God’s Faithfulness Through the Generations

There was a country song recorded about eight years ago by Brad Paisley called “Two People Fell in Love”. He points out the obvious – that every one of us owes our very existence to the simple fact that at one moment in time two people fell in love. He describes a family reunion where members from five generations came in from 15 different states to have a picnic every June, all because 60 years ago Stanley Wilson knew that Ms. Emma Tucker was the one for him.

I mention this because I have recently embarked on a journey, not unlike one that many others have taken, to discover my roots.

Two days ago, my son and wife were looking at the family tree information that my wife had collected a number of years ago. Her family has done a much better job about that than mine. I went to the internet to find some tools to help me build our family tree, and discovered MyHeritage.com. Fairly quickly I was able to begin to create a database where I could log in what I already knew, in hopes that I could find much more information about our roots. I was impressed by this site. After spending several hours Friday night on this project (and paying a small annual fee), I was able to place over 270 people on our family tree with great detail. I was also able to locate several supporting historical documents such as actual census reports from 1940 and earlier and two high school yearbook photos of my mom.

To borrow a phrase that comes up often from one of our key leaders at work, “This is all mildly interesting.” However, I do not want anyone to miss the point, which was hinted at in the title of this article. God’s mighty hand of protection and blessing is all over the Gehrlein family tree.

The faithfulness of God is something I hold very dear. My favorite old hymn, which they had better sing at my funeral, is “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. This key attribute of God is clearly revealed and illustrated often in Scripture and in the life of His Son Jesus. Psalm 36:5 link God’s love and faithfulness together: “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”

God’s faithfulness is also tied to His sovereignty. Since God is ultimately in control of His plans for His people, in spite of their apparent freedom of choice (yes, I am a Calvinist), He is able to control the very circumstances that led to our creation through two imperfect people who fell in love. The way I see it, God ensured that these ancestors in our family tree did what they were supposed to do so that we as His children now could do the things we are called to do.

Let me close with another appropriate verse from Psalm 100:5: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Praise be to God for His faithfulness to His children!

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Non-Traditional Christmas Verses

I receive a daily reflection in my email written by Dr. Mark D. Roberts from the Fuller Theological Seminary’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership.  He started this week with some thoughts on a passage in Philippians chapter 2 that many would be familiar with, but might not associate with Christmas.  A few days later, he brought up a passage from Hebrews 2 that also relates well to Jesus’ incarnation.

I would like to post my own brief reflections on these two passages and one more that will augment the traditional verses in Matt. 1:18 – 2:12 and Luke 2:1-20 to expand our understanding of the Christmas story, that God made His dwelling among us in His Son, Jesus the Messiah.

1. John 1:1-3, 14.

This is such a deep passage, and a bit daunting for me to try to do it justice. These first three verses point to the eternal existence of God the Son. Jesus, not yet in a physical form, was right there at creation with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. (See Gen. 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness'”.  See also Col. 1:16, “For by him all things were created”.) Jesus was not only with God, but was Himself divine. He was equal in essence or nature with God, and was directly involved in creation. This is indeed a mystery, but it provides us some theological background to the Christmas story and supports our foundational orthodox belief as Christians that Jesus is fully divine. Verse 14 brings us to Nazareth at the Immaculate Conception, where Jesus took on flesh in Mary’s womb. This is echoed in the line from the Christmas carol, O, Come All Ye Faithful: “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.”  John states that the Word of God now resided here.  John supports what Matthew told us in Matt. 1:22-23, declaring that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 regarding a virgin who would give birth to a son who would be called “Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us.'” This is indeed good news!

2. Phil. 2:6-11.

This is another deep passage that I want to highlight briefly. Paul is exhorting the church in Philippi to imitate the humility of Christ. He seems be quoting a poem here, as indicated by the style in which it appears in the New International Version. This may have been a creed of sorts from the first century. It ties in well with our passage in John, pointing out that Jesus was equal in nature with God the Father. In taking on flesh, he did NOT lay aside His deity, but took on the limitations of humanity. In this sacrificial act, which foreshadows His ultimate sacrifice at the cross, Jesus showed His total dependence on God the Father and His total selflessness towards us. He knowingly left the glory and perfection of heaven to become a weak and lowly fetus, baby, child, teenager, young adult, and servant here on this dusty planet for our salvation. This passage provides some additional insight on what took place prior to Christmas day, showing God’s great love for you and for me.

3. Heb. 2:14-18.

The writer of Hebrews contrasts how Jesus is far superior to the Old Testament. He shows that Jesus not only fulfills the Old Testament prophecies, but is the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament pointed to. The main point in these verses is that Jesus was able to provide sufficient atonement for our sins by being just like us. He was fully human, only sinless; a spotless Lamb. It says of Jesus that “he had to be made like his brothers in every way”. His birth that we celebrate on Christmas Day had one main purpose – He came to die for us. This is a sobering thought, but is one that can truly bring hope and joy to the world. “The Lord is come; let earth receive her king!”

I trust that this meditation will help you to keep Christ in Christmas this year.

Our Identity in Christ (Lesson 3)

This is the third of eight Sunday School lessons I am currently teaching on our identity in Christ.  If you want to read the introduction I posted a few weeks ago, here is the link.

Hook:

To better appreciate who we are as believers in Jesus, we have looked at who we all were “before Christ”. We discussed in detail the clear teaching that all human beings (us included) enter this world as blind, hopeless, enslaved, ashamed, poor, and lost sinners.  We will see clearly that because of coming to faith in Jesus Christ we have now been brought into the light, we can see, we have a new sense of hope, we have been set free; we are forgiven, rich, and found.  Why was there such a dramatic transformation in our lives?  What can we learn about the “New Covenant” that was prophesied in the Old Testament and was fulfilled in the New?

What is a covenant? How many can you name?  What are the essential elements of a covenant?

Book:

1) Read Gen. 6:18; 9:1, 7-17. For whom was this made?  What was promised/expected?  (Teacher notes: In Gen. 6:18, we see God’s covenant with Noah, the first time we see this word used in the Bible.  This covenant highlights God’s mercy and faithfulness.  In 9:1, which is repeated again in 9:7, we see what God commanded Noah and his sons to do, to be fruitful and multiply.  This is part of the “creation mandate” we read in Gen. 1:28.)

2) Read Gen. 15:5-7, 18. For whom was this made?  What was promised/expected?  (Teacher notes: Gen. 15:5 is the Abrahamic covenant (when he was still known as Abram.)  It was God’s promise of offspring and land.  This is echoed in v. 18, where the word covenant is used.  This covenant is tied to the previous promise in Gen. 12:1-3, where we see for the first time the elements of being a great nation (descendants) and blessing to all peoples on earth through those who would become God’s people.)

3) Read Ps. 105:8-11, 42-45. For whom was this made?  What was promised/expected?  (Teacher notes: There were other covenants we skipped.  Some were made to Abraham’s descendants, and are echoed here in the Psalms.  The writer lists covenants to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The land is mentioned again; it is a place for God’s people.  The writer emphasizes the attributes of God’s faithfulness, grace, and mercy in vv. 42-45.  What God expected in return was that His people would respond in obedience.)

4) Read Jer. 31:31-34. For whom was this made?  What was promised/expected? Why was there a need for a new covenant?  What are the key elements of this new covenant?  (Teacher notes: This is a critical Old Testament covenant that we must understand, as it ties in with much of what we will be discussing over the new few weeks.  It is referred to as the “New” Covenant, hinting of a time when the Messiah would come and make all things new.  This covenant promises to put God’s law “in their minds, and write it on their hearts.”  Everyone will have an intimate knowledge of God.  Most importantly, this relationship will be characterized by total forgiveness, where God will remember our sins no more.”)

5) Read Matt. 26:28. (See Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, and 1 Cor. 11:25.) What did Jesus say?  (Teacher notes: Jesus, right before He was betrayed, shared in a Passover supper with His disciples.  When He gave the cup, He stated that this was His blood of the covenant, clearly referring to the New Covenant from Jer. 31, when He said it would be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).  It is interesting that in both Mark’s and Luke’s accounts, they do not specifically mention forgiveness.  However, we know that Matthew’s Gospel was written to Jews, who would have gotten the reference.  Also, in the version Paul gives in 1 Cor. 11:25, he states that Jesus said “new covenant”.)

6) Read Gal. 3:6-9, 14. How does the Abrahamic covenant apply to Christians now?  (Teacher notes: In this great little passage, Paul ties faith to righteousness by bringing us back to Gen. 15:6, where Abram believed God and God credited righteousness to him.  If we have saving faith, Paul says, we are Abraham’s children.  Paul indicates that we can actually see a glimpse of the gospel in Gen. 12:3 and 18:18, where God’s blessings to all nations, indicating the Gentiles, will come through Abraham, the man of faith.)

7) Read Heb. 7:22, 8:6-13, 9:15, and 10:15-18. For whom was this made?  What was promised?  (Teacher notes: These passages in Hebrews tie everything together.  The writer declares in Heb. 7:22 that Jesus is “the guarantee of a better covenant”.  In Heb. 8:6-13, Paul teaches how the new covenant Jesus brings is superior to the old covenant, is founded on better promises, and is necessary because the old one was obsolete; it was ineffective to change people from the inside.  The writer then quotes the entire Old Testament passage from Jer. 31-34.  He quotes portions of it again in Heb. 10:16-18.)

Look:

1) Summarize the elements of the old covenants made in the OT? Are they applicable today?

2) Summarize the elements of the new covenant that all believers in Jesus Christ have inherited?

3) What is most significant to you about these promises?

Took:

This week, mediate on what it means to be living a “New Covenant” life – a life characterized by grace, not law; relationship, not religion; knowing God, not just knowing about Him, forgiveness, not guilt; transformation on the inside, not works of righteousness on the outside, etc.

How does the new covenant affect your prayer life, ministry, walk with God, and sense of peace?