Zechariah & Elizabeth

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What actually happened, when Jesus first came into our small world? This is what we know . . . (26)

During the time when Herod the Great was king of Judea (part of modern Israel), about 2,000 years ago, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. His wife, Elizabeth, was also descended from a priestly family. Both Zechariah & Elizabeth lived good lives in God’s sight; they obeyed all of God’s laws & commands. But, they had no children, and they thought they never would, since they were both very old.

One day, Zechariah was doing his work as a priest in the temple; he had been chosen to burn incense on the altar.  Outside, a crowd of people prayed while the incense was burned. But inside, an angel of God appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar! When Zechariah saw the angel, he was afraid.

Zechariah

The angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah.  God has heard your prayer, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son. You must name him John. He will be a great servant of God. He mustn’t drink any wine or strong drink. He will be filled with God’s Holy Spirit from his birth, and he will point the people of Israel back to God, like the prophet Elijah!  He will encourage people who have been disobeying God to start obeying God again.  He will get God’s people ready for his coming.”

Zechariah was skeptical & said to the angel, “How can we have a baby? I am an old man, and my wife is old, too.” “But I am Gabriel,” the angel answered. “God sent me to tell you this good news! Although you haven’t believed my message, it will come true at the right time. Because you haven’t believed me, you will not be able to speak, until the day God’s promise to you does come true!”

Outside, the praying people were waiting for Zechariah; they wondered why he was in the temple so long. When Zechariah came out & couldn’t speak, the people realized that he had seen a vision. Zechariah tried to communicate by making signs to the people with his hands, but to no avail.

dumb-zechariah

So eventually, Zechariah & Elizabeth went back home.

Sometime later, Elizabeth actually did become pregnant!  As she rested at home for five months, she told others of God’s mercy: “The Lord has blessed me. God has taken away my public disgrace.”

LORD, please help us to love & respect Your power to accomplish anything.

(26) Luke 1:5-25

Knowing Jesus

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Some people did recognize Jesus & believed in him (24). Jesus gave those people the right to become God’s children.  This didn’t happen by any sort of physical birth, involving a human father.  Instead, these people experienced a completely new spiritual birth, whereby God himself became their father; in other words, these people were “born again.”

So Jesus came from God & became a human being & lived in the world for about 30 years.  As we get to know him today, we realize that Jesus is perfect truth: from him, we learn the way to live right all the time.

But we all know that we don’t all live right all the time.  That’s why it’s so liberating to realize that Jesus is also perfect grace: from him, we get the power to live right all the time.  We don’t have to do it on our own, as seductive as that sometimes seems.

The beloved friend, who has left us a record of his relationship with Jesus, was John the Witness (25). He actually saw the glory which Jesus received as God’s only son.

And John the Baptizer proclaimed, when speaking about Jesus, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘He seems younger than I am, but he’s greater than I am, because he existed before I was born!’”

Jesus wants to bless all people with his grace.  God gave his law through Moses, but more truth & more grace come through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God the Father. But Jesus, who is one with his father, makes God known to us.

LORD, please help us to love Jesus completely.

(24) John 1: 12-18

(25) A Witness (or an Apostle) is one of the original & closest followers of Jesus, who were sent into the world to tell all people about Jesus.

The First Coming

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Before the world was created, Jesus already existed (23). He was with God, and he was the same as God. Jesus has always been with God.

God made all things through Jesus.  Nothing, nothing in all creation, was made without him.

Some people, who don’t want to know God, favor other notions of how life began.  But consider the intricate & amazing beauty of creation.  This life didn’t happen by chance; we didn’t just get lucky!

Jesus is the source of all life, and his life brings light to all people.  His light still shines into any darkness, and no darkness has ever put it out.

About 2,000 years ago, God did send another messenger, a man named John the Baptizer, who came to tell people about the light — so that people would hear about Jesus and believe in him.  John the Baptizer was not the light; he came to tell about the real light that Jesus was bringing into the world.

Then, at about the same time, Jesus himself came, physically & miraculously, into our world!

But even though God made the world through Jesus, people in the world didn’t recognize him.  When Jesus came back as an adult to the place where he had grown up, even the people there didn’t recognize him.

LORD, please help us to love seeing You in Jesus.

(23) John 1:1-11

Return From Captivity To Jerusalem

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Ezra was a teacher of God’s law who was sent by King Artaxerxes of Persia to provide spiritual guidance for the resettlement of Jerusalem.  (This resettlement plan had been initiated by a predecessor, King Cyrus of Persia.)

Ezra was shocked by the degree of idolatry he found in Jerusalem!  Step by step, he began to re-teach the people the truths about their God whom they had so long ignored (22).

About 10 years later, Nehemiah — an able administrator in the court of King Artaxerxes — was shocked to learn that rebuilding in Jerusalem had been halted!  Nehemiah appealed to the king for permission to go to Jerusalem to make sure the work was completed.  Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah carefully surveyed the situation, developed a plan for its correction, and then led the people in the successful implementation of that plan.

Haggai & Zechariah were prophets during the resettlement & rebuilding of Jerusalem, who encouraged the people to rebuild the Temple of God.

Malachi was inspired to proclaim the last of God’s messages recorded in the inspired Jewish scriptures.  He told the people to expect a forerunner, a new Elijah, whom God would send to prepare his people for their ultimate savior, the long-awaited Messiah we know as Jesus.

But then, for 400 years after Malachi’s ministry, God’s chosen people waited for this promised forerunner & for some additional word from God.

LORD, please help us to love Your perfect timing in all things.

(22) Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

 

 

Persia Replaces Babylon As Judah’s Captor

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Eventually, Persia (centered in  modern Iran) did conquer Babylon (centered in modern Iraq) — thus replacing Babylon as the captor of Judah (located in modern Israel).  The book of Esther (21) is an account of God’s continuing care for his chosen people in their continuing captivity.

Esther was a beautiful Jewish maid, raised in the home of her relative Mordecai after the death of her parents.  Mordecai was a godly man who taught Esther to love God, too.

When the queen of Persia fell out of the king’s favor & was removed from her throne, the search for a successor began.  Esther was eventually chosen as the new queen.  However, at the explicit instruction of Mordecai, she initially kept her Jewish ancestry secret.

Subsequently, Haman, a wicked man who was nonetheless chief advisor to the king, sought to exterminate all Jews throughout the vast kingdom of Persia.

Mordecai & Esther prayed for protection & guidance from God.  Ultimately, Esther declared her Jewish ancestry, and Haman’s wickedness was exposed in a way that led to his downfall & death.  Mordecai replaced Haman as the king’s chief advisor and effected the preservation of the Jews in all of Persia.

In the history of God’s plan to rescue humanity from sin, we have two different accounts of this episode .  In one account, God is rarely mentioned explicitly, but implicitly his divine providence is evident throughout.  In the other account, the faith of Mordecai & Esther is more explicitly portrayed.  Either way, it’s clear that God was always caring for his people, even in their captivity.

LORD, please help us to love depending on You for protection & guidance.

(21) Esther

Prophets During Judah’s Captivity In Babylon

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Three prophets proclaimed God’s messages during the period surrounding the captivity of the people of Judah in Babylon (20).

As the nation of Judah was rushing toward the catastrophe of captivity, the prophet Obadiah was inspired to proclaim that the neighboring nation of Edom, which smugly sat by & awaited the destruction of Judah, would be judged harshly by God, while Judah itself would eventually be restored from captivity by God.

Daniel became a prominent leader in the land of his captivity — serving three Babylonian kings, but always retaining favor with God by remaining faithful to God.

The prophet was inspired by God to see that Babylon would be replaced by Persia as Judah’s captor, but that Judah’s captivity would not continue indefinitely.  Daniel was also given a vision from God concerning a glorious ruler that God would send for all his created people.  This vision had a short-term fulfillment when King Cyrus allowed captive Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.    The vision also had a longer-term fulfillment when God sent Jesus to rescue us from ourselves & offer us a glorious future with him.

Ezekiel was called as God’s messenger with amazing visions of God’s glory.  His first prophecies concerned the downfall of Jerusalem.  Later, Ezekiel was inspired to assure God’s people that God would protect them in the various places of their exile & captivity.  In this context, Ezekiel made it very clear that religious leaders are expected to be true shepherds of God’s people (drawing them closer to God), rather than false shepherds (causing people to run away from God).

Finally, Ezekiel was given encouraging visions of the New Jerusalem, where God’s people will experience eternal rest, peace & worship.

LORD, please help us to love Your constant protection.

 (20) Obadiah, Daniel, Ezekiel

Jeremiah

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The ministry of the prophet Jeremiah extended from the time of King Josiah’s reigh in Judah to the time of Babylon’s conquest of Judah (19).  Again & again, Jeremiah was inspired to call God’s chosen people in Judah (especially those in Jerusalem) to repent of their many sins & return to God.  But in all of Jeremiah’s prophetic writings, as well as in contemporary Jewish history, there is little evidence of such repentance.

Jeremiah was often given visions of the suffering God’s people would endure as God allowed their rebellious culture & kingdom to be destroyed – visions which often moved him to tears, for which he is often called The Weeping Prophet.

Jeremiah’s prophecies concerned events before & after the fall of Jerusalem.  God’s prophet was often persecuted for his unwelcome messages, especially by other “prophets” — who told the Jewish rulers what they wanted to hear, instead of what God wanted them to hear.

In the midst of all the gloom & doom, Jeremiah was inspired to proclaim the surpassing peace & beauty of the restoration that God was prepared to cause for his repentant people.

Yet Jeremiah’s final prophecies make clear that unrepentant people – including the oppressor nations surrounding Israel – would ultimately be judged very harshly by God.

LORD, please help us to love Your mercy, which is new every morning.

(19) Jeremiah & Lamentations