Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent of the King

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the LORD God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:32-33)
A throne and a kingdom signify a King. The birth of Jesus, His coming into the world, is the fulfillment of the promise God made long ago to David, that his descendent would forever occupy his throne. Isaiah likewise prophesied concerning the birth of this King.
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,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will perform this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7)
The Magi came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). They were not of the house of Jacob. They were not even of the house of Jacob’s brother, Esau, from whom the paranoid king, Herod, descended. Yet, they understood that the time for the Great King had come (and it was not Herod). They had seen His star, prophesied in Numbers 24:16-17, “A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel,” and they came to give Him honor. They were of the goyim, the surrounding pagan nations — Gentiles. The kingdom and the covenant were not theirs, yet they understood that this King would be a benefit to the whole world. For just as the star could be seen in their land, so the King would arise not only in Israel but out of Israel — for the sake of the whole world.

This theme of kingship carried forth in the life and ministry of Jesus. After He was baptized by John and driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, where He was proved for forty days, He came preaching, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). His healing miracles manifested the authority of this kingdom: “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you,” He said (Matthew 12:28).

Standing before Pilate, who asked, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “It is as you say.” Before Caiaphas, the high priest who demanded, “Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus said, ““It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). This was a reference to the prophetic vision of Daniel:
I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then 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 the one
Which shall not be destroyed.
(Daniel 7:13-14)
When He was crucified, the charge placed above His head read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” The resurrection from the dead by the Spirit of God demonstrated that King Jesus the Messiah, born of the seed of David, is indeed the Son of God (Romans 1:4-5). And before He ascended to His throne in heaven, at the right hand of the Father, Jesus came to the disciples and said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth,” then He commissioned them to teach all nations everything He had taught them (Matthew 28:18-20).

In Revelation, He is called Pantokrator, which means “almighty” or “all-powerful,” and “King of the Saints.”
Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested.
The coming of Jesus the Messiah into the world is the advent of the King who reigns over all.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Prophets and Lovers

Here is a song I wrote some years back. I did not write it as an Advent song, but as I have been meditating on the seasonal themes of watching and waiting and longing and expecting, these lyrics have come back to me and seem quite appropriate.
Prophets and lovers in search of a kingdom
Humble and mourning and longing in faith
Offering this life as a simple oblation
Stretching their arms wide in mercy’s embrace

Sages and dreamers in search of a city
Passionate pilgrims who wander afar
Casting their lives for a beautiful country
Giving up claim to this place where they are

Walking this world like a resident alien
Lifting their prayers, their journey to trace
And God, unashamed to be known as their Father
Showers His blessings of mercy and grace

Prophets and lovers in search of the Spirit
Lovers of God and of all who will seek
They call to me and they bid me to follow
And widen my soul with the wisdom they reap

Walking this world like a resident alien
Lifting my prayers, my journey to trace
And God, unashamed to be known as our Father
Showers His blessings of mercy and grace
© 1999 by Jeff Doles

This song is from my Walking Barefoot album, which you can find at Amazon (CD & MP3) and iTunes (MP3). You can also enjoy it on Spotify. 

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Silent and Still

My soul, wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him.
(Psalm 62:5)
Once again, David has come before the Lord. He waits silently before God. It is not that he is settled in the midst of calm. Quite the opposite. He is surrounded, once again, by those who seek his downfall, false friends who pretend to bless him while inwardly cursing him (vv. 3-4).

But David comes quietly before God. It does not happen naturally. He has to remind his soul, perhaps even repeating it over and over to himself: “Soul! Wait silently for God alone.”

“Wait silently” translates one word, not two. The waiting implies silence and the silence implies patience. The word also speaks of stillness. David is not scouring his heart, trying to come up with some sort of plan to deal with all the treacherous pretenders on his own. No, he has instructed his heart to sit quietly and still before God alone. Nothing else will do. Only God can help him.

“For my expectation is from Him.” Some versions translate this as “For my hope is from Him.” In the Bible, hope is expectation. What is especially interesting here is that David says, “My expectation is from Him.” Not in but from, as if to add a layer of specificity. David does not have just a general hope in God, or that things will somehow turn out okay. No, he expects something from God, for God to move specifically on his behalf. He has a personal relationship with God, so his expectation is for God’s personal attention.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and glory depend on God;
My strong rock, my refuge, is in God. (vv. 6-7)
Though surrounded by disloyalty and deceit, David stills his heart before God. The longer he remains in that inner quiet, the more he realizes how much he needs God, but also how much God is for him. Now the assurance rises up in him: He will not be shaken. His position is secure, for God really is his strong rock of refuge. Now he turns to those who have remained loyal to him, and who are disquieted by the dangers that have threatened him—and them.
Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your hearts before Him.
God is our refuge.
The world does not slow down, nations do not cease their striving, obligations do not go away while we quiet out hearts before God. We must quiet them anyway, reminding our souls that our expectation is from God alone, that He is our rescue and refuge, and that our glory, every good thing in our lives, comes from Him. It is in that realization that we come to know that whatever is happening in the world cannot shake us, for we are not founded on the world but on God.

Though the world does not know what do with it, Advent is a season for quieting our hearts and setting our expectation on God. For He comes, as He did so many centuries ago and has so many times since, bringing His salvation and releasing His glory. In the quiet of Advent, our hearts are refreshed as we wait for expectation to be fulfilled anew.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mary in Expectation
Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)
The angel Gabriel spoke the promise to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

Mary did not doubt, but she did not understand. “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” she asked (v. 34). So the angel told her. Now, the promise was amazing enough, but the explanation was even more astonishing: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”” (vv. 35-37).

The favor of God had indeed come upon Mary. Her response was simple and direct: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” The word of the Lord had come; she presented herself to God and laid hold of His promise. Her expectation was now set: Whatever the angel of God had spoken, that is what would come to pass. The Holy Spirit would come upon her, she would bear the Son of God, who would assume the throne of David and bring His eternal kingdom into the world.

As the Child began to grow inside her, so did her expectation of what God’s word to her meant. Pregnant and pondering, Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was beyond childbearing years but also miraculously with child. When Mary entered the house, Elizabeth’s babe quickened inside her and she immediately recognized the significance, for the angel Gabriel had also come to her husband Zachariah, with the promise of a child who would “turn the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:16). “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb,” the angel said (v. 15).

So, Elizabeth, too, was living in divine expectation, and now the child in her womb was alerting her that the Lord had come to her home. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke vv. 42-45). Elizabeth’s expectation had increased and now included expectation for the promise that had been given to Mary. At this, Mary poured out her all her ponderings in a song of praise.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
    For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
    He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
    and exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
    in remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his seed forever.”
(Luke 1:46-55)
See how big her expectation. It was not just about what God was doing for her but what He was doing for Israel and, more than that, how He was fulfilling the word He spoke to Abraham. This was the promise that He would bless all the families of the world through the seed of Abraham. Mary’s expectation was as big as the world. Even though she had not yet given birth to Jesus, she counted God’s promise to Abraham as fulfilled. For whatever God has begun, He will bring to completion.

Advent is a season of great expectation. A season for believing the fulfillment of all that God has promised. A season for presenting ourselves to the Lord and saying, “Behold the servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Watching in Expectation

Give ear to my words, O LORD,
Consider my meditation.
Give heed to the voice of my cry,
My King and my God,
For to You I will pray.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD;
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up.
(Psalm 5:1-2)
David has spoken his words and thought his thoughts to the LORD. He has cried out to his King. He has brought his request, and brought it early, before God. He has directed his heart toward God, casting his cares on Him. There is now only one thing left to do: “And I will look up.” The NIV has it as, “And wait in expectation;” the HSCB as, “And watch expectantly.” It is the essence of hope.

Today, we often use our English word “hope” in a tentative way, to speak of things we desire to happen, things that can happen and perhaps will happen. Perhaps, or perhaps not. But that is not how the Bible uses the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as “hope.” They speak of a positive expectation, a joyful anticipation, and there is a confidence to them. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” the author of Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 11:1). The word for “substance” speaks of the assurance and underlying reality of what is hoped for. Faith, then, is the underlying reality of things we do not yet see but fully expect to come to pass.

So, David brings his meditation (his “sighing,” as the HCSB says) before God, and now he has hope. But why? What is the reason for his positive expectation?
For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
Nor shall evil dwell with You.
The boastful shall not stand in Your sight;
You hate all workers of iniquity.
You shall destroy those who speak falsehood;
The LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. (vv. 4-6)
David is expectant because he knows that God is not pleased by wickedness, nor with those who take pleasure in wickedness. The proud, the boastful, the bloodthirsty, the deceitful, these were the kind of people who were troubling David — the kind of people who are still present in the world today! God is not happy with them. They do not honor His way or believe His Word. They have no faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). David, on the other hand, follows a different path.
But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy;
In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.
Lead me, O LORD, in Your righteousness because of my enemies;
Make Your way straight before my face. (vv. 7-8)
David leans hard into the one who has revealed Himself in covenant relationship by the name Yahweh (rendered in English by the word LORD, all caps). It is the name by which God has promised to be steadfast in love and mercy toward His people. The righteousness of Yahweh is not just His goodness in general. More particularly, it is His faithfulness in keeping His covenant. What God has promised, He will do. David comes depending on God’s covenant love and faithfulness. There is no faithfulness in David’s enemies, only falseness and flattery. They are wicked to the core and full of destruction, their throats like open tombs and their words like snares (v. 9).

David is waiting now, but for what is he watching? For God to come and settle the issue and set things right, to hold his enemies accountable. It is time for their counsels to fail, for them to fall by their own plans and be put out of the community, so that they can no longer trouble the innocent and the good. For in coming against the covenant people, they have rebelled against God Himself (v. 10). That is not the extent of David’s expectation, though. He also has a joyful anticipation for the covenant people themselves.
But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name
Be joyful in You.
For You, O LORD, will bless the righteous;
With favor You surround him as with a shield. (vv. 11-12)
God honors those who honor Him, and keeps covenant with those who keep covenant with Him. He shows Himself faithful to those who put their trust in Him. He fills them with His joy and surrounds them with His favor.

Advent is a season of waiting and watching. Though there are many troubles about, and we are living in between the already of God’s kingdom breaking into the world and the not yet of when every eyes beholds it, God fills us with His joy and surrounds us with His favor. So we look up in joyful anticipation of what God is going to do next and how King Jesus will come to set everything right.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Longing for Light

LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. (Psalm 4:6)
David cries out to God.
He is in distress.
Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have relieved me in my distress;
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
(Psalm 4:1)
God has brought him relief before in times of distress. Now he needs divine relief again. “Hear me … have mercy on me … hear my prayer,” he petitions. Here is what troubles him now:
How long, O you sons of men,
Will you turn my glory to shame?
How long will you love worthlessness
And seek falsehood? (v. 2)
David is beset by people who take everything that is good and turn it into shame, who love and attribute value to what is worthless and honor what is false. “How long?” he asks. Here, he addresses his opponents directly. Elsewhere in the Psalms, though, he directs the question to God. “How long, O LORD?” (Psalm 6:3; 13:1-2; 35:17; 74:10; 89:46; 94:3-4).

Not to make a pun here, but David is longing. That is one of the things that captures me in this psalm during this Advent season. Advent is not only a time of waiting and preparing, it is a season of yearning. Yet, though David longs, he is not in despair. Though he yearns, he is not without hope. Indeed, he is drawn by the expectation that God will free him from his afflictions once again. “The LORD will hear when I call to Him” (v. 3) is his confidence.

David is not the only going through this, his people are experiencing the same troubles. “Who will show us any good?” they ask (v. 6). David gives the answer in the second half of the verse as he turns their question into prayer: “LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.”

This is the other thing that captures my Advent imagination: Light. The light that comes from God. Though the darkness seems to be closing in all around, David knows who the source of light is: Yahweh, the God with whom David and his people are in covenant.
You have put gladness in my heart,
More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (vv. 7-8)
David began in distress but now he is glad, lighthearted. He has turned it over to God and is longing toward the Lord, longing for the light of God. The answer has not yet turned up but he knows that it will. He rests in the peace, the shalom, the wholeness that comes from God. His trust is in Yahweh, who alone settles him in safety.

Longing and light. As we sit in the Advent shadows, surrounded by many distressing things that threaten our world, we watch, we wait, we yearn for the light that comes from the Lord alone. Only He can make us dwell in safety — and He will.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This Season of Waiting

We are now in the season of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation. “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” The season of Advent is an in between time, the time between promise and fulfillment, the time between “amen” and “there it is!” In the Church calendar, it is a time of preparation for the season of Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Historically, we are waiting for something that has already come, something that has already begun. That might seem a little strange. After all, if it has already come, why are we still waiting for it? But the truth is that, though it has already begun, it has not yet come in completeness. Theologians refer to this truth as already, not yet. That is, if I may make a little rhyme of it, we are waiting for something already begun, but not yet done.

What are we waiting for? One answer comes to me in my psalms for the day. Each day, I pray in the book of Psalms (5 a day times 30 days in a month is 150 psalms — it works out nicely). Today being the first of the month, I am praying through the first five psalms. But Psalm 2 is what I want to focus on here. Seeing that we are in the Advent season, I naturally tend to see this passage, at least today, in an Advent way. It begins,
Why do the nations rage
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed? (vv. 1-2)
Now, I have read this question many times before, but this morning I thought to ask it myself: “Lord, why do the kings of the earth still rage and the nations still plot in vain and set themselves against You and Your Messiah, Jesus?” I prayed through the psalm a little further.
“Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion.”
“I will declare the decree:
The LORD has said to Me,
‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession. (vv. 6-8)
Yahweh says, “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.” Past tense, completed action. This is the enthronement of a freshly anointed king over Israel. The New Testament attributes this psalm to David. David says, “I will declare the decree.” God has given David a decree and this is what He says to him, “You are My son, today I have begotten you.” In the mind of an ancient Israelite, this would speak of adoption — when God made David king, He adopted him as His son. This psalm, then, applied to David and to whichever of his descendents would ascend to the throne.

But there is also a deeper, prophetic significance here. Neither David nor the line of his descendents saw the fulfillment of the promise: “Ask of Me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession.” Indeed, before long the throne of David began to crumble and the divided kingdom eventually went into a long exile, a deep time of waiting with the hope of a Messiah who was to come and a kingdom that would endure. After half a millennium, a new light began to dawn — the birth of Jesus, Son of David, who came announcing that the time was fulfilled and God’s kingdom had now come.

The most important thing in the world happened then. At the Incarnation, when Jesus came and took upon Himself our humanity. At the Cross, when He took upon Himself our sin and destroyed the works of the devil. At the Resurrection, when He took upon Himself our mortality and defeated it. At the Ascension, when He assumed His place at the right hand of the Father, where He now rules and reigns over all. And yet …

We are still waiting for the completion of what has begun. Ever since the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of God has been “forcefully advancing” (Matthew 11:12 NIV). Still we wait. “The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). Still we wait. We pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Kingdom of God, come. Will of God, be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And we wait for the day He comes again and receives all the nations for His inheritance and the ends of the earth for His possession. That will be the greatest Advent.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.