Tagged: Luke

Day 24: Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution

Nativity SceneNow there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” – Luke 2:8-14

They were just doing their job. Ordinary men… extremely ordinary. The shepherds of the Christmas story were among the poorest in society: you will never read about a wealthy shepherd. And of all the people on the planet, God sent an army of angels to inform them that His Son was being born in Bethlehem in real time.

The news was for every person on the planet (“all people“), and when properly understood, the news causes “great joy.” What were they told?

  • There was a birth.
  • The birth was in the city of David (Bethlehem).
  • It was the birth of a Savior.
  • The Savior is identified as the Christ (the anointed One or the Messiah).
  • The Savior is the Lord.
  • The Savior will be found as a newborn in a feeding trough.

Then the countless assembly of angels shouted out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” The word “peace” was commonly used to describe the cessation of hostilities in a war. The same word is used in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” For the one who places faith in Christ for forgiveness and salvation, God erases all sin from the relationship. You can draw near. You can know His favor. He is able to respond to you with “goodwill.”

God is not at war with you.

However, your experience of God’s peace is not automatic. It is conditional… dependent on your readiness to lay down your defenses and cease hostilities on your part. You don’t need to fight your way through life. You don’t need to live as if everything depended on you. You don’t need to hide. You can stop running.

You have a Savior.

The first ones to learn about the Savior born in Bethlehem were not the rich and powerful, the mighty and influential, the successful and famous… the first ones granted access to the Savior were the ordinary ones!

He has good news for you, if, like me, you feel pretty ordinary. The Savior has been born… for us! It’s the Christmas Revolution!

Editor’s Note: If you would like to obtain a single PDF file containing all 25 blogs in the “Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution” series, click here to download. May God richly bless your efforts to explore the revolutionary truth underlying the Christmas celebrations around the world.

Day 20: Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution

20And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.Luke 1:6-7

Although they loved and served God, Zacharias and Elizabeth wrestled quietly with years of personal sorrow, grieving over their inability to have a child. Have you ever had this thought: “If God really loved me, then He should…”? Doubt is a dark seed that can bear the bitter fruit of disappointment. Do you struggle with doubts about God or His love for you?

Zacharias was a godly man who had desired a child for many years. In spite of the social disgrace associated with barrenness, he and his wife continued to walk faithfully with the Lord. I believe that he dealt with questions concerning the Lord’s care for him. He kept the rules and did all of the right things, but God did not grant him the privilege of parenthood. However, during a once-in-a-lifetime experience of leading prayer in the Jerusalem Temple, Zacharias had a stunning encounter with an angel. He was a key figure in the stories surrounding the birth of God’s Son in Bethlehem. The Christmas Revolution was coming!

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” – Luke 1:13-18

The angel told Zacharias that his prayer had been heard. What prayer? The prayer for a son. He was still praying for a child! Elizabeth was past the years of normal childbearing, so was he expressing faith and hope in a miracle? It doesn’t appear to be so. It seems more likely that over the years, the heart-felt petitions had become empty, unthinking, and routine repetitions. We can surmise this because Zacharias did not believe the angel’s birth announcement concerning John. Zacharias was a dedicated man going through the motions of faith.

It happens to many in church. In too many pews around the world, believers have allowed faith to become the sum of their religious activities and routines. Prayers become empty. Songs are sung without feeling. Activities are performed without the engagement of the heart. Jaded by life’s disappointments, those times when it seems God does not “come through,” there are Christians who become convinced that God is not listening. In too many pulpits, there are pastors who rarely exercise personal faith, preoccupied with a numbing staccato of religious activities and routines. Possessing little or no capacity to believe, these dear ones are saying the words… singing the songs… praying the prayers… living a life, but on the inside they are running on “empty.” Their hearts are disengaged.

Like Zacharias, they need a word from God. Sometimes in our efforts to hear God, we forget that God has already spoken to us in the Bible. In the face of disorienting questions, the Scripture alone will provide the emotional and intellectual handles to grasp all available truth about my experience. Although Scripture may not provide an answer to every question I have, it is in the Bible that I will find sufficient insight to calm the troubled waters of my soul. God speaks to us through the Scripture. It is not the only way He speaks, but it is an immediate source of truth and life that He wants you to explore. His written Word will help you discern and evaluate every other “Word” you will ever receive from God.

After the miraculous conception and birth of his son John (the Baptist), Zacharias became a mighty fountain of biblical truth! In a heartfelt eruption of realization and insight, he says God was acting in our lives “to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:74-75)

God had never stopped caring for Zacharias or His people. Zacharias came to see that God really does hear us when we cry out to Him. God will deliver us. Circumstances may be confusing and hurtful, but our experience in the midst of those circumstances doesn’t have to be that way. Zacharias learned to be fully engaged with the Father in every remaining moment of his life. Never again would he follow God out of habit or routine. He was going all the way for God! We are not called to a lifeless and joy-less existence. No enemy of the human soul will succeed. The Lord will rescue His people. We can truly “serve Him without fear.”

Disappointment grows in the gap that lies between my expectations of God and my experience of God. If you don’t see God acting on your timetable, it does not mean He has failed to act or hear you. Guard your heart! The angel’s announcement to Zacharias means that great blessing belongs to the person who does not trip over his unfulfilled expectations of how God is going to do something. Never let go of God’s promises—but hang loosely to your expectations… God’s fulfillment of His promises may be very different from what you expect! In the meantime, you can’t start rejoicing right now in the mighty acts of God on your behalf. There’s no need to wait.

Overcoming disappointment with an anticipatory joy and a patient faith… this is where each of us finds our own pathway into the Christmas Revolution!

Editor’s Note: If you would like to obtain a single PDF file containing all 25 blogs in the “Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution” series, click here to download. May God richly bless your efforts to explore the revolutionary truth underlying the Christmas celebrations around the world.

Day 18: Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution

NativityEditor’s Note: Today, we have a guest post from my wife, Gail (aka “the hot blonde”!). Enjoy!

Luke 1:13 (The Voice Translation)

Messenger: Zacharias, your prayers have been heard. Your wife is going to have a son, and you will name him John. He will bring you great joy and happiness – and many will share your joy at John’s birth.

Luke 1:25 (TVT)

Elizabeth: I have lived with the disgrace of being barren for all these years. Now God has looked on me with favor. When I go out in public with my baby, I will not be disgraced any longer.

Luke 1:30-45 (TVT)

Messenger: Mary, don’t be afraid. You have found favor with God. 31 Listen, you are going to become pregnant. You will have a son, and you must name Him “Savior,” or Jesus. Jesus will become the greatest among men. He will be known as the Son of the Highest God. God will give Him the throne of His ancestor David, and He will reign over the covenant family of Jacob forever.

Mary: But I have never been with a man. How can this be possible?

Messenger: The Holy Spirit will come upon you. The Most High will overshadow you. That’s why this holy child will be known, as not just your son, but also the Son of God. It sounds impossible, but listen – you know your relative Elizabeth has been unable to bear children and is now far too old to be a mother. Yet, she has become pregnant, as God willed it. Yes, in three months, she will have a son. So the impossible is possible with God.

Mary (deciding in her heart): Here I am, the Lord’s humble servant. As you have said, let it be done to me. And the heavenly messenger was gone. Mary immediately got up and hurried to the hill country, in the province of Judah, where her cousins Zacharias and Elizabeth lived. When Mary entered their home and greeted Elizabeth, who felt her baby leap in her womb, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth (shouting): You are blessed, Mary, blessed among all women, and the child you bear is blessed! And blessed I am as well, that the mother of my Lord has come to me! As soon as I heard your voice greet me, my baby leaped for joy within me. How fortunate you are, Mary, for you believed that what the Lord told you would be fulfilled.

As I read the Christmas story this year, I was struck with fresh awareness of the personal costs of embracing God’s favor.   Elizabeth and Zacharias had endured years of unmet desire to have a baby. Elizabeth wore an aura of public disgrace and shame because God had not blessed them with a baby of their own. God’s messenger revealed to Mary that Elizabeth was “now far too old” to naturally bear a child. Elizabeth and Zacharias must have thought the time had passed and their deepest longing would never be met.

But God’s purposes and timing was perfect. The pregnancy and birth of Elizabeth and Zacharias’ son would be part of God’s confirmation to Mary that He was indeed at work in all of their lives to do miraculous things and to bring about the arrival of the Savior.

For Elizabeth, God had looked on her with favor. When she went out in public with her baby, she would no longer be disgraced.

God’s messenger told Mary that she, too, was favored and blessed by God. But for Mary accepting the motherhood of Jesus and trusting God at work in her life would mean embracing public disgrace and shame.

Can you imagine the whispers, the hushed conversations, the doubtful looks from those who had once been Mary’s friends and neighbors? Who would believe her even if she told them that her son, Jesus, was born of the Holy Spirit, a unique part of God’s plan to save us all? Even her loving, honorable husband-to-be, Joseph, had to be encouraged in a dream by a messenger of God to take Mary as his wife and to trust that she had been faithful to him.

Mary embraced God’s plan. She trusted Him. She couldn’t begin to know all of the personal costs, but she decided in her heart as God’s humble servant, “As you have said, let it be done to me.”

When God’s favor intervenes and His blessings appear to be burdens, He always has a special purpose. I don’t always understand or appreciate His favor. That is the time when I most need to decide in my heart to trust Him, to put the unanswered questions behind me, to embrace Him, His favor, and His purposes whatever the cost.

Editor’s Comment (Don): Trusting God in the midst of my questions… a significant lesson drawn from the Christmas Revolution!

Editor’s Note (another one!): If you would like to obtain a single PDF file containing all 25 blogs in the “Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution” series, click here to download. May God richly bless your efforts to explore the revolutionary truth underlying the Christmas celebrations around the world.

Day 6: Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution

day 6“But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. . . . But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God.” Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. . . . a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone.Luke 9:20-35

When bad news arrives, it can rock your world.

Peter was absolutely right when he declared that Jesus was “the Christ of God” (Luke 9:20), but he had only a limited understanding of what that meant. In the collective Jewish mindset of the first century, the idea of a Messiah (“anointed one”) ushering in the kingdom of God had been percolating for centuries. Like everyone else, when Jesus came preaching “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), Peter envisioned a victorious king arriving to subdue all of his enemies. Watching Jesus heal the sick and cast out demons, Peter had become convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ.

What Jesus said next was unexpected and frightening: “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” What? Jesus is not going to take over Jerusalem and drive out the Romans? The Messiah is going to die? And… I may die too?

Then Jesus added a cryptic word of hope: “there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God.”

A week later Peter is standing on a mountain gazing at the brilliant, supernatural radiance emanating from every atom of Jesus’ body and clothing. A cloud descends, enveloping Peter… and he hears a voice… oh, that voice… God speaking, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

There were others present at “The Transfiguration.” The significance of that experience continues to provoke much reflection and discussion. But for Peter, mentioning the incident years later in a letter, it was the voice that made him an eyewitness “of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16-18). Jesus said some of them would “see” the kingdom of God, and Peter did (Luke 9:27). He had encountered the presence of God in the cloud. He had seen the glory of God shining from within Jesus. He had heard the voice say, “Hear Him!”

For Peter, following Jesus meant abandoning his preconceived notions of what God should do or would do. Jesus, Elijah, and Moses knew the imminent events coming up in Jerusalem. Peter heard them discussing the details. The divine plan was different from what he had expected, but it wasn’t bad news… it was gloriously good news.

God is a King… the only true King. He has a purpose that is being executed in the midst of our broken, rebellious corner of the universe. He is in control. There are no divine “fails.” No mistakes. Everything is playing out on time and on course. Comprehending every responsible and irresponsible action of every human being in all times and places, He enters into the chaos of our willfulness and extracts… good… for those who have said “yes” to Him, throwing themselves onto His leadership and care (Romans 8:28).

So, if Jesus says that the kingly rule of God is here, it is. If Jesus says He is going to die and then rise from the dead, then He does. If Jesus says following Him will cost me everything, then it will. The Father said I must listen to His Son, the One born in Bethlehem. No need to be afraid of the rough times, because “rough” is not synonymous with “out-of-control.” The Lord’s got this!

As a child in His kingdom, I am absolutely safe and secure. Let the bad news come… it’s never, ever the whole truth, nor is it the final scene of my story.

But it is part of the Christmas Revolution.

Editor’s Note: If you would like to obtain a single PDF file containing all 25 blogs in the “Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution” series, click here to download. May God richly bless your efforts to explore the revolutionary truth underlying the Christmas celebrations around the world.