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God’s Word for You

Psalm 103:17-18 From everlasting to everlasting

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, December 27, 2019

17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting
  on those who fear him,
  and his righteousness is for their children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
  and remember his precepts by doing them.

Once again David seems to be thinking of Moses, lifting the phrase “from everlasting to everlasting” from Psalm 90:2. Moses used these words to describe God’s eternal nature; David uses them to describe God’s mercy and forgiveness; it is a gospel term. His mercy is not just for some but for everyone; everyone who has faith in him.

For David, as for everyone in the Old Testament, faith was shown by keeping the covenant. This began with circumcision and was followed by observing the festivals and the sacrifices. The priests would see to it that the daily sacrifices continued as commanded, and the king would give financial support if it was needed. David even organized the priests more effectively for their ministry in the temple. He separated them into divisions “for their appointed order of ministering” (1 Chronicles 24:3-19). It was during the service of one such division, that of Abijah (the eighth), that an angel appeared to a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. The angel told him that his son would be John the Baptist, the forerunner and harbinger of the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Luke 1:5-20). It is partly on account of this detail that we place Christmas at the time of year that we do. The calculation was made in this way:

1, According to Josephus and the Mishnah, the divisions served two weeks out of the year (and all priests served at the great festivals).

2, Abijah’s division, being eighth, served during the fifteenth and sixteenth weeks after the New Year (Passover), for which we might estimate April 1-14 (sometimes it is a little earlier, sometimes a little later). Sixteen weeks later would mean that the vision came in July.

3, Zechariah received his vision during this time (Luke 1:5, 1:8).

4, When Zechariah’s service was finished, he went home and his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, perhaps in August or September (Luke 1:23-24).

5, Sixth months later, Mary was told that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and be the mother of the Christ child (Luke 1:26-31, 1:36). It was now approximately March.

6, Three months later, Elizabeth gave birth to John (Luke 1:57, 1:63), perhaps in June. Mary was now three months pregnant.

7, Mary came to full term nine months after being told she would give birth to the Christ child (Luke 2:6) and delivered Jesus in Bethlehem. It was now approximately December.

This is the way the calculation was made; whether it is absolutely correct is not possible for us to determine. What we can say with certainty is that December was not chosen randomly as the celebration of Jesus’ birth, nor was it a desire to appropriate a pagan festival. The date of Jesus’ birth is a very ancient tradition of the church that follows the information of the text of Scripture as closely as we are able.

A “precept” is a decree, a rule or regulation given by God for man to observe and obey. The Levites and priests were to teach God’s precepts to the people (Deuteronomy 33:10). In the Psalms, especially the Great Psalm (Psalm 119), the precepts of God are something to be sought out (Psalm 119:45, 94) and meditated upon (Psalm 119:15, 27, 78). God’s laws are for man’s benefit, and the precepts God gave to Moses were there to point the way ahead to the coming Savior. For example, the precept for a woman who did something as ordinary as giving birth meant that she was considered unclean for forty days (seven before her son was circumcised, and thirty-three more until her bleeding stopped and she could be purified, Leviticus 12:2-4). Why were they given such a rule? First, there is blood involved when a woman delivers a baby, and blood is used for purification, but the blood of purification is the blood of a sacrifice. Any other blood is simply unclean. So, to keep her from bringing any other kind of blood before the Lord, she was told to stay away for her sake. But now the blood of Christ has atoned for every sin, even the sins we are born with (our original sin). It follows then that the purification of a mother was a shadow of the purification we all have from Christ for our sinfulness, even the sins we are born with. His forgiveness is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting. Our guilt will never be brought back onto our heads, but through Jesus we stand forgiven forever, all because his blood was shed on the cross for our sakes. His righteousness is his gift to us all.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

 

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