Here is today’s Advent Calendar (click on the image for more information):
December 9th | A New Identity
Bible Background: Israel (Jacob) was Abraham’s grandson and the father of twelve sons, the fathers of the tribes of Israel. From Israel would come a tiny nation set apart to receive God’s laws, words, and ultimately, the Redeemer for the whole world. Today we call Israel’s descendants “Jews” though they aren’t all from the tribe of Judah (this is ethnic Jewry, which is separate from religious Jewry: not all ethnic Jews are Jewish by religion. This is why it is possible for an ethnic Jew to become a Christian and still be Jewish in culture and ethnicity; Messianic Jews are Christian Jews who see Christianity as the fulfillment of Judaism). Gentiles are non-Jews; people who don’t come from the man Israel; the Bible typically refers to Gentiles as “the nations”. The Church is the group of people (Jews and Gentiles) who believe in Jesus as the Redeemer; we are all united by a common faith in Christ.
Bible Study Question: Compare Genesis 32:29-30 (see first link under devotional title) with Judges 13: could Jacob’s “man” be the Angel of the Lord? Compare Judges 13:18 to Isaiah 9:6; what other name is Wonderful?
Today’s Main Idea: Jacob means “supplanter or deceiver”. When the mysterious “man” asked him what his name was, it forced him to consider its meaning: Jacob realized that all his life he had been deceiving others! When Jacob gave his name, it was an admission of guilt. (Meyer, Joyce. Enjoying Everyday Life. [TV Broadcast.] January 9, 2012) When we admit what we have done, who we have become, and repent, Jesus gives us a new name and a new identity. We get to take part in His blessing.
God promised in the Old Testament that He would bring many nations to Himself to share in this blessing (given first to Abraham, then Isaac, and to Jacob). In Romans chapter 11, the Apostle Paul explains using a tree analogy: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are like the roots of a tree and the Jews are the branches. The Jews that reject salvation from Abraham’s descendant (Jesus the Messiah or Christ) are cut off the tree; the Gentiles that accept salvation from Abraham’s descendant are grafted in. In the end, Abraham’s tree has branches of Jews and Gentiles that all believe in Jesus. The blessings that were given to the roots of the tree–the Patriarchs–are ours through faith in Christ. Remember that God promised Abraham that through him–through his descendant (Jesus) represented by Isaac on the altar at Mount Moriah–all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
This identity crisis caused problems in Jesus’ day: many of the Jews thought their ethnicity alone was sufficient to get them into heaven, or that their strict adherence to religious law and tradition would guarantee favor with God. However, God has always been the same; He is only ever pleased with faith. External things like observances and ethnicity make no difference: God looks at the heart. He wants us to be a people who will struggle with Him to find out what we are really like, repent, receive a new identity from Him, and walk away–humbled by the experience, aware of our shortcomings–with a blessing we can’t contain! That’s how He gets the glory so that others will see what He is like and come to Him as we have.
Application: At Christmas, we wrestle with schedules, relatives, turkeys, children, finances, wrapping paper…only to find that we are really a little too wrapped up in ourselves! Who we really need to wrestle with is…God; He is the One who helps us to realize where we are truly at. Jacob was alone when he encountered God; perhaps we need to step away from Christmas busyness and plans and consider where our identity lies. Do we rely on our ethnicity, gender, denomination, economic status, job description or nationality for our primary identity, or do we primarily identify with the Source of all blessing Himself, Jesus? Are we simply those who have wrestled with God and man (ourselves) and won? There is something humbling about admitting who we would be without Jesus; we need to remember that God doesn’t call people who have it all together (including their theology), or who think they are OK living life without His direct involvement. God longs for people who, in our weakness and failure, will grab hold of Him by faith and not let Him go until He gives us the blessing we so desperately need. At Christmas, God made this task much easier for us: the manger and the cross both show us the depths God will sink to and the length He will go to secure both our blessing and our identity in Him. All we need to do is receive them by faith in Jesus.
Prayer: Father God, thank You for making Your Covenant available to me regardless of whether I am a Jew or Gentile. Help me to wrestle with You in the right way so I can find out whom You made me to be. I want to receive Your blessings for me and show others Your power in me. In Jesus’ Name; Amen.”
Family Activity: Door-Tag. Help your children to find out what their name means and see if you can find a Bible verse of promise, encouragement, or blessing to go with it (if you can’t, pick one that tells them who they are in Jesus: do a Bible search for the phrase “in Christ” or “in Him” and find a verse that communicates your wishes for them). Cut out a 4” x 11” rectangle from a piece of foam sheet. Cut a 3” diameter circle out of it, centered 2” below the top. Write your name below the hole, followed by its meaning and your Bible Verse. Every time they enter their room they can remember that it is God who gives us our identity and a blessing!
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