Lady Sings The News (Luke 1:46-55)

Jesus Refulsit Omnium
Corde Natus ex Parentis
Adeste Fideles

It isn’t tongues… I don’t have a brain tumor… It’s not from Parkinson’s.

These are not spells from Harry Potter. I’m not making fun of President Biden.

They are the Latin titles for what music historians consider the oldest Christmas hymns:

Jesus Refulsit Omnium translates to, Jesus, Light of All the Nations, written by St. Hilary of Poitier in the 4th century.

Corde Natus ex Parentis translates to, Of the Father’s Love Begotten. Christian poet Prudentius wrote the poem that inspired this song in the 4th century.

Adeste Fideles is the familiar, O Come, All Ye Faithful, from 1841.

Away in a Manger, Silent Night, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing… These are probably what come to mind when you think about traditional Christmas carols. As classic as these songs are, they’re not old.

There is in the Bible the overlooked oldest of the hymns of Christ’s birth.

You might know it by its Latin name, Magnificat.

It is found in only one place, in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

The Magnificat is one of four hymns recorded by Luke in response to the birth of Christ. The other three are:

Zechariah’s Benedictus (1:67-79).
The angels’ Gloria in Excelsis Deo (2:13-14).
Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis (2:28-32).

Luke presented Christmas as a musical; or at least having its own score.

Christmas is a time for song. I feel sorry for those who refuse to celebrate for one reason or another. They miss out on so much praise.

BTW: Have you been told that our celebration of Christmas has pagan roots? There is historical evidence that the opposite is true. One historian wrote,

The pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v#continue

Or Google Calculating Christmas.

We don’t want to ruin the Magnificat by picking it apart. Happily, it suggests it’s own three movements:

In verses 46-49, God’s calling upon her life draws praise from Mary.
In verses 50-53, Mary sings about the Messiah transforming the world.
In verses 54-55, Mary’s song finds its crescendo in God’s trustworthy promises and prophecies.

Let’s set the scene within which this song was sung. Finding herself pregnant after the angel Gabriel’s visit, Mary went to see her cousin, Elizabeth, to see if Elizabeth was also pregnant like the angel had said. Elizabeth was visibly pregnant, being six months along in her pregnancy with John the Baptist. He went full Pentecostal, leaping inside her womb when Mary arrived. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth spoke a blessing over Mary.

Mary began to sing:

Luk 1:46 “My soul magnifies the Lord,
Luk 1:47  And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
Luk 1:48  For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
Luk 1:49  For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name.

Magnificat is Latin for “magnify.” In her case, Mary magnified God by rejoicing in Him.

The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth is implied in the Old Testament. It wasn’t revealed until later on, in the New Testament. No one in Israel was anticipating a miraculous virgin birth. The Jewish leaders would accuse Jesus of being illegitimate.

Mary was a young, betrothed girl, pregnant out of wedlock. Her condition was considered shameful socially and morally.

Mary chose to believe God and rejoice.

Do you believe God? Then choose to rejoice in your circumstances.

We applaud the person whose human spirit cannot be broken. William Wallace yelling, “Freedom,” while being disemboweled gets Mel Gibson an Academy Award. Why do the smallest things rob our joy as believers? Why does anything?

You’ll notice that Mary sang about things in the past tense as if they had already occurred. Scholars call this the ‘prophetic past-tense,’ meaning it hasn’t happened but it most certainly will because God has prophesied it.

Mary was 15 years old, maybe 16 tops. God has a habit of calling upon youth:

David was the youngest in his family, just a youth, when he slew the Philistine giant.

Daniel and his three friends were youths when taken captive to Babylon.

Jeremiah is thought to have been 17 years old when God called him.

A godly young man or woman, boy or girl, has the same Holy Spirit in them as an adult. God wants to use young people.

Mary was no theologian. Her song was spontaneous and inspired. She sang it with joy for an audience of three – two of whom were in utero.

There are two ways we can approach Mary’s song:

We can approach it intellectually by looking at its various parts.

We can approach it devotionally by taking it as a whole.

We are going devotional. Our understanding of ‘devotional’ is discovering what the Bible says to us without taking it out of its original context.

Looking at the Magnificat devotionally, we can say that it describes every servant God calls

Mary’s service was unique in the Christian story, sure. There are a lot of saints like that, whose names are known for a unique part they played.

You are an unknown. To people, that is, not to God. But you are no less loved or blessed than Mary or any other servant. It is impossible for Jesus to love one servant more than another.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”

Is God your Savior? If not, receive Him – right now!

Jesus is the Savior of the whole world, especially those who believe.

“Spirit” refers to the immaterial part of humanity that connects with God.

Human beings are souls. In its most basic sense, the word soul means “life.” It has been called the “life essence of the body.”

Humans are born spiritually dead, with souls blackened by sin. Believe Jesus and you are born again, born spiritually. You receive a new nature, and the Holy Spirit.

“For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.”

A paraphrase of these words is, “God took one good look at me, and look what happened – I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten.”

God took one look at you. You were dressed in filthy garments. You were born with a sin nature and you were a sinner. There was nothing about you to commend you to God.

Mary looked just like that, too. There was nothing holy about her, nothing to set her apart.

You were just what He was looking for, to save and transform, to perfect you to meet the Father as His bride.

“All generations will call me blessed” doesn’t only apply to Mary:

Think of all the Bible’s hero’s and heroines whose names are upon our lips.

Think of all the ‘famous’ Christians not in the Bible we called blessed.

You are no less blessed, though you work in obscurity, no one ever knowing your name. (You might be better off).

“For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name.”

Our God is “holy,” which in part means that on account of His perfection, He can do nothing wrong or evil. We can therefore trust that “great things” are happening in our lives as we walk with Him.

I admit sometimes I apply this wrongly by thinking, “That’s just great, Lord.” We don’t always recognize all things working together for our good, but we know they are because God is almighty and He loves us.

A new movement in the song begins in verse fifty:

Luk 1:50  And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.

From “generation to generation,” God oversees history. He has the watch. He acts providentially to fulfill His promises and push forward His agenda of redeeming the human race and His ruined Creation. No matter how much the plan of redemption seems to be in jeopardy, believers in every generation, “those who fear Him,” experience God’s mercy.

Luk 1:51  He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
Luk 1:52  He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly.
Luk 1:53  He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty.

Throughout history there are “proud,” “mighty,” and “rich” individuals who hold earthly power. They always seem to be winning. They are not. Time after time, God has “scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” Think of Pharaoh and Moses and you get the idea.

The reversals listed herald the changes to come in the future Kingdom of God on Earth

Satan is the current ruler of this world. At one point in history he had a throne in the city of Pergamum. God had a church there. Believers may be “lowly” and “hungry,” but the church cannot fail.

I should rephrase that and say, “believers will be lowly and hungry (in need).” The Church Age in which we find ourselves is a time when we magnify the Lord in our weaknesses and sufferings. The apostle Paul wrote,

2Co 12:7  And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
2Co 12:8  Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
2Co 12:9  And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2Co 12:10  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God can and does heal. Healings are few and far between, if we are honest.

Either the church is failing, as many suggest.

Or we are living in a time during which having a thorn in the flesh is more a testimony then healing it would be.

The final movement of the Magnificat is about Mary’s people, the nation of Israel:

Luk 1:54  He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy,
Luk 1:55  As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.”

God determined to call out a special people for Himself, and through that special people He would bless the whole world with the Messiah. He chose Abram to be the father of that new people, the nation of Israel. He would later change Abram’s name to Abraham.

God’s unconditional promise included land. It was a specific land, an actual property, with dimensions specified, to be Israel’s forever.

Joel Richardson writes, “Among the most critical matters of urgency for the church in this hour is acquiring a biblical view of Israel. Exposing the spreading cancer of anti-Semitism, arrogance, and misinformation within the Body of Christ is one of the most important challenges of our day.”

If anyone deserved to be abandoned by God, it was Israel. Their history is full of rebellion and idolatry. God continually “helped” Israel, calling them His “servant.”

We serve an incredible Promise Keeper. If He has begun a work in you, He will complete it – despite your efforts to go your own way.

Think of your life as a musical, e.g., PG the Musical.

What is the audience experience as folks watch your musical? What is your score on Rotten Tomatoes? Because you can be sure people are watching.

Here’s a better way of thinking about it. Each of us, as believers in Christ, are writing our musical. Our thoughts, our actions, our decisions, all contribute to it.

Mary’s song was a Magnificat.

Our song, our musical, can likewise be a Magnificat as we choose rejoicing

From Rags To Righteous

I want to talk to you about one of our most original and endearing Christmas traditions: The Ugly Christmas Sweater.

Sweaters decorated for Christmas made their appearance in the 1950’s. They were known as “Jingle Bell Sweaters,” and featured Christmas themed decorations. The sweaters were not intended to be ugly.

The Google says that the first ever ugly sweater party was hosted in 2002 in Vancouver, British Columbia by two men named Chris Boyd and Jordan Birch.

Every year since, what they call The Original Ugly Christmas Sweater Party has been held at the Commodore Ballroom.

The annual party has a dress code

What do you think it is? Yep – An ugly Christmas sweater. You won’t be admitted without one.

Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse in Scottsdale AZ has an unusual dress code. If anybody comes in wearing a necktie, a server will sneak up on them with a pair of scissors and cut it off. The clipped necktie then joins thousands of others hanging from the ceiling.

You might recall the episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry was invited to join the exclusive Friars Club. When he arrived, he was initially denied entrance. The club had a dress code: Men must wear a suit or sport jacket.

No shirt… No shoes… No service is now, No mask… No Entering. Thanks, COVID19.

Long ago, before COVID19, couples were married in ceremonies that included invited guests. The bride and groom may not have insisted on a dress code for their guests, but most if not all of their friends and family adhered to basic wardrobe appropriateness.

There is a wedding with a dress code in the Gospel of Matthew.

To be accurate, it is a parable Jesus told using a wedding celebration to describe an important truth about Heaven. It reads (in part) like this:

Mat 22:2 The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son…
Mat 22:11 … when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment.
Mat 22:12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.

In many ancient cultures, a king provided garments for his guests to insure that they would appear before him properly dressed. In the Old Testament Book of Genesis, Joseph was a prisoner in an Egyptian jail. When the Pharaoh called for him to come and interpret his dreams, “they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:14).

The king in Jesus’ parable furnished the invited guests with a “wedding garment.” To come to the celebration and refuse the garment was a terrible insult. The man without the proper wedding garment could expect to be denied entrance or to be thrown-out.

A Bible parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. It is a teaching aid to simplify spiritual truths. Listen to what Jesus said next.

Mat 22:13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

You were definitely not expecting anything like that. Maybe ask him to leave; but “outer darkness… Weeping and gnashing of teeth?”

Where is that, anyway? It’s not on earth. That is language the Bible uses to describe Hell. It is a place of separation from God; a place of eternal, conscious torment.

It might be good to pause and identify the main players & places in the parable:

The King represents God the Father.
The Son represents Jesus Christ.
The wedding celebration represents the joy of being in Heaven for eternity.
Those wearing a wedding garment are people who have believed in Jesus Christ and are thereby properly dressed.
The man without a garment represents all who in unbelief reject Jesus as their Savior.

Heaven has a strict dress code.

Any person without the proper garment violates Heaven’s dress code, and not only can he or she not enter – You are remanded to Hell for eternity.

What is so important about this garment? Why do we need it?

We can begin to answer that by explaining how we are dressed without this garment.

When God looks at a person, from Heaven, He sees him or her differently than we do. There is a passage in an Old Testament book, the Book of Zechariah, that will explain what I mean.

In the passage, the High Priest of Israel, who’s name was Joshua, was on earth in the Jewish Temple performing his duties.

(This is not the Joshua who led Israel into their Promised Land. Joshua was a popular Jewish name).

Zec 3:1  Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD…

On the earth, Joshua was ministering in the Jewish Temple.
In the unseen supernatural realm, Joshua was standing before the LORD

The High Priest had a unique wardrobe that was his dress code. His garments were magnificent. He wore, for example, a breastplate with twelve precious stones – one to represent each of the twelve tribes of Israel. These jewels were in gold settings. In the first row, there was a ruby, a topaz, and an emerald; in the second row, a carbuncle, a sapphire, and a diamond; in the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and in the fourth row, a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper.

The High Priest wore a total of eight different holy garments. Of these, four were of the same type worn by all priests, and four were unique to him.

Listen to this description of his garments:

The high priest had two sets of holy garments: The “golden garments,” and a set of white “linen garments” which he wore only on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). On that day, he would change his holy garments four times, beginning in the golden garments but changing into the linen garments for the two moments when he would enter the Holy of Holies, and then change back again into the golden garments after each time. He would immerse in the ritual bath before each change of garments, washing his hands and his feet after removing the garments and again before putting the other set on.

If in our passage it was the Day of Atonement, Heaven was watching Joshua as he went through the rituals, changing from one outfit and back again.

You know the expression, You can’t judge a book by its cover? Joshua looked his best, ‘covered’ by his beautiful and costly garments, and washed. He didn’t look that way to everyone:

Zec 3:3  Now Joshua [the High Priest] was clothed with filthy garments…

The word “filthy” means smeared with human excrement.  

There’s a scene in Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves, the Kevin Costner version, involving filthy rags. A master of disguise, Robin Hood robed himself with the torn and tattered garments of a beggar in order to avoid being detected while visiting Maid Marian in the church.

To make it even more believable, he picked-up dung from the road, and rubbed it all over his robe. He was filthy.

Warning: The next few minutes might gross you out. To put it another way – little boys will love it!

I think you’d be surprised at how many people each year fall into cess pools or septic tanks.

Ralph Santos, 88, was weed whacking in his backyard when a cesspool collapsed creating a sink hole. Santos fell into the hole, holding his head above the contents of the cesspool using the electrical cord from the weed whacker. He was found a short time later by his wife, who called 911.

In other ‘filthy’ news… A man charged with the first-degree murder of a New Orleans police officer, delayed the jury selection in his trial by rubbing feces on his own face, head, and mouth in the courtroom. He was declared incompetent to stand trial.

In 2018, a United Airlines flight bound from Chicago to Hong Kong was diverted to an emergency landing in Alaska when a passenger started (quote) “smearing feces everywhere.”

Did you know that there are several conditions that can make your breath smell like feces? Bowel obstruction, ketoacidosis, liver failure, and something I can’t pronounce whose acronym is GERD.

I’m not trying to gross you out. The fact is, this is an exceedingly gross image that the Bible uses to get the point across.

Did Joshua fall into sewage rushing to the Temple? Why would he minister in the Temple in such stained and spoiled garments?

He didn’t fall – but Adam did!  We call the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the “fall.”

God created them in His image, with genuine free-will.
Not only did being in the image of God mean they had to have free-will. It was also necessary for them to have a choice because love cannot be forced, or it ceases to be love.

Our original parents chose poorly. They “fell,” bringing ruin upon God’s creation. They saw themselves as naked. God saw them as being clothed in filthy rags.

We left Joshua in the Temple. You are being shown the same man, in the same garments, from two perspectives.

From the natural and earthly perspective, his garments were fine.

From the supernatural and heavenly perspective, his garments were filthy.

The Bible describes every human being that way

The Bible says, “all of our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” God sees us, in our natural state, as if we are wearing filthy rags. You and I are feces-breathed, dung-smeared, cess pool floaters.

None of us are righteous. We all fall short of the glory of God. We are all sinners.

There are so many really, really evil people in the world that it can be hard to believe you are too sinful to be allowed into Heaven. That’s where God’s Law can clarify. Jesus once said,

Mat 5:21 “You have heard that it was said… ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’
Mat 5:22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…

Each of us has been angry. It is not equivalent to murder, but it is evidence that something is wrong deep within us.

Billy Graham often said, “The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.” All of us have broken many of God’s laws in our hearts.

Breaking even one law, one time, is more than enough to keep us out of Heaven.

Have you ever lied, no matter how white the lie was?
Ever stolen anything, no matter how small?
Have you ever coveted something?

The answer is, “Yes.” We have all broken God’s law; we are all guilty. The fact that someone might be a worse sinner doesn’t change the fact I am a sinner.

God intervened on behalf of Joshua:

Zec 3:4  Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”

The robe God was speaking of wasn’t a physical garment. It was unseen by men on earth, but visible to beings in Heaven.

You need a robe to enter Heaven; a very particular robe. In another place in the Bible, in the Old Testament Book Isaiah, we read,

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (Isaiah 61:10).

God can provide you with a robe, called here “the robe of righteousness.” With it, you are a welcomed guest; you are properly dressed for Heaven.

In the wedding garment story Jesus told; and in the verse we just read; the robe is given to you: “He has clothed me… He has covered me…”

The same was true with Joshua. It was given to him, freely.

The robe of righteousness is not deserved, and it cannot be earned. It must be given to you – it is a free gift from God. We call this free gift of God salvation by grace, through faith

Where do we get this robe of righteousness? It is only found in one place: At the Cross of Jesus Christ.

His death on the Cross was sufficient to ‘robe’ all sinners. He is the Savior of all men – especially those who believe in Him.

There’s a verse that explains Jesus’ death on the Cross as if it were an exchange. It reads like this:

2Co 5:21  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

A paraphrase of that is, “God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.”

Jesus was severely beaten prior to His Crucifixion.

He was stripped of His clothing, nailed naked to the Cross.

Heaven saw Him differently. He had righteousness to give, as you would give a robe, to all who would believe in Him.

Think of it as a one-sided gift exchange. Jesus gives you His righteousness and takes upon Himself your filthiness.

Jesus gives you the robe of righteousness you must have in order to enter Heaven and avoid Hell.

It is an exclusive garment

Jesus alone has the robe of righteousness to give.

He is the unique God-man, the only One righteous, Who rose from the dead showing He alone has power to save you.

No religious leader, or religion, can give you the robe.
No philosopher, or philosophy, can give you the robe.
No other supernatural being can give you the robe.

I am sure some of you frustrate yourselves by playing golf. Even if you’re not a golfer, you’ve heard of the Masters Tournament.

Since 1949, a green jacket has been awarded to the champion. It is a garment you can only get in one place on earth.

The robe we are talking about can only be gotten at the Cross.

All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; none of us is righteous enough to deserve Heaven.

What we deserve for sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

You must receive your robe before you die. There is no chance to ask for it after death.

The exchange takes place the instant you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior.

Again I emphasize that the robe is given freely. At the Friars Club, Jerry Seinfeld‘s problem was solved when the management provided a jacket for him. All he had to do was accept it.

A fun-fact about the robe: Once you’ve received it, you’re encouraged to adorn it

The whole of Isaiah 61:10 reads, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.  As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

You are given your robe of righteousness when you receive Jesus as your Savior.  Afterwards you have the privilege of adorning your robe with “jewels.”  

In my role as a law enforcement Chaplain, I’ve over the years worked with the Lion’s Clubs. At their meetings they wear vests that are adorned with pins and patches they’ve received in service to the club and the community. Lots of service clubs do the same.

You don’t earn or add to your salvation; but you can receive rewards to adorn your robe.  

In the passage in which the apostle Paul talks about our being rewarded by Jesus for our good works after we have been saved, he describes them as “gold, silver, precious stones” (First Corinthians 3:12).

I want to look good for Jesus. It’s not a competition with other believers. It’s between Him and me.

The Bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of Grace
Not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand:
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land

If you’re a believer in Christ, stay busy be-dazzling your robe by discovering the good works that Jesus has before ordained for you to walk in.

If you are not a believer in Christ, consider this

You’ve seen celebrities on the red carpet.

As they make their way towards the event, they stop to chat with reporters. They almost always ask the women especially, “Who are you wearing?” To which they answer Vera Wang, or Armani, or Calvin Klein.

If you’re not in Christ… Who are you wearing, hoping to get into Heaven without His robe? Buddha? Joseph Smith? L. Ron Hubbard?

None of them died for you.
None of them took upon themselves your filthy rags in exchange for the righteousness needed to enter Heaven.
None of them rose from the dead with the power to save you, and to sanctify you, and to glorify you.

No Jesus… No robe… No Heaven

Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Disbelief

Most popular non-Biblical Christmas story of all time?

I didn’t say your favorite. Most popular. And it’s not Die Hard. BTW: You die hard Die Hard fans – Do NOT Google Die Hard + Ambulance while you’re here. Do it later.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, was an instant classic. It’s full title is, A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.

Published on December 19, 1843, the first edition sold out by Christmas Eve. By the end of the year thirteen editions had been released.

In 1849 Dickens began public readings of the story, which proved so successful he undertook 127 further performances until 1870, the year of his death.

A Christmas Carol has never been out of print and has been translated into several languages. The story has been adapted umpteen times for film, stage, opera, and just about every other media:

There have been at least 23 motion picture adaptations.
62 theater adaptations.
4 operas.
29 television adaptations (with new ones every year).
5 graphic novels.

Then there are the radio performances, recordings, and straight-to-DVD’s. It’s almost impossible to count what are classified as ‘derivative works,’ where the storyline, or a character, are utilized.

For all its popularity, you almost never hear anything about what inspired Dickens.
There are good reasons to believe that Dickens had a Bible story in mind. But not one that most people would in any way think of as representative, or even appropriate, for Christmas.

It’s the story of the Rich Man & Lazarus. It is found in the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Let me read it to you in its entirety:

Luke 16:19  “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.
Luke 16:20  But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate,
Luke 16:21  desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
Luke 16:22  So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.
Luke 16:23  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Luke 16:24  “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’
Luke 16:25  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.
Luke 16:26  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
Luke 16:27  “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house,
Luke 16:28  for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’
Luke 16:29  Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’
Luke 16:30  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
Luke 16:31  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

Try reading that before opening gifts on Christmas. It will certainly set a mood. It’s reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Yet this WAS Dickens’ inspiration:

First, there is the Rich Man – Ebenezer Scrooge – who sees his death, and there is a poor ‘man’ – Tiny Tim – who is going to die.

Second, it is made clear that like the Rich Man, Scrooge, beyond death is headed to torment in the afterlife.

Third, around the time A Christmas Carol was published, Dickens wrote a short biography of Jesus for his children, titled The Life of our Lord. The “Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man” was one of only eight stories that Dickens chose to include in that volume.

Fourth, a passage in a book titled, The Oxford Illustrated Dickens, mentions the Rich Man & Lazarus in a sentence together with Scrooge.

Fifth, and most significantly, the Sunday after Dickens was buried in Westminster Abbey, Dean Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, preaching on exactly this parable, spoke of Dickens as the “parabler” of his age. Stanley said that “By [Dickens] that veil was rent asunder which parts the various classes of society. Through his genius the Rich Man… was made to see and feel the presence of Lazarus at his gate.”

The story of the Rich Man & Lazarus is often called a parable. It isn’t. It doesn’t follow the rules of a parable:

For one, in a parable there are people or things that represent other things. In the Parable of the Sower, for example, the seed represents the Word of God; and the soil, the various conditions of the human heart. In the story of the Rich Man & Lazarus, everything is itself – not a representation.

For another thing, parables do not name their characters. If this was a parable, it was the only one Jesus told that used a proper name. Lazarus was a real person, and the description of him was his true daily life.
You may also have heard the Rich Man referred to as Dives, as if that was his name. Dives means wealthy. The ‘name’ was given to him by translators and commentators to further emphasize to readers that this is not a parable.

Jesus was talking with men from a sect of the Jewish religion known as the Pharisees. They considered themselves right with God because of their meticulous adherence to the written Laws of God. Their wealth was, to them, evidence that God was pleased with their devotion.

In one place we’re told that these guys were so meticulous about giving God 10% of their wealth that they gave 10% of their spices to God. Here is what Jesus said:

Matthew 23:23  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”

You see where Jesus was coming from. For all their claim to scrupulously keep the Old Testament Law of God, they were not right with God.

Lazarus was beyond poverty. He had to be carried to the Rich Man’s gate to beg. He was covered in foul sores from head to toe. The household dogs had it better than him. They, at least, did get table scraps. With a little seasoning, I might add.

It was unthinkable to a Law-keeping Pharisee that such a person could be right with God. His destitute condition was, to them, a sign of God’s displeasure. He was getting what he deserved.

Lazarus wasn’t taken to a place of rest and refreshment because he deserved it. He was taken there because, in spite of his miserable condition in life, he believed God.

How can I say that? I can say that because he was greeted by Abraham, and the place was referred to as Abraham’s Bosom. We are told in the Old Testament that Abraham “believed God,” and it was accounted to him as righteousness. Not by works of righteousness that he had done, but by faith, was Abraham justified by God to be taken to his rest. All those taken to Hades, to wait with with Abraham, must have like-faith. They are there by faith, not works.

Hades. It is described as a temporary abode for a person’s spirit when it leaves the physical body at death. But not everyone is in the same part of Hades after death.

Luke 16:24  “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’
Luke 16:25  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.
Luke 16:26  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

The Bible is very informative regarding the afterlife. The moment you die, your spirit leaves your body. From the creation of the world until the coming of Jesus Christ, the spirits of all the deceased went to Hades:

One part is a place of bliss and comfort, called Abraham’s Bosom. It was called Paradise by Jesus, when He promised one of the thieves crucified next to Him that “Today, you will be in Paradise.”
The other part is a waiting room of unrelenting conscious torment.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after His death on the Cross changed the population of Hades.

Jesus is described in the Book of Ephesians as having descended there, and evacuated those in Paradise, taking them with Him to Heaven.

Subsequently, when a believer dies, he or she is said to be immediately absent from their body, and present with the Lord, not in Hades, but in Heaven.

Jesus left behind in Hades all those who were not right with God by faith. They wait there until the final judgment.

If you’re not a believer – Death abruptly ends your opportunities to have faith in Jesus and be saved. There is no second chance after death. When you die, you will go to Hades to await your final destination, which is Hell. The Rich Man, Dives, is still there.

Luke 16:27  “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house,
Luke 16:28  for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’

Among the many things we can glean from this is that the Rich Man understood that religion could not save anyone. It could not make a person right with God. He wanted his brothers to know that it’s “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).

Luke 16:29  Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’

Reading the Old Testament, it is abundantly clear that works cannot save you. Think again of Abraham, father of the Jews. He believed. It was by faith.

The Rich Man wanted Lazarus to preach; but he had already been a sermon. He had been a living sermon, in his suffering.

Here’s how: The Law that these Pharisees claimed to obey talks plenty about helping the poor and needy. Earlier we quoted Jesus saying that they, “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”

The Rich Man had left “mercy” undone. While he weighed out his spices, to tithe, a fellow Israelite lay begging just yards away.

The very presence of Lazarus, and his treatment at their hands, condemned them as law-breakers. It revealed them as self-righteous, void of God’s righteousness.

Lazarus was thus called to a very hard ministry. That’s right; ministry. Do you ever think of him that way?

The Rich Man had guests all the time. Think of all the other Pharisees and scribes and visitors who would come to dine sumptuously with the Rich Man, and be confronted with Lazarus as a silent sermon.

What was his text? It could have been any number of passages, e.g., “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you” (Leviticus 25:35).

In life, Lazarus was carried. In death, he was again carried – but by angels. Are all believers carried? Probably not. I think Lazarus was carried after his death to remind us that after a believer dies, every pain and suffering, every sorrow and trouble, is immediately left behind. His being carried in like was overshadowed by his being carried to Hades.

Lazarus would no longer need to be carried, but he was carried one last time as a kind of representation of a life well-lived.

It’s not unlike what Bob Cratchit says quoting his invalid son, Tiny Tim: “He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

Think of it as street theater. In the Old Testament, God frequently instructed His prophets to act out a scenario in public. Lazarus probably didn’t realize that he was a street theater Gospel preacher to lost Pharisees.

Luke 16:30  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
Luke 16:31  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

The Rich Man reasoned that if Lazarus returned from the dead, his brothers would believe.

In what classic Christmas tale does a man return from the grave to warn his partner? Jacob Marley does in A Christmas Carol.

A lot of people demand a sign from God. It seems like it would be effective. It’s not. Just a short time after telling this story, Jesus did raise a man from the dead, another man named Lazarus.

The result was that the Pharisees and the other religious leaders of Israel began to plot more earnestly to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.

Ebenezer Scrooge sees Tiny Tim’s death, and his own death and destiny, and it stuns him to action. His reformation reminds you of the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes larger.

Here, sadly, is where Dickens falls terrifically short. Let me read to you from the end of his Christmas Ghost Story:

… to Tiny Tim, who did not die, [Scrooge] was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

BTW: The Total Abstinence Principle has nothing to do with alcohol or the avoidance of other vices. It is abstinence from being bitter, mean-spirited, angry, dour, greedy, grasping, self-centered, and unforgiving. It is moral self-improvement.

As he ended, Dickens kept using the word “good.” Be good; do good works. Improve yourself. In the sermon preached eulogizing Dickens, the minister concluded that his greatest achievement was that, “the Rich Man… was made to see and feel the presence of Lazarus at his gate.”

That was the extent of Scrooge’s reformation. Be good. It is what every religion, or philosophy, or psychology, tells you.

There’s a rhyme that puts this into perspective:

“Do this and live!” the law demands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
A better way the spirit brings,
He bids me fly, and gives me wings!

Without the indwelling spirit of God, we lack the power to be good, or keep a program like the Total Abstinence Principle.

Sadly, if Scrooge were a real person, he’d die to find himself alongside the Rich Man, in Hades. No amount of good works, or self-improvement, can save you.

Was Dickens a Christian? Historians disagree. He certainly had Christian influences that come through his writings.

If he was a believer, he didn’t feel the need to stress repentance and the Cross. A Christmas Carol doesn’t point you to Jesus. Scrooge wasn’t saved from sin, but from cynicism.

Scrooge needed Jesus. He needed a conversion; to be transformed by God, not merely to reform himself. He needed to be born again by repenting of his sin and believing Jesus saved him by dying on the Cross.

Why is being a good person not enough to get you into Heaven? Because no one is a “good” person; there is only One who is perfectly good, and that is God Himself. The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Bible also says that the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23a).

God took action to save us. While we were in our sinful state, Christ died for the unrighteous (Romans 5:8). By His death on the Cross, He exerts an influence that draws all men to Himself. He is the Savior of all men; but not all receive His salvation. Only those who believe.
Salvation is not based on our goodness but on Jesus’ goodness.

If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9).

This salvation in Christ is a precious gift, and, like all true gifts, it is unearned (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8–9). The message of the Bible is that we can never be good enough to get to Heaven. We must recognize that we are sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and we must obey the command to repent of our sins and place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

Christ alone was a “good” – good enough to earn Heaven – and He gives His righteousness to those who believe in His name (Romans 1:17).

Most of you have had your wills freed by God’s prevenient grace in order to receive God’s indescribable gift of salvation in Jesus.

Rejoice. Your conversion and transformation are the better ending to the story.

No matter your condition or situation, you are doing street theater out in the world. Your life is a sermon.

If you have not received the Lord… It is our prayer that this year’s celebration of His birth will mark your new birth.

Crazy Rich Pharisees (Luke 16:19-31)

Ask someone what is their favorite Christmas movie, and most will answer with one of the classics:

Its a Wonderful Life
Miracle on 34th Street
A Christmas Story
Home Alone
White Christmas
Elf
The Santa Clause

Inevitably someone will say, Die Hard. After all, it was Christmas when John McClain saved Nakitomi Plaza.

A lot of folks, however, object because they just don’t think of Die Hard as having the proper Christmas spirit.

Ask someone what is their favorite Christmas Bible verse, and most will answer with one of the classics:

Isaiah 9:6  For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Matthew 1:23  “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Luke 1:30 & 31 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.

John 1:14  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

What if I suggested the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus?

If you’re not immediately familiar with it, let me read a portion to give you the gist of it:

Luke 16:19  “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.
Luke 16:20  But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate,
Luke 16:21  desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
Luke 16:22  So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.
Luke 16:23  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

I’ll bet none of your Christmas cards featured that parable. More than a few folks would object to that as a suitable text for Christmas. It seems to lack the proper Christmas spirit.

It might surprise you who did think of the Rich Man and Lazarus as an inspiring Christmas tale. None other than the man who wrote perhaps the most endearing Christmas fiction of all, Charles Dickens.

First published in 1843, it has never been out of print. There are umpteen dramatized or animated adaptations of it; there are new ones every year. I’m talking about, A Christmas Carol.

There is good reason to believe that the Dicken’s classic has its roots in the Rich Man and Lazarus:

First, there is a rich man – Ebenezer Scrooge – who sees his death, and there is a poor ‘man’ – Tiny Tim – who is going to die.

Second, it is made clear that Scrooge is headed to torment in the afterlife.

Third, around the time A Christmas Carol was published, Dickens wrote a short biography of Jesus for his children, titled The Life of our Lord. The “Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man” was one of only eight stories that Dickens chose to include in that volume.

Fourth, the Sunday after Dickens was buried in Westminster Abbey, Dean Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, preaching on exactly this parable, spoke of Dickens as the “parabler” of his age. Stanley said that “By [Dickens] that veil was rent asunder which parts the various classes of society. Through his genius the rich man… was made to see and feel the presence of Lazarus at his gate.”

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is, if you’ll pardon the pun, the Die Hard of the parables, in more ways than one.

From this day forward, every time you see, or read, a version of A Christmas Carol, it is my hope that you will think of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus that inspired it.

By the way: Many scholars argue this is not so much a parable as it is a true account. They point out that it is the only time Jesus used real names – Lazarus, Abraham, and Moses.

The first thing I want to say is that the parable isn’t about being rich; it’s about being right – specifically, being right with God.

Jesus was talking with men from a sect of the Jewish religion known as the Pharisees. They considered themselves right with God because of their meticulous adherence to the written Laws of God.

For example, in one place we’re told that these guys were so meticulous about giving God 10% of their wealth that they gave 10% of their spices. Here is what Jesus said:

Matthew 23:23  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

You see where Jesus was coming from. Their problem wasn’t that they were rich; it was that they were not right with God.

Behind all this is a fundamental biblical principal. It was stated most clearly by the apostle Paul when he said, “We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it – and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good” (Galatians 2:16 MSG).

Are you trying to be good? Do you think that if you do more good than bad that you will be accepted into Heaven when you die?

Then you are the rich man in this Christmas tale. You need to be rich in faith. If you’re not, you are the poor rich man.

Let’s meet the rich poor man. Lazarus was beyond poverty. He had to be carried to the rich man’s gate to beg. He was covered in foul sores from head to toe. The household dogs had it better than him. They, at least, did get table scraps.

It was unthinkable to a Pharisee that such a person could be accepted into Heaven. His condition was, to them, a sign of God’s displeasure. He was getting what he deserved in their minds.

It wasn’t simply that the rich man lacked compassion. His works-based understanding of God’s Law encouraged him to despise Lazarus.

This story is not about being poor, either. It is about being poor in spirit. Jesus promised, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mathew 5:3). Lazarus’ afterlife destination proves he was indeed among the poor in spirit – he was one who was rich in faith in God to save him.

We read elsewhere in the Bible, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The poor rich man and the rich poor man died and both arrived in a place called Hades.
It is a temporary abode for your spirit when it leaves your physical body at death.

Luke 16:24  “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’
Luke 16:25  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.
Luke 16:26  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

I find it interesting that the rich man knew Lazarus’ name. I doubt he knew it in life; but he knew it in the afterlife.

The Bible is very informative regarding the afterlife. The moment you die, your spirit leaves your body.
From the creation of the world until Jesus Christ, the spirits of all the deceased went to Hades – described for us here. It is divided by a chasm into two areas:

One is a place of bliss and comfort, called Abraham’s Bosom in honor of the father of the Israelites. It was called Paradise by Jesus.

The other area is a place of unrelenting torment.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after His death on the Cross changed the population of Hades. He descended there, and took those in Paradise with Him to Heaven. Now when a believer dies, he or she is said to be immediately absent from their body, and present with the Lord in Heaven.

Jesus left behind in Hades all those who were not right with God by faith. If you’re not a believer – When you die, you will go to Hades to await your final destination, which is Hell.

Death abruptly ends your opportunities to have faith in Jesus and be saved. There is no second chance after death.
The poor rich man realized it, and begged for his family on the earth:

Luke 16:27  “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house,
Luke 16:28  for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’

Is there really a place of torment? Is it forever? Speaking about Hell, John Walvoord wrote:

According to the Bible… Hell is just as real as Heaven. The Bible clearly and explicitly teaches that Hell is a real place to which the wicked/unbelieving are sent after death. We have all sinned against God. The just punishment for that sin is death. Since all of our sin is ultimately against God, and since God is an infinite and eternal Being, the punishment for sin, death, must also be infinite and eternal. Hell is this infinite and eternal death which we have earned because of our sin.

You don’t have to go there. In fact, God has gone to great lengths to keep you from going there. He has revealed Himself to mankind, and shown the way to Heaven.

Luke 16:29  Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’

Abraham’s testimony was that God has revealed Himself sufficiently for a man to have faith in Him, thereby entering Heaven after death and avoiding Hell. To an Israelite like the poor rich man, He had supremely revealed Himself in their Scriptures – what we call the Old Testament.

Today we have even more. We have the New Testament as well as the Old.

What about those around the world that have no Bible? They have the witness of God’s creation to their conscience. In fact, in one place God said He was the one Who scattered men everywhere in the hope they would seek after Him, and find Him.

God is not willing that anyone should arrive in Hades, or afterward be consigned to Hell.

Luke 16:30  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
Luke 16:31  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

The poor rich man reasoned that if Lazarus rose from the dead, his brothers would believe.

In what classic Christmas tale does a man return from the grave to warn his partner? Jacob Marley does in A Christmas Carol. It’s abundantly clear that Dickens had this parable in mind as he wrote.

A lot of people demand a sign from God. It seems like it would be effective. It’s not.

Just a short time later Jesus did raise a man from the dead, another man named Lazarus.
The result was that the Pharisees and the other religious leaders of Israel began to plot more earnestly to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.

Scrooge sees Tiny Tim’s death, and his own death and destiny, and it stuns him to action.

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is meant to stun you to spiritual action.

The action isn’t to do more good works – like buying a turkey for the Cratchit’s. It is to realize that no amount of good works can save you, but that faith in the risen Lord, Jesus Christ, does.

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Call upon the Name of the Lord.
Then talk to someone you know who has identified themselves as a Christian.

Surveying The Lambscape

The opening scene is a bleak landscape of snow and ice. All you see at first is something rapidly burrowing towards you under the snow. It abruptly stops and a mound appears on the surface.

Some objects are then thrown out from underground: a bottle of sun tan lotion, a pair of sunglasses, a book titled Fun at the Beach, a folding chair, a beach umbrella, and a bucket of ice containing carrots.

Bugs Bunny jumps out, wearing a bathing suit, running, yelling, “Miami Beach at last!” But he’s not at the beach; he’s at the North Pole.

It isn’t long before he realizes that he “should have made a left turn at Albuquerque.”

Bugs Bunny arrived at the wrong destination because he took a wrong turn. Sometimes people arrive at the wrong destination because cities have the same name. Earlier this year, An 18-year-old Dutchman wanted to visit sunny Sydney, Australia, but ended up in chilly Sydney, Nova Scotia.

“I thought I was going to Australia, but that turned out a little different,” he said, in an interview.

“I saw the plane – and the plane was really small,” he said. “So I figured, would that make it to Australia? But afterwards, I checked the screen on the seat in front of me and I checked the flight plan and everything and then I saw all the flight plan was going to go right and up left. Yeah, that was about the time that I realized there was another Sydney.”

According to a travel website, some of the more well-known cities with the same name in different countries include:

London, Ontario & England.
Paris, Texas & France.
Panama City, Panama & Florida.
Cairo, Illinois & Egypt.
Athens, Ohio & Greece, and
Venice, Louisiana & Italy.

It’s harder to get to Miami than you might think. As of 2014, there are eleven states in America that have a city named Miami. Those states are Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia.

There are more than twenty towns named Moscow in the U.S.

Do you know the way to San Jose? That depends on whether you mean the city in California, or the capital of Costa Rica.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem… But there are two Bethlehem’s in the Bible:

The Bethlehem where Jesus was born is in the south, near Jerusalem, in the territory of Judah.

The other Bethlehem is in the north, near Nazareth.

The most famous Bethlehem is located in the hill country approximately 2,500 feet above sea level. Situated on the main highway to Egypt, it was specified variously as Ephrath (Genesis 35:16), Bethlehem Ephrathah (Micah 5:2), Bethlehem-Judah (First Samuel 17:12), and “the city of David” (Luke 2:4).

The wise men of the Christmas story arrived in Jerusalem after following a sort of supernatural GPS. They were looking for the King who had been born about two years prior. When asked where the prophets said the Messiah would be born, the priests and scribes of Israel were ready with an answer. It’s recorded for us in the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew 2:5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
Matthew 2:6 ‘BUT YOU, BETHLEHEM, IN THE LAND OF JUDAH, ARE NOT THE LEAST AMONG THE RULERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’ ”

The Old Testament prophet they were quoting was Micah. If you turn to his book you read this:

Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 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 of old, From everlasting.”

The King would be born in the Bethlehem in Judah, in Bethlehem Ephrathah, the one about five miles from Jerusalem.

Earlier in his book Micah further described Bethlehem Ephrathah:

Micah 4:8 And you, O tower of the flock, The stronghold of the daughter of Zion, To you shall it come, Even the former dominion shall come, The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”

According to early church father Jerome, and early church historian Eusebius, the “Tower of the Flock” was about a mile outside Bethlehem Ephrathah.

It translates from the Hebrew phrase “Migdal Edar” [mig-dawl ay-der] and means a watch tower of the flock.

This watch tower was used by the shepherds for protection from their enemies and wild beasts.

The Targum is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanak) which was written during Israel’s seventy year captivity in Babylon. In it the rabbis added commentary to the Scriptures.

One such commentator, Rabbi Munk, paraphrased Micah 4:8 and Genesis 35:23 to say, “He spread His tent beyond Migdal Edar, the place where King Messiah will reveal Himself at the end of days.”

Well before the birth of Jesus the birthplace of the Jewish Messiah was clearly established.

The birth of Jesus was described by Dr. Luke in the Gospel bearing his name:

Luke 2:4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
Luke 2:5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.
Luke 2:6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.
Luke 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Joseph was up in the north, near Nazareth. Remember there was a Bethlehem near Nazareth. So Luke specified it was the Bethlehem in the south, in Judea, the city of David, where Joseph and Mary travelled and where Jesus was born.

The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would probably go via Samaria and Jerusalem and normally take about four days on foot. Traveling with a pregnant woman, it could have taken a week.

The manger in which Jesus was laid may have been on the ground floor of the home of one of Joseph’s relatives. After all, Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem because of the forced census in which you had to go back to your hometown.

Homes like this were common, in which the valuable barn animals were stabled safely indoors on the ground floor and the humans lived on a second floor.

Or it could be that Jesus was actually born among the flocks that were there near the Tower of the Flock, in a stable or a cave.

Either way you need to know something about those sheep in Bethlehem Epaphrath. According to Bible commentator Alfred Edersheim,

Migdal Edar was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks that pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem, but it lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage from the Mishnah (Shekelim 7:4) leads to the conclusion that the flocks which pastured there were destined for Temple sacrifices…

This was not just any flock. Migdal Edar was the watchtower that guarded the Temple flocks of sheep that were being raised to serve as sacrificial lambs in the Temple.

The sacrificial lamb is a theme running all through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. In Genesis, in the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve one prohibition:

Gen 2:16  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;
Gen 2:17  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Why give a prohibition? Because love cannot be forced; it must be freely chosen.

Adam and Eve chose badly. They died just as God indicated they would:

They immediately died spiritually, as you see their eyes opened to the fact they had sinned, and they therefore hid from God.
They began to die physically as sin brought decay and death into God’s creation.
They would have gone on to die eternally – separated from God forever in a place of conscious torment.

Their disobedience is called sin. Because they were our parents, we inherit a sin nature from them. It’s why people are born spiritually dead and physically dying.

It also means we will die eternally unless God intervenes.

God promised He would resolve their sin and death and give Adam and Eve and their descendants eternal life. He said He would come Himself, into our world, and act in our place, on our behalf.

Deity would add humanity to Himself. God would come in human flesh.

What would He have to do as the God-man to resolve sin and death and give them and their descendants eternal life?

God showed them right there in the Garden. He slew animals in order to provide clothing for them. Something or someone had to die in their place, as a substitute.

I suggest those animals were lambs because from that moment on the followers of God approached Him by faith offering lambs as a sacrifice.

The blood of animals could not take away sin; it was a temporary fix. It looked forward to a better, a final, substitute.

We get a glimpse at that final Substitute in another famous Bible story. In Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, the son asked his father,

Genesis 22:7 … My father… Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
Genesis 22:8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

It was a prophecy. “God will provide Himself the lamb.” God would Himself come and be the Substitute.

Jesus Christ – God in human flesh – was and is announced to the world as the Lamb:

When Jesus stepped forth to begin His ministry, John the Baptist declared to the crowds, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
In the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ the apostle John sees Jesus in Heaven, a n the future, and calls Him the “Lamb that had been slain.”

Migdal Edar, the Tower of the Flock, was the place where lambs destined for the Temple sacrifice were born and raised. Generations of hereditary shepherds tended those sacred flocks.

The shepherds would separate the lambs, choosing only the perfect firstborn males to lead to Jerusalem. There the lambs would be purchased by those coming to offer sacrifice. Then the lambs would shed their blood and lose their lives as substitutes for those offering them.

The day Jesus died on the Cross, the very hour He hung there, as He dismissed His Spirit and declared, “It is finished!”, the sacrificial lambs from Migdal Edar were being offered in the Temple at the Feast of Passover.

Jesus was born in the very place sacrificial lambs were born. He died just as the sacrificial lambs were being killed.
God promised He would provide a lamb. He promised He would provide Himself the Lamb. In Jesus we Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

What a wonderful fulfillment of prophecy and promises we have in Jesus!

All of us, every human being, is born spiritually dead. We are all going to die physically one day. And if we die physically while remaining spiritually dead, we will die eternally. To die eternally means you will live forever separated from God and from everyone else in a place of aloneness, darkness, and suffering.

But you don’t have to die eternally! You can instead have eternal life. You can live forever in Heaven in a place specially prepared for you by a loving God.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

God “gave” Jesus as the sacrifice, as the lamb. If you believe in Him, He takes your sin upon Himself and gives you salvation in its stead. You become born again, alive spiritually.

This Christmas, come behold the lamb. He is your lamb, sacrificed for you as your substitute.

Don’t be like those who knew where Jesus was to be born and took it for granted. Be like the wise men and the shepherds who understood the import and the impact of His birth.

There are two Jerusalem’s in the Bible:

There’s the Jerusalem we are all familiar with, the capital of Israel.

There’s the New Jerusalem, the Golden City, said to be coming down out of Heaven to hover over the earth to be the home of the saints.

We can use the two cities to illustrate our spiritual lives. One Jerusalem is earthly, of this earth, worldly, while the other is heavenly.

If you were to review your life, with its goals and goings, would it look more like you’ve booked a flight to the world? Or to Heaven?

Each of us must answer that for himself or herself… But it’s an important question.

The saints who have preceded us are described as looking longingly for the New Jerusalem, the city whose builder and maker is God, the Golden City.

It is my prayer that all of us who know Jesus would be lifting our gaze above this world, ready for eternity.

And that any of you who do not know Jesus would receive Him as God’s indescribable gift.

See Something, Say Something (Luke 2:8-20)

In the 1960’s Neighborhood Watch groups started popping up in the United States. The idea is not that citizens would become a vigilante patrol, but that members of a close community would have their eyes open to take note of suspicious or criminal behavior and communicate with one another what was going on, getting in touch with the police when necessary.

The Department of Homeland Security took the idea nationwide after 9/11 with their “see something, say something” campaign. They even trademarked the phrase. On their site they have a tagline that reads: “We all play a role in keeping our community safe.”

These days, smartphones have provided a modern spin on neighborhood watch programs. A new app called Nextdoor, as well as an officially branded “Neighborhood Watch” app are bringing the idea of seeing and saying into the 21st century.

In our text this morning we have the only eyewitness account of the night of Jesus’ birth. When I think about that, it’s kind of surprising! When you read the Bible you come to the conclusion that there are 3 moments in human history that are the most significant and the most necessary: The birth of Jesus, the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus. All of history, all of existence is composed around those 3 notes which together give us God’s melody of redemption.

And now, after thousands of years, that first moment had come. And to announce it to the world, God the Father chose a group of shepherds. Men who looked after sheep for a living. Theirs wasn’t a neighborhood watch, it was a livelihood watch. They would spend their days and nights looking for food and water for their flocks. Watching for predators. Keeping their eyes on the horizon to forecast the weather. Observing the flock and counting their sheep, checking their health and disposition.

These watchers were a great group to use as the first eyewitnesses of Christ’s birth, for a lot of reasons. But what stood out to me this week was the many phrases and terms that had to do with looking and seeing.

Verse 8: Keeping watch. Verse 12: You’ll find a Baby. Verse 15: Let’s go see this thing. Verse 17: When they had seen Him. Verse 20: the things they had heard and seen.

Now, the power of the Bible is not only that it reveals God, but it’s relevant for our lives. This passage is not only a chronicle, it is an example for us. As we see this story unfold we find that the tidings the shepherds received were not only for them, but they are for us. And as recipients, we are included in the continuation of their work. A magnificent, eternal version of see something, say something.

As we look through this story, let’s put ourselves behind the eyes of the shepherds and see what sort of wonderful things God was revealing and how that would change their lives forever.

We begin at verse 8, where we read:

Luke 2:8 – 8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

It is generally accepted that these guys would’ve been stationed at what is called the Tower of the Flock. It’s believed that these were the lambs that were raised for the Temple sacrifices. We’re not specifically told that, but it not only makes geographical sense, but also it makes a huge amount of theological sense. The final Lamb had come. The Lamb of God who would take away all the sins of all the world. And so it is altogether appropriate that the Lord would choose these shepherds to be the first to know that the Savior had arrived.

It’s hard to know exactly where they would be on the map, and it’s hard to know exactly the route that Mary and Joseph would’ve taken on their trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem (despite what tour guides would have you believe), but to me it is not at all outside the realm of possibilities that Mary and Joseph could have actually walked by these men and their flocks the day of Jesus’ birth. Whether that happened or not, these men had no idea that such a significant, world-changing thing was happening right in their midst. The Messiah, promised all the way back in Genesis 3, was finally arriving. God was going to break through in an incredible way, right near them. And He very much wanted them to know about it.

Luke 2:9 – 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.

Now, I hope I don’t ruin any mental images you have, but it doesn’t seem that these angels appeared in the sky. Rather, we’re told here that the first angel stood before them. The shepherds who were up during that watch of the night were leaning on their staffs when, all of a sudden, a bright and shining angel popped up right next to them in all his brilliance and splendor. And it was a jolting thing. If you’re reading the King James Version you’ll see it says that the angel “came upon them.” The word there is a word for attack!

You know, God loves to surprise us. Often times it’s easy to think of God as this far-away personality who doesn’t want to be disturbed. But in the Bible we see that He loves to jump in. He’s startling people all the time. And in the Christian life we find that God still wants to surprise us with His presence. Surprise us with His power. Surprise us with a word of direction or preparation or preservation. Why? Because God keeps watch over His flock. And as we see with these shepherds, the Lord knows exactly where we are and how to get to us and He takes joy in jumping in.

As God’s glory surrounded these men, they were terrified and full of awe. This is always what happens in the Bible when an angel or God’s presence shows up. Because a real manifestation of the Lord’s power will immediately expose the fact that we are categorically un-glorious and unholy in comparison to Him. And so, the shepherds were greatly afraid.

Luke 2:10 – 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.

When the angel says “I bring you good tidings”, the language there is that he has come to evangelize! He said, “I have a message that is not only incredibly good, but also incredibly important! And this message is not at all meant to be known only by you guys, but it is a message that must go out from you to all people.” We note that this global message was only delivered here. The angels had no other stops that evening. We’ll see that after this little meet-and-greet they leave and head back into heaven. Which means that the shepherds were given the heavenly responsibility to go and announce this message. It was the same with the disciples. Same with the prophets. It’s the same for you if you’re a Christian here this morning. A heavenly message, full of importance and joy, that we are responsible for.

We note also here the fact that the angel said “I bring you tidings.” News. Meaning that it was something these shepherds didn’t know. This essential, life-changing information was news to them. God give us a heart to reach those who have never heard the Gospel!

Luke 2:11 – 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

There it is. The message is a Messiah. What God wants us to know is that there is a Person who can deal with our sin and save us from death, and He is Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, laid in a manger, killed on a cross and risen from His tomb.

Now, think about this: These guys were shepherds. Shepherds who watched over the temple lambs, who were raised for sacrifice. Once the Messiah came and did His work, there was no longer a need for sacrifices. Meaning, this message was effectively going to put them out of a job! Their whole livelihood was going to be rendered obsolete once Jesus died.

What a great reminder that the Christ is not simply an addition to our lives. He’s not an extension of our own plan. He supersedes our thoughts and intentions and replaces them with Himself. He has the supreme right to redefine us and reassign us according to His will and purposes. But as He does so He gives us Himself. He was born to us. He was given for us. He was brought and delivered unto us that we might experience God’s salvation and peace and goodwill toward us.

The angel has revealed the Baby, and now gives them a hint about where He’ll be.

Luke 2:12 – 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

A sign, but no address. “Look for a Baby, but you don’t get the family name. This Child will clearly stand out because of the circumstances of His birth, but you are going to have to go looking.”

Notice also that the angel didn’t say Bethlehem. He said “the city of David.” Now, it was Jerusalem that was referred to as ‘the city of David” over 40 times in the Old Testament. And these shepherds were somewhere in-between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

I think this shows us a wonderful example for when we are following the Lord. Often, there will be some information about God’s plan for our lives or what He wants us to do in some situation. But what we’re given will require a few things. It will require we pursue the Lord. The shepherds were going to have to put their feet to the pavement and go find this Baby. Second, it will require that we probe the Scriptures for understanding. If a Jew knew their Scriptures, they knew that Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Both cities could be called the City of David. Jerusalem was the city he captured and made his great capital. Bethlehem was the city of his birth and where he grew up.

But when the shepherds are told, “Go find a Baby, somewhere, in the City of David.” They would need to choose to pursue. They would need to have probed the Scriptures and they needed the Lord to point the way. And the same is going to be true of our spiritual lives. We probe the Scriptures to discover God and His will for us. We pursue Him and follow after as He points the way by the leading of the Holy Spirit. It follows the same pattern we see exampled here in Luke 2.

Luke 2:13-14 – 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

The most monumental scavenger hunt in human history had just begun – but you know what – there was time for a worship service! There was enough time to sing to the Lord and magnify Him for what He was doing. The highest God was directing His infinite power and grace and goodwill all the way down to the lowness of mankind. And I love that the angels took a moment to praise. There’s always time to praise God and to thank Him for who He is and what He does. And we should follow their example and make it a priority to publicly worship God in whatever moments we can.

Luke 2:15 – 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”

Just like that, the angels were gone. What an amazing thing that this heavenly army was not attending their King. Not because they didn’t want to, but because Christ came for mankind. He came for you and for me and it would be shepherds, not seraphim, who would first attend to Him.

Look at what they say here. They had heard, now they wanted to see for themselves. What an incredible contrast from the story we read in Matthew 2, when the Wise Men from the east come to Herod’s court. They say they’ve seen the sign. Messiah the King is born, they’ve seen His star. The chief priests and scribes come out, hear what’s said, tell them, “Head over to Bethlehem.” And then just go back home. But not these shepherds. They said, “If there is a Savior, I want to behold Him.” They weren’t going to squander or ignore what the Lord had made known to them. They were going to take the opportunity to sit at His feet, be in His presence, gaze upon Him and worship this Babe.

Luke 2:16 – 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.

They rushed to the city. They came with haste. There was an urgency and eagerness to find the Lord.

I wonder how many people they woke up before they found Mary and Joseph’s stable? We know the city was packed with people. No room in the inn. They rushed over in the middle of the night. Pounding on doors. Peering into barns. Looking for this Baby. I imagine that just about the whole city was awake before they found the manger.

But then, they finally find them. And, let’s just take a moment to point out just what great troopers Mary and Joseph are in all this! When we had kids it was in the comfort of an air-conditioned hospital, with a staff of people waiting on us to make things go smoothly, and I’ll tell you this: I didn’t want strangers coming in and gawking at my baby!

But the shepherds tiptoe in and behold their Messiah.

Luke 2:17-18 – 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

“When they had seen Him.” What did they see?

They saw that this Baby, God come in human flesh, is like us. In particular, He was like them. No pomp. No palace. No prestige. He was there among the animals. There, accessible to strangers. Born into the filth of creation that He might deal with the filth of sin.

And from there they went once again house to house, undoubtedly sharing the personal experience they had just been a part of, but more importantly, they shared the saying which was told them. They went around, not promoting some emotional experience, but explaining a message. Telling the people of Bethlehem and beyond, “Here is what God has said. And here is how we know it to be true. And the angel told me to tell you that this message is for you too!”

These watchers had been shown something amazing. And they went out proclaiming.

Luke 2:20 – 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

They returned to their flocks. Some of them must have realized that their jobs were eventually going to be made obsolete. I wonder if that night was the last shift for some of them. And yet, they went with praise and filled with the joy of the Lord. And here’s what the angel didn’t say: He didn’t say, “Your job is being phased out, this is all going to burn, so just give up.” Rather, the way the story ends we see these guys returning back where they were but completely changed. Filled with the knowledge of God and doing His business as they carried out their regular lives. They made the message known widely. They fulfill a wonderful prophecy written in Isaiah 700 years before Jesus was born:

Isaiah 52:8 – 8Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, With their voices they shall sing together; For they shall see eye to eye when the Lord brings back Zion.

Isaiah 52:7 – 7How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

At the beginning, I said we should put ourselves behind the eyes of the shepherds and see what sort of wonderful things God was revealing and how that would change their lives forever. Hopefully, along the way we’ve caught a glimpse or been reminded that the Lord still speaks and surprises us. Their message and commission is our message and commission as Christians.

But, what if they had missed it? What if they responded the way the chief priests and scribes did? Shown the sign, given the Word of God, but it didn’t take root in the heart and didn’t put their feet on the pavement. Praise God that these men said:  Let us go NOW!

If you’re a believer here this morning, God still delights to bring you tidings and joy and opportunities to make Himself known to you and then enlist you to make the Messiah widely known. We don’t have to be a king from the east or a chief priest in order to be used by God or for God to speak to us. Anyone, from any sleepy cow town can do so as we live life in pursuit of God, probing His word, pointed in which ways to go by the Holy Spirit. But if we want to be like these shepherds, then we must be people who have heard from God and have seen Him work in our own lives. So what have you heard? What have you seen? These watchers were shown a great deal that Christmas night. We can see the Lord too by watching for Him. As Christians, we’re called to be witnesses in this world, but to be a witness, we must have seen something. We must know the One we’re testifying of and know what He has said. So, what about us? When is the last time we saw the Lord revealed in our lives? When is the last time we heard Him speak to us, not just generally, but personally?

Isaiah 52 opens up by saying, “Awake, awake Put on your strength, O Zion.” A great verse for us to remember often, that we might watch and be shown the great things the Lord has done. And, having seen something we then go on saying something.

But, perhaps you’re not a Christian here this morning. You’ve never repented of your sin and asked Jesus to be your King. This passage shows us that God has moved heaven and hearth not only to grant you salvation, but to let you know about it. He’s not hiding away from you. He has sent out His good news of grace, the glad tidings that the Messiah has made a way for you to be at peace with God and receive life everlasting. But it is a gift you must go get. You must lay hold of it by believing what God has said, and falling down at the feet of this Person, Jesus Christ. Born in Bethlehem. Crucified at Calvary. Raised to life and able to save you from your sins if you will call out to Him today.

We’ll Always Have Bethlehem!

“We’ll always have Paris” is an iconic line of dialog from the final scene of the classic film, Casablanca.

Humphrey Bogart meant Paris, France.  Do you know that there are at least thirty-two other cities named Paris?

Americans seem most fascinated by the name; there are twenty-four Paris’ in the United States, including, here in the West, ones in California, Idaho, and Oregon.

You’d better let your travel agent know it’s the Paris in France you want to visit, or else you might end up in Denmark, or the Yukon.

One powerful proof of the supernatural origin of the Bible is the presence of predictive prophecy within its pages.  Old Testament prophets predicted minute details of events that were fulfilled hundreds of years later in the New Testament.

An example of this is found in the Old Testament Book of Micah.  He’s the prophet quoted by Matthew in the New Testament that tells us where Jesus would be born.

Micah 5:2  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 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 of old, From everlasting.”

As predictive prophecies go, this one is a doozy.  It predicts  the location of Jesus’ birth about 700 years before it happened.
Notice the attention to minute detail in the prophecy.  Not just Bethlehem; Bethlehem Ephrathah.

It’s an important designation, because there were, in Israel, two Bethlehem’s.

One Bethlehem is in the north of Israel, not far from Nazareth.  It is called Bethlehem of Zebulon.
The other, and most famous, Bethlehem is situated on the main highway to Egypt, and was specified variously as Ephrath (Genesis 35:16), Bethlehem Ephrathah (Micah 5:2), Bethlehem-Judah (First Samuel 17:12), and “the city of David” (Luke 2:4).

The promised Savior would be born in the Bethlehem in Judah, in Bethlehem Ephrathah, the one about five miles from Jerusalem.

We are all familiar with the prophecy about Bethlehem, but there is another prophecy, by Micah, about the exact birthplace of Jesus that we too easily overlook.  Earlier in his book Micah said something even more specific about Bethlehem Ephrathah:

Micah 4:8  And you, O tower of the flock, The stronghold of the daughter of Zion, To you shall it come, Even the former dominion shall come, The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”

According to an early church father, who’s name was Jerome, the “Tower of the Flock” was about a mile outside Bethlehem Ephrathah.  It translates from the Hebrew phrase “Migdal Eder” [mig-dawl ay-der] and means a watch tower of the flock.

It is exactly what it describes – a tower from which shepherds could keep watch over their flocks.

The Targum is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanak) which was written during Israel’s seventy year captivity in Babylon.  In it the rabbis added commentary to the Scriptures.

One such commentator, Rabbi Munk, paraphrases Micah 4:8 to say, “He spread His tent beyond Migdal Eder, the place where King Messiah will reveal Himself at the end of days.”

We’re thus definitely being told the precise place of Jesus’ appearance on the earth.

What, exactly, was the Tower of the Flock outside of Bethlehem?  Alfred Edersheim, a nineteenth-century Jewish scholar and convert to Christianity, writing in 1833, said this about Migdal Eder:

This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem.  A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion, that the flocks which pastured there were destined for Temple sacrifices and, accordingly, that the shepherds who watched over them were not ordinary shepherds… The same… passage also leads us to infer that these flocks lay out all the year round, since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before the Passover – that is, in the month of February… Thus Jewish tradition in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from that Migdal Eder, where shepherds watched the Temple flocks all the year round.  Of the deep symbolic significance of such a coincidence, it is needless to speak.

The Mishnah is a written compilation of the oral traditions passed down by the rabbis.  The Mishnah passage Edersheim references reads like this:

An animal that was found between Jerusalem and Migdal Eder, or a similar distance in any direction, the males are [considered] burnt offerings. The females are [considered] peace offerings. Rabbi Yehuda says, those which are fitting as a [Passover] offering are [considered] [Passover] offerings if it is thirty days before the festival.

The flocks being watched over are therefore assumed to be Passover lambs, fit for sacrifice at the nearby Temple.

What is “the deep symbolic significance” Edersheim mentioned?

It is this amazing fact:

Jesus Christ, who was identified by John the Baptist at His baptism as “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world,” was born not just in Bethlehem, but right where the sacrificial lambs for the Temple were born.

Another scholar wrote this: “[The Bible’s] original audience would have immediately picked up on the religious significance of the Bethlehem shepherds watching their flocks by night.  Everyone in Israel recognized Bethlehem as being synonymous with sacrificial lambs.”

Shepherds from all over Israel would drive their flocks to Migdal Eder.  There, special Temple shepherds would inspect them for any defects that would render them unsuitable for sacrifice. Those sheep that were certified without spot or blemish would then be watched by these Temple shepherds until needed for sacrifice.

The shepherds who were responsible for certifying a lamb as spotless and without blemish for sacrifice were the ones notified that the perfect Lamb of God had been born.
When the angels appeared that night to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, it was not just a declaration of the Good News to simple shepherds.  It was a powerful prophetic sign to all of Israel.

Here is another commentary, citing the Law of Moses in Leviticus, that lends credibility to Jesus being born exactly where the sacrificial lambs were birthed.  It’s a little long, for a quote, but it is worth a listen.

Tradition would have us believe that Joseph and Mary became stuck in an animal stable as a means of last resort.  The Greek word used in Luke 2:7 for “inn” is kataluma, which is the same Greek word translated as “guestchamber” in Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11.  This scripture speaks of “no room in the kataluma” – not [an] “inn.”

Kataluma would have been a guest room in [Joseph’s] family home.

According to the [Law], when a woman had an issue of blood for any reason, she was ritually unclean for that time and for seven days thereafter.  She remained ceremonially unclean until she was purified by entering a mikvah (water immersion) in the witnessing presence of a rabbi.  While she was ritually unclean, she had to live separately from the rest of the family so as not to defile the people in the household and by her presence rendering them ceremonially unclean.  Therefore, during those times, the woman would leave and stay in a nearby area where she would not defile the home.

During childbirth and with the issue of blood loss, the same rule applied to women giving birth.

If she were to give birth in the common living area, she would defile the family and make it necessary for them to be ceremonially purified by both a ritual immersion and a sacrifice; therefore, women would leave the home and give birth elsewhere.

After the cessation of blood and the required time of waiting for purification, the woman and child would perform the necessary rituals of purification to be ceremonially clean and return to the household with the rest of the family.

Thus, with this understanding, there being “no place for them in the kataluma” would be regarded as completely appropriate.

Where, then, might Jesus have been born?  We have, in the Bible, a further clue.  What was the baby Jesus wrapped up in after His birth?  That’s right, swaddling cloths.

The information come from the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in the field.  “The angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12).

The significance of Jesus’ swaddling clothes is often overlooked. But notice that the angel specifically explains that the fact that Jesus will be found in swaddling clothes, in a manger, was the “sign” to them of his true identity as the Savior (Luke 2:12).

How is that a sign?

Both swaddling clothes and mangers were components of the Tower of the Flock.
The sacrificial lambs were immediately wrapped in “swaddling cloths” after their births to protect them from injury, since baby lambs tend to thrash about and harm themselves in their first couple of hours of their lives.

Swaddling “bands” were also used for subduing them prior to sacrifice.

Regarding the manger in which Mary lay her swaddled baby, it could be that Jesus was born right there, among the flocks that were there near the Tower of the Flock, in a shelter that was used as a birthing room for the lambs.

While some of this is sanctified speculation, it would explain why there was no need for the angels to give these shepherds directions to the birth place, because they already knew where it was.  He would be found bound by the lamb’s swaddling clothes in the birthing room, in a manger, and they knew where that place was – at the Tower of the Flock.

The sacrificial lamb is a theme running all through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.

In Genesis, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve sinned.  God promised He would resolve their sin and give Adam and Eve and their descendants eternal life.  He said He would come Himself, into our world, and act in our place, on our behalf.

What would He have to do to resolve sin and death and give them and their descendants eternal life?

God showed them right there in the Garden.  He slew animals in order to provide clothing for them.  Something or someone had to die in their place, as a substitute.

I suggest those animals were lambs because from that moment on the followers of God approached Him by faith, offering lambs as a sacrifice.

In Bible times, while the Temple stood, very day of the Jewish calendar year, two lambs were required for a daily sacrifice, meaning that 730 were needed each year, plus the thousands more lambs needed annually for Passover, as well as for the other religious rituals.

Think back for a moment, to the immediate aftermath of Adam and Eve’s sin.  God provided animals as a sacrifice, but He also promised them that He Himself would eventually enter the human race as the Seed of the woman, and that He would be the ultimate sacrifice.

A little later on, in Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, Isaac, God gave us a picture of what that sacrifice would be like.

As Abraham and Isaac climbed the mountain, Isaac asked his father,

Genesis 22:7  … My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
Genesis 22:8  And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

It was a prophecy.  “God will provide Himself a lamb.”  God would Himself come and be the sacrificial lamb.

There’s no mystery as to exactly Who that was, and when He came.

When Jesus came to be baptized, beginning His public ministry, John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.

In First Corinthians 5:7, the apostle Paul calls Jesus “our Passover,” which is can be rendered our “Passover Lamb.”

In the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the apostle John sees Jesus in Heaven and calls Him the “Lamb that had been slain.”  It is Revelation’s favorite name for Jesus, occurring some thirty times.

Migdal Eder, the Tower of the Flock, was the place where lambs destined for the Temple sacrifice were born and raised. Generations of hereditary shepherds tended the sacred flocks. The shepherds would separate the lambs, choosing only the perfect firstborn males to drive to Jerusalem.  There the lambs would be purchased by those who wished to atone for their sins.

Then, on the same mountain where Abraham had nearly offered his son to the Lord, the lambs would shed their blood and lose their lives as substitutes for those offering them.

The day Jesus died on the Cross, the very hour He hung there, the sacrificial lambs from Migdal Eder were being offered in the Temple at the Passover of the Jews.

Jesus was born in the very place sacrificial lambs were born.  He died just as the sacrificial lambs were being killed.

God promised He would provide a lamb.  He promised He would provide Himself the Lamb.  In Jesus we Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

What a wonderful fulfillment of prophecy and promises we have in Jesus!
A popular American pastor, as a kind of signature to his preaching God’s Word, presents his material, then tells the congregation to ask him, out loud, “So what?”

It’s a way of moving from information, to application.

What does this mean to us?

Well, first of all, it’s pretty cool.  I mean that.  If you’re a believer, stuff like this touches something in your spirit, exciting you about growing deeper in the Word and in your walk.  Just when you thought you’d heard everything about the birth of Jesus, you find a rich vein of insight to mine.

More importantly, stuff like this reminds us that God is in the details.

Apple is known for its insane attention to detail in its products.  A couple of examples:

When engaging the voice dictation feature on newer Mac laptops, the computer automatically slows the internal fan speed to better hear your voice.

The animated wallpapers on the Apple Watch aren’t computer generated – they’re actual photographs. The company spent hundreds of hours filming flowers blooming over time to create its motion watch face. The longest one – a single wallpaper –  took 285 hours, and over 24,000 shots.

God is way more into details than Apple.  And He’s into details for you.

The Bible promises you, as a believer, that He Who has begun His good work in you, will definitely complete it.  God calls you, personally, His workmanship.  You are promised that you will be presented, in Heaven, perfect.

Co-operate with Him.  Let Him have His perfect work in you.  Don’t complicate it by falling into sin, or by stumbling others, or by falling asleep in the light of Jesus’ imminent return.

If you are not a believer – not a Christian – information like we have presented helps you to see that God wants to reach you with the Good News.  He has acted, in history, to save you.

The Bible is unlike any other book.  It’s prophecies are 100% accurate, and, as you’ve seen, they are not obscure, but are bold in their detail.

Ever watch Pawn Stars?  I was watching an episode where someone brought in a brass statue of the Hindu god, Shiva.  In the little talk Rick likes to give about items, he said that the Hindu religion was the world’s oldest.

A lot of times people will argue that many religions pre-date Christianity.  But that’s because they think, erroneously, that Christianity was founded by Jesus or His immediate followers in the first century.

Christ was promised in the Garden of Eden, to our first parents, right after they sinned.  He pre-dates every religious system, and all of them are doctrines of demons that seek to keep you from the Good News.

You need saving.  All of us, every human being, is born spiritually dead.  We are all going to die physically one day.  And if we die physically while remaining spiritually dead, we will die eternally.

To die eternally means you will live forever in eternity separated from God and from everyone else in a place of eternal conscious torment.

But you don’t have to die eternally!  You can instead have eternal life.  You can live forever in Heaven in a place specially prepared for you by a loving God.

John 3:16  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

God “gave” Jesus as the sacrifice, as the Lamb.  If you believe in Him, He takes your sin upon Himself and gives you salvation in its stead.  You become born again, born spiritually.

Come behold the Lamb.  He is your Lamb, He is your sacrifice.

God’s Crush On Satan (Genesis 3:15)

Birth announcements have come a long way.  In my day, you didn’t routinely know the gender of your baby.  Fathers weren’t allowed in the delivery room.  The doctor would come to the maternity waiting room, and announce, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”

Now ultrasounds are routine, and the majority of couples opt to know their baby’s gender.

But you can’t simply tell people you’re having a boy or a girl.  O no; that wouldn’t be classy.  Not in today’s social media culture.

You need to come up with a creative way to reveal your baby’s gender, using something blue or pink.

There are balloons filled with either blue or pink confetti, that you pop at a gender-reveal party.
Sticking with balloons, you can hide a blue or pink helium balloon in a box, then open it to reveal your baby’s gender.
There are color-changing gender-reveal sugar cubes, that turn water blue or pink when dropped into a glass.
You can make a dessert with either blue or pink filling, and when your guests bite into it, they know what you’re having.
Gender-reveal PlayDough starts out white, but turns blue or pink as you play with it.
I saw one couple, on Pinterest, blow two different color bubbles, one blue, one pink; then the wife burst the husband’s bubble, revealing that they were having a pink.
Mistakes are easily made.  One couple had their doctor give them two sealed envelopes with the baby’s gender inside.  Even they did not yet know the gender.  The couple kept one for themselves and dropped the other off at a local bakery where they ordered a cake for the reveal party.  The bakery was supposed to fill the inside of the cake with blue icing if the card said “boy,” and pink icing if it said “girl.”

After hours of celebrating the cake-reveal, the couple opened their envelope.  The bakery had gotten it wrong.

When would you say the very first birth announcement was made?

Genesis 4:1 would be a good guess, where you read, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD.”

Good guess, but not what I’m going for.

The very first birth announcement was a few verses earlier.  After Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, God came, seeking them, and He told them what He was going to do to resolve their sin, and the chaos it inspired.

In the middle of addressing Adam and Eve, He turned to the serpent who had tempted Eve, and said, “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).

The promised Seed of Eve was the very first birth announcement.    It let her, and us, know that she was going to have a very special child.

It wasn’t Cain.  It wasn’t his brother, Abel.  In fact, it wasn’t anyone born from Eve’s womb, but a far-future descendant.

Good thing Pinterest wasn’t around at the time of this announcement.  Adam and Eve would have made a Board called God’s Crush on Satan.  The visual would have been disturbing, to say the least.  The picture of the future Seed crushing the serpent’s head, with His bare heel, and suffering a lethal injury as a result of it; well, it’s not rated PG.

It is, however, rated Good News, because it is the way God would resolve the sin of Adam and Eve, and of their descendants, once and for all.

BTW – Studies have been conducted that show, scientifically, that most human beings have an inexplicable innate aversion to snakes.  Most of us are wired to fear them.  The researchers chalk it up to evolution, but I say it’s hereditary.  We got it from our parents in Eden.

I want us to see three things in this birth announcement.  First, we see the reason for the birth of Jesus Christ.  Genesis 3:15 is Christmas in the Old Testament – or at the very least the promise of Christmas.

In Genesis 3, there is no explanation of the phrase “the Seed of the woman.”  It is singular, so the Seed is to be understood as an individual whose appearance would be some time in the future.
The identity of the serpent isn’t in question.  It’s Satan, who we read about later in the Bible as “that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan…” (Revelation 20:2).

With the benefit of history, and the Bible, we know Who crushed Satan in His coming to earth.  The Seed is a reference to Jesus Christ.  He is the Person being promised.

We like to say, Jesus is the reason for the season.  It would be less poetic, but more accurate, to say Sin is the reason for the season.

Long before the herald angels sang, and the shepherds heard of their Savior’s birth away in the manger in the little town of Bethlehem on that silent night bringing joy to the world, Jesus’ birth was dramatically announced.

The announcement that Jesus would be born was God’s response to Adam and Eve’s epic fail to obey Him.

Gen 2:15  Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.
Gen 2:16  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;
Gen 2:17  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

My take on this is that, in order to be made in the image of God and to express genuine love, Adam and Eve must have free will to choose.  Forced love is not love.

Adrian Rogers explained it this way:
Forced love is a contradiction in terms.  Forced love is not love at all.  In order to love, we must be free to love, to choose to love, and to choose to love, we have to be able to choose not to love. And so God gave us perfect choice.  Adam chose in the Garden of Eden, and the sons of Adam after him, to sin, and that’s where the heart-ache, and the groan and the moan come from.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God.  The immediate result was the first episode of Naked & Afraid.  They tried to cover their sin and shame with fig leaves, but it was to no avail.  God had to slay an animal, most likely a lamb, maybe two, in order to provide skins to cover them.

It was symbolic of their need to have their sin ‘covered’ by the death of an innocent substitute.  The future Seed, Jesus, would be that Substitute, dying on the Cross as God’s final sacrificial Lamb, to cover the sins of anyone and everyone who would believe in Him.

The consequences of their sin were severe.  Look at the world around you, with all its enmity and evil.  It is the result of the sin of our first parents, and their expulsion from Eden.

Their sin is passed on to us.  We are all born spiritually dead, separated from God, with a sin nature.

I’ve said before that God was the first, “first responder.”  He rushed in to the horrible situation Adam and Eve found themselves in, to save them.

Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a sinner.  Ask yourself, “Am I as good and as perfect as God?”  That is the impossible standard you must achieve if you have any hope of Heaven after death.
You’re not perfect; all of us fall short, and therefore all are sinners.  We need a sinless Person to ‘cover’ for us – to come and take our place, take our penalty.  That Person is Jesus.

Sin is the reason for the season, but what does the birth announcement reveal?

The Seed of a woman is an unusual way to describe a child. Normally we would think of the seed coming from the male.  This birth was going to be different.

As we read the Old Testament, we see that the Seed would be God come in human flesh, born of a virgin.  Here is the prophecy: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

Immanuel means God with us.  The Seed, Jesus, would be God in human flesh.

Fast forward from Isaiah to the first century.  The Gospel of Matthew explains, as best we can comprehend, how the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and formed Jesus in her womb.

The fact that Jesus is both God and man is very important for us. As a human who shares in our human weaknesses, He knows what it is like to be human and tempted and is therefore able to represent us in the presence of the Father where he pleads to Him for us.  Because he is fully God, He is able to show us what God is like; but more important because Jesus is God, He is able to pay for our sins and reconcile our relationship with God.

First announced in Eden, the angels announced to the shepherds tending their flocks that the Savior was indeed born.

The entire Old Testament fills in the blanks between the birth announcement in Genesis and the birth in the first century.

We’ve come to our third point – the result of this birth.  After living in relative obscurity for thirty years, Jesus burst onto the scene and did battle with the Serpent.  He defeated the devil out in the wilderness, not succumbing to Satan’s temptations.

Satan countered with an absolute invasion of demons.  After not possessing anyone, at least anyone recorded, for some four thousand years of Old Testament history, it seems like demonic possession in Israel was epidemic.

Jesus cast them out – sometimes one at a time, sometimes seven at a time, one time an entire legion.  He healed all manner of sickness and disease, and He commanded the winds and the seas and they obeyed Him.

Listen to these words from the Book of Hebrews.  They put into perspective the Lord’s crushing of Satan.

Heb 2:14  Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,
Heb 2:15  and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

And this, from First John 3:8:

1Jn 3:8  He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.

As we painfully and sorrowfully learned just recently, first responders put themselves at great risk.  They risk, and sometimes give, their very lives.

As the first responder promised in Eden, Jesus would give His life, willingly, for the human race.  Satan would be crushed, but the Lord would die in the process.

His suffering and death upon the cross was the means by which the head of Satan was crushed and his works destroyed forever.

Death could not hold Jesus.  He rose from the dead; He is alive forevermore.  His life, death, and resurrection from the dead fulfill God’s promise at His birth announcement.  Jesus was our Substitute, the final sacrifice.  He took our sin upon Himself; He offers us His righteousness in exchange.  Believing on Him, we are saved.

I know what some of you are thinking.  If Satan is crushed, why is there so much enmity and evil in the world?  Where is the victory?

This question, about why God allows suffering, is the one that most people stumble over.  It gets asked, in different ways, on TV, in the movies, and in literature.  Mostly those asked to give an answer are stopped in their tracks and made to look foolish, as if faith in God was indefensible.

My first reaction is to counter with a question, and that is, “What is your explanation for suffering?”
Then a follow-up question: “If you eliminate the God of the Bible, are you going to be better off, or worse off, regarding the problem of pain?”

You’re going to be worse off – much, much worse – with no viable explanation, and therefore no hope.

God rushed in to save us.  He responded immediately.  It took some time to develop, due to the nature of the problem.  But He came, as promised.

First responders can’t always get to the victims as quickly as they’d like.  The collapse of the San José Mine on August 5, 2010, became international news, as 33 men were trapped underground for 69 days, battling starvation and hopelessness as the world waited anxiously for news of their rescue.  Geno related their story on Wednesday night, and it’s a story of real faith, as those men put their faith in God.

My point is this: Do we criticize the responders, who worked day and night to rescue them?  No; we recognize the extreme difficulty of the rescue, and we applaud them.

Rescuing the human race, buried by sin, and in total darkness, was no easy response.  For one thing, the people needing rescue don’t admit it, and won’t acknowledge it.  They want to remain in sin, and in darkness.

But God persisted through human history – even as Satan constantly tried to thwart the Seed by killing those through whom He was promised to be born.

Nevertheless, Jesus was born – right on time.  He defeated Satan once and for all on the Cross.

In His Second Coming, He will have the devil bound, and incarcerated in a pit called the Abyss.

Finally, Jesus will confine Satan and his demons to the Lake of Fire where they will experience eternal conscious torment.

What’s He waiting for?  Maybe… You.

If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, you need to understand that when the Lord acts to end human suffering, you will be lost forever, and will perish.

The only place for you will be that same Lake of Fire where you, too, will experience eternal conscious torment.

Yes, terrible, awful, evil things are happening every minute of every day Jesus delays.  We attribute His waiting to His longsuffering, which means He is not willing that you perish, but rather that you come to know Him as your Savior.

He’s coming.  He could come at any moment.  Nothing needs to happen before the Lord resurrects the dead in Christ, and raptures living believers, taking us home to Heaven.

We seem to be fascinated with a person who is the ‘last’ of his or her kind.  The Last of the Mohicans… The Last Samurai… The Last Airbender… The Last Emperor…

There is going to be The Last Christian – at least from the standpoint of Jesus coming for His church.
If you’re not saved, it could be you; it could be now.

If it’s someone else, and you’re left behind, there will still be opportunities to be saved.  But evangelists like to ask the question, “If you can’t live for Jesus now, how will you die for Him later?”

Let’s do a quick roll call.  I want you to raise your hand if you’re saved; if you’re born-again; if you know that you’ll be taken, not left behind, when Jesus comes.

If you couldn’t honestly raise your hand… God’s longsuffering waits for you, but why wait?

Come to the Lord.

We Wish You a Merry Sukkot & a Happy New Jerusalem

Each year, on December 25th, we celebrate Jesus Christ’s UnBirthday.

You know what an UnBirthday is, don’t you? It’s what the Mad Hatter and the March Hare and the Dormouse were celebrating when Alice came upon their tea party in Wonderland.

An UnBirthday is any day that is not your birthday – but you celebrate it anyway.

To quote the Mad Hatter, “Statistics prove that you’ve one birthday. Ah, but there are three hundred and sixty four UnBirthdays!”

It even has its own song – A Very Merry UnBirthday to You.

Without being irreverent, December 25th is one of Jesus’ three hundred and sixty four UnBirthdays, because almost everyone agrees that He wasn’t born on that date.

We’ve been told through the years that there is really no way of knowing when Jesus was born.

That’s not exactly true. There is a lot of biblical evidence that points to Jesus being born during the annual Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.

One Bible verse that’s popular on Christmas cards is John 1:14, which says,

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

When the apostle John said that Jesus, whom he referred to as “the Word,” “became flesh and dwelt among us,” the word for “dwelt” is tabernacled. It’s likely that John used this word intentionally to associate Jesus’ first coming into the world with the feast by that name.

The Feast of Tabernacles has at least three other names in the Bible: the Feast of Booths, the Feast of Ingathering, and Sukkot (pronounced sueCoat).

It is observed in the fall, from the 15th to the 22nd of the Jewish month, Tishri, corresponding to late September or early October on our Gregorian calendar.

During this time many Jewish families were to construct a sukkah, a small hastily built shelter in which meals were eaten throughout the festival. The sukkah was to remember the huts [plural: sukkot] Israel lived in during their forty year wandering in the desert after the exodus from Egypt.

Here is the 411 God gave to Moses about celebrating the feast:

Lev 23:39 ‘Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest.

Lev 23:40 And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.

Lev 23:41 You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month.

Lev 23:42 You shall dwell in booths [sukkah] for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths,

Lev 23:43 that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.’ ”

Besides John’s implication, why do we think Jesus was born on Sukkot? I’ll give a quick summary.

In the first century, there were so many priests serving in the Temple at Jerusalem that they were divided into groups. Each group was called a course. There were twenty-four such courses, and each one of them would begin and end their service in the Temple on the Sabbath, a tour of duty lasting one week.

We know from the Bible that John the Baptist’s dad, Zacharias, was of the course of Abijah (Luke 1:5).

Why tell us which course of priests he belonged to? Because that knowledge allows us to calculate, from the Jewish calendar, exactly when he served in the Temple.

His service began on the second Sabbath of the third month, Sivan (corresponding to late May or early June).
He was busy serving in the Temple when the angel appeared to him and told him that he and Elizabeth would conceive, and have a son, whom they were to name John, who would be the forerunner of Jesus.

After completing his Temple service on the third Sabbath of Sivan, Zacharias returned home and John was soon conceived.

The information about John is important because, according to the Gospel of Luke, the Holy Spirit visited the virgin Mary in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy:

Luk 1:24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying,

Luk 1:25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Birth of Jesus Foretold

Luk 1:26 Now in the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy] the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,

Luk 1:27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

After the angel described to Mary that she would give birth to the Savior of the world, she went to visit Elizabeth, and she stayed with her for the last three months of her pregnancy, until the time that John was born.

Luke 1:56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

Luke 1:57 Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.

Working from the information about John’s conception and advancing six months, we arrive late in the ninth month of Kislev for the time frame for the conception of Jesus.

It is notable here that the first day of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.

Do you think it was mere coincidence that the Light of the World was conceived during the Festival of Lights?

It might be that the Holy Spirit came upon the virgin Mary on what would have been December 25th on our calendar.

I’m not trying to somehow defend our celebration of Jesus’ birth in December by saying He was conceived at that time; these are just the facts.

A likely date for the birth of John the Baptist would be the fifteenth day of the first month on the Jewish calendar, Nisan – which is the day after Passover on which the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins.

Since Jesus was conceived six months after John the Baptist, we need only move six months farther down the Jewish calendar to arrive at a likely date for the birth of Jesus. From the fifteenth day of the first month, Nisan, we go to the fifteenth day of the seventh month, Tishri.

And what do we find on that date? It is the Feast of Tabernacles.

It gives more weight to this other famous Christmas Scripture from Isaiah:

Isa 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Immanuel means “God with us.” The Son of God had come to dwell with, or tabernacle, on earth with His people; and He did it while they were tabernacling in booths.

These calendar calculations fit perfectly into the overall biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus. For example we know from the Gospel of Luke that Jesus was born in a stable, and laid in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Scholars like to point out that there weren’t any “inns” in Bethlehem; and that the word Luke chose for “inn” is a particular word that means the guest room of a house. The thought is that Joseph and Mary arrived and all the guest rooms in the family dwelling were occupied, so they stayed downstairs, among the animals.

While it’s true that houses were set up that way, if, in fact, all the guest rooms were occupied, what kind of hospitality was it to let the greatly pregnant woman stay with the animals?

Could any of the other family members have been in greater need of better accommodations than Mary?

I’m hinting that Joseph and Mary were being spurned on account of her becoming pregnant before they were married. Joseph’s family didn’t buy into the virgin birth.

There were inns in Israel. You remember in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he took the man who had been robbed and beaten to an inn, and paid the innkeeper to care for him.

If there was an inn in Bethlehem, it’s likely Joseph and Mary were turned away on moral grounds, and not because it was at capacity. There was no room in the inn for a suspected adulterous with an incredible story of how she had become pregnant without ever knowing a man.

Here’s something else to consider about the stable and manger scene. If Jesus was born on the Feast of Tabernacles, it’s likely Joseph built them a booth, a sukkah, to live in, and that is where Jesus was born.

In fact, that makes the most sense overall.

What about the manger – the feeding trough? There’s a verse in the Book of Genesis that makes a connection between Sukkot and animals:

Gen 33:17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth [Sukkot], built himself a house, and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth [Sukkot].

Jesus came as God in human flesh, in His fleshly tabernacle, at the Feast of Tabernacles. Talk about perfectly fulfilling types and prophecies.

The Feast of Tabernacles continued to be prominent in Jesus’ life. Remember the Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus was seen in His glory with Moses and Elijah? Do you recall what Peter said?

Mat 17:4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

He suggested they build “tabernacles” – booths – for themselves, because it was the Feast of Tabernacles.

In John’s Gospel, in chapter seven, we read,

Joh 7:37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.

Joh 7:38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Joh 7:39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

The “feast” was Tabernacles. One of the most important ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles involved priests pouring out water drawn from the pool of Siloam. The officiating priest would draw water from the pool and pour it into the basin near the altar in the Temple, to commemorate the occasions when the Lord provided the wandering Jews with water in the wilderness.

It was on the “great day of the feast” of Tabernacles Jesus made this promise about living water – just at the moment the priests were pouring out water as a part of their annual ritual.

Jesus was declaring that He was Messiah and that everyone who would believe in Him would receive the gift, or indwelling, of the Holy Spirit, the “living water,” not measured in terms of a trickling spring, but a flowing river.

Jesus was saying in effect “I am the reality that the water in this ceremony symbolizes – the true life giver through whom the Holy Spirit is also given.”

The Feast of Tabernacles will be important in the future. Because God is so meticulous in keeping to the Hebrew calendar, when it comes to the nation of Israel, many scholars have suggested that the Second Coming of Jesus will coincide with it.

His meeting with Moses and Elijah gives credibility to this idea. It was a preview of His Second Coming, in which two witnesses we believe to be Moses and Elijah, will precede Him.

Beyond that, once Jesus returns to rule and reign on the earth for one thousand years, the Feast of Tabernacles will continue to be observed:

Zec 14:16 And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

We’re not done yet with Tabernacles. On into eternity, when the apostle John describes the renewed heavens and earth, we read,

Rev 21:1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.
Rev 21:2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Rev 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.

Rev 21:4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Rev 21:5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

Rev 21:6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.

Key things to pull out of that passage are, “the tabernacle of God is with men”; and that Jesus will fulfill His promise, made in His first coming at a Feast of Tabernacles, to “give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.”

Those are both references to the Feast of Tabernacles – telling us that it prefigured, and pointed to, God’s ultimate plan, which is to dwell among us in a perfect relationship of mutual love, unhindered by sin.

If you’ve been here for the last few studies as we completed the Gospel of Matthew, we’ve been talking a lot about the Hebrew calendar and its feasts.

There are seven of them, in total. Tabernacles was the last feast in the Hebrew calendar year; but, if Jesus was born then, it can be our starting point.

The Feast of Tabernacles – Jesus Christ was born; Immanuel, God with us, comes to save us from our sin.

Even though I mentioned Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, and it comes next on the calendar, it wasn’t an ‘original’ feast; it wasn’t mentioned in the Jewish scriptures. It seems, however, that God acknowledged it; and that it represents Jesus as the Light of the World.

Next on the ‘official’ calendar come the three spring feasts – Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits.

Passover falls on Nisan 14, and it was on that very day, at 3:00 in the afternoon, that Jesus died on the Cross, for our sins, exactly as the Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple.

John the Baptist had announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.”

The next day, as Jesus’s body lay in the tomb, Nisan 15, was the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Leaven represented sin, and the Jews were forbidden to eat anything with leaven, or even have it in their homes. Jesus’ sinless life, and sinless body, fulfilled that feast.

On Nisan 16 was the Feast of First Fruits, when Jews presented the first of their harvest as an offering to the Lord, confident of the greater harvest to come.

Jesus rose from the dead on First Fruits, with the promise that all who believe in Him – all His harvest – will also be resurrected.

And a few other saints were raised at that time, too, as first fruits. They came out of their graves and showed themselves to folks in Jerusalem.

Fifty days later was the Feast of Pentecost. It celebrated the larger harvest. It was on the Day of Pentecost that Jesus sent God the Holy Spirit upon the gathered disciples, and three thousand new souls were harvested as Peter preached Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected.

Five feasts down… Two to go.

The Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hashanah, occurs on the first day of the seventh month. The first day of every month is begun with the blowing of trumpets, but there is deeper significance attached to the blowing of trumpets on the first day of the seventh month. Rosh Hashanah heralds the beginning of the period known as the High Holy Days with The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) occurring ten days later, on the tenth of the month.

The ten days from the blowing of the trumpet to the Day of Atonement are known as “the days of awe,” and they are a time of national repentance for Israel. It was a time of confession, prayer, and fasting, in preparation for the Feast of Tabernacles.

We know that there is coming upon the world a terrible time of trouble called the Great Tribulation. While it affects the entire planet, it is especially for the nation of Israel to be brought to repentance and faith in Jesus as their Savior.

The Great Tribulation begins when the Jews sign a peace treaty with the man the Bible calls the antichrist. They will seem to be gathered safely in their land; but after three and one half years, they will be forced to flee for their lives into the wilderness to be supernaturally protected by God.

Thus, Trumpets and the Day of Atonement could correspond to the Great Tribulation.
Which brings us back to the Feast of Tabernacles and the Second Coming of Jesus, when the Lord will once again be on the earth, dwelling among men.

All of the spring feasts were fulfilled, by Jesus, to the very day. It is a matter of history.

If Jesus was born on Tabernacles, that, too, has been partially fulfilled, to the very day.

Do you have any doubts that the fall feasts will be fulfilled?

Should we therefore start using the Hebrew lunar calendar? Should we start observing the Jewish feasts?

Not at all!

The event that is of interest to us is not discoverable on a calendar, because it could happen at any moment.

That event is the coming of Jesus to resurrect the dead believers of the church age in which we are living, and to rapture – to snatch away – believers who are alive at the time.

Besides the sense of awe we should have at God’s precise predictions, calendared for His people, what can we derive from all this?

God created man to be in a relationship with you – a love relationship. That, in itself, is humbling and awe-inspiring.

In order, however, for there to be love, there must be choice. Forced love is not love at all. So God gave our parents, Adam and Eve, a choice to love Him by obeying His one simple command.

They disobeyed, and the creation was plunged into the corruption of sin.

What did God do? He promised to come and tabernacle among us, as God in human flesh, to be the light of the world, and provide us with the living waters of salvation.

To do all that, He’d have to die on the Cross, in our place, as our substitute.

He came… He lived… He died… He rose from the dead – all according to the plan proclaimed throughout the pages of the Bible, and calendared for us in Israel’s feasts.

And He is coming again, to finish what He started.

When it’s all said and done, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

In other words, God’s original intention for creating mankind will be realized.

Right now, tears flow; death and sorrow and pain seem to be the dominant headlines in the world, and in our personal lives.

As we celebrate Jesus’ UnBirthday, many of us are feeling the stress of the holidays; we are depressed. It’s not our best Christmas.

It’s a myth that suicide is more common around the holidays. (Springtime is actually the peak). But holiday cheer isn’t a given either.

Rocky Balboa represented everyone who has ever been depressed around the holidays. When Adrian said to him, “It’s Thanksgiving,” Rocky answered, “Yea, to you it’s Thanksgiving; to me it’s Thursday.”

Maybe you are as happy as the proverbial lark. One of the connotations of the phrase, “happy as a lark,” is that you choose to be unaware of life’s grimmer realities.

Look around; the world is a terrible place of suffering and evil. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, there’s an ISIS to contend with; or an outbreak; or some other catastrophe.

Only One can wipe away all tears. Only One can put an end to the death and the sorrow and the pain.

He did it by tabernacling among us; by dying for us; by rising from the dead. He’s coming back to finish it.

Why wait? He is not willing that any should perish, but rather that they – that you – would come to Him and drink of the waters of life.

The Widow’s Maker (Luke 2v21-24, 36-38)

We are ending a three week study that suggests three wise women had more to do with the first Christmas than the famous three wise men.  They are Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna.

These three wise women can teach us many things.

Elizabeth taught us that it is wise to wait.
Mary taught us that it is wise to worship.
Today, Anna will teach us that it is wise to witness.

The title of the article caught my attention: A Cage-Fighting Christ for Our Time.

The author begins by quoting a popular Reformed pastor.  On a recent blog he wrote,

Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist.  He has a long wick, but the anger of His wrath is burning.  Once the wick is burned up, He is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter His enemies… Blood will flow.

In 2008 he told Christianity Today that too many American churches are populated by “chicks” and “a bunch of nice, soft, tender chickified church boys.”

He sees Jesus as a cage-fighter.  The way Americans ‘see’ Jesus seems to change with the times.

At the end of the Victorian period, Jesus was widely depicted as a sweet, almost feminine, Savior.

In the early 1900’s athlete-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday said, “Lord, save us from flabby-cheeked, brittle-boned, weak-kneed, thin-skinned, pliable, plastic, spineless, effeminate, sissified Christianity.”

That manly image gave way again in the late 1960’s to the hippie Jesus of musicals like Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  We tend to ‘see’ Him differently at different times, and how we ‘see’ Him affects our witness to others.

The question of the day is: How do you ‘see’ Jesus?

Before you answer, let’s take a look at how Anna saw The Lord.  She was among the first to ever ‘see’ Him for who He really was, and it affected her witness as she went about sharing what she’d seen.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 How You ‘See’ Jesus Will Be Shaped By Your Preparation, and #2 How You ‘See’ Jesus Will Be Shown By Your Preoccupation.

#1    How You ‘See’ Jesus
    Will Be Shaped By Your Preparation
    (2:21-24 & 36-37)

We’re catching-up with Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus after His birth in Bethlehem.

Like all devout Jews, the little family had three rituals to perform.

Luke 2:21  And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
Luke 2:22   Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord
Luke 2:23   (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”),
Luke 2:24   and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Circumcision… purification… then presentation.

Every Jewish boy was circumcised and officially named on the eighth day after birth.  Joseph and Mary were still in Bethlehem on the eighth day.  In all likelihood they were at Joseph’s ancestral home, and a local priest performed the ceremony.
Then there was the ceremony of the purification of the mother.   For forty days after the birth of a son and eighty days after the birth of a daughter, the mother was considered ceremonially unclean and could not enter the Temple until her ritual purification.
In the next ceremony a firstborn son was presented to God when at least thirty-one days had past since his birth.  The ceremony included buying back, or redeeming, the child from God with money.

One more thing, before we get to Anna.  A godly old man named Simeon was there in the Temple the day Jesus was being presented.  The Holy Spirit had promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the long-awaited Messiah.  Simeon recognized the child as the Messiah when Mary and Joseph brought him to the Temple to present Him to the Lord.

So did Anna.

Luke 2:36    Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity;
Luke 2:37    and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

We sometimes say of a person, do we not, that everything in their life had prepared them for some incredible moment.  I have to see Anna that way – being prepared by God, and preparing herself, for  this incredible moment.

True, she may not have always known what she was being prepared, and preparing, for.  Later, however, she undoubtedly realized that as long as Simeon was alive she’d have an opportunity to see the Savior.

Let’s look at all the ways she is described in order to understand her preparation.

She “had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity.”  It means that she was a virgin when she got married, which could have been in her early teen years.

Her marriage lasted a brief seven years and then she was widowed.  It seems she was childless; she did not conceive and have a son, which was the expectation and desire of every Jewish wife.

Thus one of the very first things we see in her preparation was shame and suffering.

You aren’t going to ‘see’ Jesus unless you endure shame and suffering.  He endured it – for you.  A servant is not greater than his master.  Plus, to really ‘see’ Christ is to enter into the fellowship of His sufferings.

Seven years without a child, then her husband died.  Wow.  It seems like piling on, does it not?  But that’s not all.
She “was a widow of about eighty-four years.”  This could mean one of two things:

It could mean she was an eighty-four year old widow.
It could mean she had been a widow for eighty-four years.

There’s no way of knowing which is meant.  I lean towards her being a widow for eighty-four years, pushing her past the century mark in age, because the text also says, “she was of a great age.”

If Anna married at age 14, which was evidently not uncommon, and she was widowed at age 21, eighty-four years later she would be 105.

Anna “did not depart from the Temple.”  Did she live there?  We sometimes say of a person who is fully engulfed in his or her work that they “live” at the office.  It could be that Anna spent most of her time at the Temple.

Then, too, there were living quarters in the Temple, and this may be a literal statement.

We skipped a couple of facts about Anna.  She was “the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.”  Listen to this description of the tribe of Asher from Easton’s Bible Dictionary:

Of [this] tribe… nothing [extraordinary] is recorded beyond its holding a place in the list of the tribes… Asher and Simeon were the only tribes west of the Jordan which furnished no hero or judge for the nation.

Lackluster ancestry… No kids… Dead husband… Didn’t remarry… Never left the Temple for eighty-four years.  If you put it that way to someone who didn’t know this story, they’d think her life a total waste.

You know that silly saying, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade?”

By the way, there are a few revisions to that answer:

“When life hands you lemons, squirt someone in the eye.”
“When life hands you lemons, throw them back.”
“When life gives you lemons, you don’t make lemonade.  You use the seeds to plant a whole orchard.”

It seems Anna just ate lemons.

Do you ever feel your life has been wasted?  That it isn’t going to amount to much?  If you do, it’s because you are not valuing fellowship with God as the most important purpose of your life.  That way of thinking is the worldly whine of a carnal Christian who has forgotten they were created to know God and have fellowship with Him.

The point the text is making, one point, anyway, is that Anna was being prepared, and was preparing, to ‘see’ Jesus.

Do you notice I keep saying “being prepared and preparing?”  On the one hand, God – Who knew the future and the very instant Jesus would be in the Temple – was preparing Anna to be there and to understand the significance of the event.

Luke 2:38    And coming in that instant…
There was a very small window of time in which Anna could have seen Jesus being presented.  It was a particular few minutes on a particular day in a particular year.  God’s timing was everything.

We have no problem believing God knows the future and is working providentially to accomplish all His purposes.  He was preparing Anna for that “instant.”

Anna also needed to be preparing.  If she had deviated from walking with The Lord she would have missed that “instant” God was preparing for her.

Under the Law, she could have remarried, but evidently God was calling her to a life of celibacy serving Him.  Suppose, for example, she allowed loneliness in her widowhood to overcome her.  She may have decided her relationship with God wasn’t enough, that her calling was insignificant, and that she was going to remarry no matter what.

Well, then I guess she wouldn’t have been in the Temple that “instant,” would she?  I guess she wouldn’t have seen the Savior or gone on to witness for Him to others.

Instead of talking about Anna this morning, we’d be talking about someone else entirely.

You are on track to ‘see’ Jesus.  Not in the Temple as a baby.  You’re on track to see Him face-to-face either when you die or when He comes in the clouds to rapture us.

If you are a believer, you are definitely going to see Him.  Still there is a question of how prepared you are going to be for the meeting.
Will you be saved just barely, as by fire?  Or will you have the incredible joy of hearing Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”

It will be the most exhilarating moment of your life.  It’s worth the preparation of walking with The Lord.  Every suffering, each sacrifice, is a step of preparation for that glorious day.

Mean time that same preparation (or lack thereof) contributes to how you ‘see’ Jesus in order to share Him with others in this life.

#2    How You ‘See’ Jesus
    Will Be Shown By Your Preoccupation
    (v38)

Anna was a “prophetess” who spent her time serving God in “fastings and in prayers night and day.”

I think ‘preoccupied’ is a good word to describe her.  She was preoccupied with serving God.  Thoughts about God dominated her mind, engrossed her thinking, and she was absorbed with serving Him.

She was a “prophetess.”  Six women in Scripture are expressly stated as possessing the title of prophetess: five in the Old Testament and one, Anna, is mentioned in the Gospels.  In addition, Philip is mentioned in Acts as having four daughters who prophesied, which brings the number of prophetesses to ten.

Did Anna prophesy before she saw Jesus?  Or is she called a prophetess because of what she said about Jesus?

I would lean toward her being a prophetess in her long ministry to The Lord.  She clearly knew the Old Testament prophecies concerning the time of the Messiah.

She spoke God’s Word and the prophetic promises concerning the Messiah to all who visited the Temple.  I see her as a sort of street preacher – proclaiming Scripture in the public areas of the Temple.

She also “served God with fastings and prayers night and day.”

There’s a popular commercial right now in which people are asked, “If you could get paid do something you loved, what would you do?”

The answers given are yoga teacher, baker, activist, pie maker, art historian, writer, and pilot.

Not one person says, “I would prophesy, fast, and pray.”  They don’t even say “I would serve God.”

Obviously, it’s not being asked of Christians in the commercial.  So let’s ask it of ourselves.  If you could get paid to do something you loved – would it be something for the One who loved you and died for you?

Or do you have some other preoccupation that would take priority?

Luke 2:38   And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Anna came “in that instant.”  She was right where she needed to be; right where God wanted her to be.

It causes us to ask, Am I where I need to be spiritually?  Am I saved?  Am I walking with the Lord?

She “gave thanks.”  Until you learn to give thanks always, whether you are abounding in blessings or being abased with buffetings, you won’t have much of a witness.

Anna “spoke of Him.”  Right then, in the Temple, she gave a public witness to those who were gathered.  She undoubtedly told them that all she had been sharing from the Word of God, for the past eighty-four years, was now present in that baby being presented.

It may seem obvious, but we should speak about Jesus.  He should be the theme.  We get too easily sidetracked talking about other aspects of life and of the Christian life.

Anna “spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”  She spoke of redemption while Jesus was being redeemed by His earthly parents in accordance with Jewish law.

Let’s talk a little about this redemption.  Originally the firstborn son was to be the priest of the Jewish family.  God said “the first issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine” (Exodus 13:2).

After the Exodus from Egypt, however, the Israelites committed the grievous in of the Golden Calf, of which only the tribe of Levi was not guilty.  Consequently the LORD decreed that the Levites were to take the place of the firstborn sons of Israel (Numbers 3:11-12).
But since a firstborn son is technically a (disqualified) priest, having to be substituted with a priest from the tribe of Levi, God required that all firstborn sons (who were not themselves Levites) must be redeemed from service to God by means of paying five shekels of silver (Numbers 18:15).

In the ceremony the father announces that this is his firstborn son. The priest asks if he is giving him the child and dedicating him to serve God, or if he wants to redeem him by paying a price prescribed in the Law.

Since Jesus was the first-born son of Mary (who was of the kingly lineage of Judah), He was not of the priestly clan of Levi, so according to the Law He must be redeemed to fulfill all the Law.

Being redeemed is one of the many metaphors the Bible uses to describe the condition of human beings from God’s perspective.

The idea of redemption is the exchange of ownership, accomplished by paying a price.  It is also used to describe paying a price for a slave.  Redeeming a slave could result in his enslavement to a new owner, or to his being set free.

Jesus once said He came to earth to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).  He thus portrayed the human race as slaves to sin needing to be redeemed.

The apostle Peter tells us that the price Jesus paid to ransom us from slavery to sin was His precious blood, shed for us on the Cross at Calvary (First Peter 1:18-19).

As Jesus was being presented for redemption, Anna let everyone know that He was, in fact, the one who had been promised to redeem all of them once-and-for-all from the slavery of sin.  He would pay their ransom and free them to know and to serve God.

Anna prophesied, fasted, and prayed for eighty-four years, living in the Temple – totally preoccupied with things of God.

Then she occupied herself with sharing Him with others.

God isn’t calling us to be just like Anna.  We wouldn’t let you live here in the building anyway; it would be creepy for you and for the staff.  (Unless you made killer cinnamon rolls).

God’s path for Anna involved barrenness, widowhood, and frugal living.  Your path could involve some or all of those, but chances are it is going to be very different.

But it is still a path.  Your path.  God has good works that He has before ordained that you should discover as you walk with Him.  He has “instants” in your life that He is preparing for you; but you must be preparing, too, or you risk missing out on them.

At the beginning we asked, “How do you ‘see’ Jesus?”

How you see Him is shown by what you are preoccupied with.  In other words, I may think I see Jesus a certain way, but how I truly see Him is revealed by what preoccupies me.

Whatever your occupation, you can nevertheless be preoccupied with Jesus and with the things of The Lord.

One final thought.  The Levites had taken the place of every firstborn son in Israel.  They were set aside as God’s priests.

In the New Testament, every believer – male and female – is considered a priest.  We are called “a kingdom of priests.”

Whatever your occupation, it is to be subordinate to your preoccupation with your Redeemer – who lives and who is returning.

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