A Savior is Born

shepherds-11You can listen to the podcast here.

God is amazing. Two weeks ago I preached about there being no room at the inn. I wanted to remind you of the incredibleness of one verse about the birth of Christ. Nothing happened by accident. It was all part of God’s plan even though it’s hard for us to understand. If Joseph and Mary had waited a month or if Caesar made that decree just a few weeks later or earlier, things would have been different. God is the God in all circumstances and His timing is always best.

Luke 2:11 says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

This was a huge announcement. Notice the first phrase of the verse, “For today in the city of David.”       There can be some confusion about the city of David. In the Old Testament this phrase is used about 45 times and refers to Jerusalem. In 2 Sam. 5, David leads his men to Jerusalem which was under the control of the Jebusites. David defeated the Jebusites and 2 Sam. 5:9-10 says, “So David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built all around from the Millo and inward. David became greater and greater, for the Lord God of hosts was with him.” In the New Testament the City of David is only referred to twice and it means Bethlehem. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Bethlehem is controlled by the Palestinians – Arabs. Tourism is the main industry of Bethlehem and all the holy sites are very commercialized. At the center of Bethlehem sits the Church of the Holy Nativity. Inside this church you walk a long corridor that lead to a room where there is a very tight stairway leading down to the bowels of the church where it opens up into a larger room. In that room you find a silver star with a hole in the middle that leads down to the earth marking the place where Jesus is believed to have been born. During a trip to Bethlehem in 1865, Boston pastor Phillips Brooks looked over the hills of the little town and penned the now famous words, “O little of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.” Back in 1865, all was still quiet in Bethlehem. Remember King David and his family lived there and David most likely tended his sheep on the hills just outside the little town.

This announcement was no surprise to anyone familiar with the prophecy. Micah the prophet told everyone this would happen in 5:2, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” That prophecy happened about 700 years before Christ was born. Bethlehem was, “too little to be among the clans of Judah.” Back when Bethlehem was no more than a little, inconsequential place, the Lord decided it would be this way. It wasn’t even big enough to have a flashing yellow light. The Jews of the day would certainly have known this, but listen to this exchange found in Matt. 2:1-6. Jews should have been well versed in this prophecy. It kind of reminds me about things that as believers, we ought to know, but don’t. Something else to think about is the magi came from the east and show up in Jerusalem and ask about the King of the Jews that had been born. The magi knew and went looking for the King. The chief priests and scribes certainly should have been looking for this. Bethlehem is such a short distance away so wouldn’t you think they’d have been watching and waiting for years? Even though they should have had the knowledge and the wherewithal to investigate, they didn’t. It’s not enough just to know, knowing should lead to action.

Here’s the reality of His coming. In Lu. 2:11 the angel says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you.” “Born for you.” Focus on those three words. The Son of God has been born for you. Oddly enough, for something so miraculous, the pregnancy and birth of Christ really was ordinary. The miracle occurred nine months earlier. Joseph had nothing to do with Mary becoming pregnant. When she asked how, the angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Lu. 1:35) In Matt. 1:20 an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “The child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” That’s when the miracle took place. I’m sure Mary battled all the things pregnant women face. Morning sickness, fatigue, swollen feet, intense hunger that occurs without warning. The virgin birth is incredibly significant because it comes after the virgin conception. He was born of Mary so He was human. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit so He was deity. God enters humanity just like us taking on all the issues we face and yet with one distinct difference. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” He was fully God and fully man. Somehow this overshadowing by the Holy Spirit created life in Mary that was totally divine and totally human. How can it be? I have no idea. He was and remains totally unique. The totally unique became completely common for the following nine months.

This is a story of faith. Some people read Luke 2 and call it theological fiction. It’s a great story, but it’s simply a fairy tale with religious significance. It’s like Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Luke said, “for today” in his writing. It’s widely recognized that Luke’s purpose for writing was to provide a detailed account unlike any other biblical writers. That’s what he says in Luke 1:1-4. When you read the words of Luke, you need to read it like you are reading history. It is truth, not fiction and we believe it by faith. Look at the result of the coming of Jesus. Luke says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Those three titles should jump out at you. Savior, Christ, Lord. Each word is significant. Savior is actually an Old Testament word that means one who delivers his people. Christ is the Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah which means the anointed One. Lord is a term for Deity. It’s a synonym for God. When the angel appeared in Joseph’s dream, he said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21). No sin is too great; no one is too far gone. No one is beyond His grace and His mercy. That’s the message of Christ’s birth. Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” This is the essence of Christmas. God loved you so much that He was willing to give up His one and only Son so you could have life.

So what you ask, you’ve heard it all before. What’s the purpose of His coming? Look at our verse one more time. “For today in the city of David there has been born for you.” Don’t gloss over those two little words, “For you.” Remember what’s going on here. There were unnamed and unnumbered shepherds in the fields. The angel is speaking to them collectively, but gives an individual declaration. Being a shepherd took little skill and was often fulfilled by young people. Remember David was just a boy when he tended sheep. Did you ever ask yourself, why did the angel appear to a bunch of shepherds. Why didn’t the angel appear to those Jewish scholars that were hanging out in the temple less than ten miles away? Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Ma. 2:17) Jesus came for you. It is the simplicity of the Gospel that gets so many people wrapped up. Why would He do that? It doesn’t make sense. Many people believe in the birth of Christ, but it’s not enough to believe that it happened. We must come to the conclusion that Christ came for me. The gift of God is available when you receive it as your own.

In five short days, Christmas will be here. Across the globe, people will celebrate in much the same way. They’ll gather around the tree that has presents piled high and often all around it. There are kids that wake up their parents literally in the middle of the night because they are so excited to open the presents. There are kids that know that Christmas is exactly 108 hours away. Do you ever leave presents under the tree that remain unopened? Of course not, yet we have been given a gift that came with incredible cost. As I reflected on this principle, I am more convinced than ever that we profess that we have received the incredible gift of God’s Son, but like that ugly Christmas sweater or tie, we simply don’t use it after it’s been opened. We put it in a closet and we’ll only wear it, or bring it out when the gift giver is present. Isn’t that like our relationship with Christ? Do we just wear it when the pastor or our church friends come over? Do we keep it in the closet until we need it. Over the years, Kari has given me some really great gifts. A shotgun. Reloading equipment. A basketball goal. I still have the shotgun, but haven’t used it in a number of years. Same for the reloading equipment. The basketball goal was sold on a yard sale.

As I get older, I need less and less things and want even less. As believers, the biggest, most incredible gift we’ve ever received is the gift of Christ. It’s a gift that is useful regardless of the season. It doesn’t wear out and it never gets old. It ever goes out of style. The gift of Christ is a gift that should keep on giving. It’s a gift that has immeasurable value. It’s a gift we should be grateful to use and show others how to use it too. What have you done and what are you doing with the most incredible gift ever given?

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The Road Less Traveled

Less TraveledYou can catch the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the perfect gift of Jesus. When we help those in need, we’re helping Jesus. That’s the paradigm shift we need to rethink Christmas. This week, we’ll finish our series by examining the road we are all called to travel, but few actually go down it.

Matt. 2:11-12 says, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.”

My how time flies. It’s only Dec. 16th and most of the stores have put all their Christmas decorations on sale. There are still parties to go to, tests to take, gifts to buy, and food to cook. Some of us have been listening to Christmas music since Nov. 1st. We’re all caught up in the excitement of the season. On Dec. 26th, all the excitement passes, we don’t want to hear another Christmas song, smell gingerbread, of have leftover turkey and ham. After Christmas, we’re left exhausted from the shopping, the parties, the cooking, the cleaning, and the relatives. We start off the New Year with the depressing thoughts of returning to work and school in clothes that are too tight and bills that are stacked too high. Immanuel – God with us has been lost into the frantic pace of Christmas, BUT, it doesn’t have to be this way. Jan. 6th brings us to an event that few Christians observe, and even fewer know about. This is the day we celebrate the Epiphany. The day we celebrate the arrival of the magi. These wise men were experts in astronomy, astrology, and natural science. According to Western church tradition these wise men were Balthasar – often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.

As in many case, tradition has trumped the truth. The truth is, the wise men were nowhere near the manger looking down at baby Jesus. By the time they arrived, Jesus had been circumcised in the Temple on the 8th day. Joseph and Mary had found a more permanent dwelling because Matt. 2:11 says, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother.” We’re not certain that Joseph was there in the house with them. When we look at the truth, we see that when they got there, “They fell to the ground and worshiped Him.” That is the only response possible when you are in front of the King of Kings. That is what you do when you go before Immanuel, before the One that created the heavens and the earth. Based on Matthew’s account, it would have been some time before they arrived. It is true they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but that doesn’t mean there were three wise men. They brought these gifts – Matthew calls them treasures – with them; they didn’t fall out of the sky. The magi presented the Christ child with gifts befitting a King. The story of the wise men ends with Matthew saying, “And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.” (Matt. 2:12)

There is a new road. I think this is a really neat verse because I think it captures the essence of our walk of faith. The wise men went another way. Herod represents danger. Verse 16 tells us, “Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under.” I can’t help thinking when God warns us of danger, do we turn and go the other way in obedience, or do we want to sneak a peek at the danger; maybe get just close enough to touch it. God’s Word is consistently warning us of danger if we’ll just read and respond to its message. For many people, January and the New Year represent a new beginning. Resolutions are made. We’ll lose weight, exercise, quit smoking. Pray, read the Bible, be more faithful in church, begin serving, begin giving to the work of ministry. We make a commitment to go down a road less traveled and this year will be different.

The wise men brought gifts to Jesus. It’s difficult to place a value on the gifts they brought. To give you an idea of their value, here it is in today’s money. Gold: $1700 per ounce. Frankincense: $31.25 per ounce. Myrrh: $250 per ounce. Some experts put the total value of the gifts well over a million dollars. When you add the value of the gifts to the cost of traveling for two years, you can see the money invested to find the King. There is that dreaded word – money. Do you think it’s any coincidence that there is treasure included in Matthew’s account? Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) Our monthly bank statement may reveal more about our true character than anything else. We’ve become members of the church of the monetarily selfish. Mark 10 tells us of a man that was seeking the road less traveled and asked Jesus what he could do to inherit eternal life. He said he had kept the 10 Commandments ever since he was a boy.

Mark 10:21-23 says,“Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus knew that money would challenge His people. He knew the difficulties that money brings. That’s why He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24) Our modern retailers tell you differently. You must have a bigger house, better car, bigger TV, the latest technology. In an article called, “McMansion Economics” the LA Times reported that the average American family shrunk over the last 30 years, but our houses got 42% bigger. If we shifted to the average size of a home 30 years ago, we would save an average of $80,000 per home. We now have days of the year dedicated to fulfill every materialistic desire. Black Friday and Saturday. Cyber Monday. When we’re feeling blue, we participate in retail therapy. We have forgotten that we cannot find true happiness in stuff. When we use God to get what we want instead of God using us to get what He wants, we miss Immanuel. I wonder if Jesus is in heaven singing, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes.” Paul warned Timothy that even a desire to live godly would bring persecution. (2 Tim. 3:12) Let the angel’s words to Mary be applied to you, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.” (Lu. 1:30)

Is there a better road to travel? Don’t fear falling off the fiscal cliff. Jesus said it best, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25) The answer is yes, there is more to life than life here. Our lives should be a contradiction to the world’s; should be in harmony with Scripture; should be an example of hope and determination, and perseverance, and trust. Jesus answers the dilemmas of life by offering a contrast in Matt. 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What will be added? Everything you need to live for God. It’s a contrast to the Gentile way of life. First seek God’s Kingdom. This is the place where God reigns. This is the place where He is in charge and we willingly submit to His authority. It’s a place where God’s people provide vibrant demonstration of an authentic relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We’re also to seek His righteousness. We need to be right acting. It is the character or quality of doing right. This righteousness should be prevalent in all that we do: relationships, business, taxes, finances, parenting, and friendships. We are to act morally and ethically. And we’re supposed to share this with others. The only way we can have the quality of righteousness is to be a child of the King. “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.” (1 Jo. 2:29)

This Christmas, remember it’s not about you or your children. It’s not your birthday, it’s Jesus’ birthday.

The King that Missed Christmas

You can listen to the podcast here.

The first Grinch wasn’t the one Dr. Seuss created.  The first Grinch that tried to destroy Christmas was Herod the Great.  This is the The King that Missed Christmas. The fictional Grinch stood on a mountain overlooking the small village of Whoville where Christmas still happened no matter what he did. There really was a king who stood on his own mountain over the original Christmas village. Just like the Grinch, the king missed Christmas despite his best effort to kill it.  Let me give you some background on Herod and of the times in which he lived. When Jesus was born Herod had reigned thirty-four years. He was called Herod the Great because he had distinguished himself in the wars with Antigonus and other enemies, and because he had demonstrated great talents, as well as great cruelties and crimes, in governing and defending his country; in repairing the temple; and in building the cities of his kingdom. Herod built a palace three miles from Bethlehem known as the Herodium. It was huge.  It was built to house 1,000 soldiers and the royal family for a full year. It had huge storage bins for food and plenty of fresh water brought in by aqueducts from Jerusalem 8 miles away. There was a giant swimming pool, twice as big as an Olympic-sized pool that had gardens around and in the middle of it. It had beautiful artwork, mosaic floors, steam baths, and cold baths. The palace bedrooms were open to the breezes coming from the Mediterranean; as close as you can come to air conditioning. You can still see the ruins of the Herodium from Bethlehem of Judea. At this time Augustus was emperor of Rome. The world was at peace. All the known nations of the earth were united under the Roman emperor. What a perfect time to introduce the gospel.

Matthew gives us some insight into Herod’s Christmas. I hope you have you Bible and will read Matthew 2:1-23.

Verse 1 tells us that magi came from the east, probably Persia or Arabia. These magi were not sorcerers or diviners, they were wise men in medicine, astronomy, and philosophy and they had access to the king. They were smart enough to recognize the sign and to seek out Who had come. They asked Herod, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” They’ve been anticipating His birth for some time. Dan. 9:25 says, “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.” This expectation of a Messiah was well known. Jews were living in Rome, Egypt, and Greece and wherever they were, they had the Scriptures that told them of the coming Messiah. They would have told others about His coming as well. Josephus and Philo both record the anticipation of the people that a person was coming. The magi saw His star. The magi wanted to worship the King of the Jews, but Herod was troubled. Herod grew his kingdom by cruelty.  He committed great crimes and shed a lot of blood. He knew of the coming Messiah just like everyone else and he feared his reign would come to an end.

So what did Herod do?  Look at v. 4. Herod gathered all the learned men he could. The lawyers, the priests, the religious men of the day who knew the Scriptures, who knew of the prophecies, who knew of the coming Messiah. Herod, “Inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.” Herod knew Jesus was coming, but he wanted a location. They knew where Messiah would be born and responded without hesitation in vs. 56 quoting the prophecy of Micah 5:2. “Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.” (Matt. 2:7) He asked the magi secretly.  He wanted to know how old the Messiah would be at that time. He sent them to Bethlehem. This tells you that Herod believed the prophecy, believed that Messiah was born, and was born in Bethlehem. Herod instructs them, “When you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” (Matt. 2:8) It all sounds so good and right.

Let me leave Herod’s problem there and tell you about some other people that weren’t so great.

Luke 2 is probably the most read Scripture during this time of year and I want to talk about the shepherds. Take a look at Luke 2:8-15. Linus read this passage in. “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” When the shepherds heard that Messiah was born, they immediately went to the manger. The shepherds worshipped the child. They left the child radically changed. When you have a real encounter with Jesus, you can’t stay the same. What a contrast; Herod and the shepherds. Herod had more power and more money than anyone around. The shepherds spent their time watching over the flocks at night; Herod spent his time lounging around in the Herodium or one of his other three palaces. Herod lived in luxury; they lived in the fields. Herod feasted on a bounty of food; the shepherds lived day to day. Herod had a council of smart guys that told him Messiah was born; the shepherds were frightened when the Angel of the Lord appeared to them. It wasn’t Herod who was excited about the news; it was the shepherds. For most people, Christmas is defined by what you get. We are consumed with parties, get togethers, shopping, traveling, go, go, go. There is precious little time to sit back and remember the Christ child.

(This is where the podcast picks up)

Many people think they know the Christmas story. They’ve watched, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” all of the “Santa Claus” movies, and even “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” In all there are 309 Christmas themed movies and TV specials – none of which include the Christ child. In research conducted last year by Lifeway, nearly 70% of people said that many of the things they enjoy during the Christmas season have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Few people know the Christ of Christmas. It can happen to us. Committed believers who get so wrapped up in the season that we forget the reason.

The only way to find Christmas is to find the Christ child. Of all the gifts that you can give this Christmas, give the only gift that make an eternal difference. According to November research, Americans will spend about $700 this year on Christmas for every man, woman, boy, and girl in America. That equates to $218,878,322,600. Now that’s a hard number to visualize so let me help you. In America, we’re spending $5,066,627 spent – per minute from Black Friday to Christmas day. Somewhere we got the idea that if we spend a lot of money, we must really be celebrating Christmas and be filled with Christmas spirit. Herod missed Christmas. The shepherds found it. Set aside the time this year to find Christmas. The shepherds worked around the clock, but they found Christmas. God went to considerable effort to make sure Herod got the word of His arrival on earth.         Wise men told him. Herod’s advisors told him where the Lord was born. Even with all the guidance necessary to find Christmas, Herod missed it. The king missed Christmas. He had no faith, no trust, no need for a Savior. He was immersed in his own greatness.

If you visit the Herodium today, you’ll find it in ruins. Everything Herod ever owned lies in the broken ruins and dust of the Middle East. What was once a place of extreme opulence is now just a rock-covered hill. It was once covered with fresh, cool water, a jungle of plants, right in the middle of the Judean wilderness. Occasionally a new discovery is made about the man history calls “Herod the Great.” To put Herod’s greatness in perspective, there are no hospitals built in Herod’s name.  No colleges or universities.  No charities that inspire people to give. If it weren’t for the Christmas story, most of us would have never heard of Herod the Great. On the other hand, there is Jesus; born in a manger to simple parents.  Homeless. But in the end, Herod was dead and Jesus lived. Even after He died, Jesus rose again. Today, the world is a changed place not because of Herod “the Great,” but because Jesus lives. Don’t let the materialism of this world hide the real reason we have Christmas. Don’t miss Christmas like Herod did.