A noble birth.

Matthew 2

Among those who acknowledged the birth of the Messiah was a group of wise men, perhaps philosophers or astrologers from a land somewhere to the East of Jerusalem possibly Persia. From their astronomical observations and their reading of the Hebrew Scriptures (Numbers 24:17) they discerned that a great Jewish king had been born. They came a long way to find Him, and when they did, they were overcome with ecstatic joy and worshipped him. These men had godly faith even though they were Gentiles, and not of the Chosen people.

Herod was the half-Jewish, half Idumean King of the Jews. The Jewish chief priests, scribes and teachers at his court were the leaders of the Chosen people. They possessed the words of God and claimed to understand and interpret them. Yet they were ignorant of the signs and prophecies the Scriptures contained. They had no idea about the birth of the Messiah. They were deeply disturbed at the suggestion that he had been born. They did not believe. If they had believed what the Magi said, they had they would have accompanied them and worshipped as well. Instead Herod, afraid of the slightest threat to His power sought to do away with this “pretender” through savage cruelty. He did not know God at all for then he would have realized the futility of his efforts to subvert His plan.

At this time of year many people will read the scriptural accounts of Jesus’ birth. They will be proclaimed even in the media, but many of those who hear the message of salvation will not hear or understand it. Many will misinterpret it and not understand that Christmas is not about children per se. It is about the horrors of sin and our inability to save ourselves from its power. And it is about God’s mercy in atoning for that sin Himself.

A humble birth.

Luke 2

Luke opens the narrative of Jesus’ nativity by relating the events that caused it to happen in the town of Bethlehem in fulfillment of prophecy. While kings and kingdoms moved forward with their own agendas and plans, the Lord was using them to accomplish His plan. The King of Heaven became man in a foul smelling and malodorous manger in a small insignificant village in a remote corner of the mighty Roman Empire. The one who would change the course of history, who in fact determines and sets the course of kings and kingdoms came in a quiet and humble way.

The ones who noticed His birth were a mixed assembly of witnesses. There was a glorious company of heavenly angels, of course, who put on a splendid worship service glorifying and praising God who had fulfilled His promises to man. The rest of the group was composed of a rather insignificant number of people who would have lacked credibility in their own society. There was a small group of crude and smelly shepherds. They saw the heavenly spectacle and the baby Jesus but who would believe them? Then too there was a doddering old man and an elderly widow both of whom, though respected by the Jews, would have been dismissed as too old and senile to make sense. It was these simple yet righteous people that God chose to use and to bless with the message of His salvation from sin. He still does the same today and continues to use the humble and meek to transmit His word. While the world focuses on parties, gift-giving and/or Santa Claus, the Christian must aim to keep the focus of the holiday right where it belongs: Jesus as our salvation from sin.

Of royal yet humble ancestry.

Matthew 1

The men and women mentioned in this genealogy trace the ancestry of Jesus the Messiah through the Chosen people from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. These mentioned here never saw the promise of God fulfilled, but Hebrews 11 indicates that they looked forward to it and had faith that God would provide a Savior. Here we see that promise fulfilled through Jesus who is a human being descended from Abraham, Judah and David. And note that of the 5 women mentioned in this genealogy, only one, Mary, was an Israelite by birth. The others were all pagans by birth even Ruth who was a Moabitess, a descendant of Abraham’s nephew Lot. While we know that she and Rahab exercised faith in the Lord, we are not sure about Tamar and Bathsheba. Nevertheless, their presence in the sacred genealogy indicates that Jesus is the Savior not only of the Jews, but of all mankind.

But the passage tells us something far greater and much more significant. In the words God spoke to Joseph, we learn that the child conceived in Mary is no mere man. He is God for He was conceived miraculously, without any human interaction, by the power of the Holy Spirit! Many today would deny this, even some who call themselves Christian, but the fact that Jesus is both God and man is one of the cornerstones of our faith. If Jesus were not really a human being, He could never properly represent us before the Father and take our punishment on Himself. If He were not God, fully divine and without sin, his death would never be acceptable to the Father, for if He would not be sinless.

What is the message of John the Baptist?

Mark 1:4

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark tells us that John the Baptist is the messenger who announced the coming of the Messiah. He tells us that John arrives rather suddenly on the scene appearing in the wilderness. This location reminds Mark’s readers of Moses and Israel who fled into the wilderness fleeing the slavery of Egypt as well as to meet with God and enter into a covenant with Him. John is raising a new call for Israel to come to the wilderness to meet with God and enter into a new covenant with Him.

John prepares the people of Israel for this new meeting with baptism, which symbolizes both the Red Sea and Death to the slavery of sin. This baptism is for the repentance which leads to forgiveness of sins. Those who want to covenant with the coming Messiah must repent. They must agree with God that they are sinners, die to sin, and turn from their old life of selfishness and pride to a holy life of humble surrender to God and faithful acceptance of His mercy which will be granted by the Messiah. Only those whose minds are focused on God and His righteousness can enter this new covenant.

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for granting me mercy so that I may take on the righteousness of Christ and so enter into your Kingdom. Help me to remember that you saved me by your grace and works, not my own so that when I meet with those who do not know you, or scorn and ignore you that I may extend your love to them.

What was the response of people to John’s message?

Mark 1:5-6

And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.

To emphasize the fact that John is truly the one who precede the Messiah and that now is the time for repentance, Mark provides us with a description of him that refers us to 2 Kings 1:8. There we find Elijah the great prophet of Israel who was dressed in such a fashion. Now the Jewish people of the day realized who John was as they recalled that, according to Malachi, a second Elijah was to come before the Day of Judgment to prepare the way of the Lord through repentance and judgment of sin. Many of those who saw and heard John acted and went out to him in the wilderness to ready themselves for the Day of the Lord.

As we approach the feast of Christmas, the thoughts of many people if not most will be on materialism, gifts, over-indulging on food and sweets, Santa Claus, toys, and children rather than on Jesus and why He came into the world. And yet as we look at our world and all the wickedness that surrounds us, we see that judgment of sin comes every day for those who are lost. We who are believers by God’s mercy should use this season as a time of repentance and getting our lives right with God. Moreover, it is a time of doing good for others and helping those less fortunate but not to earn praise, feel good about ourselves, or alleviate our guilt. We do good deeds so that those who do not know Jesus will experience His love through our actions and words and come to faith and repentance.

Prayer: Lord, help to keep focused on you throughout this season of Advent. Help me to preach the gospel with deeds of mercy and kindness so that, through me as your instrument, others may come to know and follow you.

What is the message of John the Baptist?

Mark 1:4

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark tells us that John the Baptist is the messenger who announced the coming of the Messiah. He tells us that John arrives rather suddenly on the scene appearing in the wilderness. This location reminds Mark’s readers of Moses and Israel who fled into the wilderness fleeing the slavery of Egypt as well as to meet with God and enter into a covenant with Him. John is raising a new call for Israel to come to the wilderness to meet with God and enter into a new covenant with Him.

John prepares the people of Israel for this new meeting with baptism, which symbolizes both the Red Sea and Death to the slavery of sin. This baptism is for the repentance which leads to forgiveness of sins. Those who want to covenant with the coming Messiah must repent. They must agree with God that they are sinners, die to sin, and turn from their old life of selfishness and pride to a holy life of humble surrender to God and faithful acceptance of His mercy which will be granted by the Messiah. Only those whose minds are focused on God and His righteousness can enter this new covenant.

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for granting me mercy so that I may take on the righteousness of Christ and so enter into your Kingdom. Help me to remember that you saved me by your grace and works, not my own so that when I meet with those who do not know you, or scorn and ignore you that I may extend your love to them.

What is the Messenger’s Role?

Mark 1:2-3

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

The prelude to the ministry of Jesus is a messenger who will prepare the chosen people for His work of salvation. The quotation links Jesus to the promises made in the Old Testament by citing 3 scriptures. The first part is from Exodus 23:20 in which God promised Moses and Israel that He would send an angel or messenger to guide them in the wilderness. The second is Malachi 3:1 which speaks of the messenger who will come to herald the Lord’s judgment. That verse links also with Malachi 4:5 which identifies this messenger as a second Elijah. The third Scriptural reference is to Isaiah 40:3 which names the messenger as a herald who announces that the time of redemption has come, the Messiah who will make all things new is about to arrive on the scene.

So we see that God promised to send His messenger to prepare His people for both judgment and redemption. Judgment will fall on Christ for the sins of all mankind. Redemption will come upon all those who accept that judgment as their own. But judgment will fall as condemnation upon all those who reject the Messenger and the message, the good news of Jesus, God Incarnate.

Prayer: Lord, help me be your messenger today. Help me to preach the gospel in words and in deeds so that when others meet me they may find you living through me.