Good Things Coming True

Scripture Focus: Matthew 2.4-5, 15, 17, 23
4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written

15 And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet

17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled

23 So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets

Reflection: Good Things Coming True
By John Tillman

A narrator’s voice often influences how we perceive a story. The TV series, Arrested Development, featured a narrator who inserted his own opinion about what was happening. He often pointed out contradictions or lies by the main characters. In one scene, Gob (pronounced Job) is lying about having slept with someone.

     Gob: I did and it was disgusting.

     Narrator: They didn’t. But it would have been.

The narrator’s voice often inserts itself into Matthew’s Gospel, but Matthew isn’t pointing out bad things or lies. He’s telling us when good things come true.

The word “fulfill” occurs more in Matthew’s Gospel than in any other Gospel. Fifteen times, Matthew either says a prophecy has been fulfilled or records Jesus saying something must happen to fulfill the prophets.

Each Gospel author has a focus. Mark focused on Jesus being powerful, yet a servant. Matthew focuses on Jesus as the prophesied king, the Son of David, the Messiah, or Christ. He highlights prophecies concerning the messianic kingship of Jesus.

Many religions prophesy the future. This includes the non-spiritual religions of science, politics, and economics. With forecasts, polling data, and analysis, these prognosticators make promises too. But how do we uncover the truth? What prophecies can we trust?

In the mystery Knives Out, the detective Benoit Blanc describes the process of uncovering the truth using an analogy of watching the arc of a thrown ball. Once you understand the ball’s arc, finding where it will land is a simple matter of mathematics.

Matthew wants us to understand the arc of the previously fulfilled promises pertaining to Jesus to build trust. By looking at the path of past promises, we can trust the trajectory of Christ’s promises today. Every promise God has made will land—will be made “yes” in Christ Jesus. (2 Corinthians 1.20)

If God, over millennia, can order the occurrence of events so that Jesus is born in the proper place, the proper clan, sojourn in Egypt, return to live in the correct obscure village, and fulfill the minutiae of other messianic prophecies, surely he is worthy of us trusting to him our tomorrow?

Jesus is not only called “Faithful and True,” he has proved to be so. Like Matthew, as we serve Jesus, we may need to explain to others the fulfillment of yesterday’s promises so that they can join us in trusting the promises of salvation. Good things are coming true.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seek, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. — Psalm 126.6-7

Today’s Readings
Genesis 41 (Listen 7:30
Matthew 2 (Listen 3:18)

Read more about Previsualizations of Promises
One day we will be ultimately freed and the world we are meant to live in will be rebuilt. This will be the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises.

Read more about False Promises and Threats
Lord, we are besieged with false promises and threats…pacification instead of peace and retribution instead of righteousness.

An Accepting Father

Scripture Focus: Matthew 1.24-25
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Reflection: An Accepting Father
By John Tillman

Headings in scripture are not part of the original texts. There are no hard or fast guidelines on what sections should get a heading and which should not. Though these headings are not part of the Inspired Word of God, they are inspired by the Word. They are inserted by the scholars, editors, and publishers of the particular printings of the Bibles we choose. Their function is merely to help readers visually scan or skim for the section we are looking for.

Between verses 17 and 18 of the first chapter of Matthew, many English Bibles include a heading. The simplest heading is in The Message, which says, “The Birth of Jesus.” The NLT gets theological, saying, “The Birth of Jesus the Messiah.” The ESV inserts the Greek title for Messiah, saying, “The Birth of Jesus Christ.” The NKJV mentions Mary, saying, “Christ born of Mary.” The HCSB uses a fancier word for birth, saying, “The Nativity of the Messiah.” The NASB adds the Holy Spirit’s role, saying, “The Conception and Birth of Jesus.” The KJV and WEB leave this section of scripture unadorned, saying nothing at all.

But the NIV adds a radically different heading, with an emphasis on relationships and story: “Joseph Accepts Jesus as His Son.” It’s like a mini-devotional all laid out in six words.

Most of what we know about Joseph comes from Matthew. No author recorded his words, but Matthew recorded his heart and motivations. Joseph was faithful to the law—a righteous man. Yet despite what it seemed that Mary had done, he was merciful, not demanding the law’s punishment. He was a cautious man and obedient to God’s will. 

As with his ancestor, Joseph, (Genesis 37.5-7; 40.8) God spoke to Joseph of Nazareth in dreams. (Numbers 12.6; Matthew 1.20; 2.13) Joseph understood the implications of Isaiah, of the name, “Immanuel” and the name, “Jesus.” As surely as Mary welcomed Jesus, Joseph did as well. This dreamer, Joseph, was willing to take in this mysterious son who was not his son.

The “son of David,” Joseph, accepted The Son of David, Jesus, as his son. Because of this, we can be accepted by Jesus the Son of David as sons and daughters of God. Joseph was an accepting father, and because of him, we all have an accepting Father in God. Despite what we have done, God is merciful, accepting us as his children.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help. — Psalm 13.5

Today’s Readings
Genesis 40 (Listen 2:59
Matthew 1 (Listen 3:29)

Read more about Dream Like Joseph
May we pray and dream as Joseph did. For only with a spiritual connection can we do what we must as a part of our calling.

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Peace Amidst Chaos — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 2.11-13; 16-18
​​11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. 

13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 

16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work. 

17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. 

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. 

Matthew 5.14-16
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Reflection: Peace Amidst Chaos — Peace of Advent
By John Tillman

In the dark, Nehemiah dreams of peace.

Peace not only means the absence of conflict but the absence of chaos. In Nehemiah’s day, Jerusalem was not at war but was a chaotic shambles. Proverbs tells us that a city without walls is like a person with no self-control. (Proverbs 25.28) Walls provided defense from attack but also the dignity of control—control of identity, control of commerce, and control of destiny. The gate of the city represented all these things.

Instead of being surrounded by dignity, Jerusalem was surrounded by enemies. Sanballat was from the north in Samaria. Tobiah was from the east in Ammon. Geshem was from the southeast. These leaders held generational hatred of the Jews. Seeing them reestablish their Temple and worship was bad enough. Seeing Jerusalem reinforced with a wall was even worse. A rebuilt Jerusalem would disrupt their political and economic interests. In the midst of these enemies, God prepared a place of peace.

In modern life, a physical wall means little to our peace. Chaos flows into the devices in our pockets. Not many of us are at war, but many of us are surrounded by chaos instead of peace. 

We can build a spiritual wall of refuge around our minds and hearts that is reinforced with the stones of scripture and the mortar of prayer. Within those walls, we find in the darkness a table of light set before us. Surrounded by enemies, a chair of fellowship is pulled out for us to rest. 

In the 23rd Psalm, the psalmist described his shepherd, the God of Israel, as preparing a table of fellowship and provision in the midst of enemies. This is the kind of God we serve. This is also the nature of Jesus’ birth. He is born helpless amidst those who will try to kill him to stay in power. This is the kind of life Jesus lived. He wandered, homeless among those who twisted the law to steal widows’ homes.

The way Christ revealed himself to the world, a light shining in the darkness, is also the way we are to reveal him to the world. If we are to be, like Jerusalem, a city on a hill, then we must remember that Jesus is the ever-open gate through whom anyone can enter his peace.

To chaos and darkness, Jesus brings light and a place of peace. So may we all.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations. — Psalm 67.12

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 2 (Listen 3:42)  
Revelation 11 (Listen 3:24)

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Read more about Peace from Strife
When you are constantly on edge from conflict, it is easy to expect the answer to your crisis will come in the form of a fight.

Doubt and Joy — Joy of Advent

Scripture Focus: Ezra 6:22
22 For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

Matthew 2:19-20
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

Reflection: Doubt and Joy — Joy of Advent
By Erin Newton

The eye of God was watching over the Israelites as they were threatened by local enemies. But I bet they were scared, anxious, and nervous. The older generation, the ones who wept at the sight of the temple foundation, carried the burdens of trauma. They remembered being forcibly taken from their land. They watched their cities be razed to the ground. The Babylonians attempted to remove their cultural identity.

The king who granted permission for them to rebuild was not the same king they appealed to now. They probably worried about how he would react. Would he honor the decision of a former king? Would he retaliate by creating a new, restrictive law? Would he ignore them?

God’s people had been through the valley of the shadow of death. They became prisoners of war when the Babylonians destroyed Judah. A foreign king terrorized their lives. Could they trust another king to be different?

Trauma sets a person on edge. It is easy to become hypervigilant and skeptical. Worst-case scenarios run through the mind. What might happen?

When Jesus was born, Herod pursued the newborn king with tyrannical fury. He didn’t hesitate to kill other children to get to Jesus. Mary and Joseph carried the weight of that moment. It was a time of anxiety and fear. What will God do?

Their relocation to Egypt was not permanent. God removed the threat through natural causes. Herod died. In a dream, God sent a messenger to tell them it was safe to go home.

Sometimes God works in miraculous ways. For the Israelites who were rebuilding the temple, the answer to their appeal to Darius was better than anyone expected. Permission to rebuild was confirmed but also expanded. God inclined the heart of Darius to fully fund the costs of construction and grant protection from any further interference. A feast of joy ensued.

God works through his creation. Sometimes the answer is time and waiting for change. God works through miracles. Sometimes the answer is a baby born of a virgin or a foreign king financing the construction of a temple he would never use.

Joy, at times, feels out of reach. We worry; we fear; we doubt. How can this all work out? Isn’t he supposed to be watching over us? The joy of Advent is wrestling with our questions and waiting for God to answer.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will exalt you, O God my King, and bless your Name forever and ever. — Psalm 145.1

Today’s Readings

Ezra 6 (Listen 4:24
Revelation 5 (Listen 2:39)

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Read more about One Worth Rejoicing In — Joy of Advent
The Lord is coming, who is our source of victory and joy. We are waiting for him and he is searching for us.

Peril and Joy — Joy of Advent

Scripture Focus: Ezra 5:5
5 But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received.

Matthew 2:10-12
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Reflection: Peril and Joy — Joy of Advent
By Erin Newton

The foundations of the temple were laid, and a mix of joy and grief resided over the people. As soon as they set out to do the work of God, they were met with resistance. Enemies of Judah and Benjamin bribed officials to frustrate their plans (Ezra 4.4-5). They accused the Israelites of dishonoring King Artaxerxes (Ezra 4.14). The work was stalled. But God would not be hindered.

Haggai and Zechariah, two prophets, called the people to return to their work. Despite the support from the prophets, they were met with more resistance. A local governor questioned their right to rebuild. Eager to bring punishment, he took names. But the eye of their God was watching over them.

The work of God can be dangerous. It can be unpopular. Motives can be questioned. Efforts can be confounded.

When the Magi came to visit Jesus, they were filled with the joy of his advent. Joy brimmed over. Overjoyed, they were face to face with God. They worshiped Jesus and offered their gifts. But the eye of God was watching over them. They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Herod, enraged with power and jealousy, soon called for the murder of every infant boy in Bethlehem.

But the eye of God was watching over them. Another warning was given and Joseph and Mary fled with infant Jesus to Egypt.

The Magi could have returned to Herod and faced his interrogation. Mary and Joseph could have stayed in Bethlehem and faced the executioner. The Israelites were face to face with authorities who wanted to stop the temple rebuilding and didn’t hesitate to take names.

The road to worshiping God can be dangerous. Being faithful to God’s call is like following a path with hills and valleys and perils. Our brothers and sisters around the world face greater threats than some of us will ever know. All because they seek to worship God.

The joy of Advent is knowing the eye of God watches over us. Jesus, our God made flesh, looked upon the Magi that night. The same God who had watched over the Israelites in Jerusalem. The same God who sent a messenger to warn Joseph. The same God who sees you now.

As we reflect upon Advent this year, consider how he watches over us. “The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121.8).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed. — Psalm 71.23

Today’s Readings
Ezra 5 (Listen 3:02
Revelation 4 (Listen 2:09)

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Read more about The Exodus and The Return
The testimony of Ezra tells us that kings come and go, but it is the Lord who is our only hope and protector.