Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

According to the Scriptures there are two kinds of trials that we go through in our lives. What we usually think of as a trial has to do with suffering some kind of lack – a lack of food, a lack of health, money, a job, or protection from, say, persecution. And this lack puts us in a difficult situation that tests whether or not we will remain faithful to God.

But to have an abundance of something can also be a trial. Deuteronomy 8 talks about how we can be tested with an abundance of material blessings from God. This too can be a really difficult situation – in that it can be a stumbling block to our faithfulness to God. It might make us forget the Lord. Or act in ways that are wrong toward others.

Today, we are talking about a test in this second category, one that has to do with abundance – in this case of power or strength. This includes physical strength, economic power (or wealth) and  also what I’m calling social power – the influence or sway we have over others. This might come from having a certain position or office in a group that gives you authority and power or it can be more informal – you might be well liked or a part of a group that’s favored by others. This is social power.

I believe that all of us have power in one way or another in our lives. In other words, it’s not that some are strong and some are weak. Each of us are strong and weak in different areas or at different times in our lives. And so all of us face this test at some point in our lives.

The question, in such a test is, “How do you use the power you have?” And more specifically, “How do you treat those weaker than you?” People who are vulnerable to being taken advantage of and dishonored. My point today is that the answer to this question reveals what’s in your heart – whether you’re righteousness or unrighteous.

It reveals the kind of moral character you have

Scripture teaches us in many places and in different ways that those who use their strength for the weak, are righteous. In fact, this is a chief character trait of a godly person. Ezekiel 18:7 says that a righteous person (v. 5) “does not oppress (or mistreat) anyone, but . . . gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment.”

The righteous use their power and strength, not just for themselves, but also for others. As we’ll see in a moment they use it to help, to stand up for, and to honor the weak

On the other hand Scripture teaches us that those who use their strength against the weak, are unrighteous. This is a chief character trait of an ungodly person. In parallel to what we saw before, Ezekiel 18:12 says that an unrighteous person “oppresses (or mistreats) the poor and needy.”

The unrighteous use their power and strength for themselves, for their own self-interests, not others. As we will see they use it to take advantage of, dominate and ridicule the weak.

Let’s look at –

Some examples

1. If you’re a boss or business owner, how do you treat your employees? Are you fair or not? Do you pressure them to work too hard or in unsafe conditions?

James 5:4 speaks to bosses who take advantage of their employees financially.  It says, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”

God is watching and listening! Are you a righteous employer?

2. If you’re a husband, how do you treat your wife? Through most of history wives have been socially weaker than their husbands, although not really in our culture today. But wives are almost always physically weaker. So we’re talking about domestic violence here, verbal and, or physical abuse.

Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Just as Jesus had power, but used it not for himself but for us, so husbands use whatever power you have to bless and build up your wife. Are you a righteous husband?

3. If you’re a parent, how do you treat your children? They are both socially and physically weaker than you, at least when they’re young. We are certainly not to mistreat them through verbal or physical abuse. And even if they are older we can hurt and wound them in various ways, given our status as their parents.

Ephesians 6:4, speaking of younger children says, “do not provoke your children to anger,” that is, by mistreating them.

We are to love and care for them and raise and nurture them to be godly people; being above all an example to them of this kind of life. Are you righteous in how you treat your children?

4. If you’re able-bodied, how do you treat the disabled? Whether it be a physical or mental/emotional disability, the disabled are more vulnerable to being taken advantage of and dishonored.

But listen to Deuteronomy 27:18. It says, “Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.”

This teaches us not to take advantage of or dishonor such a person. And we see God’s point of view on this come through quite clearly. Are you righteous in how you treat the disabled?

5. If you’re young and strong, how do you treat the elderly? They can be physically and sometimes socially weaker than you.

Not only does Jesus warn against not taking care of the elderly in Mark 7:10-13, talking about one’s parents,  we are to honor those older than us. Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man.” Culturally, this is an expression of honor.

Are you righteous in how you treat seniors?

6. If you have what you need (and perhaps a whole lot more than you need), how do you treat the poor?

We have already seen in Ezekiel 18:7 that the righteous person “gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment.” And there are many other passages that speak of lending at no interest, and giving food, clothing and shelter to help the poor get back on their feet again.

We are also to advocate for the poor. Proverbs 31:9 says, “open your mouth . . . defend the rights of the poor and needy.” And we are not to put down the poor. Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker.” We insult God if we make fun of the poor.

Are you righteous in how you treat the poor?

7. If you’re socially secure, how do you treat those on the margins of society?

  • For instance, widows and orphans often fell through the social support networks of the ancient world. And so, Exodus 22:22 says, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” But not only are we not to mistreat them, we are to stand up for them. Isaiah 1:17 says, “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
  • Another example is immigrants, who are vulnerable being in a different place without support systems. Leviticus 19:34 applies the second greatest commandment to them, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.”
  • In a similar way, minority groups can be vulnerable to being taken advantage of by the majority because they have less power. In Acts 6:1 the Greek speaking widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of food in the church in favor of the Hebrew speaking widows. And this had to be dealt with by the apostles.

Are you righteous in how you treat the marginalized?

There are many other examples that could be given. Even if you’re not a boss, how do you use the power you do have at work? For those in school, are you a bully who uses physical strength and intimidation to dishonor and take advantage of others? Or are you “popular” – a part of an in-group – who uses that popularity to put down and exclude others?

Scripturally this issue even extends beyond the human realm to how we treat animals, who are lower and weaker than us in many ways. If you have animals under your care, how do you treat them? Proverbs 12:10 says, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” Are you merciful to your animals?

The principle in all this is straightforward how you use power reveals your character. Those who use it to take advantage of, dominate and dishonor the weak are among the unrighteous. Those who use it to help, stand up for and honor the weak are among the righteous.

Examine yourself. How do you use the power God has given you? How do you treat those weaker than you?

I’m calling you to imitate God in all this. This comes out clearly this Christmas season in Mary’s expression of praise to God, after learning that she would give birth to Jesus the Messiah in –

Luke 1:46-55

Let’s read it responsively and please notice as we read how God uses his power (underlined):

L: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

P: for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

L: For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

P: And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

L: He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

P: he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate

L: he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

A: He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Read Full Post »

We’re continuing on today looking at the stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood in Matthew 1-2 as our Advent and Christmas focus. Let’s jump right into –

The story of the Gentile magi who honor Jesus as king

– found in Matthew 2:1-12. And we start off with some background.

v. 1 – “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king . . .”

In terms of geography Bethlehem is front and center. It’s about 6 miles south of Jerusalem. In terms of chronology, it says, “in the days of Herod the king.” This is Herod the Great and the date of his death is known – 4 BC. And since Jesus was born before his death, it’s estimated that Jesus was actually born somewhere between 6 and 4 BC.

Now this is a bit ironic, since Jesus is born several years “Before Christ” which is what BC means! This is all because a 6th century monk named Dennis the Short made a mistake when he set up a new calendar system – the AD system, which we still use. So you can blame Dennis.

Also, just briefly, December 25th is a possible date for when Jesus was born. There has been a lot of discussion about whether it was actually in the Spring and so forth. But Winter does work as well. In the Eastern Orthodox church, Jesus’ birth is celebrated on January 7th. I don’t think we will never know for sure.

This brings us to the wise men.

v. 1-2 – “. . . behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”

The first question is, who are these wise men, or more literally magi?? There has been a great deal of elaboration on the few details we have from Matthew. They have been called kings; people say there were three of them, since there are three gifts; and they have been given names. In the West they were called Melchior, Gaspar (or Caspar) and Balthazar. But none of this is in Matthew 2 or anywhere else in Scripture.

The magi were most likely from a priestly caste in Persia or Babylon. They were known for their learning, including studying the stars and predicting the future based on this. So they knew astronomy and practiced astrology.

The idea of a star or some other astronomical phenomenon heralding a new king or a great person was common in the ancient world. And there are a number of stories of people following these to find the person to honor them.

As for the star itself there are a number of speculations – perhaps a conjunction of Jupiter (the star of a king) and Saturn (the star of the Jews) in 7 BC; or a supernova in 5/4 BC. However, given the activity of this star in v. 9, resting right above the house that Jesus was in, this might be an angel – for angels were connected with stars in the ancient world and in the Bible, and angels shine forth light.

v. 3 – “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him”

The news of a star and important people looking for the new “king of the Jews” was a real threat to Herod. Because if there’s a new king of the Jews, then his time is up. He’s out of a job! But not only him, those who had privilege and wealth due to Herod felt threatened.

A prophetic Scripture connected to Jesus.

vs. 4-6 – “ . . . and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'”

The scripture here is Micah 5:2 and also 2 Samuel 5:2 (2 Chronicles 11:2) right at the end. (It’s a composite quote blending the two together.) (Changes in the text from MT and LXX: “Ephrathah” becomes “land of Judah”; “thousands” becomes “princes” – a different vowel pointing; ‘Bethlehem is little’ becomes ‘by no means the least’ – a variant working with the consonants in Hebrew, or connected to the fact that now the Messiah has been born there – so it is no longer the least)

Given what’s said here, and also in John 7:42 which mentions this, the idea of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem was fairly common.

Now unlike others we will see, this prophecy’s application is rather straight forward Jesus is the promised ruler born in Bethlehem; the Messiah. It’s just as simple as that.

Herod’s scheming.

vs. 7-9 – “Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’ After listening to the king, they went on their way.”

We’ll talk more about Herod next week, but let me say a few things. He was not a noble person. In fact he could be quite ruthless in order to hold on to power, even killing several of his family members. So his scheme here is not good natured. He’s trying to discover where the child is so he can kill him.

Also, you need to know that much of his paranoia was fueled by the fact that he was not a legitimate king. The Romans named him king, not the people. And he was only half Jewish. (He was an Idumean, or Edomite (Malachi 1:4) from a region just south of Judea.)

There are several indications in this story that a measure of time has passed since Jesus’ birth. First of all, he’s not called an infant, but a child here, indicating an older age – v. 8, 9, 11. And also the family seems to have moved into a house by this time, as we’ll see in  v. 11.

Given what is said in 2:16 – that based on the information about when the star first came – the male children two years old and under were to be killed – Jesus may have been anywhere from several months to a year & half old when the wise men came.

Arrival in Bethlehem.

vs. 9-11 – “And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

The phrase, “They fell down and worshipped him” stands out. It was common to bow down or kneel before a king. Here, however, they fall on their faces. This is serious worship. The wise men present a picture of the proper response to Jesus, much like we find at the end of Matthew where the disciples “worshipped him” – 28:17.

And they give him very expensive gifts, fit for king – gold, frankincense and myrrh. We all know what gold is. We don’t know as much about the other two. Frankincense is the fragrant gum resin from a tree used in incense and perfume. And myrrh is also a fragrant gum resin from a tree, used in incense perfume, medicine, embalming.

There’s some Old Testament background to this giving of gifts to Jesus.

  • Isaiah 60:1-6 speaks of a light coming and the nations coming to Israel with wealth with gold and frankincense to give.
  • And Psalm 72 – speaks of the nations coming to bow before and give gifts to the king of Israel.

Both of these were seen to speak about what would happen at the end of time when the Gentiles come to know God. And so the wise men represent the first fruits of this coming Gentile worship.

A dream from God.

v. 12 – “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”

Each of our stories has a prophetic scripture and a dream, although in this case the dream comes to the wise men, not Joseph. They return home a different way to avoid helping Herod.

[There are interesting parallels between this story and the story of Balaam in Numbers 22-24:

As I said last week, each of these stories gives a –

A picture of Jesus’ future

In this story it has to do with the contrast between Herod as king of the Jews and Jesus as king of the Jews. Herod proves himself not worthy. He doesn’t know even where the Messiah is to be born. And once he finds out he lies to get information in a scheme to kill him. Herod is an imposter, not a true king of the Jews.

Jesus, however, is seen to be the real thing. This is shown in that – at his birth he signals the beginning of the coming of the Gentiles to worship and honor the true God. Jesus is the faithful and true king of the Jews.

This story points forward to the amazing response of Gentiles to the gospel message of the true king of Israel. And indeed the vast majority of Christians have come from the realm of the nations – offering up praise and honor to the Lord Jesus – as the Scriptures predicted.

Read Full Post »

I want to share with you briefly on Joy and Christmas-time. Joy is certainly central to the message the angel spoke to the Shepherds in the Christmas story.  Luke 2:10  says, “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.’”

Christmas is a time of joy, right? Time off work; enjoying family; giving gifts; special meals; special events with friends; sentimental associations from childhood and a time to set aside one’s problems for a while. All we need to do is hear the Christmas music and  see the decorations to be joyful and happy.

Yet, as you know, for some, Christmas can be a time of real sadness. If many have time off work, some don’t have a job or are working several jobs with no time off. If many enjoy family, some have family brokenness or even no family. If many give and receive gifts, some don’t have the money to do this. If many have special meals, some can’t afford this either. If many go to special events with friends, some don’t have friends to go out with. If many have sentimental remembrances, some didn’t have a good childhood and so it can bring back bad memories. If many are able to set aside their problems – some are reminded of specific tragedies that have happened at this time of year, or losses from the past year.

So for one or more of these reasons, simply to hear the music and to see the decorations brings sadness or even depression. You can’t seem to enter in and be happy, and it makes you sadder when you see others experiencing joy, when you can’t.

So does this mean that we shouldn’t talk about Christmas joy since we might make someone feel worse? No. We simply need to remember again why we have joy at Christmas. And we learn this from the angel who spoke to the Shepherds in Luke 2:11 – “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Notice, the angel said nothing about time off work; family; gift giving; meals; special events with friends; sentimental associations from childhood; or a special time to set aside problems for a while. This is the cultural part of Christmas; the human traditions that have accumulated around our celebration of Christmas.

Think of Mary and Joseph. They were obeying an imperial edict to be registered in a census. I’m sure they weren’t excited about having to do this at the very time when Mary was due to give birth. I don’t think it was fun to have to put Jesus in an animal feed-trough because there wasn’t enough room for them in a home or an inn. They certainly weren’t enjoying what we associate with celebrating Christmas.

Think of the Shepherds as well. They took a brief break from their work to go see the baby and then went back. They had none of the trappings of our cultural traditions.

The angel said we can have joy because of something else. We have to keep vs. 10 and 11 together. v. 10 speaks of “good news of a great joy.” v. 11 tells us why – “for unto you is born . . . a Savior”

Our Messiah and Lord has come someone who can save us. Someone who can help us in our difficulties, provide for our needs, and give us the promise of a better future. And this is what gives us both hope and joy.

This is a message precisely for those who are sad and who don’t have what they want at this time of year. And it’s for all of us who have problems. You don’t need a savior if you have nothing to be saved from, right?

The true meaning of Christmas can give us all joy precisely because we do have problems, pain and brokenness.

Jesus is the savior. He has come. And he can help us. And this is what we celebrate. So let’s celebrate with vigor and great joy! A joy that cannot be taken away no matter what our circumstances are.

Read Full Post »

Today I want us to look briefly at    Jesus’ name, Immanuel, to see what this means and to see what it means to us. This comes to us from the story of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1:18-25:

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 where the name Immanuel is given. But what does it mean that Jesus is Immanuel, or as Matthew translates, “God with us?”

1. “God with us” means God has had favor on us, fulfilling his promises. He has remembered us and acted for us.

This promise was originally given to king Ahaz in a time of crisis, when the royal line was threatened to be cut off. It was a promise that God was not done with his plans for his people, or with the line of David.

The birth of Hezekiah to a young woman was the original fulfillment of the promise. But Jesus is the true fulfillment.

  • Hezekiah, the original fulfillment, was born to a young woman. Jesus, the true fulfillment is born to a virgin.
  • Hezekiah, the original fulfillment, was a son of David. Jesus, the true fulfillment, is the Son of David and the Messiah.
  • Hezekiah’s birth was a sign that God was with Judah, remembering his promise to give David a son to rule in Judah. Jesus’ birth is a sign that God is with us, remembering his promise to give David a son to save and to rule the world.

2. “God with us” means that Jesus is God in human form. He became flesh, a living breathing human being and walked among us. We call this the incarnation, or enfleshment, because God came in human flesh.

This is recognized throughout the gospel of Matthew:

  • In Matthew 14:33, after Jesus walked on the water and saved the disciples from the storm, it says, “those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
  • In Matthew 16:16 Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
  • God says of Jesus in Matthew 17:5 “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
  • In Matthew 27:54, after Jesus died on the cross, the Roman centurion there said, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”
  • In Matthew 28:17, after Jesus’ resurrection, it says, “when the disciples saw him, they worshipped him.”

Jesus is God’s Son, who came and became a human and walked on this earth to be with us in person and to save us.

3. Finally, “God with us” means that Jesus is always present with his people.

If we learn about Jesus as “God with us” near to the very beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, we also hear it in the very last verse of this Gospel. Matthew 28:20 says, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus is with us in all our situations in life. It says, he is “always” with us – whether we find ourselves in good circumstances or in very difficult circumstances.

Specifically we learn in Matthew 18:20 that Jesus is in our midst as we gather in his name as the church. He is here with us now. And Jesus is with us as we seek to carry out his commission to share about him and make disciples of all peoples, which is the context of Matthew 28:20, which we just read.

Jesus came to be with us in all these ways. Let’s all rejoice in this as we celebrate Christmas this year.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Someone asked me the other day if I was ready for Christmas, by which they meant – have I finished my shopping yet? Well the answer was no and still is. I a last minute shopper. And I also have my lovely wife’s birthday on the 27th and our anniversary on the 20th. So I have a lot to do to get ready for the season.

But even if you’re just getting presents for Christmas, we can easily miss the point that we are actually celebrating Jesus’ birthday.

Now I don’t know where the tradition began of giving gifts on birthdays, but we do know that the Magi came bearing gifts – gold frankincense and myrrh, to honor the birth of Jesus as a great king. And since Christmas is the time set aside to celebrate this, maybe we shouldn’t be thinking so much about getting gifts for others or receiving them ourselves, but rather on giving to him.

What gift can you give to Jesus? Have you thought about this yet? What do you think that he would like this year? Well I have some suggestions this morning to help you.

1. Your life

Give the most valuable thing you have. Perhaps you’re here today and have never done this. Jesus loves you and came to be in relationship with you. He is the Lord of the universe, but he desires to know you; to transform you; and to bless you. Will you give your life to him? He doesn’t force us to love him, we each have to do this for ourselves. Will you make that choice?

Or perhaps you are here today and you know him, but you have been holding out in an area of life – you aren’t giving him your full obedience, service and devotion. Will you choose to give yourself fully to him?

Jesus calls us to “lose our lives” for his sake – Mark 8:35. We are to give up our life to him. We are to love and follow him above our family, our possessions and even our own earthly lives – Luke 14:26; 33. Give your life to Jesus this Christmas and live for him in every area of your life.

Here is a gift idea that comes from Jesus himself –

2. Give to the needy

Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” – Luke 12:33. Instead of giving more luxuries to people who already have luxuries, give of your excess; of your luxuries to help those who can’t even meet their basic needs.

Instead of buying the newest and the best for ourselves and others; instead of obtaining comfort on top of comfort for ourselves and others – be generous with the resources God has given to you to help the truly needy.

As Jesus said, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” – Luke 12:15. Let’s act like we believe this is true.

Here’s another gift idea from Jesus that will surely please him.

3. Give mercy to someone

Let me paraphrase Luke 6:37-38 – “Don’t judge . . . don’t condemn . . . forgive . . . give . . .” mercy. All of these phrases are examples of what he had just said in the verse before this one, “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (v. 36). We are merciful when we don’t judge and condemn, to say it negatively. We are merciful when we forgive and give mercy, to say it positively.

So let’s say someone has hurt you or offended you or failed you in some way and you are stuck in a cycle of condemning them and holding bitterness and resentment against them. Jesus is saying, choose instead to give the gift of mercy. Break the cycle. Treat them like your Father in heaven has treated you – mercifully.

If they haven’t dealt with what they did to you, choose to show love to them in some appropriate way, instead of hate. If they have dealt with the issue and have sought forgiveness, by all means give the mercy of forgiveness. Let them off the hook; don’t hold it against them anymore.

4. Minister to the lowly

You remember how once the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest. And then Jesus took a young child and said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me . . .” – Mark 9:37.

His point here is that instead of seeking status; seeking to be the greatest, they are to lower themselves to serve those who have no social status. Paradoxically this is how you become great in the kingdom. The child here represents those with no status, at least this was the case in Jesus’ day. Jesus uses the word “receive” here. He means to minister to and help those who have no status. That is, take care of their needs, give them attention, give them hospitality.

And then we come to the point that I am focusing on. When we do this, we are ministering to Jesus. Whatever gift you give to the lowly one – time, help, hospitality, is actually a gift given to Jesus.

Along these same lines –

5. Help Christians who are suffering

This comes from Matthew 25 and the story of the sheep and the goats. Here Jesus talks about helping “the least of these my brethren,” a phrase that refers to fellow believers in tough times because of their faith. And his point is that when you give to and help these, you are actually giving to and helping Jesus.

vs. 36-40 – “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

When you bless and help Christians in dire need, who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, without clothes, sick, in prison – you are giving gifts to Jesus himself.

So when you help a missionary or a pastor in hostile lands or difficult assignments, you are helping Jesus. When you help Christians who are suffering persecution, you are helping Jesus himself.

6. Give a special act of devotion

This comes from the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with very expensive ointment. The disciples said that this was too much money and it should have been given to the poor. But Jesus said that “she has done a beautiful thing to me” -Matthew 26:10.

Now Jesus is not physically present with anymore so we are in a bit of a different situation. But we can still do something special for him; we can give him something extravagant as a gift. Perhaps you can write a poem to Jesus or a letter expressing your love. Or you could set aside a day where your sole focus in on getting to know him better and adoring him. Or you can do something expensive for Jesus. As in this story give something expensive to help and bless the ministry of a church or a ministry. When done with the right heart, to honor and bless Jesus, these are beautiful gifts to Jesus.

Are you ready for Christmas this year? Have you picked out what gift, or gifts you will give him? I encourage you to think and pray about this, and to make it the chief focus of your Christmas giving.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Check out the series on Jesus’ birth and childhood from Matthew 1-2

The Genealogy: 1:1-17 – Jesus is qualified to be the Messiah and sit on David’s throne.

A. Jesus’ birth and name: 1:18-25

dream: Joseph should keep Mary and own Jesus

prophetic connection: Isaiah 7:14 – Jesus is like Hezekiah who was born to a young woman and who was a sign that God remembered his promise to David for a son to rule. Jesus is not illegitimate (John 8:41). He is the true fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 – born of a virgin.

B. Gentile Magi honor Jesus as king: 2:1-12

prophetic connection: Micah 5:2 – Jesus is the promised ruler born in Bethlehem.

dream: The Magi should not return to Herod

C. Jesus is taken to Egypt: 2:13-15

dream: Joseph should take his family and flee

prophetic connection: Hosea 11:1 – Jesus is connected to Israel in going into and coming up out of Egypt.

`B. Judean Herod tries to kill Jesus: 2:16-21

prophetic connection: Jeremiah 31:15 – refers to the exile into Babylon. “Rachel” weeps for those who are no more – taken into captivity. Jesus’ exile to Egypt and the weeping for those killed by Herod are linked to this.

dream: Joseph can come back since Herod has since died

`A. Jesus’ home and name: 2:22-23

dream: Joseph should go to Galilee

prophetic connection: Isaiah 11:1 (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah  3:8; 6:12). Jesus is again connected to Hezekiah. Jesus is the true fulfillment of the prophecy of a branch that will come from David. This is a Hebrew word-play between “Branch“: NSR and “Nazareth“: NSRT. Jesus’ home of Nazareth does not make him insignificant (John 1:46; 7:41-42;52), it ties him to the prophetic promises of the branch of David.

Read Full Post »

Story #1. Jesus will be despised because of the circumstances of his birth, although they actually point out that he is the promised Messiah – Isaiah 7:14.

Story #2. Jesus will attract Gentiles who will honor him as King.

Story #3. Jesus will show himself to be the faithful Son of God – Hosea 11:1

Story #4. Jesus will be opposed by the Judean authorities who will eventually kill him.

Story #5. Jesus will be despised because of his hometown, Nazareth, although the name actually points to him being the promised branch or Messiah – Isaiah 11:1.

Read Full Post »

Today we are looking at the Gospel of Luke and how the angel Gabriel announced the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. As we work through these stories we will see how Mary emerges as an example to us in a couple of different ways.

Let me begin by backing up and giving you a very brief overview of –

Luke chapters 1-2

John’s birth

Jesus’ birth

1. Birth announcement – 1:5-23Elizabeth’s response – 1:24-25 2. Birth announcement – 1:26-38Mary’s response – 1:39-56
3. The birth – 1:57-66Prophetic response – 1:67-79

John’s growth – 1:80

4. The birth – 2:1-21Prophetic responses – 2:22-39

Jesus’ growth – 2:40-52

You can see the way these accounts of John and Jesus line up with each other, each having the same topics in the same order. And you can see how the story alternates between John and Jesus. We will focus in on the first part of sections 1 and 2 – the birth announcements – and see what we can learn. In these stories –

Gabriel comes to Zechariah and Mary

. . . to make his announcement about John and Jesus. There are a number of parallels in these two accounts and I want to use these to lay out  these stories. (The presence of parallels are noted by most commentators, but see especially John Nolland).

1. Their social situation is given

  • Zechariah is an older priest, married to Elizabeth – v. 5.
  • Mary is a young woman, betrothed to Joseph – vs. 26-27.

2. Their spiritual status is noted

  • Zechariah and Elizabeth are righteous people. v. 6 says, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”
  • Gabriel tells her that She is favored by God and the Lord is with her – v. 28.

3. The condition that keeps them from having a child is noted

  • “Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years” – v. 7.
  • Mary was a “virgin” – v. 27, engaged, but not yet married.

4. The angel Gabriel came to them

  • He appeared to him in the Temple in Jerusalem while he was offering up incense in the Temple during prayers – vs. 8-10; 13.
  • He appeared to her in Nazareth in Galilee – v. 26.

5. They were both troubled

  • He was troubled by the presence of an angel. v. 12 says, “And Zechariah was (literally) terrified when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.”
  • She was troubled by the greeting – “O favored one.”  v. 29 says, “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”

6. They are told not to fear

  • “Do not be afraid” – v. 13 – “your prayer has been heard.”
  • “Do not be afraid . . . you have found favor with God” – v. 30.

7. Both are told they will have a child

  • “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall call his name John” – v. 13.
  • “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” – v. 31.

Gabriel also tells them both about the greatness and life mission of each child.

8. Both respond with a question to Gabriel

  • “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” – v. 18. In other words, we’re too old!
    • Mary asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin” – v. 34

9. Both are given a sign

  • “You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words” – v. 20.
  • Elizabeth is with child. This is a sign to Mary that nothing is impossible with God, as Gabriel says in v. 37.

10. What they did after the encounter is told

  • He quietly waited for the fulfillment. What else could he do?
  • She responded in faith, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” – v. 38.

This is an amazing number of parallels. But the significant thing is that these parallels are used to make contrasts between Zechariah and Mary, which show that even though Zechariah is good and blessed –

Mary is highlighted in these stories

Let’s look at this –

1. Their social situation: It was more exceptional that God would come to lowly Mary, as opposed to Zechariah who was a priest, in the Temple, at the time of prayer.

2. Their spiritual status: Zechariah and Elizabeth are righteous, but Gabriel himself tells Mary that she has God’s favor.

3. The condition precluding birth: Elizabeth’s birth would be miraculous, but a virgin birth is an unprecedented miracle.

4. Gabriel came: Zechariah was praying and had asked for a child. God took the initiative to come to Mary. She hadn’t asked for anything.

5. Both were troubled: She was not terrified, but more perplexed about what the angel said.

6. They were told not to fear: Even as she is told not to fear, her favored status is emphasized.

7. Both will have a child: John is great, but Jesus is greater. And it is the greater honor for Mary to have him.

8. Both asked a question: Zechariah responded with doubt. Mary simply wanted to know how God would do what he said he would do.

9. Both received a sign: Zechariah was judged for his unbelief – he couldn’t speak. She received a positive sign – Elizabeth was pregnant.

10. What they did after the encounter: She responded with true faith – ‘Do what you want Lord.’

I am showing you all this to make a point.

Mary is the example

She is the hero of the story. Zechariah is also blessed, but Mary is the focus. What can we learn from her?

1. Mary is an example to us that God loves to use the lowly to fulfill his will. She was of humble circumstances. This is especially so in contrast to Zechariah. He was a priest, a man – who had priority in this culture, and he was older. She had no official role, was a woman and young, somewhere between 14-20 years old.

She was not just lowly in circumstance, she was also inwardly humble. In vs. 28-29, the angel said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” This was a strange thing for her to hear and so she was trying to make sense out of it. She must not have thought of herself as greatly favored by God.

She referred to herself as a “bondservant” or slave in – v. 38. And later in the story she spoke of her “humble estate” in v. 48.

And yet as we learn in this story – God used lowly Mary in the most extraordinary way. As Elizabeth says in Luke 1:42-43, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

She reminds us of what Paul said in   I Corinthians 1:27-28 – “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are . . .”

She also reminds us of what Jesus said in Luke 14:11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” – that is, by God.

As she herself said later in Luke 1:52 – “God has brought down the mighty from their throne, and exalted those of humble estate.”

2. Mary is an example to us of how to receive God’s word in faith. She had amazing faith. She was told that God will do what had never been done in all of human history – the impossible. What was her response? She said in v. 38 – “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” ‘OK God, do whatever you want.’ This is amazing faith!

Did she think of the shame factor, that everyone would suspect that she was unfaithful? Did she think of the complications this would bring to her marriage. Joseph almost divorced her as we learn in Matthew. This was going to mess up her life!

But nevertheless hers was a response of faith. She believed, just as Gabriel said, that “nothing will be impossible with God” – v. 37.

Elizabeth notes Mary’s faith when she says in Luke 1:45, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

She reminds us of what Paul said about Abraham’s faith in Romans 4:20-21. “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

She also reminds us of what Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Now, having said this it is clear that she was not perfect. Later she had doubts about what Jesus was up to, like the other disciples, and Jesus’ brothers. But Mary is an example to us in this story. She teaches us that God loves to use the lowly to accomplish his will. And she teaches us how to receive God’s word in faith, so that God can work in and through us.

May we learn from her example

William Higgins

Read Full Post »