Posts Tagged 'Christmas story'

Some Christmas Lessons


There are a lot of important lessons to be found in “the Christmas story.” Of course there are the usual lessons we hear about every Christmas in church:  things involving the Incarnation, the fulfillment of prophecy and so on. But there are some other lessons to be learned for those with eyes to see.

For example, we can learn something from the Romans. Rome was the governing authority of the ancient world. When the Savior of the world was being born; when God was putting His plan of redemption into play; when Heaven came down to Earth, the governing authority was concerned about one thing: collecting taxes. In other words, the Romans wanted to maintain their sway over the population by forcing them via regulation to do what they wanted them to do. The government didn’t care about Jesus and it’s no different today. Our politicians, a little more tactful than their Roman counterparts, though no less tyrannical, are still unconcerned about Jesus, even though they tack His Name on the end of a speech every now and then. The church needs to understand that it’s not the governments job to proclaim or promote Jesus as Lord. It’s their job. Americans have been fortunate in that their government, up until recent years, has been generally receptive to Jesus. But now, not so much. It’s a heartbreaking lesson to be learned, but the government is not necessarily a friend to the church of Jesus Christ.

Another lesson we can learn comes from the angels. The big announcement of Christmas was delivered by angels. The lesson here is that God will do whatever it takes to get His message through to man. Sometimes He uses angels. He speaks to us through His Word. He also speaks to us through His Holy Spirit, through other people, and even through circumstances and miracles. God is God, and He can choose His method of communication.

The shepherds teach us a third lesson. Did you ever wonder what would have happened if the shepherds simply ignored the message of God given by the angels? What if these shepherds “had better things to do?” Like go shopping. Or cook breakfast for the wife. Or cut the grass. The big lesson here is one that Christians in 21st century America need to learn: respond properly to the God’s Word. Don’t ignore it. Don’t run from it. Don’t treat it with contempt. Just do what God tells you to do.

Then there are the parents. Hardly anything needs to be said about Mary and Joseph. What child could do any better than to have a mother who put fulfilling God’s will above anything else in her life? What about a father who gave up his home, his plans for the future, and his comfort, to peruse a Word from God that he wasn’t even 100% sure about? Talk about Godly parents! Serving God and being obedient to Him was more important than anything else. They risked life, limb, and ridicule because God meant everything to them.

Finally, we can even learn something from the baby. If we could go back in time and see the birth of Jesus, we’d notice that painters and artists got it all wrong. There was no halo around baby Jesus’ head. Handel’s “Messiah” was not sung as He was being born. There was nothing extraordinary about baby Jesus. Gloria Gaither, though, was someone who got it right:

He was just an ordinary Baby

That’s the way He planned it, maybe

Anything but common would have kept Him apart

From the children that He came to rescue…

He was just an ordinary Baby,

That’s the way He planned it, maybe

So that we would come to Him and not be afraid.

God came to us in an unremarkable, almost mundane way. Today, God is still revealing Himself in everyday life in such a way that it takes spiritual discernment to notice.

There are some other lessons we may learn from the Christmas story.

A humble birth, Luke 2:1 – 7

Caesar Augustus, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, concocted this brilliant scheme to tax everybody throughout the Roman Empire. It was an ambitious undertaking necessary to fund his army and to keep on living in the lap of luxury. Not only ambitious, it was terribly inconvenient for the citizens.

Everyone was required to return to his ancestral home for this registration. And because Joseph was a member of the royal line, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, King David’s ancient home—journeying there from the Galilean village of Nazareth. (Luke 2:3, 4 TLB)

The inconvenient part – having to return to the place of one’s birth – was not part of the Roman imperial decree, but rather it was a Jewish custom. It seems as though Rome permitted at least some freedom in how Caesar Augustus’ registration was to be carried out. Joseph’s ancestor was King David, therefore he had to make the journey, along with his very pregnant fiancé, to Bethlehem. A question arises as to why Mary accompanied Joseph. The two were not married so neither Roman nor Jewish law required her to accompany Joseph for this registration. Some scholars have advanced ideas like these: Mary went with Joseph because she loved him; she loved Bethlehem; she wanted to have Joseph with her when the baby was born; or it was because of the leading of the Holy Spirit.

And here’s the lesson. It wasn’t Caesar Augustus who was calling the shots. He may have thought the census and registration were his big idea to further his own political agenda, and Mary may have had many reasons for accompanying Joseph on the arduous trip to Bethlehem, but behind the scenes it was God pushing history along in the direction He wanted it to go. Everything that happened was quietly orchestrated by God to fulfill His Word. Generations before the birth of Jesus, we read this stunning prophecy:

O Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are but a small Judean village, yet you will be the birthplace of my King who is alive from everlasting ages past! (Micah 5:2 TLB)

So you see, everything hinged on getting Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born; and she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn. (Luke 2:6, 7 TLB)

Most of us know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. A lot of people get bent all out of shape trying to figure out when He was born but they are missing the whole point of the story. It’s not when He was born that’s so important, it’s that He was born!

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4, 5 NKJV)

It all happened in God’s own good time. It wasn’t the circumstances of the world that prompted the birth of Jesus as this particular time. It wasn’t any human reason that moved God. This is a very important lesson for us to learn. We pray for friends and family; we ask God to meet needs, and there is always an expectation that He will answer a prayer based on our timetable. It doesn’t always work out that way because God’s time isn’t always our time. But one thing in for certain: God’s time is always the right time!

Angelic announcement, Luke 2:8 – 20

The Son of God could have entered our world the first time as He will the next time: in power and glory. But He didn’t. The first time Jesus came to us, He came in the weakest, most humble way possible. George MacDonald expressed it like this:

They were looking for a king

To slay their foes and lift them high;

Thou camest, a little baby thing

That made a woman cry.

It was to the shepherds that the angels appeared, giving the good news that something wonderful had happened in Bethlehem.

The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem! How will you recognize him? You will find a baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger! (Luke 2:11, 12 TLB)

A millennium earlier, David kept his father’s sheep in these same pastures. Being a shepherd was a lowly occupation, so it’s no wonder God chose to reveal the good news to them. This night was all about humility from start to finish.

Among the good news delivered to the shepherds was this:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they sang, “and peace on earth for all those pleasing him.” (Luke 2:14 TLB)

Considering the distinct lack of peace on earth, did the angels get it wrong here? The peace being referred to here is not peace between men, but peace between God and man. Jesus came to earth to bring peace into man’s hearts.

For God was pleased to have all his fullnesst dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation… (Colossians 1:19 – 22 NIV)

You have to admire these shepherds. They probably didn’t have a lot of education and certainly no social standing. They knew about sheep. They didn’t know theology. Yet there was no doubt in their minds that what they heard was true. Their decision to go to Bethlehem was immediate. They didn’t stop to think about it or debate it. They just went.

Seeing God’s salvation, Luke 2:21 – 38

For 40 days after the birth of her child, the mother is considered “unclean” according to Jewish law. As a sinner, Mary need to bring a sacrifice to the Lord. Also according to Jewish custom, the baby was both circumcised and named on the eighth day. Over and over again in the Gospels, we see Jesus living and acting in complete harmony with His faith. This is why He was able to say in complete honesty:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17 NIV)

He was an ordinary baby, and an ordinary man.

Joseph and Mary, while at the Temple, offered turtledoves as their sacrifice. This offering was evidence of their poverty, and it was made for Mary, not for Jesus. It’s an interesting piece of trivia to take note of: Jesus Himself never offered a sacrifice.

That day a man named Simeon, a Jerusalem resident, was in the Temple. He was a good man, very devout, filled with the Holy Spirit and constantly expecting the Messiah to come soon. (Luke 2:25 TLB)

Not everybody was like this man Simeon. A lot of Jews those days were not looking for the Messiah. Absorbed in their own trivial affairs, so many for so long had been merely going through the motions, yet they had no hope. Even the priesthood had become worldly and corrupt.

But this fellow was one in a million. Led by the Holy Spirit, he was at the Temple at the exact moment Jesus and His earthly family were there. Somehow, he was aware that this baby was his long-awaited Messiah:

“Lord,” he said, “now I can die content! For I have seen him as you promised me I would. I have seen the Savior you have given to the world.” (Luke 2:29 – 31 TLB)

God had promised Simeon that he would “see” the salvation of God. What he saw that day was a baby. Salvation is not what you do; salvation is a Person: Jesus. Once again we have another lesson in Simeon. He was old. He didn’t have to be at the Temple. But he was there. He spent a lifetime not only waiting for the Messiah to come, but he expected the Messiah to come. Simeon, like Joseph and Mary, was devoted to God. When a person is devoted to God, there’s no telling what good things will happen to them. There are a lot Christians missing out of God’s best because they haven’t given Him their best.

Birth of the King


The birth of Jesus Christ is the most significant event in the history of the world. It has been said that “the hinge of history is on the door of the Bethlehem stable.”

It may seem strange that the Son of God, the divine King of Kings, was born the way He was, when He was, and how He was. But the gulf that exists between sinful man and a holy God is so immense, there is no way for man to approach God even if he wanted to. The only way to bring the creature close to his Creator was for the Creator Himself to breach that gulf and come to the creature. This the Lord did in the Person of His Son. Really, God’s plan for the redemption of mankind, which began with the “Christmas story,” was brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed.

The King is born, Matthew 1:18—25

The story begins with a shocking discovery:

These are the facts concerning the birth of Jesus Christ: His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But while she was still a virgin she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18 TLB)

The KJV says that Mary was “found with child,” although we are never told exactly who “found” her in that condition! Did it become so obvious that her family and her fiance, Joseph, could tell? Or did she fess up to Joseph in private? We don’t know, but what we do know is that Mary knew the truth: her baby was of supernatural origin.

Her delicate condition put her in a precarious position. Mosaic Law cut a pregnant single woman absolutely no slack; she would have been stoned to death. But we tip our hats to Joseph who proved he was stand up guy:

Then Joseph, her fiance, being a man of stern principle, decided to break the engagement but to do it quietly, as he didn’t want to publicly disgrace her. (Matthew 1:19 TLB)

He didn’t want to expose Mary to disgrace or danger, so as far as he was concerned, though he loved this woman dearly, he was willing to “divorce” her on down low. To break an engagement at this time in Judaism amounted to a divorce. Mary, freed from Joseph, would quietly leave town to have her baby and live in exile.

But God had other plans for Joseph:

As he lay awake considering this, he fell into a dream, and saw an angel standing beside him. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “don’t hesitate to take Mary as your wife! For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20 TLB)

In order to prevent a tragic situation from occurring, and in order to fulfill ancient Biblical prophecies, an angel, probably Gabriel, appeared to Joseph as he did to Mary to let Joseph in on the secret. Mary needed to know the truth in order to save her sanity and Joseph needed to know the same truth to save the marriage and to preserve his wife’s reputation in his eyes. She had never been unfaithful to him but had been completely faithful to God. Any husband would love to have a wife as faithful as Mary was!

Let’s pause for a moment. Remember, for some 400 years before the events we are looking at, God had been silent. There were no visions, no prophecies, to miraculous interventions, and certainly no angelic visitations. Though God had never forgotten His people, He was not in close communication with them anymore. But all that changed with the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Consider how many people in the “Christmas story” saw and heard angels! Truly the time for the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy had come:

After I have poured out my rains again, I will pour out my Spirit upon all of you! Your sons and daughters will prophesy; your old men will dream dreams, and your young men see visions. (Joel 2:28 TLB)

Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and others all bear witness to an inescapable fact: the distance between Heaven and Earth was closing fast! The King of Glory was coming and nothing was going to stop Him from coming to us.

Mary’s faith was astounding, but, then, so was Joseph’s. He was in a tight spot to be sure, but he heeded what the angel told him; any fears or misgivings Joseph may have had surrounding Mary and their situation, disappeared. By making Mary his wife, bringing her into his heart and his home, this man, Joseph, would do God’s will, protect his wife and mother of the Lord, be blessed by God in ways we could never comprehend and show himself to be a true descendant of King David.

Martin Luther’s observations on this are invaluable:

It is an honor for the wedded state that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was not born of a simple, unmarried maid but of Mary, who was espoused as a true wife of Joseph, her husband. Our Lord was born of his mother according to the Law in wedlock and honored it with his birth.

Something that Matthew thought was very important was the idea that the events surrounding our Lord’s birth fulfilled Bible prophecy:

This will fulfill God’s message through his prophets… (Matthew 1:22 TLB)

The reason why Matthew points this out is that he wrote his Gospel to fellow Jews—unconverted Jews who needed to understand that what happened during the “first Christmas” fulfilled many things written about in their Scriptures!

The King is sought after, Matthew 2:1—8

Jesus was born in a small town just south of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. That name means “House of Bread,” which is certainly an appropriate name for the birth place of the Bread of Heaven! He was born during the reign of Herod the Great, as he was known in history. During the Babylonian captivity, a race of people known as Idumeans (Edomites), had settled in and taken over the southern part of Judah. By 125 BC, John Hyrcanus, high priest and ruler of the Jewish nation at this time, compelled these Idumeans to be circumcised, thus becoming, at least nominally, Jews. Herod was part of these people, and his religion was at best skin-deep. He was cruel and ruled without conscience.

Into this political atmosphere, Jesus was born and the Magi journeyed:

At about that time some astrologers from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in far-off eastern lands and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1b—2 TLB)

The Living Bible calls these magoi, “magi,” “astrologers.” “Magi” originally referred to priests in Persia and Babylon. As used by Matthew, though, these “wise men” were just that, and they were honorable. In ways we may never understand, these men connected the appearance of new star in the eastern sky with the birth of a new king in Israel. But did these men have in mind an earthly king or the King of Heaven? The word “worship” has reference to bowing down before an earthly ruler and/or before God, so we may never know what was really in the minds of these wonderful visitors from an eastern kingdom.

But we know what was in Herod’s mind:

King Herod was deeply disturbed by their question, and all Jerusalem was filled with rumors. (Matthew 2:3 TLB)

Jerusalem was “filled with rumors,” not because anybody in it saw that strange star, but they heard about what the magi had said. As the rumor mill churned on, Herod became more and more worried. Could it be true? Had a king really been born somewhere in his realm? Would this new king cause his people to turn against him? Like the magi, Herod decided he needed to seek out this king, but for a very different reason:

Then Herod sent a private message to the astrologers, asking them to come to see him; at this meeting he found out from them the exact time when they first saw the star. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him too!” (Matthew 2:7, 8 TLB)

Of course, Herod had no interest in finding the king to worship him! He wanted to kill him—to eliminate the competition.

Time to pause again and think about something. Think about this:

Where is the newborn King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in far-off eastern lands and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2 TLB)

After this interview the astrologers started out again. And look! The star appeared to them again, standing over Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:9 TLB)

We wonder: did these magi lose sight of the star when (or possibly because) they strayed off the road to consult with Herod and the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem? We also wonder if these wise men, instead of seeking human guidance, had just continued on into Bethlehem, would the “slaughter of the innocents” have taken place? Herod may never have known about the birth of Jesus if only these wise men had just kept their eyes on the star. Another good question to ask ourselves is this one: Do we get ourselves (or others) in trouble when we seek out human advice and guidance from the wrong people when should be paying attention to God’s guidance? Let’s keep our eyes on Him and His star!

The King is worshiped, Matthew 2:9—12

The fact that this star “appeared again” shows it was of supernatural origin; this was no ordinary star! It had the ability to appear, disappear, then reappear! These men traveled a great distance for a long time to find this King:

Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. (Matthew 2:11 HCSB)

Most scholars and many translations agree that by now Jesus was a child, not a baby. This young family wasn’t in a manger any longer; Joseph had apparently found and rented a house for them to live in. He was a carpenter, so he could ply his trade anywhere. Scholars think the magi reached them a year after the birth took place! They “worshiped” this young King and gave him gifts of immense value: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts have some significance. Gold, of course, was precious and costly back then as it is today. It was an entirely appropriate gift to give a king. Frankincense was an appropriate gift for a priest because it was used in temple services. And myrrh was something you gave someone who was dying; appropriate for the One who was destined to die for the sins of others. As William Barclay noted:

These three gifts foretold that [Jesus] was to be the true King, the perfect High Priest, and in the end the supreme Savior of men.

Perhaps this is where the tradition of giving others gifts at Christmastime came from. On this, Chuck Swindoll noted:

Some gifts you can give this Christmas are beyond monetary value: Mend a quarrel, dismiss suspicion, tell someone you love them. Give something away—anonymously. Forgive someone who has treated you wrong. Turn away wrath with a soft answer. Visit someone in a nursing home. Apologize if you were wrong. Be especially kind to someone with whom you work. Give as God gave to you in Christ, without obligation, or reservation, or hypocrisy.

These wise men were obedient to God whether they knew it or not and God honored their obedience. He, by means of a dream, warned them not to return to Herod. They may have thought Herod was sincere as they were in his desire to find and worship this young king. But, again, in obedience, they returned home by another route.

These magi; these foreigners, are a picture of the firstfruits of the Gentiles who would come to Christ for salvation. How interesting it is that Matthew begins his Gospel with this visit to Jesus by some Gentile wise men and he closes it with the Great Commission for believers to evangelize the whole world.

The birth of Jesus and all the events and people surrounding it make for an interesting study and show a Divine purpose. Like pieces of an immense puzzle, they give us a glimpse at the intricacies of God’s great redemptive plan.

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