“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you”(Romans 8:11). Jesus’ disciples must have been shocked when they arrived in Judea and found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Jesus had told them that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death. Lazarus’ sister, Martha, was similarly disappointed. She was certain that, if Jesus had come sooner, her brother would not have died. We cannot blame the disciples and Martha for thinking that Lazarus’ death was the end of the story. In all of their experience, that was the way the world worked. God, however, had something greater planned. Yes, Lazarus died, but that was not the end! The story ended with a resurrection! This was the reason that Jesus had deliberately remained where He was for two days after He heard the news that Lazarus was sick: “…for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). There were many ways in which Lazarus could have been healed, but his resurrection could only have been accomplished by God’s sovereign power. Lazarus’ resurrection was a testimony, to everyone who knew him, of the glory of the Son of God. When we pray, we can tend to view a delayed response from God as an indication that He does not care or is not going to intervene. Then, if the dream that we are praying about dies, we can view its death as an indication that God has said no. However, we must never forget that prayer is a conversation, and, when we pray, we must pray with the expectation of hearing from God. Once God has spoken, we need to hold on to what He tells us, not letting go even when the story appears to end differently than the way He promised it would. All around us, there are individuals, families, churches and communities that need to experience the resurrecting power of the Spirit of God. Their stories must not end in death! Let’s keep persevering until the final chapter! Let’s make 2022 a year of resurrection! (You can read the complete account of Lazarus’ resurrection in John 11:1–44).
Sometimes I need to “get away” to a quiet place and pray. Over the years I have discovered the ideal place…cemeteries! There’s very little traffic, and people are real quiet there. I cherish a vivid memory from pastoring in New Jersey during the 80s. It was a difficult time for me, and I decided to fast and pray. While walking down a cemetery road, I was praying for direction and the ability to hear from God. My eyes fell on a stone statue of a little lamb with these engraved words underneath: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” This was the right word at just the right time for me! In that moment my mind flooded with memories of how the Lord had so faithfully guided me in the past. I recalled major crossroads where the Lord faithfully went before me and helped me make the best decisions. The Scriptures are full of passages encouraging His people to trust Him as the Great Shepherd. In Genesis 48 we read of Jacob (Israel) blessing Joseph and his two sons. “Then he blessed Joseph and said, May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day…” (verse 15). Think about it…. God says He has been your shepherd all your life! The picture of us as the sheep of His pasture is a common metaphor. Lately, I have noticed how the word “sheep” is used in our culture in a negative way. The world mocks people who act like sheep and simply follow without question. Of course, I agree with the danger of following other people without question. However, when it comes to obeying the Lord, I willingly consider myself a sheep. I know that without His leading, I easily stray into sin and the snares of the enemy. Those who scoff at the idea of following the Lord don’t understand the power of the sinful human nature and our tendency to self-destruct. We need the Shepherd! As we worship this last Sunday of 2021, we look back at the faithfulness of our God. In these confusing times, our country faces many challenges which affect every one of us. However, the Lord’s wisdom and insight give us confidence to face the many uncertainties ahead. Our Shepherd goes before us! As David declared, “He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). Above all, Jesus himself proclaimed, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
The last prophet preached. The last chapter was written. “See, I send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come, says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 3:1). This prophecy was proclaimed about 450 years before the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and John the Baptist (the messenger). Faithful Jews knew the promise but had to wait for generations. No other prophets stood up during these years to proclaim, “Thus says the Lord!” Teachers of the Bible frequently refer to the years before the coming of Jesus as “the silent years.” However, God did not abandon His Word or His people. He was at work—even when outward signs seemed absent. Then one day the sun arose! “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…” (Galatians 4:4). Finally, God’s promises, like the waves of the sea, swept over humanity. The message of Christmas is loud and clear…God keeps His promises! Our part is to learn to trust Him and to wait for Him. As we look around us, it doesn’t take the gift of discernment to see that we are in difficult days. Sin abounds. God is mocked. Many have lost hope. But let’s learn patience from the Word. James tells us, “Be patient, then brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:7-8). Our waiting and trusting in God is not in vain or wasted time. All farmers know that what is patiently sown today reaps blessings later. We work and wait for Jesus to return. Before He comes again, He is also at work drawing people to himself and giving us of His Spirit to live like Jesus. The joy of the Lord awaits us. We will also proclaim one day, “Then…it happened!” In the words of the prophet Malachi, “…suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come….” Let the truth of Christmas fill you with gratitude for His past faithfulness. But also, be filled with hope as you patiently await His soon return!
“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). God keeps His promises! To me, the Christmas season reminds me of God’s faithfulness to His Word. The first coming of Jesus to this world was not a spur of the moment reaction. From the beginning God knew what we would need for salvation. He not only planned, but He provided for us “rays of light” through the prophecies of the Old Testament writers. Did you know that the Old Testament contains over 300 references to the Messiah that would be fulfilled in Jesus? From these biblical references, we discover 61 specific details about this Messiah concerning His birth, life, death, and resurrection. After Jesus ascended back to heaven, those who knew Him could look back and say, “Now I see it!” What God promised…God fulfilled! Peter spoke of this in his second letter and called the prophetic word “a lamp shining in a dark place.” In those days, lamps were not as bright as our lights, but they served the purpose to provide enough light to get around safely. Today, we not only enjoy the light of the Old Testament prophecies but also have the light of the 27 books of the New Testament. We walk in the light of Christ’s first coming…and anticipate His second coming! Did you know that the same Bible that predicted the first coming of Jesus (in over 300 places) gives us twice as many prophecies concerning His second coming! We may not have all the specific details or know how they will come together exactly, but we have enough light to believe. God gives us prophecy, not to satisfy our all our curiosity, but to challenge us to live godly (see 2 Peter 3:11). Peter explains that the light we now have is like a lamp in the night, but soon we will see as in the light of the morning. Christmas reveals that the light of the world has come, although at this time many choose to walk in darkness. When Jesus returns, as He promised, His light will shine over the whole earth “as the waters cover the sea!” Be prepared. The day is dawning! Walk in the light, as He is in the light.
“Trust in the Lord and do good; Live in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3, NASB). A quote that has stuck with me through the years goes like this: “Many people have everything to live with and nothing to live for.” In our everyday conversations, I wonder why we have such a hard time talking about things that really matter. When was the last time someone opened up and started talking to you about what life means to them? The Bible presents us with something to live for. As I read God’s Word, I repeatedly come across verses which serve as sweeping panoramas. Right in front of my eyes I view the meaning of life in simple phrases like, “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Imagine if every person around you adopted this as their life verse! This profound verse challenges us to blend trust and action. I never want to move away from faith in the Lord. It seems that no matter how long I have walked with God, my faith is never perfect. I always go through times of testing. I think testing is God’s way of keeping us “in shape” spiritually. As a good “coach” the Lord doesn’t let us just sit around and get lazy. James explains to us, “…the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:3). So, everything about this life happens to grow our faith. Connected to this life philosophy of trust is doing good. True faith demonstrates itself in love and good deeds. When I happen to hear the words of the songs people listen to, I hear the cry of people looking for others to love them. As believers in Jesus, we already know we are greatly loved. So, instead of walking around in life “looking for love” we are “looking to love.” Because Jesus loves people, we love with His love. Our “doing good” servant attitude endeavors to help everyone we meet get closer to God and find their purpose and potential in Him! Psalm 37:3 ends with the beautiful words, “…cultivate faithfulness.” Another translation says, “…feed on God’s faithfulness.” A person who trusts God and does what is right enjoys the strength and joy that comes from the Lord himself. Jesus is not just our “philosophy” of life, but the Lord of life itself! You have something…or someone to live for!