400 years. Four hundred years. It’d been 400 years since God had spoken.
Silence. Painful silence. Heart-breaking silence when the ears and hearts of Israel were begging for Him to speak, for hope amidst crushing Roman rule.
I flip the page after Malachi, the prophet’s letter, marking the last of the Old Testament, and with ease — and no baited breath — begin reading the first chapter of Matthew. Like history moved as fast.
But that wasn’t how it happened. It’d be as if we hadn’t heard God speak since 1614.
A little context: Four years before, in 1610, Jamestown, Virginia was established as the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. Interesting to read what else was happening in 1614. Are you as amazed as I am?
It’s this 400 years of waiting that has most struck me this Christmas season.
God’s used The Big Picture Story Bible, in large part, for this fresh look at Jesus’ birth. (Thanks to Jennifer Grant, for the head’s up on this great kids’ Bible.)
Even though God’s people were far from home, God still spoke to them. God sent more prophets. They spoke all His words and wrote them down in God’s holy book.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote that one day God would raise up the temple and give His people new hearts.
Isaiah reminded them that God’s forever king would come from the family of David.
The prophet Jeremiah was hopeful too. He said that Israel would return home again in seventy years.
Seventy years passed, and the prophet Daniel prayed to God. He asked God to remember His promise, and God heard Daniel’s prayer.
Finally God’s people went home to Jerusalem. They returned to the land. But they had a lot of work to do. Jerusalem and the temple were ruined.
They worked very hard. And when the foundation was finished…the people celebrated!
All the people shouted loud praises to God. They were happy. With trumpets and cymbals they sang to God: ‘For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever…’
But many of the older men cried. Can you guess why? They cried because they remembered Solomon’s beautiful temple and knew that Israel could never completely rebuild God’s place.
They cried because they still longed for God’s forever king to come.
without a single word from God.
And the years turned into many years. And the many years turned into hundreds of years, and the great promises of God seemed to fade away.
Israel became less important in the world. Other nations became great–strong nations, powerful nations whose kings ruled over God’s people.
One such king was Caesar Augustus.
This Roman ruler thought he was very important.
One day he wondered to himself, ‘How will everyone know that I am the great Caesar, the Roman ruler, the king of the world? I know! I will count all the people under my rule. Surely that will show the world how great I am.’
So Caesar, the Roman ruler, the king of the whole Roman world, began counting all his people to show everyone how great he was.
What Caesar did not know what that God, the world’s true ruler, the King of the universe, was getting ready to show everyone how great He was.
God was going to end His many years of silence.
God was going to keep His promise of a forever king.
And do you know how God was going to do this? Not like Caesar. Not proudly, by counting all his people. But humbly, by becoming one of His people.
In the power of His Spirit, God would bring His forever king into the world as a baby!
This glorious moment in time — the prophet Simeon holding and beholding Jesus — has been a centerpiece on my desk this Christmas season. I first saw it in a book of Ron DiCianni’s work when I lived in Wheaton, Illinois in 1997.
I bought the book solely for this picture and it’s made every of my up-teen moves around the country and globe. This year I decided to stop waiting for the money to frame it as it deserves and not miss out on another Advent when Simeon would have my heart rejoice along with his.
So, I tore out the page — tearing it poorly, sadly — and bought a cheap frame that doesn’t quite fit it.
But for the first time, it’s on display and there are days that I sit at my desk, where I have it, and I simply just stare.
It’s mesmerizing to see faith becoming sight.
Simeon had waited. All of the family and friends he’d known or had heard about — apart from the Patriarchs and men of old — held up empty hands when asked when they’d last heard from God.
Yet Simeon waited with hope. How? Why? Because “it’d been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the [Savior]” (Luke 2:26). Oh, what a gift.
He hoped for the day when God would speak again. And at Jesus’ first cry, God spoke.
Oh, this undoes me!
No wonder he weeps! I wouldn’t be surprised if he vacillates between sobs and boyish glee as he talks to God….oh my! A new, fresh thought right now: He’s talking with God! It’s a dialogue as Jesus coos! Not a painful, one-way conversation that Simeon and so countless others have had, as they prayed and begged God to come to their rescue and save them.
“Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel’ (Luke 2:28-32).
The Rescuer had come! And not like anyone had thought.
Merry Christmas from the land of tomorrow, where December 25th is here in two hours.
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath.(A)15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight.(B) “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”(C)
But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?”(D) So they were divided.(E)
17 Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
Poor guy. What a day it’s been. I mean, he was just doing what he’d always done (probably, since blind from birth). Then, all the sudden, he hears a voice of a man and feels cold, slimy mud on his eyes. He’s told to go wash — and he does — and light bursts through.
And then get gets interrogated.
By his neighbors and people who’d seen him beg.
And now by the Pharisees.
I love his simple account of what happened, “…and then I washed and I could see.”
Did his voice waver with ever recount of his healing? Did tears spring up? Was he giddy?
And then the Pharisees counter, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (v. 16).
I have such a hard time not being completely outraged at these men. From my view, in 21st-century America as a woman with a copy of the entire Word of God, I can forget the simple fact that these Pharisees weren’t evil. Well, most of them. They really were men who wanted to please God and what they knew was to keep all the Laws they’d been given.
So, to their credit, they’re thinking, If God gave us the Law, He will always keep it. He wouldn’t go against the Law!
But, never in a million years, would they have thought that the One before them wasn’t nullifying the Law — He was fulfilling it.
After I get over being angry at them, I am reminded that I so often am in their ranks: God wouldn’t act like ______, would He? Surely, He’s not like that.
I like God in my neat and tidy box.
Granted, by His grace, the box isn’t as small as it used to be, nor tidy. But I’m still prone to not let God be God.
I’ve heard a pastor preach on this section by talking about the theme of blindness: the physically blind man gets healed and the spiritually blind Pharisees continue in their lack of sight.
Lord, I want to see You today. You. Not who I think You are, or who I think You should be.
A great article: Searching for the Sabbath, by my friend Katie Croft. It’s affected how the Bentley family rests on Sundays for the last 2 months. If you have a few minutes, I’d encourage you to read it and ask the Lord what a day of not-having-to-do looks like.
A favorite portion in which she quotes Mark Buchanan: “Cease from that which is necessary. This is Sabbath’s golden rule, one rule to which all other rules distill. Stop doing what you ought to do. There are six days to do what you ought. Six days to be caught in the web of economic and political and social necessity. And then, one day to take wing. Sabbath is that one day.”
Again, I find myself with a fresh perspective and deeper gratefulness for what Jesus has done for me. Thank you, Sally Lloyd-Jones, for sharing your gift for putting God’s Secret Rescue Plan into words that little people — and big people — can understand. (Taken from the Jesus Storybook Bible.)
Jesus’ friends were sad. They would never see their best friend again. How could this happen? Wasn’t Jesus the Rescuer? The King God had promised? It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
Yes, but whoever said anything about the end?
Just before sunrise, on the third day, God sent an earthquake — and an angel from heaven. When the guards saw the angel, they fell down with fright. The angel rolled he huge stone away, sat on top of it, and waited.
At the first glimmer of dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other women headed to the tomb to wash Jesus’ body. The early morning sun slanted through the ancient olive trees, drops of dew glittering on leaves and grasses — little tears everywhere. The friends walked quietly along the hilly path, through the olive groves, until they reached the tomb. And immediately noticed something odd — it was wide open.
They peered through the opening into the dark tomb. But wait. Jesus’ body was gone!
And something else: a shining man was there, with clothes made from lightning.
“Don’t be scared,” the angel said.
But (they couldn’t help it) they screamed anyway.
The angel asked them, “What are you doing here? This is a tomb and tombs are for dead people.
The women couldn’t speak.
“Jesus isn’t dead anymore!” he said. “He’s alive again!”
And their hearts leapt. And then the angel laughed with such gladness that they felt, for a moment, as if they had woken from a nightmare.
The other women rushed home, but Mary stayed behind. How could it be true? Jesus was definitely dead — how could he be alive? Just then Mary heard someone else in the garden. Perhaps it’s the gardener, she thought. He’ll know where Jesus’ body is.
“I don’t know where Jesus is!” Mary said urgently. “I can’t find him.”
But it was alright. Jesus knew where she was. And he had found her.
Only one person said her name like that. She could hear her heart thumping. She turned around. She could just make out a figure. She shaded her eyes to see…and thought she was dreaming.
But she wasn’t dreaming. She was seeing.
Mary fell to the ground. Sudden tears filled her eyes and great sobs shook her whole body, and all she wanted in that moment was to cling to Jesus and never let him go.
“You’ll be able to hold on to me later, Mary,” Jesus said gently, “and always be close to me. But now, go and tell the others that I’m alive!”
Mary ran and ran, all the way to the city. She had never run so fast or so far in all her life. She felt she could have run forever. She didn’t even feel like her feet touched the ground. The sun seemed to be dancing and gleaming and bounding across the sky, racing with her and shining brighter than she could ever remember in the clear, fresh air.
And it seemed to her that morning, as she ran, almost as if the whole world had been made anew, almost as if the whole world was singing for joy — the trees, tiny sounds in the grass, the birds…her heart.
Was God really making everything sad come untrue? Was he making even death coming untrue?
She couldn’t wait to tell Jesus’ friends. “They won’t believe it!” she laughed.
It is funny…yet not really…that the 19th was a rough marriage day.
It marked 3 1/2 years of being married but the day was mostly full of me feeling out of control of life’s circumstances and clammering in my attempt to get my clammy hands around all the pieces that weren’t in sync.
Suddenly, Scott felt like the enemy.
Wait, what? If I remembered nothing else from the FamilyLife marriage conference we attended as an engaged couple I got this: your spouse is not your enemy. The Enemy is the enemy.
Thankfully, I married a steady man who, more often than not, leads us into working through our stuff before we get to bed. That night, he led us to read the devotional together before bed (can I say how much I really didn’t want to?).
When we got to the questions at the end the dark cloud lifted off my heart a little as I saw God’s pruning shears pointed my way, lovingly coaxing growth. So very obvious.
“How have you reacted to storms in your life? Have they drawn you closer as a couple or have you allowed them to drive you apart?”
It was comical. I actually laughed and said, ” I have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.”
Dead wood has been blowing off me this week. It’s not pretty when the rough edges go flying, but the end result is.
A friend once told me about walking down a road after a thunderstorm and stepping over dead limbs that had blown off a row of mature trees.
“It was as though God was giving me a personal object lesson of what ‘storms’ can do in our lives,” he said.
“In the middle of the storm when the wind is gusting, the lightening is popping and the storm clouds are getting darker, it’s difficult to believe that our troubles are purposeful. But God may allow a storm in our lives to clear out the deadwood so that new growth can occur. Isn’t it interesting how fresh the air feels after a storm is over?”
As my friend shared his parable with me, I couldn’t help but think back and reflect on the deadwood, several cords of it, had has been blown from my life over the years. One of the most important things Barbara and I have learned from these storms is that God is interested in our growth. He wants us to trust Him in the midst of the storms and to grow together as a couple and not fall apart.
Lord Kelvin was lecturing his students on an experiment that failed to come off as planned. He said, “Gentlemen, when you are face-to-face wtih a difficulty, you are up against a discovery.”
How much better for family members to allow life’s storms to enable them to depend on each other and discover new strength.