The Soaring Eagle

Only your body is limited. Your spirit can 'mount up on wings like eagles'


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Road to Bethlehem

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree
 that a census should be taken
of the entire Roman world”
(Luke 2:1)

Reflection:
Caesar Augustus reigned over the Roman empire from 30 BC to AD 14. He decided that a census should be taken throughout his empire. This was not a regular occurrence but the first of its kind – and taxation was probably the reason behind it. The consequence was that people travelled to their own town to register, and this involved Joseph going to Bethlehem, ‘because he was of the house and line of David.’

Joseph did not need to take Mary with him but he obviously decided or agreed to do so. We know that she was in the advanced stages of her pregnancy and he may not have wanted to leave her behind in view of the Lord’s commission to him.

These two men were both involved in Mary’s being in Bethlehem when Jesus was born there – just as the prophet had foretold.

  • 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 of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2)

Caesar, who would not have known of the prophecy or of Mary and Joseph, issued a decree that had to be obeyed. Joseph, as a husband, took the decision that Mary should accompany him. In this way the prophecy was fulfilled and God’s will achieved.

In just such seemingly unrelated and small details is the hand of God at times to be revealed. He is indeed able to direct the thoughts and decisions of people in order to achieve His will, and He is able to work in all things to the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)

Question:
Can I discern the Lord’s working in my life?

Response:
Trust God to guide and lead you in the way that you should go (Psalm 32:8)

Prayer:

Lord please have Your hand on my life so that whether I am aware of it or not I will live and act as You wish, Amen.

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Mary

“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth,
a town in Galilee,
to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph,
a descendant of David.
The virgin’s name was Mary”

(Luke 1:26-27)

Reflection:
After four hundred years of silence God spoke twice within the space of a few months. The first was to Zechariah and the second to Mary. In both cases the message was delivered not by a prophet but by the angel Gabriel – underlining its huge importance and implication. They both concerned the birth of a child – firstly John the Baptist and then Jesus.

The message to Mary contained three important elements.  Firstly ‘you are to give Him the name Jesus’ – which indicated that His mission would be to save.

Secondly, ‘He will be great’ – for He would also be called ‘the Son of the Most High.’ – This was an acknowledged messianic title and Mary would have understood it that way.

Thirdly, ‘He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.’ –  Here was a fulfillment of prophecy.

Gabriel painted for Mary a picture of a child who would be Saviour, Son of God and King – three stunning titles. Mary was both ‘greatly troubled’ and obviously mystified by the message that Gabriel delivered – and would have been overawed when He explained further,

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God … For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35-37)

Both from the message and the manner of His conception Mary would have known that this would be no normal child.

We can only imagine what it must have been like for her to come through such an experience, to face up to telling Joseph – her husband to be – and see his initial hurting reaction , and to inform her family as well. And then, when she had the time to let it sink in and  to reflect on it all, to come to terms with the growing realisation and understanding that for all eternity she would be the Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The challenge to us to not just to believe in this marvellous happening some two thousand years ago. It is also to realise that as Jesus was born through Mary into her world by the Holy Spirit, so He should be born through us into our own worlds by that same Holy Spirit. Our ministry is to allow Him to make Himself real through us.

Question:
Can I give the same answer that Mary gave?

Response:
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38)

Prayer:

Lord You have chosen to come and live within me. Please help me to believe and know that reality – and to allow You to shine through me into the world in which I live. Amen.

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Exodus 1 & 2

“This is how you are to eat it:
with your cloak tucked into your belt,
your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.
Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover”
( Exodus 12:11)

Reflection:
The Israelites obeyed the Lord’s command in Egypt. They painted their doorposts with the blood of lambs and that night ate their first Passover meal. The Lord’s angel went through Egypt that night and the first-born of the land, except for the Israelites, died. Pharaoh summoned Moses and told him to take the Israelites with their flocks and possessions and to leave Egypt – and the nation began to move out.

Some thirteen centuries later Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples and instituted what we celebrate as The Lord’s Supper. Like the Israelites He then began His own Exodus. That night after the struggle in Gethsemane He was arrested and the following day died upon the cross.

It is no coincidence that these two events are connected by the same festival. God deliberately linked them to each other to give us a fuller understanding of what He is about and the fact that this is all in terms of His original and only plan and purpose. He continues to work it out in ways that He decided before creation and which to Him are ‘very good.’

He saved His people from bondage in Egypt through the death of the first-born and the blood of the lambs. He saves us from bondage to sin through the death of His Son and His blood as the Lamb of God.

As we see for ourselves these great links between the early and later Scriptures we are reminded of God’s great love and His supreme majesty, power and authority.

Response:
How great is our God that He can and does orchestrate these major events and over such time spans.

Prayer:

Lord I stand in awe of such power and authority and the wonder of such a love. I bow down to You in humility and in thankfulness. Amen.

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Now and Then

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened
in order that you may know ..
the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
(Ephesians 1:18-19)

 

Reflection:
Paul’s prayer for us is not that we may know of certain things but that we may know them as true for ourselves. So He prayed that

  • We might know God better
  • We might know the Hope to which God has called us

Now he goes on to pray that we might know

  • The riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints
  • His incomparably great power for us who believe

His inheritance for us is that final inheritance of which the Holy Spirit is the guarantee (v14). Peter describes it as ‘imperishable, undefiled and unfading kept in heaven for you.’ (1 Peter 1:4) Paul also calls it both rich and glorious – finding words to describe that which is beyond our present capacity to see, to hear or to imagine.

As God children we are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:17) One day by His grace this inheritance will be ours and it will include everything that God has and has planned and prepared for his beloved children – us. Transformed into the likeness of the Lord Jesus we will be enabled to see and worship God as He really is, in all His glory, majesty, power and love  – and to live in His presence forever, freed from the imperfections, pain and burdens of this fallen life.

Only God’s power can fulfil the expectations which belongs to His call, and bring us safely to the riches of the glory of the final inheritance He will give us. So Paul writes of

  • His incomparably great power for us who believe
  • The working of His mighty strength

The resurrection and the ascension were a decisive demonstration of this divine power. There are two powers man cannot control and which hold him in bondage – death and evil. In Christ God has conquered both – and so is more than able to protect, rescue, liberate and transform us too.

Lord God,
enlighten the eyes of my heart
so that I may know
the riches of our glorious inheritance
in the saints
and Your incomparably great power
for us who believe.

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Because He did I will

“This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven,
will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
(Acts 1:11)

Reflection:
Today the Church celebrates the ascension of Jesus Christ. It completes the journey of salvation that began with the Incarnation – when God in Christ entered into the world in a completely new and significant way. Having fulfilled God’s mission for Him in His death and resurrection Jesus ascension back to heaven and to ‘the right hand of God’ secures and seals for us all that He has done. Augustine put it like this,

“For unless the Saviour had ascended into heaven
His Nativity would have come to nothing
… and His Passion would have borne no fruit for us,
and His most holy Resurrection would have been useless.”

Indeed, if Jesus had not risen from the dead what hope would there be for us? And, likewise, if Jesus had not ‘ascended into heaven’ how could we hope that we would do so one day? Rather we see in the ascension the wonderful fulfilment of God’s promise that,

“so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11)

 The fact that He is now seated at the right hand of God indicates that His work of atonement has been completed. Seated there He continues to intercede for us as well as to prepare a place for us. (John 14:2). With His ascension He also opened the way for the promised Holy Spirit to come in a very real and significant way – which event we celebrate shortly at Pentecost.  And when God decides that the time is right Jesus will return to finally establish the Kingdom of God and for the final judgment.

 If Scripture teaches us one thing it is this – God can be trusted. Again and again He told His people what He would do, and He did it. Many did not live to see the complete fulfilment of His promise but they put their faith in Him – and it was not disappointed.

God has prepared a future and a place for us and it is there that we will find the true completeness, peace and fulfilment that we desire. Indeed it will be far greater and deeper, more beautiful and lovely, and more varied and extensive than we could ever grasp or imagine from where we are today.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”   (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Response:
And so our marching song as we journey onwards is this

Christ has died,
Christ has risen,
Christ will come again.

Prayer:

Lord I believe and trust in You. Please deepen and strengthen this faith in me every day, for Your Name’s sake. Amen.

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Priorities

“When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes,
dividing them into four shares, one for each of them,
with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless,
woven in one piece from top to bottom.
“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another.
“Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said,
“They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
So this is what the soldiers did.”
(John 19:23-24)

Reflection:
Who would have thought that the blood-stained garments of a convicted criminal would have had any value to a Roman soldier. Yet they obviously did. When they came to the undergarment instead of cutting it up with a piece for each of them they drew lots to decide who would get it.

John is strangely specific in his description at this point – “This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.” Barclay tells us that “this is the precise description of the linen tunic which the High Priest wore.” So here is a quiet reference to the high priestly ministry of Jesus – the perfect High Priest through whom people could come into the presence of God themselves. John starts His Gospel with the Word made flesh and draws it to a close with the eternal High Priest ministering to both God and man and enabling them to come together.

However, whilst these tremendously important events were taking place above their heads the soldiers were concerned only with their plunder and their gambling. Although they were professional soldiers in a foreign land they still in a way represent to us the indifference that exists in the world today.  It bends its heads to the business of accumulation and is blind to the awesome expression of the love and grace of God which rises before us at this time.

This whole incident is made all the more pertinent by the value attached to it as a fulfilment of prophecy (Psalm 22:18). In all that was happening God’s hand can be discerned – even down to the disposal of the Saviour’s clothes.

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Taking His Yoke

“For if men do these things when the tree is green,
what will happen when it is dry?”
(Luke 23:31)

Reflection:
And so they placed the cross on Jesus shoulders and led Him staggering towards the place of execution. On the way they met Simon of Cyrene and, because the weight of the cross was almost too much for the Lord, they made him carry it for Him. Simon might not have been too happy at the time but afterwards may have counted it his greatest privilege.

A large number of people followed this grim and slow procession including ‘women who mourned and wailed for Him.’ These must have included those who had followed Him in His ministry and helped to support Him and His disciples. There would have been Mary His mother as well as Mary Magdalen and possibly the sisters Martha and Mary. With them could have been many of the women of the city as well.

At one point Jesus turned to them and gave a prophetic warning of the terrible times to come – times so bad that the women without children to suffer would be counted the more fortunate.

And then He gave a final warning. If men to these things even to Him whilst He is in their midst what shocking things may they do when He is gone. Indeed we can see it in ourselves. There are things we would never contemplate whilst in church on Sundays. However from Monday to Friday they may well become a part of our lives and living.

Lent gives us an opportunity to ask of ourselves – “Do I walk all day and every day with the Lord, or do I merely walk behind Him and watch?”

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(Picture: Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary, Raphael)