SERVE THE LORD IN HOLINESS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

Luke 1:74-75 – Grant us to serve You without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days.

Abraham was committed to serve the Lord all his days in holiness and righteousness. God honored Abraham because He believed God. Abraham believed God for the future because he saw by faith what God had promised. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3). Abraham is known as “the father of the faithful.” He is the example of a faith-filled life. He did not experience everything God had promised him, but he saw it by faith, knowing God was faithful to all His promises.

Abraham served God without fear. It was faith that allowed him to serve God, trusting Him throughout his entire life. There were moments when Abraham wavered, but he did not camp in fear, but overcame through faith. He received God’s corrections and changed his way of thinking when reminded of God’s eternal promises.

Abraham was a man that served God in holiness. When we look at Abraham’s life, we could view some decisions he made as not being holy. God sees things differently because He sees the heart of an individual. The holiness of God is closely connected to the life of faith. The life of faith is lived out in the weakness of our flesh. Faith is judged ultimately by how we respond to holiness. When we do not live a “separated life” to God’s purpose, we are not walking by faith. Faith takes us beyond our rational thinking. Faith causes us to make decisions based on future expectations. Holiness is the present evidence of our faith in operation.

The result of faith and holiness is “righteousness.” Holiness is our actions of faith; righteousness is our state of being. We can be holy and live righteously all our days because Messiah has appeared and overcome the world on our behalf. Zacharias anticipated God’s salvation in his prophetic word. Up to this time, Israel was under the hand of its enemies. Through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Israel could now fulfill God’s plan, living the way the Lord had purposed.

Let us be renewed in faith, holiness, and righteousness during this Christmas season as we remember all that the Lord has done through Christ. The babe of Bethlehem is now the reigning King of the nations. Yield to Him in your life and give Him the control He rightly deserves. Receive the power of the Holy Spirit daily and overcome the enemy of your flesh, the enemy of your soul who is the devil, and the enemy who empowers this world’s systems. We are more than conquers through Jesus Christ the Lord!

Father, I thank You for the overcoming life I have in Christ Jesus. Let faith, holiness, and righteousness fill me. As I remember the babe of Bethlehem, I bow to the risen Christ who is seated far above all His enemies. I look forward to Your glorious appearing when all those who have trusted Christ will be together to celebrate Your awesome salvation.

THE GOD OF MERCY WHO REMEMBERS HIS HOLY COVENANT

Luke 1:72 – To show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we be rescued from the hand of our enemies.

Today, we continue looking at the prophecy of Zacharias. God is the God of “mercy” and the God who makes a “covenant” with His people. He never fails in mercy and He never breaks His covenant. What He promised Abraham hundreds of years before, now is coming to pass. Zacharias was His instrument to declare the time had come. Zacharias’ son, John was God’s chosen servant to introduce the One who would establish mercy and a New Covenant sealed in Christ’s blood.

Beloved, God never forgets what He promises. Zacharias spoke of God “showing mercy toward our fathers.” Although the fathers of Israel failed again and again, the holy one of Israel did not. So Zacharias looked back saying “our fathers.” This new thing God was about to accomplish was not only for the present generation and those to come, but also for those who had gone before. The record is clear concerning this. “The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they appeared to many” (Matthew 27:52-53). Again we note what Paul wrote, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:8). Paul referred to the fact that Christ first descended into what the Jews called “paradise,” where the righteous dead were waiting His appearing and the hope of resurrection. He led them to heaven with Him. Some gave testimony before ascending to the Throne of God.

God’s mercy, which has been given to us through the New Covenant in the blood of Christ, is the means by which we are rescued from our enemies. These include the spiritual enemies of Satan’s kingdom and the enemies of the gospel in human form, who have rejected God’s means of salvation and persecute God’s redeemed people. Many times, we are privileged to see victories in the now through salvations, through deliverance from evil spirits, through healing of sick bodies, and the overcoming of circumstances. There are yet greater victories to be experienced when Christ returns with His saints and those who remain are caught up with Him in the air forever to be with the Lord. Together with Christ, judgment will be poured out on all those who have rejected His offer of salvation and mercy.

Now is the acceptable time to receive salvation and mercy. God is pouring out His Spirit around the world. The individuals who will trust Christ and receive God’s gift of salvation will also receive God’s mercy, both now and in the future. This includes the nations. The nation of Israel rejected the mercy of God provided through Christ and experienced God’s judgment at the end of the first century. Today, God’s mercy is being offered to Jew and Gentile, and many are receiving the Gospel. We trust for many more to receive God’s mercy and grace in our generation. We look forward to the day of the Lord’s return when those who have trusted Christ will experience the fullness of God’s blessings in His Son.

Father, as I celebrate the birth of Christ with family and friends, I give You praise for Your great mercy and faithful covenant. I pray for my family and friends, who yet need to know You by receiving Your offer of salvation. I pray that this season will provide opportunity for them to consider Your offer of mercy and grace.

ZACHARIAS’ PROPHECY

Luke 1:67 – Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied.

Zacharias, the father of John, prophesied at the birth of his son. Later John, who introduced the ministry of Jesus to Israel, became known as “John the Baptist.” In the very beginning of the Gospels, we observe how Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth, John’s mother, was also filled with the Spirit. Even John, in his mother’s womb, was filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus. There was a lot of Holy Spirit activity around the birth of Christ. I believe the Father was anticipating the day when He would pour out His Spirit upon all those who believed.

The Spirit of God caused Zacharias to prophesy a powerful word in preparation for Messiah’s appearing. Luke 1:68 – 79 records Zacharias’ prophetic word to Israel. He began by declaring the Lord God of Israel as “Blessed.” He looked ahead to what the Lord would do and proclaimed in the present tense, “He has visited and accomplished redemption for His people.” He went on to speak of God’s horn of salvation in the house of David. Because the horn is used by animals as a weapon, it came to symbolize power and might. Zedekiah, a false prophet in Ahab’s day, made horns of iron to portray how Ahab was going to defeat the Syrians (1 Kings 22:11). God lifts up the horn of the righteous but cuts off the horn of the wicked (Psalm 75:10). Probably as an extension of this meaning of the word, horns in the visions of Daniel and John symbolized kingdoms and individual kings. David spoke of God as the horn, or strength, of his salvation (2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 18:2). (Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1986, Thomas Nelson Pub.).

Zacharias went on to mention that the prophets of old had spoken about God’s deliverance appearing to bring salvation from Israel’s enemies. The Apostle John wrote, “The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8-9). Luke records in the book of Acts, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

Praise God for His horn of salvation, who by His might alone overcame the works of the enemy, putting the devil to an open shame. As we celebrate the birth of Christ, declare with Zacharias, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and raised up a horn of salvation for us” (Luke 1:68-69).

Father, I bless and thank You for Jesus, the Lord. Each day, fill me with Your Holy Spirit that I too might declare Your wonderful salvation and prophesy of the good things to come in Christ the Lord.

THE MAGNIFICAT

Luke 1:45 – Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to her by the Lord.

One of the great declarations ever and one of the clearest prophetic words given came through the mother of our Lord. It is called the “Magnificat.” As you read Mary’s glorious pronouncement let the Holy Spirit minister to you from every word she spoke.

Mary said, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever” (Luke 1:46-55).

As we walk through this Christmas season remembering the birth of our Savior, exalt the Lord with your soul, and rejoice in your spirit in God your Savior just as Mary did. The Lord has regarded each one who has put their trust in Him. Trusting Him takes humility on our part, a humility that recognizes that He chose us to be His servant.

Mary prophesies that God’s mercy will be upon each succeeding generation toward those who fear Him. She declares what the Lord has accomplished in this great act. He scattered those who were proud, He has brought down rulers from their thrones, He exalted the humble, and He filled the hungry with good things, and gave help to Israel, remembering His mercy.

Mary had the right focus. She was pregnant with the Child. She did not focus on her pregnancy, but rather, she looked ahead by faith to the purpose of God. As we celebrate Christ’s birth, let us remember His commands, primarily love one another as He loved us and to take the Gospel to the nations declaring the great things our God has done for us.

Father, I thank You for the Magnificat that came from Mary’s heart and mouth. Fill me with the Holy Spirit that I might magnify Your name and Your deeds before this generation. I thank You for Your mercy upon all those who fear Your name. Help me, Father, to point some toward You during this Christmas season that they too mighty glorify You.

COVERING A MULTITUDE OF SINS

James 5:19 – He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

I believe this to be one of the most profound Scriptures in the Bible. There is nothing more valuable than a soul. We know this because God gave His absolute best to redeem the souls of men. Once we have received redemption, the Lord makes us part of the solution to sin by enabling us to help other sinners become aware of God’s wonderful love. When one embraces the truth of God’s word, they begin to have an eternal perspective.

According to our verse, straying from the truth happens within the body of Christ. Persecution can tempt a large number of people to stray. There is always the enticement of the flesh. The influence of others can draw us away from our first love. It is important that we cover one-another’s backs. This is one reason why it is so important to be part of a small group. In the small group setting, we can share our challenges, temptations, and even our faults through confession.

James encourages those reading his letter that whoever turns a sinner from the “error” of his way saves a soul from death and will cover a “multitude of sins.” Let us never forget, Jesus came to save sinners. He did the work of redemption, but has chosen us to share His redemptive grace. I love the old hymn titled “I Love to Tell the Story.” Christmas time is such a great occasion to share with others the story of Jesus’ love. It is important for us to be reminded how many around us are perishing. As a believer, the power of God is in us to be used to turn the lost around. We have gotten away from that kind of thinking and speaking because of our sophisticated world. The Gospel is that simple: Christ came to save sinners.

The sin nature is singular, but it is multiplied in the sinful practices it produces. When the blood of Christ is applied, it becomes like a flood, washing away everything in its path. Thank God for His cleansing power given through the blood of Christ! James chose to end his letter to the churches with this thought of turning a sinner from the error of his way. It is a good thought for us to think about as we wind down the year and prepare for the next. As we remember the gift of God, let us be mindful to share His gift with others.

Father, I thank You for saving my soul. I thank You for making me whole and giving me Your salvation so rich and free. Fill me with the Holy Spirit to share with others Your great love that turns sinners from the error of their ways.

HEALING AND FORGIVENESS THROUGH CHURCH ELDERS

James 5:14-15 – Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.

The Holy Spirit has anointed elders for the body of Christ. True elders carry many responsibilities regarding the care of God’s people. The early church ordained a number of men in each city who gave shepherding oversight to the Lord’s flock. James writes, the sick one “must call for the elders.” This calling for the elders does not seem to be optional. By the same token, the elders have a responsibility to pray over the individual. This seems to have been an ordinance in the New Testament church. The Holy Spirit has been restoring the healing ministry to the church for some time. Many local churches make it a practice to pray for the sick. In those churches where eldership is practiced, the elders lay hands on the sick and anoint with oil.

The anointing with oil is a very old custom which was practiced and adapted in the New Testament churches as they developed in the first century. Oil is seen throughout the Scriptures as a representation of the Holy Spirit. The elders are to pray the “prayer of faith.” Only prayer offered in faith has authority to bring results. To pray in faith means praying according to the instruction of Scripture. Note the strong assurance that their prayer “will restore the one who is sick.” James goes on to say, “the Lord will raise him up.” There is not only the promise of restoration, but forgiveness as well.

Based on James’ instruction and the promise given, we should confess our sins to one another. Sin should be minimal in the life of any believer. The practice of sin is a sure sign that one has not been born again. Open confession of sin provides a twofold benefit. First, there is to be accountability within the community of the believers. Second, it gives a chance of conviction in the hearts of others. Both of these benefits provide an atmosphere for healing, physically and spiritually.

Whether one is an elder in the Lord’s church or an individual seeking simply to obey and serve their Lord, “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16b). As God’s people, let us pursue righteousness, confess sin, and be faithful in prayer.

Father, I thank You for Your provisions outlined in the Book of James. Fill me with the Holy Spirit that I might walk in righteousness fulfilling Your will. If there is any sin in my life, cause me to become aware and willing to confess openly. Renew me in the ministry of prayer along with Your people who are called to intercede on behalf of the lost and the hurting.