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)

So, Why Were People Disturbed?

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 new-born king… Naturally they went first to the current king in Jerusalem, Herod the Great. He was a king who had an impressive resume as an architect and builder. But he was a cruel man who was known for levying high taxes and pushing to complete his projects. He built a fabulous temple (in addition fortresses, the Port of Caesarea, and many other impressive architectural achievements). When the Magi arrived, Herod 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 engineering and architectural accomplishments can still be seen today at Caesarea, Masada, and Jerusalem. They are why he still known as “Herod the Great”.

real fortress

He had a long, tumultuous reign filled with treachery and murder. Herod not only executed his wife, Miriamne, 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).

Unintended Consequences

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?

More Than Meets the Eye

Dr. Duane Edward Spencer taught that 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. More likely it was a troop of famed Persian cavalry. It makes sense, since a few men carrying valuable gifts would have been easy prey for robbers. Besides, three guys on camels probably wouldn’t make a city tremble.

This is a real story about real people. It makes sense that men of this stature would not travel without protection. It is also reasonable 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. (And, starting with his devious and murderous intentions, a Herod played a role in Jesus’ birth and in his death.)

More Than One Herod

Herod the Great’s 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, back at 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. 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. He was a man so jealous of his throne that he killed his own mother-in-law, two sons, and his wife Miriamne, just to mention a few.

Killing little boys affected so few people in such an obscure village that historians did not find it newsworthy at the time. Or, they may have revised Herod’s biography to make him look a little better. Executing a few little boys would not have bothered Herod in the least, and he didn’t live long thereafter…) Real people. Real events. Know your history: Jesus was really actually part of it.

Real History. Real Talk.

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 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

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)

More Than Meets the Eye

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.

Details Matter

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
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

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).

A Very Creepy Christmas

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.

Spiritual War

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.

Start At The Top

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
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…

Just the Facts, Ma’am…

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… Therefore, the only group who made it to the manger area out behind the inn when Jesus was born were the shepherds.

nativity

Connecting the Dots

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. Migdal Edar was where lambs were prepared for sacrifice at the Temple. Therefore the sheep born there were set apart and sanctified according to Jewish law. 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?)

Second, 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(s) didn’t go into town with the Shepherds to the manger.

The Original Manger Scene

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.” Obviously, 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. And, as 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

If Bethlehem Was on the Bayou…

Imagine, if you will, that Bethlehem had been located on the bayou in Southern Louisiana. Let’s celebrate the birth of Jesus the way it might have been

De Bayou was cold, and de weather was hard,
And de Hound dogs an’ animals lay in the yard;
De crickets was chirpin’, an’ de bullfrogs dey sing,
Never suspecting the birth of a king.
From a beat-up pirogue stepped old Joseph an’ Mary,
And she was so pregnant dat, Man, it was scary!
At ol’ Thibodeaux’s Inn Dey knock on de do’,
But he said, “Dey’s no room, not even on de flo’.”
They turned, disappointed, But Thibodeaux said:
Jes’ wait you a moment—you can sleep in de shed!”
So Mary an’ Joseph went roun’ to the back,
Where they made up a bed in ol’ Thibodeaux’s shack.

Now, out on the bayou, some fishermen sat,
When dey saw such a bright light, dey wondered where dey at!
For, high up above them at the top of the trees,
Dey saw such a sight, dat dey fall on dere knees!
Ol’ Gaston, he say, “Whew—boy! I must be dyin’!
For over the Bayou, dose Angels be flyin’!”
“Fear not!” Said de Angels, “For we just came to say
Dat Jesus the king will be born here today!
Go to Thibodeaux’s Inn, aroun’ to de back,
And you’ll find the baby, asleep in de shack.”
So those fishermen pulled in their nets an’ their bugs,
And put up their line, an’ put down their jugs,
An’ paddled on over towards Thibodeaux’s place,
Where they could encounter de King face to face.

Now, meanwhile, dis same night, on de far side of town,
The three Chutney sisters had just settled down.
Now, the oldest was Grace, and the youngest was Sue,
An’ Evangeline, she was de middle one, too!
They all settled down for a midwinter’s sleep,
An’ were driftin’ off down where de slumber is deep,
When an angel appeared, and said, “Get outta bed,
And shake all dose cobwebs right outta your head!
Go out to de yard, an’ look high an’ look far,
And search de night sky for a bright shining star.
Jus’ you follow dat star all de way across town,
An’ you’ll find a place where a baby lays down,
In the shack in the back of ol’ Thibodeaux’s Inn…
An’ dis baby will save us from all of our sin!
So get up! Get a move on! An’ Give God the glory;
Go honor dat baby! An’ tell men the story
Of the fact God is with us!” Then dose angels left, blazin’
An’ then said her sisters an’ Grace: “That’s amazing!”

So the Chutney girls went out and followed the star,
till it led them downtown past Jerome’s grill & bar,
Till they came on to Thibodeaux’s , where dey saw the sight
Of the newborn king, who was just born dat night…
The fishermen came and had gathered around,
Just watchin’ the baby; no one made a sound,
Not even the houn’ dorgs who sat still & quiet:
Dis must be de king! Why, how could they deny it?

So up walked the Chutneys; in a straight line they filed
To the star that now rested right over the child;
Then Grace spoke up quietly: “I t’ink dat maybe
We ought to deliver our gifts to de baby.
We’re po’, but we brought out a couple of things,
That might help us worship the new king of kings.”

So Sue stepped on up, with a smile soft an’ sweet,
And she lay her best coat at the new baby’s feet.
She said, “Mary, I know that like me, you are broke,
So I hope you can use this as some kinda cloak,
That will give you some cover and keep you from harm,
And help you to keep our new king safe and warm.”

Evangeline came to de crib in de room,
And she said, “I have only my bestest perfume,
But I offer its fragrance, and hope it is able
To cover the smell of this musty old stable.”
And, finally, Grace said: “I feel sorry and sad
That we only can give him what little we had,
For I know that a king should have wealth—so I’m told,
And that Jesus deserves to be showered with gold.
So I give you this gift, and it makes me quite happy,
To give you dis watch that belonged to my pappy.”

As she lay the gold watch at the feet of the child,
Miss Chutney believed for a moment he smiled;
And the angels appeared, an’ were singing again:
“Let’s have peace on the earth, an’ Good will toward men!”
Gaston and his friends, they hitched up their pants,
and they grabbed all the Chutneys and’ started to dance!
And they ran through the town, and they sounded dey horn,
And dey tol’ ev’ry body dat Jesus was born!

From den on, all the Chutneys and fishermen said
They could never forget what was put in dere head,
Dat a king would be born, an’ his work would begin,
That would save ever body from all of dere sin.
After the Chutneys and Gaston had came,
De t’ings on the Bayou could not be the same.
An’ dat was the very first Christmas dat day,
Which caused all the folks on the Bayou to say,
From then on, “Laissez les Bon temps rouler!”

Well, friend… What about you when you hear of dis story,
Do you know of dis child? Do you know of his glory?
Do you hear what the angels proclaim as they sing?
Do you bring all you have to the feet of the king?
May you follow de star; may its light draw you near,
And may Christmas live in you t’roughout the whole year:
May you gaze on the child: as you look on his face,
May you say with Gaston: “That’s amazing, Grace.”

Copyright ©1997 by Bo Jackson
All rights reserved

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

Here at Christmastime we celebrate the arrival a baby in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Angels from heaven announced that his name was Immanuel, or “God With Us”. The Glorious Word, the Bible says, was made in the Likeness of Men… what does that mean? An eyewitness said, “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)

A Most Astounding Transaction

It was through His Word that God created all things (God said, “Let there be light.”). 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. The boy Jesus grew in wisdom and stature over time, in the manner of men. In so doing, he 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! (I think the television series “The Chosen” does a great job of portraying him in real life.) Jesus 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.

Define “Glorious”

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. Jesus demonstrated heavenly glory in an everyday world. 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. 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

Look Around…

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; It is reflected 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 and 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…)

Glory

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

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

The News Nobody Had Heard

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. In such cases, an announcement of a royal birth 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.

However, in Luke’s account about the new-born king, 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.

You Have to Question the Timing

It is easy to wonder, 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.”

Really, Shepherds?

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? They lived with a bunch of sheep! Consequently, those guys were loners, always out by themselves following sheep around. It was a humble job, far away from the limelight. Students of First Century culture 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 watched over the ceremonial flocks kept outside of Jerusalem near Bethlehem, full of unblemished lambs and goats destined for slaughter at the temple. Ironically, 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.

Telegraph, Telephone, Tell a Shepherd…

As a result, 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 did not have TV or the internet, but amazingly enough the shepherds’ story is still being told. Most folks in today’s modern media age can repeat it verbatim… 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.

The Message

There, on the hills near Bethlehem, our 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
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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
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

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
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

Not Your Average Genealogy. Not Your Average Result

The Bible is the story of the coming Messiah, but average person in 7 BC  certainly didn’t see THAT Coming! Heck, even the above average Bible scholars missed it, too! I mentioned recently that Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus was distinctly different than most Hebrew scholars would have expected. Here’s why:

The fact that Matthew’s genealogy included women was highly irregular in a patriarchal society. Since their inclusion was such an unusual thing to do, we are going to take a closer look at those women to see why on earth Matthew flaunted convention to mention their names…

Tamar was the first woman mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy, and has perhaps the most unusual story, from Genesis 38. She was a Canaanite woman married to Judah’s son Er, who died prematurely (it says the Lord ended his life because he was evil). In that culture, it was incredibly important to honor God by having offspring to carry on the family name.

Your average family today would have a hard time relating to what came next: Judah instructed Er’s brother Onan to fulfill his duty by impregnating Tamar. He had sex with her but stopped short of impregnating her. Apparently God took this very seriously, because He ended Onan’s life then and there. Judah had a young (remaining) son Shelah, but he didn’t want to risk him, so he sent Tamar home, hoping she’d forget all this and go away.

The young widow Tamar– alone, traumatized, used, rejected by Judah and his sons, separated now from Yahweh’s people, and mistreated in the eyes of the law — could have slunk home and into obscurity. But she apparently wanted God’s blessing and favor so much that she’d do anything to get it.

average

So she veiled herself, posed as a prostitute, and got Judah to stop while traveling and have sex with her. Apparently it was not unusual for an average guy to take a “rest stop” while traveling. Because she was veiled, he did not recognize her, and she required him to leave his ring, his corded belt and his staff as payment. (I said it was an unusual story).
Normally for her to act as a prostitute would be punishable by death. But Tamar’s motives were pure, and in this circumstance she was acting to fulfill God’s law and honor God’s intent. Upon being found pregnant, she revealed her actions to Judah: “As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again. (Genesis 38:25-26 NIV)
Tamar was restored to honor, and her son Perez is listed among Jesus’ forefathers. Long story to say this: by including women at all, Matthew has broken more than just traditional genealogical lines. He has served notice that the coming Messiah is not necessarily what the Elders expected. His lineage not only involved a woman, but a NON HEBREW woman. It was not a random, pristine royal birth, but an incredibly complex series of events, woven into a human history replete with evil men and messy circumstances. God’s preparation for the coming one was amazing in its details and astounding in its intent. This Jesus, born in Bethlehem, did not have your “average” genealogy. But then, he was not your “average” guy.

Tamar

This story in the Bible has me just a bit confused;
It seems to be about a girl who’s sexually abused.
There’s cheating and betrayal, there is intrigue and there’s lying;
Men are out on business trips with hookers! Men are dying,
And this story’s in the BIBLE! The Messiah’s family tree!
The Bible says some stuff that I just didn’t expect to see!
It’s honest and it’s real, and I believe it must be true;
I wonder, when you read, what does the Bible say to YOU?

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