen servant of God to rule and save the people- as Christ does in fulfillment of that office. 70- “As he said through the prophets”- The means of salvation through Christ is not new- but was predicted by the prophets. This was not just a celebration of God’s truth and promises, but also a witness so that the people might believe in Christ. 71- “Salvation from our enemies”- The Church has always had enemies outward, inward, and spiritual. As long as the Church continues her pilgrimage in the world, she lives amongst her foes but Christ is always at hand to grant assistance. No enemy, power, schemes or attacks will prevent our deliverance to an everlasting salvation (Is. 45:17). The fountain from which redemption flowed is God’s mercy and covenant (vs. 72). This mercy also extended to those ancestors in the Old Testament. It is not that the Old Testament fathers earned their faith by keeping the law. 74- “To enable us to serve him”- God has a purpose so that being redeemed they may dedicate and consecrate themselves to the Author of their salvation. The final cause is that we might glorify His name. We should remember this our calling carefully. We are admitted by adoption into the family of God that we may yield obedience as children to a father. We frustrate the grace of Christ if we do not follow that design (Gal. 2:21). “without fear”- This implies that we cannot worship God properly without composure of mind. Those who wonder if God is favorable or hostile to them who fluctuate between hope and fear will be anxious in their worship of God, but not obey Him. We must obtain peace of conscience before our worship of God. 75- “In holiness and righteousness” We serve God properly when we serve him with holiness and righteousness looking to do so all the days of our lives.

Thoughts: This passage is sometimes called the “Benedictus” after the Latin translation of the first words here. God sought to bless all peoples through his Messiah’s coming. Zechariah knew that John’s coming meant the Messiah was close at hand. He had his ear to the ground, listening for God to speak to him—especially after the angel came and made him mute. There is an 84 foot antennae dish (radio telescope) outside of Harvard whose main job is to listen for extra terrestrial life. This takes a great deal of time and money. I wonder if we would do the same for listening for God and His will for us.

Prayer: Lord, you are worthy of praise and help us to love you and hear your voice.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

10.23 Luke 1:56-66 Naming of John

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth. Commentaries from the Gospels.

Luke 1:56- 66

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. 57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John." 61 They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name." 62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John." 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, "What then is this child going to be?" For the Lord's hand was with him.
Calvin Abridged: These verses tell us that the birth of John was distinguished by various miracles, which gave reason to expect, that something great and remarkable would appear in the child in the future. Mary remained three months with her cousin- or until John was born: for it is probable that she had no other reason to stay so long. 58 “Her neighbors and relatives heard”- The neighbors may have heard of Zechariah’s vision, but it is even more probable that since the parents were so old and barren, that they shared their joy. Though they administered circumcision in the home, they would gather a crowd. This was a sacrament of the church, and therefore should not be done in private. 59- “they were going to name him after his father Zechariah”- Names used to be given by an occurrence or prophesy, but later people named their children after their ancestors. Habits and need sometimes become law, so they wanted to name the child after the father. We shouldn’t imagine there is sacredness in names, but believers should make a godly and profitable choice of names (so naming them after godly rather than ungodly persons is helpful- so maybe they will imitate their namesake). 60- “His name is John”- Zechariah probably informed his wife in writing what the angel had enjoined regarding the name. Otherwise, he would not have obeyed the command of God. 64- “His tongue was loosed”- God places honor on John’s birth by restoring the speech of his father. Zechariah blessed God not only to testify to his gratitude, but to tell his relatives and neighbors of God’s punishment placed upon him because he had been too slow to believe. 66- “The neighbors were filled with awe”- This fear comes from the feeling of divine power. The works of God ought to be contemplated by us so that we think more seriously about God. Though the word spread, few remembered this later. This is a general mirror of human ingratitude. We firmly remember trifling and frivolous events, but divine miracles quickly fade and disappear from our thoughts. “The Lord’s hand was with him”- this means that the grace of God was strikingly visible to show that he was no an ordinary person- and all would acknowledge the presence of God.

Thoughts; Travel was hard and sometimes unsafe, so Mary stayed awhile- until the birth. Seeing that birth strengthened her faith in the angel’s prophesies to her. When we see miracles in other, it should strengthen us. Some like to create artificial miracles to get attention- as the hoax around the weather balloon this week. The parents claimed their son was on the free-floating balloon when he was really hiding in the attic. They hoped to land a reality show from this event, instead they may land in jail. They were a leading story for five news agencies- it was much ado about nothing. It is interesting about how a standard newsmaker is a missing child. It is such an emotional event. We put pictures up in Walmart, and on milk cartons. One statistic I saw said that 85% of kidnapped children are found and unharmed. Children rightly important to us. You can imagine how the neighbors gathered over this clear miracle of a baby being born to an old, barren couple. ”John” means “God is gracious” John was a visible sign that God was gracious to the people of that day. He was to be God’s grace preparing the way for the messiah.

Prayer: Thank you for your grace, Lord. Open our eyes to see your gracious hand working in the lives of others and in the birth of children.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

10/22- Luke 1:51-55 God Honors

(Anunciation Raphael)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

10/22/09 Luke 1:51-55

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."

Calvin abridged: “He has performed mighty deeds” – The arm of God is contrasted with every other aid: as when Isaiah said, “I looked and there was none to help (Isa. 63:5). The proud gain nothing by endeavoring to oppose God; or, because God does not display the power of his arm for salvation, except in the case of the humble, while the proud are thrown down. So Peter [and James] say, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord that He may lift you up” (1 Pt. 5:6). “Scattered the proud…in their thoughts”- As their pride and ambition are outrageous, as their covetousness is insatiable, they pile up deliberations into an immense heap- building the tower of Babel (Gen 11:9). When God has for a time looked down from heaven on their splendid preparations, he unexpectedly scatters the whole mass—as when a building is overturned, and its parts formerly together, are widely scattered in every direction. 52- “He has brought down rulers”- God does not delight in changes or elevate in mockery to a lofty station, those whom he has determined to quickly throw down. It is the depravity of human beings that overturns the state of things, because no one acknowledges that the disposal of everyone is placed in his will and power. When Mary says that it is God who casts down nobles and exalts the humble, she teaches us that the world does not revolve by a blind impulse of Fortune, but by the Providence of God and his justice. “He has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty”- This is because the great, the rich and powerful, raised by their abundance, ascribe all the praise to themselves, and leave nothing to God. We should carefully be on our guard against being carried away by prosperity, and a proud contentment in the non-spiritual, lest God should suddenly deprive us of what we enjoy. To the godly who are poor or hungry and lift up their cry to God, this doctrine that God cares for their need is a great consolation. 54-“He has helped his servant Israel”- The meaning is that God has now granted the salvation that was previously promised. “Servant” could also be translated “child”; The reason why the nation was lifted up though it was fallen was so that his mercy would be shown in its preservation. 55- “To Abraham and to his descendants”- She is talking of the solemn covenant with Abraham and his posterity. We are part of his descendants if we have the faith of Abraham.

Thoughts: We are proud in our thoughts. In our culture we believe we are ontologically better than the people of old. Not just that we have more gadgets and easier lives, but that we really know so much better. In our knowledge (which puffs up), we go against what Mary has said. There is a huge difference in believing it is all up to us, and trusting in God as the lifter of our heads. The difference is not found in our actions as much as in our attitudes. Mary is someone who would have disappeared in history, but instead is the leading female of all of history. This poor servant girl would be remembered more than most kings , queens, dukes, or politicians. Luke who wrote these words, could not have possibly understood how her fame would be spread through all of history and throughout the world, almost to the edge of worship by some. Mary knew God was lifting her up, and she knew it not by a political poll, or someone giving her a trophy or an interview- but by shear faith. We would do well to imitate her trust in God. When God was lifting up the boy Samuel to a position where he would anoint kings, he said, "He who honors me I will honor." God lifts us up, and He is worthy of our honor.

Prayer: You, O Lord, are a shield around us. You’re our glory and the lifter of our heads. (Psalm 3:3).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Luke 1:46-50 The Magnificate

(Mary's well in St. Gabriel's Church in Nazareth- the traditional site of the anunciation. Tradition says Mary was going for water when the angel appeared).
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Luke 1:46- 50- The Magnificate

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.

Calvin abridged: This is a remarkable and interesting song of the holy virgin, which plainly shows how great the grace she had from the Spirit. There are three clauses to this song. First Mary offers thanks for the mercy of God which she had experienced. Next she celebrates God’s power and judgments. Third she applies this to what God was doing in bringing the promised redemption. 46- My soul glorifies the Lord- Here Mary gives her gratitude. Mary was not just talking on the outside, but was singing from her heart. “Spirit” speaks of the understanding, while “soul” focuses on the affections. She calls God “Savior” which brings her joy which turns into praise. Unless we recognize God as our Savior, we are not free to indulge in true and full joy but will remain in doubt and anxiety. 48- “For he has been mindful”- Her joy is based on God’s looking upon her. By calling herself of “humble state” she says she did not deserve this grace, and praises the undeserved goodness of God. She was of no account in the eyes of the world, and her estimation of herself was just as low. She announces that this kindness will be remembered through all generations. If this is to be proclaimed in every age everywhere, then Mary should not keep quiet either since the grace is bestowed on her. Mary did not see herself with the titles sometimes given her (like “Queen of Heaven, Star of Salvation, Gate of Life” etc.). The praises for Mary are spurious which do not exalt the power and grace of God. 49- “holy is his name”- God is holy because it is held in highest reverence.
His mercy extends from generation to generation quotes from Psalm 103:17,18. This mercy is for those who fear him- or believe and reverence him. “Fear” incorporates the idea of godliness and religion which cannot occur without faith. God does not sit idly in heaven looking down to see who is worthy of his mercy. Part of God’s grace is eliciting fear godly fear and majesty among his children.

Thought: The magnificate is one of the greatest songs ever written. It speaks of the power and willingness of God to lift up the humble. This gives hope to those who are downtrodden or struggling in life. It is reminiscent of Hannah’s prayer giving thanks for the birth of her son Samuel, and of Miriam’s song that gave thanks that the poor Israelites were rescued from the powerful Egyptian army. It is a reminder that God still acts and cares for the humble. No one is too small to be helped. No one is so great that they do not need God’s help. It also tells us the value of each individual. We should treat the poor, the unwed mothers, the uneducated, the humbled, those without power with respect as Mary is worthy of respect. We should imitate her humility. In out day, there is little humility, and few see the need for God’s help. In the midst of one of the worst recessions in the history of our nation, not many are asking us to call out for God’s mercy and help.

Prayer: Help us, O God, to give you the glory, and also to recognize your great love and ability to lift us up.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

10/21- Luke 1:39-45; Elizabeth's Visitation

(Elizabeth's visitation- Overbeck 1789-1869)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Lk. 1:39- 45
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!"

Calvin abridged: “Mary got ready”- Mary’s faith continues in response to the angel’s message even after the angel was gone. Why did she travel to see Elizabeth? Partly to increase and strengthen her faith, and partly to celebrate the grace of God which both had received. 41- “When Elizabeth heard” – It is natural that joy in a pregnant woman should cause motion in her child. But Luke indicates this was out of the ordinary. The baby John started in her womb, and she prophesied. 42- “Blessed are you among woman” Mary was blessed because of the blessedness of Jesus. Today the blessedness of Christ cannot be the subject of our praise, without reminding us of the blessedness of Mary too. 43- “Why am I so highly favored?” Some people like to delight beyond measure in themselves, and desire to shine alone, despising God’s gifts in their brothers and sisters. Others praise them so much that they are changed into idols. Elizabeth does not envy Mary, but rejoices with her, ascribing everything to God. “Mother of my lord” – Elizabeth ascribes praise to Christ inside Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. 45 “Blessed is she who has believed the Lord would fulfill his promises to her.” Mary was blessed because the Savior was also her own savior. Mary received by faith the blessing offered to her. The word (promises) and faith work together here. In the act of believing we give our assent to God who speaks his promises to us. So we infer that it doesn’t matter whether God uses angels or humans, He wishes equal honor be given to his Word as if he were visibly descending from heaven.

Thoughts: John was prophesying even from the womb. For the Savior of the world, but also of Elizabeth, John, and Mary was there. Some have thought that Mary went to celebrate God’s favor (as Calvin mentions), but also to escape derision or persecution in her hometown during Mary’s pregnancy. Even in the womb Jesus is bearing a powerful testimony to his salvation. It should not go unnoticed in our society that Mary was an unwed mother, and that it would have been easy in our society for Mary, if she had not believed the angel’s message, to have an abortion. God protected Jesus and used him even in the womb to change those around him. There is power in a baby to change people- bringing hope to a marriage, joy to a grandparent, and how much more this special baby.

Prayer: We are blessed, O Lord, by you. Thank you for coming to us, through Mary, that we might know you and be forgiven and filled by you.

10/20- Nothing is Impossible with God Luke 1:34-38

(Annunciation- Henry Ossawa Tanner)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.


Lk. 1:34- 38
34"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" 35The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God." 38"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

Calvin abridged: “How will this be?” Even the holy virgin confines God’s power to narrow limits just as Zechariah had done. She concludes that what is beyond the way things usually happen is impossible. While she ought to have immediately by faith given thanks to the boundless power of God, she instead holds back restricting God to the ordinary power of generation. Still she doesn’t stop there permanently but is only astonished so that she asks the question. That she eventually put faith in God to do the improbable is evident when she didn’t ask more questions like, “where is the throne of David?” 35- “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you”- The angel does not explain the details so that all curiosity is answered, for there is no necessity to do so. He only leads the virgin to contemplate the power of the Holy Spirit and to surrender herself silently and calmly to his guidance. The word “come upon” (epeleusetai) denotes that this would be an extraordinary work, and not just an ordinary natural event. “The power of the Most High shall overshadow you”- The Spirit may be seen as the essential power of God whose energy is shown and exerted in the entire government of the world, as well as in miraculous events. “So the holy one to be born”- Some wrongly say that he was called the Son of God because he was conceived in a remarkable manner by the power of the Holy Spirit. But here “the Holy One to be born” indicates He is the Word of God begotten before the ages that now clothes himself in human flesh. “Son of God” is a title that belongs to the divine essence of Christ from the beginning, but now is applied to both natures. This gives us confidence to risk calling God our Father because his only Son, in order that we may have a Father in common with him, chose to be our brother. 36- “Even Elizabeth, your cousin”- The angel tries to encourage her to believe the miracle by what has already taken place among her own relative. The sixth month is usually after the month when the baby moves (quickening), so there is no doubt about the birth.
37- “For nothing is impossible with God”- The meaning is God will do what he has promised, for nothing can hinder or resist his power (Rom. 4:20,21). There is nothing that possibly stops the word of God. We ought to always contemplate his boundless power, that it may strengthen our hope and confidence. Yet it is useless to argue about what God can do, when God only does what he resolves to do. 2 Timothy 1:12 says, “I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded he is able to keep what he has promised.” 38- “I am the Lord’s servant”- The holy virgin does not dispute the angel any further. She restrains her mind so that her faith is not repressed. Boldness in disputing is the mother of unbelief. She gives and devotes herself unreservedly to the Lord. Unbelievers withdraw from his hand and obstruct his work. But faith yields to obedience. Faith gives us up to his power making us obedient, but unbelief makes us rebels and deserters. “May it be to me”- Here she is convinced of God’s power, follows where he calls, trusts in his promise, and not only expects, but eagerly desires its accomplishment.

Thoughts: It is too easy to restrict God to not doing anything unusual. It is too easy to pray and not expect an answer (as Zechariah did). Mary shows a faith that we can learn from- it is the faith of a child- that nothing is impossible with God. Mary believed God could do a miracle if he said he would. To not believe that God can do the unusual is to put God in a box, and make God into our own image- making him an idol. We all have a tendency to do this, and the fight against unbelief is an ongoing one. We do not need to water down the faith-saying we don’t need faith to have faith (we don’t need to believe the unusual or supernatural). To remove the supernatural from God is like removing God’s power from God- so that we are taking God’s teeth out- making him a toothless lion. The conception and virgin birth are not just saying that Jesus is unusual. It is not just the story that is important, it is also the reality behind the story- for is the person of Jesus is not real, and is not sent from God, then he was just another extraordinary teacher. It takes Mary’s faith to believe what happened to Mary. We should have her same attitude that nothing is impossible with God, and also her attitude of submission- may it be to us as you have said.

Prayer: Lord, give me faith that I might believe that nothing is impossible with you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

10/19- Luke 1:26-33 The Anunciation

(Anunciation Leonardo Da Vinci))

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Luke 1:26-33
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

Calvin abridged: It is a wondrous part of the divine purpose that God decides to make the beginning of the herald more illustrious than that of his own Son, The prophecy about John was published in the temple and universally known; but Christ is promised to a virgin in an obscure town in Judea and is hidden in the breast of the young woman. God chose a virgin betrothed to a man so that his son might be supposed to be the son of Joseph until it was discovered by many that he was the son of God. 28- “Greetings you who are highly favored” [Catholic version- “Hail Mary full of grace”]- A conviction of the Divine grace or goodness is the entrance of faith, and the angel observes this order, then he enlarges her faith to receive and incomprehensible mystery. The Greek work here (kecharitomene) denotes the undeserved favor of God (cf. Eph. 1:6). “The Lord is with you”- To those on whom he has once bestowed his love God shows himself gracious and kind (Ps. 103:4). “Found favor with God” [blessed among women]- Blessing is a proof of Divine kindness. The word doesn’t mean “worthy of praise” but “happy.” This is similar to Paul’s greetings of grace and peace (Rom. 1:7; Eph. 1:2) . This implies that we will be truly happy and rich when we are beloved by God. If Mary’s favor and grace come from the undeserved love of God, and flow from Divine kindness, then should we seek from her what she derives from another? 29- “Mary was greatly troubled”- She was not agitated by the presence of the angel as much as by his address. Mary did not lose her composure for she was considering the meaning of the salutation. This example reminds us, that we ought not to be careless observers of the work of God, and that our consideration of them should be regulated by fear and reverence. 30- “You have found favor” could be translated you have received mercy. 31- “you shall conceive” – the angel adapts his words to Isaiah’s prophecy (7:14). The word conceive sets aside the idea (promoted by Marcion and Manachaeus) that Jesus was merely a phantom. “name Jesus” Matthew adds that Jesus means “to save his people from their sins” (1:21). It is the same as the Hebrew Joshua. The name itself is not magic, as if in its very syllables majesty resided, but that the highest authority- to which the whole world should submit. 32-“He shall be great”- The angel said the same thing about John the Baptist, yet that did not make him equal to Christ. Angels and kings are sometimes given the title “great” in scripture, but they are great in comparison with other humans, whereas the Son of God is great in comparison to all (Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 1:5). “Son of the Most High”- Christ is the Only Begotten Son. Our adopted sonship (in which we may call God ‘Abba Father’ Rom. 8:15; Ga. 4:6) is derived from his real sonship. “Throne of his father David”- Whenever the prophets talked about the restoration of the people they talked about the throne of David being restored (Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:24; 37:24; Hosea 3:5; Amos 9:11). The angels was thus speaking of the revival of the people of God. 33- “And he shall reign” God speaks of Christ’s reign over all the earth beginning with the house of Jacob. His throne was erected among the people of Israel, that he might from there subdue the whole world. “Forever- without end”- It was frequently predicted that David would always have a son on the throne. The angel points out that the glory of David and Solomon will be restored or even exceeded (Ps. 72:5,17). Its true perpetuity relates to the glory to come. So we too will reign forever with him when we gather together in heaven.

Thoughts: The angel came with astonishing news, to a humble maid. Mary’s response shows how humbled she was by this. It is her pure trust and humility and wonderful response that we should imitate. In our world of celebrities flaunting their looks, their cars, their houses, their fame, we should remember Mary- whose fame will outlast any rock star or TV star. The greatest among us would do well to imitate Mary’s humility and trust in God’s unmerited favor (grace). She is full of unmerited favor (grace), and we should seek the same. What does it take to restore the Church to its rightful place? It takes the centrality of Jesus. He is the King, and the farther we move from Him, the farther we move from the restoration of David’s throne. Our being children of God is derived from His being the Son of God.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that you choose the humble. Help us to humble ourselves in your sight that you may lift us up.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

10/19 Luke 1:21-25 Blessing of Children

(Birth of John the Baptist Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1635)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Luke 1:21-25
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 "The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Calvin abridged: Luke relates that the people were witnesses of this vision. Zechariah had stayed later in the temple than usual. This led some to suppose that he had something uncommon happen to him. When he comes out, he makes known by looks and gestures that he has been struck dumb. True, there were few or no visions in that time, but the people remembered the stories of the former appearances of God. 23- “He returned home”- priests lived in the temple during their terms of service in order to keep themselves pure. Some say this is a reason for celibacy, but if so, they should also keep the commands for priests to abstain from wine or strong drink (Ezek. 44:21), or to exclude themselves from the people.
Zechariah was married, and marriage is honorable in all (Heb. 13:4). 24- “Remained in seclusion” – Some think she was ashamed of God’s blessing, or was uncertain of the upcoming birth. But I think, in light of Zechariah’s punishment, she was fully convinced of the certainty of the birth. She said, “The Lord has done this for me”- out of belief. She may have delayed going out in public because the world talks irreverently about the things of God; or that if people saw herself fully pregnant they might be more apt to praise God than if they saw her gradually grow with child. She praises God in private for His goodness, until the time is ripe for making this known publicly. “Taken away my disgrace”- She assigns her barrenness to the withdrawal of God’s favor. If animals having offspring is a blessing, how much more having our own children (Psalm 127:3). There is a universal sense of the blessing of having children, but there is a particular blessing designated to Abraham to have children (Gen. 13:15,16; 15:5). Let parents, then, be thankful to God for their children which he has given them, and let those who have no offspring acknowledge that God has humbled them in this matter. Elizabeth speaks of barrenness as a reproach among human beings. It is a temporary chastisement, which doesn’t take away any blessings in heaven.
Thought: Calvin and his wife had at least three miscarriages, and their young son died a few weeks after birth. No doubt Calvin felt the pain of being without children. One of his famous sayings was that he had a son… but he has today many children in the faith. I have often thought about how those who cannot have children look at this passage as well as that of Abraham and Sarah’s conception. Calvin indicated that it is humbling to not have children, yet he recognized that in heaven such reproaches would be taken away. He probably looked forward to that. Children are a blessing. In our busy world, some see kids as a secondary part of life after work. But children are more our legacy than our work. The Bible speaks a lot more about the importance of passing our faith down to our children, than passing our craft or abilities down to the next generation/

Prayer: Lord, thank you for children, especially among the godly. Help us to welcome them as you did.

10/17- Unbelief in the Midst of Faith Lk. 1:18-20

[Zechariah and Gabriel]
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Luke 1:18-20
18 Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." 19 The angel said to him, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time."

Calvin abridged: This is about the doubt of Zechariah, and the punishment the Lord inflicted on him for his unbelief. He had prayed that he might have children, and now that it is promised, he distrusts as if he had forgotten his own prayers and faith. It might, at first brush appear harsh that God is so offended by his reply. He brings forth his old age as an objection- which Abraham did too (and yet he was commended Rom. 4:19). Mary made a similar objection at her annunciation (“How can this be since I am a virgin?”). But the angel passed over her objection. If words are the only factor, then it might be unfair. But God looks at the action and the heart. Unquestionably, the Lord saw something in Zechariah worse than his words may bear, since God looks at the heart (Heb. 4:13). God distinguished between Sarah’s laugh and Abraham’s question (Gen. 18:12; 17:17) though one apparently doesn’t differ from the other.
We don’t have a right to lay down a law to God which keeps him from the freedom to punish a fault or pardon another. We ought not to hold that God will do no more than what is probable, as if his hand were limited to our senses and confined to an earthly perspective. Zechariah clearly believed he heard the voice of God, but then refused to believe what God said would really happen. Yet Zechariah did not give up on his faith. We need to understand that when God brings us into his favor, he give us many special promises,-- that he will feed us, will deliver us form dangers, will vindicate our reputation, will protect our life; --and so there is a special faith which answers to each promise- and some may waver to these promises. Let us be aware that those who are weak in one area or on an occasion do not entirely depart or fall from the faith, and though the branches may fall in a storm, the root stands firm. We all should keep watch- if someone so eminently holy, who had maintained a strict watchfulness over himself was overtaken by such evil snares. 19- “I am Gabriel”- The angel was indicating that the truth of what he was saying was not based on him , but on God- who sent him with this message. Gabriel was an ambassador from God who gave the promise. Jesus said, “He who despises you despises me; and he that despises me despises the one who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). There is a sense in which those who preach the gospel are not to be despised lest God is despised. Hebrews indicates that the gospel message delivered by people is more significant than the law delivered by angels (Heb. 2:2; 10:29). The obedience of faith is of higher value than all sacrifices, and we should render such obedience to God. 20- “and now you will be silent”- This is appropriate in that faith needs silence to lend an ear to the Word of God. Afterwards we may respond with an amen. God softens his punishment by limiting it to ten months, and still fulfilling his promise. So God deals with us- when our faith is weak, his benefits still flow to us. Sometimes God even grants unbelievers promises, even though they lack faith (eg. Ahaz Isa. 7:12). So Zechariah was chastened and at the same time pardoned.

Thoughts: No one has perfect faith on this side of heaven. Zechariah believed in God and was a holy man. He prayed, but did not believe God would really answer his prayer. Zechariah was confronted with a powerful angel and still did not believe in God’s power to grant him a son in old age. Many say, “If I could only have some sign, I would believe more.” Zechariah had a sign in the form of a powerful angel and still did not believe. God shows that He is not pleased with Zechariah’s unbelief in His power and ability, by making him mute, but he still kept his promise. How many today pray but do not believe in the power of God to answer our prayers. God is still the Creator and sustainer of all things. God sees things the doctors do not. God understands the heavens better than the smartest astronomer. God is able to do more than we think is probable. By restricting God’s power, we are limiting our own faith. In our day, the church has such weak belief. God has muted our influence on society, and the Church’s voice today. Yet God’s purposes will be achieved.

Prayer: Lord, we believe, help our unbelief. Gives us not only eyes to see you, but hearts to believe you.

Friday, October 16, 2009

10/16- John's Glory and Peace Come From God Luke 1:14-17

(John the Baptist in the wilderness Il Bachiacca 1521-23)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Luke 1:14-17

14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

Calvin abridged: “He will be a joy” This is a greater joy than what Zechariah would derive from the birth of an ordinary child, and the joy would not be confined to him alone- but even strangers would rejoice in his message. 15- “He shall be great”- is a confirmation of what he said about joy. John was great because of his great and extraordinary purpose. Jesus declared that “among those born of women there was not one greater than John the Baptist” (Mt. 11:11). “never to take wine or fermented drink” – this was the vow of the Nazarite who would abstain until their vow was fulfilled (Nbrs. 6:3). Priests also were to abstain while they were performing their duties (Lev. 10:9). But John was to be a Nazarite for his whole life (similar to Samson Jdg. 13:3,4). But we must not assume that worship of God consists in abstinence of wine. We all should practice temperance- so that those who think it is harmful to drink should abstain on their own, and those who don’t have wine not to envy others. The word for “wine” here is any sort of manufactured wine. “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.” The meaning is that the power and grace of the Spirit will appear in him not only in public, but with special and abundant gifts of the Spirit and attention would be brought to him even before he was born. Christ alone was given the Spirit without measure (Jn. 3:34; 1:16). Those who are given grace that exceeds the ordinary capacity are said to be filled with the Holy Ghost. 16-“Many people he will bring back”- This shows how corrupt the church of the time was- with corrupt doctrine, depraved morals, and disorderly government- so that it was almost a miracle that a few continued in godliness. If this happened to the ancient church, the church of our time should not think it is impossible to err. Much power is attributed to John, and we should learn from this that whenever Scripture applauds the efficacy in the ministry of people, we should learn to attribute this to the grace of the Spirit. For without the Spirit, the human voice would be spent speaking uselessly into the air. So when Paul boats that he is a minister of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:6) he makes no claims for his own abilities apart from God as if his own voice penetrated peoples’ hearts. Scripture reminds us that ministers are nothing in themselves, but the glory goes undivided to God. 17- “And he will go on before the Lord”- This was John’s office to before Christ as a herald before a king (Mal. 3:1). “With the spirit and power of Elijah”- This does not mean that Elijah’s soul passed into the body of John, but the same Spirit of God, who acted efficaciously in Elijah also acted well in the Baptist. As Elijah restored the decayed worship of God, so John also was an agent in the restoration of worship in his day. He would bring back people to each other in a restored unity of faith (Mal. 4:5). As in Elijah’s day, so in John’s the scripture had degenerated through countless imaginations and ideas, the worship of God was corrupted by gross superstition, religion was divided into various sects, priests were openly wicked, and the people indulged in every sort of wickedness. The covenant had been broken with the faith of the fathers. There is a false peace (often promoted by the religious) in which men agree with each other in their disobedience apart from God. This is a false peace that ends in ultimate vanity and destruction. To have peace with each other, we should seek peace with God.

Thoughts: John the Baptists glory was found in God alone. His peace also was found through God alone. Here was a man who wore camel skins and ate wild locusts. This is a symbol that his glory was not found in looks or fashion, but in the Spirit within Him. So we should seek to honor God more than seek our own fashion. There is a temporary peace that is found in being just like everyone else. The thought is if we are just as wicked as the other people, then we will not stand out, nor convict them, and everyone will like us. But there is no peace for the wicked- there is only restlessness- an itch that cannot be scratched except by coming to God. John didn’t mind standing out, nor did he mind calling out those who had messed up (“repent!” is an unsettling call). We can learn a lesson from John in his willingness in a very concrete way to point to an ultimate peace. John and Elijah ministered in a day when morals, religion, politics, and abilty to get along were decaying rapidly. We need people like them today- perhaps our young adults to show us the way back to God- and turning our hearts to each other.

Prayer: Lord, raise up someone who wouldn’t say “peace, peace” to the wicked, but someone who will point to you. Help us, O God, to turn to you with our whole hearts.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

10/15- Luke 1:5-13 Zechariah and Elizabeth-God prepares to come

[Zechariah and Gabriel]
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Luke 1: 5- 13

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both well advanced in years.
8 Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.

Calvin abridged: Luke begins his Gospel with John the Baptist, just as a person who was going to speak about daylight would commence with the dawn. For, like the dawn, he went before the Sun of Righteousness, which was shortly to arise. Luke secures our respect for him while he is yet unborn, by pointing out the miracles around the earliest part of John’s existence, and by showing his commission from heaven as a prophet. 5-“Herod king of Judea”- Some think that Herod the Great was mentioned as he was the first foreign king; so that now was a suitable time for deliverance. But what is more important is that during Herod’s time the Jews retained some semblance of governing by the Sanhedrin (who were descendants of David then) whom Herod destroyed. “Zechariah of the family of Abijah”- The families of priests were arranged in certain groups by David (1 Chronicles 24:3,31). David’s intent in doing this was to have order instead of chaos, partly to oppose ambition, partly to provide that a few persons would not have all the power- by being in charge of the service and leaving the rest unemployed at home. Zechariah was descended from Abijah of Eleazar (Nbr. 20:28). So Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, was a daughter of a Levite, as priests were permitted by law to marry a Levite.
6 “both righteous in the sight of God” – This is a noble testimony that they were not only honored among people, but they were upright and holy before God. We ought to see that those who regulate their lives by the commandments are considered righteous. When worshippers do not obey the law, worship is counterfeit [Calvin translates dikaiomata as ordinances- not decrees-thus applying it to their worship]. They are righteous in that the fear of God lives in them-not that they were perfect. Yet they cannot please God without getting forgiveness. 7- “They were childless”- By an extraordinary purpose of God, it was appointed that John should be born out of the common and ordinary course of nature (similar to Isaac Gen. 17:17; 21:1-3). 9 “according to the custom of the priesthood”- The law commanded that incense should be offered twice each day (Ex. 30:7,8). The priesthood is a living illustration that we need someone between God and us (as the priests were only allowed in the inner courts). Only one priest at a time was permitted into the Holy Place. The incense was to remind the people that the sweet savor of their prayers do not go up to heaven unless they go through a sacrifice of a Mediator. 12 “Zechariah was startled and gripped with fear”- Though God does not appear to his servants in order to terrify them, yet it is advantageous and necessary that they be struck with awe (Ps. 33:8), that they may learn to give God the glory due his name (Ps. 29:2). The presence of God fills people with alarm which not only leads them to reverence, but humbles the pride of the flesh- which is so strong that God’s power must overcome them. We can also infer that when God is absent is when we indulge in self-pride and flattery. 13- “Fear not”- The glory of God does not swallow us up with dread, but after it has abased our pride and foolish confidence, he stretches out his hand to raise them up. God does not stretch forth his gracious hand to the reprobate. We have no reason to fear if we know God, but we can be at peace. “Call his name John”- John means “the grace of the Lord” (1 Chr. 3:15). John’s grace is the mission he would bring to all. It should be noted that this grace and name are given to him before he was born [the grace of God precedes our actions].

Thought: The Jewish faith was losing hope. Herod was now king, the Romans were in charge, and even the symbolic Davidic judging of the Sanhedrin was about to be destroyed. By 70 A.D., the whole nation would be obliterated. The religious life of the day was in ferment and dividing- and under attack by the super secular Herodians, those who believed little- the Saducees, and those who were legalistic-the Pharisees. There were still godly people (like Elizabeth, Zechariah, Anna, Simeon), but most of them were older. The faith had little hope in that day. In such a context the power of God began to show itself again and God Himself came down. In our day, the Church in the west is weak, left with only a skeletal framework, and rapidly losing faith (in the last ten years there has been a 10% decrease in attendance in America). It appears also that the Church in the west is getting older demographically. Yet God is not dead nor doth He sleep. God’s power is often shown when we are weak. So once again, come Lord Jesus! Come and renew us. Come and abide with us in our lives, our families, our churches.

Prayer: O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel!”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

10/14- Luke 1:1-4 Trustworthiness of the Gospel

(10th cenury Byzantine icon of Luke)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

10/14- Luke 1

1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Calvin abridged: Luke is the only Evangelist who has a preface to his Gospel, for the purpose of explaining briefly his motive for writing. Some say that Luke wrote to godly people who loved God [the meaning of the name “Theophilus”]. But here it is the same as Paul’s writings that were addressed to certain individuals and cities though the passage applied to all (I Tim. 1:14; 3:14). “Many have undertaken to draw up an account”- This sounds like a reason to not write a gospel. But Luke was not saying other writings were false as much as he wanted to add to them (especially things that may have been left out, or only oral accounts). God was sorting out, by this the gospels that reflected brightly his adorable majesty from the disgusting stories under the pseudonyms of Nicodemus or others that are palmed upon the world. “fulfilled among us”- refers to things fully ascertained and do not contain any doubt. While faith ultimately rests on the inward confirmation of the Holy Spirit who seals the testimony, once this confirmation is inside of us there is some weight to the knowledge which we obtain by our own observation or the statement of others (historical knowledge). He also intimates that those from whom he had received this information had been divinely authorized to preach the Gospel. It is important that Luke says he uses eyewitnesses. God has used every method to prevent our faith from resting on the doubtful and shifting opinions of human beings. There is less room for excusing the ingratitude of the world that would openly prefer uncertainty in the Gospels, which would come out of vague and unfounded reports. “Carefully investigated”- This notes that a careful examination was performed so that everything in the Gospel had been recorded well as if from a spectator’s viewpoint.

Thoughts: Luke is a necessary fourth viewpoint of Jesus’ life. He approaches his work less like a theologian (than John or Matthew), and more like an historian. The Greco-Roman histories of Luke’s day often contained such a preface. While there were no “modern” scientists in the day, Luke, as a physician, was examining things and giving the most accurate account possible of the life of Jesus. Luke also wrote the history of the early church which we call “The Acts of the Apostles” or shortened to the Book of “Acts” which was also written to “Theophilus” (Acts 1:1). In Luke’s mind, the historical nature of Acts was also the historical nature of his gospel- relying on eyewitnesses and careful investigation. This is in contrast to the Gnostic gospels that have Jesus flying off the roof, or marrying Mary Magdalene, or otherwise making up stories so Jesus appears to do and be more like we want him to do and be. We live in a day in which many are wondering what’s the difference between a false and true gospel, and how do we know which one to believe? Matthew, Mark, Luke and John bore the corroboration of the still living eyewitnesses in the church, including the apostles and their early disciples (like Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp). The gospels were a narrative of Jesus’ life (in contrast to the Gospel of Thomas which only had sayings of Jesus), and were accepted by the Church in the east and the west of the Roman Empire. The word “canonical” means recognized or accepted, and these four gospels were the accepted and recognized gospels of the Church. By the time Luke wrote his gospel, some of the eyewitnesses had died, and there was concern that an authorized gospel be written before others died out. The point is, Luke writes an important, accurate, and corroborated narrative for us inspired by the Holy Spirit and that is used by the Holy Spirit today to convey the greatest story ever told of the greatest life that was ever lived.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord for the life you lived on this earth, and for Luke who recorded your earthly life so that we may be more like you, and know your salvation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

10/13 Jeremiah 23:5,6; Christ of David- Our Righteousness

(Folio museum of Condee Chantilly- David Imagins Christ Elevated Abobe Other Beings)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Jeremiah 23:5.6
5 "The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD Our Righteous Savior.'"

Calvin abridged: It would not have been enough for the Prophet to say, “I have promised pastors who will faithfully perform their duty,” unless the only true pastor had been brought up. Often when prophets spoke of salvation and hope they turned their attention to the coming of the messiah which is spoken of here, so that we would think on the promises of God. Here there is no doubt that the Prophet is speaking of Christ’s coming. He was basically saying, “Though you are unworthy of a Deliverer a hundred times over, yet David’s memory shall always be completely with me, as he was perfect and faithful in keeping my covenant." Here he is not speaking of many kings- especially when he says “a king shall reign.” Most of David’s successors were not worthy of being called “righteous branches.” Christ, the true righteous branch, was not only David’s successor, but also the Son of God (Psalm 138, 2, Hebrews 1:5). “Reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land”- This means Christ would be endowed with the spirit of wisdom as well as of uprightness and fairness so that he would possess all the qualities of a good king. Christ is different from the earthly kings who administer justice only by giving people what is rightfully theirs. Christ is able to give people wisdom and knowledge, regenerates us by the Spirit, and restrains evil. “In his days Judah would be saved”- We interpret this as meaning that when Christ came and descended from the Father, the Church would be saved. How long will it be saved? As long as the King reigns, and there is no end to his kingdom. The true reigning of the king is not physical but spiritual, and thus forever. “Israel will live in safety (peace)”- refers to the tranquility and peace we have in Christ (Romans 5:1). “This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior”- Here clearly the Prophet shows he is not just talking about other earthly kings, but of the Christ, our Savior. Christ is righteous as he is God, and the Son of David as he is man. He is called Jehovah (the Lord) because he is the only begotten Son of God of one and the same essence, glory, eternity and divinity with the Father. Salvation and righteousness can come only from God- eliminating sin and death; His humanity allows us to be friends with Him and have access to God by being united to Him. Christ is “our righteousness”- God has righteousness in himself, but apart from Christ his righteousness judges us. Christ came not to judge us, however, but to communicate to us his righteousness. If we desire to have God as our righteousness we must seek Christ, for God’s righteousness cannot be found except in him. Those who turn away from Christ, cannot find the righteousness of God (I Cor. 1:30).

Thought: Zedekiah meant “the Lord our righteousness” but king Zedekiah (the last king before the first temple was destroyed) did not live up to his name. However, there were many prophecies that speak of the coming messiah who will reign as a righteous king. By his righteousness, we are made better. Good rulers influence people for good. They may influence all the world distantly, but their own people they influence deeply. But Christ is an eternal ruler whose true goodness radiates to all the world, but is imputed to us who believe. Certainly the reign of Christ has done much to influence the world for good- eliminating cannibalism, cruelty, and much superstition and selfishness. Yet individuals who are believers testify of how much (more personally and deeply) Christ has made them into better people. In American culture we need to see more clearly that Christ is not just our Savior, but He is also our Lord and King. We are too quick to call Jesus our savior and God, but we do not let him rule in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, be our righteousness, our King. Thank you that your reign is forever.