Tag Archive: incarnation


The Means of Peace

This is the third study in my Advent Devotionals. First, I examined The Promise of Peace as presented by Isaiah; second, I looked at the Declaration of Peace, as recorded by Luke in his account of the shepherds visited by the angels; and now, I consider The Means of Peace, also found in Luke’s account of the birth of Christ.

In a recent study, I mentioned that one of the primary themes associated with the coming of Christ is peace. We considered one of Isaiah’s prophecies in which he said the Child to come would bring peace, restoration, and reconciliation to the whole world. In another devotional, we looked at a passage in Luke’s Gospel in which angels announced the birth of that Child; and one of the truths they emphasized was the arrival of peace in the Person of the Savior. In fact, everything associated with the birth of Christ carries this same encouraging tone—peace, relief, return to God, forgiveness of sins, and hope. Both before He came and after He was born, the Savior’s arrival was interpreted as the dawning of an age of peace and gladness.

After finding the Child and relating their experience, the last thing we read about the shepherds in Luke’s account is that they went on their way “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.” (2:20) And this is where Luke jumps ahead a week in his report and records that the Baby was given the name “Jesus,” according to the instructions of the angel who visited Mary. In our retelling and rehearsals, this is where the recounting of the Savior’s birth often stops.

At this point, all who know of the Savior’s birth are thankful and happy. But there is a bit of news about to be introduced into this story and it will completely change the tone. Some news is going to be announced that will require people to rethink the future and the ultimate reason for this Child’s birth.

In vv. 21 and following, we find Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus coming to the temple where they encounter a man named Simeon.

Luke 2:21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD “), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.” 25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Simeon was a Jew who faithfully attended to his religious duties. He is introduced in such a manner that his spiritual devotion is highlighted. (v. 25) Notice that Luke says that the “Holy Spirit was upon [Simeon].” This statement is made of few people in the Bible. The fact that it is made of this rather obscure figure in Luke 2 is intriguing. Simeon obviously walked with God and knew fellowship with God. In the plan of God, Simeon had one primary task to perform and that task was associated with the birth of the Messiah. Simeon was appointed to make a declaration that would provide balance to the world’s understanding of the Messiah’s mission. He is going to speak words that point to something else that is to come, something beyond the birth of the Messiah.

Given this description of Simeon, we are not surprised to hear that he was concerned for the spiritual condition of his people. Luke writes that Simeon “was looking for the consolation of Israel.” This phrase has a particular meaning; at that point in history, it referred to the redemption that would come with the dawning of the Messianic era. The “consolation” would be the Messiah’s arrival and rescue of the Jews. This brief statement tells us that the chief desire of Simeon’s life was to see the arrival of God’s promised Redeemer. He was one of the devoted Jews who continued to believe God’s promise of a Deliverer. He hoped it would come in his day, of course, and so it did.

The most unusual element of this story is revealed when Luke tells us that “it had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (v. 26) Simeon knew, therefore, that the Messiah would appear soon; he knew for certain that the redemption for which his people had waited was about to be manifested. We have no idea how long before this event Simeon had received this information. We can be sure, however, that his life had been affected by it.

At the time when Joseph and Mary came to the Temple, Simeon was moved by the Spirit to enter as well:

27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.” 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed– 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

This was, of course, a Divinely-arranged encounter and the purpose of this encounter, as I indicated, was so that an announcement might be made that would complete the prophesied picture of the Messiah’s ministry. Simeon, as I noted, is going to reveal an aspect of Christ’s ministry that is emphasized elsewhere, is certainly discernible when we consider Christ’s work, but which is, nevertheless, frequently overlooked when it comes to commemorating the Messiah’s arrival. This announcement has to do with how this Savior will bring peace to the earth. Isaiah promised the peace, the angels announced the peace to the shepherds, but so far, the means of that peace, or how that peace will be achieved, has not been revealed.

It appears that Simeon recognized the child of Joseph and Mary as the promised Messiah. Luke records that Simeon took the boy into his arms, blessed God and began to praise Him (v. 28). The very issue that had occupied Simeon’s thoughts and prayers, that being the consolation of his people, now had become the focal point of human history with the arrival of the Christ-Child.

Having taken the Child into his arms and having realized that this was the Messiah that God promised and that the people of God had looked for throughout their history, Simeon declares that he now is ready to depart from this world because God had fulfilled His promise and his eyes had seen the Christ (v. 29). As God’s servant he had witnessed the arrival of the Savior. He was ready to rest in death assured that redemption had come.

Luke tells us about the reaction of Mary and Joseph; they were “amazed at the things which were being said about [Jesus]” (v. 33) As had happened before, they heard unusual remarks made about their Baby. Simeon understood the advent of the Messiah as a glorious event for which he offered praise to God. The things that he had said up to this point caused joyful amazement in the hearts of Joseph and Mary. However, Simeon’s tone changes and he paints a distressing picture of Christ’s destiny. From Simeon’s perspective, not only did the Messiah’s birth mark the beginning of salvation, it also signaled the beginning of turmoil: “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (vv. 34, 35)

Earlier, I referred to the prophecy of Isaiah. That prophet predicted that a revolutionary process would take place in the world. He said it would begin with the birth of this Child. The world would come under His increasing dominion until He ruled over the whole earth, the prophet taught. Obviously, the coming of the Messiah represented a disruption of sin’s dominion and influence in this world. This disruption and realignment would, by necessity, involve human beings and would mean that their lives would be disturbed, to put it mildly. This aspect of the Messiah’s coming is what Simeon mentions in his last few words.

Simeon declares, “This Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel; and for a sign to be opposed…” (v. 34) The coming of the Messiah manifested the love of God as His plan of redemption continued to unfold, but it also marked the beginning of a process of separation. Some in Israel would be attracted to the Messiah while others would reject Him. Christ would be the cause of a division in the nation and, ultimately, of course, in mankind.

What Simeon predicted is precisely what has unfolded in history. Some have found forgiveness and everlasting life in Jesus, and others have encountered condemnation and everlasting death. There is no neutrality where Jesus Christ is concerned. The Scripture plainly declares that “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36) For some, therefore, the arrival of the Messiah meant condemnation.

This is Simeon’s message in Luke 2. The coming of the Messiah meant joy, of course, for those who longed for His coming and for those who had remained faithful to God; but the coming of the Messiah meant judgment for others who took pleasure in sin. Without Jesus, the day when we all stand before God to take responsibility for our lives will be a day of absolute horror. To stand in the pure light of Deity without Jesus to shield you will scorch a man down to the very center of his soul. No one will escape and no one, except those standing with Jesus, will receive mercy.

That elderly man was predicting that some men would oppose God’s Messiah and work against Him. What Jesus Christ represented and what He had to say would cause many to despise Him. He would cause the true intent of men’s hearts to be revealed. For the first time in the birth narrative, the coming struggle and suffering of Jesus Christ are mentioned. The fact that these elements are mentioned even at the birth of the Christ-Child emphasizes that a significant portion of His ministry would be concerned with disrupting mankind.

Simeon concludes his remarks with a special word for Mary: “and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (v. 35) She would experience deep sorrow over the treatment given to her Son. His coming would cause there to be a revelation of the hearts of all. As we know from a later Biblical record, Mary did, indeed, live to see her Son hated and rejected and nailed to a cross upon which He died.

We know that the Messiah has come. All of the prophecies made concerning Christ’s arrival have been fulfilled and we are living in the days envisioned by the prophets. The coming of the Christ no longer is a promise, it is an accomplished fact of history. His work in this world has begun and the Church is evidence of the progression of that work. The coming of the Messiah means salvation. It means that a payment for our sin has been made and we are reconciled to God. These truths are cause for excitement, optimism, and thanksgiving. Give thanks to God for your salvation even as you pray for the world to embrace the Savior.

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If you have a hymnal handy, you might enjoy the following short study I put together for Christmas Eve.

 

Isa 9:6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah gives us an amazing description of the nature of the Child who is to come. He will have an authority that will encompass all rule, all dominions. He will mean light to a sin-darkened world and He will bring order to a world thrown into moral chaos by the fall. Then the prophet lists names/titles that describe what this coming One will be to mankind.

This description should be kept in mind when we think of Christ’s work today and when we consider what the future holds for the work of the Savior through His Church.

Isaiah 40:1-5  “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.  2 “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD’S hand Double for all her sins.”  3 A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.  4 “Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley;  5 Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

This passage comes at the beginning of Isaiah’s extended commentary on the Servant of God. Chapter 40 marks a point of transition in which the prophet’s primary focus is on Christ, rather than Israel. This Servant will do what Israel as God’s servant failed to do.

The hymn Comfort, Comfort Ye My People is based on Isaiah 40:1-5. Many of the prophecies from this point in Isaiah express consolation and hope that Judah’s exile in Babylon is almost over. Isaiah 40: 1-5 is a passage with words of comfort that forecast a new reign. The passage also calls for preparation or repentance in light of what God is going to do.

The author of this hymn is Johannes Olearius (b. Halle, Germany, 1611; d. 1684). The hymn was written in honor of John the Baptist and published it in 1671. It was part of a collection of 1200 hymns, 300 of which were written by Olearius. Olearius came from a family with several Lutheran theologians. After his education, he was ordained as a Lutheran pastor himself. Although Olearius wrote a commentary on the entire Bible and a number of devotional books, he is best remembered for his hymn collection.

Micah 5:2 But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. 3 Therefore, He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel. 4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And this One will be peace.

Other prophets, such as Micah, supply details regarding the circumstances of the Messiah’s birth. Roughly 700 years before the event, Micah foretold the place of the Savior’s birth; and he says something about the beneficial effect of His coming. The people of God will begin to be united under Him and He will be great and He will be peace—peace with God and peace among men.

The hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem was written by Phillips Brooks in 1868. At one point, he spent a Christmas Eve in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity, which made a tremendous impression on Brooks. Three years later, while pastor of the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, Brooks was searching for a new carol for his children to sing in their Sunday School Christmas program. He then wrote the words of this hymn. The church organist, Lewis H. Redner, was asked to compose a melody that children could sing easily. On the evening before the program, Redner came forward with the tune that has become most familiar. He claimed that he was awakened from sleep with the turn running through his head.

What is predicted and described in the Old Testament is fulfilled at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. This event is recorded at length by Matthew and Luke.

Matt. 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”

“Jesus” is the Greek equivalent of “Joshua,” which means “Jehovah saves.” This is the designation given by the angel to Joseph. Jesus would be God the Savior in human flesh. The angel declared that the birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that Immanuel (“God with us”) would come.

The hymn O come, O come, Emmanuel originated in the medieval Church of the 12th century. It began as a series of Antiphons—short “back and forth” statements sung as part of worship services during the Advent season. Each of the statements uses one of the many titles ascribed to Christ in the Scriptures. Today, most hymn books have only five statements, although there were more in earlier versions of the song.

Luke 2:1 ff. (Luke narrates the birth of Jesus) 8 And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night.9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Luke, of course, tells us the most about the birth of the Savior. In this passage, he describes the appearance of angels to a group of shepherds outside Bethlehem. To these ordinary men the announcement came of the birth of the One who would perfectly exemplify meekness and self-sacrifice.

The hymn While Shepherds Watched was written by Nahum Tate in 1700. This hymn is one of the most popular ever written. It is found in nearly every Protestant hymnal. It is a simple narrative account about the shepherds and is written on a level that allows it to be easily understood. The music for the hymn was adapted from a work of Handel.

Luke goes on to say: 15 And it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.

Silent Night was authored by Joseph Mohr who, according to his own testimony, intended to write “the perfect Christmas hymn.” The church organist, Franz Gruber, supplied the tune in time for a Christmas Eve service in 1818. The first performance of this song involved both Mohr and Gruber singing, while Gruber also played the guitar.

Our last selection, also reflecting the significance of the words of the angel to the shepherds, is Joy to the World, written by Isaac Watts. Watts said he did not intend this song to be a Christmas carol. Rather, it was a part of a work in which Watts paraphrased the message of many of the Psalms that spoke of the day of the Messiah’s reign.

 

1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

Although the details are few, we know that some kind of disruption occurred that resulted in some who had professed to be Christians leaving the group to which John is writing. John indicates that this caused a great amount of stress. Based on the verses just read, another source of danger was false teaching.

It is generally agreed that John is referring to self-proclaimed prophets (or teachers) when he issues the warning that we see in verse one. The threat was significant, according to his description: “many false prophets have gone out into the world.” This meant that these believers had to be extremely careful regarding their sources of instruction. The only thing that could be done is what John advises, namely, “test the spirits to see whether they are from God.”

The word translated “test” (dokimazo) means “to scrutinize something to determine its authenticity.” The apostle is telling his readers to examine the message of those who claim to be speaking for God and compare what they hear with what the apostles had already imparted. John infers that such an examination can lead to a definitive conclusion regarding truthfulness.

The means of testing is not left up to the people, however. John tells them what standard to apply when they assess the proclamations they encounter. In the second verse, he reveals the key to identifying the prophets of God: “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is from God.” This tells us, it appears, that the fundamental issue being debated had to do with the nature of Jesus Christ.

In his typical style, John is blunt in his assessment of these false prophets: “this is the spirit of the antichrist.” Already, he adds, these enemies of the gospel are at work in the world seeking to oppose the preaching of the good news and keep people from finding deliverance in Christ.

The gospel message included this declaration that the Savior was not a mere man, but was God in the flesh. This fact meant that Christ’s sacrifice was infinitely worthy and could, therefore, atone for our sins. The death of a man could not provide what was required, but the death of God, as it were, was more than sufficient to satisfy the demands of God’s justice. Therefore, those who were proclaiming that Jesus Christ was not God in the flesh had to be rejected.