The Prince of Peace

I remember today’s devotional writer as a really great, practical guy. Tom Constable would oversee Christian ministry assignments we were all required to do, especially internships. My pastoral internship over the summer of 1980 involved working with a notoriously cranky pastor. And I also needed to involve a lay-leader of the church as an advisor. The pastor wrote a rather negative review of my summer ministry (true to his character), whereas the lay-leader (who later became the pastor of that church) wrote a glowing report. Back in Dallas, Constable called me into his office for a final review and told me he had never seen such contradictory reports. Describing the situation on the ground at my internship church (very complicated after the tragic death of the former senior pastor), he just said, “Very good, let’s spend some time praying for this man and this church.”  Such a good guy … and here’s his devotional from 2011, still practical for today …

The Prince of Peace

“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 … Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, NASB).

2011 has been unusually chaotic—earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tornadoes, wars, revolutions, skyrocketing national debt, economic hard times, and widespread unemployment.

At the end of such a year, it’s especially comforting to remember that God promised to provide us with a Prince of Peace, a ruler who would epitomize peace and bring peace to our troubled world. Isaiah described this One as a Prince, a ruler under the authority of another, even God the Father. An outstanding mark of His rule would be peace. The Hebrew word translated “peace” is “shalom,” which means the fullness of well-being, freedom from anxiety, goodwill, and harmony in relationships—not just the absence of hostility. “Shalom” comes from a root meaning “to be whole or complete.” The Prince of Peace would Himself possess a perfectly integrated, well‑rounded personality, and be at peace with God and man.

When Jesus Christ came to this earth, He provided peace with God by bearing the sins of humankind and dying in our place (Romans 5:1). He made peace through the blood of His cross, and His self‑sacrifice reconciled all things to God—all creation, including people (Colossians 1:20).  When Christ returns to the earth, He will bring global peace, having done the work necessary to establish it when He died. Then the nations “will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war” (Isaiah 2:4). Having removed the cause of war—sin and enmity between God and man (Romans 5:11)—people will live in peace with God and with one another forever (Isaiah 9:7).

Peace has come and will come to us because a Child was born. We must go to Him to find peace. Come, Lord Jesus!

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Light out of Darkness

Perhaps the best-known of all Dallas teachers is the famous Howie Hendricks. He was a character!  Being from the northeast, he could be a bit frontal in conversation, though in a most humorous fashion. Early in the time of my service as worship pastor at Grace Bible Church, a young woman in the church with a similar vocal training background as my own was insistent that we needed to perform a particular duet. We rehearsed it right before church, and I was not sure it sounded that great. I was concerned. The guest speaker that morning was Howie. So I ran into the pastor’s office for a final prayer before the service began (a weekly event), and was quickly introduced personally to “Prof.”  Still distracted by my musical concerns, I must have had a vacuous look on my face, because he squeezed my hand tightly and looked closely into my eyes and said, “So, are you with it today, or not!!??”  It was an embarrassing moment. “Oh, yes… yes… I’m fine… just concerned about a potentially stinky special song today.”  We all laughed. But I have no memory about how the song turned out.

Here is Howie Hendricks’ devotional …

Light out of Darkness

“In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4, NIV).

DARKNESS. Deep below the earth’s surface, lights went out as the tour guide in Carlsbad Caverns reminded us: this is total blackout. With no speck of light anywhere, all sense of direction was lost. It echoed the opening words of the Bible, “… darkness was over the surface of the deep.” No life, no growth could be sustained. Then “God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).

No scientist can adequately explain the origin of light; we know only that we have it and it leads the thinker to ask: How? Who? What does it mean for me? Yes, I can see physically, but how do I know intuitively what is my next best move? My eyes see, but I struggle with private doubts. Is there a way to do life right, and what about the hereafter?

CHRISTMAS. The light shines in the darkness. Jesus, the babe of Bethlehem, the true eye opener, declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Just as God provided light for the physical creation, He revealed His solution for spiritual blindness. John’s Gospel illuminates the core truth: this same Person who first brought physical light into the world is the same One who came to offer spiritual sight.

SOLUTION. Our spiritually dark world, groping for stability, stumbles into repeated disaster. Through His written word we see inner light. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). No one need flounder in our world’s present insecurity. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

King of Kings and Lord of Lords

Today’s devotional was written by New Testament Literature and Exegesis (i.e. “Greek”) professor David Lowery. Professors have a reputation of being a bit austere and detached. But not David; he was an immensely personable and approachable fellow. I especially appreciated him as he was my primary advisor for my master’s program and thesis.

King of Kings and Lord of Lords

“And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS’” (Revelation 19:16, NASB)

Adorning the stairway wall of the main academic building on campus is a large etched glass print with these words: “All hail the power of Jesus’ name! Let angels prostrate fall; Bring forth the royal diadem, And crown Him Lord of all.”  We usually sing this hymn at the opening and closing of the school year. In fact, the 2011 commencement program refers to it as “the seminary hymn.” The inspiration for this hymn comes in part from this passage in Revelation that portrays Jesus crowned with “many crowns” (19:12).

The theme of Jesus as King is a particular feature of the first and last book of the New Testament. Matthew records the visit of the magi from the East, seeking “the one who has been born king of the Jews. We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). They found him in Bethlehem and presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (2:11). They were surely right to recognize him as the king of the Jews, the long-awaited Son of David, the fulfillment of Israel’s promised Messiah. He was that, but He was much more. As the voices in heaven declare in the last book of the New Testament: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).

These words have become a special part of the Christmas season as the choral refrain in Handel’s wonderful oratorio, “Messiah.” In addition to the words of Revelation 11:15, the “Hallelujah Chorus” uses the words of Revelation 19:16, “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” to great effect. The pitch rises as the choir sings the fourfold refrain, “King of kings! And Lord of lords!” and culminates in a fivefold “Hallelujah!” It is little wonder that for over 250 years audiences have risen to stand as the chorus is sung. It is the anticipation of a coming day when “a great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before the throne in celebration of God’s salvation (Revelation 7:9–10). How blessed to be a part of that company on that wonderful day. Hallelujah!

Call His Name Jesus

Today’s devotional was written by beloved professor Dwight Pentecost (why could nor I have had a cool name like that?).  Dr. P. – as he was called by everyone – was a biblical scholar extraordinaire, particularly on the gospels and on the subject of eschatology (last times teachings). He was also a long-time pastor of the church where I was on staff and was ordained (though he was not the lead pastor at the time of my service there).  Dr. P. was a major influence on Chuck Swindoll – who was on the staff of the church with him a decade or so before I arrived there.

Call His Name Jesus

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS” (Luke 1:31, NKJV).

The angel Gabriel was sent to announce to a virgin, “you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son” who was in truth the eternal coexistent Son of the Highest (Luke 1:32). He was coming to earth in human form as the Son of Man. To emphasize His true humanity his parents were instructed, “you shall call His name Jesus” (Luke 1:31; Matthew 1:21). He was in fact both Son of God and Son of Man, undiminished deity and true humanity, God and man, but one person, God/man. The name “Jesus” stresses His humanity and His identity with the human race. He is Jesus.

Jesus spent thirty years in His father’s carpentry shop. He experienced work. He can identify with us in our work-a-day life. He understands what we face in that world. He is Jesus.

He knew what it was to be forsaken and rejected even by His “familiar friend.” He experienced the emotional stresses that we can experience. He understands our loneliness from experience. He is Jesus.

He knows what it is to be tested. He confronted the tempter in the wilderness who employed the three means at his disposal to test Jesus: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). So trying was the conflict that when it was over, “angels came and ministered to Him” (Matthew 4:11). He understands our need when we are tested and tempted and is able to provide help because of what He went through. He is Jesus.

We can say with assurance that there is no need we have, no test we endure, and no experience that comes to us that He does not understand. For as truly human, He has experienced them all. “We do not have a great High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted (tested) as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). He is Jesus.

There is added significance to the name Jesus, for it is the Greek counterpart of the Hebrew Joshua, the one who succeeded Moses and led Israel out of their forty-year wilderness experience into the rich blessings of their inheritance in the Land of Promise. Jesus, as another Joshua, will bring Israel into her covenanted land to enjoy its blessings. He is Jesus.

In order to provide salvation for sinners, the accumulated debt sin incurred must be paid in full. This required that either the guilty must pay their debt, or it must be paid on their behalf by a substitute. The substitute must be identified with those for whom He is a substitute. To meet this requirement the Son of God took to Himself true humanity so as to pay sin’s debt as one of us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Had there been no Jesus, there would have been no death to pay our debt. We have a gracious salvation offered to us because the Son of the Almighty became JESUS.

EXALT THE NAME OF JESUS

From Weeds to Wonders, the Story of Moses

He was born in 1835 in Scotland to a weaver’s family, in a one-room house shared with another family. He emigrated to America with his parents at age 13. The family landed in the Pittsburgh area, where the father and son both found jobs in the same cotton mill. The son worked as a bobbin boy, changing spools of thread 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in a cotton factory. His starting wage was $1.20 per week ($34 by current standards). He was responsible in his tasks and gained new and better opportunities as time went by, managing the steam boilers.

Soon he was working for a telegraph country, and then at age 18 for a railroad. By age 24 he had a management position in the railway, gaining many valuable educational experiences in both management and cost efficiencies. These experiences positioned him to become, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Superintendent of the Military Railways along with the Union government’s telegraph lines in the east. Personal investments in the iron industry paid off well, as railroads and the war effort demonstrated the high value of efficient steel production.

Turning his attention fully to this industry, he made a fortune, controlling the most extensive integrated iron and steel operations ever owned by an individual in the United States. He invented a cheap and efficient mass production of steel by adopting and adapting the Bessemer process, which allowed the high carbon content of pig iron to be burnt away in a controlled and rapid way during steel production.

Selling the business at age 66 for over $300-million, he went on to other endeavors, as well as giving away unprecedented amounts of money for all sorts of varied causes. He funded over 3,000 public libraries, gave to many universities, built a music hall in NYC, and from his love of music paid for 7,000 church organs, totaling $6-million (much of that money surely found its way to Hagerstown and the Moller Pipe Organ Factory).

Altogether, he gave away about $350-million… not bad for an immigrant boy born in a one-room house in poverty. Many of you probably already know that I’m talking about Andrew Carnegie.

Though “rags to richer / pauper to prince” types of stories are popular and well-known, still, they are particularly interesting because it remains far from the common experience of the human condition. Such stories are beyond normal EXPECTATIONS – the title of our holiday season sermon series.

Today, the second infant character we will look at is Moses, who goes from “weeds to wonders.”  In studying the life of the man who is the most venerated person for the Jewish people in their history, we do begin “in the weeds.”  This is a phrase we use when we talk about something being lost, hidden or out of plain sight. It is not the place you want your shot off the tee on a par-five hole to land. Or even worse … in the water, among the reeds.

You will recall the story of the family of Jacob going to Egypt because of the providential position of Joseph, as God saved the chosen family in this fashion. But their future of blessing was not to be in Egypt. Several hundred years had now passed and the family became larger and larger, growing into a veritable nation, though falling ultimately into a slave class of people. Joseph was long-forgotten by Egyptian leadership.

Now the Hebrew nation was becoming a threat, due to their numbers. To deal with this issue, the order from Pharaoh was that Hebrew baby boys would be thrown into the Nile River. And that is the context into which Moses was born.

At three months old, in order to hide him from this fate, it says in Exodus chapter 2 … But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Miriam, his sister was nearby and watching this, approached and asked to get a Hebrew mother to come nurse the child, getting their mother to come. And so, Pharaoh’s daughter raised Moses as her own son. In this situation he surely had the best of educations and opportunities, and likely had training in leadership and matters such as the military.

The text quickly jumps to Moses as having grown up. He has a rekindled interest in his people of origin; and when he sees one of his own Hebrew kinsmen being mistreated by an Egyptian, his anger leads to him killing the Egyptian. Fearing for his life, he flees Egypt and heads out into the Midian wilderness. There he marries and spends four decades as a shepherd for his father-in-law.

Conditions for the Hebrew people remain difficult, and between their prayers and the providential hand of God, the time comes for them to be returned to occupy the land of promise according to the Abrahamic Covenant. It is God’s determination to use Moses as a leader of the people to lead them out of this Egyptian exile and into the Promised Land.

We might speculate on what Moses introspectively thought about his life, during all the hours he was alone with a bunch of sheep essentially in the middle of nowhere. Surely he had a component of gratitude for the good circumstances of being rescued from the Nile and having so many privileges in life. But he had lost it all; he had blown it big-time!  (Maybe he even thought of changing his name’s spelling from Moses, to Loses!)  He certainly did not have any expectation of great things being accomplished through him. His was, merely now, a life of survival. But, that fit well with his oft-passive personality.

We pick up the story in Exodus chapter 3 … Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Moses continued to argue with God. After saying “Who am I to do this?” he next asks, “Who shall I say sent me?”  God says to tell the Hebrews that “I AM” sent him.

Then Moses counters with a “What if they don’t believe me?” argument. God gives him signs … his rod to a snake, and back again to a staff … his hand leprous, then healed.

Moses next says that he is not an articulate fellow. And he comes right out and says, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

We cannot blame God for getting irritated at this point, as the text says in 3:14-17 … Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. 15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. 17 But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.”

Moses and Aaron met with the leaders of the Hebrews, and then went before Pharaoh with the plea to “Let my people go.”  The Egyptian monarch balked, over and over. And you know the story that through a series of wondrous signs, at last, Pharaoh agreed to let the people go – finally after the death angel slew the firstborn throughout Egypt, passing over the doors of the Hebrews where the blood of atonement was applied.

Seeing their servants heading out of town, the Egyptians reconsidered, following the Israelites. With his rod, Moses caused the waters to stand, allowing dry passage – those same waters then drowning the armies of Pharaoh.

Having seen such miracles, surely the people would trust God to take them boldly into the good land of promise. Spies who searched out the land reported that it was indeed a land of milk and honey; but you know that 10 of 12 also reported that the land was inhabited by people too strong and powerful to be defeated. And the masses believed the report of the majority. Due to this unbelief, the nation is sent into what will be 40 years of wandering in the wilderness until the unbelieving generation dies off.

All of this is but a sampling of the problems Moses had to contend with. Being called to the mountain to receive the Law of God to give guidance for successful living, he returns to the people to see that they have revolted and made images to worship. He goes before the Lord and says, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”  (Ex. 32:31-32)

The people complain about lack of food, and God supplies through the miracle of the manna – to which they later complain about their boring diet.

Lacking water, God uses Moses to bring water out of a rock. They are led from place to place by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The people see that Moses meets with God, yet they continue to rebel and complain. There is the incident of them wishing they could go back to Egypt, and they complain against Moses … “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”  God sends venomous snakes amongst the people, with Moses being told to make a brass serpent toward which people could look when bitten to find healing.

Moses was not perfect through all of this, but he persevered, getting the people to the door of entry into the Promised Land – to be accomplished through Joshua.

In that this is the Christmas season, why are we talking about Moses and not baby Jesus?  And the reason is that so many of these stories and events look forward to Jesus in a bigger and more expansive way, even a spiritual way. Moses himself wrote in anticipation that this would indeed happen, writing about one who would come later, one whom we know as Jesus … (Deuteronomy 18:15,18) – The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. … 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.

Last week we talked about this thing called typology – by definition, something in the Old Testament that is a symbol or prefiguring of another something to be more perfectly accomplished in the New Testament. And these TYPES abound with Moses/Jesus, there are many dozens. For example, both are shepherds, both sent out 12 men, both did miracles with large bodies of water, both provided food for the people.

But here are some other major types of Moses/Jesus …

  1. Moses was hidden away in Egypt as a baby when Pharaoh sought to kill all Hebrew baby boys. Jesus was hidden away in Egypt as a baby when Herod sought to kill him and all baby boys from Bethlehem.
  2. Moses, son of royalty, willingly left his royal home in Pharaoh’s palace to come to his own Hebrew people. Jesus, the royal Son of God, willingly left the glory of heaven to come to earth for the sake of His people.
  3. Moses spent 40 days on the mountain without food and water when getting God’s Law. Jesus spent 40 days in the mountainous wilderness without food and water during his temptation.
  4. Moses delivered Israel out of bondage and slavery in Egypt through the blood of the Passover lamb. Jesus is the deliverer of Israel and all peoples from bondage to sin and slavery by being the Passover Lamb. (“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29)
  5. Moses, in love for his people, interceded for the Israelites when they sinned by worshipping a golden calf, offering his own life. Jesus interceded for all sinful people, laying down His life in love by taking our sin and guilt upon Himself as our substitute.
  6. Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant of Law. Jesus Christ is mediator of the New Covenant of Grace. (“For the law was given through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” – John 1:17)

Isn’t that amazing how all of these consequences just sorta happened!  Indeed, typology gives us great confidence in the Scriptures, as varied authors separated (in this case) by 1500 years reveal an amazing story of pre-shadows and fulfillments. And all of this is such a major part of what we reflect upon in celebration at this season of the year.

So, it is all an amazing story. But like so many biblical characters – in that the Bible does not hold back when telling the whole (plus/minus) story of peoples’ lives – Moses is someone we all can relate to in various ways. He is not always perfect, not always a champion on the field.

  • He was a murderer – most of you haven’t done that!
  • We see his weaknesses in his hesitations to take on God’s calling upon his life.
  • There are occasions where his temper and frustration come boiling out. At times he even yells at God, essentially saying things like, “Isn’t this what I said would happen?”
  • He did not get to enter the Promised Land due to his sin of disobeying God and striking the rock to obtain water, rather than speaking to it. Moses took glory to himself which belonged to God, making it necessary for God to demonstrate fully before rebellious Israel that it was not Moses who had led them from Egypt, but God Himself.

Yet the great accomplishments of the latter part of his life take chapter after chapter to record. So, what makes the difference, and what might we learn from this?

Think back to the rod in his hands when he was called. This staff was for him, as with all shepherds, their primary human tool and security. It could be used to accomplish many things – the guidance of the sheep, safety from attacks, stability in uncertain terrain, etc.

God told him to throw it down, to give it over. And when Moses “put the staff in God’s hands,” great things happened – miracles like turning the water of the Nile to blood, like the parting of the waters of the sea to enable Israel to cross, like lifting it high and giving victory over the Amalekites. But when he went back to using it in his own power, bad things happened.

We all have a “staff” … a something that is our comfort and security in the material world. Perhaps it is accumulated wealth, or maybe a career or place of position. It might be the blessing of a strong mind and sense of rational wisdom. Maybe it is the stability of a family and home and a predictable way of life.

We all have something … and probably it is a good something, generally speaking. But God wants us to throw it down, to give it over to Him. He wants us to not go out into the world in our own strength, but only in His strength working through us by what He has given to us as abilities and gifts of blessing.

….

If you read all through this, here is a bonus for you from my music past. There was a well-known Christian musician – a blind pianist/vocalist – named Ken Medema. He wrote wonderfully creative songs, including one about the story of Moses. Close to 40 years ago I had my Dallas choir perform this 8-minute song. It is still performed in many places. Here are some links to see it on YouTube …

To see a college chorale doing it –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSZyNPI9KH4

To see Ken Medema himself performing it –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRBjtnp4208

The Purple Dress and a Text of Scripture

The devotional today was written by a much-beloved Church History professor named John Hannah. He is on the first handful of the smartest people I’ve ever known. We had some similar backgrounds, and he and his wife became our friends during our Dallas years. The daughter that he speaks of in this devotional was in my wife Diana’s 1st grade class when she was a teacher in a Christian school in Dallas. Hannah’s devotional reflects back to the time when he himself was a student at the seminary …

The Purple Dress and a Text of Scripture

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 9:6, NASB)

The apartment on Swiss Avenue was rather bare, our plight being little different than many others pursuing graduate studies. Christmas was upon us, and we welcomed into the world our firstborn just three days before; our Rebecca came home from Baylor Hospital the day before Christmas day wrapped in a red Christmas stocking.

I thought, “This is the greatest season of the year, a day of celebration, a day of sharing.” What could a dad and mom give to a three-day-old? We bought for her a purple dress, compelled to express our thankfulness for our gift. On Christmas day we placed Rebecca under our tree, we got the decorations from a discounter down on Industrial Avenue, and laid the dress beside her.

Christmas is a time of expressing gratitude, and what a special gift we had been given. Decades have now passed and that little one is a lady with her own family. However, that purple dress, that she never wore, hangs in her closet. It is a symbol and much more.

Rejoicing over the gift of life and the dress filled us with delight, but the day was far more than that. What could we give to Him who gave us life? We had in our apartment an unusable fireplace with a little mantle over it. We found a large piece of white construction paper, inscribed a text of Scripture upon it, and hung it. The text was Isaiah 9:6.

Many Christmases have come and gone, but that one was “the best Christmas ever.” We celebrated the gift of a child to us, a daughter, and we celebrated the gift of a child for us, the Lord Jesus Christ. The One who is life gave us life, a life to share and a life to possess. It was the best Christmas ever.

Born a Beacon

Today’s devotional is by Dallas Theological Seminary Associate Professor Eugene Pond.

Born a Beacon

“Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.’” (John 18:37, NASB)

There could be no more dramatic scene. Pontius Pilate, the one Roman able to acquit or condemn, faced this castigated Jew whose life was demanded by His enemies. The procurator was turned into a witness to Jesus’ innocence— “I find no fault in this man”—and yet he succumbed to the pressure of being accused of disloyalty to Rome and ordered the crucifixion of the Christ.

The baby swaddled in the manger was marked for sacrifice since before He was born. His name of Jesus meant that He would save His people from their sins. The promises and warnings to Mary. The prediction of Simeon. The proclamation of John the Baptist. Jesus’ own predictions of His death and resurrection. The hatred of His own people. The prophetic purpose of God the Father in Isaiah 53 that all our sin would be laid on this Lamb of God.

Jesus was born a king, and yet the king had to die to redeem all sinners. Gethsemane proves that He did not have a death wish, but He had the will to obey God unto death. All of His life, starting with the Christmas events, culminated in His confrontation with Pilate and the execution that was ordered. Jesus went on to declare that “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” indicating the element of faith that His kingdom requires. Pilate’s answer of “What is truth?” fell far short of that required faith.

All mankind continues to be confronted with this call to truth: that Jesus was born to die for our sins, and we need to accept that sacrifice as counting for us. He was born a beacon to mankind, the light of the world, the baby marked for redemptive death, the one who draws us to God and who lives as our king.

The Baby Who Threatened the World

Today’s devotional out of Dallas Theological Seminary is written by a theology prof named J. Lanier Burns. He was just coming upon the scene at DTS when I was headed out into the ministry world, but he has made a great impact upon thousands of students and the world of biblical scholarship beyond Dallas. And here too is another theme of a baby who would make a difference beyond his humble entrance into the world.

The Baby Who Threatened the World

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:3, NIV)

Jesus was born in the Roman Empire in a time of peace and prosperity, a time of literary giants such as Virgil and Ovid. But the most prominent headline was in Bethlehem rather than Rome. A baby—of all things—stirred political leaders, wise thinkers, the angelic hosts, and cosmic alignments!

Wise men from the east interpreted an extraordinary star as sign of the advent of the “king of the Jews.” They made the difficult journey to worship the creator of the universe, seeking salvation in a baby in Bethlehem. Most improbable but true!

The word spread like wildfire and reached no less than “Herod the Great,” king of Judea. Herod’s reign was characterized by ruthlessness: he murdered his wife, his three sons, and anyone who threatened his insatiable thirst for power. Herod assembled chief priests and teachers of the law for information about the “baby who would be king.” In a rare stroke of wisdom, they noted the prophecy: “Out of you [Bethlehem] will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (Matt. 2:6, Mic. 5:2, 4). Most improbable but true! Not Rome, or at least Jerusalem, but Bethlehem!

Insanely jealous, Herod deceitfully searched for the child, so that he could “worship him.” But God summoned His heavenly intelligence service to care for the wise worshippers and the young family. The wise men were warned in a dream and returned to their country. An angel of the Lord instructed the family to flee to Egypt, because the haunted king would try to eliminate the child (Matt. 2:16). No one understands the insanity of sin better than God!

Hallelujah! The saving child brought us salvation by faith (Col. 1:19-20). A baby stirred the empire, its leaders, wise thinkers, angels, and the universe! Most improbable…but absolutely certain!

Justice to Victory

Today’s devotional was written by Professor Stanley Toussaint, whom I knew during my time at DTS – a man who was also a part of the establishment of the Dallas church where I served as minister of music. He was a very godly man and scholar, and he used to like to joke about his name, saying, “I’m not just one saint, I’m two saints!”

Justice to Victory

“A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory.” (Matthew 12:20, NASB)

At first blush this verse seems to be out of place in the Christmas devotional booklet, but it has everything to do with the birth of the Lord Jesus. He was born in humble circumstances. No armies guarded the infant Jesus. So it was in His ministry; He humbly retreated when faced with opposition (Matthew 2:14, 22; 4:12; 12:15; 14:13; 15:21; 16:4; 21:17). In Matthew 12:14 the Pharisees took counsel how “they might destroy Him.” The Lord’s response was not to fight and make a big scene, but simply to retire from them. This was exactly as Isaiah 42:2–3 predicted.

In fact, Christ humbly dealt with “battered” reeds and “smoldering” wicks. Reeds were cheap and dispensable. A smoldering wick could be quenched with a squeeze of the thumb and forefinger. Matthew 12:19 further states He would not cause a loud public clamor in the streets.

This is a description of Christ’s earthly ministry in weakness. 2 Corinthians 13:4 says, “He was crucified because of weakness.” A crucial point in Matthew 12:20 is the adverb “until.” The construction in the Greek NT gives an impression of some indefinite future time. In this age we are still seeing the weakness of Christ—the blaspheming of His name, the mocking of Christians, and the flaunting of disobedience to the point of lasciviousness. However, one day this will change when He returns to reign and “He leads justice to victory.” Although great power is revealed in the gospel (Romans 1:16), the whole world still lies in the Evil One (1 John 5:19).

Jesus is our example (1 Peter 2:21). We are not to be brawlers but quietly and gently to be His servants. As Paul stated, we are to eat our bread in quietness (2 Thessalonians 3:12). What a gentle Christmas reminder Matthew 12:20 is.

How Christmas Changed the Calendar

Our yearly calendar really does revolve around Christmas and the beginning of the new year, like it or not. And we are into that season now as we head toward Christmas Day in three short weeks.

This devotional today is written by Mark Bailey, the current President of Dallas Theological Seminary. He was a good friend during my doctoral studies years and even came to preach once for me at my former church in New Jersey. He is also the brother-in-law of musician Steve Green. Some TSF people are still around to remember the time we did a backup choir for a Steve Green Christmas Concert at the Maryland Theatre … 1996, I think.

How Christmas Changed the Calendar

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:21–23, ESV)

There is a slightly carnal side of me that enjoys the fact that every time an unbeliever or an atheist dates and signs a check or another official document they are having to give credence to the fact that over two thousand years ago something dramatic happened that ultimately changed the way the world keeps track of time.

On archaeological signs in Israel you will find dating as BCE or ACE. BCE means “before the common era,” and ACE means “after the common era.” Sometimes just CE is used for the “common era.” These are nonreligious designations since to use BC (before Christ) or AD (Anno Domini, the year of our Lord) would link the dating to what really changed the world—the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who really is the Lord. Those who don’t believe Jesus is Messiah and Lord just don’t want to go there. Ironically, the dates are all the same regardless of the designation one uses. Hence it really is Jesus who defines the eras.

At a more personal level, Paul in Colossians 1:21–23 shows the change Jesus brings into our lives as he describes what life is like before and after Christ changes our birthday spiritually.

Without the incarnation there could be no death and resurrection—hence no good news as to how we who were born into this world with a nature tainted by alienation, hostility, and evil behavior could be reconciled, declared righteous, and one day, stand before Him in holiness. All of this happens as a result of our second birthday, our spiritual birthday when we trusted Christ by faith. The connections between gospel proclamation, personal faith, steadfast living, and hope are held together because of what happened as a result of that first Christmas.