Friday, December 18, 2009

The Christmas story part 10: Luke 2 - Boy Jesus in the Temple

Today is the last part of the Christmas story, but it really doesn’t have much to do with the Christmas story at all. Luke finishes his account of Jesus’ birth with the only story wee get of Jesus’ youth. It is a very brief account of a 12 year old Jesus getting lost from His parents, but they find him back in Jerusalem speaking to the teachers in the Temple.

46After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you."
49"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" – Luke 2:46-49

I have often wondered why this story was chosen as the one story to represent Jesus’ youth. We don’t have very many stories of Jesus simply as a man living among His family and friends. This is one of them, yet it still shows His divine nature because He was found among the teachers in the Temple.

It is important to remember that Jesus was a man too. As this passage finishes, it says he returned to Nazareth and grew as a man over the next 18 years. I try to think about that growth, especially now that I am the age Jesus was when He began His public ministry. The important thing to remember is that we are not separated that far from Jesus in terms of our lives.

Even though Jesus had a miraculous birth, He still had to grow as a man., He faced temptation like us. As we see in the account of His death, He even had some doubts like a normal man. Still, He grew and faced His adversity like a man. We learn from His example of living a humble life and presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice before God, not from the miracles and proof He was divine. We cannot match the divine. We can match the humble example he set.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Christmas story part 9: Luke 2 - Jesus presented in the Temple

Have you ever waited your entire life for something? The closest thing I can compare that to was making the basketball state finals while I was in high school. I grew up loving the game and knowing I would have my chance to make history for my school by going to state. In Indiana, that is a very big deal! When I was a junior in high school, it happened and we made the state finals in Indianapolis. I felt like I had waited my entire life for it. It was a small peak in my life though. It was not the end all, be all moment I thought it would be. Though it was very exciting, I no know there are other things worth waiting for.

We see that in the life of Simeon. He was promised that he would see the Christ before he died. Without question he was already advanced in age at this point in time. He had to wonder if God was going to fulfill his promise. Here in Luke 2 we see that that promise is fulfilled when Mary and Joseph bring the infant Jesus to the Temple.

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel." – Luke 2:25-32

This had to be an incredibly special moment and honor for Simeon. We see another prophetess, Anna, have a similar moment in this section. It is key here that Simeon, though Jewish, believed that Jesus was destined to be a light of revelation for the gentiles. This was unusual at the time. It stepped away from what was normal, but it showed how extraordinary Jesus’ birth was.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Christmas story part 8: Luke 2 - Jesus' birth

What I love about the birth of Jesus is that it is the exact opposite of what you would expect. If mankind were running things, this Savior would have been born with much fanfare. The birth would have occurred in the finest palace with the elite of the elite present to worship Him from the beginning. Instead, we see the opposite. He was born with little fanfare in a manger. Shepherds, part of the bottom rung of society, were the only ones present at the birth.

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." – Luke 2:8-12

This is just the first of many misconceptions that those in power would make during Jesus’ life on earth. Since they held positions of power they figured He would come from power. They ignored the prophesies that predicted this exact scenario, never seeing past their own pre-conceptions.

The shepherds play an important role as well. One of the things that got Jesus into trouble later in his ministry is his desire to associate with sinners. As He famously said, “a doctor is there for sick people, not those who are healthy. The shepherds visiting at the time of His birth were the first example of many proving that Jesus came for everyone, not just the elite. These men were considered unclean by those in the Temple. Their testimony could not be trusted, yet they were the first to recognize this very special event.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Christmas story part 7: Luke 1 - The birth of John the Baptist

Why does the birth of John the Baptist get almost equal weight to Jesus’ birth in Luke 1? John was just a man, while Jesus was the Son of God. We see so much of John because he was meant to prepare the way for Jesus. In a way, his birth was supernatural as well. It echoes the birth of Isaac. While Isaac was the patriarch of God’s kingdom on earth, John was essentially the one that would go before the most important man who ever lived.

76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins, - Luke 1:76-77

Humanity needed to know that it needed salvation before accepting it. Otherwise, they would not have understood what Jesus was trying to teach. John was a man that lived a very humble life. He knew God had a special plan for him, yet he lived in the desert away from power in order to focus on God’s plan. It is also important that Jesus sought John the Baptist before beginning His public ministry. He did not seek someone in power in Jerusalem for their blessing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Christmas story part 6: Luke 1 - Jesus' birth foretold

What made Mary so extraordinary? She was poor. She was young, and she was a female. Through her, however, God changed the world. This is a testament to what God can do. At the time, women were treated almost like property. They had no real power, so people would expect a man to make a difference. Age and wealth were also respected, so since Mary was young and poor she had two more strikes against her.

I have questioned God’s use of our gifts quite a bit lately. Last night I received the news that young Amberly, the girl with the brain tumor that needed prayer for her surgery, had some major complications. They found out the tumor itself was malignant, and the long-term prognosis is not good.

How can God use something like this for good? My cynical nature tells me that it is yet another way that gifts get wasted. She is a highly intelligent 10-year old that may see her life cut short before it really gets started. In related news, someone I knew very well in high school is going through a similar battle right now. He is also very talented and well respected in his field, but has to face this. On a much smaller scale, I feel my own gifts are being wasted as I struggle to find my place.

38"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. – Luke 1:38

Sometimes that is all we can do. I can’t imagine Mary’s fear either. In her world, being an unwed teenage mother was even more harsh than it is today. She would be labeled a harlot and would pretty much be cast out of society. She had to trust God knew what He was doing. Even in all this she still left to help her older relative Elizabeth.

As I begin yet another week of uncertainty, a week in which it looks like no good can happen, I can only repeat Mary’s words with all the conviction I can muster. I am the Lord’s servant.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Christmas story part 5: Luke 1 - John the Baptist

Today we shift to Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. The gospel of Mark picks up Jesus’ life around the beginning of his public ministry, so there is not much of a Christmas story there. We get a much more detailed account in the book of Luke, however, beginning with the birth of John the Baptist.

If the story of John the Baptist and his birth sounds familiar here it should. It is a very similar story to the birth of Isaac from Abraham and arah. John was a gift from God for Zechariah and Elizabeth. His birth was somewhat miraculous like Isaac’s in that Elizabeth had been barren. He also was to prepare the way for Jesus.

14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." – Luke 1:14-17

What an advantage to have to be born with the Holy Spirit already filling you. It is clear that God was not messing around with Jesus’ birth, nor was he messing around with His messenger. Most people have to wait until adulthood to come to the Lord and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Some don’t even get it then. With John, however, God wanted to give Him the tools from birth to prepare the way for Christ. Shoot, I am 30 and I am not sure what to do with my life. John knew before birth!

So how does this tie into the Christmas story? Well, John’s birth was also somewhat supernatural. His life was so entwined with Jesus’ earthly ministry that it is important we know his origins as well. Elizabeth was also a relative of Mary’s, so he was related to Christ. Like any great story, we must know the full backstory. That is why we have this story.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Christmas story part 4: Matthew 2 continued

Today we have the last part of Jesus’ birth story as told by Matthew. As a kid, I always thought all of these events happened in one night. He was born, the magi visited, and they immediately fled to Egypt. Instead, there was a small bit of time between all these when Jesus and His family returned to Nazareth. Once there, they unfortunately had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath.

13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." 14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." – Matthew 2:13-15

It is amazing to see that this is a sad theme during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Even as an infant, someone who posed no threat to anyone, Jesus was hunted down. Those in power felt threatened by Him because they feared losing their power. That was Herod. Instead of embracing the birth of the Son of God and worshipping Him (thus giving him even great power), he chose to hold on to his earthly power.

That is really what it breaks down to. In Jesus, we gain the kingdom of heaven. Even serving in the kingdom of heaven is greater than having power here on Earth. Many of us are never presented with the power to run a small nation like Herod. I can see, however, where that power is tempting. Fortunately, God was in control the entire time. After a brief time in Egypt, Jesus and His family were able to return to Nazareth where he had a fairly normal upbringing.

Which brings me to my final point today. Between His birth and around the time He was 30, we have only one story of Jesus as He was growing up. I think this is important. It shows His humanity, as He did not grow up pampered in some earthly palace. We know that he grew up learning Joseph’s trade and practicing as carpenter. In that regard, He was as normal as you or I. This connection with humanity was essential for His mission.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Christmas story part 3: Matthew 2

I begin today with a question. What was the last birth that received national attention in this country? Was it Suri Cruise? That is probably the most famous birth out there. As much as some people follow the tabloids, however, it is unlikely that the story of her birth will be told two millennia from now. There were no signs in the heavens (as far as I know) announcing her birth, nor did elders from other countries come to visit.

I say this because we see all of these signs when Jesus was born. Here in Matthew’s version of the story we see many of the human reactions to Jesus’ birth. Most of these reactions are related to his Jewish background. That is why the King of the Jews, Herod, was so interested. We’ll have more on him later, but let’s take a look at some of the other events around His birth.

10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. – Matthew 2:10-12

These Magi were outsiders. They were not Jewish, but they were sent on their mission from Herod because of Herod’s personal interest. God did something amazing with their hearts, however. He opened them up to Jesus’ true meaning to humanity. They were seekers of wisdom and God allowed them to find the ultimate truth in His Son. This is important because Matthew shows us that salvation is promised for all mankind.

Up to this point, most of the Bible has been meant for the Jews. While the Jews are God’s people, God loves everyone equally. These experts and seekers of wisdom in the Magi saw that there was something special about Jesus. We don’t know how they knew, but we know that they knew. That is enough to start Jesus’ message before He even started it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Christmas story part 2: Matthew 1 continued

On paper, it looks like an entertaining story. Teenage girl is approached by Holy Spirit, is told she is pregnant, and the child is said to be one that will save the world from sin. This is a pretty dramatic story. It was one so dramatic that Joseph did not believe it himself and he almost walked away from the issue.

19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." – Matthew 1:19-21

I think it is important to remember that Joseph and Mary were not royalty. Yes, Joseph was in the line of King David, but centuries had passed and his family was not one of power. Neither was Mary. They were two ordinary people that loved God and tried to follow His teachings. This is important because it shows that Jesus’ very beginning on this earth were humble.

Remember, humility is a critical element that I have stressed here when it comes to Jesus’ earthly ministry. He never sought to glorify Himself. He instead chose to always glorify the Father. This is counter to man’s desire, as we often seek to glorify ourselves above others. His birth is a sign of that humble nature. We only get four paragraphs here as a brief introduction to His earthly parents, but they were far from the elite of society. They were even frightened by this destiny put before them. Joseph felt His birth would be a public disgrace, so he wanted out of the deal. As usual, God had other, more wonderful ideas.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Christmas story part 1: Matthew 1

I have been trying to figure out what I should write about next. Since it is Christmas time I thought it would be best to touch on the Christmas story itself. We have all read these following verses at this time of year, but I wanted to try and look a little deeper behind them. Over the next couple of weeks I wanted to see if God had anything new to tell us. This world needs more of Jesus’ story, so why not go back to the very roots? I admit that it has been very hard to study God’s word of late. It just isn’t saying much to me. Hopefully this basic story we all know will have something new to say.

6and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife, -- Matthew 1:6

On the surface this is just a list of names. Matthew wanted to establish Jesus’ genealogy from a human perspective and show that His birth was the fulfillment or prophecy. His lineage goes back to Abraham through David, Solomon, and the kings of Israel. The mention of Uriah is important because it ties in God’s grace to this story. Remember, a critical aspect of Jesus was His humanity. Uriah was a man that David cheated by stealing his wife, then putting him in harm’s way so he would be killed. As great as David was, this was not his proudest moment. This doesn’t taint Jesus’ lineage, but it does show that he was willing to be associated with some of the darker elements of humanity. He was coming to save us from moments like this.

We will see a different genealogy of Jesus when we take a look at the Christmas story in Matthew. This author, however, seeks to emphasize Jesus’ human characteristic s and background. Families were very important in ancient Israel at the time. Even then, very few people could trace their roots as far back as what is listed here. We can rarely do that today with modern methods of information. By establishing Jesus’ lineage, Matthew was setting the tone for a remarkable story.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Proverbs, chapter 31

As we finish our study of the book of Proverbs today I am reminded of the greatest piece of wisdom I have received from this book. I thought about this last night as I was driving home from Lafayette. I had reached a major moment in my writing career by being asked to cover the Purdue-Wake Forest game as a member of the press. This was a huge step forward. I wasn’t getting this because I worked for a newspaper. This was a direct result of something I had built from scratch that was now fully recognized.

The night could not have gone worse. There were traffic problems, problems getting in the Arena, computer problems, you name it. By the time I got started I was so flustered that my in-game coverage was not quite what people were looking for. I had screwed up badly. I had screwed up so badly that I found out at the end of the night I may have hurt my chances of being asked back to press row. It wasn’t because I acted unprofessionally. It was because I put myself into the equation too much in my coverage.

Ultimately, that is the main thing that the book of Proverbs tries to teach us. It is the removal of the self and the reliance on Godly Wisdom that we have seen as the key lesson of the last 31 chapters. I can even see it in writing about this book. If I tried to write about what I thought things meant I would get stopped. If I sat and let God’s wisdom flow through me it even felt different, like I wasn’t controlling the keyboard anymore.

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

31 Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. – Proverbs 31:30-31

Though this last portion is about a wife of noble character it can apply to all of us. The key is to always fear and follow the Lord. As I was lying in bed this morning praying that I would have the strength to merely get out of bed I knew that the only thing I had control of was swinging my feet over the side. Now that I am out of bed it is up to God to come with the rest of the plan for today. I certainly can’t do it on my own.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Proverbs, chapter 30

It is amazing what God’s Word has to say to us sometimes. In this morning’s chapter, Proverbs 30, I discovered a major reason why I have struggled so much lately with writing here. I keep thinking that I need to add to God’s Word, like I will be blessed with some great insight that will inspire the masses. Instead, I get this:

2 "I am the most ignorant of men;
I do not have a man's understanding.
3 I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. – Proverbs 30:2-3

This is not totally an expression of ignorance, but one of humility. The author here comes before God to say that they are powerless to add anything to what God has written. As my study Bible says in its commentary, we have no ability or even a right to add to God’s Word. We can’t know god from our own ideas, only by the wisdom that he reveals to us through His Word.

Think about that for a moment. How many things in this world are based merely on an idea? The Cold War was essentially a 45 year clash of ideas. What good came from it, too? The “idea” of communism caused countless millions to live without God’s knowledge in the atheist regime. Our own ideas are counterproductive to God’s plan. Because of that, I apologize for trying to interject my own.