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God of the Unexpected

The birth of Jesus.
Lesson 41 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”

– Luke 1:30–31

And she gave birth to her first–born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

– Luke 2:7

After thousands of years of watching and waiting, it finally happened. One night in the city of Nazareth, a young woman named Mary had an unexpected visitor. An angel from God told her she would bear a son, and that she was to name Him Jesus, which means, “The Lord is our deliverance.”

…But Bethlehem was very crowded and there was no bed for Mary. So they found shelter in a stable. And so it came to pass that the Promised Deliverer, the Son of God, came into the world as an infant born in the most humble of settings.

– The HOPE, Chapter 8

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

God often does things very differently than we would do them. In fact, He often does what we would not expect. In Isaiah 55:8 it is written, “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.” The truth of this verse is incredibly illustrated in the coming of God’s promised Deliverer. Consider two things about His coming.

First, rather than expecting man to make a way to God, He came to man! This simple yet profound truth separates the essential message of the Bible from every other religious system in the world. Other religions teach what man must do to make a way to God. However, such teaching: a) fails to recognize the vastness of the chasm between God and man created by sin, b) inflates man’s potential to close that chasm and c) diminishes the holiness of God by implying that such a thing is even possible. The Bible teaches there is nothing man can do to make a way to God, but because God so loved man He came to him instead!

Second, consider how God came to man. He came in a way that is so intimate and humble it is almost unthinkable. He came as an infant born to a young virgin in the most mundane of settings: a common stable. This is not a scenario that the mind of man would invent. It is God’s way.

Many religions view the physical world as intrinsically evil. For these religions, it would be an abomination to believe that a Holy Creator God would put on the flesh of a man and subject Himself to a sin filled, fallen creation.1 (We’ll consider this matter further in our next lesson.)

Even for those who can embrace the amazing method of God’s arrival, there is still something very odd about the manner in which He came. He came quietly, in obscurity. When a political candidate decides to run for election, he (or she) often hires a public relations firm to “represent” him. The goal is to create momentum for the campaign by creating as much visibility and public interest as possible. The same is true of an entertainer preparing to go on tour, or for a movie that is about to go into distribution. The press releases and the hype begin flying.

God’s promised Deliverer arrived with no fanfare or publicity. In an earthly sense, the audience for this event was small – just some shepherds and few barnyard animals. This is the event by which western civilization measures time (BC and AD),2 and yet it went unnoticed by most of the people of that time and place. In the spirit realm, however, a celestial audience of angels gave a heavenly ovation as the eternal God entered time and space in the flesh of a man! (Luke 2:13). Continue reading


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The Source of Unshakable Hope

Knowing Him through His Story.
Lesson 40 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

In the Garden of Eden, God promised to send a Deliverer. Through Hebrew prophets, God gave hundreds of promises concerning this Deliverer, who would one day conquer Satan, sin and death forever. In the temple, the smoke from sacrifices ascended day after day, year after year, generation after generation, giving the Hebrew people a constant reminder of humankind’s need for the Deliverer. But when would He come? How would He come? By now, some must have wondered if He would come at all.

– The HOPE, Chapter 7

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

Today’s lesson marks the midway point in the story of The HOPE. Thus far we have considered many Biblical truths and events. Just as God intended, this has set the stage for what is to come. Looking back we have dealt with:

  • Why the Bible can be trusted as God’s revelation to man (Lessons 3 and 4)
  • What the Bible says about God – Who He is and what He is like (Lesson 6)
  • What the Bible says about man – created in image of God but separated from God by sin (Lessons 9 and 10)
  • God’s purpose for man – to love God and to be loved by God (Lesson 13)
  • The nature of sin and its effect upon man and his relationship to God (Lessons 18 and 19)
  • What the Bible says about Satan and the war he wages against God and man (Lesson 14)
  • God’s promise to send a Deliverer Who will conquer Satan, sin, and death forever (Lesson 20)
  • How the nations of our world came to be (Lesson 25)
  • How God called out a man, Abraham, through whom He promised to bless all nations (Lesson 26)
  • How God’s promise was kept alive through Abraham’s descendants (Lesson 31)
  • How from Abraham’s descendants God formed the Hebrew people, through whom He would send the Deliverer and fulfill His promise to bless all nations (Lesson 32)

All of these events and truths are recorded in the first five books of the Bible. These five books (known by the Hebrew people as the Torah) were carefully compiled and painstakingly preserved prior to the time period covered in our current lesson (approximately 400 B.C. to 1 A.D.). See Lesson 3 to review Hebrew methods of guarding the accuracy of copies of the Bible. Continue reading


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From Blessing to Bondage

Where are you in the cycle?
Lesson 39 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

For over a thousand years, the Hebrew people attempted to live as God had commanded them. But many times they drifted away from God, sometimes even following false gods. When they did not turn back to God, He would discipline them, often by sending a foreign nation to invade their land and rule over them. The Hebrew people would then acknowledge their unfaithfulness, and call to God for deliverance. God would then raise up a leader to free the people from their oppressors. And the people would renew their commitment to live according to the ways of God. From blessing to bondage to blessing to bondage, over and over, again and again, the Hebrew people had been called to show the world what God was like. But because of the sin that infected the world, they could not walk in the ways of God without falling.

– The HOPE, Chapter 7

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

As we delve into this lesson, it is important to keep in mind that The HOPE is a summary overview of the Bible. An 80 minute video could not possibly cover the entire Bible. The HOPE excerpt above describes what happened over a period of more than a thousand years. During this time numerous kings and prophets made their mark on Hebrew history. Their stories are recorded in many books of the Bible. However, if you had to describe this period of time in one paragraph, the excerpt above would be an accurate one.

This excerpt describes a cycle that was repeated often in the history of the Hebrew people. One writer has described this cycle as follows:

from faith to obedience
from obedience to blessing
from blessing to abundance
from abundance to selfishness
from selfishness to judgment
from judgment to bondage
from bondage to brokenness
from brokenness to faith …1

After the Hebrew people saw the miracles of God in their Exodus from Egypt, they had the faith to obey God. They were quick to commit to whatever God asked of them. God promised to bless them when they obeyed, which He did. In fact they were blessed to abundance. And so the cycle began, and continued for centuries.

This cause and effect progression is not only descriptive of the Hebrew people; it can apply to any nation or individual in relationship with God. Notice that there is a differentiation between blessing and abundance. Abundance usually means having more than we need. From God’s perspective, having more than we need brings the responsibility to use our surplus to glorify God by blessing others. To do anything less is selfishness. In the case of the Hebrew people, judgment followed selfishness. There is a verse in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:6) which tells us that God disciplines those whom He loves. God’s judgment of the Hebrew people was motivated by His love for them. His judgment often resulted in bondage to another nation, which brought them to a place of brokenness and an awareness of their need for God! Continue reading


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The Law – God’s Mirror

A mirror can reveal a dirty face, but can’t clean the face.
Lesson 38 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

– Romans 3:20

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

In the last two lessons we considered the Law that God gave to the Hebrew people. God promised that if the Hebrew people obeyed the Law they would be blessed, but if they disobeyed the Law they would be punished. We also saw that God, knowing the Hebrew people would not be able to fully and consistently keep the Law, provided a way to cover their sin through the offering of sacrifices.

But there is yet another important aspect of the Law we must consider. Many people have the idea that the Law was given as a means for man to be right with God. But the Bible is clear (Romans 3:20) that no person can gain right standing (be justified) with God by keeping the Law. Think about it. If we could keep the Law perfectly (although we can’t), we would still be infected with the sin which was passed down to every person through Adam (see Lesson 18). Sin separates man from God. Even if you had never sinned, the sin in you would still separate you from God.

As we study the Bible, we learn that the Law is like a mirror – for both God and man. In the Law we see a true reflection of God’s character. That reflection reveals that God is holy and righteous. But in the Law, we also see a true image of ourselves. Our inability to keep the Law reveals our inadequacy, for the Law clearly reveals that we do not measure up to God’s standard of holiness and righteousness. Something in us prevents us from measuring up, and according to Romans 3:20, that something is sin.

A mirror can be helpful to show you if your face needs washing. But it cannot be used to wash your face. No one in their right mind would take a mirror and rub it on their face to remove dirt. That requires a cleansing agent such as soap. So it is with the Law. The Law reveals sin, but it is not a cleansing agent. It cannot cleanse us from sin, but it can show us our need to be cleansed. It can create a sense of need for the promised Deliverer, the only One who can take away sin! Continue reading