Refresh & Restore — January 21, 2021

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.[1]   

1 John 2:1-6

Greetings, Sojourner!

I absolutely love this week’s passage. It shows us so much of Christ’s heart for us and introduces us to some unique aspects of His character. It also shows us John’s heart for his original audience and, I hope, it shows a bit of mine for you.

Remember that the passage that we look at each week comes out of the larger whole of 1 John. So far, we have seen that what John writes in this letter flows out of his personal experience and testimony with Jesus (1:1-4). We have also seen that, to “walk in the light” (1:7), we must repent consistently of our sin and trust in Christ – that how we see and talk about our sin matters (1:5-10). And it is the seriousness of our sin that brings us into today’s verses.

John starts this paragraph with “my little children” (2:1). This shows that he cares about them. The fact that he calls them that in this paragraph shows that what he is talking to them about is serious. It reflects how parents talk to their children in times of extreme danger or importance. Speaking from experience, I find that when my children are terrified that I remind them to “listen to Daddy” and my tone is the same as it was when I spoke to them as infants cradled in my arms. John is talking to his spiritual children about sin.

In fact, he expands his purpose for writing to include “so [they/we] may not sin” (2:1). I want to clarify that this does not point to personal, human perfection. It is unattainable on earth. This is not a cop out; it is merely the truth. It is in our nature to sin and our sin nature continually wages war against the Spirit of God in us (Romans 6:23, 7:15-20; Galatians 5:16-17). But even though this is true, we have to be careful in how we talk about sin. Knowing that we will always struggle with sin does not give us an excuse to sin (Galatians 5:1). Sometimes, even knowing that there is forgiveness to be had can tempt us to sin more and more (Romans 6:1-2).

Just as John showed us in last week’s passage, we must have an appropriate view of sin. If we deny our sinfulness, we are liars who have no part in Christ (1:8). But, if we confess our sins to him in repentance and faith in Christ, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). I do not know about you, but I struggle with the reality of my sin. I long for the day when I will see Jesus face-to-face and no longer struggle with sin. But I would be a fool to think that I had arrived at perfection before I kneel before perfection Himself in glory.

So, how does the reality of my continued sin fit with John’s purpose of writing “that [I] may not sin”? John acknowledges the reality of sin in verse 2: “But if anyone does sin”.

The picture that we see unfold in verse 2 is that of a courtroom. Our sin deserves death and hell (Romans 6:23, Revelation 21:8), and we are very clearly guilty (Romans 3:10, 23). As we saw last week, to plead innocent would be a lie and show that we are not in Christ (1:8). To plead guilty would be the truth. And, standing before the righteous Judge (Psalm 50:6, 75:7; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 2 Corinthians 5:10), we would be as aware of our sins as Isaiah was when he stood in the presence of God:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Isaiah 6:5

As in any criminal trial, there is a prosecutor – an accuser. His name is Satan (which literally translates as “the accuser”). Revelation 12:10 describes him as “the accuser of our brothers” and actively accusing them “day and night before our God”. He will have plenty of evidence against us – all we have said and done. And, if we are honest, we know we are guilty of everything he accuses us of and that we have sinned against God (Psalm 51:4). In fact, if we look in the Word, we know that God already knows everything (and so much more, including our thoughts, desires, and motivations) that Satan brings before the court (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Do you yet grasp the gravity of our situation? Surely you know how this works. We have seen enough courtroom dramas to know when a prosecutor has nailed the proverbial coffin shut with evidence. Yet this is exactly where John begins: “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (2:1).

The word advocate is used only a handful of times in the New Testament, and most of those times it is translated as Helper or Comforter and refers to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26; 16:17). It paints the picture of one who shows up on behalf of another. In the case of the Holy Spirit, it refers to Jesus leaving His Spirit with His people once He ascended back into heaven. In the case of our advocate, Jesus Himself appears on our behalf – defense attorney, key witness, evidence, and Divine plea bargain.

Let me be clear that this is the point where our earthly legal dramas fail to picture what is going on here. Much of what we see on television (and assume happens often in the real-world) centers around someone “getting off” instead of being found guilty. As I said earlier, we are most assuredly guilty. Again, I remind you that everything the accuser says about us is true – all the evidence is genuine. The sin is ours, and we willfully committed each sin.

Our advocate is “Jesus Christ the righteous”. Were He to try to get the charges merely thrown out, He would not be righteous. There is “a record of debt” and “legal demands” that come with our sin (Colossians 2:14). The Judge cannot allow the debt to remain unpaid. But every penny – every good deed – that we have ever been capable of is not a drop in the bucket compared to the sin debt we owe.

Our accuser no doubt delights in this. What prosecutor could keep from delighting in a sure win? Yet our advocate steps forward and enters Himself into evidence. He is not just advocate but also propitiation (2:2).

Please, do not let the size of these words intimidate you. They are not fancy, academic words. They are Bible words that are important to our understanding of what Christ has done for us. The word propitiation means a sacrifice that trades wrath for favor, anger for gladness, Christ’s sinlessness for the punishment our sin deserves (Isaiah 53:5).

As our propitiation, Jesus covers our sin and shame. He decides to fully bear our punishment and gives us the favor He has as the Son of God, so, now, when the Judge looks out, He does not see our sin but His Son. How does Jesus do this? He does it “by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” by “set[ting] it aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). He – the sinless Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19) – took on our sin so that “we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Rather than judgment, we find mercy. Instead of being condemned, we find grace. Since the Judge sees a son in the place of a sinner, we gain eternal life rather than the death sentence we deserve. And the accuser’s cries go unheard like those of a bug meeting the heel of a boot (Genesis 3:15). And we can rejoice that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

What do we do with this freedom?

We follow Him, learning from Him, and keep His commandments (2:3-4). We do not keep His commandments to earn our freedom but because of our freedom, in love and gratitude for what He has done for us (Matthew 11:29).

We see the love that He showed us through His death and resurrection (Romans 5:8) show up in our own lives (2:5). We love Him because He loves us (4:19). And we show that love to others for the same reason (4:11, Matthew 22:38-39).

We reflect His Light and Life (2:6) like the moon does the sun – a pale reflection but pointing to Him, nevertheless. And, hopefully, just as the moon pulls the tides toward it, people will be drawn to our Savior because they see Him in us.

I do not have to ask if you are struggling with sin. But I ask that when you do, you run to the advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Now, that is good news!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:1–6.

Songs for Sunday, January 17, 2021

There are times in life and in world events that I simply do not have words to adequately express what I feel needs to be said — what I want to say or relay. It is certainly good news to my weary heart that there is a Word higher than mine. And in that Word are words for every season of life and occasion that may exist.

Look at this:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

Psalm 46:1-3

No matter our situation or predicament, God is our “refuge”. He is a safe place where we can find shelter in the storms of life. He is our salvation – our rock and defender – and can be trusted in and called upon at any time (Psalm 62:7-8).

He is our “strength”. Whether in want or plenty, we can know that He can and will strengthen us with His own strength that we can withstand and persevere (Philippians 4:10-13).

He is with us “always” (Matthew 20:28), even and especially “very present in “trouble”. We have already looked at Him being a refuge. Do not picture Him as a hiding place, but rather a fortress – a “stronghold” to specifically protect those who are “oppressed” and are “in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9).

Since He is our “refuge”, provides us with His “strength”, and is “a very present help in trouble”, “we will not fear”. This does not say may not or should not. No, placing one’s hope and trust and faith in God is more sure than possibility.

It is as solid as the rock bottom that we find our selves hitting. It is deeper than the trouble we find ourselves in time and again. When we find that we have no one else, He teaches us that He is the only One we need.

The earth can give way. Mountains may crumble and fall into the sea. Tidal waves – both real and figurative – may roar and rage against us, threatening life, limb, and livelihood. All of the comforts that we enjoy may cease to exist or leave us.

But God has promised that He will “never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). And that is good news. It is good news because we are surely acquainted with bad news. It is good news because we are dismayed and afraid. It is good news because we have no other sure source of help. Ultimately, it is good news because our good God (Mark 10:18) has given it in His Word and His Word never fails or will ever pass away (1 Peter 1:25).

And that is the hope that we’ll sing about this Sunday – hope in a good God who will be our refuge in good times and bad, the days that seem desperate and those that make us glad. May we be reminded that there is a God in Heaven. His name is Jesus. He cares for us (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Here are our songs:

27  Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
      “My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28  Have you not known? Have you not heard?
      The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
      He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29   He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30   Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31   but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
       they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

But now thus says the Lord,
       he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
       “Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
    When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
       when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
    For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Isaiah 43:1-3a
  • Desert Song —
    Scripture References/Inspiration for the Song: Isaiah 35:1, Psalm 63:1, Psalm 69:3, Psalm 34:10, 1 Corinthians 4:11, Matthew 5:6, Genesis 22:14, Isaiah 43:1-3, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Revelation 21:4, 1 Peter 1:7, Zechariah 13:9, Psalm 56:10, Psalm 51:15, Psalm 142:7, Isaiah 54:17, Hebrews 3:18, Psalm 22:22, Deuteronomy 20:4, Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 20:28, Ephesians 6:10-20, Exodus 14:14, Romans 8:17, Romans 8:37, Hebrews 10:23, 2 Timothy 4:1-3, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17, Psalm 13:6, Psalm 105:2, James 5:13, John 4:23-24, Matthew 9:37-38, Psalm 30:5, John 7:38, Romans 15:13, Psalm 126:5, Deuteronomy 15:10, Acts 20:35

[Humble yourselves], therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-11

I hope to see you with us, whether you gather in person, in the parking lot via speaker, or on Facebook or YouTube live!

If gathering in person, please remember that masks are recommended and that we need to remain vigilant in our social distancing measures. Continue to pray for those who are sick – not just our members but all those around the world.

Refresh & Restore — January 14, 2021

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.[1]

1 John 1:5-10

Greetings, Sojourner!

What a privilege it is to get to spend time together in the Word of God. When turmoil, confusion, and fear seem to be the norm, it is good to see the eternal perspective of God found in His Word. And, especially in the context of 1 John 1, we get to see the same hope that was promised in Christ long ago by the prophet Isaiah:

The 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 9:2

This is part of what John wanted to show in his first letter. No matter how dark the darkness seems – whether in the world or in our own hearts – there is hope because “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (v. 5). Let us dive into today’s passage, and may the Word of God shine into our lives today.

Since we are going through a book of the Bible together, it is important that we see how each week’s passage flows as part of the larger text – sentences into paragraphs into sections into chapters into the whole book. This week’s passage flows out of the introduction last week by John getting specific about the message that he “heard” and “proclaim[ed]” (vv. 1, 3) – a message directly from God and not man.

The message he writes here either sums up or elaborates on what he wrote previously in his gospel. This is cool because 1) he has already shared specifically what he “heard” directly from Jesus, and 2) the Word of God is the best commentary for itself (i.e., the verses that are cited in this devotion clear up the meaning of the word and bear more weight than any of the other words). Here are some of the verses from the gospel of John that are drawn on in today’s passage:

  • In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (1:4-5)
  • The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (1:9)
  • But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (3:21)
  • Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I Am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12)
  • So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (12:35-36)
  • I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (12:46)

John wanted his original readers – and us – to look at the way that Christ – the Light– shines despite the darkness – that it is His shining that ultimately drives the darkness away because it cannot contend with Him. And, just like it is the nature of light to shine, Jesus revealed/manifested Himself to us (v. 2) and shines his “glory…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This is good news. It also carries with it some bad news.

The problem with light shining into darkness is that everything is revealed – good and bad. My wife and I were so excited to buy “daylight” bright light bulbs for our formerly dark bathroom. Now, we face the stark reality of each day that we age. The bags under my eyes are darker and deeper there. My pores seem magnified. Scars, wrinkles, and blemishes look like chasms in my face. And Candice remains beautiful.

The rest of today’s passage deals with what is found and exposed in the light – how we walk in either light or darkness exposes the state of our hearts and our fellowship (or lack of it) with Christ. It is important here that we note that all of the verses that we are looking at today have “we” as the subject. John is not pointing fingers but showing how everyone, everywhere, for all time who takes these positions (including himself) is included. He does this by making “if” statements that can help diagnose our relationship with Christ with each statement building on the others to help us understand what it means to “walk in the light, as He is in the light” (v. 7).

The first “if” statement is in verse 6: “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness”. Fellowship with God – that relationship that flows out of the grace of God in salvation – does not dwell in darkness. We saw in John 1:5 earlier that the darkness will never overcome the light, and, if we have fellowship with God, we live in the light. Let us check our own hearts. Do we claim to have fellowship with God? Are we walking (living/behaving/participating) in darkness? James 4:4 tells us the question we need to ask regarding our walk with Christ: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”

The next “if” statement shifts to the brightness of the light and is given in a positive tone (emphasis added): “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light”. Jesus – the Light – is always the contrast to darkness. Walking (again living/behaving/participating) with Him is the opposite of walking in darkness. If we walk with Him, we have fellowship with God (v. 6) and that fellowship extends to our brothers and sisters in Christ because of the shared experience of having been cleansed from sin by “the blood of Jesus” (v. 7). That fellowship will extend to heaven where it will be sung, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Revelation 5:9). And, in heaven, all will “walk in the light” because it “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).

Verse 8’s “if” statement shifts back to the darkness: “if we say we have no sin”. The Bible is clear on this subject. Not one single person is righteous in their own works (Romans 3:10); in fact, “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). Every, single human being from Adam to Kingdom come (except Christ) is a sinner. And, if we convince ourselves that we are not, we “deceive ourselves”. I like the way that Charles Spurgeon put it:

“He who cannot find water in the sea is not more foolish than the man who cannot perceive sin in his members. As the salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so does every sin affect every atom of our nature.”

The word “deceive” there means to “lead astray”. So, by saying that we have no sin, we are causing ourselves to stumble. And we are revealing that the Truth (Jesus Himself is the Truth – John 14:6) is “not in us”. Hear me, beloved Sojourner, how we react to our sin matters – whether we choose to conceal it or confess it matters. We might be able to convince ourselves that we are sinless and perfect. We may even be able to convince other people. But the Light recognizes the darkness, and nothing is hidden from Him (Hebrews 4:13).

The final positive “if” statement is where we need to be in our walk with Christ: “if we confess our sins” (v. 9). This is the appropriate attitude for a Christ-follower regarding sin. We should not deny it but admit it and receive the forgiveness that Christ promises (Proverbs 28:13, Psalm 32:5). When we confess our sin and “draw near to the throne of grace” where Christ is seated, “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). You see, Christ does not just do away with sin. Verse 9 makes it clear that he is “faithful” and “just” in his forgiveness. He is faithful in His forgiveness because He does what He has said He would do for those who have confessed and believed in Him (Romans 10:9). He is just because He paid the penalty for our sin (Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21). So, I ask again, are we walking in darkness or light? Do we deny and excuse our sin, or do we confess our need for the Savior? Our answers to these questions make all the difference in this world and the next.

John’s last “if” statement shows why all of these questions matter: “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (v. 10). We simply cannot have it both ways. No lie can be the Truth, nor can darkness be Light. And, since it is His voice that created this universe, His Word goes. And by the Word – Christ Himself – we are either saved or left to the death we earn ourselves through sin (Romans 6:23).

He does not ask for perfection from us. He provides that for us. He asks only that we repent and believe.

Do you?


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 1:5–10.

Refresh & Restore — January 7, 2021

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— 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— 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. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.[1]

1 John 1:1-4

Greetings, Sojourner!

Here we are in our first Refresh & Restore of 2021, and I find myself both excited and nervous. I am excited because getting to open the Word and journey through it with you brings me great joy and is a special time for me each week. But I find myself anxious at how small I am compared to the massive task of “rightly handling the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). But I trust in the power of the Word (2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 4:12) more than I fear my own inadequacies. As Augustine said, “Where Scripture speaks, God speaks”; and we so desperately need to hear Him.

What we are setting out to do in this new year – seeking to walk through whole books and sections of the Bible, to genuinely understand it – is not a new task. We will break it down like Isaiah had to in his time: “precept upon precept” and “line upon line” (Isaiah 28:10). We will join in with the likes of Ezra and Nehemiah who, upon returning home from exile, “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8).

So, today, let us set out to read and understand John’s first epistle (letter) and look at the Life, Light, and Love that comes only from walking with Christ – the Word of God.

The first thing we see is how he opens 1 John and how it fits with the gospel of John. He started his gospel by describing how Jesus is eternal and God:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

John 1:1

Where the other gospels begin with the birth of Christ and/or the work of John the Baptist, John’s gospel goes back before the beginning and shows that Jesus has always been and always been God. 1 John begins by showing us how we can know Him through the experience of those who knew Him as the God who saved them from their sins and the divine Man who was their friend on earth.

John was writing here as he and Peter said in Acts 4:20: “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard”. He is bringing Jesus, who “was from the beginning” (v. 1), into focus, showing us how He became knowable. Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) and lived a fully human life; He could be “heard”, “seen”, “looked upon”, and “touched”. He was not some abstract being or god. He is neither myth nor legend. He is real.

John is relaying his first-hand experience with Jesus so that we can know Him. He does this so that when he talks about the “Word of Life” it is not some idea to be thought about but, rather, a Person to be known. Back when John was writing, there were people who were trying to convince others that God did not “become flesh”. They wanted to challenge that truth and replace it with theories and ideas (because theories and ideas can be ignored or changed as needed). But John shows that there was more to Jesus.

He was not only the “Word of Life” but the Life (John 14:6). And because He came – was born, lived, died in our place, and rose from the dead – the Life was “made manifest” (v. 2). We do not typically use language like this, so it may be a bit hard to wrap our minds around. But the word translated “made manifest” literally means “to make visible”, “to cause to be seen”, or “to make known”. That is exactly what happened. God, in Jesus, was “born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7); He became a man to make Himself known to us. “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8) so that, by knowing, believing, and trusting in Him we might become “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

This is literally what John is doing here in this letter: He is sharing the Life with us. He wants us to know that he has “seen it”. He wants to “testify to it” so that we can believe it. And he wants to “proclaim” it – “the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest” (v. 2) so that we can have it too.

We have already talked about how John wrote his gospel to show us Christ and his first letter so that we can know Him. Now, we see how he goes from showing how to have eternal life in his gospel – “whosoever believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 3:16) – to showing in 1 John how we can know we have eternal life.

Those who have eternal life have “fellowship” with John, all believers, and – especially – with “the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (v. 3). The word fellowship has a lot of (pardon the made-up word) churchiness associated with it. Where I live in the Southern US, the word fellowship could be associated with the awkward, pre-Covid greeting time at some churches, but it is most often associated with eating (I can almost taste fried chicken as I type this) meals at church gatherings. But the type of fellowship – the very concept that is at the heart of what John is saying here – is so much more than a shared meal, a handshake, or even a hug. It is not a way of life or even a part of life. It is a result of having eternal life – of associating with the Life.

The word here translated “fellowship” is a special word. It could translate as a “close association”, “community”, or “a close, mutual relationship”, but all those things can exist outside of eternal life. They are too regular to communicate what John is talking about here. The “fellowship” he refers to comes out of the shared experience flowing from the grace of God in salvation. It is community built upon the foundation of the gospel – that we are all sinners and are only saved by the grace of God in Christ alone.

The closest earthly example that I can relate it to would be a group of people who survived some tragedy. They would have a bond based on their shared experience of having lived through something together. But that is where the illustration falls apart. The fellowship with God that comes from salvation produces our fellowship with one another. And we do not share the experience of living through something; we share the experience of the Life. We can celebrate the fact that, despite the “wages of [our] sin [being] death”, we have received the “free gift of God…eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We are family – “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:7). This is a bond like no other.

Through knowing Christ in this way – the way that John knew Him, John shares with us the same thing that Jesus gave to him: complete joy. Here in verse 4, John echoes the promise that Jesus made to him – a promise he heard with his own ears. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Joy means the reason for or object of gladness and delight. When we receive Christ, when we are fully known and loved by Him, He becomes the object of our delight and the reason that our hearts can be glad. He has already taken our sin upon Himself on the cross and defeated death, and He is willing to exchange our sorrows for joy. What better news could there be? For that reason, John tells his original readers and us today that he is “writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (v. 4).

I am immensely thankful for the testimony of John – that He would share all that he had heard and seen of His friend Jesus with us. I am even more thankful that Jesus – the Word of Life – came that we “may have Life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Have you experienced the eternal life that comes only from Jesus? All it takes to have eternal life is the same as with any gift – to receive it, to receive Christ because “to all who…receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). It is my prayer that – if you have not repented and believed in Jesus Christ – you do just that. He promises that “whoever comes to [Him] will never [be] cast out” (John 6:37). He will never – never – cast you out but instead make sure that your joy is completely full forever.

Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 1:1–4.

Come, Ye Sinners Poor and Needy

“Let us strive therefore to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:11-16

Introduction

“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy / Weak and wounded, sick and sore / Jesus ready, stands to save you / Full of pity, love, and power // Come, ye weary, heavy-laden / Lost and ruined by the Fall / If you tarry ‘till you’re better / You will never come at all // I will arise and go to Jesus / He will embrace me in His arms / In the arms of my dear Savior / Oh, there are ten thousand charms” [1]

  • We Need Rest (v. 11)
    • v. 11 – Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
      • The idea of rest in the OT was the Sabbath. On the seventh day, God rested from the work of Creation. His people were commanded to do the same. That rest was to come into fruition in the Promised Land, but their rebellion against God messed all of that up.
      • For us today, our rest only comes from trusting in Christ. Those who have put their faith in Him as Savior and Lord do not have to work or try to save themselves through their own strength and effort. They/we rest in what Jesus has already accomplished and finished. But that is nothing new; it was the plan of God for His people all along.
        • Psalm 116:7 – Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
        • Isaiah 28:12 – …to whom He has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear.
      • The good news here is that Jesus’ “works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3) – essentially “It is finished” (John 19:30) before “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1).
      • And Jesus offers that same rest today – and we desperately need it.(Why? “…so that no one may fall into the same sort of disobedience”)
        • Matthew 11:28-30 – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
  • We Need the Word (vv. 12-13)
    • v. 12 – For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
      • The Word of God refers to the written Scriptures – the Bible – and to our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Some want to argue over which these verses refer to, but I would like to settle that debate: yes.
        • Jesus, the Word of God, has always been.
          • John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
        • The power of His Word(s) has, too.
          • Genesis 1:1-3a – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said….
        • Thinking especially of Christmas (two days ago), we would have nothing without the intervention of the Word in our lives.
          • John 1:14 – 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.
        • Everything in Creation literally hangs on His Word.
          • Hebrews 1:3a – He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.
        • We do, too.
      • the Word of God is living
        • Jesus is alive – and so is His Word!
        • The Words of Christ captivate us, and it is by them we are saved (Romans 10:17).
        • His Word is more than a book. It can capture the conscience of sinners, simultaneously cutting them to the depths of their hearts and giving comfort and binding wounds of the soul.
        • (Matthew Henry) “Saints die, and sinners die; but the Word of God lives.
      • the Word of God is…active
        • Active is translated from the Greek word energēs. It means “effective; able to bring about”.
        • Everything that is written about Him is true. Everything it says He promised He will do. He is capable of everything it says He can do.
        • Through the Word, strongholds are torn down (2 Corinthians 10:4), the dead are raised, the deaf can hear, the blind can see, lame will leap, and the dumb will speak “the praises of the Lamb” (“Mary, Did You Know?)
        • It can – and will – absolutely obliterate the kingdom of this world and Satan, but the same Word builds up the Kingdom of God.
        • (Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”) “And though this world with devils filled / Should threaten to undo us / We will not fear for God has willed / His truth to triumph through us / The prince of darkness grim / We tremble not for Him / His rage we can endure / For lo! His doom is sure! / One little word can fell him” [2]
      • the Word of God is…sharper than any two-edged sword
        • It cuts both ways….
        • …piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
          • The Word sees through the lies of the world – through our lies. We cannot deceive Him. The written word lays our sin bare. We are fully exposed with nowhere to hide….
    • v. 13 – And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.
      • Job 34:21 – “For His eyes are on the ways of a man, and He sees all His steps.
      • Psalm 33:13-15 – The Lord looks down from heaven; He sees all the children of man; from where He sits enthroned He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.
      • This is utterly terrifying to me. He knows me – knows me. When facing the word, we find ourselves “naked” (not hidden; easily known) and “exposed” (laid bare; easily known).
        • vv. 12-13, Message paraphrase – God means what He says. What He says goes. His powerful Word is as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything , whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it – no matter what.
  • We Need Sympathy (vv. 14-15)
    • v. 14 – Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
      • who has passed through the heavens
        • This is the heart of the Christmas Story. If we are left with verse 13, all we have is bad news. We will not get the promised rest because our sin is fully displayed before the holy, righteous, all-powerful God of the universe.
        • (Paul David Tripp) “The beautiful news of the Christmas season is that God wasn’t willing to leave us in this tragic state. At Christmas we celebrate a God who is glorious in His abundant love and patient mercy. The glory of the birth of Jesus becomes even more glorious when it is seen through the humbling lens of the desperate condition that was the reason for His coming.”
          • John 1:14 – 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.
          • Romans 5:8 – …but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
      • let us hold fast our confession
        • Because of all He has done and all He has promised, we need never deny Him or be ashamed of Him. He washes us clean from our sin. He covers our shame.
        • This phrase shows up multiple times in the book of Hebrews, but all those times wrap up in v. 10:23:
          • Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
        • We hold fast our confession because He is all we have got. But know this: if He is all you have, you have everything.
    • v. 15 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
      • The “Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, went through all the same junk that we go through, faced all the temptations and difficulties that we go through, was rejected and ostracized and mocked and beaten and hated. He gets us. He understands.
      • The internet has grabbed hold of a Rick Astley song and uses it to point out the foolishness and unfaithfulness found in human relationships: “Never gonna give you up / Never gonna let you down / Never gonna run around and desert you / Never gonna make you cry / Never gonna say goodbye / Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you”
        • We can “Rick Roll” all we want to. We can look to others and the internet and society and the government for sympathy, but they offer nothing. There is no world leader who is going to leave their ivory tower to walk in our poverty. No queen or king of England will ever leave Buckingham palace to walk the streets as a peasant. No president – sitting or former – will ever need a stimulus check or have to worry whether their rent will be paid or if can keep the heat on.
        • But the King of kings and Lord of lords “passed through the heavens” (v. 14) and became a baby. He traded the throne of Heaven for an animal’s feeding trough. He was the only begotten Son of God but looked at as a bastard by people He created.
        • He was not some “Undercover Boss” who came for a week or two and tried to walk in our shoes – He lived for decades alongside those who needed saving. And then He allowed Himself to be killed for the sake of those who shouted “Crucify”.
        • This seems like the saddest story ever, but His funeral was wasted because He broke death – He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6) after all! He ascended back to the throne of Heaven – which belonged to Him the whole time – and He still loves us, still understands us, still has sympathy for us.
        • Nothing changed – or ever changes with Him. He has always been and always been there for us should we reach out to Him. Maybe it’s us who need to change.
  • We Need Grace and Mercy of the King (v. 16)
    • v. 16 – Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
      • draw near to the throne of grace
        • The word translated “draw near” means to approach or devote oneself to something or someone.
        • Hebrews 7:25 – Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through [Christ], since He always lives to make intercession for them.
        • James 4:7-10 – Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
        • (Matthew Henry) “A throne speaks of authority and bespeaks awe and reverence. A throne of grace speaks great encouragement even to the chief of sinners. There grace reigns, and acts with sovereign freedom, power, and bounty.”
      • receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
        • King Jesus sits on the throne of grace. We can approach Him at any time.
        • We do not have to approached Him like beggars. We approach Him as His sons and daughters.
        • He loves us and cares for us. He wants us to come to Him. If we humble ourselves, repent of our sin, and draw near to His throne we are sure to find mercy. If we come to Him in our “time of need”, we are sure to find grace. We are sure to find these things because, when we approach His throne, we find Him.
        • And He is all we truly need.

Conclusion/Application

We do need rest, but we will only find it by trusting in Jesus Christ – the Word of God. We need sympathy more than ever, but we will only find it at the throne of the King.

We looked at Psalm 33:13-15 earlier to see how God sees the hearts of men; let finish out that chapter to find hope and good news for the future (vv. 16-22):

“The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.
“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.
“Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”


[1]Come, Ye Sinners Poor and Needy”, Bob Kauflin © Sovereign Grace Praise (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music, David C Cook))

[2]A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, Frederick Henry Hedge | Martin Luther © Words: Public Domain | Music: Public Domain


Songs for Sunday — January 3, 2021

I read a quote yesterday that really puts 2020/2021 into perspective:

“Our hope is not in the new year, but in the One who makes all things new.”

Toby Mac

The “One” who makes all things new is Jesus.

He was our only hope in 2020 and 2019 and 1992 and 1746bc. He is the same “yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He is the “blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). And He is our “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).

Every praise to God that has ever been sung is about Him. And He is who we will sing about this year until His “Kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10)! He has always been our only hope, and only trusting in Him will bring peace and hope for 2021.

Here are our songs:

*Note*

I hope to see you with us, whether you gather in person, in the parking lot via speaker, or on Facebook or YouTube live!

If gathering in person, please remember that masks are recommended and that we need to remain vigilant in our social distancing measures. Continue to pray for those who are sick – not just our members but all those around the world.

Refresh & Restore — December 31, 2020

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.” [1]

Lamentations 3:19-24

Greetings, Sojourner!

This is the thirty-seventh Refresh & Restore devotion! I have enjoyed writing these and hope that they have been some help to you as well. So, today, we will look once again to Jesus for hope now and in the future, seeking to be refreshed by His presence while we await the restoration of things as He has promised (Acts 3:19-21).

Today, we will spend time in God’s Word as usual, but I ask that you check out the update regarding the future of Refresh & Restore in 2021.

As we are no doubt ready to leave this dreadful year, I think it is important that we have an appropriate outlook on the future and what will and will not provide the hope and relief that we so desperately seek. I think that word – desperate – describes many of us. For that reason, the book of Lamentations is quite appropriate.

The book of Lamentations is believed to have been written after the fall of Jerusalem around 586BC and written by the prophet Jeremiah. What is clear about this book is that it is a book of mourning – grieving things lost and crying out over desperate times. There has been plenty of both this year. We seem to be preoccupied by these things, talking about them more and more with each passing day. This, fueled by 24/7 news coverage and social media overload, causes us to be focused on it more intensely than ever before in human history.

Jeremiah shows that he can identify with this. Throughout Lamentations 3, he talks about how he has “seen affliction under the rod of [God’s] wrath” (v. 1), dwelled in “darkness without any light” (v. 2), suffered physical and emotional pain (vv. 4-5), felt isolated from others (vv. 7, 9), been mocked and ridiculed (v. 14), descended into bitterness and depression due to it all (vv. 15-17), and forgotten what it feels like to hope and trust in God (v. 18).

2020 has not been like this for everyone, but I have talked to numerous people who are and have been struggling this year. These issues hit home. They are real. They are raw. God has a word for us in such times and experiences and feelings.

That is where our passage begins today. He remembers his “affliction” and “wanderings” (v. 19) and talks about it with terms like “wormwood” and “gall”, showing how bitter he is about it all. This has affected him greatly and caused his soul to be “bowed down” within him, obsessively focusing on it (v. 20). But there is hope! He says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” (v. 21).

In the times when hope seems lost, we need something to “call to mind” – like a post-it note or book mark in our brains – to help us unstick our minds from tragedy, grief, or despair. I have written in the past about my own struggles with depression, anxiety, and general mental-stuck-on-negativity-ness (this, of course is the clinical term). Isolation and a near-constant barrage of negative information does this to people. And you would think in the middle of a book of the Bible that is basically called “lamenting” would do the same thing; however, we need to realize that the focus of this chapter is verse 21. It is the thing that is called to mind that brings hope. And it shows itself in four parts.

The first part is that “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (v. 22a). This is especially important for us because Jeremiah shows that what he calls to mind is what he knows about God’s character. He reminds himself of God’s “steadfast love” (sometimes translated “loving-kindness”). This is a special word that shows up around 250 times in the Old Testament. It illustrates the forever-love that God has for His people and is always associated with His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. Jeremiah’s words here remind me of two great passages about God’s love:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”

Romans 8:38-39

and

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes, all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

1 Corinthians 13:7-8a

How good it is to “call to mind” the love of God.

The second part of Jeremiah’s reminder is that the Lord’s “mercies never come to an end” (v. 22b). I was asked earlier today if God ever stops loving us or gets tired of fooling with us because of our sin. Jeremiah gives us a good answer and a necessary reminder. God’s mercy – His compassion – will never stop. He said as much in Malachi 3:6: “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed”. The proof of God’s love for His people is His continued patience. That does not mean He is always pleased with us. It certainly does not mean that He sits in approval of the sin that grieves Him. It means He loves us anyway.

If you have not noticed, all four parts of Jeremiah’s reminder build on one another. We have seen how his never-ending love flows into His mercy; now, we can see in the third part of his reminder how often we need His mercy. It is “new every morning” (v. 23a). I like the way that Job talks about this. When he speaks of this, he is shocked by God’s response to His people: “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment” (Job 7:17-18). What he wonders Jeremiah sets his mind on: God has abundant mercy that is given out regularly. It is out of God being “rich in mercy” and “the great love with which He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4) that we find salvation in the first place.

All the love and mercy that God can pour out to His people comes solely from Him and is not based on us. This is the final part of Jeremiah’s reminder: “great is [His] faithfulness” (v. 23b). The psalmist says that “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5); that gives new meaning to “I love you this much”!

In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah is primarily dealing out prophecies of punishment to Judah. But, as bad as their outlook and situation appeared to be, God would and did continue to love them. Their sin did not change who He was or what He had promised them. His faithfulness – despite their faithlessness – would win out in the end. They as a people would survive His punishment. And, in the same way, those who trust in God through Christ today can bank on the fact that “great is [His] faithfulness” because He truly is all that He has promised.

So, all Jeremiah had to say to himself was “The Lord is my portion…therefore I will hope in Him” (v. 24). He could remember that the Lord had “dealt bountifully” with him (Psalm 116:7). And, in the midst of depression and suffering, remember and returning to the Lord brought hope. It can do the same for us today.

I do not know what tomorrow holds. I have no promises or predictions for 2021. But I know this: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), and, if we will put our trust in Him, our hope will not “put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

I love you and continue to pray for you. If you need a listening ear, feel free to reach out. But know that you can always go directly to God to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).[2]


***Update on future Refresh & Restore devotions***

I would like to try something new for this upcoming year. I would like to walk through a whole book of the Bible.

I plan on starting small with 1 John to try it out, and I intend to walk through the whole thing before I make up my mind whether this is the direction we should lean toward in the future. Whether we continue in this past that or mix it up with short series like we have in the past remains to be seen, but, either way, I look forward to continuing to spend time in the Word with you as long as God allows us to continue!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), La 3:19–24.

[2] For more help on this subject, feel free to check out the message from Christ Community Church from December 27, 2020.

12 Days of Christmas — Reading Guide, Day 12

Praise Through Song

A Chronological Reading of the Christmas Story

The Birth of Jesus Christ

Matthew 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

The Birth of Jesus

Luke 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14  “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Jesus Presented in the Temple

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29  “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30  For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32  a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

The Visit of the Magi

Matthew 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6    “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

12 Days of Christmas — Reading Guide, Day 11

Praise Through Reading the Word:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

Praise Through Song:

Meditation & Prayer:

  • What are some of Jesus’ aspects that these passages magnify?
  • These passages were sung as hymns in the early Church. What are some songs that we sing that magnify Jesus similarly?
  • We often talk about peace at Christmas. How is the way that Colossians 1:20 talks about peace different from the peace that people usually talk about?
  • Ask God to set your mind to be more like Jesus’.
  • Look back at today’s Scripture passages and specifically praise Jesus for who He is.
  • Thank God for reconciling us to Him and giving us His Life.
    • Pray specifically for someone who needs to receive Christ as Savior and Lord.
    • Ask God for opportunity to share Him with them today.
  • Pray specifically for families who are struggling during this Christmas season:
    • some who are separated because of sickness
    • some who have lost loved ones
    • some who have situations only known by God

12 Days of Christmas — Reading Guide, Day 10

Praise Through Reading the Word:

46 And Mary said,

     “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47      and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48   for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49   for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50   And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51   He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52   he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53   he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54   He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55   as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

Luke 1:46-56

Praise Through Song:

Meditation & Prayer:

  • Think about what it must have felt like for Mary.
  • Look back at Mary’s song (the Magnificat) and pray it to God yourself.