Real People. Real Christmas. Real Intrigue and Danger.

There are some interesting details about the real events behind Christmas. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him…” (Matthew 2:1-3, NIV)

The Magi, who studied the heavens and knew something about the arrival of a new king of the Jews, came “from the east” to find out about this newly born king… Naturally they went first to the current king in Jerusalem, Herod the Great—a king who had an impressive resume in some ways, but a cruel man who was known for levying high taxes and building the temple. He was in perhaps the last year of his reign, dying from gonorrhea and possibly cancer.

Herod is known for his impressive accomplishments as a builder, and his architectural accomplishments can still be seen today at Caesarea, Masada, and Jerusalem.

real Masada

He had a long, tumultuous reign filled with treachery and murder. He not only executed his wife, Miriamme, but her mother Alexandra as well. He had two of his brother-in-laws killed, and also executed his own sons Alexander and Aristobulus. He was so jealous of his throne that at one point it prompted Augustus to say, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son” (a reference to the fact that the pig had a better chance for survival than a son, since Herod’s household didn’t eat pork).

Matthew’s description of Herod’s reaction to the Magi is intriguing. While there is much to explore about the Magi, it is also interesting to take a closer look at Herod’s role in the nativity. After all, he was at least partly responsible for sending them to Jesus. “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

Herod is a somewhat forgotten part of this nativity, but he certainly played a significant role in the birth and early life of Jesus. Matthew says in verse 3 that when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, “Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” It might make sense that Herod was troubled—he guarded his throne zealously, and certainly did not enjoy having other aspiring kings around. But why was all Jerusalem troubled with him?

Dr. Duane Edward Spencer taught that since Herod was a cruel ruler who was not exactly beloved in Jerusalem, the fact that the city was disturbed along with him at the approach of these men suggested a somewhat larger and more capable party than three men on camels—perhaps a troop of famed Persian cavalry. It makes sense, since a few men carrying valuable gifts would have been easy prey for robbers, and three guys on camels probably wouldn’t make a city tremble.

This is a real story about real people, and it makes sense that men of this stature would not travel without protection, and that Herod and people in Jerusalem would all have their own interpretation of events. Herod tried to twist the Magi to his own ends, asking them to go find this newborn king so he could “worship him”. Like many real politicians before and since, Herod was lying about his true intent. He was a paranoid ruler who was constantly involved in intrigue and questionable choices. (A Herod played a role in Jesus’ birth and in his death. His son, Herod Antipas, carried on the family tradition of making poor choices by marrying his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. She was the one whose daughter danced provocatively for him and then demanded the head of John the Baptist. Definitely soap opera material… Herod Antipas is the same guy who wanted Jesus to perform for him, and who sent him back to Pilate after a very cursory “trial”). But at about the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find Jesus and report back to him. When they didn’t bring him a report, he reacted by doing something that followed his reputation down the corridors of time.

real danger

He killed all the male children in Bethlehem two years of age and under. While he missed Jesus, his cruelty touched many other lives, and his action has always been known as the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” (While scholars have not found a direct reference to this act outside of the Bible, it is certainly in keeping with Herod’s character–the man so jealous of his throne that he killed his own mother-in-law, two sons, and his wife Miriamme, just to mention a few. Executing a few little boys would not have bothered him in the least.) Real people. Real events. Know your history: Jesus was really actually part of it.

The Holidays are twinkling lights
And carolers on snowy nights,
Our Christmas movies on TV and presents underneath the tree.
We think of things we love so much–
The Christmas tree, the gifts and such,
And little children’s shining eyes with every Santa Claus surprise!
But don’t forget, when your stockings and hearts are filled,
The boys in Bethlehem, and the evil king who had them killed.
Traditions are nice, and so are the things we feel–
But don’t forget. Yeah, Christmas just got real.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Light that Helps You See. Evidence that Helps You Decide

Light may help you see where you are going, but it doesn’t dictate which course you choose to take. John refers to the Word as “the true light that gives light to every man”. (John 1:9, NIV)

I used to think this couldn’t be true, since every man might not have had a chance to see or hear about Jesus (such as all who came before, and everyone who was raised in darkest Africa or China, where Jesus was not a household name…) But in thinking about him as the Word, as the creative expression of God’s personality, (John 1:3, “without him nothing was made that has been made) it hit me: every man is exposed to some revelation about God through the order and design of the universe, which reflect the creative nature and character of God. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”

We may not see Jesus directly, but because He is the Word who created all things, we see evidence of Him all around us, as well as above and beyond us. (“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.” Psalms 19:1) If you look at creation, you can certainly get a sense of the personality of the Creator. But here’s the problem: while you can infer a Design from design, you cannot empirically prove that the Designer exists. So why didn’t the Word make himself undeniably evident?

light life

32328

The thing is, God has given us evidence instead of proof so that we have a choice about faith. If I could PROVE God’s existence to you, then you would HAVE to accept it, and faith would play no part in discovering who God is. The creation tells us much about God, but He has not directly revealed himself for good reason. People who say to God, “Show me who you are and I’ll accept it” are testing the God of the universe and telling Him to come to them on their own terms… But God doesn’t do that. He comes to us on His terms, and He has already told us how that will happen.

C.S. Lewis points out that people who want God to appear before them may be asking the wrong question. “But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on the stage the play is over… That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not” (p. 65, Mere Christianity).

In our daily exposure to creative design, we encounter the Word of God. (Since He created those things, it makes sense that we would see Him in them, right?) It is interesting to compare the teachings of Christ to the structure of the universe, and to see the intimate details wrought into galaxies and microbes, to realize just how astoundingly right John was. Jesus taught about agriculture, the Kingdom of Heaven, and about seeing the Father. There is beauty in the creator’s handiwork that can only be discovered in the light of the Word.

There is light coming to us from the vast reaches of space, from stars whose network of gravitational power holds us in exactly the right place in our solar system so that we can exist. There is light from our own sun, which keeps us from freezing, activates photosynthesis in plants, provides us with vitamins, and which makes it possible for us here on earth to experience life and growth. There is order in the ways things operate, whether you look as far out into the heavens as you can, or as deeply into the microscope as it is possible to look. Every created thing reflects principles of order and design. God’s handiwork displays infinite scale that is both massive and microscopic; there is relationship, there are consequences, there is harmony and truth.

See if Abraham Lincoln was right. Go out to the country on a clear night and gaze into the stars, past the constellations and out into space. Think about the fact that some of the light your eyes can see has traveled thousands of light-years across space, and originated before the pyramids. See if your soul isn’t stirred a bit, if you don’t find yourself a little bit in awe of the Creator… Compare what you feel to what you know about the Word of God. It just may be that you are receiving more light out there than you ever realized before.

John declared that the Word was light, that somewhere in God’s plan
There is a revelation that has come to every man.
The skeptic calls this false, of course,
And says you cannot prove the source;
He hopes he will not have remorse,
But believes in a kind of cosmic force…
This kind of independent thinking prospers and persists
Since God will not force anyone to know that He exists.
He offers every man–not proof– which would be undeniable;
But evidence, so that man’s faith would not be unreliable.
It may seem right to look around, and ask God for a sign;
But if there’s light when you look up, perhaps there is design…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

“In Him Was Life; And that Life was the Light of Men”

Of this baby born in Bethlehem, John said, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-5, NIV) Men have been misunderstanding Jesus since the time he was an infant. Apparently it is really easy to not understand Jesus… and one of the easiest ways to do that is to assume you already know, and to avoid really looking at him. Because you’ve heard a parable or two, you avoid looking at his entire life. People often look at small snapshots of Jesus without ever watching the whole movie.

life

Or they assume that Jesus must be like people who say they know him, and the spectrum of behavior from folks who say they follow Jesus can be both incredibly varied and incredibly misleading. They range from misguided religious nuts to sincere believers who make mistakes, still live in the flesh, and yes, still commit sins… It’s very easy, if you are skeptical, to look at the Church—the imperfect, stumbling, bumbling followers of Christ and decide Jesus is not for you.

Or it’s easy to avoid looking at him closely because you think he is like “nominal” Christians, who may not actually be connected to him at all. So many people say, “Yeah, I know about Jesus, I know about his teachings”, when all they have done is given a cursory glance at what he said, or listened to a secondhand account (yeah, like this one) of what he said. But I would say that to anyone who encounters the Jesus of the Bible, the rabbi who gave the Sermon on the Mount, the teacher who confounded the Pharisees, or the healer who healed, the same man whose birthday we celebrate every year at Christmas, John’s description of the Word is accurate and applicable.

After 3 years of walking daily with Jesus, of watching him heal and listening to him teach, and after having meals and walking along the road and going to parties with him, he understood who Jesus was, and he captured it perfectly here in his introduction: “In him was life.” To Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8, Jesus was life; To Lazarus in John 11, Jesus was life; to the thief on the cross beside him in Luke 23, Jesus was life. To Stephen in Acts 7, even as he fell beneath the stones, Jesus was life. Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul, said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21)

To me, in the 20th century as an insecure teenager, Jesus was life. As an adult who could be living in Pottersville instead of Bedford Falls, Jesus is life. Question: have you REALLY investigated Jesus of Nazareth? Do you know what he taught, have you truly looked at what he was about? John says that “in him was life, and that life was the light of men.” I would suggest that there is indeed darkness in this world, and that the darkness not only doesn’t understand Jesus, it doesn’t want anyone else to understand him either. To those who understand Jesus and discover life in the Word, John promises illumination in the darkness. He promises the ability to see new things, to grow, to stretch outward and upward to life-giving rays of hope! I hope you investigate. I hope you understand. You know who said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”? Yep. But don’t take MY word for it.

He walked with Jesus every day. John talked with him along the way;
He heard what Jesus had to say. He ate with him. He watched him pray.
He saw the things that no one sees, saw him confound the Pharisees!
He heard him preach and saw him heal, and decided Jesus was for real.
Then, finally, he wrote a book. It’s short. Go read it, take a look-
A book I heartily commend, John’s own account of his best friend:
He wrote this down, and it’s worth saying again:
“In Him was life. He was the Light of Men.”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Shepherds Were Considered Low Class in Israel. So Why did Angels Come to THEM?

The Christmas story starts with shepherds. Really? It’s quite a humble start to an amazing story…
“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 that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:8-10 NIV)

shepherds

Normally if a King was coming into the world, it would have been in a palace, and there would have been great fanfare over the birth of an heir to the throne. News would have been sent out from the palace with trumpets and proclamations so that everyone could hear the big news! Royal family members and political insiders would have been the first to hear the news, and it would have spread from there.

In Luke’s account about the new-born king, however, the news did not come from the palace but from the pasture, sent to a group that was more often than not marginalized by religious society. Even in God’s economy, this did not seem like a logical choice. Shepherds were not the first group almost anybody would have picked to receive the good news of Jesus’ birth. (Why not priests or soldiers, or somebody from the palace?) Any Messiah maker with good sense would have proclaimed the news of the Savior’s arrival to the High Priest, or a governor, or someone with influence and a platform; maybe somebody who could get the news on TV.

Why was Jesus born then and there, before God could take advantage of all of our modern media and technology? Looking back, doesn’t it seem like God used really poor judgment in His timing for the Advent? As a point of fact, because of their remote workplace and pastoral schedule, shepherds were usually ceremonially unclean, and unfit to even enter the Temple. Because of that they were far down the list that any Hebrew sage or leader would have used to announce something important. As it was written in “Jesus Christ, Superstar”: “You’d have managed better if you had it planned; why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land? If you’d have come today you would have reached a whole nation; Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”

Why was Jesus born in such a primitive time? Why did God choose to send angels out into the countryside to announce the news to mere shepherds? Some say they were loners, always out by themselves following sheep around. It was a humble job away from the limelight. Some also say shepherds were not the most social of guys, maybe not too high on the Bethlehem social ladder, and not the first guys you’d invite home to dinner… These particular shepherds may have been watching over the ceremonial flocks kept outside of Jerusalem, full of unblemished lambs and goats destined for slaughter at the temple. It was an ironic religious fact that such men were often considered unfit to enter the temple they served…

On the other hand, David was a shepherd, and he developed pretty fair fighting skills, wrote songs and Psalms, and ended up having a pretty notable career. I think the angel appeared to shepherds as a subtle nod to Jesus’ ancestry, and as a reminder that great things can have humble beginnings. If these shepherds indeed watched over the flocks destined for sacrifice, then it’s impossible to overlook the direct connection to the lamb of God.

At any rate when they heard the announcement, these shepherds carried the “good news that will cause great joy” into town and out to the surrounding areas; out of the hillsides and into history. And you know what? They may not have had TV or the internet, but amazingly enough the shepherds’ story is still being told, and is well known in today’s modern media age… Perhaps God knew what He was doing after all by announcing the good news when and where He did! Two things: does this good news bring you great joy? (I hope so!) And who are you telling about it? Perhaps someone you know is waiting to be carried from the hillsides into history. And into heaven as well.

There, on the hills near Bethlehem, the plaintive, restless flock
Was destined for Jerusalem as sacrificial stock.
Trying to sleep on a fitful night,
We heard a sound–almost took flight–
Awakened by a glorious light, astounded by the startling sight
Of a messenger whose voice instills
Great fear, and brought us shepherds chills
Out there, alone up in the hills…
He gave us tidings of great joy!
“There is a King! A newborn boy!
They’ll call his name Immanuel!”
With that, a choir began to swell
And sing of glory, peace as well,
As we were captive to its spell:
He told us, then, to go and tell…
Well after that, what could we do?
We went! We found the babe! It’s true!
Of all the things I’ve done, and not done yet,
That is the thing I can’t –I won’t– forget.
Whatever I may do, or men may say,
Say this: I was in Bethlehem that day,
And saw the child, in the manger where he lay…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

The Gift that keeps on Giving: Who Says Christmas Only Comes Once a Year?

Christmas is all about giving and opening gifts! It is a tradition that goes back to the gifts of the Magi, which were presented to Jesus as a young child sometime after he was born. Some folks relate it to Saturnalia, a pagan Roman festival which pre-dated the birth of Christ, and which was supplanted by the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth. Since people gave each other small gifts during that winter festival, the custom was appropriated by early Church Fathers. (Although some Christians today refuse to celebrate because of those early roots, but I say, why let the devil have all festivals? It’s ok to celebrate the birth of Christ and give gifts!) Which gift will be your favorite this year?

gift

We commemorate the actions of the Magi in Matthew 2:11: “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Gifts are a wonderful part of our Christmas celebration. But as you open your presents today, remember that there are gifts, and there are GIFTS: There is the gift of life. There is the gift of love. And then there’s this: “For the wages of sin is death; but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, KJV). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the GIFT of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV). “But the free GIFT is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the GIFT by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded unto many.” (Romans 5:15, NIV) “For God so loved the world that he GAVE his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, KJV) No matter where you are and no matter what your circumstances today, never forget that Christmas is not about toys or things. It’s about new life. And it’s about a new KIND of life. To me, eternal life is an attitude that not only transcends time and space but it begins here and now! I like to think it is what Gus McCrae meant in “Lonesome Dove”: “It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living. I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you LIVE.”

gift

This year, don’t limit Christmas gifts to a single day. Celebrate it all year long! Embrace life wherever you are. Live with an awareness of the gifts that matter. Don’t get so caught up in your new iPhone that you miss the greatest gift of all! Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Rhyme
Sing Hosanna, peace on earth! Celebrate the Savior’s birth!
As Angels sing, Rejoice with them! This baby, born in Bethlehem,
Made every earthly power shift, and offered us His matchless gift.
Give “Peace on earth” and spread “Good Cheer”! But tell me, if this isn’t clear:
Since Jesus showed that “God came near”, why celebrate just once a year?
In winter, summer, spring, and fall, open the greatest gift of all—
At home, abroad, at work or play—Celebrate Christmas every day!
Whenever you recall this rhyme: it’s Him, it’s you, it’s Christmas time!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Coincidence Disguised as History. History Connected by Coincidence

Most casual observers might say, “Wow, That’s a Really Amazing Coincidence!” I say it is something else…

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. 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.” (Luke 2:1-4 NIV)

Joseph was from Nazareth, not Bethlehem. Under normal circumstances, Jesus should have been born there at home in Nazareth, a relatively sleepy little village in Galilee. But a taxation decree from Caesar Augustus forced Joseph to take Mary from Galilee to Bethlehem, and it was there Jesus was born. Coincidence? This fulfilled a prediction written over 700 years before by the prophet Micah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrata, 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.” (Micah 5:2 NIV).

Look at a couple of things about these verses: First, the birth of Jesus was a REAL event that took place in a REAL location in the midst of REAL historical events. There was a census (you can look it up), and by coincidence Quirinius was actually a mid-level governor in Judea. (Scholars place his time of service and the Roman census both at around 6 AD, which helps to date the birth of Christ around that time.)

Second, because Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be registered, Jesus was born away from his childhood home. Since Jesus grew up in Nazareth, the Pharisees did not associate him later on with Bethlehem, and it was one of the things that bothered them about Jesus and kept them from seeing him as the Messiah. He wasn’t from the religious and cultural center of Jerusalem, and it diminished his importance in their eyes. In John 7:41-42 they argued about it: “But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?”

coincidence

The Pharisees (like Herod’s elders who consulted the Magi in Matthew 2) knew that the Messiah would come from the city of David, and their tribal knowledge presumed that Jesus grew up in Nazareth. What they didn’t realize was that, perhaps by coincidence, out of all the places in all of Judea, Joseph had to leave Galilee and travel with his pregnant wife to Bethlehem, and the timing had to be such that she delivered not at home in Nazareth but while staying briefly in the city of David. Pretty remarkable that a Roman decree moved Hebrew people around so that Joseph and Mary ended up in Bethlehem, the exact birthplace of the Messiah, which fulfilled Micah’s prediction from over 700 years before…

Besides that particular prophecy about his birth, the Hebrew Scriptures also predicted that Christ would: (1) be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14); (2) be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); (3) ride the foal of a donkey into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9); (4) be descended from David (Isaiah 9:7 and Jeremiah 23:5); (5) be “lifted up” and “marred beyond recognition” (Isaiah 52:13-14); (6) be crucified, as depicted in Psalm 22. Those are but a few of the Hebrew scriptures written hundreds of years before Jesus, predicting some of the things that would happen to or around him…
Remarkable? Yes. Coincidence? No.

You don’t think He created earth; you can’t believe the Virgin birth.
His parables and works were fine, but you don’t see him as divine.
Perhaps if you could look and see the Hebrew Scriptures’ prophecy,
You’d come to find it all makes sense: if it’s just ONE coincidence,
Then you could push him out of mind, or call me intellectually blind;
But search the Scriptures, and you’ll find
A dozen prophecies aligned with things that Christ would do.
So was he God? Or was it just a coincidence or two?
A dozen? No, I think I undershot,
since actually there really are a LOT–
Just take that Bible down from off the shelf,
And do some research. Look it up yourself!
Those prophecies from hundreds of years before;
I’ve quoted a few, but there are many more.
To many folks it doesn’t make much sense;
But I don’t think it was coincidence!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Nativity Scenes are Lovely; Could it Be that They Are All WRONG??

Here’s a Christmas news flash: Most Nativity Scenes are WRONG! It’s not a deal-breaker, but if you check the Scriptural accounts of the details around Jesus’ birth you’ll find that the traditional Nativity sets depict a scene that never occurred…

“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8, NIV) “And when they [the wise men] had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.” (Matthew 2:11, NIV)

I’ve always loved the nativity scenes, with the animals, shepherds and wise men gathered around the manger honoring the baby Jesus, while an angel hovers over the stable as Joseph and Mary look on… The problem is, that scene never happened. The traditional nativity scenes are based on a couple of different events that took place at least several months and possibly up to two years apart, each with a different location and set of players. I guess you could say that Nativity scenes are Cliff Notes’ representations that portray both events together… The only group who made it to the manger area out behind the inn when Jesus was born were the shepherds.

nativity

Interestingly, the place where the angels appeared to the shepherds is traditionally known as the “Tower of the Flock,” or Migdal Edar, which is very near Bethlehem. That pasture had a birthing place for lambs called the manger, and if that was where Mary delivered her baby, it creates some very interesting connections. The lambs born there and the animals kept there were likely sheep destined for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. It stands to reason that these Shepherds would have known a LOT about unblemished lambs and sacrifice. (Pretty thoughtful of God to connect those dots for us, isn’t it?) Once they got over their fright somewhere out in the Judean countryside, the shepherds did indeed stop by the manger in Bethlehem; but it was shortly AFTER being visited by an angel. (That angel, by the way, was joined by a host of other Angels who sang in celebration.) So, contrary to most Nativity scenes, it wasn’t a single angel, it was many; and the angel didn’t go into town with the Shepherds to the manger. It says in Luke 2:15 that the Angels “went back into heaven.” The shepherds went into town on their own, where they found “Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” They were pretty fired up when they realized that something pretty big was going on, and that they were part of it! Luke 2:20 says they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” The shepherds, it seems, have a lot in common with us. They are ordinary folks. They heard some really good news. They had a choice: ignore the news, stay out in the fields, and just go on with their lives as if nothing had happened; or they could believe the message, go and find out more about this baby, and meet him face to face. You have the same information the shepherds did, and the exact same choice. Something pretty big is going on. Be part of it.

Nativity scenes are quite profound,
With shepherds and Magi gathered ’round,
Adoring Jesus, meek and mild…
The angel greets this new-born child
With Mary and Joseph and all the rest.
But it doesn’t pass the Bible test!
Just look at the Nativity:
It isn’t accurate history,
And if you give it scrutiny
You’ll find it’s more of a summary.
And that’s ok, just get it right:
Some history was made that night
And all of those events occurred,
Just not the way you’ve always heard.
The shepherds on the hillside heard
The Angel speak his glorious word,
Then ran to town without delay
To where the baby Jesus lay.
That’s when the angels came to sing
Of Glory to the Newborn King!
The Magi visited later on,
So most Nativity scenes are wrong…
Before your nose gets out of joint,
I’m not being critical; here’s my point:
I’m not saying it’s kinda lame
That the Nativity scene is not the same;
The important thing is, Jesus came!
Although it may lack accuracy,
The scene at the Nativity has elements of history
Presented as a summary.
Nativity scenes may not be totally factual,
But Jesus came. That truth is totally actual.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Glorious: The Word of God was Made in the Likeness of Men

The Glorious Word, the Bible says, was made in the Likeness of Men… what does that mean? “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, KJV)

The Word, preexistent from the beginning, the creative force behind the universe, was made flesh. As Paul put it, Jesus “made himself of no reputation, took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men…” (Phil 2:7). And oh yeah, he was born like all men, tiny and fragile and vulnerable. He was helpless and hungry and had to be protected like any other baby. He cried, snuggled and nursed. He grew in wisdom and stature over time, in the manner of men, and created a new and unthinkable paradigm for the Creator: He became part of his own creation.

In what way do you suppose God is most glorious? You might expect God to be cosmic and majestic and distant, but instead he used his humanity as a vessel to dwell among us, to share our sorrows, our hopes, our emotions, our experience. Jesus had a personality. He hung out with friends. He went to parties and out to dinner! He smiled, laughed and told stories around the campfire out by the lake. He wept. He taught and healed among us, and rebuked those who made a mockery of his Father’s intentions.

Living in the midst of carnal, selfish men, he offered something we rarely see: he showed us that God is indeed glorious. He reflected wisdom and grace, and confounded people who expected him to be normal. It was not majestic physical glory or awesome splendor, it was God’s amazing glory transmitted in a smile or a Word. Have you had any glimpses of God’s glory lately?

We probably have some preconceived notions about glory that keep us from noticing it sometimes, or that cause us to miss it altogether. In Luke 2:9 the shepherds responded to heavenly glory much as any of us would: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Glory can be pretty overwhelming, and we probably most often think of it on an overwhelming cosmic scale. I know we see it in sunsets and mountaintop vistas, and when we gaze into the night skies, but it’s not often we see it literally in someone else. Take a minute to stop thinking of it in grandiose, majestic terms, and think of seeing it reflected in a person.

man glorious

When you think of God’s glorious grace, who do you think of? I know I think of my wife, Nancy, and the love and grace she has extended to me over the years; I see it in my children and grandchildren, who are to me living expressions of God’s love and hope for the future…I have seen it at church, moving chairs or rocking a baby in the nursery. I have seen it at Young Life camps, touching lives and offering glimpses of what’s to come. And I still see it in the Word of God, preserved for me in John’s marvelous narrative, reflected in Moses’ law, expounded upon in Paul’s amazing letters, and passionately expressed in David’s Psalms.

Have you looked into the Word of God lately; have you beheld his glory? Have you seen God’s glory reflected in a friend or family member? And by the way, did you notice something glorious this Christmas season among the Santa’s and the snowmen and all of the Christmas displays? You may have walked or driven right by it today! (HINT: it was tiny, and it was probably lying in a manger somewhere as Mary and Joseph hovered over it protectively…)

It’s more than what you’ve read, or heard.
Encounter this: the glorious Word,
The Bible, just not in a book,
But in a PERSON! Take a look
At all it says and you will see
Not Words, but personality.
It’s how he smiled, and where he walked,
What Jesus did, and how he talked;
It’s healing hands and promises kept,
It’s how he prayed, and when he wept…
The Word saw Adam’s fatal flaw,
The Word was Moses and the Law.
David praised the Word with song!
Paul presents Him, clear and strong,
The glorious word who came to earth
Disguised in a humble baby’s birth…
SO pay attention to this rhyme,
And look for Him this Christmastime.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Man Was the Word, The Word Was Man: The Perspective That Changes Everything

Yesterday we discussed John’s claim that the Word was God. Certainly that claim had universal and cosmic implications, but those subjects were already being debated in divinity schools… The word was far above man, pre-existent, eternal, ephemeral, the essence of the divine Godhead, mysterious and unknowable.

In verse 12, however, John seems to take a radically different tack, one that changed the game entirely. He claimed that the Word became a Man. He said: And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” It may seem crazy to some that a man claims to be god; it is even crazier to think that God would claim to be a man.

John’s insights about the “Word made flesh” (about Jesus) in his Gospel’s introduction are pretty compelling. Not only does he connect the dots to say that Jesus was God, and was preexistent from the beginning, he says “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3 NIV)

Since Jesus was not just a man, John illustrates what that means. As the Word, Jesus was the creative part of God’s personality. “God SAID, Let there be light, and there was light.” God spoke the universe into existence. Jesus was literally the Word who created this universe, the heavens, and this world…This is an area that I think we humans might have a hard time grasping in all of its implications, both spiritually and emotionally. As the preexistent creative personality of God, Jesus spoke, energized and framed the cosmos into existence. Colossians 1:17 says “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus, the word incarnate, came to earth as a mere man and lived upon the planet he had made.

man

The earth and all that had sprung from it were his creation, the expression of his creative power and intent. How do you think he sometimes felt, walking upon the very earth he had spoken into existence? Sitting under a tree to find protection from the sun he had made? Looking up and identifying the stars at night? Drinking cold water after a dusty walk? I’d bet that the strongest maternal instinct would pale in comparison to the intimacy Jesus felt with his creation…

And on the other side of that equation, do you think that fallen man’s mistreatment of it, and of each other, ever broke his heart? As he saw the selfishness, the cruelty, the tragedy in his world, do you think he ever thought, this is not what I intended? That I will do whatever it takes to fix this? (Hmmm, does he ever say that just looking into your heart?)

The Word made flesh—which is the Advent, which is Christmas—means that he came to earth and literally became part of his own creation to do something about it regardless of the immeasurable cost. We should live, then, as he intended. Perhaps it would help if we saw the world around us through His eyes, if we appreciated it with His love… It might help us to look beyond the commercial Capitalist Christmas or the selfish shopper who stole my parking space. This Christmas season, put on your Holiday glasses of grace and see the world the way its Creator saw it, the way he intended it to be. And while you’re at it, look at yourself the same way, with more than a mother’s matchless love. If you think Jesus loved his creation, then imagine how he feels about YOU. See? There really are good tidings of great joy at Christmas!

Of all the things that men have said,
The one that makes you scratch your head
Is John’s assertion that the Cosmic plan
Involves Almighty God becoming man.
How ludicrous that claim must be!
Why, any fool could clearly see
That God’s incredible, matchless worth
Would never limit itself to earth!
But if He did… what things would He must have felt!
What air he breathed! And when he stooped and knelt
To touch the grass, to break an earthen clod:
What did he think– the Word, Creator, God?
Surely he enjoyed what he had made–
A cold refreshing drink beneath the shade,
Laughter where the children ran and played;
The sunsets, with His handiwork displayed…
Surely he loved creation more than most;
He knew far better all that had been lost:
Knew its value, and He knew the cost.
He knew the covenants, knew they’d not been kept;
He stood above Jerusalem, and wept.
And then this God– this Galilean Jew
Gave up his life to rescue me. And you.
I wonder– the Bible never makes this clear–
Did He miss heaven more when he came down here,
Or after all He’d said, and seen, and done,
Did He miss us as much when He went home?

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Logos: A Quick Word About it Doesn’t Do It Justice

John said that the Word (logos) was God! Did anybody understand what he meant? Have you ever thought about what it means?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 NIV) Where Matthew and Luke provide historical and genealogical context for Jesus’ arrival, John’s gospel explores the theological implications… He starts his gospel by describing the Word in cosmic terms that transcend time and space, terms that offer no equivocation or apology.

The idea of the logos, or true word, had been floating around philosophical circles for several centuries. (You might stop and consider that it’s still a major concept even in our “modern” world–we currently use logo as the personification of a Brand, or a symbol that fully represents a product or company.) But back then, Heraclitus used the term as a principle for order and knowledge as early as 500 BC. Sophists like Aristotle used it to describe discourse, and Stoics believed it was “the divine animating principle pervading the universe”. Philo (20 BC-AD 50) was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher and contemporary of John’s who adopted it into Jewish philosophy.

It’s hard to adequately describe to 21st century America how dynamic and pervasive this connection really is linguistically, philosophically, or theologically, because logos is such a broad connective concept. Read simply as “the Word” in the English language, all of these uses and definitions fail to capture or describe the full breadth of meaning behind logos, which conveyed generative force and dynamic thought to first century users. John takes this word, however and gives it a unique application that changed and challenged everything.

John logos

He says in 1:14 that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” This connects Jesus to John’s opening sentence, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This is one of the most insightful and important sentences ever written. It provides cohesion and context for the Christ’s place in the Bible, and presents Jesus as the incarnate word who connects the Old Testament with the New.

Consider these connections: The Pentateuch opens with, “in the beginning, GOD…” So does John’s Gospel. Moses said, “God created”. So did the Word. In the Genesis account, God created through the word…” John says, “all things were made through” the logos.. (As an aside, when it comes to creation, I find it fascinating that adherents of a Big Bang theory can leap by assumption to a very complex set of conditions that are based on preexisting elements which were NOT recorded or observable. They contend that things happened randomly but exactly in a certain way at the beginning of all things—and they can hold this position in face of incredibly long odds in terms of actual probability—and then they can turn around and be critical of a hypothesis that rationally assumes a preexistent God, with creation and origin coming from the one who already existed in the beginning, and who expressed himself creatively. That kind of assumptive science is faith of a sort, at best; but it is scientific hypocrisy, at worst…)

John talks about the Word who was with God and who WAS God. The Greek syntax where John says “the Word was God” is such that the two parts are identical and interchangeable: the Word = God, and God = the Word.

There is no ambiguity about Jesus’ identity in either this statement or in the other Gospels… Matthew connects Jesus’ birth to the Messiah who had long been foretold. Luke connects Jesus to mankind by tracing his genealogy back to Adam, and John? Well, he connects Jesus to God. If those connections are correct, then Jesus wasn’t just a Jewish prophet, and he wasn’t just a good man: he was God. That’s not just a good word, it is THE Word. Always has been. Always will be.

The universe was not a bang or something that just occurred,
But cosmic energy released within the spoken word.
“In the beginning was The Word.” John said this long before
Eternity past created what the future holds, and more…
Eons can be relative, and time may seem to plod,
But the Word transcended time and space because the Word was God.
That Word, John said, became a man, and we beheld his glory,
His execution of the plan to tell redemption’s story.
Of all the things you’ve read and out of everything you’ve heard,
Consider this: the Word was God. And Jesus was the Word.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread