A Math Lesson for Advent

In the devotional for children, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones, we read:

“Do you know God Math? It’s nothing like ours! For instance, according to God Math:

             5 loaves + 2 fish = enough food to feed 5,000 (+ leftovers)

      1 lost sheep = as valuable as 99

Gideon was the leader of God’s army. But God told him, ‘Your army of 32,000 is way too large to defeat the Midianites.’ Too large? Wait. What?”

Shouldn’t the equation be instead, more = victory? When you look through Scripture you start to notice situations that don’t ‘add up’; consider the returning exiles in Nehemiah. God brought them back to Jerusalem to begin the hard work of rebuilding. How their minds must have reeled as they surveyed their devastated Jerusalem: its gates burned by fire, its temple a dusty heap of rubble? God’s message to them, “…Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zech.4:6) God’s test key doesn’t match ours! He says, One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you.” (Josh. 23:10) Jesus knew. He thanked His Father that He had revealed to babes what He had not revealed to the wise and He called out to all those who ‘work to exhaustion’(weary), “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me…For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:29, 30)

If we’re honest, measuring and valuing like the world comes naturally to us. We make sense of things simply: 1+1=2. Our minds reject the concept of light burdens, easy yokes, 1>1000; no it doesn’t add up! But God, by His providence, catches hold of our arm saying, ‘Wait…listen to Me… this is the way I measure; this is how I value.’ We are caught up short, surprised by God’s ways! In the midst of the unexpected we confess, ‘Yes, He doesn’t think or work the way I do’. (Is. 55:8; Jer. 9:24)

The hunger for power, self-sufficiency, control, fame… is endemic to man. It’s easy to point at it in our culture but God shows us the same cravings lurk within our own hearts ready to manipulate our thoughts and influence our relationships with believers and unbelievers alike. We usually experience an urgency for “eyes to see” when we are pressed to the wall in unbelief, like Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6. They awoke one morning in Dothan to find they had been surrounded during the night by a pagan king’s great army. Elisha assured his distraught companion that ‘those who are with us are more than those who are with them’. That servant must have blinked twice at the prophet in utter disbelief. We don’t know, but Elisha prayed that God would ‘open his eyes that he might see’. “So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” [0 visible help ~ uncountable heavenly host]

Smallness, weakness, poverty…dishearten and dismay because we see them as the insurmountable obstacles they are to men and women. No matter how it looks, the truth is, nothing in this sinful world hinders God.   Paul explains: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, (1 Cor. 1:27)   When the builders had laid the foundation of the second temple some people shouted for joy but many priests and old men wept with a loud cry, for this building wasn’t even close to the glory and splendor of the first. Calvin says ‘they considered they toiled in vain because God would not dwell in a tent so mean”. Zechariah spoke to their unbelieving hearts, “For who has despised the day of small things?…” (4:10) “God indeed could put forth immediately his power,

and thus rouse the attention of all men and fill them with wonder; he could indeed do so. His purpose is to increase the brightness of his power,” continues Calvin, “which he does, when from a small beginning he brings forth what no one would have thought; and besides, his purpose is to prove the faith of his people; for it behooves us ever to hope beyond hope. Now when the beginning promises something great and sublime, there is no proof and trial of faith: but when we hope for what does not appear, we give due honor to God, for we depend only on his power and not on the proximate means.”

How do we know for sure God delights in small beginnings? Because the Son came to be ‘God with us’.. Jesus’ birth could have happened during the golden age of David’s house; instead God ordained that He should come when all splendor was gone – the King of glory, lying in a manger. Jesus appeared as an insignificant shoot from the stump of a kingdom cut down. We see Him in the Gospels, a man, wrapped in a towel and washing His disciple’s feet. Jesus died between two thieves and was buried in a borrowed tomb. He laid aside all of the things in one way or another we have desired for ourselves; power, riches, glory, fame. Why? “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9) Jesus “emptied” Himself (Phil.2:7); God who came to live among us for a time, laid aside everything we would count as something and became in our estimations small, nothing. He became empty that we might be “…filled up to all the fullness of God”. (Eph. 3:19) With the old men in Jerusalem we weep that the Messiah would come to dwell in a ‘tent so mean’ with Mary we ask, ‘How can this be…’ The words of the angel Gabriel amaze our hearts as well, “…for nothing will be impossible with God.” Let us treasure the day of small beginnings as we consider our Savior, Christ the Lord during this Advent season.

“God + nothing = everything

Everything – God = nothing”


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