December 18, 2020

The Genealogy

Matthew 1:1-17

It had been 400 years since God had talked to His people.

He had spoken through Malachi, and then nothing but silence. God’s people kept their ears open, hoping to hear His voice, but God had zipped His lips and no more words came. Maybe He got tired of us breaking His rules, they thought. Maybe He doesn’t want to rescue us anymore. Doubts crept in, but the people would fight these thoughts by telling each other, “God made us big, tough, unbreakable promises! He won’t forget them!” During all God’s silence, the people clung to those promises from long ago because without them, what hope did they have? God couldn’t break His promises, could He? Does that sound like something God would do?

While God wasn’t speaking any words to His people, He hadn’t forgotten them or His promises. God always remembers. In the quiet, God was actually preparing for the first Christmas. Remember, God had picked Abraham a long, long time ago and told him, “Abraham, many years from now, I’m going to use your special family to bring My Rescuer into the world.” The chosen family continued through Abraham’s son, Isaac, and Isaac’s son, Jacob. The family tree grew to include names like David, Solomon, and Josiah. So during these years when God’s mouth was silent, His hands were at work carving this family tree. No prophets received messages from God, but mommies and daddies still had babies, and those babies grew up and got married and became mommies and daddies to more babies, and each branch of the family tree was getting closer to a man named Joseph and a woman named Mary. Each time a person in this special family tree was born, it was like God was shouting from the rooftops, “I haven’t forgotten My promises! I love you! Get ready! The Rescuer is coming!” The first Christmas was almost here.

Even now, we have some promises from God that He made long ago. When Jesus went up into Heaven after He rose from the dead, God said that one day He would send His Son back a second time. We’ve been waiting so many years for this to happen! Our hearts may want to think, Hmmm, did God forget? He promised Jesus would come again, but I sure don’t see Him! When worries creep in, we can peek over our shoulder back into the garden of Eden and remember God promised He would send someone to crush the serpent’s head. We can point to Abraham and remind ourselves that God promised His Son would come through his family tree. Lastly, we can celebrate Christmas, remembering that Jesus came. With His birth, Jesus answered, “Yes!” to the promise that God made to Abraham. With Jesus’s death, God said, “Yes!” and smashed Satan’s skull. Jesus is God’s “Yes!” to all His promises. So get ready, look carefully with your eyes, and listen closely with your ears, because Jesus is coming back!

Discussion Questions

Sometimes we can get confused about what things God has actually promised us. How can we know exactly the things that God has said He will do?

During the years that God’s people had to wait for Jesus to be born, God was doing important work to get ready for Him. If we are waiting a long time for Jesus to come again, what can we trust God is doing?

This Advent devotional resource was produced by The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, TX. The original resource can be found here.

December 17, 2020

The History

Nehemiah 8–10

For many years, God’s people had been living in a strange land.

Because they disobeyed God’s rules, God let the Babylonians capture them. Even in Babylon, God’s eyes watched His special people, and after a while, He let His people come back home. Everyone was happy to return, but something sad had happened while they were away—they forgot how to worship God. God didn’t want them stuck in forgetfulness, so He sent Ezra to help them remember.

Ezra blew the dust off the heavy book of God’s laws and shouted to the crowd of people, “Let’s remember how God has told us to live!” Ears leaned in as Ezra started reading. As the people listened, hearts sank at hearing how much they had disobeyed God. Smiles turned to frowns and tears began to drop. Ezra gently spoke, “God knows you haven’t been obeying. Giving you these rules again shows how much He loves you! Be happy!” The people dried their eyes and wiped their noses. God still loved them?!

A happy laugh sounded, followed quickly by more, and then clapping and hurrays! Yummy food was shared as they celebrated God’s great love. Their parties lasted many days until Ezra gathered them to say a few more things.

He said, “Out of all the earth, God picked Abraham and promised him a special forever home. Many years later, God invaded Egypt and rescued us from Pharaoh. Even after all this, we chose to disobey Him. Still, He loved us! For forty years, He cared for us in the wilderness and brought us to this amazing home, but again we ignored Him and were taken as prisoners to Babylon. Even there, God didn’t give up on us! He won’t stop loving us!” Hearts nearly burst with happiness as Ezra told story after story of how God chased after His rule-breaking people with His powerful love. Remembering all these things, the people wanted to promise God that they would follow His rules. In their hearts, they knew they would probably fail again. Yet they weren’t placing their big hopes in themselves but in their God and His forever love.

Do you ever fail to obey God? Do you look at His rules and think, Geez, I broke another one! What if we fail a hundred times? Or ten-thousand times? Will He still love us? Yes! During the time of Ezra, God’s people looked at His rules and remembered that He loved them, but now something better than God’s law has come. We look at Jesus, God’s Word to us, for with His life He told us how to worship God. Jesus is the perfect worshiper who died for our failures and rose so that He could make our worship perfect, too. When we break God’s rules and our hearts become sad, we can look at Jesus, trust in Him, and remember that God hasn’t given up on us. He loves us with an unstoppable love. That’s a reason to celebrate!

Discussion Questions

Our hearts often quickly forget all the ways that God wants us to worship Him. What are some ways that God helps us remember?

Is it good for us to feel sad or guilty about our sin?

This Advent devotional resource was produced by The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, TX. The original resource can be found here.

December 16, 2020

The Messenger

Jonah 1-4

God looked at Nineveh and sighed.

It was a bad place filled with bad people doing bad things. Though people there didn’t love God, He still loved them. God decided to send a messenger to Nineveh. God’s eyes peered into Israel and found His messenger, Jonah. God had given Jonah messages before, but this one surprised him. “Jonah, My heart is sad over Nineveh. Go there, tell them I love them and I want them to turn away from all the bad things.” Nineveh?! Jonah thought. He couldn’t believe his ears!Israel’s biggest enemy? It made Jonah’s heart angry that God wouldn’t just smash and destroy them, so instead of carrying God’s warning to them, Jonah got on a boat that was sailing far away. Maybe if I don’t deliver the message, the people won’t apologize, and then God will crush them! But poor Jonah was a fool. Whether he ran away to the ocean or the North Pole or the moon, God’s plan wouldn’t fail.

Waves pounded against the boat as the storm swirled around it. Screaming sailors scrambled around, dumping boxes overboard, trying to save themselves. Jonah knew the storm was for him. God wouldn’t let him run away. He told the sailors to throw him into the sea. They picked him up, prayed to God, and dumped Jonah overboard. Immediately, the wind stopped raging and the waves sat still. In the thick churning waters, Jonah gasped and cried out for God to rescue him. God heard him and pointed to a giant fish. “You, go get Jonah.” The fish obeyed its Master and swallowed Jonah whole. Gulp! For three days, Jonah waited in the belly of the fish until finally being coughed up onto a beach. Again, God whispered to Jonah, “Go to Nineveh.”

Jonah walked slowly down the streets of the city, shouting the words God had said. “God loves you! He wants you to turn away from all the bad things, or He will destroy this place! Tell Him you’re sorry!” All the people of Nineveh bowed their heads, fell to their knees, and cried out to God for forgiveness. God heard their apologies and smiled. He didn’t destroy them.

Jonah got the attention of an entire city. They turned to God, said they were sorry, and turned away from their bad things. What messenger would ever be able to get people from every city to turn to God? God had a very special messenger for this task —His very own Son, Jesus. Jesus wasn’t angry at God for trying to rescue His enemies. Jesus didn’t try to run away. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and came out to tell the people of Nineveh God’s message, Jesus went into a deeper and darker place called death for three days. When He came out, He gave God’s greatest message to the whole world.

“I died so you can live. Turn to God. Say you’re sorry. Be rescued!”

Discussion Questions

It was hard for Jonah to give God’s message to his enemies. Think about someone who you don’t get along with very well. Would it be hard for you to tell them that God loved them and wanted them to be rescued?

Why does the Bible say that we are God’s enemies? What did Jesus do for His enemies?

This Advent devotional resource was produced by The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, TX. The original resource can be found here.

December 15, 2020

The Protector

Daniel 6

Daniel was one of God’s people, but he was living in a strange place where hardly anyone knew God.

Daniel served King Darius and was one of his best workers. Though he was usually happy to serve the king, today was a sad day. A new law declared people could only pray to King Darius for the next month, and that wasn’t the worst part. If anyone prayed to another god, they’d become food for lions! We shouldn’t pray to anyone but God, thought Daniel. Will I obey God, even if it means I might die? Daniel slowly walked to his usual spot, bent his tired knees, bowed his head, and began to pray. Some of the king’s servants were waiting outside. They didn’t like Daniel very much and were looking for a reason to tattle on him. Skipping up the palace steps, they sang out, “King Darius! Daniel broke your law! Throw him to the lions!”

The king walked Daniel down to the lions’ den with slumped shoulders and said, “Daniel, I never wanted this for you. I hope your God will protect you.” The ferocious beasts growled as Daniel stepped inside. God, even if I die, I trust You. Daniel’s heart leapt wildly as the lions licked their lips, getting ready for their dinner. One lion stepped forward to attack. Daniel sucked in his breath and closed his eyes, waiting to feel the crunch of teeth. But it never came. Daniel opened his eyes and his jaw dropped. An angel of the Lord was stopping the lions! God! You’re protecting me! he thought. Daniel slowly sat down with his back against the cold, hard wall. All night long, he said thank you to God while watching the angel hold the lions’ mouths closed. Hours later, there was pounding on the stone door and King Darius cried out, “Daniel?! Did your God save you?” Daniel shouted back, “He did! The lions wanted to eat me, but an angel muzzled their man-eating mouths!” Daniel came out of the lions’ home not torn to shreds but in one perfect piece. The king and Daniel hugged and laughed. King Darius quickly passed a new law that said, “Worship the God of Daniel! He’s the true God!”

Imagine asking yourself, Do I disobey God and stay safe, or do I obey and get thrown to the lions? What do you think you would do? There was a night that Jesus had to make a decision like this. He was in a garden, praying to God. He bowed low to the ground with tears streaming down His face, thinking, Do I obey God? Except for Him, it wasn’t, Maybe I’ll die. It was certain. Not a quick death like being thrown to lions, but a slow, painful, and humiliating death on a cross. Jesus chose to obey, knowing that if He did, He would have to die. For us to be protected, He had to be torn to shreds. It was the only way that He could rescue all of God’s people and we could forever cry out, “Worship God! He is the true God!”

Discussion Questions

If God knew He was going to send an angel to stop the lions’ mouths, why did He let Daniel be put in the lions’ den in the first place?

Daniel decided to obey God even though people around him didn’t worship God and obeying was the harder choice. Have you ever had to make a decision to obey God when it was hard? What was that like? If not, what do you think you would do?

This Advent devotional resource was produced by The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, TX. The original resource can be found here.