The Real Jesus

Matthew is one of only two gospel writers to mention the birth narrative.  He wrote to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah of old.  He included details that were pregnant with Jewish prophecy. Luke wrote his gospel account via careful investigation and eyewitness testimonies (Luke 1:1-4). Church tradition maintains that the story of the nativity in Luke came directly from Mary’s remembrances, which is why his gospel is rich with the details of the event. Mothers remember everything about their children’s birth. It’s interesting to me that Luke, writing from Mary’s perspective wrote about lowly shepherds who visited the holy family in the mean stable, while Matthew wrote about wise men – probably wealthy Persian kings – who followed the star to worship the then-toddler.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew reaches back to Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, and identified David, the chosen king of Israel. Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage back to “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:37). Matthew wanted to show Jesus as the rightful King of the Jews.  Luke wanted to show Him as the God-Man, who lived and died in humility among humanity. So was Jesus a King or a common man? Yes and yes. To have a full understanding of Him, we must see Him as both. And as more.

He is the Baby in the manger. He is the itinerant preacher. He is the dead man on the cross. He is the risen Lord. He is the Son of God, seated at the Father’s right hand. He is the Redeemer of the world. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the one who is, was, and is to come. He is part of the Triune Godhead. He is the soon-coming King. He is the Victor who crushed Satan’s head. And He is my Savior. Is He yours?

Why Christmas Belongs to Shepherds – and to You.

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I remember an evangelist who told the story of being in the Miami, Florida area to do a revival.  He and the local pastor were driving around inviting people to the revival and witnessing to anyone who would listen.  They found themselves in a very affluent neighborhood with massive houses and expensive cars.  They spied a man out in his front yard and stopped to visit.  After speaking to him of the need for salvation, the man spread his arms in a grand gesture of all that he owned and said, “Saved from what?”  Then he dismissed them with a laugh. That man was Jackie Gleason – famed radio, television, and movie star. 

Perhaps that is why the angels came to lowly shepherds rather than the kings and religious leaders of the day.  People who think they have everything also think they have no need of a Savior. They have so much wealth or power or acclaim that they have no room for faith. Shepherds, especially at the time of Jesus’ birth, were the lowest of the low.  Scholars tell us that these shepherds were likely watching over sheep that would be used in the Passover sacrifice.  Their job was nasty, smelly, grueling, and demeaning.  But they were humble because of their lowly position.  These shepherds were just the kind of people God was looking for – people who would receive the Good News with faith. 

The Bible tells us that when the shepherds heard the angel’s announcement, they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15).  They believed the message and set out to find the baby – not because they wanted proof of what the angels said, but because they had faith that it was true.  And when their eyes saw what their hearts believed, they couldn’t help but “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (v. 17)

Do you have faith Beloved?  Do you believe that what God said about the Baby in the manger is true?  Then you can also have faith that this Child is your Savior, your Redeemer, your Hope and Peace, and Joy.  Have faith in what God has done and you will see what your heart believes.

True Seekers

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You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12

Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell, was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on judgment day and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” He replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’”

On the night of Jesus’ birth, God announced the way for those who would accept it and seek this blessed Child. Luke’s account includes the angel who told them exactly where to find this Baby – “in the town of David” (Luke 2:11) and how they would recognize Him – “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12).  They responded to God’s revelation – “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see . . .” (v. 15). They were determined to follow the evidence that God has given to them.

Matthew records literal heavenly proof of Jesus’ birth as the Magi declared “We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). “The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v. 9). God not only gave directions, He led the way with a star in the sky. They were overjoyed – they sought the King and their search was rewarded.

There is another path that God has provided for man to find his Creator. That path leads up a hill in Jerusalem, to Calvary, and the Cross. God made this way clear and unmistakable when He covered that path with the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus. He has declared that this is the way to find Him – the only way. To all who will accept it, God has promised not only to reveal Himself but to claim the seeking soul as His own.

The difference between Bertrand Russell and the shepherds and wise men and those who believe is that they want to find God. He receives all who seek Him with a heart to believe. Remember what He said – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”. (Jeremiah 29:13). Beloved, what – or Whom – are you seeking this Christmas?

Mary’s Little Baby Boy

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To watch a child sleeping is to see the sweet face of innocence. Their eyes are closed to the world; mouth in soft repose as a tranquil, near-holy hush settles over their whole being. They say that when a baby smiles in his sleep, he has been kissed by an angel. If that is true—and why would we doubt it—the Infant Jesus must have smiled the whole night through. This Child was loved and adored on earth and in heaven.

Every baby brings a sense of promise to his family. Mother and father have dreams in their hearts of who this child will be—a doctor, a teacher, a missionary, or a dancer, perhaps even a leader who will one day change the world. One mother knew that her baby indeed would. One mother held the true Child of Promise for all mankind, the Messiah who would bring peace on earth.

Oh, He looked like any other baby lying there in her arms, small, helpless, and beautiful. He cried like other babies. He needed to be fed and changed like other babies. But she had heard the angel say that her child would be the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Joseph said that the angel had come to him too, and told him that this Child “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Her cousin Elizabeth had declared “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:43). And what about the shepherds that came from the fields with a wild and glorious story of singing angels (Luke 2:8-18)? It is any wonder that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19)?

To the rest of the world, it was just another night. To anyone who might have come upon the stable, he was just another baby. But a young mother—and all of heaven knew—peace had come to the earth, wrapped in rough cloths, sleeping in a manger.

Big News!

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“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 . . . “I bring you good news of great joy . . .” (Luke 1:8,9,10).

We love to make a big deal out of big news. The latest trends in parenting are to make a special announcement – complete with a professional photoshoot – that a baby is on the way and then have a “gender reveal” party to announce whether said baby is a boy or girl. Celebrity pregnancies and births become media frenzies, and when a royal baby is born the entire country celebrates. Yet when the King of the Universe came to earth as a human baby, the big announcement was surprisingly held out of the limelight. Oh, there was an important announcer but it wasn’t the High Priest, it was one of God’s angels. And it wasn’t told to the royal court nor the religious elite. Humble shepherds were the first to hear the “good news of great joy.” There was a glorious choir – “a great host” of heavenly angels who sang the first Christmas carol. But the chief musicians of the temple weren’t there. No reporters or television crews covered this birth. The only witnesses were cows and sheep and perhaps a goat or two.

That is one aspect of the Christmas story that I truly love. God-in-flesh came in the most humble fashion, to the most humble parents, in the most humble place, and the big reveal was made to the most humble folks in Judea. I love that because it means that Jesus came for people like you and me – everyday folks with no important position or high standing or impressive title. He will receive the wealthy and the poor, the learned and the simple, the known and the unknown. Men and women, boys and girls, saints and sinners. All are welcome to worship at the manger.

Come to the stable Beloved – you won’t be turned away. There is room in that tiny space for the whole world.

Why Christmas Belongs to Shepherds not Kings

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I remember an old evangelist who told the story of being in the Miami, Florida area to do a revival. He and the local pastor were driving around inviting people to the revival and witnessing to anyone who would listen. They found themselves in a very affluent neighborhood with massive houses and expensive cars. They spied a man out in his front yard and stopped to visit. After speaking to him of his need for salvation, the man spread his arms in a grand gesture of all that he owned and said, “Saved from what?” Then he dismissed them with a laugh. That man was Jackie Gleason – famed radio, television and movie star.

Perhaps that is why the angels came to lowly shepherds rather than the kings and religious leaders of the day. People who think they have everything also think they have no need of a Savior. They have so much wealth or power or acclaim that they have no room for faith – which is this week’s Advent focus. Shepherds, especially at the time of Jesus’ birth, were the lowest of the low. Scholars tell us that these shepherds were likely watching over sheep that would be used in the sacrifices at the Temple, especially the Passover sacrifice. Their job was nasty, smelly, grueling and demeaning. But they were humble because of their lowly position. These shepherds were just the kind of people God was looking for – people who would receive the Good News with faith.

The Bible tells us that when the shepherds heard the angel’s announcement, they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15). They believed the message and set out to find the baby – not because they wanted proof of what the angels said, but because they had faith that it was true. And when their eyes saw what their hearts believed, they couldn’t help but “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (v. 17)

Do you have faith Beloved? Do you believe that what God said about the Baby in the manger is true? Then you can also have faith that this Child is your Savior, your Redeemer, your Hope and Peace, and Joy. Have faith in what God has done and you will see what your heart believes.

Is This Really Christmas? – First Day of Advent 2019

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Thanksgiving night, after feasting with family, we fell into our chairs in front of the television in a tryptophan-stupor. My husband found “The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration” on T.V. The show featured multiple popular entertainers singing traditional and not so traditional Christmas songs. There were huge studio audiences in both U.S. locations, with singers, dancers, and of course, Mickey and Minnie Mouse – and I couldn’t help but think how different this “Christmas” celebration was from that holy night.

The Disney parks were packed with people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, squeezing in as close to the stage as they could get. The little town of Bethlehem was packed too, so much so that a young couple, she very heavy with child, could only find lodging in a stable – little more than a cave (Luke 2:16). The parks were awash with dancing lights and fireworks. The man and woman greeted their first-born child in the dark cavern they shared with the animals. The singers for the program were introduced to the adoring crowds with much fanfare by the emcees. The birth of Jesus was announced by a host of angels to lowly shepherds watching over their sheep in the Judean hillside (v. 8). The singers sang such Christmas classics as “Santa Baby,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Deck the Halls.” The angel chorus sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men” (v. 14). The fans screamed and applauded as their favorite stars in glittery costumes sang and danced. The shepherds were awe-struck by the child who was wrapped in rags to protect His tender skin from the prickly straw in which He lay (v. 12). They were amazed and glorified and praised God for all that they had seen and heard (v. 20). How strange that a modern festive celebration originally meant to mark the birth of the Christ child never mentioned His name at all.

This is Christmas in the 21st Century – at least in the world of media and entertainment. But the real Christmas isn’t in fireworks and Santa and screaming fans. It is the quiet presence of the Baby and His parents huddled together in the straw. It is joy and peace and hope and love wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Christmas is Jesus. Nothing more and nothing less. This Advent season I hope you will join me for daily reflections on the season and the Child who changed the world. Let’s find the real heart of Christmas.

The Nativity

“They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16).

When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star and the angel above the stable and we add the animals and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.
The truth is, Satan is part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.
As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

Advent Day 9 – Christmas Joy

“Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

There is no better combination than children and Christmas.  Their sweet smiles, joyous laughter and excitement are contagious.  A child’s heart is wide open, and his wonder and delight will warm even the coldest Scrooge’s heart.  Children have an enormous capacity for joy, a trait that we tend to lose as we “mature” into adults.  When my son was small, and he would get excited, he would do what I called his “seal clap of joy,” clapping his little hands together in fast repetitions.  It always made me laugh, not just his clapping, but the excitement and delight that bubbled out of him.

Unlike our “dignified” western persona, in the middle-eastern world, emotions were deeply felt and fully expressed.  Grief was given full breadth as grown men and women wailed loudly, beat their breasts and mourned publicly.  Likewise joy was celebrated with loud songs and shouts of delight – even dancing in the streets as neighbors joined in the merriment.  The Bible gives many accounts of great emotional impact – Job in his mourning, David celebrating the return of the Ark to Jerusalem.  In fact, there is still great emotional expression in those cultures today.

So when the angels announced the “good news of great joy” we can envision the shepherds dancing by the fire, singing and laughing with delight, then rushing off to see this Baby “wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger” (v. 12).  This was cause for celebration – the Lord had fulfilled His promise to Israel!

You and I have reason to rejoice and celebrate too, because more than just His promise to one nation, the Lord had fulfilled His promise to all mankind.  Way back in the book of Genesis, after the first humans had fallen to Satan’s ploy, God promised to send a Rescuer who would crush the head of our enemy (Genesis 3:15) and redeem men from captivity to sin and death.  This child in the manger was the fulfillment of that promise.  He is the reason we sing “Joy to the World.”  He is the reason we celebrate – not because of trees and lights and presents – but because of the joy we have in Jesus Christ.

Let this Christmas bring a childlike joy to your heart – a joy that shows on your face and spreads out all around.  Dance, sing, jump, rejoice – let it fill you to the brim and overflow onto everyone around you. There will always be people who don’t appreciate your enthusiasm – there will always be Scrooges and Grinches who will “bah humbug” over your delight.  Be joyful anyway – maybe it will bring a smile to their face as well.

Share some Christmas joy this season, it’s a gift you can give to others that always gives back to you.

Read 2 Samuel 6:12-15

Seeking Christmas

midnightshinechristmasstar“You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12

We so often hear the complaint that Christianity is just “blind faith,” and many simply refuse to believe without “proof.”  But that is not what the Bible indicates.  God invites us to step into faith with our eyes wide open.  He said “If . . . you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him, if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).   God does not require mindless devotion to an unseen, unproven entity.  He has gone to great lengths to make Himself known.

On the night of Jesus’ birth, God announced the way to this blessed Child.  A chorus of heavenly hosts who appeared to the shepherds in the fields – and they told them exactly where to find this Baby – “in the town of David” (Luke 2:11) and how they would recognize Him – “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12).  They responded to God’s revelation – “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see . . .” (v. 15).  Let’s follow the evidence that God has given to us. Let’s seek Him whom the angel said we would find.

Matthew records another visible and powerful proof of Jesus’ birth as the Magi from the East declared “We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2), and he continues: “The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v. 9).  God not only gave directions, He led the way with a star in the sky.  They were overjoyed – they sought the King, and their search was rewarded.

There is another path that God has clearly provided for man to find his Creator.  That path leads up a hill in Jerusalem, to Calvary and to the Cross.  God made this way clear and unmistakable when He covered that path with the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus.  He has declared that this is the way to find Him – the only way.  To all who will accept it, God has promised not only to reveal Himself but to claim the seeking soul as His own.  He welcomes those who seek Him with a heart to believe.