For the past few weeks, you have probably heard sermons preached from the initial chapters of Matthew and Luke about the birth of Jesus as we celebrate the Christmas season. As I read Matthew, I not only see a message about the birth of our Lord and Savior, but the Godly character of Jesus’s earthly parents and challenge for the new year.
I think we all would agree that Joseph and Mary were specifically chosen for the holy task of parenting God in human form. No one would argue that God selected them out of a vast pool of other candidates. They must have had life histories of obedience and righteousness. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law,a and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. Matt. 1:19 The footnote about Joseph indicates that he was a righteous man. In his righteousness, we see that he also had a choice. He was going to do what he deemed the right thing. He would end their relationship because obviously…there was a disconnect. Both Mary and Joseph were humans with the free will to do as they chose, but God likely chose them because they had a history of choosing His way, listening to Him, and doing what He would have them do. Unwed Mary would need to carry this unplanned pregnancy to term, risk losing her husband/fiance, risk her parents’ reaction, endure the side-eyes and whispers of family members and strangers…then she would need to raise this strong-willed, miracle-performing, young man. When I read this, I ask myself…could God choose me? Am I obedient to Him that He could trust me to do His will and not my own?
As we read on to the next few verses, we see why Joseph did not exercise his free will. Matt. 1:20-21 "But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph had to know God and trust Him. We don’t read anything about Joseph being skeptical about this message, interrogating Mary, or seeking a second opinion from his friends. Sometimes what God asks us to do is counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, and can seem nonsensical, but we must trust His plan, and put aside our own. Again…could God choose me? Can He trust me to do His will and put aside my logic and sense-making to do what He asks me to do?
In the second chapter of Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream once again, “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.” 14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,” (Matt. 2:13-14) In two more instances, angels appear to Joseph and tell him to take the child and his mother to a new place. This is recorded in verses 20 and 22. At no point do we see Joseph bargaining with the angels, or even tarrying. In v. 14, he got up in the middle of the night and took Jesus and his mother to Egypt. Could God choose me? Am I obedient in His time or my own?
Could God choose me? Could God choose you? As we close out 2022 and look to 2023 with hope and expectancy, I realize that there is no hope outside the will of God. I want Him to be able to choose me, no matter how big or small the task. I want to be building a life resume that has a long list of bullet points of my obedience - my immediate obedience, not obedience after I’ve mulled it over, said no, changed my mind, delegated for assistance, and made a budget. He can’t choose me if I operate only on my one timeline and within my own comforts. He can’t choose me if put my will first and His secondary. I want to live a life that honors God, shares His goodness, and draws others to Him. I want Him to be able to use me to advance His Holy Kingdom. As 2023 approaches, how do you want God to use you? Are you living a life that proves He can trust you to do His will? Everyday we live, we see people in our community and beyond that need to know the love of Jesus Christ. I challenge you to use 2023 to begin living such that God can chose you to help grow His kingdom. Amen.
For about the past year, I have led a Bible Study at a women’s shelter on Wednesday evenings. Usually 3 or 4 women attend, sometimes, more. This past week, we had someone new to join our study, an 8 year-old girl. After a few pleasantries and I asked her if she was planning to stay for Bible study, she said, “sure!” I asked her if she had a Bible, and she jumped up saying, “hold on let me go get it!” She came back with a Bible story book, that was her Bible. My intention was to read and discuss the book of Jonah, so I looked in her table of contents and sure enough, Jonah was there. I asked the ladies if it would be okay if we read the story from her book, then from the Scriptures. Everyone agreed.
As children’s books go, the story was greatly abridged, but it did not leave out too many highlights. God told Jonah to go and preach against Nineveh, but Jonah did not want to so he ran away to board a ship to Tarshish which was the complete opposite direction. Once the ship set sail, a terrible storm pounded and tossed the boat frightening the entire crew, except Jonah who was asleep in the bottom of the boat. The crew began throwing things overboard to lessen the load thinking it would help, but nothing did. Suspiciously, they cast lots to determine which of them was responsible for the storm. The lot fell on Jonah. They asked him to pray to his God to calm the storm. Jonah knew the reason for the storm, it was because of his disobedience. In his humility, he told the men to throw him overboard and maybe God would calm the storm. They tossed him out into the sea and immediately, the storm ceased. Soon a large fish, some say a whale, swallowed him. For 3 days and 3 nights, Jonah remained in the belly of the animal. During that time, he began to pray and he told God that if given a second chance he would do as he was told. The fish vomited Jonah out onto dry land. Jonah went to Nineveh and preached to the people telling them God was not pleased with them and that in 40 days His judgment would occur. The people feared God and repented of their sins. This was the end of the children’s book.
We were prompted to discuss times when we had each been disobedient and what the consequences had been, as well as the meaning of repentance. When we switched over to the Scriptures, the brief 4-chapter book of Jonah, there are a few more things to notice.
These men’s hearts were transformed because of Jonah's testimony. In v. 5-6, the men were worshiping idols and praying to them to calm the storm, but it was not working. When Jonah said he worshiped the capital-G God, who made the sea and dry land, then they observed the calming of the sea for themselves once they threw him into the water, their prayers changed. They were no longer praying to the gods, they were praying to the Lord, the God of heaven. v.16 says, “At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.” Even in his disobedience, Jonah, a prophet, led people to worship the one and only true God.
Jonah points us to Christ. In times when I have run away from or ignored a command from the Lord, sleep has escaped me. I can find no peace until I repent and obey. Scripture tells us that Jonah was below deck in a deep sleep. Who can sleep on a boat during a storm? Jesus did - He was asleep on a boat with His disciples. Mat. 8:24-27 “Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
27The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
Jonah did not command the storm, but the storm certainly calmed once he was off the boat. The men thought for sure they had thrown him to his death. They knew nothing about the large fish. When we think about it, 3 days in the acidic belly of a fish, there’s total darkness, probably slime and seaweed, and let’s not talk about the smell - that would be a death-like experience. Matthew 12:40 “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
God hears our prayers. The children’s book mentioned that Jonah prayed, but Chapter 2 of Jonah expresses his deepest heart cries. They read much like the Psalms of David, who also was in great distress. Jonah, called on the Lord knowing God’s grace was his only help.
6To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
God uses our obedience as a part of His plan. The children’s book explained that once the fish vomited Jonah out onto dry land, he went to Nineveh to preach against it - as God, again, told him to do. Scripture says, v. 3-5, 10 “Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.” 10When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. When we read chapter 3, I asked each of the ladies and the girl, how they thought this reaction from the people, to turn towards God likely made Jonah feel. Everyone said it should make him feel good, satisfied that he had done what God told him to do, and that people responded favorably. One lady said, there’s nothing worse than sharing the Gospel with someone and having them argue with you or saying thanks but no thanks.
We must all check our attitude or God will check it for us. Jonah 4 begins, “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Hmmm, I wonder why Jonah felt this way! Did he not believe that the people of Nineveh deserved the opportunity to know, love, and serve God as he did? Did he believe that for some reason their sins were too great to warrant forgiveness and God’s love? Did Jonah think God was only for people like him, whatever that means? Heart check - what are my beliefs? Is there someone or some group I find to be unworthy? Why? Do my beliefs agree with the Word of God? It appears that while we have questions about Jonah’s reasoning, God understood without Jonah voicing his thoughts and feelings. God understood so well that He lovingly gave Jonah an illustration. Jonah went to the edge of the city to build himself a dwelling. It was hot and he had no shade. “6Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’”
God always has the last word. In Jonah 4, God asks Jonah twice if it is right for him to be angry, and twice Jonah confirms that it is right, and that he would rather be dead. If we know God to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, [one] who relents from sending calamity, we cannot keep that to ourselves. He is the God of all Creation and everyone no matter their age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, career path, nationality, or their sins - He is God over them, too, and it is our responsibility to share His love with them. The children’s book didn’t touch on the 4th chapter, but it ends with these words from God. “But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” Amen.
We all have situations in our lives that need Godly resolution. We pray and we wait. We wait on the Lord to fix the problem, or fix us so that we view the issue from a different perspective. We try to be still and listen for His gentle whisper, but sometimes, we just cannot seem to hear it and we don’t know what to do. Gospel Artist Smokie Norful has a song that says, “When you can’t hear My voice, please trust My plan.”
Sometimes I feel like giving up
It seems like my best just ain't good enough
Lord, if You hear me, I'm calling You
Do You see, do You care all about
What I'm goin' through?
And then He said, one more day
One more step
See, I'm preparing you for Myself
And when you can't hear My voice
Please, trust My plan
I'm the Lord, I see, and, yes, I understand
I cannot be the only one who has experienced this - an issue so big that we don’t trust ourselves to act on it properly. I’ve even proposed solutions and asked the Lord for a sign to confirm my thinking. Sometimes we look around for someone to advise us, someone like the prophets of the Old Testament to give us a Word sent from the Lord. Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” What shall we do when we can’t hear His voice? I have a few suggestions for when this situation arises.
Consult His Word. I used to think the Bible was all about good people - people who never sinned. I didn’t care to read it because I knew I was a sinner and to read about all of these good people would just serve to make me feel poorly about myself. My thinking couldn’t be further from the truth! There’s only one person in the Bible who never sinned and that’s Jesus Christ. Reading about Him should convict our hearts! I used to think the Bible was not relatable, that it was old and not applicable to the present. I was wrong about that, too! There are stories about hundreds of people, maybe thousands, who sinned plenty, who faced similar situations as we face today, who acted on selfish instincts, who did not heed the word of God! “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” Romans 15:4 When you need to know what to do, go to the Bible. If you need to know what to read, use Google to locate Scriptures about specific topics. Then, don’t just read individual verses, read the passage or read the chapter. Reading just a verse can cause you to take Scripture out of context and lead you to poor decision making.
Know His Character Once we are familiar with His Word we begin to understand God’s character, we can conduct ourselves likewise. We should, however, still pray and read Scripture. You may have a Bible that prints the actual words of Jesus in red letters. Reading the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John give us insight into Jesus’s actual advice, His examples, and His warnings. Knowing God’s character helps us make decisions and conduct ourselves on a consistent basis that will glorify Him.
Do Everything in Love As you wait on the Lord to speak to you, knowing He speaks in His own time, let everything you do, be done in love. Yes, Jesus said, we should even love our enemies! “‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’” Matthew 5:43-45 Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In every situation, love should be our response. Love is what unites us with God and in relationship with our fellow man. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[c]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27 Do everything in love. Amen.
As a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid, from time to time, we are offered free, advance copies of books and other materials to review. I recently received a copy of the Matthew Henry Daily Devotional Bible. In our home, we have a set of Matthew Henry commentaries, so I was excited to see this new offering. The devotional is hard cover, with a dust jacket, about 1460 pages. I say about because is contains several color pages of historic maps that are not numbered. There are 366 devotions - why 366, I suppose it's because they are taking leap year into account. The devotions are not chronological, but the page number for each devotion is listed in the Table of Contents, and at the end of each half-page devotion, it states where the next day's devotion is found. One thing I didn't expect, is that this is a Bible, that also happens to be a devotional - a great addition a NKJV Bible! I highly recommend this resource.
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