Posts Tagged 'Christmas'



Mary’s Song

olivia-hussey-nativity doneLuke 1:26 – 56

Christianity rests on the words of this chapter; arguably the deepest, most theological chapter in all the Bible. How much theology is packed into these verses? Consider what is covered in just a few of them:

  • the divinity of Jesus Christ, verses 32, 35
  • His role as Messiah and reign over the kingdom, verses 32 – 33
  • God as “the Most High,” verses 32, 35
  • the power of the Holy Spirit, verse 35
  • God’s grace, verses 29 – 30; 34, 35; 38

So, the story of Jesus’ nativity is really much more than the stuff of Christmas carols and cards; it’s the bedrock of the faith.

1. Jesus’ birth foretold, Luke 1:26 – 33

It’s obvious that Luke, the physician, wrote his gospel to Gentiles:

The following month God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin, Mary, engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. (Luke 1:26, 27 TLB)

Only non-Jews would need to be told where Nazareth was. What’s particularly interesting about these two verses is the fact that God directly inserts Himself into Mary’s life through the angel Gabriel. In fact, God had, six months earlier, sent Gabriel to Zechariah, an old man, with an important message, and now he appears to Mary, a young virgin, with an important message for her.

Mary was young, probably barely into her teens, when these events transpired. This betrothal to Joseph was legally binding. So even though they were not technically married, they were as good as. Only death or divorce could break a Jewish betrothal like this.

Joseph was “a descendant of King David,” but then so was Mary. The fact that Luke mentions only Joseph’s heritage tells us that he considers Jesus to be a legitimate heir of the royal line by “adoption.” God was really Jesus’ Father in all eternity, but Joseph became Jesus’ earthly father, giving Jesus a rightful claim on David’s throne.

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Congratulations, favored lady! The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28 TLB)

The root of “favored” is grace, the unmerited favor given by God. God is the agent here. Why was she “favored”? Simply because God had chosen Mary to be the mother of His Son. Mary received God’s blessing; she never dispensed it, as Roman Catholicism teaches. God was surely with Mary in a number of ways. As a Jew, Yahweh was always present among His people. But given the events about to take place, this phrase takes on an added dimension.

Verse 30 seems like just a quaint statement, but it teaches us something very important about the state of Mary’s mind:

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.

She was not an emotional wreck; she was in total control of her faculties at all times during this angelic encounter. Mary listened to what Gabriel was saying to her and she tried to understand it all. What he said was startling.

Very soon now, you will become pregnant and have a baby boy, and you are to name him ‘Jesus.’ (Luke 1:31 TLB)

This is the announcement of the Incarnation: God in the flesh. In the Son, divinity and humanity would be joined in a union that would never be broken. His Name would be “Jesus,” a common enough name in Israel during this time. It’s the Greek version of the Hebrew “Joshua.”

He shall be very great and shall be called the Son of God. And the Lord God shall give him the throne of his ancestor David. (Luke 1:32 TLB)

This verse is significant in that we see the true greatness of Jesus: man will recognize His greatness and realize this Jesus IS the Son of God, but at the same time, Jesus’ heavenly Father will see His Son’s greatness and give Him the throne of David. Thus, Jesus’ Sonship and Messianic claims will be clear in both Heaven and on Earth!

2. Mary, submission and faith, Luke 1:34 – 45

Mary asked the angel, “But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.” (Luke 1:34 TLB)

Again we see something of the character of Mary, and the quality of her considerable faith. Unlike Zechariah, there was no unbelief in Mary. Like Nicodemus, Mary was interested in HOW this miracle would take place. She asked for no sign, only an explanation. You have to admire this woman and her simple faith. It would be normal for Mary to think of Joseph in regard to having a son; there is no indication that Gabriel told her of a “virgin birth” or that her mind hearkened back to Isaiah 7:14. Was Mary given a special insight as Gabriel unfolded his message to her? Perhaps, for she seemed to assume something unusual was about to happen IN her that did not involve Joseph, her betrothed.

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of God shall overshadow you; so the baby born to you will be utterly holy—the Son of God. (Luke 1:35 TLB)

Mary’s sincere question was answered by Gabriel sincerely. Curiously, the answer doesn’t clarify the mystery, just how it will come to pass. The Holy Spirit – acting on behalf of the Godhead – will take the place of a husband in a way that is unexplained and, perhaps, unexplainable. No man had anything to do with the birth of Jesus. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, we are told that a woman becomes unclean in the birth of her child because she is bringing a sinner into the world. Here, Mary is told that she is not bringing another sinner into the world, but the completely Holy Son of God. Human parents are capable only of producing a sinner. David understood this:

But I was born a sinner, yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5 TLB)

But Mary’s Son would be different. By being born of a virgin, the Son of God could become a member of the human family yet remain untainted by its sinful condition. This would be accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit. The “overshadowing of the power of God” is an interesting statement that suggests not only the miracle of the virgin birth, but a continued supervision, care, and even protection of Mary.

Mary believed in the impossible. Her faith is inspiring.

Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever he wants. May everything you said come true.” And then the angel disappeared. (Luke 1:38 TLB)

Not many of us can say in good conscience what Mary said here in verse 38! With so much at stake, she was able to so say, “I am willing to do whatever he wants.” What an exemplary attitude of servanthood. This is what real dedication and consecration looks like. Even knowing that the future would be difficult for her – with rumors and slander and innuendos – she expressed complete co-operation with God in His plans. Mary’s last sentence is simple, brief, yet theologically perfect. Her attitude is simply this: she is God’s willing property for Him to use as He wishes.

3. Mary magnifies the Lord, Luke 1:46 – 55

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Mary, servant of God, becomes a poetess and even prophetess of God. This is one of the great hymns of the Church, yet it was not composed by a scholar or a musician or an educated wordsmith. The Magnificat, as this passage has come to be known, is simply the emotional outpouring, the “improvisation of happy faith,” of a blessed woman of God.

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. (Luke 1:46, 47 KJV)

The first line of this couplet announces the theme of the whole hymn: Mary magnifies God. To “magnify” is to make great and glorious by what we say of a person. It is possible to magnify any person, but all our magnifying will never be able to express the greatness and glory of Almighty God.

Of particular note is the phrase “God my Savior.” In spite of the deification of Mary, she realized she needed a Savior as all sinners do. She may have been blessed, but she was a sinner in need of saving!

For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. (Luke 1:48 KJV)

Mary knew herself well; she knew her position in the world. Of this verse, Martin Luther concluded that Mary realized God could have chosen to use a woman of high position in the world’s eyes to bear the Savior, but instead He chose her, a “lowly handmaiden.” Mary was aware of her unworthiness, and this why she added, “all generations shall call me blessed.” She was referring, not to herself, but to to God’s greatness. Successive generations would call Mary “blessed” because God blessed her so greatly.

For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; And holy is his name. (Luke 1:49 KJV)

Mary had noted her unworthiness and now she notes the “great things” God has done for her. She had revealed God as a “Savior,” and now she speaks of His might and holiness. But what does Mary mean when she wrote “great things”? She is referring to all the great things she has been privy to: her choosing by God, the sending of Gabriel, the miraculous conception, and the revealing of the mystery to Elizabeth. All of these things are “great” and Mary was truly blessed to have been a part of them all.

And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1:50 KJV)

Mary is in absolute awe of God – of the Mighty One – Whose great power had been directed toward her. But she recognizes another aspect of His character: God’s mercy. God’s mercy is clearly revealed in the Incarnation, but it has been shown from generation to generation to those who have feared Him. Now, though, God’s mercy is especially manifested in the gift of His Son to the world.

This verse also shows us something important regarding who may receive God’s mercy: it is available ONLY to those who “fear Him,” or revere Him. This “fear” denotes the awe that fills your heart and mind when you are in the presence of One who is full of power, holiness, and righteousness.

He hath shewed strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, And exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; And the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath helped his servant Israel, In remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, To Abraham, and to his seed for ever. (Luke 1:51 – 55 KJV)

In this paragraph, all the main verbs are aorists and timeless, stating that what God does at any time – past, present, or future – has already been done. In other words, even though the good things mentioned here are in the past tense (in English), they may be regarded as things God is doing now and will do. As He did in the past, so He does now, so He will do again.

Look at the great works of our God: He judges men righteously and justly; He exalts those who honor Him and disregards those who don’t; God is the benevolent Provider, the One who feeds the hungry and meets those temporal needs; God never forgets His people; He always keeps His promises. God is always faithful and full of mercy.

God had done great things for Mary and, in fact, God has done great things for all people who trust Him. Mary knew what God had done for her; do YOU know what He has done for you? Mary, just a woman, was blessed beyond measure though she didn’t deserve it. She stands forever as an example of trust and dedication to the Lord; of gratitude to Him for all He did for her and for others throughout time. Mary was the picture of humility who knew and followed the Word of the Lord. This is why she found favor with the Lord, which would allow her to be used by Him as part of His plan of salvation.

NIGHT OF THE INCARNATION

nativity

Luke 2:1-20

It’s interesting to compare chapters 1 and 2 of Luke’s Gospel. Chapter 1 is long and very complex, yet chapter 2 is comparatively brief even though it contains the story of Jesus’ birth.

In chapter 2, Luke stresses three main points:

  • The political situation, which explains why Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem;

  • Bethlehem was the town of David, which explains why Jesus had a rightful claim to the throne of David;

  • The humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth.

At the very outset of Luke’s version of the story, we are confronted with Caesar Augustus. Luke probably mentions his name to give Theophilus, to whom this Gospel was written, historical context. But we should also see a glaring contrast between the decree of earthly king versus that of God.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (Luke 2:1)

Government decrees are rarely cause for rejoicing! This “decree” issued by Caesar August was terribly burdensome. Can you imagine if President Obama issued a similar decree today? There would be national chaos. Caesar’s decree, which disrupted every life in the Roman Empire, was for the purpose of taxation. This particular taxing though, was not a one-time thing. It was a continual effort that went on  periodically over at least a 14 year period.   An earthly tyrant may issue a decree, but that decree was all part of God’s plan to bring His Son into the world at the right time, in the right place to fulfill ancient prophecies. As far back as Micah 5:2, we read God’s decree:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Man only thinks he is in charge. God, in fact, orchestrates the events of this world for the sole purpose of bringing Himself glory and pointing sinful man to Him. In a strange twist, Caesar Augustus brought about the the fulfillment of God’s will by creating the necessary circumstances.

We have to sit back and smile and ask ourselves, Is anything too hard for God? How can there be when God is in complete control?

1. The arrival

and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:7)

Use of the phrase “her firstborn son” tells us that, in spite of Roman Catholic doctrine, Mary did have other children. But it also tells us something else very significant: Jesus was her first child. She was, in fact, the virgin prophesied in Isaiah. Jesus was born the natural way, but His conception was miraculous.

There are all kinds of apocryphal stories and legends surrounding the night the Light of the World came into the world. We know that Bethlehem would have been overcrowded with families coming in for the census, plus there would have been Roman soldiers in town to quell any protests or riots. So, it makes sense that there was no “guest room” available for them. The image we have is that of a young family, about to have a baby, trying to find a hotel room. This probably is not an entirely accurate image. The birth narratives indicate that Mary and Joseph had been in town for a while before Jesus was born. Since this was his home town, he probably had family there. Luke’s “guest room” could refer to there being no room at his relative’s home as well as no room at any inn in town. Where would they stay? In all likelihood, the notion of a “cave” is also apocryphal, having been first put forward by Origen’s time.

It’s not romantic, but Mary and Joseph probably stayed in some sort of family shed or outbuilding that provided warmth and shelter. Hallmark cards are not the best when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

Still, nobody had room for this young couple or their soon-coming baby. Is it any different today? There is still no room for Jesus is the lives of most people, and, sadly, even in the lives of those who call themselves Christians, Jesus – whom they claim to be their Savior – is relegated to the outbuilding of their hearts. Even in the Church of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man has no pillow on which to lay His head. It’s hard to imagine a Church where Jesus isn’t welcome! But any time a Church has no time for the Word of God, it has no room for Jesus. He is the living Word, after all.

Many of the “social gospel” persuasion love to stress the notion that Mary and Joseph were destitute and dirt poor, which is why they couldn’t get a room. This is probably another legend with no basis in fact. Joseph was a tradesman – a carpenter – and he was as good as married to Mary, according to Jewish tradition. He no doubt had been preparing for his marriage by saving and working. By no means rich, he probably was not part of the “poorest of the poor” in Jewish society.

Luke in his narrative describes the humble circumstances of the Lord’s birth to show how strange an occurrence this event was to be. Here was a King, born in a shed. Here was the Lord, coming to His people in a small, overcrowded town.

2. The proclamation

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-12, 10 and 11 cited)

“Christ the Lord’s” coming was announced by “the angel of the Lord,” accompanied by the “glory of the Lord.” There was no more lowly occupation in Palestine than that of shepherd. It was hard work; it was dirty work; it was lonely work. Why did God choose to announce the birth of His Son to men like this? Shepherds were considered untrustworthy and unclean. Shouldn’t God have chosen men whose occupations were a little more respected? Why not religious leaders? Or political leaders? Obviously, these shepherds were men God could trust to see the glorious spectacle and hear the angelic announcement. It is fitting that the Great Shepard chose to reveal His birth to shepherds; that social outcasts would be the first to hear about the birth of One who Himself would be an outcast among His people.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Jesus was probably not born in December, although He could have been. The Bible is silent on precisely when the event took place, so it probably isn’t important for us to know. It’s funny that so much has been written on this topic. Christians are generally pretty good at majoring on minor points.

For their part, when the angel of the Lord appeared to them, the shepherds were terrified, just as Zechariah was. Who wouldn’t have been afraid by this amazing sight? Neither Zechariah nor these shepherds had seen such a thing before. But the angel spoke words of comfort, and he spoke words that Luke, though not an eyewitness, would deem as being most important as he uses them again and again in his Gospel. The words “Savior” and “salvation” occur well over 40 times in the writings of Luke and that of his friend, Paul. The “angel of the Lord” announced good news: the birth of the Savior. The shepherds would have interpreted that as a political savior had just been born, but God’s idea of salvation has to do with the soul of man. Circumstances in life change; good times come and go, but the soul is immortal, and without Christ, it’s sick and has no future. Jesus Christ came into our world to heal the sick soul and give it a future!

As if the angel of the Lord wasn’t enough, suddenly the shepherds saw and heard even more:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13, 14)

We can only imagine how the angels felt that night as they delivered this stunning news to this band of lowly shepherds. Of all the things angels can do, one thing they can never experience is redemption and salvation.

…Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)

All they can do is “look” and marvel at what God has done and continues to do for those who call out to Him.

3. Inquiry and Testimony

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:15, 16)

We have no English equivalent for the Greek behind “Let’s go.” It is an urgency, these shepherds thought, to get to Bethlehem to confirm what they had just been told. The “this thing” refers to the birth of the Savior, and they rushed off to find Him. Luke makes it sound like they went right to Him, but it probably took them some time find where this Savior was born.

They heard the word from heaven, they believed the word, and they acted on it. It’s a shame that more Christians don’t behave more like these shepherds. If Christians would hear Word, believe the Word, and most of all ACT on the Word of God, they, like the shepherds, would find Jesus. These shepherds didn’t take time debate what they had seen and heard; they didn’t call a meeting to form a consensus of opinion. They had the wisdom to simply say, “Let’s go…and see this thing that has happened.” That’s faith!

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, (Luke 2:17)

They believed and they “spread the word.” These simple shepherds were the first evangelists. They proved the power of God’s Word in their own experience. Again, it would be nice if more Christians proved the power of God’s Word in the same way. The shepherds were full of joy; they were thrilled with what they had seen, heard, and experienced.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)

Are you spreading this “trustworthy saying?” There’s a world of sinners that needs to hear what you know and what you have experienced!

People that heard what the shepherds had to say “wondered” about it. They, after all, hadn’t seen or heard what they saw and heard. They “wondered.” They didn’t know what to think. But Mary’s response to all this is interesting:

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

Her response was quite different to that of the shepherds and even those who heard their story and “wondered.” She, the mother of Jesus, kept her thoughts to herself. Mary knew more about her Child than anybody else on Earth. But there was a lot she didn’t know and even more she didn’t understand. But what she had seen, heard, and experienced didn’t stagger her faith. She simply kept her thoughts to herself as “precious memories” to be pondered and prayed about.

But there was NO keeping these shepherds quiet!

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20)

These poor shepherds returned to the their jobs; to the old familiar routine of their daily grind. But they were changed; their hearts had changed by what they had seen, heard, and experienced. The last we see of these shepherds, they are still praising God and rejoicing for what they had been privileged to be a part of, this night of the Incarnation.

The Gospel – the Good News – is full of good news! We who are born again should take special note of the role the shepherds played this night. The:

  • Heard;
  • Believed;
  • Obeyed;
  • Received;
  • Testified;
  • Rejoiced;
  • Praised.

Jesus changes lives.

THE PURPOSES OF ADVENT, Part Two

For the purpose of this miniseries, we determined that Jesus came to Earth for four reasons. The first two included (1) to destroy the Devil’s works, and (2) to take away sins. The third and fourth reasons for the Son of God coming in the flesh are (3) to reveal the Father and (4) to prepare for the Second Advent.

1. To reveal the Father, John 14:9

Dont you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say,Show us the Father?

By the time we get to John 14, Jesus’ end is near. He had been talking to His friends and three times He was interrupted. First by Thomas, who asked:

Lord, we dont know where you are going, so how can we know the way?(vs. 5)

While He was answering Thomas, Philip piped up and asked:

Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.(vs. 8)

Finally, Judas (the other one), butted in and asked:

But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?(vs. 22)

We have to admire our Lord’s patience with His “closest friends.” For three years these men walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, were witnesses to multiplied miracles and still they were clueless about who this Man was.

But it was Philip’s question that really showed what these men wanted. They understood that somehow this Man Jesus had a unique relationship with God, and what these men really wanted to was see Yahweh—to have the same special relationship with Him that Jesus had. Jesus’ answer to Philip was so simple, it must have left the apostle speechless:

Dont you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (vs. 9)

We get the impression that Jesus was mildly surprised that Philip hadn’t recognized Him for who He was. But then it’s not all that uncommon to miss God because we all approach the subject of “God the Father” with different preconceived notions that may or may not bear any resemblance to the reality of who He really is.

A lot of people today—Christians included—are like the Hebrews of the Old Testament, who had a highly intellectual concept of God because God had taught them all about Himself through His prophets and His Word. You can’t read the Old Testament without seeing the effort God went to to reveal Himself to His covenant people. From Genesis to Malachi we can see a kind of progressive revelation of God to the Hebrews. And yet, in spite of a growing head-knowledge of God, there was at the same time a corresponding moral decay in the people. Knowing facts about God is not what changes a life. It may change behavior for a while, but unless God is experienced at the heart level, a person will remain dedicated to serving themselves, not Him.

The profusion of religions and cults around Israel showed that man was always looking for something or someone to worship. Sin had so separated him from the true God that instead of seeking Him, man created gods in his image or in images that sprang from his imagination.

But all that changed with Advent, 2,000 years ago. Before He visited man in the flesh of man, in the person of His Son, God’s presence among His people was highly symbolic and sporadic. The fact is, before the coming of Christ, there was really no abiding presence of God on Earth or in His people. At various times throughout the Old Testament dispensation, the Spirit of God would come upon a person for a time to accomplish a special purpose. With the exception of King David, we have no record of God’s Spirit dwelling in anybody. God would manifest His presence in the form of clouds or smoke or in other supernatural manifestations. At the Advent, though, Jesus appeared to manifest God.

In answer to Philip’s question to to “see the Father,” Jesus’ response suggested that after three years, Philip had seen enough of Jesus to see the Father in Him. But, what exactly did Philip see in Jesus?

Philip was the very first man Jesus called to follow Him, though not the first one to actually follow our Lord. After Jesus asked Philip to follow Him, note what Philip did:

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45)

That was the first thing Philip saw in Jesus: here was the One who embodied all the ideals of Moses and the prophets.

Next, we see Jesus asking Philip a question about where to get some bread to feed a large group of hungry followers. We are told that our Lord asked him this question to “test Philip.” Philip’s answer showed that he considered it impossible to feel all the people:

Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7)

And yet right after that, we see Philip, along with the other apostles, sitting down with all those hungry people, waiting to be fed. Philip saw in Jesus One who was, in some unfathomable way, able to satisfy human hunger. He didn’t understand how it was possible, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying what Jesus was offering.

In John 12, we see Philip again. This time, a group of Greeks approached Philip wanting to see Jesus. Jesus’ response to Philip showed a perfect harmony between the Son and the Father:

Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12:27, 28)

This is what Philip saw and heard!

Finally, in John 14, Philip wanted to see the Father. How could Philip not see the Father in Jesus after all he had seen Jesus do and say? But he didn’t. He may have seen and heard, but what he saw and heard didn’t meant anything at the time. It wasn’t until after Pentecost that the light finally dawned upon Philip. It was then that Philip saw it all, and he knew that Jesus came to reveal the Father.

2. To prepare for a Second Advent, Hebrews 9:28

So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Here is the final reason Jesus came: He came to prepare for another coming. The first three reasons for Advent were all necessary in order that there could be a second Advent.

At Christmas time, the First Coming was greeting with joy and gladness.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13, 14)

Certainly the angels were thrilled that the Son of God appeared in the flesh, and a handful of thoughtful men were excited, but then what? All that happiness and goodwill sort of faded away. Something was missing in the first Advent. Certainly the Messiah came, but what really changed in the world. Jesus came to end the Devil’s works, to take away sin, and to reveal the Father, but as we look at the world around us even today, we’d be hard-pressed to see any of that taking place. No, the First Advent really demands something more.

The writer to the Hebrews makes a startling assertion: Christ will appear a second time. This is not referring to some kind of mystical, spiritual coming into people’s hearts! We’re talking a literal, physical, visible appearing of Christ. This Second Coming is all over the Old Testament and the New Testament; it is an essential doctrine; it is the consummation of all things.

It is unfortunate that so many Christian fail to see the surety of the Second Coming, and among those who know it’s going to happen remain unmoved! When Christ ascended to Heaven, angels appeared to those who saw Him leave:

This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11b)

There’s no doubt about it, men of Jerusalem! Jesus is going to come back, but not as He came the first time, but as He left. The angels cannot be wrong!  Jesus Christ is going to come back.

Paul cannot be wrong!

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17)

This is the blessed hope of the Church! This great doctrine of the Second Advent is what gave the early Church its hope, motivation, and encouragement. It should still do that for us today. Imagine what the Church would look like if ever day she lifted her face toward the eastern sky in expectation that this day could be that day of days! Wouldn’t we take our faith much more seriously if we honestly believed that our Lord could appear at any moment?

James, the half-brother of our Lord can’t be wrong:

You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5:8)

Peter wrote these encouraging words; he can’t be wrong:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:13)

John, the apostle who was perhaps closest to Jesus, was he wrong when he wrote:

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

And Jude couldn’t have been wrong:

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (Jude, vs 20, 21)

Every New Testament writer writes about a Second Advent. But the writer to Hebrews gives us the reason: to bring salvation to those waiting for Him. Before we deal with what that means, note that when Jesus comes the second time, it will NOT be to bear sin. The whole of the First Advent revolved around sin. Jesus came to deal with sin. His first Advent actually revealed sin. From the Slaughter of the Innocents to the His death on the Cross, the presence of Christ on earth brought sin into the light for all to see.

He not only shone the light on sin, but he bore sin, and not just on the Cross, but all through His life, Jesus bore sin. He bore its limitations while He was living and working as a Man. In poverty, sorrow, and loneliness, our Lord bore sin. Ultimately, of course, He bore sin all the way to the Cross, where He dealt with it once and for all.

At the First Advent, sin at its very root was dealt with, at His Second Advent all creation will celebrate the victory that sin has been crushed. Jesus Christ will not come in sorrow and sadness, but to bring everlasting joy. He won’t come in loneliness, but the saints of the ages will come with Him. We celebrate the First Advent, where there was no room at the Inn for Him. But at the Second Advent, the whole universe will have to make room for Him. The First Advent was for atonement. The Second Advent for administration, for Jesus Christ will come the second time as King of Kings and Lord of Lords to establish an everlasting kingdom in righteousness and holiness.

At His Second Advent, there will be complete salvation for the believer—complete righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. The Second Advent will be a joyous occasion for those who know Christ. We are waiting, patiently, in the midst of earth’s struggle, which is really our struggle.  When Jesus comes, the conflict that persists within every believer will finally be over; we will be made whole in every way.  Heaven is waiting for the Second Advent. Hell is waiting for the Second Advent. Indeed, all creation is groaning in anticipation of the Second Advent.

He is coming! This Christmas Season, may the hope of the Second Advent fill your hearts. Today, we stand between the Advents. Our relation to the first determines our relation to the second. May Jesus Christ find room in your hearts today to prepare you for the day when He comes again.

(c)  2011 Witzend

THE DAY AFTER

Matthew 2:13—23

Watching how people react to Jesus is always entertaining. For some, Jesus evokes emotions of exuberant joy and praise. It’s wonderful to see people head over heels in love with Jesus; to see how He has changed their lives and how they express their love and gratitude to Him. Others are not so much in love with Jesus as they are in love with the idea of Jesus. These types are easy to spot. They’re the “bleeding hearts” of American society; all concerned with the poor, always citing Jesus’ example of how to treat the poor, and even quoting Bible verses. Of course, these people are under the delusion that Jesus came only to help the poor; to save them from their poverty, not their sins. And still others react to Jesus with indifference; they don’t hate Him, they don’t love Him, they just recognize Him as an historical figure who said nice things and founded a religion and gave them a holiday at the end of the year. But then there are those who hold a visceral hatred toward Jesus and everything associated with Him. These are the people (“knuckleheads” is the theological term that best describes them) who rage against any public displays of Christmas. They have a hate on for Christmas trees and manger scenes and Christmas carols that dare to mention the name of Jesus. They use the courts to shut down Christmas. They’re really a bunch of Grinch’s, and in New Testament King Herod was the worse Grinch of all.

Hosea 11:1 is the verse that must be understood so that the whole story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in Egypt will be understood:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

This was really a stunning prophecy because we can see it fulfilled in history. When Hosea uttered this word, it was prophetic in the sense that it hadn’t happened yet. For us, though, Hosea’s prophecy is just history because we can see how it was fulfilled. In fact, it might be accurate to say that Hosea’s prophecy was actually fulfilled twice. Out of Egypt God did called His son, which was a nation (the Exodus of the Hebrews); and out of Egypt God called His Son, who was a Person, the child Jesus. The circumstances surrounding the sojourn in Egypt are at once both interesting and chilling.

1. Dreams, dreams, and dreams, 2:13, 14

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (verse 13)

Dreams figure prominent in Matthew’s birth narrative, with no less than four important dreams in the first two chapters. Here, God took special action to preserve the life of His Son. But, it wasn’t just His Son God was concerned with. The “they” mentioned refers to the Wise Men. They had also been warned in a dream:

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (verse 12)

These Wise Men must have been a tremendous comfort to Joseph and Mary. Their visit served to confirm all the things spoken to Mary by the angel Gabriel, by the shepherds, and by both Simeon and Anna. Not only that, the young family had been given gifts that amounted to a small fortune—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Recall what Simeon had said to Mary:

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34, 35)

That piercing was now beginning. The malevolent king Herod, who thought nothing of killing some of his own sons, instituted what Bible scholars refer to as “the Slaughter of the Innocents.” But the real story here is Joseph. Once again, we see Joseph obeying the angel of the Lord immediately, without question. Here was a man who was used to obeying without asking questions. In the night, they made their escape to Egypt, a journey of some 200 miles. We know absolutely nothing about the family’s stay in Egypt. We don’t know where they lived or how they lived. We do know they had plenty of resources to make life in Egypt comfortable, thanks to the gifts of the Wise Men. It’s amazing how the Lord provides; sometimes even before we know we have a need!

Most scholars think that the birth of Jesus happened during the final year of Herod’s life, and the return from Egypt shortly after Herod’s death and the threat gone. We don’t know how long after the birth of Jesus this flight to Egypt took place. We do know that by the time the Wise Men came, the family had been living in a house in Bethlehem; they had long since left the manger. Some think Jesus could have been as old as two years of age, but that is pure conjecture.

2. The Slaughter of the Innocents, 2:16—18

When the Wise Men failed to show up at the palace, King Herod realized he had been snookered. Flying into a rage, he ordered all baby boys to be killed in and around Bethlehem, all under the age two. This portion of Matthew’s Gospel is widely criticized because there is nothing in the historical record to support this “slaughter of the innocents.” While this is true, the incident fits perfectly with the character of King Herod. This man had already slaughtered three of his own sons, one of his wives, and her mother. How vile was this man? Jewish historian Josephus notes that on his deathbed, King Herod called all prominent Jewish men in the country to come to Jericho, on penalty of death. There these men were imprisoned in the hippodrome and orders were given for them to be  slain upon the King’s death. Why would Herod give such an order? He was so fearful that he himself would not be mourned at his death, he wanted to have “the honor of a memorable mourning at his funeral.”

So the so-called “slaughter of the innocents” finds no support in secular history, but then neither does the crucifixion of Jesus, so it shouldn’t surprise us. However, to put the incident in perspective, in all probability very few children were slaughtered. Herod died very soon after the order was given, and Bethlehem was so small, many Bible scholars think barely a dozen baby boys were killed, if that many. The threat was what propelled Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to Egypt, all in fulfillment of another Old Testament prophecy:

A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (verse 18)

Exactly why Matthew cites Jeremiah 31:18 has caused some debate. It baffles modern readers of Scripture. Ramah, or Rama, was located about 5 miles north of Jerusalem, and the tomb of Rachel is thought to have been located in the same general direction. Here is what the scholars think was in Matthew’s mind. Jeremiah was writing in reference to the imminent deportation of  the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar had rounded up all the captives and held them at Ramah before taking them with him into exile. The words of Jeremiah picture this event as a great time of mourning; when the people lost their homes, their property, and their dignity as they faced 70 years of captivity in a foreign land. Similarly, in the time of King Herod, weeping and mourning took place in the same general area. This time, though, only one family was uprooted, the family of Jesus, and this time it wasn’t the family being forced to leave that wept and mourned, it was those left behind; weeping and mourning over the death of their baby boys at the hand of this wicked king.

So once again, we see how a sovereign God used people and events to accomplish His will.

3. The return home, 2:19—23

Here is yet another dream, the third appearance of the angel of the Lord, and another divine initiative in the protection and guiding of the Son of God. From the way verse 20 is worded, the Child is obviously the main concern of the Lord’s:

Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

Something of minor interest it the wording of verse 19, where we read this: an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. It was an angel of the Lord, not the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord—the preincarnate Christ—was now clothed in flesh and living among men, specifically in the land of Egypt, which He and His family now needed to leave.

At first Joseph’s instructions are very vague; he is told simply to go to the land of Israel, anywhere in the land of Israel. The family had just spent, perhaps, two years in Bethlehem. They had a house a there, and it is likely that Joseph had established his carpentry business there, so that would probably have been the place the family would have settled had it not been for this:

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee… (verse 22)

Another dream  moving Joseph along; this time, though, Joseph is aware of a problem. Herod the murderer was dead, yes, but Archelaus was in power, so Bethlehem was still a dangerous place for Jesus to be. Who was this man Archelaus? Achelaus was the worst of Herod’s sons, and that meant he was as wicked and as demented as his father or worse. History notes that this Archelaus was known for his cruelty and his wild rages of temper. Josephus tells us that immediately after his accession to the throne, Archelaus the monster massacred some 3,000 people. No wonder Joseph was fearful, and no wonder the Lord came to his aid with another set of instructions:

he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene. (verse 23)

Joseph and his young family finally settled in Galilee, in a town called Nazareth. Galilee was governed by Herod Antipas, who we read about later in Matthew 14, but Nazareth in particular was under the rule of Herod Philip. If Archelaus was the worst of Herod’s offspring, then Antipas was the weakest but he also cruel. Philip, though, was markedly different from the rest of his brothers, and it was into his territory that the family of Jesus settled. This region was deemed to be very safe for Jews, so it is no wonder that many times during the life of Jesus, He retired to the Galilean country side find rest.

According to Luke’s Gospel, Nazareth was hometown to both Mary and Joseph. What a wonderful God we serve. He providentially guided Joseph every step of the way, carefully orchestrating world events to move Joseph along His predetermined course. From the moment young Joseph met young Mary, the divine dance of destiny began, choreographed by God Himself. The census, the shepherds, the wise men, the threat to Jesus’ life, the sojourn in Egypt, the return to Israel and Galilee all fulfilled ancient prophecies. As if to reward Joseph and Mary for their unwavering faithfulness and patience, God allowed them to settle in familiar surroundings. This too was a fulfillment of prophecy, according to Matthew:

So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.” (verse 23b)

You’ll search high and low to find those words in the Old Testament, but they aren’t there. The fact is, we aren’t sure what prophets Matthew is quoting from. What we do know is this: the Hebrew word for Nazareth is netzer, which really means a “branch” or “shoot.” The town of Nazareth was so named because of its insignificance. That same word, netzer, is seen in the Old Testament in three prominent passages:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:2, 3)

But I am a worm, not a human being; I am scorned by everyone, despised by the people. (Psalm 22:6)

Jesus was referred to as netzer, not only because His earthly roots ran back to Jesse, or that He was considered as insignificant by some, but also because He was raised in the town of Nazareth—netzer. He was therefore called a Nazarene, a netzer, a nothing from the town of nothing, thus fulfilling many prophecies.

If you have been paying attention to the “Christmas story” in our studies, then you must have noticed the importance of the prophecies concerning the location of the birth narrative. He was born in Bethlehem, fulfilling a prophecy. He was called out of Epypt, fulfilling another prophecy. There was weeping and wailing in Rama as the prophet Jeremiah foresaw. And Jesus was called a Nazarene, fulfilling yet another prophecy. Nobody but God could have worked things out in such a perfect way so that this single birth would fulfill some many ancient prophecies and promises, and touch so many lives.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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