Coincidence Disguised as History. History Connected by Coincidence

Most casual observers might assess series of events and say, “Wow, That’s a Really Amazing Coincidence!” In fact, anyone looking at the birth of Jesus would have to admit there were some surprising coincidences that took place. I would submit that there is something more to it than that…

“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–a coincidence, you might say– 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.

Coincidence

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
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Magi: There’s a Reason why They call Them the “Wise Men”

“After they [ the Magi ] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:9-12, NIV)

Most Nativity scenes show three wise men at the manger, and Christmas lore is rich with images of and legends about them. The Magi are a fascinating part of the Christmas story, with their camels and trappings and gifts, and they deserve some study because of their place in the series of events spoken of in Matthew. They are mysterious figures, thought by some to be kings of Persia, or possibly Zoroastrian priests who studied the stars as part of their religion.

It has also been suggested that perhaps they descended from Jews who had been exiled to Persia but rose to positions of prominence, (think: Daniel, or perhaps Esther and Mordecai) That possibility seems logical because it might explain their familiarity with OT prophecy about the Messiah.

They also seem to be ancient amateur astronomers, but consider this: We sometimes forget that the ancients had clearer views of the night skies than we do (no city lights to cloud their view), and plenty of time on their hands (no sitcoms or prime time TV to distract them). The average shepherd probably knew as much about the position and movement of the heavens as some current astronomers do, and the Magi grew up studying the stars religiously.

Here are a few quick trivia facts about them: 1. Nowhere does the Bible mention only 3 three wise men; it explicitly mentions three gifts, brought by Magi.

2. It is highly unlikely that there were three guys traveling alone through the desert on camels. With gifts of such value, there had to be a group large enough to protect itself, and they probably had some soldiers or cavalry with them… (That might be why Matthew says “Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him”. A large party of armed men made folks nervous in those days.)

real magi

3. They didn’t make it to the manger. At the time of Christ’s birth, they were probably approaching Jerusalem to talk to Herod.

4. Lots of folks have tried to associate the star with a known astronomical event, and there may have been one initially; but at the end, since the star rose and led them to the child, it is likely that it was a unique manifestation, such as God’s radiance in the Shekinah, that provided guidance for the last leg of their journey.

5. They saw not a baby, but a young child (clear difference in the original Greek), and came to a house, not a stable. Jesus was weeks if not months old when they presented their gifts…

6. The tradition of our Christmas gift giving comes at least partially from the gifts of the Magi. Like them, we should bring what we have and lay it at the feet of Jesus!

7. Joseph isn’t mentioned here, which doesn’t mean he wasn’t around, just that he wasn’t mentioned. (He is around later when Jesus is 12 and they find him teaching in the temple, but that is our last Biblical reference to Joseph).-

Finally, after seeing the young boy and worshipping him, they returned home by another route. My BSU Director Glen Norris used to teach the version of the Bible that said, “They went home another way.” He always maintained that anyone who really meets Jesus, and truly worships Him, will be fundamentally changed by that experience, and go home “another way”. So the wise men not only took another route, they became different types of men, fulfilled by faith and encouraged by events. As result, they went home with new perspective, new motivation, and new direction. My Christmas and New Year’s prayer is that our world could open the true gift of Christmas and do the same thing. As you reflect on the origins of Christmas, may you, too, be wise…

(Even though the Magi may have been accompanied by cavalry, there were probably some camels along, and it is entirely possible that the tradition of camel transport still makes sense. So that is where this poem came from…Not necessarily historically accurate, but I like the idea)

The Camel
Slow he rises! Hideous, hairy: hollowly he plods his course,
His hump-backed and misshapen body carries its express remorse.
Glaring eyes with bushy eyebrows–stinking, spitting ugly beast!
Of all mankind’s domestic creatures, he must be the very least.
Men for centuries have mocked him: used, abused him without care–
Silently he bears their scorn, ungainly walks the earth aware
Of comfort in his secret: “Fools! These men will never know
That once I heard the baby’s cry, saw where the star did go,
And brought my Magi bearing gifts, and watched them bowing low.”

 

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

It’s that time of year that we leave Christmas behind, isn’t it? Gifts have been unwrapped (and exchanged), gift cards have been redeemed, and we are putting away Christmas lights and decorations until next year… Here’s the thing: don’t stop celebrating the season when the season is over!

When you think about it, for many of us Christmas was 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 was your favorite this year?

gift

We give each Holiday season to 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 start enjoying the presents you received on Christmas, 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 a new history being made. 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 new 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?
Don’t take your faith from Christmas nights and pack it away with the Christmas lights!
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
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Herod May Have Been Great, But Here’s Something Else: He’s Really Obviously Depraved

“When [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ (Matthew 2:4-6, NIV).

Herod acted like he was helping these wise men from the East, but he was actually trying to use them for his own ends. Probably because of his declining health, Herod stayed and sent them to find out where the Christ was located so that he could then eliminate this new threat to his throne.

We’ll look at the Wise Men a little closer tomorrow. But, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18, NIV). This is when the birth of Jesus started getting REAL, ya’ll.

Herod

Herod murdered a bunch of young boys in Bethlehem, just playing the odds and assuming that he would catch this newborn king among them. He chose to kill all boys two years and under to spread a wider net because some time had passed since he sent the Magi to Bethlehem and then waited for their return, so he wanted to make sure he got the would-be Messiah. That means a number of babies were killed senselessly in his attempt to eliminate the threat to his power.

Reliable estimates suggest anywhere from six to twenty children would have been murdered by Herod’s men. (Hmm, I wonder if these men covered their identities and wielded swords.) This despicable act—not so different from some of the things we read about in the paper today—became known as “the slaughter of the innocents”, and has been questioned by historians because it was not widely mentioned in extra-Biblical sources.

However, historian R. T. France, addressing the story’s absence in “Antiquities of the Jews”, argues that “the murder of a few infants in a small village [is] not on a scale to match the more spectacular assassinations recorded by Josephus”. After all, Herod killed people who were well-known in Jerusalem—including his wife, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and three of his own sons—so the act of killing a few unknown infants out in a small village may not have been front page news at the time… This event is still today one of the main things we remember about Herod the Great—and one of the great tragedies connected with the birth of Jesus. Yes, his birth is good news, tidings of great joy; but that good news still comes to a fallen world full of people who need to hear about God’s love.

Amazingly enough, a little baby who could save the world and who would teach nothing but love had evil and implacable foes, men who would kill rather than acknowledge him. I’ve always felt like the persistent hatred and vitriol about Christ (don’t people use his name to swear?) actually validates his identity. If he was just a passing nobody, he would have been forgotten long ago, as forgotten as the Scribes and Pharisees who argued with him in the temple. The fact that so many folks from both now and then resist him so vehemently makes me think that there are larger spiritual stakes involved, and that he must have been something more than a pretty good rabbi.

There was passionate resistance against Jesus, enemies who would twist words and commit murder to keep him from fulfilling his mission. There were men who bristled at the very name of Jesus, who didn’t want it mentioned or valued. Amazingly enough, there still are! Have you ever why so much hate is directed at a man who taught nothing but love? Why his very name is used as a curse word? This Christmas season, people here in America are demanding that manger scenes be removed, and that Christ be taken out of Christmas. Apparently there are still people who don’t want to allow him to be king… After all these years, men are still trying to eliminate the baby Jesus. Some things, it seems, never change…

Herod’s Boast

The winter had been hard; so when they showed up at the gate,
Armed to the teeth and sitting horse, of course I made them wait.
Their coming caught us all off guard. And yet they brought that news,
Something about a star they’d seen, and a new king of the Jews…
My counselors confirmed the Scriptures also contained some clues:
The rumor was, a king would rise somewhere in Bethlehem;
I must admit my humor was not the best it’s ever been,
Confronted with these Magi and their horses, and their men…
But I kept my composure, sent them out, told them to bring
Me any information they could find about this king–
This tiny new usurper who would dare to steal my throne!
My family learned when they could not leave well enough alone,
That Herod is not pleased with other applicants to his court:
I’ll see to it this infant’s reign–just like his life–is short.
This little king, his family and all the world will learn
How Herod treats his rivals, when the Wise Men all return…

 

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
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Decisions, decisions: This Christmas Business was Tougher than you Think

Before and after Jesus was born, Joseph had some tough decisions to make. In our previous post we discussed the decision to flee from Bethlehem to go all the way to Egypt. Imagine Joseph and Mary in Egypt, away from friends and family, forced to become refugees in a strange land. Then this: “After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

“So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:19-23 NIV)

Joseph’s relationship with God was not limited to the pre-Advent announcement about his first son. Obviously, he had to deal with issues that were beyond the scope of most typical First-century Jewish husbands and fathers, and he had to make some tough decisions. He had to deal with 1) a bride who was pregnant before the wedding; 2) the messengers of God coming to him with directions; 3) a pretty dicey political situation, what with the local king trying to kill his son and all; and yeah, 4) he had to make some pretty difficult travel arrangements under adverse circumstances.

decisions

On top of all of that, he and Mary also had to decide where to live and how to raise the Son of God who had been placed under their care. There was no Century 21 office to advise them, and I’m sure buying a home was not easy in their circumstances. They still had to evaluate neighborhoods and make assessments about what was happening and where to settle geographically so that the Christ child would be safe.

I think it’s interesting that, even under the protection of the Most High, Joseph and Mary still had to make decisions about where to go; they still had to take action to be obedient. They had been warned of Herod’s treachery and had to get up at night and escape to Egypt, to live among strangers in a strange land. It doesn’t say they were told HOW to do those things. They were certainly vulnerable and in danger, but they trusted God and responded to His word. I’m sure that those weeks were lonely and fearful, and that there were moments of doubt and uncertainty for the young couple as they began their life together.

Perhaps there is something in their story for us. A walk with God is not a magical Union that takes place in spiritual realms; it is a journey through hard times in an uncertain world where bad things can happen. I think it’s instructive that Mary and Joseph 1) listened to God’s word to them; 2) made decisions based on what He said; and 3) demonstrated obedience to God by acting upon his instruction. You think maybe we could learn from that? If it worked for Joseph and Mary, maybe it would work for us.

The Honeymoon (Joseph’s View)

I hope these dreams are whose they say they are;
We’ve left our family, and we’ve traveled far
To live down here in Egypt. It’s been rough,
(As if this birth had not been hard enough!)
So now we have to take a different tack;
The angel says that we should travel back!
Judea isn’t safe; so, where to go?
I guess when we get closer, we will know…
But Mary is amazing. We will make it,
And if God has some more advice, we’ll take it.
We are strangers living in this land–
Something that I never would have planned–
But we have both obeyed the Lord’s command:
So in Him we will trust, and take our stand.

 

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
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Christmas Untold: The REST of the Story of Fear, Flight and Faith

After you have celebrated the Nativity scene, the angels’ announcement, and the birth of Jesus, it is time to consider what Christmas was all about for Mary and Joseph.
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:12-15, NIV).

The Christmas story doesn’t end with the Nativity. It begins there. For Joseph and Mary, it meant a hasty departure under cover of darkness to a strange land. It meant hard travel in open country with a young mother and an infant whom Herod was seeking to kill…

Come to think of it, it had to be a scary trip, maybe the scariest road trip experience of all time. Yes, there was an aging and jealous king trying to eliminate a potential threat to his throne, but it wasn’t just Herod who wanted the baby dead. Paul reminded us in Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places…”

Christmas

It was not only Herod, but every dark power in this world had to be uneasy, sensing this sudden goodness which was now present on planet earth. Surely every evil force could feel a shudder of its own death knell, and stirred blindly and restlessly, reacting with vague disquiet against God’s work in the world. Against a creepier background than any horror film could conjure up, Joseph took his little family in the dead of night and set out for Egypt.

Behind the holy family, Bethlehem was about to experience the slaughter of the innocents; before them lay a long and uncertain journey to Egypt. Satan has never been omniscient, or surely he would have known who this baby was in advance, and ended the Christmas story at the manger… But the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of evil.

Undoubtedly, throughout the millennia Satan had anticipating the arrival of a coming king, and was ready to do battle with God’s royal emissary and savior; perhaps, like the Pharisees, he was looking for a majestic, powerful king who would come heralded in glory, ready to fight the Romans. After all, that was how power asserted itself in his domain, so the logical thing would be to sow corruption and evil wherever men wielded it.

Satan certainly worked hard in the courts of both Judean kings and Roman emperors (and most royal houses throughout history), using ego and treachery to corrupt and contaminate almost everyone who attained a position of strength. Winston Churchill, who was a pretty astute chronicler of history, said “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The devil has been pretty effective at corrupting leaders (he’s still doing it today, even in our hallowed Republic), but Satan did not foresee God’s unusual plan. God chose weakness to confound strength. He heralded not a military kingdom but a spiritual one. Against all logic, He sent humility to oppose power. God chose a frail baby in all humility to end an evil empire based on selfishness and pride; and He sent Jesus to begin a new kingdom based on peace and love. And guess where it starts, the week after Christmas? Look no further than your own heart…

Just like the Holy family, you too are on a journey facing uncertainty and choices. There is a selfish, grasping evil that wants you to fail; yet there is a humble, loving Savior who wants you to succeed. As you consider Christmas and all that really happened around the birth of Christ, remember why he came and the person to whom it matters the most: YOU.

Christmas Mayhem

Forced to flee in the dead of night,
Joseph had disturbing dreams
Which warned him that they must take flight
From Herod’s mad and murderous schemes.
Commanded by his jealous word,
Assassins through their village crept,
And performed their duties undeterred
As mothers wailed and fathers wept.
But Herod’s minions missed the mark,
As Joseph took his wife and infant son
Traveling hard to safety in the dark:
Their long and dangerous journey had begun.
And every evil power on this earth
Was restless as it sensed this new-born king,
Uneasy since the announcement and the birth,
Uncertain of the changes it would bring.
The powers of darkness felt the child’s great good,
Felt the Spirit around him as it flowed,
And stirred to end this danger, if they could,
From the family alone, out on the open road…

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
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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. And yet Jesus often referred to himself as the Son of Man, a prophetic reference from Ezekiel.

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 identifies Jesus as the Creator: “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.

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…

man

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 and in this coming New Year, 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!

The Son of Man

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
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Unbelievable: The Woman Who Believed In a Preposterous Message

Luke’s narrative about Mary’s conversation with Gabriel described her reaction to some unbelievable news. If you think about it, there is much to learn from Mary’s response to God’s messenger. (And BTW, the Greek word for angel is anggelos, or messenger—simply put, a courier who brings a message, or a word from someone else).

In Mary’s case, she was clearly being given direction from God, and like any of us she could have said, “No”. I guess it’s conceivable that she could have fought against it or rebelled against such a life-changing commission; but she didn’t. In fact, that option is always available to us, isn’t it? Perhaps YOU have heard a message from God yourself lately, or even read one on your own somewhere…Maybe even HERE, reading this: How did you react to it? Was it too unbelievable to believe? I know a lot of people find the virgin birth to be unbelievable. Mary wasn’t one of them.

unbelievable

After she heard what Gabriel had to say, she said, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” His word was this: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33, NIV)

Basically, Gabriel brought a word from God, quoting the word of God about the Word of God, and Mary (and Joseph as well) had absolute faith in the message. She affirmed it verbally, and then she lived it obediently. It may have seemed unbelievable on the surface, but Mary believed it and accepted it.

The first-born son was not going to be Bar-Joseph according to custom, but was to be given a name indicative of who he was (a big concession by Joseph, which lends credence to the unusual nature of the Angel’s announcement). Jesus is a shortened form of Joshua, derived from Jehoshuah, which in the Hebrew means “Jehovah is salvation.” Gabriel points to Isaiah 9:6-7, which says “unto us a son is born”, and refers to God’s promise of an eternal throne to David’s line in 2 Samuel 7:12-14.

As Mary listened to his message, she undoubtedly found comfort in the fact that this birth had been foretold…There are in fact over 400 references in the Old Testament that are prophesies connected to Jesus’ birth, life and death. (You can Google that!) They are like hundreds of threads woven in to the Old Testament out of all space and time to create a tapestry of hope, pointing towards Jesus of Nazareth. The authors (Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah) wrote independently and without any way of knowing the timing, the person, or the outcome of their books– but their words connected the dots between God’s covenant people and the promised Redeemer.

Let’s say you’re skeptical about that, or just don’t think all four hundred plus prophecies really apply… Maybe that seems unbelievable to you. Even if some of them are a bit of a stretch, or if some of them are hard to connect—let’s say we throw out half of them—wouldn’t you think that someone whose birth and life were foretold by a couple of hundred predictions from centuries before would justify some serious thought?

Those writers certainly didn’t know who Jesus was going to be, or when he would be born, but there were too many uncannily accurate prophecies about Jesus’ arrival to easily dismiss. From the Tribe of Judah. (Micah 5:2) From Jesse’s family (Isaiah 11:1) and David’s line (Jeremiah 23:5-6). Announced by a messenger (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1). Preceded by a star (Numbers 24:17). Born of a Virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Called Immanuel (God with us) (Isaiah 7:14). Weeping in Ramah (Jeremiah 31:15). Flight to Egypt (Hosea 11:1). He would be worshipped and presented gifts by kings (Psalm 72:10).

Consider this: there is NO other historical figure (including Mohammed and Buddha) whose coming was foretold in such volume and detail, so far in advance. No. One. Since the angel was pretty specific in mentioning these OT quotes in his message to Mary, they at least bear some consideration relative to who Jesus was.

Ok, so why am I talking about the messenger, and the message to Mary? Because when Gabriel made his announcement to her, it was also a message to everyone who would come after. It was a message to me. It was a message to you as well. It seems we all have the same choice before us that Mary had: we can believe the word of the messenger, and then live differently because of it; or we can dismiss it, and go on as if nothing had happened. I think something happened. If Gabriel’s word was fulfilled, as Mary hoped and affirmed, then it’s worth looking into.

The Angel and the Virgin

What Gabriel said to Mary must have scared her through and through;
As unbelievable as it seemed, the picture that he drew
Affected Mary’s very life! But she did what she needed to.
Well, what if Gabriel’s message, then, was also meant for YOU?
What about the prophecy and things that men foreknew?
Would it change anything if you believed that it was true?

 

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

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…

Luke describes this pastoral scene, out in the fields: “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8, NIV) Matthew, though, refers to the wise men here: “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, since they were usually guarding lambs who were on their way to be sacrificed at the Temple. (Pretty thoughtful of God to connect those dots for us, isn’t it?)

Luke says the angel appeared to the shepherds out in the fields. 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 Relativity

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

Merit Doesn’t Save You and Mistakes Don’t Condemn You: Christmas News Worth Reading

This genealogy we’ve been following proves that the salvation brought by Jesus as the Messiah is not a Merit System…

The fourth woman named in Matthew’s genealogy isn’t really ever named outright, but we know who she is. He says, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” (Matt 1:6) Out of all the royal wives in Israel’s history, Bathsheba was always connected to Israel’s greatest king, and to the king’s greatest sin—and yet it was she who was chosen to carry the line of the Messiah. Based on her reputation, she doesn’t seem to merit inclusion into Christ’s genealogy. (After all, she motivated David to commit adultery and murder, didn’t she?)

Perhaps her name was so tarnished that Matthew couldn’t bring himself to say it. Perhaps, unlike a Ruth or a Rahab, she was unworthy somehow. (This is another one of those accurate details that a more polished narrative would have glossed over somehow. Unlike in today’s politics, the Bible keeps telling the truth when a lie would work so much better…) David had other sons by other wives, and yet Bathsheba’s son Solomon bore the royal lineage. Why did God choose her and him?

merit

Two things: first, Bathsheba was more than just a pretty face. She was apparently a pretty shrewd player in palace politics. When Adonijah (not her son) proclaimed himself to be king, she risked her own life to present her case to the aged and infirm King David: “Bathsheba bowed down, prostrating herself before the king. “What is it you want?” the king asked. She said to him, “My lord, you yourself swore to me your servant by the Lord your God: ‘Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne.’ But now Adonijah has become king, and you, my lord the king, do not know about it.” (1 Kings 1:16-18 NIV)

Bathsheba brought in the powerful prophet Nathan as an ally, and David confirmed his oath to make Solomon King. Without her brazen resolve, who knows if Solomon would have gained the throne? Or lived another day? In the midst of dangerous and volatile circumstances, she asked the king to keep his promises. Perhaps that is something all of us should do… Next time you are in difficult circumstance, prostrate yourself before the King and ask for His promises! If you ask the right kind of king, I bet you get the right kind of response…

Second, I am kinda glad that someone who was connected to such terrible and far-reaching mistakes (David and Bathsheba aren’t the only ones in the genealogy who qualify, by the way) still made this list. It’s not a merit system. The Messiah does not judge you by your mistakes or even your merit. Smack in the middle of a legalistic and self-righteous world of religious intolerance, God brought a Messiah who saved people from sin, rather than merely condemning them for it.

If you have been less than perfect, if you have committed egregious errors, and even if your mistakes have had gut-wrenching and far-reaching consequences, take heart. Jesus understands that stuff because it’s all over the place in his family tree. And he said this: “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13 NIV) Good Christmas news for Bathsheba and David. Good news for Solomon. And very good news for us.

The Good News: God Can Use Sinners

A man of passion, power and might,
The jaded king would find the sight
Of a naked beauty he did not know
An utterly enticing show…
So David called Bathsheba in;
Temptation led to secret sin:
Clandestine meetings, broken trust
And finally, to murderous lust!
And yet these sins, and this disgrace
Did not prevent unfailing Grace,
Or let this evil undermine
The course of the Messiah’s line…
If you look through it, you can see
In Matthew’s genealogy
Imperfect folks like you and me.
From sinners, God made history!
From folks who knew of sin and shame,
The heavenly Messiah came!
Perfection, this Bathsheba missed:
But by God’s Grace, she made this list.
Though Matthew doesn’t say her name,
The world through her would never be the same.

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