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12/19/2011

MARY’S MIRACLE & OURS

Strategic Lessons of Faith from the First Christmas Miracle


Just over 2000 years ago a miracle, that would change world history, occurred when a young, unmarried Jewish woman—a virgin—supernaturally conceived and gave birth to a Son whom she named “Jesus” in obedience to the word delivered to her by the angel Gabriel. This first Christmas miracle set in motion all the ensuing miracles that occurred in the life and ministry of Jesus, the miracle of His resurrection, the miracle of His ascension, the miracle of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and all the miracles of God that have occurred down to the present time. In this essay I have identified 5 important lessons from Mary’s encounter with the angel (Luke 1:26-38) that are crucial for us as we believe God for miracles in our lives today.

(1) This miracle was initiated by God.

Mary was not straining in faith, prayer, and spiritual warfare trying to produce this miracle. This was a God-thing. There is no question that she had positioned herself for this miracle by a life of purity before God; but there was no initiative on her part for this specific miracle. Mary merely responded in faith to God’s initiative.

The emphasis today seems to be on human initiative, i.e., what we can do to generate miracles. One only has to look at the “how to” books that crowd the shelves of most Christian bookstores—“5 Steps to Your Financial Miracle” or “10 Keys to Your Miracle Healing,” etc., etc. Miracles have become commercialized and professionalized. Just listen to the grand offers of presumptuous preachers who offer miracles on demand, usually tied to a love offering to their ministry. In the midst of this preoccupation with ourselves and what we can do, it is all too easy to forget that God Himself has thoughts and plans and that He acts according to His own sovereign will.


The wise thing for us, therefore, is to seek with all our hearts to know and understand His thoughts, His plans, and His will. Let’s not be so quick to make our plans and then “storm heaven” asking God to bless our plans. Instead, let’s get His plan and cooperate with His plan, for His plan is already blessed. Mary cooperated with His plan in the making of that first Christmas miracle.


(2) This miracle was beyond Mary’s ability to comprehend.

How can this be, since I do not know a man, was Mary’s response to Gabriel’s announcement. Her point was that, as a single woman committed to a life of purity and godliness, there was no way this could happen. God’s promise (vision) for our lives will always exceed our understanding of how it can happen, and our ability to make it happen. God’s revealed promise and plan will cause us to also ask, “How can this be?” God’s promise and plan for our lives will only happen as we learn to walk with Him in absolute, unequivocal trust.

This reminds me of Abraham and Sarah who had received a promise from God that they would have a son; but Sarah was barren and unable to have children. It was a “how can this be” moment for them.


Instead of trusting God as Mary would later do, they took matters into their own hands. Abraham took Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar, and had a son by her whom he named Ishmael. God let them know, however, that Ishmael was their idea, not His. They had to come to the place wherein they acknowledged that they were unable and helpless in themselves to bring about the fulfillment of the promise. They put their trust completely in God—not in themselves—and when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, the miracle occurred and Isaac was born.

Like with Mary (and Sarah and Abraham) God’s plan for your life and mine is bigger than we are. We do not have the abilities or the resources to make it happen. We can try and make it happen in our own strength, but all we will do is bring forth another Ishmael. We may call it by a spiritual sounding name, but it is still an Ishmael. So why not learn our lesson now, and determine that we are going to trust and cooperate with Him totally and unequivocally to fulfill the promises He has made.

(3) This miracle would come forth, not by human effort, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In answer to Mary’s question of “how can this be,” the angel Gabriel said, The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will over shadow you (Luke 1:35). This is also the answer for all our impossibilities--The Holy Spirit will come upon you. As to how a small, insignificant group of disciples could take the gospel to all the world, Jesus said in Acts 1:8, But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.

We must, therefore, relinquish all trust in ourselves and yield our lives totally to Him. As we cooperate with Him, He will turn all our impossibilities into possibilities. As the prophet Zechariah said concerning how Israel could overcome the impossible circumstances they faced, Not by (human) might, nor by (earthly) power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of Hosts (Zechariah 4:6).


I can’t tell you how many times, in my own life, the Holy Spirit has provided the answer and the strength for impossible situations I have faced. He did it for Mary. He will do the same for you. Acknowledge aloud now that you choose to yield yourself to the Spirit of God and invite Him to be your strength, wisdom, and very life.


(4) The promise was like a seed with the potential power of fulfillment already inherent in that promise.

To the promise he is delivering from God, Gabriel adds the words, For with God nothing shall be impossible (NKJV). The Greek text literally reads, No rhema from God is void of power. A rhema is a particular word or promise for a specific situation. When God gives a promise, the power of fulfillment is inherent in that promise.


In Scripture, God’s word is often compared with seed because a seed has within itself the potential power to produce the desired end results. For example, to have a harvest of corn you do not have to know all the science of how a seed of corn germinates and grows into a mature stalk bearing multiple ears of corn. You simply have to put the seed in the ground and look after it because the seed has the power within itself to produce the end results.


The same is true of every rhema or word from God. It has within itself the power to produce the desired end results. Our part is to allow the seed to be planted in our hearts and then guard or steward that promise until we see it mature and bring forth the promised fruit or fulfillment (Luke 8:15). Once when struggling over the “mechanics” of how to build a church, I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Preach my word and the church will emerge and come forth.”


(5) Mary’s faith response sealed the deal.

Let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38), was Mary’s response to Gabriel’s final explanation concerning how the miracle would happen. She is saying, in effect, “I recognize that it is naturally impossible but, nonetheless, Let it be to me according to your word.” This was the faith response for which Gabriel was looking and with it, he departed. Mary then departed to visit her cousin Elizabeth who, upon seeing her, exclaimed by the Spirit, Blessed is she who believed for there will be a fulfillment of those things that were told her from the Lord. Mary’s response is the sort of faith response we too must give to the promises of God. Let it be to me according to your word.


This reminds me of Luke 5:5 where Jesus, after using Peter’s boat from which to teach, instructed Peter to launch out in the deep and let down his nets for a catch. Peter responded that he had just fished all night without catching a single fish, Nevertheless, at Your word, I will let down the net. Peter acted on the word of Jesus and caught so many fish that his nets began to break and his boats began to sink from the weight of the fish.

Both Mary and Peter were blessed because they believed the promise, not because they had some special status with God. We too are blessed when we embrace the promise and say with Mary, Let it be to me according to your word, or with Peter, At your word I will let down the net.


Concluding Thought

In the miracle of the catch of fish, Peter was so astounded that when he came to shore he fell at the feet of Jesus and acknowledged His Lordship. Mary too was astounded at the miracle birth of Jesus the Son of God. I truly believe that understanding the principles above can help us move into a place where the miracles in our lives will be so far beyond our own faith and abilities that we too will be astounded and in awe of what God does. This happened to Mary. It happened to Peter and has happened to countless others since that time. It can happen to you and me.

12/18/2011

DO YOU KNOW WHO JESUS REALLY IS? (Pt. 2)

The Stark Ramifications of the Claims Made by Jesus Concerning His Divinity

In this age of liberal, political correctness Jesus is often portrayed as another spiritual master like Buddha, a prophet like Mohammed, a great moral teacher like Moses, or just a good man who taught us all to love one another--indeed, a Jesus we can all like and get along with. This, however, is not the Jesus of the New Testament who often offended people and brought down the wrath of the religious and political establishment on Himself. Shouldn’t we, therefore, seek to know who Jesus really is? The question Jesus asked His disciples in Matthew 16:15 is as relative today as it was then. After listening to the disciples tell of the different theories about His identity, Jesus asked, But who do you say that I am?

In Part 1 of this series we showed how Isaiah, 600 years before the birth of the Messiah, spoke of His Deity referring to him as the Might God and the Everlasting Father. Other Old Testament passages also speak of the Deity of the coming Messiah, such as Micah 5:2 which reads, But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.

The goings forth of the Messiah are described by Micah as being from everlasting. “Everlasting” is from the Hebrew word olam, which means continuous, perpetual, and eternal. Here we find the Ruler who will come forth in Bethlehem will have had a previous and eternal preexistence.
Did Jesus fulfill these Old Testament prophecies concerning the Deity of the Messiah? The answer is a resounding, Yes! Both indirectly and directly Jesus claimed to be God and this was clearly understood by both His followers and those who crucified Him. These claims present a stark challenge to the human race that cannot be side-stepped by rhetorical and theological niceties. This is what the Oxford scholar, C. S. Lewis, was referring to when he said,

"I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic . . . or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 52).


Jesus’ Indirect Claims to Being God

Jesus made indirect claims to Deity by doing things that only God can do, such as forgiving sins. Mark 2:5-7, 10 tells the story of the four individuals who brought their paralytic friend to Jesus for healing. When they could not get near Him because of the crowd, they went up on the roof, removed the tiles, and let their friend down by a rope in front of Jesus. Mark then says, When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you” (Mk. 2:5-7, 10).

Some of the scribes (Biblical scholars) were sitting there and they understood the ramifications of what Jesus said. Mark says they reasoned in their hearts, Why does this man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone? They were right in their assessment that only God can forgive sins; but they were unwilling to even consider that Jesus just might be God Incarnate and that this was why He was forgiving sins.

There are other examples of Jesus forgiving sins with a similar response from the religious leaders. For example, Luke tells about a woman who, in the house of one Simon, anointed Jesus’ feet with an expensive ointment and then wiped His feet with her hair. Jesus then said to her Your sins are forgiven (Luke 7:48). Those who were sitting at the table with Him began to say to themselves, Who is this who even forgives sin? In contemporary terms they were saying, “Who does He think He is--God!”

Jesus also accepted honor and worship reserved only for God. For example, when He calmed the raging storm out on the sea, Matthew says, Then those who were in the boat came and worshipped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God” (Mt. 14:33). On another occasion, a woman of Canaan came to Him desiring healing for her daughter. Matthew says, Then she came and worshipped Him saying, “Lord, help me!” (Mt. 15:25).

When Peter saw the miracle catch of the fishes that was instigated by Jesus’ command to “launch out into the deep,” he came to shore and fell down at Jesus knees, showing him honor that would normally be reserved for God. And after the resurrection when Jesus appeared to Twelve and invited Thomas to put his finger in the holes in His hands and to thrust his hand in the hole in His side, Thomas exclaimed, My Lord, and my God!

In all these incidents Jesus accepted such honor and worship as right and appropriate. In sharp contrast, when the people of Lystra were going to pay homage to Paul and Barnabas after the healing of a crippled man, Paul and Barnabas were horrified and they,

Tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God.

Jesus also made statements that, although not a direct claim to Deity, certainly cannot be applied to a mere mortal. In Mark 13:31, for example, He declared, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. In John 6:35 He said, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. In John 11:25 He declared, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, shall live. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, if the one making these statements is a mere mortal, then he is either a deluded madman or a great deceiver.


Jesus Made Direct Claims Regarding His Deity

In the Gospel of John we have the “I Am” statements of Jesus in which He directly and unambiguously identifies Himself with the God—Yahweh—of the Old Testament. The most common name for God in the Old Testament, and the one that is considered His personal name, is Yahweh.

Yahweh is derived from the Hebrew verb “to be” which was probably originally “hwh.” Hwh was then likely expanded to the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, HHWH, and the vowels added for pronunciation, making it Yahweh.

This is the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush when He commissioned Moses to go and bring the people of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:14). When Moses inquired of His name, God replied with the Hebrew verb YHWH, which is translated in our English Bibles as “I Am that I Am,” or simply “I Am.” This name identifies God as the eternally existing one who requires nothing outside of Himself for His existence. He is the great “I Am.”

In John 8:24b we hear Jesus saying, For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins. It is important to note that “he” is not in the Greek and this is borne out by the fact that it is italicized in both the KJV and the NKJV. Jesus literally says, If you do not believe that I Am, you will die in your sins. The same is true of 8:28 where Jesus literally says, When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I Am . . ..

In 8:58 He becomes even more explicit. In a brief exchange with certain Jews, Jesus says, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day and he saw it and was glad. Amazed at this saying, the Jews replied, You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham? Jesus replied, Before Abraham was, I AM. They then took up stones to stone Him for He had obviously, in their eyes, blasphemed by making such an obvious identification of Himself with Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. And such a sin, according to Jewish law, was punishable by death.

On another occasion Jesus said to certain ones, I and My Father are one (John 10:30). In this statement “my” is not in the Greek so He literally says, I and Father are one. Verse 31 says, Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Their attempt again to stone Him is probably because they saw His statement as a reference to Deuteronomy 6:4, the basic confession of faith in Judaism, which reads, Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!

When Jesus replied that He had shown them many good works and for which good work were they stoning Him, they replied, For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a man, make Yourself God. It was clear to them that Jesus was again identifying Himself with God.


It is clear that the charge against Jesus for which He was put to death was blasphemy—for identifying Himself with God. When demanded by the high priest to state whether He was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus replied, I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62). At this statement the high priest tore his clothes (a sign of great horror and distress) and said, What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think? And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.


No Middle Ground

Jesus of course ratified and confirmed all the Old Testament prophecies and His own claims concerning His Deity when, three days later, He arose from the dead. C. S. Lewis was right. Anyone who would make the sort of claims that Jesus made is either a deluded madman or the greatest of deceivers . . . or He is who He said He was—the LORD of glory. This means that there is no middle ground on which to accept Him as just a great moral teacher or a mere human prophet. He did not leave that option. He did not intend to. The only options He left are to either reject His claims, or bow at His feet and confess Him as LORD (Romans 10:9-10).

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing!
Oh come let us adore Him,
Oh come let us adore Him,
Oh come let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord!

12/08/2011

DO YOU KNOW WHO JESUS REALLY IS?

The Identity of Jesus Revealed Six-Hundred Years before His Birth

It seems that everyone these days has an opinion about who Jesus is. Oprah Winfrey has popularized a New Age spiritual Jesus that can be discovered within every person’s consciousness. Liberals acknowledge Him as a great moral teacher, but nothing more. Secularists consider Him a mere man who may or may not have ever existed. Our Muslim friends recognize Him as a prophet, but less than Mohammed. Our Jehovah’s Witness friends believe Jesus to have been a created angelic being. The confusion has spread to evangelical/charismatic circles as was evidenced by a blog in which Swedish pastor, Ulf Ekman, chided his friend, Benny Hinn, for preaching a message in his (Ekman’s) church about Jesus that Ekman said was “too much pure Gnosticism” (http://ulfekman.nu/2010/07/26/benny-hinns-besok).

We really need to get it right about who Jesus is; for it is this question, more than any other, which holds the key to the personal and corporate destiny of humanity. Jesus Himself said that He would build His Church on the revelation of who He is (Matthew 16:15-18).

One of the most clear and compelling revelations of who Jesus is, was declared 600 years before His birth by the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah revealed His identity by applying four compound names to the coming Messiah. The names are “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” and “Prince of Peace.”



The Significance of Names

In the ancient near East, the name of a person was bound up with that person’s very existence. Parents chose names for their children that embodied their hopes for those children. A change of circumstances or a change of character often called for a new name to express the change that had taken place. In Gen. 17:4-5, for example, God changes the name of Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude) to reflect the change that has occurred in his faith and circumstances. In Gen. 32:28 God changes the name of Jacob (supplanter) to Israel (Prince of God) to reflect the change that has taken place in his life and character. The name could, in fact, stand for its owner to such an extent that it could become a concept interchangeable with him.

God Himself revealed His person and character to Israel by the use of names. Names like Yaweh-Jireh, the LORD our Provider, and Yahweh Rophe, the LORD our Healer, revealed the God of Israel as a personal, caring God in whom Israel could put their trust. We thus have David saying to God, "I will praise Your name forever and ever" (Psalm 145:2), and declaring that "those who know Your name will put their trust in You" (Psalm 9:10).


Isaiah Names the Coming Messiah

Isaiah 9:6 is a Messianic prophecy and Isaiah’s use of these four compound names make a powerful statement concerning the identity the Messiah. Inherent in these Old Testament names of the Messiah is the revelation of His Deity. Understanding the significance of names, those first readers of Isaiah’s prophecy must have shaken their heads in wonder at the name of their coming Messiah.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end (Isaiah 9:6-7a).


Wonderful Counselor

Although “Wonderful” and “Counselor” are often spoken separately, most Biblical scholars agree that the two words actually belong together to form one of the compound names of the Messiah. The word “Wonderful” is translated from the Hebrew word pelẽ and refers to that which is marvelous and breathtaking and causes astonishment in those who encounter it. The word “Counselor” is from the Hebrew word yaas, which means to advise or counsel in regards to plan and purpose. What an incredible name! And what an incredible blessing to have this One whose name is “Wonderful Counselor” as our personal counselor and guide.


Mighty God

“Mighty” is from the Hebrew word gibbor and refers to greatness, power and strength. It was often used as an adjective to describe successful, victorious warriors. It was also used as an adjective for Deity. “God” is a translation of the Hebrew word El which was a common generic word for God and literally means “great one” or “mighty one.” It was often joined with other words to form a compound name for God, such as El-Shaddai, commonly translated as “The Almighty,” and El-Elyon, commonly translated as “The Most High.” Wonder of wonders! This “Child” that is to be born is actually gibbor El, the “Mighty God.”


Everlasting Father

“Everlasting” is from the Hebrew word ad, which refers to time without end or eternity. In Isaiah 45:17 it is translated as “forever and ever.” “Father” is translated from the Hebrew word ab, which, in the Old Testament, referred to a father or protector. From ab came abba, the word Jesus commonly used in addressing God. Abba was a term of endearment, such as Papa or Daddy, and was only used by children in the Jewish household. What a clear picture of the Incarnation. This “Child” that is to be born will be none other than the eternal God, the “Everlasting Father.”


Prince of Peace

“Prince” is a translation of the Hebrew word sar, which refers to a person of authority such as a chief, captain, governor, or ruler. “Peace” is a translation of the Hebrew word shalom, which is usually translated as peace, but has connotations far beyond an inner sense of tranquility. It means completeness, fulfillment, wholeness, and indicates the complete mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well being of a person. This world, which is continually rent with wars, will will never experience shalom (peace) until it recognizes and embraces the sar shalom--Prince of Peace. And we, personally, will only know shalom to the extent that we yield our lives to Him and allow Him to be the sar or captain (LORD) of our lives. He is the Prince (captain or master) of our shalom. Hallelujah!


Conclusion

This messianic prophecy begins with the phrase, For unto us . . .. Isaiah is saying, “The Messiah is coming for us. God will do all this for us.” Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled. God has come to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Thomas recognized this when he saw Him in His resurrected form and exclaimed, My Lord and My God (John 20:28). Jesus told Peter that He would build His church on the revelation of who He is (Matt. 16:15-18). Do you know who Jesus really is? Wonder of wonders! The Babe of Christmas is the Almighty God and Everlasting Father.

. . . to be continued

by Eddie Hyatt
http://www.eddiehyatt.com/