The first Christmas wasn’t quite so merry. It wasn’t a Hallmark card. Have we really thought about what happened?
It began with old Zacharias and his aged wife Elizabeth. Godly? Yes. Loving God and his people? Yes. But also disappointed. They had no child and their time had passed.
It continued with a young virgin in Nazareth of Galilee. Nazareth? Can any good thing come from Nazareth – a small backward village in the hills of Galilee, never important, never a destination for anyone of note? She received word that she would become the virgin-bearing mother of Messiah, and believed. How wonderful! But not everyone believed.
She told Joseph and his heart broke. How could Mary be unfaithful to him? Discussions with the rabbi, decisions to be made. Should Mary be stoned? His beloved? No, he would quietly send her away, to another Jewish community in the ancient world where she would bear her shame quietly. Mary, helpless, pure, innocent, and completely dependent upon God to vindicate her.
Then, a 75 mile donkey ride from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for Roman taxes. Why won’t the Romans just leave them alone and leave the land? Their swords and hunger for hard-earned Jewish money were everywhere.
Shepherds watching their flocks at night. Appearances of angels. A baby’s cry in Bethlehem. Presenting Jesus in the temple with a poor man’s sacrifice of doves. Then words of praise. An old man, Simeon saying, “He is the One.” An old prophetess Anna shouting for joy in the Temple and pointing others to him. It was time to leave Jerusalem. They were too close to Herod’s palace for such things to be said out loud.
Finally, peace and quiet. Things settling down. Perhaps it was time to return to Nazareth – a slow, peaceful leisurely journey back home would be welcome. But then strangers from the east with a different language and thick accents stopping in Jerusalem and asking questions about a new king being born, and Herod is very interested.
Cunning, deception, plots, and preparation for murder. Herod schemes and waits as the worshipers of the East present their gifts to the Child. More deception – the Magi take a different route home and do not return to Herod. He is enraged.
“Mary! Joseph! Quickly! Take the Child and flee!” the angel says.
A journey in the middle of the night. Rumors of soldiers approaching. Hiding in the dark. The long road exile in Egypt for holy family begins. But weeping is in Bethlehem. Mothers weeping for their children who are no more.
This was the first Christmas. Not Hallmark cards, not snow angels, not pretty lights. But appearances of angels, miraculous conceptions, scandalous rumors, surprised shepherds, prophecies in the temple, travelers from a foreign land, deranged tyrants, and staying one step ahead of death.
This is the world into which the Savior was born. It is the greatest story ever told. It is still being told. Its story continues through us as we take his word to a world full of evil and darkness and shine his light upon the darkness. Deranged tyrants still fume and plot and murder. Angels still fight. People still doubt. God uses old men and women, and young men and women. He works in obscure villages like Nazareth and mighty cities like Jerusalem. And through it all he brings his kingdom which will prevail over all the kingdoms of the world.
The victory of the gods of Babylon was complete. The Jews were enslaved and the images of Bel, Marduk, Enlil, and Ishtar stared down in mockery at them and their weak god, Yahweh, who could not stand the onslaught of the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. The gates to the great city slammed shut and God’s beleaguered people were hurried along for processing.
Then, one Jew broke away from the rest – his name was Seriah. He walked with defiance to the River Euphrates which flowed through the heart of the city, pulled a secret scroll he had been hiding in his satchel, and began reading. He started quietly at first. His words seemed ridiculous and the Babylonians howled at the spectacle. But then he remembered the instructions from the prophet Jeremiah.
When you come to the City, go to the River,
And shout the scroll where people drink.
Tie a rock to the parchment, then throw it in,
Just so shall Babylon not rise again,
Just so shall the Queen of cities sink.
With each sentence, the derision and laughter of the Babylonians grew. This foolish Jew must be mad! Were not his people just conquered? Jerusalem lay in ruins, the temple and the great houses burned to the ground, the city gates and walls demolished. Was not mighty Babylon the queen of the world and the power of all powers?
But Seraiah’s faith held fast. With each word his voice grew firmer and more convincing as he read the words Jeremiah had penned and entrusted to him.
“Declare and proclaim among the nations.
Proclaim it and lift up a standard.
Do not conceal it but say,
‘Babylon has been captured,
Bel has been put to shame, Marduk has been shattered;
Her images have been put to shame, her idols have been shattered.’
“In those days and at that time,” declares the Lord, “the sons of Israel will come,
both they and the sons of Judah as well; they will go along weeping as they go,
and it will be the Lord their God they will seek.
They will ask for the way to Zion, turning their faces in its direction;
they will come that they may join themselves to the Lord
in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten.”
Seriah finished Jeremiah’s words. He rolled up the scroll, tied a rock to it and flung it to the Euphrates, the scroll and rock rising high and far in a perfect arch, then descending toward the water with great speed. Everyone watched as the scroll, for a moment rested on the river, and then the weight of the rock carried it to the depths never to be seen or read from again. Seriah turned and looked at the people of Babylon who had become quiet, and then he returned to his people to await the fulfillment of the word of the Lord.
Against all odds, 47 years later, the Queen of the earth, Babylon, was destroyed, and the little band of people made their way back to Jerusalem, to rebuild and to wait for the Messiah.
Against all odds! Is this not what it means to walk by faith? To trust God’s word when everything around says something else? Is this not what the prophets, the apostles, and our Lord supremely, did – to keep walking forward, trusting in God’s word when everyone and everything else was screaming the opposite?
Against all odds Jesus came when the mightiest empire of them all, Rome, ruled the land. Against all odds he proclaimed God’s empire. Against all odds, he entrusted himself to his Father as he descended into death. Against all odds he rose again from the dead and against all odds he was enthroned at the right hand of God, the rightful ruler of heaven and earth, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus said.
You and I are to walk by faith, just like Jeremiah wrote his scroll by faith and Seriah read it by faith by the banks of the Euphrates River and in the face of its false gods. You and I are called to walk by faith like the prophets, the apostles, and Jesus.
Against all odds you and I are called to write, to read, to live, to love, to serve the kingdom of God in the face of mighty empires and mighty movements that array themselves against the Lord and his Anointed.
Whether your problem is big or small, whether it pertains to reaching people with the Gospel of the Kingdom in countries where it is dangerous to name the name of Jesus or just getting through today’s challenges in our country, you and I are called to walk by faith against all odds.
And if your faith begins to falter, remember Seraiah’s Secret Scroll and the river into which it descended. God’s words do come true.
Word of God, Speak!
The story of Seraiah’s Secret Scroll can be read in Jeremiah 51:59-64. Jeremiah’s words against Babylon can be read in their entirety in Jeremiah 50:1-51:58.
I came home from a storytelling workshop last night not knowing that a play with an important point for God’s people would be enacted right in front of me. The actors in this great play – my cat – Lucy, my dog – Nigel, my wife wife – Kathy, and me!
I had just settled onto the couch by Kathy, expecting a peaceful ending to what had been a pleasant evening. I shared about the workshop and we talked about our day, but the cries, the yelling, of our cat Lucy at the window would not stop.
“Kathy, did you feed Lucy tonight?”
“Yes I fed her. I don’t know what her problem is.”
On and on it went. Finally, our ever vigilant Nigel asked to go outside to investigate and in a few minutes we heard him growling and yelling in the same area. Kathy thought he might be yelling at a possum and ran out to protect him only to discover he was standing at Lucy’s food dish and yelling at the cat who had been yelling at me!
“Nigel, stop that. That’s your sister Lucy. That’s her food.”
She picked him up and brought him in scolding him for his selfishness. But the yelling in my house didn’t stop. Lucy was soon at the window again, yelling. Nigel went to the window and yelled back and this time I decided to investigate.
I looked at Lucy’s dish. Something was wrong. The food pellets were too big. Then I yelled, with laughter. “Kathy, you gave Lucy the wrong food! You gave her Nigel’s food!”
Lucy had been yelling at me because she wanted her food. Nigel had been yelling at Lucy because she had his food. Kathy had been yelling at Nigel for yelling at Lucy but he was protecting his own. And then we yelled with delight and fun at what we had just lived, all because of the wrong food.
The wrong food – it produces yelling – and a lot of other unhealthy practices and consequences in our lives and in our churches. God told Jeremiah, “The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has my word speak my word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain, says the Lord.”
Indeed, what does straw have in common with grain? Man’s words and dreams are straw. God’s word and his vision for the world is wholesome grain. What are we putting in our spiritual food dishes? What are we pastors giving our flocks? What are we consuming each day – straw or grain? Are we eating the wrong food, or the true food that God provides?
Word of God, Speak!
Today is a historic day for the Heaven & Home Hour. We are beginning our first international broadcast in the country of Albania! Several months ago we began our weekly broadcast Stories of the Master in Albania. Today our daily broadcast begins.
Albania is a country of 3.1 million people. The country was ravaged by the policies of communism in the 20th century and is still in recovery. The country is also close to 60% Muslim. Please pray that God would use our broadcast mightily to build up the Church, reach the lost for Christ, and bring healing to this needy land.
None of this would have been possible without partners like you and the generous gifts from listeners around the world. We are humbled and grateful you chose to be part of this exciting project.
Listen for yourself to this amazing expansion for the Heaven & Home Hour.
You can learn more about partnering with us, right here.
A little over a month ago, the government of Pakistan declared a holiday, a day for Muslims to show their love and honor for the prophet Mohammed. Many were surprised that rioting broke out. Seventeen people were killed. But this should not be a surprise. In a culture that highly values honor and abhors shameful acts, it is the right thing to stand up for the honor of a family member, a clan member, or one’s spiritual leader. And, in such a culture, acts of violence are sometimes necessary to exact revenge and to restore the honor or one’s family, clan, or religion.
This would also be an honorable act for a Muslim because he would be following in the footsteps of the prophet who took up the sword and went to war for the honor of Allah. Mohammed did, after all, command that men who left Islam should be killed. And he even ordered that those who wrote poems criticizing him be killed. When he was on his deathbed, because one of his wives poisoned him, Mohammed said, “May Allah curse the Jews and Christians, for they built the places of worship at the graves of their Prophets.”
But I would like to suggest that Muslims have a day to honor and love the prophet Isa (Jesus). And in order to honor him, you must follow in his footsteps. What did Isa do? Well, according to the Bible and the Quran he acted in mercy towards others. We learn that he forgave sinners. He gave sight to the blind. He cured lepers. He released people from evil spirits.
The prophet Isa defined his mission in this way (Injil Luke 4:18-19)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
But the greatest example was when he was on his deathbed. Well, it actually wasn’t a “death bed.” It wasn’t a bed of comfort at all. He was hanging on a Roman cross and he had nails in his hands and in his feet to hold him there. But here is what he said about those who crucified him, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Injil Luke 23:34).
We have had a day to remember Mohammed’s example and many have followed it. Many have remembered his final words. Let’s have a day to remember the example of the prophet Isa and to remember his final words. And the best way to remember him is to follow his example of love.
If you want to learn more about this Jesus, I invite you to listen to Stories of the Master where you can learn about his life, his works, and his words.
To any Muslim friends who may come across these words, I want to encourage you to read the words of the Prophet Isa – the one we call Jesus. You can read his words in the Holy Injil.
Jesus was often insulted and he told his disciples that they would be insulted too. He said in John 15:18-20,
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”
So Jesus very plainly and clearly told his followers they should expect insults and persecutions just as he received it. But how were they to respond to the insults? He told them two things:
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
Second, he said,
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)
My Muslim friends, you say that you believe Isa is a prophet? Then I encourage you to read his words and follow his teaching!
I’ve been praying for North Korea lately not only because of their soon coming missile launch and nuclear programs but also because of the despotic, tyrannical, megalomaniac, antichrist rulers. When their recent ruler, Kim-Jong-Il died, I thought, “Maybe change will come.” But his son apparently will continue the suffering. This morning I read this from Open Doors Ministry which focuses on helping our persecuted brethren around the world.
“On April 15 all of North Korea will celebrate the “Day of the Sun” in honor of Kim Il-Sung’s 100th birthday. To the outside world, the picture will be one of prosperity and wealth; that North Korea is a great place to live under their caring leaders. But outside of the media’s eye the vast majority will continue to quietly suffer extreme poverty and starvation.
For Christians, as the birthday celebration draws near, their fear has increased as their actions are watched closer than before. They know that outwardly they must participate in the nationwide celebrations to avoid arrest …but in their hearts they will be celebrating the true “Son” Jesus Christ.
North Korea is the most hostile country in the world to live and practice the Christian faith. Estimates report that 25 percent of the Christian population is suffering in labor camps for their refusal to worship founder Kim Il-Sung’s cult religion called Juche. Enormous statues of the “Great Leader” are prominently displayed throughout the country. Kim Il-Sung is exalted and revered as a god to be followed with obedience. Citizens are required to bow down to pay their respects, wear a lapel pin with his image on it and prominently display photos of both Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il (both deceased).
As North Korea celebrates the “Day of the Sun” let us unite our efforts by drawing on the power of the Holy Son, Jesus Christ. Show your solidarity on April 15 by praying for believers in North Korea and taking a day off of food – or perhaps one meal – to remember the suffering of the North Korean people.” – Open Doors Ministry
Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,“Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” – Revelation 15:1-4
If anyone has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. – Revelation 13:9-10
Word of God, Speak!
In 1981 a devastating flood hit central China. During the flood an ancient pagoda collapsed at Famen Temple. A few years later, archaeologists were digging through the rubble when they made a startling discovery. Sealed in a miniature stone casket, they found what they believed to be part of one of the Buddha’s fingers.
It toured Taiwan, and was for a while on display at a mountain-top monastery. The finger was housed in a miniature golden pagoda as tens of thousands of people came to pay homage to it. They burned incense and placed flowers all around the relic. One visitor said, “I was born more than 2000 years after the Buddha but I feel moved and touched to have seen the finger.” Some said they felt as though the Buddha was actually sitting in front of them.
We do not honor the finger of a dead man. We worship the living Savior and Lord, Jesus Messiah!
1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified.
6 He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” 8 And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus *said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
“It is finished,” Jesus said, or more accurately in the Greek, “It has been completed.” The perfect life, the perfect humility, the perfect submission even to the point of death, and therefore, the perfect offering on behalf of guilty sinners had been offered so that the work to obtain eternal salvation was now completed.
Paul put it this way in Romans 4:25 “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions was raised because of our justification.”
Did you catch the wording of that verse? He was delivered over to the cross because of our transgressions but He was raised because of our justification. Because His work on the cross was sufficient to pay the price for our sins, God could raise Him from the dead. No more suffering was needed. No more sacrifice needed to be made. The work of Christ was enough for a just God to justify the ungodly.
The resurrection of Jesus proves that nothing more has to be done for our sins.Paul put it this way in Romans 6:8-10.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
Did you catch that phrase in verse 10? He died to sin once for all. Once for all – one time for all people in all times.The writer of Hebrews also used this “once-for-all” terminology.
7:27 – [Christ] does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
9:12 – And not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
10:10 – By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Let us shout this truth in the halls of every church and from our rooftops for the world to hear – what Jesus did on the cross was sufficient to destroy the barrier that kept mankind separated from God’s love and eternal purpose.
His resurrection proves it!
I hope you will obtain a copy of Resurrection Vision for your life and for your church, and learn the ten meanings of the resurrection of Jesus.
When my wife and I were in Juarez, Mexico last year, we travelled with our friend Antonio into this dangerous city to attend Bible studies that he had started. As we drove through military checkpoints he pointed out houses to us. “Do you see that empty house? The drug people demanded that the residents move. Do you see that burned out house? Burned down by one of the drug cartels.”
Antonio told me the story of a friend who had a small convenience shop operating out of his home on a street corner to help make ends meet. A gang member came to his store, put a gun to his head, and said, “Either you give us part of your earnings, you shut down your store, or you die.” He chose to shut down his store.
On another street Antonio said, “Jonathan, many times as I drive to church I have had to tell my children to close their eyes so they would not see the dead bodies lying on the ground.”
This is part of the man-made tragedy of our time. We cannot imagine living in such conditions.
But as bad and unjust as it is in Juarez, the death of Jesus was the culmination of all injustice in the world. Christ was betrayed by one of His closest associates. All others fled from Him in his hour of greatest need. He was paraded from trial to trial at night in violation of the Law of Moses. He was ridiculed, mocked, beaten, spit upon, scourged, and even though He was obviously innocent of the trumped up charges against Him, the cry still came out “crucify Him! Away with Him! We will not have this man to rule over us! We have no king but Caesar. Crucify Him!” And so they marched him to a hill called Golgotha and drove spikes into his hands and feet, threw a spear into his side, and laughed as they gambled away his last remaining possession.
But, on the third day God raised Him from the dead!
By this resurrection God showed that He is concerned about and has a remedy for the man-made problems in His creation because the resurrection of Jesus is the first act in God’s great project to reverse all injustices, sins, and evil in the world.
Paul put it this way in his letter to the Corinthians, “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death,” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).
Every enemy, every injustice, every evil will come to an end – including the tragedy of death itself!
I hope you will obtain a copy of Resurrection Vision for your life and for your church, and learn the ten meanings of the resurrection of Jesus.