Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The True Message of Christmas (Luke 2:10-12)

The first message, announcement, of the birth of Christ was given to shepherds. Imagine, the lowliest, poorest, most disregarded class of Jewish society were the first to hear of Christ's birth. And not just a casual announcement, either. An angel came who was then joined by "a multitude of the heavenly host" singing praises to God for this great miracle. Let's look at this message given, because it was the most powerful, most complete, and truest message given of the Christ.

In verses 10-12 we have the message: "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger."

In the Greek, verses 10 & 11 are laid out like this:
     The Announcement
        The Time
           A Savior
           The Lord
        The Place
     The Sign

You can see that the heart of the message is "a Savior, Christ the Lord." Let's look at that to discover why this is the strongest message of Christmas - and the only true message.

Not a helper, but a Savior. A Savior is for the lost. Jesus says of himself, "I am come to seek and save that which is lost." We are lost because He recognizes us as lost, whether we do or not. He is the One coming, He is the One dying, He is he One rising on the third day, He is the One Coming again - for us, whether we realize it or not.

Christ the Lord. He is the Lord of all power and might; therefore, He is able to save. In these three words we find the entire gospel. It is good news as to a Person. And it is distinctly Christianity, which is about a person, as opposed to Religion, which consists of Articles, Creeds, Doctrines, and Confessions - all that is outward.

The angels sang of a Person, not a new tradition. They sang of His majesty, not a prescribed litany.
     When they gathered in the sky, it was to adore the Savior.
          When the shepherds knelt before Jesus, it was to worship the
                      One of whom the angels sang.
               When the wisemen brought gifts, it was for the One Who
                           would save His people from their sins.

This Christmas day, should our lives not be for the proclamation of the Lord's Anointed, the One Who is full of grace and truth? The One Who alone can save us out of our every predicament? The only One Who can give true joy and light?

So I say to you, Merry Christmas! Christ the Savior is born!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Joseph and his dream (Matthew 1:19-25)

Joseph was a pretty important character in the Christmas story. In fact, of all the people in the whole Bible who had dreams, Joseph had the most - four dreams! And thank God he did, or Jesus may never have been born.

Joseph was a "just man". That is, he desired to obey the Law of God. So when he found out that Mary, his wife, was pregnant - and not by him - he was in quite a quandary. He was very kind, and had no desire to make this thing public. If he did, the Law demanded that Mary be stoned. So he made up his mind to put her away secretly, through divorcement.

Now the Bible says, "While he pondered these things..." (v. 20). While he was considering which of these two options to take, an angel appeared to him in a dream. In essence, the angel said, "Joseph, there is a third option, and here it is, and this is why."

Have you ever been in a quandary about what to do? And you feel like you have exhausted all your options? And none of them look all that good? Well, God still has ideas that you have never had. We can't see down the road and around the bend, but God sits up high above the earth and can see everything. So why not ask Him? And wait for His answer.

Satan was trying his best to stop Jesus from coming into the earth. He put pressure on Joseph to do the right thing. And there were two right things to choose from, according to the Law. But aren't you glad that God is more involved in grace than law? When it looks impossible, and Satan is trying to get the upper hand in your life, God in His grace comes with a totally unheard-of option. An option, that when revealed, makes perfect sense.

And when Joseph obeyed and took God's option, Jesus was born - the Savior of the World! You see, with God, there is no Plan B. Plan A always works, if we will obey God. Take a lesson from Joseph.
Start looking to God for Plan A, His plan, the one that always works. Be willing to wait until you relax and quit fidgeting (like, take a nap, dude!). God is never late, He is always on time!

Blessings this Christmastime!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Zacharius & Mary (Luke 1)

Boy! The messenger angel was certainly busy during that first Christmas season! Think about it, he sat around for nearly 400 years waiting to deliver a message to someone. Then suddenly, in a period of a few months, he was speeding up and down the land of Israel, delivering messages to men and women alike.

Two of those messages were to an old priest named Zacharias, and a young virgin girl named Mary. One was in the south of the land, the other in the north. Their messages were quite similar, but their reactions were vastly different, with quite different consequences.

Zacharius (Zachary, today, or Zach, if you please) was an old priest, married to Elizabeth, a barren wife. Here he was,
     ending his days in the priesthood
          with no successor,
               no child,
                    no grandchildren. Not a very promising picture, to say the least. But while in the temple, performing his required services, an angel appears with a message. It was a glorious message, too! (Luke 1:5-23) Not just some ho-hum event, it was a world-changer.
     He would have a son,
          his name would be John,
               and he would go around announcing the coming of the long-awaited Messiah.
Okay, finally after all these years of no children, we have paydirt!!

Here comes the problem: First thing out of his mouth was a wrong question. Did you ever want to grab what you just said and stuff it back in your mouth? Instead, it just hung out there in the air in vibrant neon color. Oh no! He said, "How shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years?" (v. 18) ...and the angel struck him dumb, until John was born.

Now, here is Mary.
     She is a very young girl
          (in today's standards),
                    and no real prospects of a husband. She is just beginning life, unlike Zach, and her whole future is before her. The messenger angel shows up in her room with a glorious message (is there any other kind from heaven?), just for her.
     She would have a son!
          He would be the promised Messiah from heaven. (Luke 1:26-35)
               And she would call him the Son of God.
In so many ways, she was scared spit-less.

Here comes the question, just like Zach, sort of. She asked, "How shall this be, I am not married?" (v. 34) ...and the angel explained it to her, unlike Zacharias.

So what is the difference? They both had good reason to ask a question. Zacharias felt the promise had come too late. Mary felt the promise had come too soon. But Zacharias questioned the fact of the promise, while Mary only inquires as to the mode.

So be watchful this Christmas season. You may not know how Jesus will appear to you, but know for a fact that he will. For he promises, that if we will believe, he will come to us and make his home with us.

Be blessed this Christmas season!

Friday, December 14, 2012

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. Matthew 2:10

What a joyful sentence in the midst of this - or any - Christmas season! When they saw the star...

But wait a second, they had followed it for nights and days, and it led them to Israel to see the newborn King of the Jews. Why now did they rejoice?!

They were human, just as you and I are. Wouldn't you assume that the new king would be born in the capital of the country? Where the temple was? That is a natural assumption, if you hadn't read the prophecies, or hadn't read them closely enough. So, when they got to Jerusalem, they did the normal thing. They went to the palace and asked the present king. And they started a furor that caused many babies to die a terrible death.

Apparently, in their haste and wrong decision to go to Jerusalem and ask of Herod, the star vanished. In some way, they could no longer see it. But when they left Jerusalem without a solid answer to their question, the star suddenly appeared again, and (I believe) they realized their mistake and rejoiced that the star was still there. As it turned out, they were guided to Nazareth, not Bethlehem, and to the "house where Jesus was," and there they fell down and worshiped Him.

We all must seek Him and follow Him by faith. There is no other way. Sometimes the glitz and glimmer of this world, sometimes the noise and busyness, sometimes the schedules and demands, dim our view of faith. We lose our way, as it were, and we begin to come up with our own idea of what we should do. That is when we discover that we have made a mess of things and can't figure out how to get out of it all.

Repent means to turn and go another way. They left Jerusalem (repented?) and went another way when they saw the star. That brought great rejoicing!

May I encourage you, and me, this Christmas season? Keep your eyes on the Star of the season - Jesus. Turn away - in your heart - from all the noise, and schedules, and gift-buying, and gift-opening, and family gatherings, and dinners, and keep your eyes on the Star. That is where the change is. That is what will make Christmas - and your life! - different. It will cause you to "go home another way" (v. 12).

Like the chorus says:
     "Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
     Look full in His wonderful face,
     And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
     In the light of His glory and grace."
                                                 - Helen H. Lemmel

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Where is He who is born king of the Jews? Matthew 2:2

All my adult life I wondered why Herod went ballistic when the wisemen came to him and asked this question of him. One Christmastime Sunday morning, I was preaching about the wisemen. I arrived a little early at the church and had time to review my message. I decided to read the passage from my Greek New Testament. In doing so, I suddenly stopped at verse 2 on the word "born". Something was wrong, this wasn't the normal Greek word for "born". And why was this word chosen over the normal word for born?

I began to research the issue, and found the answer to my long-asked question. There are four Greek words for "born", this being the last one normally used. This word (teek'-tow) places emphasis on the product, rather than the process. It doesn't focus on the conception or the gestation, but rather the finished product itself.

In a literal sense, the wisemen were asking Herod, "Where is he, the product of the seed, the king of the Jews?" And that is what made Herod go crazy (I should say, crazier). He wasn't the true king of the Jews. He had usurped that position and had gotten Rome to validate it. Inside, he always knew that his position was tenuous, at best. Now here come these wisemen (read, goofballs, to Herod) who want to know where the king of the Jews is. And they identify him perfectly, and separate him from Herod and his offspring. All in one word!

When Adam and Eve sinned, God promised the devil, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (Genesis 3:15). For centuries, the Jews had looked for the seed of the woman, the Messiah (read, Product of the Seed) to come. And Herod, being part Jew, would certainly be aware of this most prominent promise among the Jews. He knew his time was soon to be up, and the devil in him knew as well.

Thus begins the bruising of His (the Messiah's) heel with the killing of the babies in Bethlehem.
Thus begins the bruising of Satan's head with the birth of, the appearance of, the product of the seed, the Messiah.
And just mention Jesus in public, and watch "Herod" go ballistic. Same results today as when He was born a baby in Bethlehem.

This is a glorious season, Christmas, set in the midst of political, financial, social, and personal upheaval. Why does it happen that way? To remind us that the Product of the Seed has come, He has bruised Satan's head. And very soon, He will destroy Satan's influence over the people of the earth forever. Christmas is still a foretaste of that which is to come.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Now, the birth of Jesus was on this wise. (Matthew 1:10-18)

Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus, filled with less than perfect men and women, less than stellar kings. So filled with such imperfect specimens is this listing that the Holy Spirit then says: “Now the birth of Jesus was like this.” Or “On the contrary the birth of Jesus was like this.”

His birth was so very stellar and other-worldly compared to his lineage that there is no comparison at all.

The “players” in the drama are
          Mary & Joseph
          Zacharias and Elizabeth
          The shepherds
          The wise men
          King Herod
          Anna of Asher
          Simeon of Judah.
And the inn-keeper

Each had their mundane lives to live:
          Mary & Joseph lived in a backwater town.
          Zacharias and Elizabeth were at retirement age, having spent
their whole lives in a non-eventful and thankless job, and childless.
          The shepherds were caught up in a monotonous and lonely
          The wise men – a few of many scholars – were wise by
                   knowledge, but they had no real experience. They were
                   insulated by their books.
          King Herod was caught between Rome and the Jews. Not a
real king, he was distrustful of everyone, and distrusted by everyone.
          Anna & Simeon had spent a lifetime of waiting with only a
                   thread of hope.
          The inn-keeper was a little known businessman in a village
whose only sense of importance was the claim to the
birthplace of King David.

In a two-year period, each had an interesting encounter with God.
          Zacharias stumbled into God’s presence.
          Elizabeth and God used the same body.
          The shepherds and God attended the same angelic concert.
The inn-keeper and God used the same stable for their
          The wise men and God were interested in the same star.
          King Herod and God had designs on the same throne.
          Anna and God inhabited the same temple waiting to give
                   thanks and receive thanks.
          Simeon and God anticipated the same Salvation for Israel.
          Joseph and God had an eye for the same woman – and met
                   in a dream to work it all out.
          And Mary’s and God’s “fullness of time” occurred at the same
                   time in the same place.

And yet, each would have lived a life that was unknown and not-long-remembered by more than one or two others…except
          for the unseen,
                             cataclysmic events that were occurring

And what of your “mundane” life? And what of the worldly events happening all around you without your control? Could it be that God is doing something
                                      and simultaneous with you?

Could I encourage you today to be an Anna or a Simeon? Could you commit yourself to waiting on God? staying in His presence? not giving up with the passing of time?

Could I encourage you to be a Mary and allow God to do impossible things with you? Could you be a Joseph and allow God to change the course of your life and future history?

Like Zacharias and Elizabeth, would you start life again at what the world considers the end and produce a greater blessing for God – and the world?

Like the shepherds, would you release your hands from this world’s busyness to bow before God in adoration?

Or like the wise men, would you allow God to re-chart your life and send you to unknown places to supply needed gifts for the King?

Today, no one thinks of these first century AD lives as mundane. Instead we wish we had been there. We dream of what it would be like to be one of them. We give God praise that each of them allowed God to invade their mundane-ness.

And we take hope and are encouraged that God is also using us in a very significant way. And He is!

          “He that began a good work in you will continue it until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:6).