The Comfort of Advent

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” (Matt. 1:23)

For many people, Christmas is the most brutal time of year. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a recent divorce, loneliness, or something else, Christmas can be a sad reminder that life is not how it should be. Even if Christmas is a happy time for you, the indwelling power of sin and the general brokenness of the world reminds you that, indeed, life is not how it should be.

On that first Christmas night, when Mary bore Jesus in a dirty stable, the world was no different than ours. It was filled with disease, war, oppression, injustice, famine, hunger, and private sin. The problems were less noticeable because Mary and Joseph didn’t have Twitter or CNN, but they were no less prevalent. While “long lay the world in sin and error pining,” the baby boy Jesus, entered with a most precious name: Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

The God of the Bible is transcendent: he is holy, lifted up, and above all things (Isa.57:15). Nevertheless, he is immanent and personal. God “became flesh and dwelt among us” so that we might see “his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). The God of the Bible is sovereign over the plight we face, yet he is not immune to it, for not only is “God with us,” he is with us in our sufferings.

The baby called Immanuel would grow up not as a rich, famous ruler who had servants fluff his pillow all the day. No, he grew up “a man of sorrows, and [was] acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces” (Isa. 53:3). He became a servant and though he was God, he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…and [he] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6, 8). His suffering on the cross was for you: he took the penalty of sin you deserved (Rom. 3:21-25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 1:22; 1 Pet. 2:24). His suffering on the cross was also with you: he is the one who “comforts us in all our affliction…For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:4).

This Advent season, you may ask God, “Why have I suffered so much? Why is life so hard?” You can take comfort in the fact that Jesus–very God and very man–asked his Father the same question: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). You see, Jesus lost the Father’s hand so that you might grab hold of it. He lost fellowship with the Father so that you might enter the Father’s family. He took the wrath of God so that you might only receive grace. Jesus suffered not to eliminate suffering in your life or in the world (though he will do that on the last day). He suffered so that you might ultimately share in his victory over suffering through his resurrection.

What a comfort! What a Savior! Truly, Jesus is Immanuel.

“Keep your low view of God to youself.”

This in-your-face quote (my paraphrase) comes from Heinz Schrader, pastor of Capital City Church International here in Pretoria.

Right now we have a few people who are in conversation with us about our view of suffering and God’s sovereignty.  They totally disagree with what we teach.  I want to tell you, that when someone has problems with the way a family is doing things, they are supposed to go to the head of the household.  So let me try to say this nicely: if you have a problem with what we believe and teach about suffering in this church, then come talk to me.  And you can talk to any one of our elders.  But you had better not ridicule one of these sheep down here who are in the midst of suffering, hardship, pain, and loss by telling them they’ve sinned or they need to read their Bible more.

Listen to me: if you don’t believe that God is sovereign in suffering, if you believe that all suffering comes from personal sin and lack of holiness, if you believe that man dictates the circumstances of life and not God, then you do not have a theology — you have an anthropology.  You exalt man higher than God.  So please, do us a favor and keep your low view of God to yourself.

Weekly Spurgeon

I wanted to just post this short excerpt from Spurgeon’s June 1 devotional in Monring and Evening.  Let the weight of this statement flood your soul with great joy and delight in our awesome God.  You can read the full text here.

Praise the Lord for the sun of joy when it rises, and for the gloom of evening as it falls. There is beauty both in sunrise and sunset, sing of it, and glorify the Lord. Like the nightingale, pour forth thy notes at all hours. Believe that the night is as useful as the day. The dews of grace fall heavily in the night of sorrow. The stars of promise shine forth gloriously amid the darkness of grief.

 

Weekly Spurgeon

From Morning and Evening (it’s an amazing devotional if you haven’t figured that out already!)

“Forsake me not, O Lord.”
– Psalm 38:21

Frequently we pray that God would not forsake us in the hour of trial and temptation, but we too much forget that we have need to use this prayer at all times. There is no moment of our life, however holy, in which we can do without His constant upholding. Whether in light or in darkness, in communion or in temptation, we alike need the prayer, “Forsake me not, O Lord.” “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.” A little child, while learning to walk, always needs the nurse’s aid. The ship left by the pilot drifts at once from her course. We cannot do without continued aid from above; let it then be your prayer to-day, “Forsake me not. Father, forsake not Thy child, lest he fall by the hand of the enemy. Shepherd, forsake not Thy lamb, lest he wander from the safety of the fold. Great Husbandman, forsake not Thy plant, lest it wither and die. ‘Forsake me not, O Lord,’ now; and forsake me not at any moment of my life. Forsake me not in my joys, lest they absorb my heart. Forsake me not in my sorrows, lest I murmur against Thee. Forsake me not in the day of my repentance, lest I lose the hope of pardon, and fall into despair; and forsake me not in the day of my strongest faith, lest faith degenerate into presumption. Forsake me not, for without Thee I am weak, but with Thee I am strong. Forsake me not, for my path is dangerous, and full of snares, and I cannot do without Thy guidance. The hen forsakes not her brood, do Thou then evermore cover me with Thy feathers, and permit me under Thy wings to find my refuge. ‘Be not far from me, O Lord, for trouble is near, for there is none to help.’ ‘Leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation!'”

“O ever in our cleansed breast,
Bid Thine Eternal Spirit rest;
And make our secret soul to be
A temple pure and worthy Thee.”