Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the shadows clear away.
When the author of the hymn came to this verse he must have had Isaiah 9:2 on his mind: The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. And as he composed this verse, he visualized the host of heaven in a vanguard invading the earth, and leading the Son of God to His incarnation in a glorious, dazzling, and blinding display. All who worshiped the darkness were put on notice, the light of the world had come into the world.
And the light is still here, which is why the shadows are being cleared away and the powers of hell will vanish: You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
But you are a chosen race, A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Emmanuel: God with us. This was not a new concept, for Israel knew and saw on numerous occasions that God was “with” them:
You with the elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt, and you will say to him, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews has met with us.” (Exodus 3:18, 5:3)
Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant. May the LORD our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us. ( 1 Kings 8:56-57)
Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah. (2 Chronicles 32:7-8)
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. (Psalm 46:7)
Devise a plan, but it will be thwarted; state a proposal, but it will not stand, for God is with us. (Isaiah 8:10)
But Emmanuel being with us is different:
By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
Spirit took on flesh; and the Presence became a Person.
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Charles Wesley penned these words in the early 1700’s. And this hymn is rife with inspiration and insight.
The 1st line tells us who delivers this great message: the angels. The 2nd line reveals Who is the content: the Christ child. The 3rd line shows results of this miraculous birth: peace and mercy incarnate came to earth. But the 4th line exclaims what has happened; that which mankind has been incapable of doing, and centuries of sacrifices could not accomplish: God and sinners were reconciled.
Reconciliation literally means “according to change”. The situation between God and man had to be changed; both parties who were at enmity with one another, needed to be reconciled.
And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach. (Colossians 1:21-22)
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10)
On that angel-filled night, we became witnesses to the first step of this reconciliation: The Son had come in the flesh, to earth!
Don’t miss what the Apostle Paul and Wesley were saying about our condition: we were sinners and we were enemies. But now, we are reconciled.
Our reconciliation, our salvation, became incarnate; that’s why He was named Jesus; “For He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
When you ponder His birth, may you recognize your salvation.
We’re less that two weeks out from Christmas, and I wanted to pause for a time with the Psalms, and consider some of the great hymns and carols of the Christmas season. So leading up to Christmas, let’s part company with David for a time, and ponder the music which sings about the One from David’s house and line: Jesus!
Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. (Psalm 19:13)
I’ve always found hope in this passage. My kind of sin is not the kind that accidentally happens, or sneaks up on me, or the “Devil made me do it.” My kind of sins are accomplished by my own choice.
So what is a deliberate sin?
Some of the other definitions for deliberate are presumptuous, arrogant, and proud.
This sort of sin proceeds from an attitude self-confidence, or reliance on one’s own strength. Have we fallen into that trap? To prop up my rep; to advance my career? Choosing comfort over obedience, disinterest over compassion, arrogance over service? Where we think we can do it on our own? Or in a more accurate context, where we think we can do it on our own— without God?That’s a scary place to be, and if these sorts of sins become our practice, then we shall be far from God.
What does it mean to be controlled?
The Hebrew word for control also means to have dominion, or rule, or authority. Do you really want your sin to rule your life? Is that not the rightful place for God?
The word that gives us hope in this verse, is the first word: keep. Other definitions are: to restrain, to hold back, to keep in check. Having God doing the keeping is the only way we can keep our lives from being ruled by our sins— which by the way, are the very sins that have been paid for by the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus not only has paid the penalty of our sins, but He has taken away its power. So why would we kneel before a defeated foe? We ought not.
God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. (James 1:12-15)
Another word for patiently endure is persevere. Now there’s a point to persevering or enduring, and Jesus stated plainly: You’ll be hated by all because of My name; but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. (Mark 13:13) In James you endure the testing and the temptation because you will receive the crown of life. With Jesus we endure the hatred and the persecution to be saved.
Two things we can learn from these passages. First, we will have to face testing and temptation, hatred and persecution. Second, we can endure them, and win! In fact, the purpose of the things we must endure is to growth in the faith.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength has dried up like sun-baked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead. My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all my bones. My enemies stare at me and gloat. They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing. (Psalm 22:14-18)
When you read those lines from Psalm 22, what do you see? If nothing comes to mind, let me give you another passage from the same Psalm: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Yes, those are the words of Jesus hanging on the cross. Now you can see how the above five verses describe the events surrounding the crucifixion. King David wrote these words about a 1000 years before Christ hung on the cross. You and I see it, but why didn’t the Old Testament scholars of the day (i.e. – Sadducees and Pharisees) see it? Well their authority was challenged, their way of life threatened, and they kinda got distracted.
I did a study a few years back on distractions. I talked about how life is filled with interruptions, and there’s nothing really we can do about that. The question was, do we let interruptions become distractions? Then do distractions become detours? Then do detours become dead ends? And by the time we get to a dead-end, it’s pretty tough to get out. And all along that downward-spiraling path, we miss what God is doing.
I don’t know who we can blame for these holiday distractions, but it’s really not so much about the blame as it is the effect. For instance, holiday used to really be holy day, as it was tied only to religious holy days, like Christmas and Easter. But then these distractions came along: Santa Claus, snowmen, reindeer, trees, lights, and presents. But Christmas—that holy day— is about the birth of Jesus, God becoming man. And more distractions came along: bunnies and eggs… and chocolate! What’s not to like about chocolate? But Easter— that holy day— is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
With all the marketing and media blitz focusing on these distractions, it’s tough to remember the truth behind these holy days.
But then there’s Good Friday. As far as I know, nobody has been able to come up with a substitute or a distraction for that. But it’s kinda tough to come up with a distraction for something that deals with death and dying, torture and blood and sacrifice. And then you got that whole sin thing. What kind of cute things can cover up stuff like that? You can’t. So the next best thing? You ignore it. But you can’t do that either, because even though most Christians would prefer to fast forward to the resurrection of Christ, you can’t have the resurrection without the crucifixion.
After Jesus had risen, he spent some time walking along the road to Emmaus with some disciples. And he asked the question: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26) It was necessary.
“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb 9:22)
Did Jesus Christ die for you? Are you forgiven? That’s what the crucifixion is all about. That’s what Good Friday is all about. There ARE no substitutes. Only…
The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me. The cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. (Psalm 18:4-5)
I don’t pretend to know the kind of peril David was facing here. I have not been in any life-threatening conflicts. I have not been the ruler of a kingdom that seemed to be as often in war as not. My brush with death would include a motorcycle accident some 40 years ago where I ended up in the Emergency Room at a hospital in Camden, New Jersey. And a heart attack last year.
Two major things I learned from those incidents. From the first, don’t waste time. From the second, “Father, my life is in Your hands, and I will rejoice in whatever You choose to do.”
Back to David. These cords and snares could have been wrapped around him personally, or they could have been entwined around friends and fellow servants of the Most High. And to that I can definitely relate.
I have four friends that have been entangled and entwined by cancer; three of them lost that battle. One was an audio engineer, the next a small business owner, and the third, a mechanical engineer. One was a long and drawn out battle, the other two were brief.
My last friend was a brilliant molecular biologist, with some ground-breaking research; and currently is a consultant to rather large corporations, freeing them from entanglements that could have destroyed their businesses. He continues to suffer much, with this entangling affliction, but he has learned to deal with this “new normal”. How long this battle endures, only God knows.
The Apostle Paul understood this battle: We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 16-17)
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
The one thing my four friends have in common is Jesus. Now they may not have had the understanding of Paul, but three have achieved the same goal and the fourth will as well.
So where does that leave us who are witnessing these entanglements up close and personal? Back to King David: In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears. (Psalm 18:6)
In the midst of our tears, it’s up to us to cry out unto the LORD, that He may rescue. That He may heal. In an email I sent out to my work family, I told them I have been asking the LORD to heal him everyday, for five years; and will continue to plead that the LORD would heal him, even up to his dying breath. And I have written this to put my friend’s struggle into context—God’s eternal context. And to ask you to pray for healing as well. And pray for his son and daughter.
So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9)
The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 4:15)
Last time we looked at this Psalm with a more or less theological approach. We considered this verse the way David was seeing it, the way he was seeing and knowing the LORD. But then we continued on with more verses from this Psalm to understand why David knew this to be.
“Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God. Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly. Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you. O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. (vs. 2-5, 15)
Notice the couplets:
Protect me— I am devoted to you.
Save me— I serve and trust you.
Be merciful to me— for I am calling on you.
Give me happiness— I give myself to you.
Then David lists off a string of characteristics about his God, who alone is God: good, ready to forgive, full of unfailing love, compassionate, merciful, slow to get angry, filled with unfailing love, and faithfulness. Who wouldn’t want to come to a God like that?
I mention all this again because God being the “one and only” is more than just a theological truth, it’s a relational truth. What I mean by that? Not only is He God alone, He’s all you need. Consider these following verses:
In heaven I have only you, and on this earth you are all I want. (Ps 73:25)
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. (Ps 23:1)
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps 37:4)
The apostle Paul picks up on this theme in in his letter to the Philippians: And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (4:19)
So now we have in effect, a double-edged sword. The LORD, he is God alone. And he’s all that you need. God does not call you into an exclusive relationship, just to exclude you from all else. Your salvation need and you relational need are one.
Your salvation is both eternal (John 6:40), and to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).
Your heart has more than you can ever ask or imagine:
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
The greatest need for your heart? The greatest need for your soul? Jesus Christ… Only.
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. (Psalm 73:16-17)
For those of you who know me (and I may have mentioned this a few times in this blog), Psalm 73 is my favorite. Now it breaks my heart that David didn’t write it… but I still love this one.
I’ve talked about this verse before in number 72, called Understanding. But tonight I need this to be more immediate, more urgent.
So who’s end is Asaph talking about? Well he wraps it up with an explanation in the last two verses:
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
Those who are far from the LORD. Do you know anybody like that? I’m sure you do. We all do. Now the good news is that thought they are far from Him, they are near you, and you have another new year to talk to them. You have this new year because God is patient:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Now note it doesn’t say that He is patient with that with those who are perishing, those who are far away. No, it says He is patient with you. Why? Well who’s supposed to tell them about Jesus if it’s not you?
I end with the words of Jesus as an urgent reminder:
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ 45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
46“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
As we draw another year closer to the return of our Lord, who is it you need to share the love of Jesus with? Not all ends are good ends.
If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3)
When I was younger, many years ago, I heard Billy Graham talk about how he did his devotions. He did 5 Psalms and one chapter of Proverbs a day. So every month, he would go through the entire books of Psalms and Proverbs. When I don’t have time to do my study, that’s when I do this same devotional. But I only do the Psalms. So like today, being the 28th, I would read Psalms 136-140. The great thing about this approach is that if you miss a day, you just multiply the date x 5, back up five, and start there. No need to make up.
A few years back I started using the NLT. Years and years of the NAS kinda got familiar, so I picked a new translation to stir things up. And it was a great move. As we look at the above verse, which is the NAS, here’s what the NLT has, and it provides, what I think, is some excellent insight:
The foundations of law and order have collapsed. What can the righteous do?
So we move from plain old foundations to foundations of law and order. Now if you look up the word foundations in the Hebrew, you don’t find anything in its meanings anywhere that specific. But I think this translation does David justice. And I believe that it has just as much to do with us today as it did King David.
Our foundations have collapsed. I doubt anybody would debate that. We have suffered a collapse, but the opinions surrounding why, are as varied and divisive as our culture. For the sake of moving on, let’s assume David’s description and definition would be best, much of it having to do with a complete lack of understanding of Who God is, what He does, and outright denial of Him having any right in declaring to us how we should live, both as individuals and as a nation.
So the question still stands: What can the righteous do? And the beginning of our answer—we need to be righteous, and proclaim His righteousness.
But the complete answer comes in the next verse:
But the Lord is in his holy Temple; the Lord still rules from heaven. (vs. 4)
Deny Him, ignore Him, dis-invite Him. He still rules. Remove Him from academia, from the marketplace, from politics, He still shows up in the hearts of the Righteous. And it’s up to us to make Him and His Way plain. Because the day is coming when, as David said:
The Lord examines both the righteous and the wicked. He hates those who love violence. He will rain down blazing coals and burning sulfur on the wicked, punishing them with scorching winds. For the righteous Lord loves justice. The virtuous will see his face. (vs. 5-7)
Simply put, Jesus tells us that the two greatest commands are: Love God and love people. If the righteous of God we do that, love will go a long way in healing and repairing these foundations.