Tag Archives: jesus

Explaining the Unexplainable

GFC Devo: Day 1

Today’s churchwide devotional looks at the events preceding the birth of Jesus, as told in Matthew 1:18-25, and Luke 1:26-38.  I’m glad both references are there, because we get to see the into the lives of both Mary and Joseph.

At first, Joseph doesn’t hear anything from God.  When he discovers that Mary is pregnant, he does a very respectable thing, and decides to divorce her quietly.  Unwed pregnancy was a shameful thing in those days, and he could have easily made a public spectacle of Mary.  Clearly this was not what he had bargained for, but he was a righteous man, and obviously loved her enough to spare her the indignity.

He instinctively followed the normal societal protocol for situations like this, but he was still wrestling with it.  Matthew 1:20 states that “…as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him” and told him what God was doing.  This was enough for Joseph…he was obedient from that day on.

Luke’s account focuses on Mary’s experience.  An angel came to her first, to let her know what was going to happen.  Her initial response was, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  Again, her mind was not prepared for such strange news.  Once the angel explained that God was at work, she obeyed, and worshiped God.

Some thoughts emerge from this event:

  1. We read this story with a vantage point of knowing the whole story, but these two people only had their own experience to draw upon.
  2. Their knee-jerk reactions were based in that experience, and revealed a desire for things to remain as they were.  Joseph, even though he had doubts, did not hesitate to follow the social code and pursue divorce.  Mary’s first response was to state the obvious.  Neither was really open to God doing something totally miraculous.
  3. We shouldn’t be too harsh on them, though.  God had been silent for almost 400 years before this event.  The miracles of the Fathers of Israel were distant realities in that age.  Mary and Joseph had no categories for something like this.  We sort of shrug off their obedience now, because we read the story from the vantage point of seeing how it all played out.  We live in an age where the Holy Spirit’s power is regularly seen.  They had to take it on purely blind faith.
  4. Consider that what we now know to be “good news” was probably “bad news” to Mary and Joseph.  An unwed pregnancy was not on the radar for either of them.  They had been good, law-keeping Jews up to that point…righteous in every way.  They had saved themselves in purity, and then God came out of nowhere, and changed the course of their lives forever.  God was going to ruin the purity and righteousness they had worked for their entire lives.  How could he do this?  Why would he do this?
  5. Mary’s Magnificat, her song to the Lord, in Luke 1:46-56, are an even greater testimony to her faith.  She just heard that she was going to be an unwed mother in a culture that was hostile to sexual impurity, and yet, because God was doing it, she praised Him.  This was truly a sacrifice of praise.  Where did she get the strength to worship God in the midst of such an unexplainable  and devastating event?
  6. Imagine if we were in their shoes.  Joseph didn’t get any explanation from God until after he found out that Mary was pregnant.  Even then, I’m sure his visit from the angel didn’t exactly clear things up. This had never happened before in the history of humankind.  There was no simple explanation.  It would take 33 years for God to finish what he started that day.
  7. What gave them the ability to obey with joy?  How could they possibly respond rightly to such confusing news?  Even though Mary and Joseph had no idea what was going on, and their lives were turned upside down in an instant, God was clearly at work.  This fact is the only reason they could obey, with hope and joy.  God did not simply commandeer or “rescue” this situation to suit his purposes.  He caused it.  He was actively bringing these life-altering changes, these unexplainable events into their lives.

Can we apply this to our lives right now?  Are there things that happen to us, that are unexplainable, and run totally counter to the way our lives were going?  Are we experiencing left turns that are totally not where our lives were heading?  No one plans for the stock market to crash. No one plans for a loved one to die.  No one plans for cancer, or job changes, or unplanned pregnancy.

Sometimes we think, “God couldn’t have done this, because it’s totally out of left field, and I didn’t see it coming.”  If this is the case, and if God is truly bound to the whim of chance or the actions of men, then our only hope is to try and hold on to that life we were making for ourselves.

But there is great hope, in fact our only hope is in believing that God is actively working out his purposes in ways we cannot see yet. If we don’t believe this, then a verse like Romans 8:28 will lose all its meaning, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Our response, just like Mary and Joseph, indicates whether or not we truly believe it.  Do we respond by trying to hold on to “the way things are” or “the way we think they should be,” or can we believe in a big God who is doing big things according to his purpose and for our good?  One way produces unbelief and fear…the other produces joy-filled obedience in hope.

God is not “responding” to unexplainable things that happen in our lives…he is “working.”  I pray that we would take time to consider these things, as Joseph did.  Be open to God’s visitation, however strange that comfort might be.  Then, like Mary, we should turn our hearts to worship, and then be humbled that God would choose such a lowly servant to accomplish his good will.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on 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 for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
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 offspring forever.”

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Strong Strength

Proverbs 24:10-12

10 If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?

This verse hit me like a ton of bricks today.  Some thoughts: 

  1. The “if” at the beginning presupposes that a day of adversity will come. 
  2. This day of adversity isn’t our day of adversity, it is someone else’s trial that we are present to witness. 
  3. The strength mentioned in verse 10 is meant to be used for the directive in verse 11. 
  4. Because “rescuing” is the nature of the purpose of our strength (why we have it in the first place), then God is right in judging us according to verse 12.  
  5. God’s grace does not excuse us from using our strength to save the lost, any more than the sky can be excused from being blue.  Rescuing the lost or hurting is the reason we have strength. 
  6. Verse 12 mentions the heart and the soul before it mentions our external work, suggesting that these are heart matters, not external strength or works.  God is exhorting us to be strong of heart and soul so that we can fulfill the commands of verse 11. 
  7. God is exhorting us to be true to the (new) heart that is within us.  This “heart” language is all throughout proverbs as the seat of the character of a man, and the wellspring of his actions. This calls to mind Ezekiel 36:26 (“I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh).  The intended use of this new heart is to rescue people who are lost and endangered. 

Clearly, then, the “strength” of verse 10 is not the strength of our actions, or physical strength, but rather the strength of our heart…our convictions, our theology, our maturity.  This calls to mind the idea of Luke 12:48, (to whom much has been given, much will be required).  This passage in Luke is not talking about money, talent, intelligence, or anything like that, however.  Jesus is talking about the same kind of issue raised in Proverbs 24: people who have been given a gift intended to help others. 

Jesus tells the story about servants who are put in charge of the estate when the master is gone.  Some are good stewards and give food to the other servants at the appointed time.  Others, when they hear that the Master is delayed, begin to beat the other servants, and then get fat and drunk on the food and wine that is supposed to go to everyone.  

Jesus said that the servants in charge (who know what to do, yet refuse to do it) will be treated more harshly than those who never knew what to do while the Master was gone.  To quote Jesus, the Master will “cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.”  Because of his actions?  No, because of his heart.  

There are many implications in this parable regarding the Kingdom ethic of the Emergent movement, but I think the clear indictment is for those responsible for sharing what they know with others, namely, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and Christians everywhere.  

Our actions (or non-actions) toward those in need of rescue belie the true condition of our heart.  Let us not have “weak” strength, but rather build up our nerve, our theology, our convictions, our maturity so that when that day of adversity comes (for us, or for those around us) we can be faithful to administer the Master’s food and drink to those who need it, until he returns.