Long ago the prophet Isaiah told of one who would be the hope of all humanity: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:6-7)
We move from Isaiah's description of our God in the Old Testament to Peter's explanation in the New Testament of why we should have hope. The author of The Passion Translation Bible titles the book of 1 Peter as "Triumphant Hope." That hope is described in Verse 3 of Chapter 1: "Celebrate with praises the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has shown us His extravagant mercy. For His fountain of mercy has given us a new life--we are reborn to experience a living, energetic hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
O how glorious! We are not forgotten. Our merciful God knew that we would need a Savior who would bring us hope through His multiple offerings. He comes as a Wonderful Counselor to help transform our fallen world by His saving grace. As a Counselor, the Holy Spirit guides and advocates for us. The Psalmist asks, "O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you." (Psalm 89:8) We can take comfort in the truth written in Zephaniah 3:17. "The Lord your God is with you; He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing." Let us take in what Psalm 90:2 tells us about our Lord: "Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." He is our God for eternity! Only through the Lord Jesus, our Prince of Peace, can we receive the true tranquility we so desire. Through every aspect of His being, He carries us on His shoulders and encourages us with hope.
I would imagine that throughout the ages people have thought that the times they lived in were more difficult than any other and that they had a greater need of hope than any other generation. Isn't that how we are thinking today? Chaos, sickness, death, persecution of Christians, financial need, and insecurity about the future all converge in our day to make us wonder if we can have hope for our future. The answer is a resounding Yes!
We just celebrated the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) We have a new year upon us. How will we walk into it? Hebrews 6 has words of great encouragement for us: "And now we have run into His heart to hide ourselves in His faithfulness. This is where we find His strength and comfort, for He empowers us to seize what has already been establish ahead of time--an unshakeable hope! We have this certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God Himself. Our anchor of hope is fastened to the mercy seat which sits in the heavenly realm beyond the sacred threshold and where Jesus, our forerunner has gone in before us..." (Verses 18-20-TPT)
Let us walk into the new year with our heads held high and our confidence in the Lord secure. He is still sitting on the throne. He is still Almighty and All Powerful. He is inside us, encouraging us and reminding us that He is the God of Living Hope.
How far would you travel and how much difficulty would you endure if you were really hungry and knew you could receive bread from a certain place? Our nation is living through hard times caused by the plague called Covid. Many are sick and finding themselves living in poverty from the ramifications of this virus. On the nightly news we see people in cars lined up for hours as they wait for a bag of groceries.
Through the centuries many populations have gone through times of hunger—both physical and spiritual. The prophet Amos talked about a day when "a famine of hearing the words of the Lord" would come. (Amos 8:11) When people find themselves without something they are used to or need they begin searching for a way to obtain it. Scripture is full of stories of individuals who were set on going to a place whose name means "House of Bread" or Bethlehem. Their journeys were directly connected to the life of Jesus--"The Living Word," "The Bread of Life," "The Redeemer." The prophet Micah prophesied about the significance of Bethlehem: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2)
The tribe of Judah received Bethlehem in their inheritance from the Promised Land. After they became established in this territory, there was a time of famine. The family of Elimelech and Naomi left Bethlehem and moved to Moab so that they could get food. Their sons married Moabite women while there. After 10 years in Moab, all the men died, leaving their women as widows. Naomi's daughter-in-law, Ruth, insisted on staying by her mother-in-law's side even though Naomi was returning to Bethlehem. Ruth told her, "Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God." (Ruth 1:16) They arrived in Bethlehem during the barley harvest.
Because Ruth was willing to make the journey, there was a new life waiting for her, filled with promise. She was noticed by Boaz from the clan of Elimelech as she gleaned in his field. Boaz became her husband, and she became part of the genealogy of Jesus by bearing a son named Obed (Servant of Worship) to Boaz. He became the father of Jesse who was the father of King David. When God decided to appoint a new king to replace Saul, the prophet Samuel was instructed by God to go to the city of Bethlehem to anoint David as the king of Israel. David went from tending sheep to tending God's people.
From David, 14 generations passed to King Jeconiah, meaning "Established of the Lord." During his reign, the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, after which 14 more generations were birthed. (See Matthew 1) At the end of that run of 14 generations Jesus was born of the virgin Mary from Nazareth. His earthly father, Joseph, was a descendant of David. When Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census would be taken of the entire Roman empire, Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem exactly at the time when Mary gave birth to Jesus. Because there was no guest room for Joseph and Mary, Mary gave birth in a room meant for animals. She wrapped the Son of God in cloths and laid Him in a manger. (Luke 2:7)
Shepherds who were tending their flocks in the fields nearby were told about the birth of a Savior in Bethlehem by an angel of the Lord. They made the trip to Bethlehem and were filled with praise and glory for God after seeing the baby laying in a manger. Magi from the east also took a long journey to Bethlehem to worship Jesus. After seeing His rising star in the sky, they followed that star to the place where Jesus was. Being overwhelmed with worship, they gave him their treasures.
Much fruit came from every trip that was taken to Bethlehem. In fact, the region of Bethlehem is called Ephrathah, meaning fruitful. The trips required sacrifice however, all were rewarded. "The House of Bread" fed every visitor. During this season, I believe that we are being called to make a spiritual journey to Bethlehem. Our year has been difficult. A "famine," so to speak, has overtaken us. However, God wants to prepare us for a new season—one of blessing where we will be filled with the Bread of Life that revives us and brings us into a time of greater intimacy with the Lord. We can visit The House of Bread by calling out to the Lord and asking Him to nourish and sustain us with the Bread of His Holy Presence. We must tell Jesus we are hungry for more of Him. He is the answer to every difficulty and the source of eternal life.
A small army of dedicated Jews is all that was needed to take back the temple in Jerusalem from the Syrian Greeks. King Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of the Greek empire, had a goal to unify his kingdom by making Hellenism the only acceptable culture. Judaism was outlawed. Jews were executed for observing their Sabbath and Feasts or for circumcising their baby boys. The Temple became a place where pigs were sacrificed to the image of the god Zeus.
A priest named Mattathias and his five sons led the Jewish rebellion against the Syrian Greek empire. One of the sons, Judah, was nicknamed The Hammer or "Maccabee" in Hebrew. Consequently, the revolutionaries became known as The Maccabees. It took the rebels over three years to obtain victory. When they re-entered the Temple, they found only a one-day supply of consecrated oil to light the Menorah. The Maccabees decided to light the Menorah even though it would have taken eight days for the priests to consecrate more oil. Miraculously, the Menorah kept burning for eight days. Since that time, the Jews celebrate Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication, or the Feast of Lights for eight days beginning on Kislev 25.
If we look back in history to 323 to 171 BC, we see that some of the Jewish people were adopting the more liberal lifestyle of the Gentiles around them by ignoring Torah and inciting others to join them. The pattern of moral decay within Israel led to severe oppression and persecution of the Jews. What started as an alternative lifestyle for some of the Jews became a state-mandated way of life. There is so much to learn from history! Do you see the repetition of the pattern of moral decay in our own society? There is a warning in Hebrews 2:1 against drifting: "We must pay the most careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." Almost without perception, the Church has embraced worldly ways in an attempt to increase their following. The results are devastating. We see the ways of the world becoming normal. Compromise is the order of the day, while we need to be more firmly rooted and built up in Jesus. (Colossians 2:7)
The enemy of our souls has been at work. The time that we live in is chaotic and volatile. Our freedoms and rights to worship the Lord are being stolen from us. We are in a season of darkness. What is being done in the dark must be exposed to the light. Could there be a more perfect time for us to carry the light of Jesus into the world? Jesus used the time of the Festival of Dedication to reveal that He is the Son of God. When He spoke to Nicodemus about salvation He said, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (John 3:19-21)
While speaking to the crowds of people, Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) We who believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world carry His light. Our prayers for our lives, our churches, and our nation can change the course of history. Let us use this season to keep the fires of our prayers burning. Ask the Lord to help us focus on Him and to remove the old mindsets that keep us in bondage. Pray that our churches will be cleansed and restored in purity and power. Pray that our nation and its leaders will walk in the truth and take a stand against the enemies of God. Ask the Lord for HIs miraculous provision of light and truth and His guidance on the path of righteousness. He is faithful to those who dedicate their lives to Him. We can be assured that light will be victorious over darkness.
It was not until God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of Adam that he became a living being. (Genesis 2:7) Acts 17:24-25 explains, "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else."
I have contemplated the importance of the breath of God as I sing the song, "Great Are You Lord" by James Ingram. Think about these words: "You give life. You are love; You bring light to the darkness. You give hope, You restore every heart that is broken. And great are You Lord! It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, we pour out our praise. It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only."
Job has much to say about the breath of God. "In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind." (Job 12:10) "The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life." (Job 33:4) "If it were His intension and He withdrew His Spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together, and mankind would return to dust." (Job 34:14-15) Likewise, the Psalmist recognizes how the Word of the Lord and His breath created the world we live in. "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth." (Psalm 33:6) "...Each man's life is but a breath. Selah.” (Psalm 39:5)
We were made in God's image. (Genesis 1:26, 9:6) His intent was and is that His children partner with Him in creating. How do we do this? We co-create by our breath, speaking life into the world around us. God wants us to bring heaven to earth through our spoken words. God also realizes that the enemy of our souls will do anything possible to stop our agreement with the Kingdom of Light. So, we are in the middle of a ferocious battle to stop us from speaking or even breathing. Covid 19 literally takes away our breath!
God explains His provision for us in the area of battling against the powers of darkness in Ephesians 6. There are five defensive weapons in our toolbelt: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith. However, the Lord has given us two offensive weapons: the sword of the Spirit and prayer in the Spirit. Both weapons require us to use our breath and speak out truth. Jesus demonstrated how to use the sword when the devil came after Him in the desert. As Jesus spoke out the truth of the Word, the devil had to flee from Him. In his book, Spiritual Warfare, Joseph Prince says, "It is not enough to just know God's Word in your heart. You have to speak it out. That is when latent power becomes actual power...God's Word in your mouth is like God speaking." (Page 83-84) "When you declare the Scripture aloud, the Word of God fights for you. The devil has no defense against the Word of God." (Page 86)
We must not allow the enemy of our souls to keep us from declaring the truth and the praises of God Most High. Remember that Jesus brought the breath of His Father to earth. When He was getting ready to return to His Father in Heaven, He breathed on His disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:21) The breath of God is in us to bring about life. Much territory has been stolen from us during this past year. We have been equipped with weapons for warfare. God wants us to use them so that we not only recover what has been stolen from us, but we also take plunder from the enemy camp. Start taking plunder, dear ones. That is our inheritance!
Joan E. Mathias