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!

Advertisements

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

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.

A World Leader from a Wee Little Town

As I related to those who were with us yesterday at Tri-State Fellowship, I’m going to share with you three weeks of devotionals written by associates at Dallas Theological Seminary. There will be a total of 15 short writings – many by people I’ve known over the years.

This first writing really picks up on the theme of our sermon series: “Expectations: Surpassing Humble Beginnings.”  Our holiday series looks at a variety of Bible characters (including Jesus) who were born in humble circumstances, but who accomplished great things through God’s power.

This first writer – Josh Bleeker – directs the DTS extension program in Washington, D.C.  I don’t know him personally, though probably I should … not only because of the DTS and nearby connection, but because I have many cousins of this name.

A World Leader from a Wee Little Town

“‘As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, seemingly insignificant among the clans of Judah—from you a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf, one whose origins are in the distant past.’” (Micah 5:2, NET)

His parents labored through poverty, drifting through small towns. After graduating from West Point, the Army twice denied his request to assume a post overseas. If you’re looking for power, you should look elsewhere.

However, during WWII, Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower ascended to supreme allied commander in Europe with five-star general status and, after the war, to President of the United States from 1953–1961. His military and political savvy helped defeat Hitler and made him arguably the most powerful head of state in the world.

Ike was born in Denison, Texas, and raised in Abilene, Kansas. Both towns slumber in the shadow of substantially more powerful neighbors. Dallas dwarfs Denison, as does Kansas City to Abilene. Yet, their citizen changed the world.

Relatively speaking, Jerusalem dwarfs Bethlehem. If Judah was planning a power play in Micah’s day, they’d hardly start there. It’s as quaint as Denison. And as Nathanael asked about another small town in Jesus’ story, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

It’s all too much to believe except for a small detail. King David, the hero who changed the nation of Israel, hailed from Bethlehem (1 Samuel 17:12). Then the Lord promised another king, a righteous and just one. Certainly, Judah rejoiced at this news, for she suffered under perverse and crooked leaders (Micah 3:1–4, 9–12). Yet, the Descendant of David would change the nation and the world.

Another key detail shapes the vision of Bethlehem’s citizen extraordinaire: His “origins are in the distant past.” Christ’s claim on changing the world resides in eternity, not geography. And He calls us into His worldwide service, based not on our hometown, but on hope in Him alone.