A Song of Ascents.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
Moreover, wealth is treacherous;
the arrogant do not endure.
They open their throats wide as Sheol;
like Death they never have enough.
They gather all nations for themselves,
and collect all peoples as their own.
In our readings this morning, the joyful, hopeful song of ascent is followed by a word of prophetic lament. They go together.
Things will not always be as they are now.
The challenges of today are today's challenges.
As we live and breathe, we shall always face challenges, problems, difficulties, pains, discouragements, and obstacles, but they do not last forever. Advent is about hope unfolding and sustaining us.
Let's visit with the Apostle Paul writing from prison.:
Look Out for the Joy Robbers
(Philippians 3:1-2) Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
Beware of anything that will rob you of your joy. A sad hearted apostle grieves that he has to remind his flock of something so foundational. Nevertheless, he does so because they are in danger.
We are in danger of robbers – not the kind we can lock out of our homes. We purchase expensive alarm systems to warn us of approaching burglars, but we allow the real thieves to sneak in unnoticed and establish themselves in our lives.
Paul calls them dogs and evil workers. He also refers to them as mutilation artists. The bottom line is a warning against people who teach that Christianity can be summarized in rituals, rules, and religiosity.
The Christian faith is much more and its most obvious outward manifestation is joy. It is the first thing people notice when they see you. It may take longer for them to see your love and piety, but your joy oozes from every pore of your being. It cannot be concealed or downplayed.
Where there is no rejoicing, there is very little manifestation of Christian experience. It accompanies our worship and overrides our inadequacies.
Joyful Christians entertain no illusions that they can impress God with their righteous deeds. They know that they cannot work hard enough to meet God’s standards. They have no confidence in the flesh and have boundless confidence in God.
Activate your spiritual filters against anything that will rob you of your joy whether it is cold, dead legalism, human perfectionism, or pharisaical dogmatism. The gospel liberates us to become more than we ever imagined we could be, changing us from within and filling our hearts with joy.
A Vote of No Confidence
(Philippians 3:4-7) Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
In some nations, governments can topple in a day through a vote of no-confidence by the majority of the members of that country’s parliament. So ought the reign of our flesh to topple through a no-confidence vote originating in our hearts.
It is with an argument from absurdity that we are convicted here. If anyone could have confidence in the flesh to save, it would be Paul. And Paul throws up his hands and proclaims that he has no such confidence.
Take your very best day, the very best day you could ever have and duplicate it for every day of your life. Reach your highest potential every moment of every hour. Do all that you can do in your own power. Resist every temptation you can resist in your own strength. Rectify every wrong you can correct from the past. Arrest your thoughts and submit them to the rigors of positive thinking. Miss no opportunities for kindness that you can see. Attend church every time the doors open. Pray so often that even your Christian friends question your sanity. Add it all together and more and you will not accumulate enough “points” to win a consolation prize according to God’s standards.
You just can’t impress God in the flesh and all your efforts to do so fall flat. In fact, whatever you do in your own strength is an offense to God and waste of effort to you. You can only please God through Jesus Christ.
First, it is necessary that His blood cover your sins. Then, you must have His righteousness imparted to you by grace through faith. Then, if your life is to count, if anything you do is to matter, it must be accomplished in and through His Spirit at work in you.
Give your flesh a vote of no-confidence and let Jesus Christ on the throne of your life once and for all. All else is loss.
Christ Jesus, My Lord
“… I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord …” - Philippians 3:8
Nothing is of greater value than knowing Jesus. He is the very essence of all that is good and excellent. He is life and love and He is the center of all things. He is Christ Jesus, my Lord.
He is Christ, born at the right moment in the right place, He is God’s agent of redemption. He is Messiah, which is what the word, ‘Christ’ means. He comes as the fulfillment of an ancient promise by a God who never forgets.
He is Jesus. Everything about Him, His name, His character, His life, His death, and His resurrection as well as His words and deeds speak boldly the meaning of that name: God Saves.
He is mine – MY Lord. In a very personal and intimate way, He is all that He is to me and is the object of my love, devotion, and faith. He is mine and I am His.
He is Lord and that means He is Master and He is God. The extent to which I allow Him to rule my heart and life is the extent to which I find real success in the Christian life. Because He is Lord and MY LORD. His status does not require ratification from me, but my relationship with Him demands that I acknowledge Him for who He is.
Lord Jesus, You are my all in all. Nothing compares with You. You are my Savior and only in You do I have hope. You are the Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy. You are the Lord and You are my Lord. Rule my heart today. Dismiss all the competition for my loyalty and devotion. Renew my mind with such a profound vision of You, that everything else that vies for my attention will show itself as rubbish. Nothing I have ever accomplished or valued is of any worth except that which I have found in You. Be glorified in my heart today. Amen.
The Cross, the Loss, the Gain
(Philippians 3:8-9) Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
“All the vain things that charmed me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.” goes a verse from the great hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
The cross changes our perspective on everything. The knowledge of Jesus Christ enlightens all other knowledge. The tables are all turned. Truth emerges from the obscurity of our prejudicial thinking. All that we have cherished and pursued is seen in the light of His excellency and we count all earthly laurels as loss.
We stand at some distance from the cross on Palm Sunday and even on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Separated by time and geography, we might think ourselves unscathed by the reality of its severity. But the regal reality of the cross cannot be negated. It surpasses all things.
All of our boasting comes to nothing. Our pride melts. Our arrogance wilts away. Our righteousness is of no value. All that matters is to be found in Him, fully identified with His death and resurrection, completely overwhelmed by His sacrifice, His righteousness imputed to us vicariously through faith.
Lift up the palm branches and wave them with all your strength. Welcome Him as He rides along the corridors of your life, the highways and byways of your realm. He comes to reign and He is all in all.
All that you possess in your own strength is worthless. All that He has and is, He offers you.
“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far to small.
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
The Power of His Resurrection
(Philippians 3:10-11)That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
“That I may know Him!” Those words ring out through the centuries and sink deeply into our hearts evoking the most poignant cry of a believer’s soul; “I want to know You, Lord.”
More and more and more, I want to know Him. Anything less is nothingness. Anything more is unnecessary.
I want to know the power of His resurrection, even if that power is known only in the fellowship of His sufferings.
If He were in the grave, we could not know Him. If He had merely passed away and stayed away, there would be no basis for hope. But alas, He is risen and we may experience His victory.
I want to experience the fullness of His presence in my life, by any means.
I want to be made conformable to His death because there are those lingering remnants of my sin in me that must go if I am to be fully alive. Death must do its work in me that I might also rise from the ashes of despair.
I want to conform to His death because there is nothing of that old life worthy to bring over into the new. By death I am made free without actually dying. I can stand with Him as He stood with me and be liberated from all that would have destroyed me.
Because He lives, everything is different. Because He has been raised from death, I can live forever. Because He is alive, I can know Him and experience all that resurrection means in my own life
And so, we exclaim with joy and anticipation, with assurance and conviction this glorious day:
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Philippians, meditations from “The Confidence Factor.”
Scriptures: New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.