Voices of Christmas: Elizabeth, Mary and John the Baptist.

(“John the Baptist?!”  Yes.  He bore testimony to the Lord’s mother long before he bore testimony to her Son.)

Elizabeth was the first person, aside from Mary, to learn of the coming birth of the Messiah.  Her story is found in Luke 1:36-45, 56-61.  She and her husband Zechariah also provided a friendly environment for the young mother to begin her pregnancy, a place where she could endure morning sickness and all the other things accompanying early pregnancy.  And Mary could make the adjustments without the questions that undoubtedly arose over her condition when she got back home.  The two ladies could comfort and support each other.  The elderly lady with her pregnancy and the young, probably mid-teen, with hers.

Who was Elizabeth?  Luke tells us that she was married to a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. She was of the daughters of Aaron….  And they both were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years, Luke 1:5-7.

Her husband had a remarkable experience as well concerning his wife’s pregnancy, with a visit from an angel telling him of the conception of his own son.  When Mary showed up, he gave mute testimony to the power and truthfulness of God, Luke 1:8-21, 57-64.

Elizabeth.  Righteous.  Blameless.  Elderly.  Barren.

That last thing was the only one that bothered her.  As we noted in our last post, children were longed-for, a blessing from the Lord, not a burden or an inconvenience.  So she was heartbroken, as well as feeling a “reproach among the people,”  Luke 1:25.

I wonder what it was like when her hubby came home – and he couldn’t talk!  Now, he had had to finish his time in Jerusalem.  “The division of Abijah” referred to the division of the priesthood King David had worked out years earlier to organize how and when each priest would serve in Jerusalem at the Temple.  It’s said that some priests were able to serve only once in their lifetime, so it was something looked forward to, and not even a visit from an angel nullified the priest’s responsibility.  Zechariah was gone for a little over a month.

What was it like when he came home, and had to write down his experiences for Elizabeth?  I wonder what her thoughts were as her long-awaited desire for a child seemed about to be satisfied.  And the renewal of youthful vigor so they could become parents.  To enter again into that joy and enjoyment that God has reserved for married couples, which this world has totally corrupted into something far different than what it’s supposed to be, both as to marriage itself and to marital privilege and responsibility.

When Mary came to Elizabeth’s home, Elizabeth was 6 months along.  And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed in the fruit of your womb!  But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.  Blessed is she who believed [that] there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord,” Luke 1:41-45.

So the two generations met, united not only by the ties of family, but also by ties of the Spirit.  Mary had conceived by the Spirit, Luke 1:35.  Elizabeth’s child, though conceived normally, was to be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb,” Luke 1:15.  Elizabeth spoke by the Spirit, Luke 1:41.

Pay attention to Elizabeth’s reference to Mary:  “the mother of my Lord.”  She recognized the unique character, not only of the pregnancy, but of the One Mary was carrying.  He was “my Lord”.  Elizabeth bowed to Him in spirit even before He was born.  How much more should we bow to Him Who has been born – and lived and died and rose again, Who even now, having by Himself purged our sins, is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Hebrews 1:3.

Even as a Babe in the womb, He was “Lord.”  He still is.

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Voices of Christmas: Mary.

Without Mary, there would have been no birth of Jesus, no Christmas, no Easter and no salvation.  This doesn’t mean that she is the Savior, but simply that she was the channel through whom the incarnate God came into this world to be the Savior.  As we saw in our last post, it’s unlikely any other Jewish maiden would have qualified to be the mother of the Messiah.  (NOT “the mother of God.”)

Beyond the fact that she was a virgin, the NT tells us very little about this young woman. She lived in Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, Luke 1:26, a town evidently not thought of very highly, John 1:46.  She was betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, Luke 1:27.  We’re told nothing of her parents or any siblings.  We do know of a elderly relative named Elizabeth, who became the mother of John the Baptist.

At the same time, it tells us a great deal about her.

We’re told she was a virgin.  This means very little today, but it meant a lot back then. There would have been no bumper stickers saying that “virginity is curable.” Girls realized that they could only give themselves the first time – one time.  So did young men, for that matter.  That was of surpassing importance, something to be valued, cherished, and protected.  And it was only to be to her husband – after they were married.  There was no moving in with each other to “see if it works out.”  There was no “it’s just sex,” as if that were just another sandwich for lunch or deciding which TV show to watch.  There was no such thing as “casual sex.”  It was the consummation of marriage, something looked forward to, not the commencement of “a relationship,” taken for granted.

To be sure, there probably were those who didn’t agree with all this.  Mary was not one of them.  She was a virgin.

At the same time, she was aware of marital activity and its result.  When told by the angel that she was about to become a mother, she asked, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” Luke 1:34.

A valid question.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born of you will be called the Son of God,” Luke 1:35.  She would be the recipient of a miracle.

Now, there are those who deny any possibility of “a virgin birth.”  And, humanly speaking, they’re right.  It is impossible.  But that God Who created the whole universe in a week and made Adam out of a pile of dirt, and Eve out of one of his ribs, would certainly have no trouble creating that which would unite with an egg in Mary’s body to produce the infant Lord Jesus in her womb.

Of course, these same unbelievers also probably deny creation and redemption, so that a miracle conception is unnecessary as well as impossible.  They’re quite willing to believe that Matthew and Luke made up stories to make the best of an unpleasant situation.

But, if Jesus were an illegitimate child, there would have been, and are, repercussions, even if that means nothing to our society.  It meant something to hers.

As a betrothed young woman, she was considered as good as married, even though the wedding hadn’t yet taken place.  Divorce would have been required to break that engagement.  Joseph couldn’t simply have written her a “Dear Jane” letter.  Because of her status as betrothed, if Jesus were illegitimate, Mary herself would have been liable to death, Leviticus 20:10.  Jesus Himself would not have been recognized as a member of the nation, Deuteronomy 23:2.  If His were an ordinary conception, whether in or out of wedlock, He would have had a fallen human nature and, as such, would not have been able to satisfy the Law’s righteous requirements, even for Himself, let alone for others. He could not have been the Savior.

The Virgin Birth means something.  It meant something to Mary.

We’re told nothing of what happened when it became discovered that she was pregnant, when she came home after three months from visiting Elizabeth.  She would have begun “to show.”  What did she tell her parents?  How did she break the news to Joseph?  What did the neighbors think?  Remember, this was a small village, and human nature is human nature.  There were probably rumors and whispers.  So, you see, it meant a great deal to Mary – and to Joseph.  And to her parents.  Her reputation was likely gone – and Joseph’s when he went ahead and married her.  And her parents – where did they “go wrong” in raising their daughter?

Perhaps I’m reading more into this than is there.  Perhaps everybody concerned was cool with it, though I doubt it, at least to start.  Even if they were, though, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth cast a long shadow.  Years later, it was cast into His face by His enemies. In one of the many confrontations with Him that they had, they said, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father – God,” John 8:41.  And the “we” and “of fornication” are emphatic in the original language.  Now, they might simply have been asserting their own descent from Abraham, but I think there may have been a dig at His own background as well.

Mary was a virgin.

She was also righteous.  What was her reaction to what the angel explained to her?  “Behold the maidservant of the LORD!  Let it be to me according to your word,” Luke 1:38.  We have no way of knowing how much of what we have written might have gone through Mary’s mind as she was digesting what the angel told her, how far through she might have thought it.  She’d just received the mind-blowing news that she was to become the mother of the Messiah!  Her!  Mary!  That was enough!  “Let it be….”

Luke includes one of the many “human-interest” stories for which his gospel is known. The next verse says that she made “haste” to go to her relative Elizabeth, whom the angel had told her, perhaps by way of confirmation of his message to Mary, was also pregnant, and this “…in her old age.  For with God nothing is impossible.”

Children were highly valued and loved in that society.  They were looked on as blessings from God, cf. Psalm 128:3, 4.  There were even provisions in the law that if an expectant mother were hurt during a fight so that she delivered prematurely or if the child were hurt in some way, damages and/or judgment was exacted of the guilty party, Exodus 21:22-25.  By the way, this is one of the two places in the Law where “an eye for an eye,” etc., occurs.  And her husband had something to say about it.

Children, even the unborn, were loved, and protected.

And a wife considered it a great calamity to be barren.  Cf Elizabeth’s own reaction to the angel’s message to her, Luke 1:24, 25.

So Mary hurries to her relative to share in the good news.  And probably to share her own good news.  With whom else could she share it?  “I’m pregnant with the Messiah.”  How would/could anyone believe her, apart from divine intervention, like there was with Joseph?

We’re going to have to write something on Elizabeth.  We weren’t going to, but there’s just too much here.  Probably more on Mary, too.

There was confirmation of  the angel’s message to Mary when she got to Elizabeth’s home.  Perhaps Zechariah chimed in, so to speak, since he couldn’t, with his own experience with an angel.  Mary’s reaction to all this is recorded in Luke 1:47-55.  It’s one of the great psalms of praise in the Bible.

Mary, highly favored, highly thankful, highly blessed.

Mary, the mother of our Lord.

The Voices of Christmas: “Hail, Mary….”

These words are…?

1.  The beginning of words used millions of times a day.

2.  A long, desperation pass to the end zone in the last seconds of a football game, a pass thrown with the hope of snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat.

3.  An approximation of the beginning of an angelic greeting to a young Jewish maiden who would otherwise be totally unknown.

4.  All of the above.

All four are true, although only one is Scriptural.  I have no idea where #2 came from, although if it works, it’s very exciting.  I’m sure there’s an explanation if I wanted to look it up.  However, the Virgin Birth was not a “desperation” move by God to try to salvage something out of the mess Adam made of the human race.  It was the continuation of a carefully thought-out plan for the redemption of mankind, the defeat of Satan, the vindication of the Divine purpose and the revelation of the glory and grace of God.  All this rested on the shoulders of a young Jewish girl who had no idea of it at all.  This does not mean it was dependent on her in the sense that she could have messed it up if she hadn’t been “willing.”  It just means that she was the only girl out of the hundreds or thousands in Judah who could have been the mother of the Messiah.

How is she the only one?  There are several reasons.

First, the fallen human nature is passed from father to child.  This is seen in the very first generation of children.  In Genesis 1:26, 27, we read that Adam was created in the “image of God.”  This doesn’t mean that he was a little “god” or that he looked like God.  Genesis 5:1 repeats this:  In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.  However, v. 3 says, And Adam…begot a son in his own likeness, after his image….”  Whatever “the image of God” was, Adam lost it and became the father of children who were like him:  fallen sinners.  The chain of fallenness continues to this day. I got it from my father, who got it from his father, and I passed it down to my kids, and they to their kids, etc., etc.  So, the Messiah could have no human father, though He could have and did have a human mother.  This is how He was fully human, through her, but not a fallen human, like a human father would have been.

Some try to get around the problem of sin by saying that Mary herself was sinless, which she herself denies.  Besides, this just passes the problem back one generation and would have required her to be virgin-born as well.

A second reason is found in her lineage as compared with Joseph’s.  She and Joseph were both descendants of King David, but through different sons:  Matthew 1:6, Luke 3:31.  This is significant.  Because of Jeconiah, otherwise known as Coniah or Jehoiachin, David’s line through Solomon became cursed, Jeremiah 22:24-30.  Jesus could never ascend to the throne of David if He were actually Joseph’s son.  He will ascend to the throne through Mary.  For a complete treatment of this, see my post on Zelophehad.

A third reason is that it was time, Galatians 4:4.  If we could put it like this, Mary was the right girl at the right time.  There probably weren’t very many young Jewish maidens alive at the time who had the lineage and right of inheritance that Mary had.  Even if there were, she was the one highly favored.  She was the one through whom the incarnate God would come into this world.

She was the one to whom the angel would say, “Hail, thou who art highly favored….”

Voices of Christmas: Matthew.

[This is actually a reprint, somewhat edited, of a post from last March.  However, it’s certainly relevant for this time of year.  Now, it does mention Easter, but Easter would never have happened if it weren’t for Christmas.]

Matthew’s genealogy is important because it tells us that the story of Jesus doesn’t begin “once upon a time,” in spite of those who claim it should.  It’s rooted solidly in Jewish history, in the Old Testament.  However, Matthew’s purpose isn’t merely to show us that Jesus is Jewish.  His purpose is to show us as well that Jesus is closely linked to two great covenants in Jewish history:  the Davidic and the Abrahamic.  Both covenants have national and global significance.  Jesus’ life and death have national and global significance.

Part of the significance of that life and death lies in connection with another covenant essential to the founding of the nation of Israel:  the Mosaic.  Moses wasn’t an ancestor of Jesus so isn’t included in the genealogy.  Nevertheless, there is a connection, though it’s spiritual, not physical.  Israel was given the Mosaic Law as a standard of righteous living, with blessings or judgment based on either Israel’s obedience or rebellion.

The Old Testament is filled with stories of Israel’s disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant, and the consequences of that rebellion.  Israel was never able to attain to the righteousness required by the Law.  Though that Covenant was never made with mankind – there is no “Dispensation of Law” for mankind – yet according to Paul in Romans 2:1-16, Gentiles, that is, the rest of mankind outside the Jewish race, understand the idea of “right” and “wrong.”  These may not agree with the Biblical definition of such things, but there is still that understanding.  The OT Jew never lived up to the Law, and we never live up even to our own understanding of right and wrong.  We can never attain the righteousness God requires if we are ever to stand in His presence uncondemned.  The Lord Jesus came to procure and provide that righteousness.  Hence, the Manger and the genealogies.

We see –

Importance of the genealogy.

1.  It established Jesus as a descendant of Abraham through Jacob (Israel).  This is important because only an Israelite could be king over the nation, Deuteronomy 17:15.

2.  It established Jesus as a descendant of King David.  Only a descendant of David could sit on his throne.  [You might want to check out my post on “The Daughters of Zelophedad” for more about this.]  I know there is a lot of discussion today, with “the kingdom” being considered only as some sort of “spiritual” entity which has nothing to do with the nation of Israel, but the Old Testament clearly requires something more than an invisible reign of the Son of David.  Jeremiah 23:5, 6 says “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute righteousness and judgment in the earth.  In His days, Judah will be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely.  Now this is the name by which He will be called:  THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

Interesting things in the genealogy.

The genealogy is obviously incomplete.  That’s because it’s designed to show connection, not chronology.  Several names are left out, and the ones included are arranged in three sections of 14.  Perhaps Matthew did this to make it easier to remember these 42 names.  Perhaps there is also a connection with David’s name.  In Hebrew, the numeric value of the letters in his name is “14”.

1.  Each segment ends with a decisive event: the rise of the monarchy, the Captivity, the coming of the Messiah.

2.  Each segment involves a different Covenant.  The first segment involves the Abrahamic Covenant, as the promised line develops through Isaac [not Ishmael, who was rejected], Jacob [not Esau, who was also rejected], then Judah, and on down to the Lord Jesus.  The second segment has to do with the Davidic Covenant, a covenant in which the Lord promised David that he would always have a son to sit on his throne. That the Lord Jesus ultimately fulfills this covenant is without doubt.  The question is, how and when?  The third segment introduces the New Covenant.  Though it’s commonly understood that the New Covenant concerns the Church, we only enter into its blessing because of and through the Lord Jesus.  It was actually made on behalf of the nation of Israel, Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:36-44; Ezekiel 34:20-31; 36:16-38 and others.

3.  Each segment has something to do with the Davidic kingdom.  The first sections tells of its establishment.  The second refers to its dissolution.  The third has to do with its re-establishment.

4.  The genealogy is a microcosm of grace.  Consider the names listed in it.

a.  Some were famous.  Who could ask for more illustrious ancestors that Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon?

b.  However, some were forgotten.  Who knows anything about Abiud, Eliakim or Azor, or many of the others in this list.  To a church proud of its accomplishments, and forgetting its roots, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world, to put to shame the mighty, and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

For most of us, any memory of us will die with us, except maybe for family and a few friends, and when they die, so will the memory.  But those whom the world has considered worthy to be forgotten, God has remembered in His grace.

c.  Some were foul.  Consider Manasseh, for example.  Though son to a godly father, he himself was so wicked that he single-handedly brought on the judgments which later happened to Judah, 2 Kings 21:10-16.  Romans 5:8 says, God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Never make the mistake that God saved you because you were so wonderful, or that you had done something that impressed Him, or obligated Him.  What is wonderful about it, is that God saved you, and me!

d.  Some were feminine.  Women were seldom included in genealogies.  What is even more amazing in this genealogy are the women who were included in it.  One had been a harlot; one had played the harlot.  Two were outsiders, members of races under God’s judgment (aren’t we all?)  One brought with her the scandal of adultery and murder.  One was placed in a situation where she was, and is, considered by many to be an adulteress.  Yet each was given her own special place of responsibility and privilege in producing a link in the chain from Abraham to Jesus.

In spite of the disdain for, and disagreement with, that many have for the Biblical role of women, it wasn’t Christianity that burned a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre.  It’s not Christianity that considers women as mere chattel or that requires them to walk several paces behind their husbands.  It is Christianity that commands husbands to love their wives as themselves, or even more, to love them as Christ loves us, willingly, sacrificially and for their benefit.

There is one final thing, and this is probably the most important.

e.  Some were forgiven.  SOME, not all.  Some people are very interested in their ancestors.  Someone was kind enough to trace my own family back to the Old Country.  There were five families he was tracing and his and mine intersected a few generations back.  My daughter was Salutatorian of her class at the Christian school she attended.  After the graduation, the wife of a pastor of a Baptist church in the area came up to me and asked me if I were the speaker’s father.  I was.  It turned out that this lady and I were (very) distant cousins.  I guess it is a small world, after all.

Lincoln is quoted as saying that people who are always talking about their ancestors are like potatoes.  The only good thing about them is underground.  That’s a little cold, but the truth is, it’s more important what kind of descendant my ancestors have, than what kind of ancestors their descendant has.

The thing is, and these people would have been looking forward, not backward, mere physical relationship to Jesus means nothing, as wonderful as that might have been.  Our Lord Himself taught that in Mark 3:31-35.  His ministry was still its enjoying its early enormous popularity and His family, to put it bluntly, thought He was nuts.  They came to try to talk to Him, and when Jesus was told about this, He said, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?”  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and My mother.”

Now Jesus wasn’t disavowing His family.  One of the last things He did on the Cross was to provide for His mother, John 19:25-27.  He was simply saying that physical relationship isn’t what gets it done spiritually.  He mentioned “the will of God,” and in John 6:40, He said, “…this is the will of Him Who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life….”  Then, lest someone object, “How can we see Him?  He’s not here!?” He said to Thomas after the Resurrection and Thomas’ doubts about it, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” John 20:29.

There is only one religion (my, how I dislike that word!) in the world that has a Manger and a Cross, and that Cross is empty.  Many deny the Resurrection, but those who came to the tomb on that Sunday morning found it to be empty as well.

Several of my posts have mentioned Easter, and that has really been unintentional on my part.  Even when I started this post 1700+ words ago, I wasn’t thinking about it.  But it’s a week from this coming Sunday [remember, this is a reprint of an earlier post.  But without Christmas, there would be no Easter] – a reminder that Someone has broken the chains of sin, death and judgment that hold us all, apart from faith in Him.  That Someone has come to make a way of access into the presence of a holy, righteous and just God Who must and will punish sin.  That Someone has come and taken that punishment on behalf of those who believe on Him, not an academic or formal or “religious” faith, but an absolute reliance on who He was and what He did for sinners, to the point that if He failed, and He cannot! there is no other way of salvation, no other hope for you and me.

There is, or was, a TV program for children called, “The Neverending Story.”  At least, I think it was for children.  There really is a “neverending” story.  With Luke and John, Matthew gives us its beginning.

Voices of Christmas: Rachel Weeping for her Children

This seems to be a strange thing to talk about during a joyful time like Christmas.  Murder and weeping.   Perhaps that’s because we don’t stop to consider all that was involved in bringing that time to us.  Not everyone was as excited as the Jews about their coming Messiah.  Not everyone understands the coming of the Lord Jesus to this earth.

Although the fulfillment of this verse is found in Matthew 2:18 and Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, as it’s called, the prophecy itself is found in Jeremiah 31:15.  The whole section of Jeremiah 30-33 should be read and studied to get a full view of the context.

Without going into a lot of detail, Jeremiah is in prison, the city is about to be captured and destroyed and the Israelites dispersed into other countries, with folks from other countries brought in to replace them.  In the midst of all this coming strife and turmoil, the Lord tells Jeremiah to buy a particular piece of land. Jeremiah was utterly confused by all this.  After all, the Lord told him that He was going to give the city and the land into the hand of Israel’s enemies – before He told Jeremiah to buy this land.  Jeremiah’s confusion is seen in Jeremiah 32:25, “And You have said to me, O LORD God, ‘Buy the field for money, and take witnesses’! – yet the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.”   You can almost hear his perplexity.  In chs. 32 and 33, God fully answers Jeremiah.  Though the city is indeed to be judged for her continuing sin and rebellion against God, still, there is coming a time when she will be inhabited again.

I know that these and similar verses are commonly said to have fulfilled at the return of the Jews from Babylon under Nehemiah and Ezra.  Although there might have been some partial fulfillment at that time, it’s difficult to me to see how verses like Jeremiah 31:34 were fulfilled in the records of Ezra, Nehemiah, Habakkuk and Malachi.  That verse reads, No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.

However, in order for that to happen, something else has to happen.  It couldn’t have happened at the Return, because that “something else” hadn’t happened yet.

I’ll admit, I’ve had some trouble getting this post to come together.  It wasn’t until I remembered to whom Matthew was writing, indeed who Matthew was himself, that it began to jell.  The godly or believing Jew would have been familiar with the passage in Jeremiah.  Matthew puts it into historical context because there’s nothing in Jeremiah that really explains the significance of the verse.  Just reading it in Jeremiah might lead one to believe that it might have something to do with the bloodshed and sorrow of Israel as she was battered by her enemies and carried into captivity.  There’s so much more to it than that.  Matthew reveals that it was prophesying something that would happen when the Deliverer of Israel was born.  Without Him, the redemptive promises – the “deliverance” – in Jeremiah would never happen.

As we look at the Babe in the Manger, do we really remember who He was and why He came?  Or is it more about the Christmas festivities, the baking and cooking, the presents, the decorations, the family get-togethers, with Jesus just sort of thrown into the mix, perhaps not as an afterthought, but still not the center of attention.  That is, if He’s there at all.

I remember several years ago some lady being upset that “they” had injected religion into Christmas.  And today, witness the turning away of society even from the term “Christmas.”  It’s no longer politically correct even to say “Merry Christmas.”  We must now say “Happy Holidays,” lest we offend unbelievers.  Never mind that we offend God in the process.  Nativity scenes are no longer permitted in civic displays because that’s “establishing religion.”  Better, apparently, to establish non-religion.

Rachel “wept” because some in her day thought so, too.  The murder of infants and toddlers occurred because God dared to “interfere” in human affairs.  We’ll talk about this some more in another post.

For now, remember “the reason for the season.”  It has nothing to do with our joy, but with our sin.  The Babe reminds us that, though we need saving from our sins, there’s not a single thing we can do to make that happen.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…, 2 Corinthians 8:9.

Voices of Christmas: The Place

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting, Micah 5:2.

Oh, there is so much here!  Thousands and thousands of words would be needed to even begin to touch the hem of the garment on this verse.  As it turns out, we’ll only have 716.

The place where our Lord chose to be born – yes, He did! – was not a large city, not Jerusalem, not Rome or some other notable city.  He chose to be born in a tiny, obscure village, in a relatively small nation, among a people who were, and are, hated and despised:  the Jews.   This speaks to what Paul wrote years later in Philippians 2:7, He made Himself of no reputation. 

Israel has never shaped the affairs of this world in the way other nations have.  We read of no “Jewish Empire” that spanned the globe, like the Roman Empire or the British Empire.  Israel has never been a militaristic nation, never been intent on acquiring land other than that promised to her.  Yet she has shaped the affairs of this world, and will shape them, more than all the nations put together – because of this One born in her midst.

Who was He?  What did He do?  What will He do?

Does it matter?

One way or another, all these questions are answered in Micah 5:2.

He was one whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.  In the words of John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  This was to be no mere human child, conceived out of wedlock and a nice story invented to make the best out of a bad situation.  This One was God incarnate, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, yet to come into humanity a helpless Babe. Though He was conceived in the virgin womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit, He was dependent entirely on the care and protection of Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His foster-father.  Who can understand such things?

Yet out of you shall come forth to Me….  This phrase covers all of our Lord’s earthly life, from His birth to His Ascension.  Micah doesn’t tell us in this verse what all was involved in that life, but he does in v. 1, They will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek.  This is a prophecy of the abuse our Lord was to suffer before His crucifixion.  But He didn’t just die and His body left to molder in some unmarked grave like a common criminal.  He was to come forth to God, which He did at His Ascension.

Yes, but is He going to do anything?  Or is He done?

Micah answers that as well, the One to be ruler in Israel….

I know there is a lot of discussion about what this phrase “ruler in Israel” and verses which talk about “the Kingdom” really mean.  After reading the entire Bible more than 50 times, and the New Testament an additional 25 or more times, (I’ve quit counting.  The numbers are meaningless,) I can say that I’m simple enough to believe what it says in prophets, like Micah:  that there is coming a time when there will be an actual, literal, earthly kingdom of God centered in Jerusalem.  I know these adjectives call forth a lot of scorn and derision on the part of those who believe it’s all going to be fulfilled in some kind of “spiritual” kingdom.  I can’t help that. If God didn’t mean what He said, then why didn’t He say what He means?   Our Lord will yet be Ruler in Israel.

Our Lord will yet be glorified in that very place where He was vilified and crucified.  And I tell you, a thousand years, Revelation 19 and 20, isn’t nearly long enough to make up for the murder of the incarnate God.  God, of course, cannot die Himself.  That’s why the Word had to become flesh, John 1:14.

To live.

To die.

To rise again.

To return to this earth, to take His rightful place, not as a babe for whom there was, and is, “no room,” but as its Lord and God. 

Yes, it matters!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Voices of Christmas: Daniel, “It’s Time”

And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself…, Daniel 9:26. 

The portion of Scripture from Daniel 9:24-27 is controversial, with many views as to what the “70 weeks” mean, who “Messiah the Prince” is, etc.  Our purpose here isn’t to enter into all this, but just to look at one verse, Daniel 9:26.

The reference to “time” in the post’s title isn’t referring to the time of year, as in December 25, but to “the time” in God’s purpose.  Redemption isn’t just some haphazard, quickly-thrown-together result of “an emergency meeting of the Divine council,” as one writer put it.  Though we may not, indeed, do not, understand all that is involved, redemption is a carefully thought out, carefully constructed answer to “the sin problem” we mentioned in the first post.  Ephesians 3:11 refers to the eternal purpose which He [God] accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord….

As far as December 25 is concerned, that’s probably the one day of the year we can be certain was not the birth date of our Lord.  It was more likely June 25 than December 25.

Paul put it like this, …when the fulness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son…, Galatians 4:4.  Luke 3:15 tells us the people were well aware of “the time:”  Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John [the Baptist], whether he was the Christ or not,…  He wasn’t, of course, but the point is that the people were looking for the Messiah.  They were looking because they knew that Daniel said that it was “time.”  It’s true that they had no understanding of what the Lord Jesus came to do, but they were still looking for Him.

They thought He was coming to free Israel from servitude to Rome and to set up the kingdom promised in the Old Testament.  But it wasn’t “time” for that kingdom, cf. Acts 1:7.  The Messiah had come to be “cut off,” to redeem Israel and his “other sheep,” John 10:16, from a far greater servitude than to Rome.  He came to save His people from their sins, Matthew 1:21.

As we celebrate Christmas, may the Babe in the manger, and all the things that accompanied that, remind us of the lengths God went, and was willing to go, to answer our sin problem.