Immanuel

Immanuel

The word Immanuel is one that is likely familiar. There are numerous Christmas songs that use the word. But what does the term really mean, and why is it significant for us?

The term means, “God with us,” according to Scripture. Matthew 1:23 quotes from an even older prophecy in the book of Isaiah: “‘Behold, the virgin shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” That prophecy in Isaiah was given at a particularly trying time in Israel’s history, when Judah was threatened with an attack from both Syria and the Northern Kingdom. The king of Judah, Ahaz, was an evil king who sought to take matters into his own hands, but Isaiah went to him with a word from God. He was exhorted to ask for a sign. Even though Ahaz refused to ask for a sign saying in Isaiah 7:12, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test,” God still gives a sign. Matthew is quoting from Isaiah 7:14 and this sign, this prophecy given by God. There would be one who would be God with us.

Have you ever considered the significance of God being with His people? In the third chapter of the Bible, we see the fall of man. Man had had communion and fellowship with God Himself, but sin has separated and placed man under God’s just condemnation. But even in that very chapter, God promises one who would come to deliver His people. And as His people wander in the wilderness in the pages of the Old Testament, God dwells with them in the tabernacle. Later, He will dwell with His people in the temple. But the ultimate fulfillment of “God with us,” is in Jesus Christ. John 1:14 tells us “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God has sent His very own Son to dwell among His people. Even now, the Spirit of God dwells in the hearts of believers, and all who trust in Jesus Christ have the hope of God being with them for eternity.

For some, the Christmas season is one of happiness. For others, it is one marked by grief. Perhaps you yourself are finding it hard to get through this season. But the hope that we have before us in our passage is that no matter what trials this life brings and what you may be facing right now, there is a guaranteed eternity of everlasting joy for the believer in Jesus Christ. There is coming a day when there will be no more sorrow and no more sin. There will be unbroken communion and fellowship with God. Whether you are joyful, sorrowing, or some of both, this is your great and eternal hope.

If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, won’t you see this hope and flee to Him? He is the One who was born of a virgin, lived without sin, died on behalf of His people and offers you His very own righteousness as your robe. He offers you Himself.

This Lord’s Day evening, December 5, we will consider these truths as we gather for worship at The Commons at St. Andrews Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. For directions, click here or contact us for more information. You can also join us on FacebookLive@RiverCityARP or on YouTube.

Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Light displays and Christmas trees in Hobby Lobby no longer indicate Christmas is at hand.  The only reliable sign that Christmas is near is a spike in the catalog-to-bill ratio in my mailbox.   By mid-November catalogs from knife-makers, clothiers, garden suppliers, toy companies, charities providing livestock in the third world, leather-crafters, Amish tradesmen, and purveyors of fine novelties are all vying for a place on my wish list.

As a boy, only one catalog ever came in the mail. And it was the only one that mattered. Larger than a phone book, the Sears and Roebuck Catalog opened up whole new worlds of Christmas possibility and gave substance to my letters to Santa. My parents were well aware of the power of the Sears and Roebuck Catalog and were careful to restrict our access to it.

While aware of its dangers, my parents also understood the catalog’s power to guide expectations.   They recognized that, as children, our joy came more from exceeded expectations than receiving a useful gift.  Before the catalog arrived, they would talk up the ideas of what they planned to give.   Then when it arrived, they used the catalog to reinforce their ideas either by confirmation or contrast.  

To our delight, Christmas always brought exactly what we hoped for.  No matter what was in our stocking or under the tree it was exactly what we wanted.   Our parents knew what was best for us, but wanted us to rejoice in receiving it.   Our heavenly Father is like this.   He wants us to rejoice in receiving His gifts.  The history of redemption is the epic story of God giving His greatest gift to beloved children, but not before teaching us to expect and long for what He desires to give.   From Genesis to Revelation, He trains our expectations and creates desire for the Savior He offers.

In the Old Testament, God does this through various covenants.   His covenants with Adam, Noah, Moses, and David, differ in emphasis and immediate application, but all point to the same thing – salvation and eternal life through the person and work of Jesus Christ.   Each of these Old Testament covenants is simply a renewal and expression of the one Covenant of Grace.  In each of these covenants, God meets some pressing need and blesses his people.  But more importantly He offers a reminder not to hope in Adam, or Noah, or Moses or David, but in the Coming One, the Messiah.

In the same way, the New Testament examines the person and work of Christ by looking back at how he fulfilled the Old Testament covenants.   We see that Jesus is exactly the Savior God promised.  And in understanding that ‘the Coming One’ is the One who came, we learn to desire his coming again.  Men are always tempted to look for a savior who conforms to their own desires and expectations.   And so, through Old Testament covenants and New Testament fulfillments, God teaches us who to expect and what to desire so we will rejoice in receiving Him.

What type of Savior are you looking for?   Someone to save you from your circumstances?  Or your feelings?  Or you past?  Or you fear of the future?   Or one who is much more – an everlasting and eternal Prophet, Priest, and King.   The author of Hebrews makes a remarkable statement in Hebrews 7:24-25.

[H]e holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

HEBREWS 7:24-25

Jesus lives forever.  Only he is able to save us ‘to the uttermost.’   Beyond what you imagine you want or know that you need.   God reveals the Savior He freely offers us through Old Testament promises and New Testament fulfillments.   Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine 2 Samuel 7:1-14 and consider Jesus as our Everlasting King.

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube

The First Gospel Promise

The First Gospel Promise

This Lord’s Day we begin our series on the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  The Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God became Man to live and die for His people.  In our series, we will look at specific passages in the Old Testament that point to Christ’s coming.  This Lord’s Day we will consider Genesis 3:1-15.  

The passage comes to us in the early pages of Scripture.   God has created man upright, and God has placed man into a perfect Garden with all of his needs met.  He is commanded not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the Garden, but there is much other fruit available to him.  Adam and Eve live in this perfect Garden, but the serpent tempts them to disobey God.  Specifically, he tempts them to seek to be like God.  And we know the rest of the story—Adam and Eve sinned and fell, and in Adam’s sin, we fell too.

Christmas is observed each year by people from many different countries.  The great hope of Christmas is summed up in Matthew 1:21—“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  That is great hope, as the fall of man means that Adam’s descendants fell into sin with him.  Paul makes this clear in Romans 5:12-21.  If we stand in Adam, we stand without hope. 

But Jesus has come to succeed where Adam failed.  Jesus is the Second Adam.  And as early as Genesis 3:15, that great hope is promised.  That verse reads, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is in the context of the curse placed upon the serpent.  There is one who will crush the head of the serpent.  That is the promise made here to Adam and to the people of God.  Jesus Christ is coming, and though He is the one who will have His heel stricken in His death, He is also the one who will triumph in His death and resurrection.  He will crush the head of the serpent.  We will consider this promise in more detail at worship this Lord’s Day at 5 PM at The Commons at St. Andrews Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  For directions, click here, or if you have any questions feel free to contact us.  You can also watch on FacebookLive@RiverCityARP or on YouTube. 

Photo by Fiona Smallwood on Unsplash.

Fingertips and Noses

Fingertips and Noses

Eyeglasses are gamechangers.   They are so common we cannot imagine growing older without them.   Demographers report that three fourths of all Americans wear corrective lenses.  Without them reading would be impossible for me.  And my driving would be more hazardous than it already is.   But for all their benefits, wearing glasses has challenges.

First, they are remarkably hard to find, especially when they are on my head.   And of all the things I drop, they seem more drawn to the effects of gravity.  No matter what bridge-rest I install, my glasses inevitably come to rest at the end of my nose, librarian style.  And, most notably, they are impossible to keep clean. 

My beloved wife plants glass cleaner and lens cloths in every nook and cranny of my life.   Yet my glasses always look like I’ve been cooking French fries then banging out erasers.   If you doubt the air is heavily polluted, you are in the one fourth of Americans that don’t wear glasses.   Of course, all glass is a dirt magnet.   Its transparency tells all, readily revealing every streak, speck, and smudge.

But if there are small children in your home the transparency of glass reveals something else – expectation.   While the phrase, “wait till your father gets home” can inspire fear, it more often inspires delight.   Any family with a glass door or large picture window will find it covered in smudges from fingertips and noses.   Children, expectantly waiting for the return of fathers and mothers, press against the glass with hands and faces.  Filling the space with the telltale signs of longing for the return of a loved one.

No doubt, I am not the first to notice this.   Or make the analogy, that our lives as believers should, in the same way, transparently offer telltale signs of the longing for the return of our Beloved One, the Lord Jesus.   Years ago, NewSong pictured this poignantly in their song, Fingertips and Noses.

Up in the hills somewhere in Kentucky
In a little old school way back in the nothing
Where special kids born with special needs
Are sent to learn life’s ABCs

Their teacher, Mrs. Jones, tells them all about Jesus
How in the twinkling of an eye He’s coming back to get us
About streets of gold and pearly gates
How they want to go, they just can’t wait
And she can’t keep them in their seats
They’re all at the windows straining to see

And it’s fingertips and noses pressed to the windowpanes
Longing eyes, expectant hearts for Him to come again
All they know is that they love Him so
And if He said He’d come, He’s coming
And they can’t keep their windows clean
For fingertips and noses

She tried to explain to the kids about His coming
She tried to calm them down, but they just wouldn’t listen
They just giggled and they clapped their hands
They’re so excited that He’s coming for them
And the first thing you know they’re out of their seats
Back at the windows straining to see

Where will Jesus find us when He comes again?
Will we be like little children waiting just for Him?
With our fingertips and noses pressed to the windowpanes
Longing eyes, expectant hearts for Him to come again.

Fingertips and Noses, NewSong

Where will Jesus find us when He comes again? With longing eyes, expectant hearts for Him to come again? The final instruction of the Bible to believers is to live expectantly, longing for Christ’s return. Our mantra is to be maranatha or ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ Is that your mantra? Can you say with the Spirit and the Bride, ‘Come!’ Or is your cry, “not yet!”

How eager are you for the return of Christ? How convinced are you that the day of His return will be the very best day, not a day of disaster? Will the climax of your life be the “blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us?” Join us this Lord’s Day, as we examine Revelation 22:6-21 and consider a how to live expectantly and cultivate a longing for the return of Christ, training our hearts to cry, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube

Always Reforming

Always Reforming

My wife loves making lists, because she loves checking things off her list. Striking through task after task brings a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Nothing beats the feeling of checking off that last item and heading for a well-earned rest. But there is always that one item – that stubborn one that is always there, yet never removed, never finished.

Some jobs simply never end. Some, such as road construction or cancer therapy, never end because the work progresses more slowly than the growing need. The pace of the work cannot keep up with the demand for it to be complete. But there are other jobs that never end because it is their nature to be undone, incomplete. Laundry work is the paradigm for this type of work.

Laundry is never done. You may wash the last load and fold the last dishrag and smugly congratulate yourself in your victory over dirty clothes, then in a flash your family appears bearing those loads they have been holding back for “such a time as this.” And, thus it starts all over again. Laundry is never done. By definition, as long as we live in this fallen world where we are no longer naked and not ashamed, laundry is ever-awaiting. In our household, “laundry work” is a ready metaphor for any job or experience in life that is always being done but never getting done.

The Reformers of the Sixteenth Century, famously included the reformation of the church in the category of ‘laundry work.’ The Reformation was not an event, but an iteration. It is in the very nature of the church to perpetually undergo reformation. Prior to the return of Christ and the final judgement, there is no golden age to which we can point and say, if only we could live in those times the church would be pure. From the beginning of God’s Covenant people, the church has been in need of reformation. Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda, ‘the Church reformed, [and] always reforming’ was the Reformer’s motto.

Always Reforming! The church is always in need of correction, sanctification, renewal, discipleship, gospel preaching, the faithful and diligent use of the ordinary means of grace. The marks of the church imply as much — faithful preaching of the Word, faithful administration of the Sacraments, and church discipline. The Reformation of the Church is not an event, it is ‘laundry work.’ That is, until the day when the church descends from heaven – holy, radiant, finally and fully prepared to be the bride and wife of the lamb. For now, the church must be ‘always reforming.’ But a day is coming when faith becomes sight and every promise, every ‘yes and amen’ in Christ, is fulfilled. Then the church will at last be all she has been created to be. All brokenness and blemish will be gone.

Her beauty, her perfect fellowship with her Beloved, and her indescribable life, so beautifully captured in Revelation 21:9-22:5, are the hope to which we press “with every grace endued.” Knowing that a day is coming when the laundry work of reformation will end, we press on with the work of always reforming. Scripture commands us, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Have you grown weary of a church that is always reforming? Or of the arduous work this reformation demands? Has the friction of always reforming caused you to grow weary of doing good? Have you chosen, either practically or actually, to excommunicate yourself, unwilling to press on toward the hope of a radiant, pure, and holy church? Have you become such a severe critic of the Lamb’s bride? A commenter rather than a communicant? Have you have lost sight that, even in her time of sanctification, she is glorious, radiant, and live-giving?

Throughout time the church has been an Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda. But a day is coming when the church reformed and always reforming will “com[e] down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel… And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

Until that day, may this vision of the end, teach us to love the church and live within it. Hymnwriter, Samuel Stone expressed this tension well in the final verses of his beloved hymn, The Church’s One Foundation.

‘Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation of peace forevermore;
till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we,
like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee.

THE CHURCH’S ONE FOUNDATION, SAMUEL J. STONE.

Join us this Reformation Lord’s Day, as we examine Revelation 21:9-22:5 and consider a day when the church will no longer be always reforming.  

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube