2020 Advent Devotionals

Thanks for joining us!

Thank you for joining us during advent as we looked toward the birth of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ!

Introduction

When I was growing up, Christmas time was great, but let’s be honest, it was about the day of Christmas…the presents. As you get older it becomes more about the details. The lists and checking them twice and all that. While the coming of Jesus, the promised Messiah, was an event that happened on a particular day, the gift he gave the world was the culmination of much more. It was the culmination, the linch-pin of history.
For the month of December, each day you will receive a devotional, written by one of your Grace pastors, that walks you through the story of Scripture. Over this season, we pray that you experience the joy of the gift God has given us. As we go through Scripture, we will see that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that his coming changes everything.
- Pastor Jason Blackley

Friday, December 25

Day 25 | 1 John 1:1-4
By Pastor Brooks Simpson

1 John 1:1–4 (ESV)
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

John wants his readers to know God is truly with us in Christ’s coming and that we can enjoy fellowship with Him today. Today we celebrate Jesus coming.  In His coming, God dwells with those who have received Him by faith. The hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a classic Advent hymn that has its beginnings over 1200 years ago in monastic life in the 8th or 9th century.  The first verse proclaims:

“O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

There are four remaining verses and each one cries out for the God of Israel to come and rescue a people lost in sin. The name Emmanuel, meaning “God with us,” is a version of Immanuel found in Isaiah 7:14 and quoted in Matthew 1:23. When Joseph first learned of his betrothed wife’s pregnancy, he had in mind to divorce her quietly but an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said,

Matthew 1:20–23 (ESV)
20 “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

The angel tells Joseph that Immanuel, “God with us,” is at that moment a fetus in his fiance's womb – flesh and blood. The God who ransoms captive Israel and a world lost in sin came in the flesh and took up residence in the womb of a teenage girl.  

John tells us that the apostles have seen Jesus with their eyes, heard Him with their ears, and touched Him with their hands. He has come so we can have fellowship with Him. John proclaimed the life of God was manifested through Jesus and that life is available to us. John proclaims a message of hope to a people lost in sin.  Jesus has come to bear sins (1 John 2:1-2), and we can have the joy of His fellowship this Christmas day. Jesus took our sin and gave to us His own righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) which we receive by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8:9).

Receive this gift today.  Believe John’s message, the message of the gospel and share it with those yet to be ransomed from sin.  

Father, we thank you for sending your Son Jesus that you would dwell with and in us. God, thank you for taking on flesh and subjecting yourself to the humiliation of the cross on our behalf. Open our eyes to all that we have in you. Open our eyes to the hope that is ours in Jesus. Open our hearts and minds that we might know the love that you have for us. Father, give us that joy that John wrote about which is available to all who know Jesus. Immanuel, make yourself known to those around us who do not know you. Father, ransom others in our schools, places of work, community, and amongst the nations that are still in darkness.  Father, grant us the courage to proclaim your gospel in word and deed. Father, let us share in your joy by allowing us to see people enter into fellowship with you for the sake of your glory.  Amen.


Thursday, December 24

Day 24 | Matthew 1: 18-25
By Pastor Steve Scheperle

Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means, God with us). 

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

The beauty of this well known Christmas passage requires little additional comment. 

Here is a God who sees the lowly. Jesus’ arrival amidst such humble circumstances reminds us that even when we feel small and insignificant in the world, God not only sees us, but He can use humble servants for great purposes.

Here is a God who brings renewal to a chaotic world. Joseph was told not to fear because Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. When this same Spirit appeared in Genesis 1, He brought order to the chaotic waters at creation. Now the Spirit was at work in Mary, leading to the birth of the Son of God who would bring order and new life to a world suffering under sin, death, decay, and disorder. 

Here is a gracious God. Jesus’ saving work is so great that He would die for the sins of His people, reaching into the brokenness and waywardness of our hearts, washing our sin and shame and giving us a new heart by grace.

Here is a God who is with us. The name Immanuel is so fitting and gives us great comfort, knowing that our God who is the author of the universe would choose to come near to us, to know our life, our experiences, and our pains. And He would be with us even to the extent of identifying with our very sins, though He Himself never sinned, so that we would have the hope of everlasting life with Him.

 


Wednesday, December 23

Day 23 | Luke 1
Submit by Jeff Thompson

Luke 1:26-38 (ESV)
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

This passage foretells of the most amazing miracle of all history: the incarnation. The angel Gabriel told Mary that the second person of the Godhead, “MOST HIGH” GOD, the Lord and creator of space/time, the maker of you and me, will humbly descend into created space/time to save us. This miracle is further explained in 

Philippians 2:5-8
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus’ act of humility climaxed on the cross, but the beginning of the act in space/time started at His birth. The Lord and creator of the universe was born in a humble manger. The almighty God subjected Himself to being fed, washed, and cared for by people who could not even conceive how mighty and powerful He was.

Furthermore, when we read in Colossians 1:17, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together”, we realize that even when Jesus’ human nature was taking a nap as a helpless babe, His divine nature was holding together everything from the entire universe to the smallest subatomic particles. Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God. Only He could offer Himself up as a perfect sacrifice for our sin. 

We see that Jesus was not only humble, but he was infinitely humble. According to the passage in Philippians referenced above, we are to “have this mind among yourselves.”

Application

  1.     Praise God for His love and humility.
  2.     Count others more important than yourselves during this Christmas season.
  3.   Consider how much Jesus did for you and how you should respond. If Jesus is not Lord of your life, contact our Grace staff and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

 


Tuesday, December 22

Day 22 | Romans 1: 1-7
Submit by Steve S.

Romans 1: 1-7 (ESV)
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 In an election year, we are always prepared to hear lots of political promises. As we inch toward November, we are bombarded with endless political ads, often with candidates bandying about promises for this and for that. What do candidates want from us when making these promises? They want us to vote for them, to increase their power or influence.

However, in Romans 1:2, Paul points out that the gospel was “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,” and this promise works differently than election year promises. First, the gospel promised is that Jesus would come in power, and this power is not dependent upon whether people “vote” for Him or affirm Him. Rather, His power is absolutely demonstrated by His resurrection from the dead. Second, in order for Jesus to demonstrate His power through the resurrection, He had to first lay down His life. Jesus’ proof of power entails the ultimate act of humility and self-sacrifice for others, even those who are undeserving such as you and me. Unlike politicians who dangle promises in front of us in the hopes that we will cast our vote for them to increase their influence, God’s promises look different. Power resides in Jesus’ hands whether people affirm His power or not. And yet, Jesus’ exercise of power provides waves of immense grace for sinners, as He lays down His life to atone for sin, wash us of guilt and shame, and to adopt us into His family from across the nations.

This Christmas season, as we look back on how Jesus fulfilled God’s promise, to come in power and graciously lay down His life to redeem sinners, we can also look forward to another promise: that those who are in Him will share in resurrection life forever! Praise God for His rich, powerful, and gracious promises!

 


Monday, December 21

Day 21 | John 1:19-28
By Josh Haveman

John 1:19-28 (ESV)
19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”  21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,  27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

We often take comfort and abundance for granted today. In our time, heat and cold can be regulated by the push of a button. Pre-made food can be purchased at almost any hour of the day or night. Many of us buy gifts for people who are already rich. The gifts we give can still bring blessing, but it is rare that the gifts we give will meet a true need.

Contrast all of these things with Palestine in the time of Jesus. Comfort was much harder to come by. Abundance was something few people experienced on a regular basis. There was no electricity, no fire unless you gathered the fuel, and certainly no supermarket to run to when you needed an extra pie. What sort of environment would they have had in which to celebrate the first Christmas. 

We all know the answer to that question. There was no room in the inn. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus bedded down in a stable. They may have had warmth, but it was because they were surrounded with livestock. They had an abundance of joy, but that had nothing to do with mountains of presents or cookies covered in sugar. Not only were they closer to being outdoors than indoors, they were also closer to being in the wilderness than being in civilization. Cast out of the inn, away from palaces, the king of the world knew only rough cloth for his first clothing and dry grass for His first bed.

People are experiencing a great wilderness in our time, too. This isn’t because most of the world is homeless in a physical sense. The rough places we are more likely to inhabit are spiritual deserts – dark nights and valleys of the soul where the shadow of death is our unwanted companion. This reality is true for people living today and it was for those who lived in the time of Jesus. Though the contemporaries of Jesus were closer to living in the physical wilderness than we are, the spiritual wilderness they faced was their greater woe, just like us. 

Consider the way that John the Baptist clarifies his purpose and calling to the Pharisees in the passage above. He clearly states that he is not the Messiah (v 20), and not Elijah or some other final prophet (v 21). Instead, John clearly says, “I’m the one that Isaiah told you would come – someone who cries out in the wilderness (v 23).”

It may be easy to think that John is just talking about the place where he lived. We know that John lived in the desert, wore coarse clothes, and ate bugs (Matthew 3:4). But when we look more closely at the passage in Isaiah, we see that the wilderness John is describing is something else. 

Isaiah 40:1-5 (ESV) 1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The comfort that John proclaims is an escape from the wilderness of iniquity and the desert of sin. He isn’t telling the Pharisees how to find comfortable accommodations. John is laying out the path toward spiritual safety. How? A highway! A straight path right through the desert we live in is made available to us by the most supernatural of means. The valleys are raised up. The mountains are brought down. The glory of God Himself is revealed in these things so that all the world can see together that He has made a way for us to go to Him.

The comfort, the escape, and the Way, we know, is Jesus (John 14:6). Jesus is the straight path through the desert of sin. He makes the rough places flat and smooth. He raises up valleys and brings down mountains. With tender words (Isaiah 40:1-2) He does this, His kindness leading us to repentance (Romans 2:4). But also, later, with judgment and fire and sword (Revelation 6) He will bring all people before Him, melting the hills like wax with His very presence (Nahum 1:5). 

This Christmas season you will be tempted to find all of your comfort in warm homes and delicious food. Find it instead in the words of eternal life. Happy music and pretty lights will lead your minds down paths of nostalgia and cozy memories. Find your joy, though, in following the path laid out by the Good Shepherd. Give good gifts. Enjoy the gifts you are given. But make sure to remember that the gift everyone in the world desperately needs is Jesus. And rejoice in the fact that you can give them that gift! The glory of the Lord is being revealed; soon we shall see Him face to face. Soon we shall know Him even as we are fully known. But right now, you can cry to the wilderness around you, “I know the Way!” That is true comfort.


Sunday, December 20

Day 20 | John 1:14-17
By Pastor Jason Blackley

John 1:14–17 (ESV)
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 

In the year 2020, we have all had an interesting relationship with our dwelling place. We have worked, “gone to church,” schooled, and zoomed from our home, our place of dwelling. What has been strange about this phenomenon is that we are used to doing certain things from home. However, this year the lines between work/home/school/church have been blurred for months. Where we live is important. It determines many things about our life. Where God dwells is even more important. 

If you have been around small children, you inevitably have been asked the question, “Where does God live?” This is one of those questions that is so easy; it is actually difficult. We typically end up saying something like heaven. In our hearts. Or, in a place we cannot see. This may deflect the question momentarily, but children and adults alike find this answer unsatisfying. 

John 1:14 says that God took on flesh and “pitched His tent” among the people He created. The concept of God in the flesh is outlandish enough, but God coming and living among His people?!? Preposterous! This sounds too good to be true. Better put, it is so good that it is true. The good news “gospel” that we reflect on, sing about, and remember at Christmas time is that the God who made the world and everything in it, came and lived among those He created. In Him, we have received “grace upon grace.” This language describes a cascading, repetitive, unfolding grace. Jesus came in the flesh and dwelt among us because we could not save ourselves. We know what is true; and we know grace because He came. Not only so, we can receive this grace because Jesus also came and was hung on a cross by the very ones He came to save. The creation executing their creator. We, as they, need grace upon grace. 

Where someone lives says a lot about them, and God came and lived among us. He left His heavenly throne to be born in a manger and die on a cross. Yet, He rose again! Now, according to Hebrews Chapter 1, He sits on a throne. 

In 2020 and in the year to come, and every year for that matter, we need our Savior who created the world, came to earth, died on a cross, rose again, and now sits on a throne. The good news is, in Christ, we have just that!


Saturday, December 19

Day 19 |  Luke 21:25-36
By Pastor Paul Hansen

Preparation

Luke 21:25-36 (ESV)
25  "And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." 29 And he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 "But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

In preparing for Christmas, our family always enjoys moving through a series of readings that help prepare our hearts. I don’t know about your family, but preparation doesn’t exactly come naturally to us. As much as I hate to admit it, we are not particularly good at preparing for many things. Our kids remembering something at the last minute for school is an all too common phenomenon in our household! That’s why we have to be so very intentional in preparing for things like Christmas. .

It was during one such reading in preparing for Christmas that my youngest son mentioned the wonder of all of the preparations that God had made in sending His Son. He noted the nuanced prophecies, the signs, and especially the cosmic event in step with the entire solar system, the appearance of a star! Who could believe that God would have a star guide a secular people to a Jewish King that would ultimately prove to be their One true King as well? That is something pretty spectacular!  

The scriptures make plain that the same amount of preparation God used in coming, He will make with equal amounts of preparation for His return. Luke 21 declares, "There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. . .  At that time, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." The scriptures also make explicit that this interim time we now live in from the first Christmas following Christ's ascension, Jesus has been preparing a place for you and me. John 14 unapologetically informs that Jesus said:

John 14:2-3 (ESV)
2 In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 

With all this preparation by the Lord on our behalf, how should we prepare? The answer should not surprise us. As the old Christmas carol, "Joy to the World," boldly instructs, “Let every heart prepare Him room!" The rest of today's passage makes it very clear that this is exactly what is on God's heart, not just for this season, but for every moment of our lives. Luke 21:34-36 says: 

Luke 21:34-36 (NIV)
34 "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."

Our preparation is compromised when we allow our hearts to be weighed down with sorrows or even with pleasures. This failure to prepare amounts to a trap. The solution, while simple, is not easy. Preparation consists of ongoing watchfulness and prayer, but beware that this does not equal duty and drudgery. Christmas and this season of Advent is tremendously instructive regarding what the rest of this daily preparation throughout the year should look like. As any child can tell you, looking forward (being watchful) to Christmas Day is something to enjoy. While a child may grow impatient in how long it takes, the wonder of anticipation does not leave their hearts for long. The expectation is half the joy.

Christian, the anticipation — and preparation of your King's return is half the joy. Your burden is light because God's preparation and provision in Christ was, is, and will be perfect. Enjoy the gift in looking to Him. When you open your Bible, you are meeting a person, not a habit. May the joy of preparation for His eternal kingdom be yours in fullness today!


Friday, December 18

Day 18 | Luke 3: 1-6
By Pastor Dave Kirk

Proclaim the Good News! 

Luke 3:1-6 (ESV)
1 “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 

2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written, in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, 

"The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’"

Every time I read about John the Baptist, I am amazed. His life had one purpose which was to tell everyone that Christ, the Messiah, was coming. He lived his life very simply, going throughout the land preaching and teaching people to repent because salvation was at hand. Not all would listen to his message, and many thought he was nothing more than a crazy man from the wilderness, but many, many people came forward, accepted his message, and became followers of Christ. John the Baptist’s role in Advent was to proclaim Christ is here! 

During this time of Advent, as I look back on the birth of Christ but also look forward with anticipation for the 2nd coming of Christ, I sometimes wonder –  man, what an honor it would have been to be the forerunner of Christ, to pave the way for His coming.  

Isn’t that what I am here on this planet for though? Isn’t that what all of us who are followers of Christ are here for? To love Him with all we have, to proclaim to the world that Christ is coming back again one day soon, and to be ready. You see, you and I have a single purpose for our lives –  it’s to make much of Christ to our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. 

So I have to ask myself during this time of advent: “What am I making much of right now? What is my life proclaiming to the world? Am I letting my words and actions be solely focused on proclaiming the salvation of Christ and His return?” If I am honest, there are certain days and moments of the day where I get a spiritual amnesia and forget whose I am and what my purpose is. I am so thankful for passages of scripture like Hebrews 4:16 that remind me that I can run to the throne to receive mercy and grace to help me in my time of need. It's by running to Christ to cast my cares, confess my sin, and spend time with Him, where the spiritual fog is cleared; and once again I see with joy what my focus and hope is. His love reorients me to the truth that He loves me and that my purpose in life is to let the whole world know of His love for them and that He is coming back soon. I am free to love others in a way that makes much of Christ; and I can do that in little ways and big ways with my words, but also with my actions towards others. 

In what ways can you make much of Christ to your friends, family, and loved ones? How can you show them and tell them of Christ’s love? Who do you know that you can pray for that desperately needs to know Christ’s love today? How can you be an answer to that prayer? 

 


Thursday, December 17

Day 17 | Mark 13: 24-37
By Pastor Steve Scheperle

During the Advent season, we often think of lowly Jesus lying in the manger. We envision him wrapped in swaddling cloths. And we should. The gospel writers themselves describe Jesus’ humble arrival. But during advent, we should also remember that this Jesus did not simply come once, and He certainly didn’t stay in the manger.

Mark 13:24-27 (ESV)
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Jesus’ first arrival to earth was in very lowly circumstances. This speaks of the humility, nearness, and grace of God. As a babe, Jesus came softly into the world. Wrapped not only in swaddling cloths but human flesh, He became like us. Though Jesus was the King of kings, He took on the form of a servant. And though He lived a perfect life, He humbly died to redeem sinners. Jesus’ first coming loudly speaks of Jesus’ humility, nearness, and grace.

But when Jesus returns, He will come back as the resurrected and glorified son of God. This powerful Jesus will one day come again and draw believers to Himself from across the globe. This Jesus is near to you, He knows your aches, your longings, your name, and even the hairs on your head. And yet, He also continues to hold all things together and will one day come to judge the living and the dead, to gather the elect to Himself, and to establish the new heavens and the new earth. In Christ, we find not only one who is near, humble, and gracious but one who also holds the whole world in His hands.

And during this Advent season, as we await His second coming, our waiting should spur us on to be spiritually vigilant. As Mark says in 13:35-37: 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Today, I’m praying the following for all of us and invite you to join me in prayer:

  •  God, help us to find comfort in Jesus’ nearness and humility. That He became like us, He knows our troubles, and He died for our sins.
  • God, help us to take comfort in the fact that Jesus continues to hold all things together.
  • And God, help us to be spiritually awake and alert in light of your Son’s glorious return.


Wednesday, December 16

Day 16 | Malachi 3: 1-4
By Pastor Brooks Simpson 

Malachi 3:1–4 (ESV)

1 Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

I am so ready for things to change in 2020. Who isn't ready for change? Malachi gives a word from the Lord to a people waiting for change. Israel had returned from exile in Persia and they were ready for God to change their circumstances. They were no longer in exile, but they were still ruled by the Persians, and they were complaining to God. They knew a Messiah would someday come and their attitude was, “Hurry up already!” God gave Malachi a word for Israel that suggests even those who thought they were ready needed preparation. They were not ready. 

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.”

They were not ready. They needed some prep work. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John reveal this messenger “who prepared the way” for the Lord as John the Baptist. His message was one of repentance. Israel expected a Messiah to set the world straight.  Instead God sent a Messiah to forgive sin and set our hearts straight. Their biggest problem was not their circumstances, it was their sin. John prepared them for Jesus’ first coming by making them acutely aware that their problem was their sin. We can be like Israel at times and assume that our greatest troubles are circumstances: the government, the economy, COVID, or other people. If those were our biggest problems, then Jesus would be of little use to us. It is not until we are broken and see our sin as the problem, that Jesus, as the messenger of the new covenant, becomes precious to us.  

Jesus’ first coming led Him to the cross where He atoned for sin. He has redeemed His people from the penalty of sin, but we still need to prepare our hearts. Having been forgiven, God wants to sanctify us, refine us, and mold us into the likeness and image of His Son. God wants to prepare us for His Son’s second Advent.  

  • Pray today that the Lord would prepare your heart for more of His glory.
  • Pray that the Lord would prepare the hearts of those you will encounter; that they might receive Jesus as their Savior.
  • Pray for the church to desire the holiness Christ came to impart.


Tuesday, December 15

Day 15 | Haggai 2: 4-9 |
By Pastor Jason Blackley

Haggai 2:4–9 (ESV)  

4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, 5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. 6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’

This passage begins with the word “Yet.” When you find this word in the Bible, you know that something good is about to happen. Similar to the word “but,” yet indicates a turning point. When we read it in the Old Testament it typically means that God is about to talk about His mercy, provision, and promises in spite of Israel’s waywardness. This passage is no exception. In it we find the reminder and promise of God’s presence. 

First of all, we see God remind people of how He delivered them out of Egypt. As you read the Bible, start underlining and otherwise making a note of how often God reminds people of this specific deliverance. Often, it is described as them being delivered by His “mighty power and outstretched hand.” This clearly indicates the power of God, but it also indicates His presence. It indicates that He was with them even while they were enslaved. 

As we move through the passage to verse 5, we see the Lord remind His people that He is currently in their midst. This is remarkable because there is no temple, because it is yet to be restored; and the people of God are at a low point religiously and economically. Yet, God says, I am still with you. 

The rest of the passage speaks of the promise of God to not only fill the temple when it is rebuilt, but also fill His people. The “greater glory” here has a double fulfillment. First in the second temple that is about to be rebuilt, and then in His people, permanently, based on the finished work of Christ and starting at Pentecost. 

1 Corinthians 3 speaks of the people of God now being the building and temple of God. 

So what do we have here? The promise of God’s presence in our past, present, and future. Oh, how we need to know that God was there in the past when we sinned and suffered. Oh, how we need His presence right here, right now. Likewise, you better believe we will need His presence in our lives, homes, churches, and societies moving forward. Praise be to Christ who “made purification for our sins,” (Heb. 1:3), and by so doing made a way for the presence of the living God to always be with us and in us!

 


Monday, December 14

Day 14 |  Zephaniah 3: 14-20
By Pastor Jeff Thompson

Zephaniah 3:14-20 (ESV)

14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem! 

15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil. 

16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak. 

17 The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. 

18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.

19 Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth. 

20 At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the LORD.

Zephaniah is all about the “Day of the Lord”: a future date of judgment for the whole earth. We read in Zephaniah 1:2 that God promises, “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth.” The book gets more depressing from there. How can this book be about Christmas?

However, in Chapter 3, we see that God will be changing hearts and not threatening punishment. God knows that threats will make the proud even more eager to do evil (3:7). God will change hearts and eventually purify the nations (3:9). Later in Chapter 3, Zephaniah encourages the hearers/readers even more. This passage 3:14 – 3:20 is one of the most beautiful descriptions of God’s love found anywhere in the Bible.  

Again, how is this about Christmas? Look at the paragraph more closely. These verses describe Jesus. See how the following passages match the description of Jesus in the New Testament.

 

Description Zephaniah         New Testament
Jesus (God) is King 3:15 1 Tim. 6:15 ; Rev. 19:16
Jesus (God) is in their midst 3:15; 3:16 John 1: 14; Mt. 1:23; 

Mt. 28:19-20

Jesus (God) saves. 3:17 Mt. 1:21
Quiet you by His Love (Wipe away tears) 3:17 Rev. 21:4
Gather the people 3:18; 3:20 Mt. 23:37; Mt. 24:31;

John 11:52 

Restore the Lord’s favor/Set free captives    3:20 Lk. 4:18

 

The passage is a prophecy about Jesus and His ministry. Again, how can these verses celebrate Christmas? Read verse 18 again more closely, “I will gather those of you who mourn for festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.” Commentators agree that this is a difficult passage to translate. The basic gist is that those, because of hardship and distance, who could not attend the temple festivals, will be gathered to celebrate the festivals in the future. Think about our current situation. Because of the pandemic and the economic problems, some will not be able to celebrate Christmas with our loved ones. At Grace, our Christmas Eve service has been changed to be an online service even though we would prefer to celebrate together in person. However, in the future, in the “Day of the Lord”, we will celebrate in person with the whole body of Christ from all countries and from all generations. We will be at the Great Banquet with the Lamb of God (Mt. 26:29; Mk 14:25). Our spiritual “masks” will be removed, and we will fellowship with God face-to-face.

Applications

  • Meditate on Zephaniah 3:14 -20. This is like a spiritual hug from God every time you recite it to yourself.
  • Use this time of Advent to be a comforter instead of a divider. Believers are the body of Christ. We are to comfort one another because God is the comforter (2 Cor. 1:4).
  • Pray for one another. Pray for unity. 
  • Find creative ways to sing, or if you cannot sing, shout in community (Zeph. 3:14).

 


Sunday, December 13

Day 13 | Micah 5:2-5
By Josh Haveman

Micah 5:2-5 (ESV)

2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And he shall be their peace.

 If you are reading this, you weren’t born yesterday. But even if you came to know Jesus yesterday, God has been calling you to Himself from the moment of your birth. He has been faithfully preparing a place for you to do His will in His kingdom Ephesians 2:10 (ESV). describes it this way: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” In other words, God has a plan. God always has a plan. Even when the world is falling apart around us and nothing feels like it will ever be normal again, God has a plan.

The world does feel like it is falling apart around us. It felt that way for Micah, too. The tragedy that we see in the book of Micah is that God’s people have rejected His plan in favor of their own evil designs. Micah 2:1 describes people who even lay awake at night thinking of new ways to work evil. These aren’t people who know nothing about God. These are men and women from God’s own nation. In our day and age this problem remains. Yes, there is a pandemic and many other problems that we may have done nothing to bring about. But there are also people who profess to know God who are working wickedly. And there are people who do know God but don’t trust Him. This is a tragedy, too, because God’s plan is so much better than ours. 

We think important people and places are necessary. God chose for His son to be born in a tiny town (Micah 5:2). We do everything we can to avoid hardship. God gave His people up to trial for hundreds of years before Mary gave birth to Jesus (Micah 5:3). We praise personal strength and position. Jesus came like a lowly shepherd who only acted in the power of the Lord (Micah 5:4). We would make peace for ourselves through the work we do, the money we earn, and the control we exert over the world around us. But Jesus provides peace through Himself alone (Micah 5:5).  

Why are these choices and plans better than ours? Because they work. Because they’re good. Because they’re God’s. What would we do to save ourselves? We would give anything: thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil, our own children even to save our souls (Micah 6:7). But those terrible plans would earn us no favor with God and we would lose everything of value in this life. Instead, God’s plan is that He would give His Son – the fruit of His body to save our souls. Then all we need to do is walk humbly with Him. Do justice. Love mercy. And follow God’s plan in humility (Micah 6:8). That is a plan that works for everyone, every time. 

It is easier said than done, though. Choosing to humble ourselves is always difficult. But we have a good leader who only asks us to do what He does Himself. Jesus humbled Himself at every turn. Philippians 2:1-11 says that from the way He was born, to the way He lived, to the way He died, Jesus showed us how to be humble by doing it Himself. He showed us God’s plan was the better plan by living it out for us to see. 

But He died! God’s plan got Jesus killed! 

 Yes! Praise the Lord! Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. He now sits at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty, ready to judge the living and the dead. He is preparing a place for us to live with Him eternally if we confess with our mouth and believe with our hearts that Jesus is Lord. This, too, is part of His plan. And just as God has been calling you to Himself since before you were born (Ephesians 1:4), He has been telling us about His plan since the beginning of time. Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens pour forth speech about God’s order and design. Prophets like Micah and Isaiah were sent 700 years before Jesus was born to tell us Jesus was coming. Jesus came and established His church. Every year since He went to heaven, His Holy Spirit has grown that church and nourished those that call Him Lord. God faithfully tells us His good plan every day if we have ears to listen. 

As you wait for Christmas and the celebration of that part of God's plan,

  •   Pray against those who plan evil in this world, that the Lord Jesus would come again to restore justice and righteousness in all the earth.
  •   Pray that your eyes would be open to wonderful things in God’s word (Psalm 119:18), and that His plans would be your delight.
  •   Don’t allow yourself to be conformed to the plans and patterns of this world, but in humility, let the Holy Spirit transform your mind so that you can test and approve what God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will is (Romans 12:2).

Saturday, December 12

Day 12 | Jeremiah 33:14-16
By Pastor Steve Scheperle

Jeremiah 33:14-16 (ESV)

14 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

             Jeremiah writes this Messianic promise in the middle of an absolute mess. God’s people had wandered from Him. They had practiced idolatry and injustice, and in light of that, God was foretelling a time when He would use another nation to chastise them for their rebellion. So you have other nations who are idolatrous and wicked, being used by God to punish Israel for being idolatrous and wicked. And yet, in the midst of this, God offers a Messianic promise of hope. Out of the well of humanly created misery, God graciously promises divine hope. And this hope rests upon Him and Him alone.

            The starting point for hope is God’s original promise: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” (vs. 15).            

And the fulfillment of that hope rests in God’s hand. Israel had been given a great privilege, to be God’s chosen and blessed people. But they had also been given a tremendous responsibility to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3). However, instead of being a conduit of divine blessing in the world, Israel was rebellious, ungodly, and wicked, wreaking havoc as they wandered from their God. But God still promises fruitfulness, righteousness, and justice. Though humans, including God’s people, failed to bring God’s blessing into the world, God would remain faithful to His promise. There will be righteousness and justice.

            Further, the Messiah’s way of bringing justice is redemptive. God’s rebellious people would be disciplined but not discarded. His children would be corrected but not written off. Indeed, He would restore His people to security. And this would not rest upon their righteousness – but the Messiah’s. Even the name of Jerusalem shows this, as it would be called “The Lord is our righteousness.”

            2020 has been a mess in so many ways. And yet, Jeremiah 33 reminds us to find hope in the character of our God and the Messiah He promised. Our God starts good things, such as His promise to Israel and Judah. Our God is sovereign and remains in control of a world that appears out of control. Our God is faithful to His promises; what He says He will do He does, even in the face of human unfaithfulness. Our God is just, and He will not fail to bring righteousness into the world. Our God is a redeemer, showing patience in the face of our sin while also transforming us into instruments of goodness. All of this rests upon Him: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

 


Friday, December 11

Day 11 | Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
By Pastor Dave Kirk

Christ... our Justice

Isaiah 61:1-4 (ESV)

1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God to comfort all who mourn, 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion - to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. 

Isaiah 61:8-11 (ESV)

8 For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong;I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are on offspring the Lord has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. 

         Isaiah 61:1-4 and 8-11 couldn’t be more appropriate passages during Advent season. These verses were penned by Isaiah during a dark time of rebellion and eventual captivity for the nation of Israel. The book of Isaiah was written to prophesy against the nation of Israel but also to prophecy that hope was coming – that a savior was coming. This was 700 years before Christ came. Isaiah 61 was a direct reference to the coming Messiah, Christ himself. We would see later in Luke 4 that Jesus would quote this passage and connect Himself to this passage as the coming Messiah.  

          2020 has been a year of injustice, illness, poverty, and broken-heartedness. It doesn’t take us long to look over 2020 and ask, where is the justice in all of this. This year has caused everyone to long for justice, redemption, and hope. The answer for 2020 is the same as the answer for the Israelites back in 740 BC. His name is Jesus. Through being filled with the spirit, His life, ministry, death and resurrection fulfilled what Isaiah prophesied to the people. Walk with Jesus through His life ministry in the gospels, and you will see Him bring justice to the poor and the brokenhearted, helping the blind see and setting captives free. It's Jesus who brings ultimate justice. So we look back to the birth of Christ to see that He is the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. We also longingly await His 2nd coming where He will usher in the new heaven and the new earth and there will be no more injustice, no more sin, broken-heartedness, blindness or poverty. 

             As a follower of Christ, you are indwelt with the Holy Spirit to be an ambassador of Christ to a world who is waiting for justice and hope. For your prayer time, thank the Lord for Jesus being our justice who has come to set us free and who will come again to bring justice for eternity. Pray for those who come to mind who are currently suffering. I  also want to encourage you to use your life as an answer to prayer this season. When the Lord puts you in the path of injustice, determine to be an ambassador of Christ to that person; and in some way, big or small, as the Spirit leads, meet that need and image forth the justice that has come through Christ.

 


Thursday, December 10

Day 10 |  Isaiah 40:1-11
By Pastor Paul Hansen

HERE'S HOPE

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God…A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;  make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together,…Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength,  O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”…He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

There are few today who do not need comfort. Most, however, don't know where to begin to find genuine hope.
Every day we experience the reality of a broken world. Every day is another painful day for the hopeless. Every day, most of us witness one more vow betrayed, one more life lost, one more child abandoned, and one more heart broken. It is difficult enough recognizing any of these realities generically. Still, when you see these things happen to your friends, spouse, parents, or children, the pain becomes curiously acute. It's in all of this brokenness that God speaks in Isaiah 40:1, "Comfort, comfort my people says your God." 

The context of the rest of this chapter quite poignantly shows how this pain is directly related to the entirety of our fallen world and sin. Rather than dwell on this reality, Chapter 40 beautifully turns our heart and attention to the remedy for our grievous condition. The message here, and that of Christmas, is that we herald "good news" as our "Lord God comes with might"! We see the long view of the past work of our baby King's redeeming work, the future ruling King who brings His reward, and perhaps the most heartfelt narrative in Isaiah that speaks of the present work of our ruling King. Amid our brokenness, the scriptures tell us, "He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young."

I'm not sure how that hits you, but it strikes me particularly hard. This past year has been challenging for everyone and more uniquely painful in various trials for many more. Personally, my wife Amy and our family have had a very challenging year. A glorious word given to us is that we find the precious promise that He gently leads us amidst this difficulty. Our hearts cry out for a good, wise, and powerful individual to lead us out of our awful condition or situation, and in Christ, we meet the only person who can do that. Outside the lens of faith, this cannot be seen or experienced. While our Lord offers comfort, the world, the flesh, and the devil ruthlessly seek our ruin and distraction from this glorious reality.

One word my family has meditated on this past week during advent is the word "hope." Unlike meaningless political or sociological ideas of the world, there is no word that is more precious for a Christian. Hope for us as believers is not a wishful fantasy or a clever play on words, but rather a firm conviction of God's provision. We have hope in our future home, we have hope for the forgiveness of our past sins, and we have hope that God's comfort is available today. It's able to deal with past hurts, future fears, and all of our current challenges. In short, as we enter this Christmas season, it may be a good time to draw close to the Lord and receive the comfort that is available for every hurt, every longing, and every person in the world. Today is the day to remember; here's hope!


Wednesday, December 9

Day 9 | Isaiah 9:1-7
By Pastor Brooks Simpson

A Light in The Darkness

Isaiah 9:1–7 (ESV)

1But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 

2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 

3You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 

4For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 

5For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 

6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

7Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus' first coming has been sung for centuries as an advent hymn that brings hope when there seems to be no hope. The passage was first heard by people who were in deep pain of their own making. God rescued His covenant people from Egypt and led them to a land flowing with milk and honey. He promised to be their God and asked them to be His people. He asked that they worship Him alone as the one true God. Instead they plunged themselves into idolatry. God gave them over to their folly and allowed their enemies to rise above them. God removed his hedge of protection and disciplined His covenant people. Isaiah 5 poetically captures God’s pronouncement of judgment on a wayward people.  

Isaiah 5:5–7 (ESV)

5And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 

6I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 

7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!

God looked for justice and found bloodshed. He looked for righteousness and found an outcry. Israel had become wise in her own eyes and turned away from the God who saved them. The outcome? A violent and cruel nation to the north was allowed to kill or deport the ten tribes of the north. Darkness had descended on the nation of Israel. The vine had been trampled and it seemed God had forsaken them.

We read Isaiah’s ancient history and it sounds as if he is describing our own context.  I make no allusion that America, as a nation, is God’s chosen people as Israel was, but we are a nation that is populated with a remnant of those in a covenant relationship with Him. Our nation makes no pretense of worshiping the one true God.  We have banned God from the public sector. We have called evil good and good evil.  God has given us over to our sin (Romans 1:24-32) and we are reaping the whirlwind. I hear well meaning Christians say, “We need to win the culture war. We need to take back the nation!” What does that even mean? To win that war would require that the heart of those who have rejected the one true God, turn back to the one true God. Where is there hope when the enemy is us? Where is there hope when the people God wants to save want nothing to do with him? Where is there hope when a remnant of true worshippers are powerless to reform a nation bent on self destruction? Where is there hope in such darkness? 

Isaiah 9:1–2 (ESV)

1But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 

2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 

Isaiah prophesied to a defeated nation that out of the very region held by the Assyrians (Zebulun and Naphtali), a light would emerge. Isaiah is speaking of the region adjacent to the Sea of Galilee and the town of Nazareth. Isaiah points desperate people to the light of the world who will come to people enveloped by a darkness of their own making. Isaiah reminds this remnant that while God may rebuke and discipline His people, He will never forsake them. Their hope was to be found in the coming of a future savior. A light in the darkness. But when you read this passage in Isaiah 9:1-7, you cannot help but realize that this was not accomplished in Jesus first coming.  

Isaiah 9:7 (ESV)  7Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

That promise is not yet fulfilled. Advent season is a time to focus on the promised Messiah and His promises. Isaiah 9:7 allows us to look back and realize waiting for God has been the call of all God’s people. They awaited His first coming and we await His return. In the meantime we intercede and call out to the God who sees, hears, and knows our longing for His reign and rule.  

Spend some time praying for your nation. Pray that God would open the eyes of all those in spiritual darkness who cannot and will not see Jesus as the light of the world.  Pray that the light of the gospel would penetrate the darkness in our culture.  Pray for three people you know personally that they would receive Jesus as their prince of peace.

 


Tuesday, December 8

Day 8 | Isaiah 11:1-10
By Pastor Steve Scheperle

Isaiah 11:1-5 (ESV)
1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
   He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
   or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
   and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
   and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
   and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

David Brooks recently wrote in an article in The Atlantic, “Levels of trust in this country—in our institutions, in our politics, and in one another—are in precipitous decline. And when social trust collapses, nations fail.” What do we do when we struggle to trust our leaders, one another, and if we are honest, we can even struggle to trust ourselves? Isaiah 11 has something to say about this.

It is common to hear Isaiah 11:1 quoted during advent. It poetically foreshadows the coming of the Messiah, the shoot of the stump of Jesse that would be the savior. However, this passage is not often put into the context of Isaiah, and it can leave us with questions: “What is the stump of Jesse, and what is this shoot?” When properly read in light of the whole of Isaiah, this verse says so much about who Jesus would be and what He would accomplish!

In Chapter 5, Isaiah talks about God carefully planting a vineyard, which is Israel, the chosen people of God. And God desired for this vineyard to produce good fruit. However, Isaiah 5 says that Israel did not produce good fruit, but instead proved to be idolatrous, wicked, and unjust. As a result, God would have to discipline His people. This is depicted in Isaiah 6 where Israel is described not as a vibrant vineyard, but as the stump of a tree that has been chopped down! This is the context for Isaiah 11. The stump of Jesse is disobedient Israel whom God would discipline. And yet, God also promised that the stump He would prune would become the seedbed for something great. Out of the stump of Jesse, a small shoot would sprout. Out of Israel, the Messiah would be born. And unlike the kings of Israel who often led the people into idolatry and injustice, this Messianic king would bring a kingdom of godliness, justice, and peace.

The history of Israel puts human tendencies on display. Israel’s kings were not consistently faithful to God or just. And God had to use ungodly nations at times to discipline His own people. Is this the fate of humanity: to forever wander between waves of fruitfulness and justice only to constantly be thrown back upon injustice and wickedness? In our time, we are struggling to trust our institutions, our leaders, and ourselves. Is this the best we can hope for? Isaiah 11 says no. A messiah will come who will bring justice!

As John Oswalt writes in his commentary on Isaiah, what Isaiah 11 envisions is a ruler who will “…no longer see himself as privileged but rather as responsible, when he will become one for whom his people’s welfare is uppermost. In a word, the ruler will be the servant, not because he is too weak to dominate, but because he is strong enough not to need to crush. This picture cannot be applied to any merely human king. It is either an unattainable ideal or the figure envisioned is somehow superhuman.”

In a time when we struggle to trust our leaders, our institutions, or even ourselves, Isaiah 11 reminds us that God will not leave humanity to its own devices. God will, and has, sent a faithful king, and it is in Him we can put our fullest trust! His reign is gracious, providing a way for both idolaters and the unjust to receive forgiveness and have a place in His kingdom. His rule is just, affirming and protecting the value of the poor, overlooked, and mistreated. His reign is transformative, in that He continues to mold and shape us into instruments of godliness and goodness in His world. And His rule is complete, because one day He will return and definitively establish perfect and lasting peace.

 


Monday, December 7

Day 7 | Isaiah 7:10-16
By Pastor Jason Blackley

Isa 7:10-16 (ESV) 10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz: 11 "Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test." 13 And he said, "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.

In the times we find ourselves in, there are a number of things that can shake us. Whether it is fear for the safety and health of loved ones, ourselves, the economic ramifications of losing our jobs, or a downturn overall in the economy, there are many things that can shake us. For each of us, the things that have shaken us in 2020 may vary, but there is one thing we all have in common. It is our own inability to control what happens in our world. We often go through prolonged seasons with a sense of control; even if it is in creature comforts like determining what we are hungry for and then going out and buying it. The pandemic has taken away much of that sense of control, to varying degrees, for us all. We are not the first people to feel this way. 

In the book of Isaiah, the southern half of the divided Israelite kingdom, Judah, was ruled by Ahaz. Ahaz had one thing going for him, and one thing against him…at least. Fortunately, he was from the line and throne of David. This was the promised line of heritage and from whom the deliverer of Israel would come. The thing that Ahaz had against him was that he was an inexperienced leader. But wait, there’s more. In the first year of his reign, before he had even gotten his customized crown and cufflinks, Isaiah came to him with some bad news. The king of Syria and the king of Israel had conspired against him and the kingdom of Judah. In Isaiah 7:2 it says that when Ahaz heard the news, he and the heart of his people were shaken “as  trees shake before the wind.” In case you don’t follow the figure of speech, it was bad news. Ahaz thought he had all he needed to lead the kingdom. He had the throne and the right pedigree. However, his situation shook him. But the Lord had a word for Ahaz. God tells him he needs a sign “as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven” which basically means something out of this world (v. 11). So what is the sign that God gives him? 

 Isaiah 7:14-15 (ESV) 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.

Sound familiar? Ahaz and Judah are told that they will need and receive that supernatural help in the form of the King of all kings, the maker of heaven and Earth, coming as a man. Ahaz sat on a throne that came from a long line of powerful and promised men; this baby would sit on a throne that was eternal. 

We need what they needed. The promise of God. He has the promise, plan, and provision we need no matter our circumstances. When we remember how He has loved us and that His promises still stand, we can face the day or the year no matter what it may hold. 

 


Sunday, December 6

Day 6 | Psalm 89
By Pastor Brooks Simpson

Psalm 89:1–4 (ESV) 1 I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. 2 For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.” 3 You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: 4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’ ” Selah

Psalm 89:46–52 (ESV) 46 How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? 47 Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man! 48 What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah 49 Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David? 50 Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked, and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations, 51 with which your enemies mock, O Lord, with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed. 52Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.

Promises. The Bible is full of them. In Psalm 89, the psalmist celebrates God’s promise that a descendant of David would rule on the throne for eternity. God always says what He means and means what He says. When He makes a promise, He keeps it. 

His promises of love and faithfulness are irrevocable. And yet, the psalmist complains “How long?”.  From the psalmist vantage point, these promises of love and faithfulness are not currently being enjoyed? Why not? Look at verse 46. “How long will your wrath burn like fire?”.  It would seem that God is allowing Israel to suffer because of her own sin.  

As we celebrate the first Advent of our Lord and await his second Advent, His promises are always true and sure. Yet we cry out with the psalmist, “How long?”.  In the midst of trials, we are tempted to doubt the goodness of God. The psalmist models honest prayer instead of doubt. Go to the Father and ask Him to use the pain and suffering for His glory and your good.  

2 Peter 3:8–9 (ESV) 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God is not slow in keeping His promise. How long? I don’t know? Only the Father knows. What is clear is that He keeps His promises and we are here to make His promises known.

Pray for perspective.

Pray for courage.

Pray for greater faith.

Pray for the church to embrace the Great Commission.

 


Saturday, December 5

Day 5 | Psalm 80
By Pastor Brooks Simpson

Psalm 80 (ESV)

To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. A Testimony. Of Asaph, a Psalm. 1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. 2 Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us! 3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved! 4 O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? 5 You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. 6 You make us an object of contention for our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. 7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved! 8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. 10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. 11 It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River. 12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? 13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it. 14 Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, 15 the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself. 16 They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face! 17 But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! 18 Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! 19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!

This Psalm is written by Asaph, worship leader of Israel. It's a prayer, a plea for help. Asaph asks God to restore the nation. The Hebrew word translated restore means: turn us again. Israel turned from God and they are suffering the foretold consequences. They are in the mess they are in because they turned away from God. Ten of the twelve tribes to the north of Judah have been swept away by a powerful and violent enemy. The Assyrians were a powerful people God used to enact judgment on His own rebellious people.  Asaph calls Assyria a boar from the forest. Israel had been devastated and Judah could only watch and pray as their nation became weaker and more vulnerable to an existential threat to the north. Nations rise and fall. Families come together and they fall apart. Individuals enjoy success and prosperity only to experience the pain of personal failure another time. It is in times of decline and suffering that God stirs our hearts to seek Him again.

Psalm 80:3 3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved! 

We need to cry out to our good shepherd the way Asaph did. Restore us!  Asaph is asking God to “turn us again.” They are in the mess they are in because they turned away from God. Now Asaph intercedes and asks God to turn them back - restore.  

America is not God’s covenant people, but we are a nation facing an existential threat. Israel was wiped out by Assyria which was later pummeled by the Babylonians. Nations rise and fall, even those nations which pledge allegiance to God. All nations are populated by proud, arrogant people who actually believe their success is due to their own strength and wisdom. They eventually turn away from God if they ever acknowledged Him to begin with.  Do you look at your nation and wonder if there is any hope? There is no hope for any nation unless the God who allows nations to rise and fall restores the hearts of a nation’s people to worship.

There is hope. Look at Asaph’s last plea in verses 16-19.  Do you see it?  He is praying for Advent.

17 But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! 18 Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! 19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Aspah’s prayer and our hope rests on the man of his right hand, the Son of Man whom God has made strong for Himself.  Asaph prays for the coming of the Christ, born on Christmas day. Only the Son of Man can restore His people. Turn now to the Son of Man and ask Him to restore (turn us again) His people for the sake of His glory. 

Pray for God to turn...

  • Your heart away from idols to the Son of Man (Jesus).
  • Your family and friends towards His love and mercy.
  • This church towards Him and the declaration of His greatness.

Pray for your nation and its leaders to turn towards Christ in humble repentance.

 


Friday, December 4

Day 4 | Psalm 40
By Pastor Jason Blackley

Psalm 40:1-17 (ESV)

1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. 4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie! 5 You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told. 6 In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. 7 Then I said, "Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: 8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." 9 I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. 10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation. 11 As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! 12 For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me. 13 Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me! 14 Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who delight in my hurt! 15 Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, "Aha, Aha!" 16 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, "Great is the LORD!" 17 As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!

Waiting patiently is not on my short list of things that I enjoy. I, and I would assume, you, do not intentionally pick the long or slow line while shopping or driving. In Psalm 40:1, the psalmist writes that he, “waited patiently for the Lord.” In Psalm 40:16 we are also admonished to, “rejoice and be glad in the Lord” and say continually, Great is the Lord."

How do we assume this posture of waiting? How do we rejoice, be glad, and say that the Lord is great when we cannot see Grandma for Christmas? The key is found in the rest of the Psalm. 

In Psalm 40, the Psalmist reflects on who God is, what He has done, and what He has given us to do. 

Who is God and what has He done? 

  1. 2 - The one who “drew us up from the pit of destruction.” 
  2. 5 - He has, “multiplied his wondrous deeds." 
  3. 6 - He has given us, “an open ear.”
  4. 11 - He has, “not restrained his mercy” and given us steadfast love and faithfulness. 
  5. 13 - He was,“pleased to deliver me.” 
  6. 17 - He, "takes thought of me.” 

What has He given us to do?

Praise Him! Because of who He is, and what He has done, we are called to praise Him. When we do not forget who we were, and who we are apart from Him, and when we instead recall His faithfulness, it leads us to praise. It leads us to want to speak of the good news of what He has done. 

In Luke 2:10, the angel announces the birth of the Messiah. In doing so, the angel says that he has “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Similarly, we have good news, of great joy, and we should share it with all people. Wherever we go, whatever we do, no matter the challenges we face, we have a story to tell. The story of what the Father has done for us! 

When we remember that without Him we are “poor and needy,” (v. 17) and that we were once in a “pit of destruction,” (v. 2) we have good news to share with others who find themselves there. 

This holiday season, what does it look like for you to “speak of His faithfulness and salvation”(v. 10)? Let us not “conceal” what He has done for us!

 


Thursday, December 3

Day 3 | Psalm 25
By Pastor Steve Scheperle

Psalm 25:1-5  

1To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
3Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.

Psalm 25 seems like a strange passage to include in an Advent devotional. It doesn’t speak directly to the coming of the Messiah. However, it has often been included in Advent readings because of its emphasis on waiting. In this psalm, king David talks about various pressures and circumstances that plague him. In verses 1-2, he talks about his enemies. In verses 6-7, he recalls the sins of his youth. In verses 16-18, he talks about loneliness and affliction. His repeated response to these hardships is the same…to wait upon the Lord.

How do we typically navigate seasons of difficulty, failure, and affliction? One way is to try to solve our problems. More than ever, we live in a problem solving age. If you need to fix a sink at home, you can find a YouTube video with step by step instructions. If you made a cake that didn’t turn out, blogs offer expert advice for how to make the next one a spectacular success. There is an endless sea of advice out there, offering simple steps to solve our problems. But, what happens when our problems are too great to solve? When efforts to solve our problems fail, we often turn to another tactic…distraction. We binge watch on Netflix, play endless rounds of Candy Crush, or run to a favorite hobby to escape facing our troubles.

Problem solving can leave us frantic and frazzled, as we try again and again to master our hardships or overcome our failures and yet find ourselves still facing the same problems. And, while distraction is a wonderful escape from the troubles of life, it does nothing to deal with those troubles. 

David does something that seems counterintuitive to us today: he tells us to wait. He doesn’t race around trying to solve his problems and make right his failures. And he doesn’t bury his head in the sand with escapism. Instead, he waits…and specifically he waits upon the Lord! Advent is a season of waiting; a season to remember Israel’s long waiting for the coming of the Messiah. But it is also a season to remind us to wait…and to wait upon the Lord. To remember that the Messiah who came is our only sure and ultimate source of hope amidst life’s trouble or our own sin and failures. Amidst difficulty, failure, and affliction, David forces himself to slow down and to wait upon the Lord, because he knows the character and power of the Lord. Instead of trying to fix his sins and errors, David waits upon the Lord who is merciful and shows steadfast love even to those who falter (verses 6-7). In the face of affliction from his enemies, David does not try to solve his problems or take matters into his hands, but instead he waits upon the Lord who is his salvation (verse 5).

In this psalm, David reminds us to wait upon the Lord. But this kind of waiting requires us to be active! We must actively remind ourselves about the character and power of the one we are waiting upon. Waiting is not simply about watching the clock. No, waiting is akin to trusting, and trusting requires that we know the one in whom we trust. This Advent season, may the Lord remind us to wait upon Him, to actively remind ourselves why we trust Him amidst personal failure and hardship.

 


Wednesday, December 2

Day 2 | Genesis 3:8-15
By Pastor Brooks Simpson

Genesis 3:8–15 (ESV) 8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

How would you characterize 2020? It is a hard question because 2020 has given us so much in the way of pain, it's really hard to narrow it down: Covid, racial unrest, derecho, record wildfires, a contentious election, and then the normal everyday problems life brings. If I had to choose a word, I would choose strife.  

strife

/strīf/
noun
noun: strife 

    1. angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues; conflict.: "strife within the community" "ethnic and civil strife".

Every instance of local, national, or global pain experienced in 2020 has brought with it a sociological need to identify someone to blame. Unforeseen trouble disrupts our lives and disrupts our agendas, and when our agendas are thrown off, somebody needs to be blamed. Whose fault is COVID? Whose fault is the social climate that allows for racial injustice? Who is at fault for the run of the mill break up of marriage after marriage? I think we are convinced that if we could just pin the fault on someone outside of our own skin, it might make the pain bearable. It’s us against them where “them” is anyone who sees things differently than we do. This constant state of strife gives rise to enmity.

en·mi·ty

/ˈenmədē/
noun
noun: enmity plural noun: enmities 

    1. the state or feeling of being actively opposed or hostile to someone or something.: "decades of enmity between the two countries" "family feuds and enmities".

We see enmity between nation states.

We see enmity within our own nation.

We see enmity between ethnic groups.

We see enmity within our homes.

We see enmity between man and God.

With all this enmity in the world, who is our enemy? Where should we direct our hostility? Is the enemy the other nations, the opposing political party members, the other ethnic groups, our family members we are at odds with, or the God we have rejected? The way the world and to some extent the church behaves, demonstrates that we do not know the enemy nor do we have any clue as to how to defeat him.

Genesis 3:14-15 (ESV) 14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Our enemy isn’t the people we disagree with; it is the entity which tempted our parents in the garden to disagree with God. He was a liar then, and he still lies today. His corrupting influence led our parents astray and every man, woman, and child since has inherited a disposition that aligns and agrees with his lie that a life lived for self-actualization will bring about joy.  

Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Every aspect of 2020 that brought about discord, strife, dissent, and enmity between nations, groups, and individuals, is the work of an unseen enemy that pits us against one another. The circumstances of 2020 that bring us pain will change, but the strife and enmity will remain so long as the enemy of our souls roams the earth.

This revelation could be a cause for hopelessness were it not for Advent.  

Genesis 3:15 (ESV) 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Immediately after pronouncing the curse, God gives humanity hope. Yes, there will be enmity, strife, pain, and death; but someday a descendant of Eve will be born, and this offspring of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. He will be bruised, but His coming will bring about an end to the enmity the enemy has brought into the world. Christmas celebrates the coming of the one who crushes the serpent's head. The serpent struck the Savior’s heel upon Calvary, and in doing so brought about his own demise.  Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection sealed our one true enemy’s fate. He is doomed to the lake of fire reserved for him and his angels. The first Advent gave us the cross, and the second Advent will bring us a future hope in Christ that restores all we lost in Eden: a new heaven, earth, and humanity where enmity is absent.  

As we await the coming of Christmas and the celebration of the first Advent, take time to arm yourself against the one enemy we must engage in battle (Ephesians 6:10-18).

  • Pray that the Lord would give us eyes to see who our real enemy is
    (1 Peter 5:8).
  • Pray we would be found wearing and using the armor we have been given in Christ (Ephesians 6:10-18).
  • Pray we would take every thought captive and know the truth from his lies (2 Corinthians 10:5).

 


Tuesday, December 1

Day 1 | Romans 8:18-25
By Pastor Brooks Simpson

Romans 8:18-25 (ESV) 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is characterized by disciplining our minds, our reading habits, and our praying to wait on the coming of the Lord in the same way God’s covenant people waited for the coming of the Messiah. Christians use the Advent season to focus on Jesus’ first coming and to learn to long for, love, and wait for His second coming. Advent takes our eyes off of our current troubles and fixes them on our future hope.

I (Brooks) have a confession to make. Until this year, I largely ignored the Christian observance of Advent. I never made a formal decision to ignore it. I just did. I did not grow up observing Advent; and after I became a Christian, the first and only church I worshiped in did not formally observe it. I confess that I need to observe the tradition of Advent. I suspect we all need to observe Advent.

Paul declares in Romans 8:22 that all of creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth until now. What was true for Paul’s readers in the first century is true today.  The events of 2020 have made this year seem like one long groan. 2020 started out with Australia on fire, a global pandemic hit, the economy tanked, racial tensions erupted, Derecho hit, and we just finished (well sort of finished) a contentious election cycle. People want 2020 to be over! The hope is with the coming of a new year, all the pain of 2020 will pass. Is that a reasonable hope? Does flipping a page on a calendar change the world we live in? I recall sharing with a fellow pastor, “I cannot wait for 2019 to end and 2020 to begin.”  I made the comment because 2019 was a hard year for me personally. God used my personal failures to point out work He wanted to do in me to crush my pride. God also brought us to a place corporately where we realized Grace Community Church must undergo a cultural and structural transformation if we were to fulfill the mandate to make disciples. We were experiencing the birth pains of change God wanted to make in us, but those birth pains hurt and no one wants to hurt. Groaning is a natural response to pain, and I groaned and declared out loud I could not wait for 2019 to end and 2020 to begin. If I could visit my 2019 version of me, I would do one of two things: I would either punch myself in the face for wishing for 2020, or I would challenge myself to consider the observance of Advent. I would encourage the 2019 version of me to refocus my attention on the end result of labor pains and not the pain itself. I would tell myself to start by reading slowly and prayerfully through Romans 8 so that I might consider the labor pains through the lens of a gospel-centered worldview.

2019 ended and 2020 began. We went from one set of painful circumstances to another set of painful circumstances. All of which have been foreordained by God to bring about His and our glory (Romans 8:18). My problem, and I suspect your problem, might be that we sometimes live as if now is the end of the matter. We don't have a long view of life and we don't have an eternal perspective. Consequently, the suffering we experience today is perceived to be something we will have with us forever. Paul wants us to know that is just not true. These pains of 2019, 2020, and 2021 will not be our undoing, they are the pains of childbirth that will bring about glory through the work of the Spirit within us.  

So what do we do as we collectively undergo these labor pains? We wait.  

Romans 8:23-25 (ESV) 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Each day, from now until December 25, you will receive suggested scripture reading along with a short devotional prepared by myself or one of the other pastors at Grace.  Make it your daily practice to train yourself to prayerfully wait in eager expectation of the glory to be revealed to and in you when Jesus returns. As we await the celebration of Jesus' first coming on Christmas day, use these daily devotions to reset your eyes and hearts on a future hope that cannot be lost instead of the temporal labor pains that cause groaning in 2020. Then at the close of each daily devotion, I encourage you to groan inwardly and outwardly to the Lord through prayer as you wait. Pray that God would use today's pain to bring about future glory – His and ours.  Pray to the end that:

  • The eyes and hearts of God’s people would be set on Jesus and His return.
  • The pain of today would be used by God to bring about glory.
  • We would find our joy in knowing that God uses all things for our ultimate good.
  • We would embrace our mission and mandate to declare our hope in Christ to the world.