Thursday, December 26, 2013

God’s Invitation to Nobodies

When passenger ships were powered by huge sails a long time ago, they carried a passenger list with the names written down according to the social pecking order. First were the royalty and the wealthy. The list acknowledged their status and position. However, at the bottom of the list was the remaining number of persons with the notation "Persons of no importance." From a human perspective there have always been persons of no importance, but from God’s perspective there are no such persons. The Christmas Story is a reminder of God’s wonderful invitation to nobodies that he considers them important.

The night that Jesus was born in the obscure village of Bethlehem none of the important players of the Roman Empire or of the land of Israel were present. Joseph and Mary were poor. They had no suitable quarters to stay in. In fact, only a stable, which was likely a cave, was provided for them. It was here that Mary gave birth to her son Jesus and wrapped him in strips of cloths.

Mighty angels were immediately dispatched from heaven to give an invitation to a “bunch of Nobodies” to be the first guests to visit the King of the Jews. Luke describes the event like this:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:8-20).

The shepherds responded enthusiastically to the angel’s announcement and went to see the baby Jesus. Then they told everyone they met about Jesus and the angel’s visit. They were changed for what they saw and experienced that night. They were the first to announce this story to the world. God used “nobodies” to announce this message.

It is amazing that God allowed the Shepherds to first see his son. They were the first to bow and worship the Christ-child. They were first to be amazed in his presence. This was not an accident, but rather it was a message to all generations that God’s son had come for the nobodies of this world.

Have you ever felt like a nobody? Maybe you sometimes feel your life is unimportant, or maybe you feel like an outcast. If you have ever struggled with being accepted, then you know a little of how the shepherds felt, because they were not accepted by society.

Just as the shepherds were important enough to God to be the first invited guests to see his newborn son, you, too, are important to God. If you have ever felt like you are not important because you haven’t accomplished great things, then you are in good company. If you have felt that you’re anonymous and nobody knows who you are, then think again because God does. When it came time for somebody to go and welcome his son, he went to your ranks. He sent his powerful angels to inform the shepherds and give them instructions of where to find his son. He gave that privilege to them.

God’s methods that day were as the Apostle Paul said,

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:22-34).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

God’s Christmas Gift

A brand new baby is a reminder of God’s creative power. Recently little Josiah, our brand new grandson, graced our family, and with his coming has come the reminder of what a little baby is like. It has been so wonderful to hold that little guy and look at his perfectly formed features and marvel at the God who created him.

Can you try to imagine the feelings of Mary and Joseph as they looked into the face of their newborn baby that first Christmas? It was a remarkable moment. Though they were young, the extraordinary events that occurred opened their awareness that this was no ordinary child. The visits of Gabriel the Ark Angel, the sudden arrival of the shepherds and now the birth of Jesus their baby all seemed to make the ugly, hateful comments of friends and family distant. This was their special moment—one they would never forget. Philip Yancey, in the book The Jesus I Never Knew, describes this moment like this:
“One day in the cold, in the dark, among the wrinkled hills of Bethlehem, God who knows no before or after entered time and space. God who knows no boundaries took on the shocking confines of a baby’s skin and the ominous restraints of immortality.”[i]

The whole idea of God coming to this planet in the form of a baby is incredible. However, this is what Christmas is. It is God’s gift of giving us Jesus in the form of a tiny baby—a baby who would be our savior.

C. S. Lewis has written about God’s plan, “The whole thing narrows and narrows, until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear—a Jewish girl at her prayers.” Yancey adds, “Today as I read the accounts of Jesus’ birth I tremble to think of the fate of the world resting on the responses of two rural teenagers. How many times did Mary review the angel’s words as she felt the Son of God kicking against the walls of her uterus? How many times did Joseph second-guess his own encounter with an angel—just a dream?—as he endured the hot shame of living among villagers who could plainly see the changing shape of his fiancĂ©e?”[ii]

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, described the incarnation in these words: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). The Apostle loved to write about this astounding event. Here he describes Jesus before he was born in Bethlehem. In Paul’s words Jesus is presented as God, the second member of the Trinity. What was life like for Jesus before Bethlehem? In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he tells us more:

Philippians 2:5-10
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

The context is the need for humility in the community of the Philippian church. The need for this humility is as great today as it was that day. Paul invites us to learn to think like Christ. His thinking will produce an unselfish attitude and magnanimous actions in lives. Philip Yancey continues:

almost no pagan author used the word humble as a compliment before Jesus. The God who came to earth came not in a raging whirlwind nor in a devouring fire. Unimaginably, the Maker of all things shrank down, down, down, so small as to become an ovum, a single fertilized egg barely visible to the naked eye, an egg that would divide and redivide until a fetus took shape, enlarging cell by cell inside a nervous teenager. Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,” marveled the poet John Donne or as the Apostle said He made himself nothing…he humbled himself and was made in human likeness.[iii]

[i] Philip Yancey, The Jesus I  never Knew,  (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan: 1998),
[ii] Philip Yancey, The Jesus I  never Knew,  (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan: 1998), p. 31-32.
[iii] Philip Yancey, The Jesus I  Never Knew,  (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan: 1998), p. 36.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Christmas Story

Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957) was a very gifted Italian conductor who conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra, which was a radio orchestra. Toscanini led this orchestra from 1937 to 1954. One Sunday night the announcer read a letter from a lonely sheepherder in the Wyoming mountains. The letter said, “Each Sunday night I enjoy listening to you conduct the orchestra in New York City. It’s lonely out here. My only comfort is my battery radio and my old fiddle. Winter is coming, and then I won’t be able to get into town. My batteries will be dead by spring. This means that soon my only comfort will be my fiddle. However, it desperately needs a tuning. Would you be so kind as to sound the note ‘A’ next Sunday night so I can be sure my fiddle is up to stan­dard pitch?” The announcer then said: “Now ladies and gentlemen, for the man in Wyoming, here is an ‘A’.” The pianist sounded the note, and listeners visualized what was happen­ing over 2,000 miles away—a lonely man busily tuning four strings to match the pitch being sounded in New York City.

This compelling story presents an analogy of the Christmas story. Jesus came to earth to bring harmony to our lives that are so out of tune with heaven’s symphony. God sent heaven’s pitch in form of a little baby. There was no way any of us would have known what was right unless the direction came from outside of ourselves. That is precisely what happened when Jesus was born at Christmas.

Though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Bible makes it very clear that Jesus has always existed. In fact, all things were made by him; nothing exists today that was not created by his hand. Jesus’ coming is so incredible because he was willing to humble himself by taking on a human body. The creator became part of his creation.

As we enter this Christmas season, I want to remind you that it is a wonderful time to read the scriptures from the Old and New Testaments that talk about the Christmas story. There are hundreds of Messianic prophesies that talk about Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection. Here are a few of them:

  • Only Beloved Son & Sacrifice                                   Genesis 22:1-18
  • The Lion of Judah                                                    Genesis 48:15-16, 49:8-10
  • The Star of Jacob                                                    Numbers 23:18-24, 24:3-9, 15-19
  • Son of David                                                            2 Samuel 7:1-17
  • Messiah: Son of God and King                                  Psalm 2
  • Holy One and Resurrected Redeemer                        Psalm 16
  • Royal Son, Deliverer of the Afflicted                            Psalm 72
  • Immanuel, Mighty God & Prince of Peace                  Isaiah 7:14, 9:1-7
  • Suffering Servant and Lamb of God                            Isaiah 53:1-12
  • Righteous Branch                                                    Jeremiah 23:1-6, 33:14-18
  • Good Shepherd                                                        Ezekiel 34:1-31
  • The Son of Man & Ruler from Bethlehem                    Daniel 7:9-10, Micah 5:2-6
  • King on a Donkey and Pierced Firstborn                     Zechariah 9:9-10, 12:10-13:1
  • Covenant Messenger & Son of Righteousness            Malachi 3:1-6
  • Son of the Most High                                                Luke 1:5-38
  • The Tender Mercy of God                                          Luke 1:39-80
  • Savior from Sin and Word Made Flesh                        John 1:14, Matthew 1:18-25
  • The Birth of Jesus                                                     Luke 2:1-20, Matthew 2:1-12

Thursday, December 5, 2013

God’s Polished Arrow

Luke is one of the writers who give us the Christmas story. He writes, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world” (Luke 2:1). The story begins with the mention of Caesar Augustus. He was the 19-year-old nephew of Julius Caesar. Julius was murdered, but he named his nephew Gaius Octavius as his sole heir. Most paid little attention to this teenager, but by the age of 32 he had become the first emperor of Rome. He was ambitious and brutally cruel, a common trait of the emperors. The senate eventually proclaimed him Caesar Augustus which meant they proclaimed him god. He accepted worship, and those who refused to worship him were either beheaded or crucified.[1]

Augustus was the most important person in the world, or at least that is what he thought, but in reality he was just a piece of lint on the page of biblical history. If he had known who was about to enter the stage of human history, he would have sent all 28 Roman legions to kill a baby about to be born in a very obscure place. He had no idea that God was about to unsheathe his most important gift to the world around this time we call Christmas. Isaiah calls Jesus a “Polished Arrow”:

Isaiah 49:2-3 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.
3 He said to me, "You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor."

Mary and Joseph, like all their fellow countrymen, lived under the heel of the Romans. Caesar called for a census which meant he was numbering the men for his armies and he wanted higher taxes. The Caesars always wanted more money. Caesar thought the census was about his coffers and his high mighty plans for his kingdom, but this was really about bringing a humble carpenter and his wife who was nine pregnant to the place they needed to be at just the right time.

Micah 5:1-2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

The difference between Christ our deliverer and conqueror and the world’s greatest conquerors is like night and day. Christ does not come with physical weapons of destruction and intimidation, but with his word that is like a sharpened sword. Jesus had been hidden like an arrow until the precise moment; then God sent his son into the world with divine accuracy. God’s chosen servant displays the splendor of God.

Luke 2:1-9 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

God’s sovereignty brought Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This town was Joseph’s town. Both Joseph and Mary were Jewish. Both had most likely been shunned by their neighbors and families; that is probably why none of their families are ever mentioned in scripture. They now find themselves in a perplexing situation, “Do we stay here or do we obey Caesar and go to Jerusalem?” They went to Bethlehem so Joseph could register even though Mary was nine months pregnant. When they arrived in the tiny town of Bethlehem, they were exhausted after an almost eighty mile trip.

The only place available was the place sheep were kept. What was it like?

The sheep corral was as fifthly as only an eastern sheep corral can be. It reeked pungently with manure and urine accumulated across the seasons. Joseph cleared a corner just large enough for Mary to lie down on the ground. Birth pains had started. She writhed in agony on the ground. Joseph in his inexperience and unknowing manly manner did his best to reassure her—his own outer tunic would be her bed. Perhaps there was a saddle-bag nearby for her pillow—hay, straw, animal fodder non-existent. Mary moaned and groaned in the darkness of the sheep-shelter. Joseph swept away the dust and the dirt from a small space in one of the hand-hewn mangers. It’s a feeding trough. In a feeding trough carved from the soft limestone rock. It was covered with cob-webs and debris fallen from the rock ceiling. There as best he could he arranged a place where Mary could lay the new born babe all bundled up in the swaddling clothes. There alone unaided without strangers or friends or family to witness her ordeal in the darkness Mary delivered her son. A more lowly or humble birth it is impossible to imagine.[2]

May God give you a greater appreciation this Christmas season for Jesus—God’s Polished Arrow that he sent to Bethlehem to save us from our sins.

[1] Baker, Simon (2010-09-30). Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (pp. 168-190). Random House UK. Kindle Edition.
[2] Quoting Commentator: Charles Swindoll, “Indescribable Gift” CDR-SCC733 December 19, 2010.