023 | Ruler from Bethlehem

The Savior would come from the little town of Bethlehem (v.2). At the time of Jesus' birth, this was the commonly held understanding (Matthew 2:3-6). It was such an unlikely place, and yet God orchestrated an incredible chain of events - a census of the Roman empire, a late-night trip by a pregnant woman and her fiance, and a birth in a stable - to make it happen (Luke 2:1-7). Jesus fulfilled this very specific prophecy made centuries before his birth."

Whitney T. Kuniholm wrote this about verse 2 in Chapter 5 of the Old Testament book Micah in his book titled The Essential Jesus: 100 Readings Through the Bible's Greatest Story.

"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, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2)
Here we read in the Old Testament that the Messiah will come from a small town named Bethlehem. This was written about 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It is one of many facts about the Messiah given to God's people before Christ came. Here is a partial list of other facts about the Messiah previewed in the Old Testament:
  • Born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)
  • Honored by great kings (Psalms 72:10, 15, Isaiah 60:3)
  • Worshiped by shepherds (Psalms 72:9)
  • The Son of God (Psalms 2:7)
  • A healer (Isaiah 29:18, Isaiah 35:5-6)
  • Rejected, even by his own people (Isaiah 53:3, Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 28:16, Psalms 118:22)
  • Enter Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9)
  • Silent before his accusers (Isaiah 53:7)
  • Pierced through hands and feet (Psalms 22:16)
  • No bones broken (Psalms 34:20)
  • Resurrected from the dead (Psalms 16:10, Psalms 30:3, Psalms 118:17)
  • Ascension to God's right hand (Psalms 68:18, Psalms 110:1)
During the time of Jesus many of these facts in scripture about the Messiah were common knowledge among the leaders and people of Israel. It was well known as we read in the gospel of Matthew (Matthew 2:1-8) that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Even with the vivid description of the coming Messiah King laid out in the scriptures most struggled and ultimately missed how different the Kingdom he would rule would be compared to the earthly kingdoms all around them. Most of them were looking for a Messiah who would come as a powerful king blowing away all of their enemies and freeing them from serving the current political kingdom of Rome. They viewed God's Kingdom as a political and national kingdom ruled by a Messiah King who would make Israel great again. A political kingdom of power, security, and peace for all of God's people here on earth under the earthly leadership of the Son of God, the Messiah, the King.

As we see played out in the historical record of the gospels, written by four different people, even the closest friends and followers of Jesus struggled with how he described the Kingdom he was bringing to the world. In many ways the disciples, before Jesus was executed, resisted the uniqueness of the Kingdom Jesus was telling the world about. There is evidence that they knew Jesus was King, but they just didn't understand why the King, the ruler had to die. They just didn't understand HOW different this new Kingdom was.
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is in your midst." (Luke 17:20-21)

Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place." (John 18:36)
This new Kingdom would be just as unique and radical as they and everyone who came in contact with Jesus discovered him to be. A kingdom that was completely different, completely unique, and could not be seen in the same way as earthly kingdoms could be seen. This new Kingdom would have a different kind of power, different priorities, and a different purpose. It would not be ruled by riches and violence, but by love and grace. It would not begin with an army taking over a large population of people. It would begin with a humble King laying down his own life for all people everywhere. It would start with a few unimportant people who believe in this radically unique King. It would not grow by a large takeover or great force, but one person at a time freely accepting the King and his ways. It would be nothing like the kingdoms man established. It would be a vast kingdom without end, set apart from the kingdoms of this world, with a beginning in a smelly stable in a small unimportant town. It would begin as a baby.

The God who came to earth came not in a raging whirlwind, nor in a devouring fire. Unimaginably, the Maker of all things shrank, down, down, down, so small as to become an ovum, a single fertilized egg barely visible to the naked eye, an egg that would divide and re-divide until a fetus took shape, enlarging cell by cell inside a nervous teenager." (Philip Yancey in his book "The Jesus I Never Knew")

What a God! What a beginning! What a Kingdom! What a ruler! What a King!

| More on the Essential Jesus journey. |

Photo credit:  Photo titled "Tiny Flowers". Uploaded to flickr.com on June 9, 2008 by *cora*

Running Toward the Goal

Running race

Our small group just started a new bible study on the Philippians letter. In preparation for the study I was caught by what Paul wrote in chapter 3.
"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. ... I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." (Philippians 3:7, 10-12)
There is a great devotional titled "Running Toward the Goal" published by The Christian and Missionary Alliance on there website from A.W. Tozer's writings.

The true Christian, though he is in revolt against the world's efforts to brainwash him, is no mere rebel for rebellion's sake. He dissents from the world because he knows that it cannot make good on its promises. He has tasted the pleasures of society and he knows that they leave a bitter taste; and he has found that blessing of the Lord of which the wise man speaks, which maketh rich and addeth no sorrow with it.

And the Christian is not left without a "norm" to which he seeks to become adjusted. The Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the norm, the ideally perfect model, and the worshiping soul yearns to be like Him. Indeed the whole drive behind the Christian life is this longing to be conformed to the image of Christ. The energy with which the believing man revolts against conformity to the image of unregenerate society will be in exact proportion to the intensity of his yearning to be like Christ.

The classic expression of this burning desire to be Christlike is, of course, Paul's personal testimony in his letter to the Philippian Christians which begins, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ," and ends with the fervent declaration, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" ( Philippians 3:7-14). ... read more

I press on ...

Illustration credit: The photo in this post was uploaded to flickr.com by Bron* on February 14, 2007. It is titled "Running Race

022 | Righteous

i am righteous

Jeremiah tells us that the Savior God was preparing to send would not only be a descendent of David but also something more - "a righteous Branch" (v. 5) and "The Lord Our Righteousness" (v. 6). In other words, God himself was planning to step into the picture to reestablish the right relationship between us and him that sin had destroyed. The way he would do that is by sending his own Son, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30)."

Whitney T. Kuniholm wrote this in reflecting on Jeremiah Chapter 23 in his book I am journaling through titled The Essential Jesus: 100 Readings Through the Bible's Greatest Story.

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.' (Jeremiah 23:5-6, ESV)
What a word? Righteousness. It is one of those words people, in general, are uncomfortable in using. Even more uncomfortable with applying it to themselves or even other people they like and respect.

Here is how Dictionary.com defines this word: "Righteousness –noun 1. the quality or state of being righteous. 2. righteous conduct. 3. the quality or state of being just or rightful: They came to realize the righteousness of her position on the matter."

... and here is the definition for "Righteous –adjective 1. characterized by uprightness or morality: a righteous observance of the law. 2. morally right or justifiable: righteous indignation. 3. acting in an upright, moral way; virtuous: a righteous and godly person."

So to put this together Righteousness is the quality or state of being moral, pure, and just. Ok now say "I am righteous". Feels a little uncomfortable. Doesn't it? Perhaps it should?

“Righteousness” and “righteous,” appear 542 times in the Bible. From reading about it in the Bible I would define righteous as judged right or innocent by God. According to Thayer and Smith in The New Testament Greek Lexicon Righteousness "in a broad sense" is the "state of him who is as he ought to be".

I like what Shawn Lantz wrote in her blog under the title of "The Meaning of Righteousness":

"Righteousness is right-standing with God. It is utterly impossible for me, a human being who cannot possibly attain the standard of perfection that God demands, to be righteous by my deeds. Every action of mine is tainted somehow. My human nature knows nothing but to be selfish, ungrateful, or disobedient. I have to fight those base desires everyday. A good deed that comes from me has been stained somehow by my inability to be good enough by myself."

So if right-standing with God can not be achieved through our own effort and our deeds - how can we ever be considered righteous? No wonder it is uncomfortable to even say "I am righteous."

In Romans Paul writes:
Now to anyone who works, their wages are not credited to them as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to anyone who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)
Righteousness comes through faith.
It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let those who boast boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)
Christ has become OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Through Jeremiah God gave the world a preview of the coming Savior King, a preview of how humans could be called righteous. The preview is in the name for the Messiah - "The LORD is our righteousness". A preview of both the righteousness of Christ and of ours.

We are Righteous in Christ. Christ is our righteousness.

| More on the Essential Jesus journey. |

021 | Blessed to be a Blessing

Helping hand

God was putting in motion an incredible plan to reverse the effects of sin and to give humans a way to have close fellowship with him once again. At this point God only gives a short summary of what he had in mind (Genesis 12:2-3). It would take thousands of years for his plan of salvation to fully unfold.

The plan had two major components. The first was to create "a great nation" (v. 2) from Abram's family, who would eventually become the Israelites. It was to these people that God uniquely revealed himself over the centuries. He did it through the Ten Commandments and the law. Through it all, the people began to understand who God was and how he wanted them to live. The second part of the plan was to "bless ... all peoples on earth" (v. 3) through his chosen people. It would take thousands of years and a lot of pain and suffering, but the great blessing was Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world."

The above thoughts on Genesis 12 is from the book I am journaling through by Whitney T. Kuniholm. This great devotional book is titled The Essential Jesus: 100 Readings Through the Bible's Greatest Story. This is the 21st of the 100 passages outlined in this book. The next five passages are grouped under the title "Prophecies About a Savior". Kuniholm introduces this section by pointing out that "Old Testament prophecy ... frequently predicted the coming of the Messiah, who would bring God's salvation to earth."

The LORD had said to Abram, "Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you. "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. (Genesis 12:1-4)
Bless, blessing, bless, bless, blessed ... This is the very heart of the plan of God for all eternity. Blessed to be a blessing. God blessed Abram to be a blessing to others. God sent his Servant, his Son, to bless us, all of us. From Abram to Israel to Jesus to us. God sent Jesus to be the blessing so we could bless. So we could be a blessing.

So my question is, mostly to myself, how? How, as a Christ follower, do I become a blessing? How do I become a blessing with my time, my money, my possessions, my body, my brain, my words, and my daily routine? How at home, at work, in my neighborhood, and in my community? How, with the resources I have been blessed, do I bless others? How do I become a blessing? I need to continue to ask these questions as I walk through my day, week, and year. I pray that I will more and more have frequent and very specific answers to these questions.

My question to you is also HOW? How can you participate in the very heart of God's plan for eternity? How can you become a blessing?

Please feel free comment below and share your answers and ideas.

| More on the Essential Jesus journey. |

Illustration credit: The photo in this post was uploaded to flickr.com by .noflickr on March 30, 2008. It is titled "Helping Hand".

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