Wednesday, December 18, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-18 [Advent2019] Donkey

Donkey (End of Series)

It would not be wrong for us to say that Jesus was an unexpected Messiah to the Jews. They had expected a political figure who would chase the Romans into the sea and establish an earthly throne in Jerusalem and set up a political kingdom that the likes of David would only have dreamed about. When Jesus came and established a heavenly kingdom - a kingdom of the heart - many expectations were disappointed.

But this was not a completely unexpected development... There are Old Testament prophecies that portray this aspect of Jesus coming. We have already looked at Isaiah's images of the suffering servant and here in Zechariah we have another example...

What animal would one expect a coming Messiah to ride? Our imaginations swing to a great white stallion - a symbol of power, strength, and victory. What connotations come from riding a donkey's foal? The foal of the donkey was the mode of transport for the elderly or children. It would be the mount chosen by a soothsaying prophet or a wise hermit.

Riding a donkey is not the declaration of war, but a statement of the intent of peace. This was Jesus' mode of transport on Palm Sunday as He entered Jerusalem. It was a week before Passover, Jerusalem was full of pilgrims, they were remembering the miraculous Exodus from Egypt and so nationalistic fervour ran high. Jesus sent a crystal clear message on that day: His kingdom was not an earthly kingdom. He was not willing to go to war to obtain peace. He came not as a Victor, but a Victim, and He would grant salvation by giving Himself.

Usually we consider this prophecy at Easter, but it is appropriate for Christmas too as one of the favourite titles for Jesus at Christmas time is "Prince of Peace".

Jesus was born into a world where a petty regional governor (Herod) wouldn't hesitate to commit (horrific) infanticide to protect his power-base. Jesus was born into a world where his parents could only afford to offer pigeons as a thanksgiving for His birth. He was born into a world of oppression, uncertainty and danger - and He was called "Prince of Peace".

These risks and pains continued to be part of His life and when He rode into Jerusalem 33 years later, facing betrayal, trumped up charges, mistreatment and death, He rode the predicted but unexpected donkey-foal because He is able to bring peace to you and me.

This ends our series on Advent Prophecies. I haven't handled all of the general Messianic Prophecies but I've also done a few that aren't normally associated with Advent/Christmas. My hope has been to paint a broad picture of what Jesus came to to do and what His mission was.

All that remains to do is wish you and your loved ones a blessed Christ-mass. (While "mass" is usually associated with communion, it also denotes thanksgiving.) I pray that you will rest, renew, celebrate and worship during this wonderful time.
May you know Christ as your
   Wonderful Counsellor,
       Mighty God,
          Everlasting Father and
              Prince of Peace.

Rejoice greatly O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
See, Your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.      (Zechariah9:9)

EmmDevs while resume when schools start in the new year.
Thank you for journeying with me this year and for the kind and constructive feedback I have received from so many of you...
God bless and Love,

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-17 [Advent2019] Pierced


The prophet Zechariah foresaw the tragedy of Jesus' death on the cross. It was John (19:37) who recognised that this prophecy had been fulfilled in the crucifixion of Jesus.

It is a difficult prophecy: On the one hand, there was a response to Jesus' message, people's lives were changed and there were those who stood at the cross and grieved His death. On the other hand, we were the ones who "pierced" Him.

Let's consider the "piercing":

  • The crowds cried out Crucify Him!
  • Herod washed his hands of Jesus
  • The Roman soldiers were only interested in what they would gain from Him and gambled for His clothes.
  • The High Priests and the Sadducees and Pharisees mocked Him
  • On the whole the crowds simply observed His agony.
  • The disciples rand away because they were afraid that they might be next and so it was really only John and Mary and the women who were there.

The One who truly mourned for an only child and grieved for a firstborn son was God the Father. The sky turned black and the earth grew still. Then, in the midst of bitter grief, God the Father turned His face from His sin-bearing Son, whose cry "Why have You forsaken me?" went unheard and unanswered.

This grief describes the cost of John 3:16 ("for God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son....")
Christmas must lead to Easter.

Today we recognise what it cost Jesus. Today we mourn too. Some of our beautiful Easter hymns like "O Sacred head once wounded" and "When I survey" recognise His pain and agony and we mourn that it 'was our sin that bruised and wounded Him'. More than that though, we recognise that it 'was for us He hung and suffered there'. It is with a mixture of awe and sorrow that we realise that 'we were there' when they crucified our Lord.

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.      (Zechariah12:10)

Thursday, December 12, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-12 [Advent2019] In one single day

In one single day

This Advent Promise is in a symbol rich chapter. Zechariah has had a vision of the high priest Joshua (The name "Joshua" is a variant "Jesus") who appeared before the throne in scruffy dirty clothes. Satan was there to accuse him for his sin, but God re-clothed him in clean clothes, taking care of sin and the accuser.

As you read the prophecy below, you will note the following features:

The vision continues with the promise that the Branch is coming. This is the same word as the word we translated "shoot" yesterday. Then the imagery changes to another Messianic image - The stone. (The Old Testament also describes the Messiah as a stone in Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16). Peter also declared that Christ is both cornerstone (the stone that is the orientation and foundation of the building) and He is the capstone (the purpose and glory of the building.)

The seven eyes on the stone are in all likelihood symbolic of God's omniscience - that He sees all our sin and brokenness. It means that God sees us as we are and doesn't give up on us.

We don't know what the inscription on the stone is, but the result is forgiveness in one single day! It is a breathtakingly accurate and to-the-point Advent Promise: It comes right down to why He came and what it means for us.

The image of the stone takes us straight to the rocky outcrop of Golgotha. I have often thought that the inscription on the stone will be "It is finished!"

Thank you Lord that you were so passionate about us!

Listen O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you who are symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,and I will remove the sin of this land in one single day.      (Zechariah3:8-9)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-11 [Advent2019] A Righteous Branch

A Righteous Branch

The scene is Jerusalem - just two years before the Babylonians carry away the first group of exiles. In this chapter Jeremiah is concerned about the leadership in Jerusalem: They are shepherds who have neglected the sheep. In the midst of his frustration, Jeremiah looks forward to the coming of the ultimate Shepherd-King. This is the prophecy of the Righteous Branch.

What is fascinating is that this prophecy also has a double fulfillment: Two years after this prophecy was uttered, the Babylonians occupied Jerusalem for the first time and carried King Jehoiachin into exile. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Jehoiachin's uncle Mattaniah as king and changed his name to Zedekiah which means "The Lord is my Righteousness."!!!

After a few years of peace, Zedekiah failed to heed Jeremiah's advice, and against God's will, he rebelled against the Babylonians. This disobedience resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. Zedekiah turned out to be another bad shepherd...

The Hebrew word for Branch can also be translated as shoot. The image then, is of a tree that is cut down, but a shoot emerges from the stump and re-establishes the tree. Five hundred years later, the stump of God's people was still in the ground, but under Roman rule. In a stable in Bethlehem, the stump of David sprouted a shoot.

Jesus is everything that Zedekiah was not. He reigns with wisdom and righteousness. Surrounded by our brokeness and our "Zedekiah legacies" (our insistence on doing things our way) the righteous King went to the cross where He became our righteousness and we are saved.

The days are coming declares the Lord
When I will raise up to David a righteous Branch
A King who will reign wisely and do what is right and just in the land
In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety
This is the name by which the Branch will be called:
The LORD our Righteousness.      (Jeremiah23:5-6)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-10 [Advent2019] House of Bread

House of Bread

Today's Advent Prophecy is the one that alerted Herod to the fact that the child the wise men from the East were visiting could pose a real threat. He had not taken Bethlehem seriously even though the bright star had settled above it. The prophecy clinched the issue. Fortunately Joseph had been warned in a dream before Herod acted on his fears in the most horrific way - the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem means "House of Bread." It is the city where Rachel was buried, where Ruth gleaned in Boaz's field and where David was anointed as King. It is also called the city of David and it is very appropriate that the Messiah who is the seed of David would be born here.

The story of Ruth is ironic because the story begins with a famine which forced Naomi and her family to leave Bethlehem. There was no bread in the house of bread. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is significant too: The house of bread would be the birthplace of the One who fed the 5000 with fish and bread, who called Himself the Bread of Life, and offered His body as the bread of the new covenant and the bread of heaven.

Jesus is the Lord of a kingdom that is not an earthly kingdom. Eugene Peterson calls it a subversive kingdom: Jesus was the King of a kingdom He described as the yeast that spreads throughout the whole batch of dough.

Naomi and her family left Bethlehem because there was no bread. Bread was the staple food they needed to survive. More than a 1000 years later came a king who would be the endless source of spiritual sustenance and provision. Our relationship with Christ is the bread we need.

The prophecy ends with the promise that He will be their shepherd and their peace.

But you Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah
Out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel.
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labour gives birth
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
5 And he will be their peace.      (Micah5:2-5)

Friday, December 6, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-06 [Advent2019] Zealous God

Zealous God

Today's Advent Promise always gives me goosebumps. It's not a classic "Christmassy" prophecy of Christ, but describes the Incarnation in John's Terms - "Light shining into darkness"

Isaiah 59 starts with a description of our human sinfulness:
"For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt.
Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things."

Our sins separate us from God, justice is driven back, truth is nowhere to be found and those who strive for righteousness are victimised.

But Isaiah reveals a glimpse into God's heart.

When God saw our predicament He was profoundly moved:
- He was appalled at our predicament.
- He set out to work salvation for us.
- His righteousness became the sacrifice that paid for us
- Our salvation was the reason for which He went to the cross.
- He was determined to break Satan's power
- And He wrapped Himself in zeal.

Jesus wasn't resigned to the Incarnation in a "Oh-well-I-suppose-I-had-better-save-these-people" kind of way. No! He was appalled at where our brokenness takes us, and He rolled up His sleeves to get stuck into saving us. He passionately and zealously offered up His very best - even His righteousness (He took on the guilt of our sin) - so that we might be saved.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame."

Take a few moments to read this 400 year promise from a God who was determined to rescue us....

He saw that there was no-one;
He was appalled that there was no one to intervene
So His own arm worked salvation for Him
And His own righteousness sustained Him
He put on righteousness as His breastplace
And the helmet of salvation on His head
He put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.      (Isaiah59:16-17)

Thursday, December 5, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-05 [Advent2019] Bruised


In all likelihood Isaiah saw Israel as the suffering servant of God. Throughout chapters 40-55 there are references to the suffering servant of the Lord who will bring light and hope to all people even through his suffering. In the first instance, these prophecies are indeed fulfilled in the destiny of the Jewish nation which did suffer tremendously at the hands of the Babylonians.

Unfortunately Israel did not turn out to be the light to the nations and the hope for the world. Those who returned from exile became inward-looking and self-centered to the extent that they did not become the light to the nations. The true light of the world would come 400 years later.

As Advent Promises the so called "Servant Songs" of Isaiah (which are found in 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-7 and culminate in 52:13-53:12) shine very brightly even though they are a very sobering account of the substitutionary suffering of the Servant of the Lord. The song in ch.53 is a sensory-overloading foresight of the way in which Jesus would suffer to pay for our sin-debt and transgression-brokenness.

This chapter is brimming with beautiful Hebrew poetry. It uses clever repetition, parallel lines, powerful images, and an economy of words that is breath-taking. It is hard to imagine that a reader cannot be gripped by the accuracy and appropriateness of the prophecies in the light of Jesus' suffering on the cross.

Look at the reasons for the suffering:
- He took up our infirmities
- carried our sorrows
- He was pierced for our transgressions
- crushed of our iniquities
- Our punishment to obtain peace was upon Him
- He carried the wounds that obtained our healing.
- Our iniquity (which leads us astray and turns us away) was upon Him.

It is quite easy for me to dwell on my own brokenness:
- I am infirm: Deficient in direction, purpose, and value
- I am filled with sorrow: I struggle with my brokenness and sin
- I am aware of my guilt and the consequences of my sin are obvious to me
- I know that I really deserve punishment for my selfish self-centeredness
- I am lost and confused

But God is concerned with my healing!!
What is amazing is that Jesus was so committed to healing me of this brokenness that He had Isaiah detail it 400 years in advance! With breath-taking accuracy Isaiah details the reality of what it would take to make us new. Is God anxious to heal my brokenness?

(Just read the promise He made!)

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows
Yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities
The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him
and by His wounds we are healed
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned his own way
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.      (Isaiah53:1-12)

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-04 [Advent2019] A Four-Titled King

A Four-Titled King

Today's Advent Promise is one of the most well-known and well-loved.

I want to look at it from the perspective of its fulfilment in John's Gospel:

First we look at Isaiah's idea that "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light..."
In his prologue to the the fourth gospel John identifies Jesus as the light that shines into the darkness:

  • In Jesus was life and that life was the light of humankind.
  • The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it or fully understand it.
  • Jesus is the true light that gives light to everyone and He came into the world
  • We have seen the light of His glory which is full of grace and truth

We often forget that Jesus came to establish a Kingdom. It is not an earthly kingdom and He is not an earthly king. This is a point that Pontius Pilate found hard to understand.

Secondly we look at how Jesus carries four titles as the founder and ruler of God's kingdom (John also picks these points up in his prologue:)

  • He is our Wonderful Counsellor: When other people left because Jesus' teaching was too hard, the disciples decided to stay because they recognised that Jesus had the words of life. But Jesus is also the one who sends the Holy Spirit who is our Counsellor and Comforter. (John: "No one has ever seen God, but the only begotten who is at the Father's side has made Him known.")

  • Jesus is our Mighty God, who through His miracles and especially His resurrection has revealed Himself as the One who will come again in glory and before whom every knee will bow. (John, quoting John the Baptist: "He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me." In the prologue he also says "We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father full of grace and truth.")

  • Because He is one with the Everlasting Father, Jesus gives us the privilege of becoming God's children. John says: "To all who received Him and believed in His name He gave the right to become children of God."

  • Because of His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus is our Prince of Peace. John says: "From the fullness of His grace we have received one blessing after another."

What a stunning picture of Jesus as our coming King and Saviour!

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned ... For to us a child is born, to us a son is given And the government will be on his shoulders And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.      (Isaiah9:2-7)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it...

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' " 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.      (John1:1-18)

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-03 [Advent2019] A son named Emmanuel

A son named Emmanuel

The historical background to this passage is about 730BC when the Assyrians were starting to move in on Palestine. King Ahab of Judah (the Southern Kingdom) was fearful of an alliance of Rezin and Aram, two local kings in Palestine. Isaiah goes to assure the king that these kings are but smouldering firewood, but Ahab is doubtful.

God then promises Ahab a sign: A child - a son - will be born and before the child is two years old, these two kings will have been destroyed.
The Hebrew word for "virgin" can also mean "a young woman about to be married."

The first fulfillment of the prophecy takes place in the next chapter: Isaiah takes a young wife and she gives birth to a son, who is given the name "Quick-to-the-plunder" and is a foreshadowing of the invasion of the Assyrians who overthrow all the nations in Palestine except Jerusalem and, as prophesied, Rezin and Aram are thwarted. As Isaiah describes the power of the Assyrian attack he still affirms that God is with His people (Isaiah 8:8) and so the birth of the child is associated to the presence of the Lord in the midst of trouble.

But New Testament also recognises this as a prophecy of the coming of Jesus. So it is a double prophecy: Isaiah, Ahab, Rezin, and Aram were long gone by the time Christ was born, but He came to deliver us from a far greater enemy...
700 years later (after it had had its "dress-rehearsal" in the form of Isaiah's son) the prophecy was ultimately and finally fulfilled in the birth of Jesus who was more than just a sign of God's presence with His people, but was truly God with us. Christ was also born in the midst of the threat of a foreign power (Rome) and so we discover that even when we are in trouble and experiencing hardship God is with us.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Emmanuel.      (Isaiah7:14)

Friday, November 29, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-29 [Advent2019] The Lion

The Lion

Yesterday our Advent Promise portrayed Jesus as the Lamb.

Today's promise portrays Him as a Lion.

The scene is Jacob (now called Israel - the Father of nations) blessing his twelve sons. Each blessing is connected with the character and nature of the son he is blessing, but at a much deeper level the blessing has prophetic implications for the tribes emerging from each of the sons. There is, in the blessing of Judah, a very distinct messianic aspect which is highlighted in today's passage...

In the earlier part of the blessing on Judah, he is described as a lion and a conqueror. From history we know that the Kings of Israel came from the tribe of Judah and that the line of monarchy narrowed down even more to the line of David who was from the tribe of Judah. The tribe of Judah was the dominant ruling tribe in Israel's history.

The sceptre mentioned in the passage can also be translated as the commander's staff and the promise was that Judah's tribe would be supreme and the commander's staff will "remain in the family" until it came to whom it belongs. Although Jesus came as a lowly king and as the Lamb of God, He is also the Lion of Judah. Through His obedience to the Father (even unto death) and through His resounding victory over the grave, He is victorious and is enthroned at the right hand of the Father as Lord of the Church. Paul says:
"Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place.
And gave Him the name that is above every name." (Philippians 2:9)

When He comes again, it will be as Lord of all, and then what Paul wrote will be fulfilled:
"that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:10-11)

And in Revelation John portrays Him as a Lion: "Then one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.'"

We make a serious mistake if we see Him only as the Lamb!

"Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father's sons will bow down to you.
9 You are a lion's cub, O Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness--who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs
and the obedience of the nations is his.

11 He will tether his donkey to a vine,
his colt to the choicest branch;
he will wash his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes will be darker than wine,
his teeth whiter than milk.