In the text before us, we have a story that might be familiar to most of you and so like many of these stories from Genesis we must be careful not to allow familiarity to dull our desire to hear God and his word or to assume that we have learned all we can know from a passage. We have before us a story that is amazing and mysterious. Jacob had prayed to God. He admitted that he is not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that God had shown him. He recognized that it was God who prospered him in Mesopotamia. He has cried out to God to deliver him from the hand of his brother. He has recalled the promises which God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and him. God had been faithful to Jacob and the promises for the past 20 years. And we will see that God is not done yet. Jacob is about to go through a very dramatic and life-changing evening. He starts the night in great fear and distress. He will wrestle and be crippled. He will cling and be changed. He will testify and in the end, will walk away limping. This night will forever leave an imprint on Jacob’s spiritual life.
We are back in Genesis chapter 26 as we look at the life of Isaac, a man who was blessed of the Lord. Last time we saw Isaac falter like his father Abraham because of his fear of the people. When he went to Gerar he was afraid that they would kill him which led him to lie about Rebekah. When he got caught, then he owned up to his sin and admitted that he lied to save his own skin. So Abimelech warned everyone in his kingdom to not lay a hand on Isaac or Rebekah. But this did not stop them from growing envious of Isaac as God blessed him with good crops, and growing flocks and herds and numerous servants. The envy became so great that Abimelech was forced to tell Isaac that he had to move. So Isaac left the city of Gerar and moved down into the valley. That brings us to where we will pick up the story in verse 18. If you have been keeping an eye on our culture you probably have seen a growing animosity toward God’s people. The culture that many of you grew up in has changed. I’m only 43, and the world that I grew up in has changed. Our culture was friendly to God’s people. It, in many ways, respected and acknowledged that Christians were blessed of God, but now, not so much. But is this surprising to us? Is this something new? No, as Ecclesiastes says there is nothing new under the sun. What we are experiencing today is what God’s people have always known. If we have been caught off guard it is only because we have been foolish to believe that the world was for us or at least okay with us. If we as the Church don’t understand what is happening in our country it is because we failed to learn the lessons of Scripture. We are afraid, of people, but not of God. We don’t know our Bible’s or worse, the church is full of worldlings, not Christians. So let’s take a look at this story of Isaac. First, we are reminded from his story that God’s people will struggle in this world as we see Isaac digging wells and having problems with the Philistines. Then we see that God is faithful to his promise as God appears to Isaac and reminds him of his promise. Then we’ll Isaac tries to live peaceably with his neighbors and finally will talk about God’s blessings and some of the family trials that come from following God.
Good News of Great Joy: Introduction
Part 1 of 6
“And in the same region, there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The announcement of the birth of Jesus to shepherds was an announcement of great joy. The long-awaited Savior had come. This was not a day of fear. This was not a day for grieving and sadness but a day of joy. The savior had finally come.
Was there a reason for fear? We’ll the immediate circumstance of these shepherds would say yes. The shepherds were out in the fields in the darkness of night and all of a sudden, a glowing man appears. That would be enough to strike fear in the strongest of hearts. But once you realize what is standing before, your mind must begin to race. When an angel appears shining with the glory of the Lord, who knows what to expect next. Are they coming in judgment? Are you dead and they are coming to escort you to your eternal destiny? Why is this happening? They probably had the same reaction as Mary when Gabriel visited her. “She was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” Mary and the shepherds did not know that the fullness of time had come. She was unaware that this time was sacred to the Lord her God. It was not a time to mourn or weep or to be afraid. It was a time to celebrate. It was a time of joy. The Prince of Peace had come. The embodiment of the joy of the Lord had stepped into the world.
These ideas of joy and peace were not new concepts at the time of the birth of Christ. The Old Testament is full of calls to joy. The Psalms for instance repeatedly call for rejoicing in and unto the Lord. Joy because of what God has done was not a new announcement from the angels, but a call to rekindle the joy that should have been in the hearts of God’s people from the beginning.
One of the more memorable calls to joy in the Old Testament is found in the book of Nehemiah. I realize that Nehemiah is not a typical advent text, which is unfortunate because there are many parallels. The joy that would enter the hearts of the shepherds on that night and the people in Nehemiah’s day was the same joy that has entered the hearts of God’s children since he told Adam and Eve that the offspring of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head. Let’s read Nehemiah 8:9-10 and let us consider four questions about joy.
Part 4 of 4. Why do we fear? It’s not because he hasn’t given you signs. We have the greatest of all signs in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The promises that had been made have all been confirmed in the historical event of Jesus death and resurrection. Our fear is not because God has failed to do everything that would assuage our fears. Our fear comes because of our lack of faith. As Jesus said to his disciples, O ye of little faith. When we take our faith off of Jesus and put it on ourselves or others or circumstances then we will fear. But if we place our faith fully on God, we will have no fear. If we leave the will of God and turn to sin we will have fear. But if we walk uprightly and confess our sin, we have no fear.
Part 1 of 4. . Today, we return to a common theme among the heroes of the faith: fear. Fear is something that almost all people struggle with. Sometimes fear is rational but oftentimes it is not. Why do we fear and why is it that when God speaks in the Old Testament or Jesus in the New, many times the first phrase is, “fear not,”? Let’s look at Abram here and see if we can’t find answers to those questions and maybe we’ll find a cure for our fear.
All that wicked men can do against the people of God will be but as throwing stones against the wind. “If God is with us, who can be against us?” Methinks these are words of great resolution; as if he should say, “We have many enemies, and powerful enemies, and daring enemies, and malicious enemies, and designing enemies, and enraged enemies—yet let the proudest of them show their faces, and lift up their banners, I fear them not, I regard them not: Who can?” who dare be against us?Thomas Brooks