Softly, Spoke the River

The Light of Christ


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And so to Bethlehem

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree
 that a census should be taken
of the entire Roman world”
(Luke 2:1)

Reflection:
Caesar Augustus reigned over the Roman empire from 30 BC to AD 14. He decided that a census should be taken throughout his empire. This was not a regular occurrence but the first of its kind – and taxation was probably the reason behind it. The consequence was that people travelled to their own town to register, and this involved Joseph going to Bethlehem, ‘because he was of the house and line of David.’

Joseph did not need to take Mary with him but he obviously decided or agreed to do so. We know that she was in the advanced stages of her pregnancy and he may not have wanted to leave her behind in view of the Lord’s commission to him.

These two men were both involved in Mary’s being in Bethlehem when Jesus was born there – just as the prophet had foretold.

  • 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)

Caesar, who would not have known of the prophecy or of Mary and Joseph, issued a decree that had to be obeyed. Joseph, as a husband, took the decision that Mary should accompany him. In this way the prophecy was fulfilled and God’s will achieved.

In just such seemingly unrelated and small details is the hand of God at times to be revealed. He is indeed able to direct the thoughts and decisions of people in order to achieve His will, and He is able to work in all things to the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)

Question:
Can I discern the Lord’s working in my life?

Response:
Trust God to guide and lead you in the way that you should go (Psalm 32:8)

Prayer:

Lord please have Your hand on my life so that whether I am aware of it or not I will live and act as You wish, Amen.

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Mary and Gabriel

“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth,
a town in Galilee,
to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph,
a descendant of David.
The virgin’s name was Mary”

(Luke 1:26-27)

Reflection:
After four hundred years of silence God spoke twice within the space of a few months. The first was to Zechariah and the second to Mary. In both cases the message was delivered not by a prophet but by the angel Gabriel – underlining its huge importance and implication. They both concerned the birth of a child – firstly John the Baptist and then Jesus.

The message to Mary contained three important elements.  Firstly ‘you are to give Him the name Jesus’ – which indicated that His mission would be to save.

Secondly, ‘He will be great’ – for He would also be called ‘the Son of the Most High.’ – This was an acknowledged messianic title and Mary would have understood it that way.

Thirdly, ‘He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.’ –  Here was a fulfillment of prophecy.

Gabriel painted for Mary a picture of a child who would be Saviour, Son of God and King – three stunning titles. Mary was both ‘greatly troubled’ and obviously mystified by the message that Gabriel delivered – and would have been overawed when He explained further,

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God … For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35-37)

Both from the message and the manner of His conception Mary would have known that this would be no normal child.

We can only imagine what it must have been like for her to come through such an experience, to face up to telling Joseph – her husband to be – and see his initial hurting reaction , and to inform her family as well. And then, when she had the time to let it sink in and  to reflect on it all, to come to terms with the growing realisation and understanding that for all eternity she would be the Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The challenge to us to not just to believe in this marvellous happening some two thousand years ago. It is also to realise that as Jesus was born through Mary into her world by the Holy Spirit, so He should be born through us into our own worlds by that same Holy Spirit. Our ministry is to allow Him to make Himself real through us.

Question:
Can I give the same answer that Mary gave?

Response:
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38)

Prayer:

Lord You have chosen to come and live within me. Please help me to believe and know that reality – and to allow You to shine through me into the world in which I live. Amen.

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Coming King

2016-12-08

“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 Counsellor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6)

Reflection:
The Messiah would be a descendant of Eve, of the line of Abraham, a prophet like Moses who saw God ‘face to face,’ and also a king like David whom God referred to as ‘a man after His own heart’ (1 Samuel 13:14).

David was the greatest of the kings of Israel. After him, with a few exceptions, the kings became corrupt and the nation suffered. It was eventually carried off into exile. However the coming Kingdom of God would be different.

God’s Kingdom would be righteous and the Messiah would rule with justice.

“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 just and right in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5)

God’s Kingdom would be peaceful. David’s kingdom had known seemingly endless wars but God chose as David’s successor his son Solomon whose name means peace or peaceable. He was the one whom God chose to build His temple and God gave him peace from his enemies.

“But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever” (1 Chronicles 22:9-10)

God’s Kingdom would be stable and would last forever.

“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations” (Psalm 145:13)

God’s Kingdom would know no boundaries.

“He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:10)

The Kingdom of God would be a glorious kingdom because of the nature and character of the Lord Himself – His supreme majesty, authority, power, righteousness, faithfulness and love.

“God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15-16)

Question:
Has my will bowed to the Lord’s?

Response:
There cannot be two Kings

Prayer:

Lord may Your Kingdom come in me and on earth even as it is in heaven, Amen.

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In Him we Live

2016-10-03

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets
at many times and in various ways, but in these last days
he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things,
and through whom he made the universe.
(Hebrews 1:1-2)

Reflection:
God has revealed Himself to humankind throughout history, and in a very particular way He has done so through the prophets whom He appointed and to whom He gave specific messages. However these revelations and messages were both partial and also progressive – they were always looking ahead to something greater, as were the Old Testament sacrifices. Now the writer to the Hebrews spells out five major truths relating to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ Who brings to completion all that went before.

Firstly, in Jesus Christ God’s revelation of Himself becomes final and complete. This Word made flesh becomes God’s last word to the world. The completeness of this revelation is spelled out by the Lord Jesus Himself as well as the writer to the Hebrews.

  • “Jesus answered: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)
  • “He has spoken to us by his Son”

Secondly, Jesus Christ is the Lord of creation.  Through Jesus God made the universe and He is both its beginning and its end. As God has appointed Jesus heir of all things everything belongs to Him and it is He who sustains everything by His powerful word (Hebrews1:3)

Thirdly, Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father. There is no further or greater revelation necessary or possible.

  • “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3)

Fourthly, Jesus Christ is the Saviour of sinners. There is no further sacrifice required for His is the one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice. He, and He alone, is the One who takes away the sins of the world. And as He died for our sins, so He rose to give us life and is glorified in Heaven as our eternal Saviour.

  • “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3)

Fifthly, Jesus Christ is worshipped by the angels who can in no way compare with Him – for the Father and He are one (John 10:30)

  • “And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him” (Hebrews 1:6)

Response:
Look to the Lord Jesus – in Him is everything you need to see and to know.

Prayer:

My Lord and My Saviour, my King and my Sustainer, my Light and my Life, My Way and my Truth, in You I live and move and have my being. Bless You Lord God. Amen.

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God’s Call

2015.12.31

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

(Matthew 2:13-15)

Reflection:
Over a thousand years had passed since God had called His people out of Egypt. They had originally been brought there by Jacob’s son Joseph to escape the famine that was devastating the surrounding lands. After some four hundred years God then led them away from what had become a place of bondage and persecution, through the waters of the sea, into the desert and the place of commitment, and onwards to the Promised Land.

Now He instructed another Joseph to care for His son by taking him to Egypt. This was in order to protect Jesus from the murderous activities of Herod. Once the danger was past God would call Him out of Egypt again. The prophecy through Hosea which reflected the Exodus would reach its fulfilment in the person of the Son of God Himself. In due course Jesus also would pass through the waters of baptism, into the desert of temptation and commitment, and onwards towards the ‘Promised Land’ on the other side of the cross. He was opening the Way for us.

We too find ourselves in a ‘foreign land’ from which God calls us. With Him we embark upon a new journey as He leads us away from the bondages of a fallen world, through the waters of baptism, into a new place of commitment and onwards to the Promised Land of our eternal home with Him. Spiritually we may enter into His heart immediately although it often takes time and experience for us to fully believe and become secure there. In other ways the journey home lasts a life-time but the end is always secure as we travel on with Him.

Response:
Hear the call. Stay on the journey for the coming year.

Prayer:

Lord help me to stay close to You – and please bring me back when I stray. Amen.

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(Artist – Bartolome Esteban Murillo  – Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI, USA)


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Unkind not to point

2015.12.09

“When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.”
(Luke 1:57)

Reflection:
As the angel had said the child was a boy, and as instructed they named him John.

It would still be some years before his short and extremely significant ministry began, but already the hand of the Lord was upon him. His father, recovering his speech again, now had a word from God concerning John and his ministry,

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
(Luke 1:67-79)

Here now was the ‘prophet of the Most High’ and the one called to go before Him to prepare the way for Him. He would ‘give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.’ The entry of the Christ into the world, in an act of God that would divide history into Before and After, was very close.

There is a sense in which all Christians take on the ministry of John. We too are sent out with a Great Commission – to proclaim the saving love of God in Jesus Christ and to ‘give people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.’ We too are, like John, appointed to point out the Saviour to the people who walk in darkness,

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
(John 1:29)

The sadness is that the world generally no longer recognises anything as sin – and sees no need for a Saviour. And yet, there are countless numbers of people who, consciously or unconsciously, battle with a terrible separation in their lives – between who they are and who they could be. There is only One true Way, One Truth and One true Life.

Response:
You have a gospel to proclaim – ask God to show you how to do it in your own way.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, please help me to be true to Your Great Commission – and equip and empower me through the Holy Spirit within me. Let me think, speak and live to Your honour and glory. Amen.

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Name above all names

2015.12.07

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
(Luke 1:31-33)

Reflection:
Some six months or more after speaking to Zechariah the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary with an even more startling and significant message. Not only was she to have a child, and that without any human intervention, but the child was to be ‘the Son of God’ and the eternal King. After centuries of silence God’s chosen time had arrived, and the long awaited Messiah was about to enter the world and change history forever.

Mary’s response is tellingly different to that of Zachariah for she does not ask how she can be sure of the angel’s message. Instead she shows her acceptance of it by merely asking how it will happen ‘since I am a virgin.’ A young girl trusts where an old priest questions – but both still see the Lord at work and His word fulfilled.

All of this – these two angelic appearances, and the momentous events that they disclosed – happened quietly in a small corner of creation. Hardly anyone knew about them, and it would be years before their significance began to become apparent. Yet God was at work in a vital and life-changing way. He had not given up on His people or on His creation. He was about to disclose the mind-shaking extent of His love and power.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Still today God is quietly at work in and through the lives of His people. Each one of us has a personal revelation and message through which the reality of Christ may be carried into our world.

Response:
Christmas – without it there would be no salvation, only darkness and despair. We have something to celebrate, and to share.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the simple faith and response of Mary. Please help us to celebrate and share Your great love and provision this Christmas, and to hold on to Your great love through all the times that lie ahead. Amen.

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(Picture – Poussin_Annunciation_National Gallery)


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God’s will being done

2015.12.03

“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)

Reflection:
The prophecy was that the promised Messiah would come from Bethlehem, in Judea. This was affirmed by the religious leaders to Herod.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 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.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 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. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “`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.'”(Matthew 2:1-6)

However, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, in Galilee. But shortly before Jesus was born they travelled to Bethlehem, in Judea, in response to the command of Caesar.

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. 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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 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.” (Luke 2:1-7)

Such is the power and majesty of God that centuries before the birth of Jesus He could specify the town in which He would be born. This was not just any town but the one that was associated with King David, whose throne would be given to the coming Messiah. And, to make certain that Joseph and Mary would be there, the supreme head of the secular ruling powers issued a directive that had to be obeyed. And so, just as our Almighty God had foretold centuries beforehand, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

This is the type of detail that should make us laugh in amazement and joy – such is the power, authority and planned purpose of God. His actions and involvement are not haphazard – they are part of His perfect and grace-filled will. His Name be praised!

No matter what is happening in the world around us today, or in our private worlds, what God has promised will take place.

Response:
Praise God for His power and majesty, even down to the smallest detail.

Prayer:

Father we thank You so much that You are both willing and able to ensure that Your will is done. May Your will be fulfilled in my life as well. In Jesus name I ask this. Amen.

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A Virgin will give birth

2015.12.02

“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 Immanuel.”

(Isaiah 7:14)

Reflection:
‘A virgin will be with child and give birth to a son.’ It is an extraordinary statement and promise, and one which humanly speaking is quite impossible. Even today people have difficulty in comprehending and believing it, because they approach it from the level of the human mind. It would be similar to a goldfish limiting everything to the size and extent of the goldfish bowl and rejecting anything that its goldfish brain could not understand.

But the person behind the promise is not a human. He is the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth! And so, when the time was right, the Angel Gabriel was sent to “a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”(Luke 1:27) To her he said,

“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:30-35)

Once again the Holy Spirit took the expressed will of God and made it happen. And what is so exciting and inspiring is that we are not dealing with just a man and a human endeavour. We are responding to the God for whom “nothing is impossible” (Luke 1:37). Here is God entering creation, and the fallen world of humankind, in a completely new way. He is coming to be with us, to be one of us, to take our sins and imperfections into Himself so that, having been set free from them and their consequences, we may be redeemed as the sons and daughters of the Living God. We may indeed now have a future and a hope!

And so the promise was fulfilled.

“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.” (Matthew 1:18)

This is the greatest wonder of them all – that God should come to us as one of us.

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)

In the darkness all around us the inextinguishable Light of the eternal Almighty still burns – and will overcome.

Response:
Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind so that you too may thrill to the message of the angel!

Prayer:

Father God, there is no one who compares with You. Thank You so much for this quite stunning and majestic demonstration of Your love and power. Indeed, nothing is impossible for You. Amen.

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In God’s Hand

2015.12.01

“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.”
(Isaiah 9:2)

Reflection:
This great and well-known prophecy precedes the glorious words that leave us in no doubt about its subject,

“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 Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his 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.”

(Isaiah 9:6-7)

And now, with the birth of Christ, it is to be fulfilled. Matthew starts his gospel with the words, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:” (Matthew 1:1)

The angel Gabriel tells Mary,

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

We, who have the benefit of looking back over the life of Jesus, and with ready access to the Scriptures, can see the marvellous and majestic plan of God unfolding before us. Jesus, the Son of God, enters the world to be its Saviour and its Lord and King. He has taken history in His mighty grasp and is shaping it to His own ends. His will is being done on earth as it is done in heaven. And although His enemies rose up against Him and crucified Him under the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19) He was to confound them by rising again and ascending in glory to the right hand of God. He will truly “reign … forever” and “His kingdom will never end.”

When we see the word of God and the hand of God working with such power and majesty, we are encouraged to trust and believe in the One who says to us,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)

Whatever humankind may do to try and establish a self-centred independence is held between the boundaries set by God. He is both the beginning and the end. Man’s efforts will be doomed to tragic failure. God’s intentions will be revealed in glorious fulfillment – a fulfillment of love, grace and power that is already revealed in Christ for those with the eyes to see.

Response:
Ask God to increase your belief and your faith in Him.

Prayer:

Come Lord Jesus, today and every day, into my heart and into my life and living. Amen.

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