The Ascension | Dec 29

While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up to heaven. (Luke 24:51 ESV)

Especially for the disciples, Jesus’ life on earth must have been quite a bumpy ride. At Jesus’ call to follow Him, each left his previous way of living to follow Jesus around the country side, hoping that He was the promised Messiah. Christ’ crucifixion seemed like a total defeat since even the Messianic King could not reign from the dead. The resurrection then was a miracle of the highest order and led to a renewed belief that Jesus is the Serpent-Crusher. But after being with them awhile longer, Jesus ascended into heaven, promising them that He would one day return.

When compared to the cross and resurrection, Jesus’ ascension is often overlooked; however, great theological significance lies therein. In John 14, Jesus tells us much about life after His ascension. Having told His disciples that He would be leaving, He proceeds to tell them that He is going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house (John 14:2-3). Jesus’ imagery would have recalled in the disciples’ minds a fiancé leaving to prepare his home for his bride-to-be and promising to return for her when he finished.

Obviously the imagery only goes so far. For example, it would be ridiculous for us to conclude that Jesus has yet to return because He isn’t finished preparing heaven yet. Instead, Jesus is assuring us, as His bride, that He will return to us and that by His ascension to heaven He prepared the way for us also to be with the Father for eternity.


Read Luke 12:13-21, and consider whether you live in light of Christ’s eternal provision or for the hope of earthly treasure.


 

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Immanuel Is Born | Dec 21

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21 ESV)

Though Matthew for us is separated by only a page turn from Malachi, the events of Matthew occurred 400 years after Malachi’s death. During that time, the empire of Alexander the Great both defeated the Persians and fell. Finally, the Romans seized control of the known world. The Israelites then no doubt felt the LORD had abandoned them, while living under the thumb of Rome and without the prophets to speak God’s Words.

But God had not abandoned them.

An angel appears to a young virgin named Mary, telling her that she will become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a difficult story for her fiancé, Joseph, to believe, so he decides to divorce her quietly to avoid shaming her. Before he could do this, an angel appears to him as well, explaining that Mary is telling the truth and that he must name the child Jesus. Joseph obeys the angel, remaining with Mary and Jesus.

We must consider two things from this text.

First, God was intentional in Jesus’ naming. Jesus means the LORD saves, and the angel explicitly states that “He will save his people from their sins.”

If that wasn’t enough, Matthew then cites Isaiah 7:14 as being fulfilled by these events (vv. 22-23). Mary was the virgin who conceived and gave birth, and Jesus is Immanuel. Jesus is the Messiah, God with us, who came to save humanity from the deadly effects of sin.


Though Jesus came when many had lost hope in His arrival, He was born “when the fullness of time had come (Gal. 4:4).” In what ways does the birth of Christ teach us to trust in God’s plan and timing?


 

Jesus’ Genealogy | Dec 20

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1 ESV)

Even though genealogies can be quite boring, Matthew has a significant reason for beginning his Gospel with one.

The listed genealogy intrinsically ties Jesus to the entirety of the Old Testament. As we have seen, God promised in the midst of humanity’s first sin that He would send a Savior to crush the serpent along with the sin, evil, and death that he represents.

The story then moved forward to Abraham as God declared that the Serpent-Crusher would come from his lineage. When David stepped onto the scene, he seemed to fit the bill for being the Messiah; however, being conquered by sin himself, David received promise that the Christ would be his descendant.

Matthew, therefore, understands fully the weight of his Gospel’s first sentence: “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The apostle is opening his book by declaring that Jesus meets the biological qualifications for Davidic kingship and for the Messianic promises.

This genealogy is presented in no uncertain terms as an argument for Jesus being the Serpent-Crusher, the offspring of David, Abraham, and woman.

Not to mention that Matthew calls Him Christ, which is Greek for Messiah.

If for no other reason, we must be able to read Jesus’ genealogy in thankfulness to God for preserving Christ’s family line.

Yet we must also note that Jesus’ lineage does not end here; instead, Paul tells us that in Christ we are children of God, which means being “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).” If we are saved in Christ, then we are a part of Jesus’ forward-spanning genealogy, being adopted as sons and daughters because of Jesus’ crushing of our sins.


Read all of Romans 8, paying careful attention to verses 12-17. Do your prayers reflect the attitude and weight of what Paul describes in these verses? Why or why not?


 

Week 4 | Introduction

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1 ESV)

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Millennia passed since the Christ, the Serpent-Crusher, was first promised in Genesis 3, but God did not leave humanity without hope. Through men like Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel, the LORD continued to give greater detail on how the Messiah would be recognized. For men like Abraham and David, God even promised that the Savior would be their offspring and descendent. Yet in spite of these divine messages, it would be understandable to find each generation a little less hopeful in the coming King than the previous ones, and after 400 years of God being silent since speaking through Malachi, it seemed that people were losing hope.

But at the proper time, the King was born. Though Israel was little more than a blip on the radar of the world that was the Roman Empire, God caused the most spectacular event of all history to occur in an insignificant town in an insignificant country. In fact, we will still divide our dating of human history around this monumental event.

This week our readings will focus upon the unthinkable miracle of God becoming man. Through the virgin birth, the Serpent-Crusher officially steps into humanity with the purpose of proclaiming the good news of His kingdom, healing the sick, and ultimately defeating the problem of sin.

One Last Promise | Dec 19

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1 ESV)

Following the 70-year Exile, God stirred the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to send Israelites back to rebuild Jerusalem. The LORD uses men like Ezra and Nehemiah to lead the people in reestablishing their home in Israel. During those final years of rebuilding the city, God sent the prophet Malachi to speak to His people. Malachi’s words are situated at the end of the Old Testament because after him, God would not send another prophet to declare the Word of God for around 400 years.

In this short book, God declares through Malachi that before “the Lord whom you seek” comes, He will send His messenger to prepare the way. The Lord being discussed is the long-awaited Messiah, and God promises that He is still coming. Though humanity has waited thousands of years for Him, the Serpent-Crusher would come suddenly, having His way prepared by a messenger.

Jesus clearly affirms that His cousin, John the Baptist, was the messenger described here (Matt. 11:10). After 400 years of silence from God following Malachi, the LORD raised up John to prepare the way for the Messiah, and the Lord did come. It is fitting that God would close out the Old Testament with one last promise that He would send the Christ, that He would be faithful to fulfill all of His promises made throughout the generations.


Like Malachi reminded the people of God’s faithfulness when God seemed slow to act, in what ways do you similarly recall the faithfulness of God?


 

The Son of Man | Dec 18

And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14 ESV)

Also ministering during the 70 years of captivity, Daniel lived a significant portion of his life in the foreign land of Babylon. As one of the most promising young men of Israel, he was taken to the king’s city in order to be groomed into a valuable citizen for the Babylonian Empire. Many will immediately recall some of the trials of Daniel and his friends (such as the lion’s den and the fiery furnace); however, as a prophet, Daniel also receive stunning visions from the LORD.

One such vision is found in chapter 7. In verses 9-10, Daniel envisions the throne room of the Ancient of Days (the LORD), and it is glorious. But another person enters in verses 13-14. Daniel sees a person “like a son of man” approach God and receives “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” Even though son of man is often used (especially in Ezekiel) as a phrase for humans, this Son of Man seems to be far more than merely human.

It is no accident that Jesus often called Himself the Son of Man. As the offspring of Abraham and David who would both rule and bless the nations, He fulfills the role of being given an eternal dominion so that all nations and tongues would serve Him. Jesus’ kingdom of disciples is an everlasting kingdom that cannot be destroyed (Matt. 16:18) and that encompasses people from every nation on earth (Rev. 7:9).


As a disciple in Jesus’ kingdom, do you intentionally seek to make disciples of all nations? What are specific things that keep you from devoting yourself to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20)?


 

A New Heart | Dec 17

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

A little more than 100 years after Isaiah’s ministry ended, the kingdom of Judah fell into the hands of the Babylonians, just like Israel fell to the Assyrians earlier. This led to a 70-year period of captivity in Babylon called the Exile. During the Exile, God raised up two prophets to speak to the people who were forcibly ripped from their homes: Ezekiel and Daniel.

Much of Ezekiel’s writings are difficult to hear. He repeatedly uses strong, hard language to communicate with his Israelite brothers, who were taken into captivity as a judgment of God for their repeated, unrepentant idolatry. Yet in the midst of Ezekiel’s bitter messages, the LORD speaks this verse through him.

Humanity’s problem with sin runs deep. Jeremiah, who was old when Ezekiel began, said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9).” The Israelites (or anyone else) would never stop sinning until their hearts were fundamentally changed. Which is exactly what God promises. He promises to remove their sinful hearts and to give them new hearts that long to obey the LORD. This new heart is the effect of the Messiah’s sacrificial death. In Him, we are new creations (1 Cor. 5:17).


What evidences in your life do you see of having a new heart in Christ (for example see Galatians 5:22-23)?