Rekindling the Wonder of Christmas

So here we are again in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Churches are beginning to light Advent candles and schedule Christmas pageants. Radio stations are playing, “Silent Night.” People are climbing steep ladders and digging through stuffed closets to cover their homes with colorful decorations. Not to mention all the Christmas parties!

But can I ask that oft-repeated question on the lips of every toddler: Why?

What is the point of all this? Why do we put ourselves through this year after year after year? It is so easy in the hustle and bustle of the season to forget. And even when we hear the story of the manger and the shepherds and the angels, we miss it because of its familiarity to us. We’re numb to it; like a smoker who has gone nose blind and can’t tell that everything in their house reeks of smoke because they’ve been so accustomed to living in it. We’re no longer surprised about the story of Christmas, and that can be very dangerous. If you find yourself yawning or scratching your head as the Christmas story is being told again, then this is for you. My hope is that this post will help rekindle your wonder.

Christmas is the story of a how a big, holy God came to dwell with a little, unholy people. Don’t be fooled by the smallness of the baby in the manger or the insignificant place in which He was born. It may not look like much, but this is God. The God who lit the fire of a thousand blazing suns…with just His words. The God who parted a giant sea to save His people. The God who sent fire from heaven at Elijah’s prayer. This is that same God. If you and I could somehow hop on a time machine and travel back to the stable and look this baby in the face, nothing about his appearance would scream, “I am God!”, yet He was. That same being who cried for his mother’s milk and seemed so vulnerable would soon fast for forty days in the wilderness, walk on water, drive out demons, and still storms…with just His words.

One Christian artist has stated it like this:By faith we believe this amazing Jesus who made Uranus and Venus became a fetus. It’s such a secret that few, if anybody, knew it. Months later he’s covered in amniotic fluid. The subject of the gospels, praise of apostles; armed with eye sockets, armpits, and nostrils? Who is this Jesus? God clothed in human weakness, super sweetness and peace for the true believers. See the One who never tires knocked out sleeping; see the source of eternal joy weeping. Which one can explain how the Son, abundant with fame, who made thunder and rain now has hunger pains? See the Creator of water become thirsty on the cross when he saved from the slaughter the unworthy. My awe should be sky high, and I ought to just sigh with water in my eyes when the Author of life dies.”

Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, I agree. It is pretty astonishing. But what does it mean for me?” 

Here a just a few things I hope the Christmas story will do to your heart this season …

  1. It should lead you to awestruck wonder that God came not to destroy sinners, but to save them.

If God is so holy and we are so sinful, then the first Christmas Day should have been Judgment Day, but it wasn’t. Those who commit crimes are criminals and criminals should be punished. Likewise, those who commit sins are sinners and sinners should be punished. Yet God sent Jesus to take our punishment on the cross.

  1. It should lead you to joyful gratitude that this big God cares about little people like us.

Isaiah 57:15a states, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.'” This should be the end of all our wallowing in self-pity and the beginning of all our joy. The God whose presence fills the heavens promises to dwell with those who humble themselves before him. In Jesus He came to dwell among us.

  1. It should lead you to genuine repentance since our sins were so bad this was the only way to save us.

How could we live in a way that isn’t pleasing to God when he has gone to such great lengths to save us? Let’s turn from our sins of lying, pride, gossip, lust, envy, un-forgiveness, and whatever else, and let us fall in worship before God.

  1. It should lead you to confident trust in Christ, who left heaven on a rescue mission to save sinners like us.

There is no greater length God could go to secure our trust in Him. Let us lean confidently on the steady Rock of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. It should lead you to holy living since this God is so worthy of our heart’s affection.

When God opens a sinner’s eyes to the wonder of Christmas, He doesn’t tell them just to stop sinning. He fills them with energy to shine for Him in every area of life. May we show our amazement over Christ in our work ethic, school performance, the way we treat our spouse, raise our children, and even in our leisure time.

So this Christmas, as we’re running around picking up last minute Christmas presents and decorating our homes, let’s all stop and ponder the weight of what was really happening that first Christmas night. Then, let’s go express our joy and wonder in lives that please God and honor His Son’s sacrifice.

The Beautiful Advent Collision (from 1 Samuel)

The book of 1 Samuel contains collision after collision. Beginning with Eli and Hannah, moving onto Eli and Samuel, then to Saul and Samuel, and finally to Saul and David there is no shortage of drama, wisdom, and gospel grace to be gleaned in this wonderful historical account.

The book begins with the birth of Samuel and in a sad downward spiral it ends with the burial of Saul. In chapter 29 we see God deliver David from death, and in chapter 31 we see God deliver Saul to death. In chapter 30 we see David conquering his enemies the Amalekites, and in chapter 31, perhaps even on the very same day, we see the Saul being conquered by his enemies the Philistines.

What should we remember about this book? I want you to remember 1 Samuel 16:7.

1 Samuel 16:7 is the summary statement of the whole book of 1 Samuel. God had brought Samuel to Jesse to anoint one of his sons and after seeing his oldest son Eliab God told Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” All throughout the book we see this, what looks as tall and strong and faithful in the eyes of man isn’t so tall and strong and faithful in the eyes of God.

Hannah, a then barren woman, was more righteous than Eli the priest. David, a then young shepherd boy, was more righteous than Saul the king. An aware Bible reader will remember Isaiah 55:8-9 “God’s ways are not our ways, God’s purposes are higher than ours.”

But what about Advent? Do we not see the same things?

To the eyes of man the child of a young newly married couple born next to animals in Bethlehem was nothing worth mentioning. Yet, He was the long awaited One who would teach us the truth, who would fulfill all righteousness for His people in His perfect law-abiding life, who would atone for and pay the penalty as the substitute for His people’s law-breaking lives, and who would rise again from death to usher in a whole new kind of life.

The Gospel Transformation Bible picks up on this and says the following: “1 Samuel is about kings, but more importantly it’s about the great King, God Himself. In these stories we catch glimpses of who God is, what He does, what life is like with Him and without Him, and what life can become by the power His grace and the power of His Spirit. These stories are part of our family history as believers, they’re meant to instruct us, encourage us, and give us hope. These stories are gospel-filled stories, honest about sin and society, saturated with the hope of heaven.” (page 341).

To the world, nothing special happened that night in Bethlehem. But for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, this Child is both David’s Son and David’s LORD, the Prince of peace and the wonderful Counselor, the mighty God and everlasting Father. All of the collisions between the people in 1 Samuel were only a foreshadow of the greater collision to come, when the author of the play Himself, would walk on stage and change everything! When His divinity met our depravity, there was a beautiful collision.

Joy Joy!!

Bifrost Arts produced, what is to me, the best Christmas album of all time called: Salvation Is Created.  If you’ve never heard it, you’ll be strangely surprised at how much you like this album.  Using only minor keys, it sounds like a robust, theological, Christmas version of Edward Scissorhands.  For those of you looking get your hands on a quality, substantive, musically appealing Advent album, look no further.

Enjoy a sampling from it below:

Under the babyʼs head she held
Love, love, sing Emmanuel
Lending at His birth, peace on all the earth
See His mother Mary weeping Love, love, love.

Over the shepherds, angels tell
Joy, Joy, called Emmanuel
Born in Bethlehem, good will unto men
Bend before His cradle singing Joy, joy, joy.

Down from the throne of Heavʼn He fell
Light, light became Emmanuel
Covered in our flesh, swaddled in our dress
Wise men to His coming chasing light, light, light.

Onto the ground His blood He spilled
Peace! Peace! Cried Emmanuel
Sinners dark and vile, God to reconcile
Spilling love and joy and light and peace, peace, peace.

© 2009 New Jerusalem Music

You can sample and buy the whole album through Bandcamp.

Jesus Advented Among us For God – This is Good News For Us

Perhaps some of you are finding yourself rubbing up against this truth because you don’t see how something so God-centered could ever be good news for you. Is that you?

I really do believe that the reason Jesus came, underneath all other reasons the Bible gives us, is for God. But I also really do believe that it is good news for us that Jesus came firstly for God. Why? God gets the glory, we get the joy. Lets go back to Ezekiel once more to see what happens in the rest of the Ezekiel 36.

Read Ezekiel 36:25-27 to see the consequences of God having concern for His holy name…

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

When Jesus came to vindicate the holiness of God, He ushered in the New Covenant, and these verses describe in great detail the benefits of the New Covenant we receive when we place our faith in Christ. You see, you and I are people with a heart that is naturally stony and hard. Our only hope of salvation is for God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to remove our hard stony hearts and give us new hearts that are moldable and soft, fit for His forming and purposes.

What is needed is not merely a new ethical direction or a deeper resolve or decision to live a better life. What is needed is not a new set of clever strategies, or a spiritual retreat for rehabilitation seeking to make us live better lives from the same resources.

We need to become new in every meaning of the term or else there is no hope for change. The fall totally broke us, and now we find ourselves in need of a complete transformation from the inside out, and here in these verses God promises that He’ll do it. A new heart, a new Spirit, a new obedience. A change so deep in us that it effects what we desire. You know what Jesus calls this change in John 3? The new birth, being born again. This is a call for joy unspeakable – for all those who have placed their faith in Jesus have become new, and now we can say with utter confidence, “I am no longer what I once was, and by God’s work I am becoming something I never dreamed possible!

But why would He show such favor to such underserving sinners like you and I? Look at 36:32, “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you.” Again we see, this great work of God in the Incarnation, to clear His name from being profaned, to proclaim His holiness, to give sinners exactly what we need to salvation, God does for His own glory. “Let that be known to you.”

Christmas happened firstly for God’s glory, and because of that those who place their faith in Christ are given all they need for salvation and life in Him.

Advent Leads us Away from a “Seeker Sensitive” Church


People often tell me that I ought to cater my church more to the visitors, seekers, and lost people who come to it rather than the members.  I always have a simple answer for such requests: no.  Why?  Because my role as pastor exist’s to ‘equip the saints (not the lost) for the work of ministry.’ (Ephesians 4:11-12) I do not avoid the visitors, I often speak directly to them during the sermon.

But think a bit deeper with me for a minute.  In reality there can be no such thing as a seeker sensitive church.  Why?  Because no one seeks for God.  That’s not my original thought, it is God’s.  Romans 3:10-18 says, None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.’

No one could be Biblically defined as a ‘seeker’ because no one seeks for God.  It is our nature to be against God, to hate God, to ignore God, to leave God, to want other things than God, and to think of ourselves as god in place of God.  We are a wicked people from head to toe.  Romans 3:10-18 is crystal clear about what man is and what we’re not.  We are sinful, we are not righteous.  Only one is righteous, Jesus.

This season of Advent ought to teach us something in light of this conversation about seeker sensitive churches and the nature of ‘seekers.’  Since man does not seek God, how can anyone then be saved?  What is the hope for mankind if we all together have become worthless?  Well, our hope isn’t in any one of us, but in God, who despite our sin and vileness came and sought us out.  You know what this means?  God is the only Seeker in our salvation.  The only thing we contributed to our salvation was the sin that made it necessary.  He came to us when we weren’t willing to come to Him.  He initiated our salvation when we weren’t looking for Him.  This is what love is.  He seeks, we are found.

Don’t be duped into thinking that a ‘seeker sensitive’ service is the proper practice, there is no such thing, there is no such person.  Those who do it want large numbers rather than disciples.  How then should we conduct services at church?  How should I preach?  By being clear on the one thing that matters: the gospel.  It is not comfortable, but it is life-giving.

Christ Emerges Out of the Shadow Lands

J.V. Fesko has written an article on the well known hymn “O Come, Emmanuel”.  In it he writes about how the song portrays the light of Christ emerging out of the shadow lands.  Here is the beginning:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is perhaps one of the better-known hymns that is typically sung during the Christmas holiday season. What some may not know is that it originated in the middle ages, around 800 ad as an antiphon, or anthem, that was restructured into verse form in the 1100’s, and was eventually published in Latin in 1710. The hymn was later discovered, translated, and published in 1851 by John Mason Neale, an Anglican minister. As people sing this hymn they assuredly know that they are singing about the birth of Christ. However, what is striking about this hymn is its approach to unpacking the birth of Christ. It moves from the shadow lands of the Old Testament into the light of the New Testament with the revelation of God in Christ. This hymn traces the themes of Israel’s exodus to the eschatological, or final, exodus that was to begin with the birth of the Messiah. We can see this progressive unfolding of God’s redemptive plan if we turn to the Old Testament and begin with Israel’s exile in Babylon.

Mourning in lonely exile

In Israel’s earliest days as a nation, God brought them out of Egypt, made a covenant with his people, and began to lead them to the land of promise—the land that he had sworn to give to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 15.18-21). Israel, of course, was a cantankerous nation and lacked the faith to enter the promised land, to believe in the gospel promise of God (Heb 3.18-4.2). When Israel had finished her forty-year wandering and stood at the threshold of the promised land, it was undoubtedly a time of excitement and hope. They were at last going to enter the land promised to their patriarch, Abraham, so long ago. On the eve of their entry into the land, however, Moses wrote an inspired prophetic song. This song was filled with praises for their covenant Lord, but at the same time foretold of Israel’s future disobedience and sin (Deut 32.20-24). Israel did fulfill these words and was carried off into exile because of their sin, idolatry, and rebellion. The northern kingdom was taken away by the Assyrians in the eighth-century bc and the southern kingdom of Judah was taken away into captivity by the Babylonians in the sixth-century bc.

Over the centuries there have been millions of people displaced by war—exiled from their home country. Yet, Israel’s exile in Babylon was unique. Israel was the only nation on the face of the earth with whom God had made a covenant. Like Adam, the first man and God’s son (Luke 3.38), God had given Israel, his firstborn son (Exo 4.22), a fruitful land, one flowing with milk and honey, one that was marked by God’s very own presence as in the garden-temple of Eden. In the same way that God once walked in the cool of the day with Adam in the beautiful garden-temple (Gen 3.8), so too God walked with Israel in the promised land by his presence in the tabernacle (Lev 26.11-12; 2 Sam 7.6; MT; LXX). Yet, like Adam before them, Israel sinned which caused the prophet Hosea to cry out: “Like Adam they transgressed the covenant” (Hos 6.7a).

Read the rest here.

Do You Feel It Yet? I Do

As usual it didn’t take long for the Christmas season to explode into consumerism with all sorts of deals and commercials and last minute gift ideas to get for that special someone.  As a Christian I’ve got a few reactions to this that you may feel as well:

a) My first knee jerk reaction is not a good one: I feel anger, because we so quickly have turned the birth of Jesus into an affair to make money, by tricking people into buying all sorts of things that we don’t really need, while millions around the world barely have enough food to eat.  Again, knee jerk reactions are not usually good, at least for me.

b) Then, in response to my first knee jerk I want to reject all that the world has made for its Christmas traditions, not buy any presents, and just share the gospel to people who would normally expect gifts from me.  After thinking through this, again, is probably not a good idea and comes across as simply mean spirited arrogance.  This is not how I want Jesus to be represented to the world.

c) After all this goes on in my heart, I feel the presence of Jesus, get humbled and therefore hopeful, and feel a new yearning to want to redeem the season rather than rejecting it.  So, I go out and buy gifts for family and friends, buying things that they want rather than things I want them to have (big difference there), and seek opportunities to share with them the reason we all give gifts during this season, because God gave us the best gift, His Son Jesus.

Reject Santa? Receive Santa? Redeem Santa?

‘Tis the season’ … for parents to decide if they will tell the truth about Santa.  I really mean that.  When it comes to cultural issues (like Santa) Christians have historically gone three different ways: 1) reject it, 2) receive it, or 3) redeem it.  The Powers chooses to redeem culture almost always, and especially for Christmas.  Why?

Santa is pervasive in our culture, thus it’s nearly impossible to reject Santa as we walk through the with our son and see other kids sitting on his lap taking photos.  But, as parents who care a lot about not lying to our children we don’t feel we can 100% receive and partake in the entire story of Santa because of some of the nonsense.  So we tell our son the truth.

I am honestly very mixed in my opinion of the recent Mark Driscoll debacle, but his opinion on this matter is one I agree with:

I am concerned about lying to our children. We teach them that they can always trust us because we will tell them the truth and not lie to them. Conversely, we ask that they be honest with us and never lie. Since we also teach our children that Jesus is a real person who did perform real miracles, our fear is that if we teach them fanciful, make-believe stories as truth, it could erode confidence in our truthfulness where it really matters. So, we distinguish between lies, secrets, surprises, and pretend for our kids. We ask them not to tell lies or keep secrets, but do teach them that some surprises (like gift-giving) and pretending (like dressing up) can be fun and should be encouraged. We tell them the truth and encourage them to have fun watching Christmas shows on television and even sitting on Santa’s lap for a holiday photo if they so desire.

What do we and what will we continue to tell our kids in the future?  That Saint Nick really was a real person who did live a long time ago, who really did love Jesus a whole lot and because of his love for Jesus gave children presents and sometimes even hung socks on mantles full of goodies.  We explain that just as we do on Halloween, some people dress up as Santa and pretend to be him for fun.  We do not demonize Santa.  Dressing up, having fun, and using our imaginations is something we all should do more.  It is very difficult to find out for certain the exact details of the real historical Saint Nick, but I’ll tell you the common consensus.

Nicholas was born in the third century in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey.  He was born into an affluent family, but his parents died tragically when he was quite young.  His parents had raised him to be a devout Christian, which led him to spend his great inheritance on helping the poor, especially children.  Nicholas grew to be a well-loved Christian leader and was eventually voted the Bishop of Myra, a port city that the apostle Paul had previously visited (Acts 27).  Nicholas ‘reportedly’ also traveled to the legendary Council of Nicaea, where he helped defend the deity of Jesus Christ in A.D. 325.

Following his death on December 6, 343, he was canonized as a saint.  The anniversary of his death became the St. Nicholas holiday when gifts were given in his memory.  He remained a very popular saint among Catholic and Orthodox Christians, with some two thousand churches named after him.  The holiday in his honor eventually merged with Christmas, since they were celebrated within weeks of one another.

During the Reformation, however, Nicholas fell out of favor with Protestants, who did not approve of canonizing certain people as saints and venerating them with holidays.  His holiday was not celebrated in any Protestant country except Holland, where his legend as Sinterklass lived on.  In Germany, Martin Luther replaced him with the Christ child as the object of holiday celebration, or, in German, Christkindl.  Over time, the celebration of the Christ child was simply pronounced Kris Kringle and oddly became just another name for Santa Claus.

The legends about Santa Claus are most likely a compilation of other folklore.  For example, there was a myth in Nicholas’ day that a demon was entering people’s homes to terrorize children and that Nicholas cast it out of a home.  This myth may explain why it was eventually believed that he came down people’s chimneys.

Also, there was a Siberian myth (near the North Pole) that a holy man, or shaman, entered people’s homes through their chimneys to leave them mushrooms as gifts.  According to the legend, he would hang them in front of the fire to dry.  Reindeer would reportedly eat them and become intoxicated.  This may have started the myth that the reindeer could fly, as it was believed that the shaman could also fly.  This myth may have merged with the Santa Claus myth, and if so, explains him traveling from the North Pole to slide down chimneys and leave presents on fireplace mantles before flying away with reindeer.

These stories of Santa Claus were first brought to America by Dutch immigrants.  In the early twentieth century, stores began having Santa Claus present for children during the Christmas season.  Children also began sending letters to the North Pole as the legends surrounding an otherwise simple Christian man grew.

In sum, Saint Nick was a wonderful man who loved and served Jesus faithfully. So, we gladly include him in our Christmas traditions to remind us of what it looks like for someone to live a life of devotion to Jesus as God. Our kids thank us for being both honest and fun, which we think is what Jesus wants.

It’s Not Always Like a Kinkade

Thomas Kinkade is a wonderful artist who has painted many beautiful scenes that I and many other people enjoy.  The scope of his work extends far beyond the Christmas season, but he does have much work that centers around the Christmas theme.  For example, see pic below:

A Christmas Welcome

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to sit back and enjoy the work does it?  It’s almost as if you can feel both the cold of the winter snow/wind/rain along with the warmth inside the house from the crackling fire.  It really is a good work.  It is called “A Christmas Welcome” and Kinkade has many like it.

But I wonder how many of you reading this are or already preparing to have a holiday season that will look nothing like the above painting.  It is an overlooked reality that many people find the holiday season a very hard and lonely time.  This is for various reasons.  Family brokenness, addiction, divorce, selfishness, singleness, death, disease, or cancer.  Too often Christians ‘put the face on’ and pretend like all is well while their own world and heart are slowly getting closer and closer to hell.  The holiday season seems to bring this out more than other times during the year, and the Church ought to know this and be prepared to minister accordingly.

Some of us need to be reminded that Christmas, for some, is not always like a Kinkade.  We would hope it would be, but it’s not.  So rather than being fake and phony about our brokenness and struggle this season, could we be honest?  Is that allowed?

There is a kind of refreshment that comes to the soul when we look to Jesus’ honesty about struggle in life.  He never joined in with the crowds of phony religious people who were being fake, but always cut through the mess and told it like it was.  No one has ever spoke like this, and the only thing in the world that speaks like this today is His Word, the Bible.  Nothing will shake the soul too comfortable quicker than the honest truth of the Bible, and nothing will comfort the soul too shaken quicker than the Bible as well.  It is, in all honesty, a double edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).

If you’re currently experiencing a Christmas similar to the Kinkade work above, praise God!  Treasure those times with family and friends.  If you’re currently experiencing a Christmas similar to everything opposite the Kinkade above, praise God!  He is always good, and He does all things well.  Let’s be honest with one another this holiday season, and both be refreshed by the gut-level honesty of Jesus and His Word.


Why Do You Love Christmas? For God? Or For His Gifts?

We’ve walked through Matthew 2:1-12 this week verse by verse and seen much glory in it.  Today, I want to end the first week of Advent by challenging and calling you to enjoy Christmas for one reason this year.

Did you notice Matthew 2:10? Once the wise men saw the star stop over the house where Jesus was, it says that they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” This funny language describing how the wise men rejoiced literally means in the original Greek “their joy joy’d!” This is supreme happiness, supreme delight, so much so that words in any language cannot describe a higher level or degree of satisfaction or pleasure.

The wise men were white hot with devoted affection for this new born King. But why did they rejoice? Why was their joy joying? It’s simple isn’t it? We all know the answer, but do we really? You see Church, I’ve noticed something in you and in my own life that breaks my heart and grieves the heart of God. We say we delight in Jesus, we say we rejoice in our salvation, and we say we love the freedom from the punishment of sin and wrath of God. We say we believe Jesus is enough for us, and we only need Him. But Christmas presses something in us that ought to call us out.

Do you love God for who He is alone. Or do you love God for His gifts, blessings, or benefits?

I’m convinced church, that where God’s gifts are sought after and prized more than God Himself, God is not loved, honored, or known. He is blasphemed by this frail attempt of love. Matthew 2:1-12 calls us out into one thing and one thing only – the same thing God called the wise men too – HIMSELF!

God is the greatest gift we could ever have, and in the incarnation we received just that.

The Baby Turned Boy Receives Gifts

Matthew 2:9-12, “After listening to the King, they went on their way.  Behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.  And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed another way.”

Well after being politically obligated to share with Herod when the star had risen, the wise men now set off again. The same star they once saw rise, they now see moving south and coming to rest. They went south, and where the star stopped they see a house. The fact that it was a house they saw, and not the inn with no rooms available, means it took such a long time for the wise men to get from Babylon to Jerusalem that baby Jesus is now boy Jesus.

Going in to the house, they saw Him, and upon seeing Him they fell down and worshipped!

They recognize God has given mankind a gift in this boy King, and they rightly respond with gifts of their own. Gold because it is a King’s abundant and overflowing currency. Nothing befits a King like fountains of gold to share with His people! The resin Frankincense to acknowledge the presence of absolute divinity and the worship due to Him from all peoples and nations. The other resin Myrrh to symbolize death, burial, foreshadowing that King Jesus will suffer death to usher in the Kingdom of God.

It is quite timely the wise men came the moment they did, for this little family (Joseph, Mary, Jesus) would soon have to travel another far distance – to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod when he seeks to kill the Christ by killing all boys under 2 in Bethlehem. I say it’s timely because this family probably used and survived solely on these three gifts until they arrived at Egypt. We see God caring for His Son here, protecting Him from Herod, providing Him with all He needs.

The same is true for us. The same is true for the wise men also. We read in 2:12 that God warns the wise men in a dream to not return to Herod, but to return to Babylon on a different road. So off they went – Happy to have beheld the Christ, safe with new directions from our Father.

Herod: Corruptly Using Religion to Serve Political Power

Matthew 2:3-8, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

Well, it appears that not everyone is as happy about the birth of the King as the wise men were.  Herod the King, known also as Herod I and/or Herod the Great was the appointed King of the Jews under the authority of Rome.  History teaches us that Herod was ruthless.  He killed his wife, many of his sons, and many family members during his reign.  If he was this way with his own family, can you imagine what he would have been like to the people?  Also, you aren’t placed as King in Jerusalem if you’re a big deal in Caesar’s or Rome’s eyes.  If you’re big wig in Rome – they keep you in Rome!

To put it in perspective, placing Herod in Jerusalem is similar to once playing for the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field to playing 3rd base coach for church softball.  It is not career move marked by improvement or success.  All this to say, Herod was oppressive.  Upon hearing the news from the wise men that the Christ had been born, he was troubled, and if Herod is troubled, you can bet the whole city was trembling.  After all, this Christ had to be a great King to call such men of renown out of the affluent east to all the way to dusty Jerusalem.

This prompted Herod to inquire as well and ask his learned men, the chief priests and scribes saying, “Where is the Christ to be born?”  They answered him honestly and said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for it is written by the prophet, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”  In answering Herod the priests and scribes quote Micah 5:2, and this was no small prophecy to quote at this time. You see, Micah 5:2 describes the time when the time when a King will come from the little city of Bethlehem. But Micah doesn’t refer to just an ordinary king, but the King. This King, Micah says, is from of old, from ancient days. This King is nothing less than the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord of all Lords, the King of all Kings! Can you understand the position of Herod? He is King in Jerusalem and to his knowledge he has just learned that One who has been foretold and has now come. In Herod’s eyes this Christ, this Messiah, this Savior, is a political problem, a threat to all that is established by Rome in Jerusalem. It must be stopped before it has a chance to begin. And that is exactly what Herod intends to do.

At this point, we don’t know how it happened but Herod secretly had the wise men brought to him and from them Herod learned what time the star had appeared. So after learning these things, Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem saying in 2:8, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you’ve found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.” Of course we have here a great display of something we see all too often throughout history and in our day – the incorrect and corrupt use of religion to serve the purpose of political power. It is plain to us that Herod will not worship this Child, but will try with all his might to end the boy’s life before Jerusalem is overthrown. If this it is plain to us, you know it was plain to the wise men.

The Nations Shall Stream to the Son

Matthew 2:1-2, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

So we read that Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem of Judea while King Herod was ruling over Jerusalem.  Immediately Matthew tells us of the famous wise men, or “magi” in the original Greek.  He doesn’t tell us how many wise men there are (most people say there are 3 because there are 3 gifts) nor does Matthew tell us exactly where they came from.  All we know from the account in Matthew is that there is a group of wise men coming from the East.  Why did they come?  Verse 2 tells they came asking a question: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  Why did they ask this question?  Verse 2 continues with their reason, “For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

Now, in order to understand this question and the reasoning behind it we have to look deeper into who the wise men were.  Here’s what we know.  When Jesus was born they saw a star rise in the East.  Like today, not very many people in ancient times normally and habitually watched and noted the behavior and pattern of the stars.  People notice them, and maybe even talk about them a little bit.  But it was the Astrologers who studied and noted their individual and collective movements in ancient times.  It is from this that most throughout history have concluded that the wise men were in fact learned Astrologers: watching, studying, noting, and learning from the patterns displayed in the heavens.  Now, think about it.  What large, affluent, urban city was east of Jerusalem at that time in history?  Every map of this time will lead you to one answer, Babylon.  It was large enough and affluent enough to have men within it that could devote their lives to the scholarly occupation of Astronomy.

Therefore, I conclude that the wise men were learned Babylonian Astrologers who knew the heavens like the back of their hand, and when they saw something abnormal occur in the sky, like a star rising over Jerusalem, they not only noticed it, but ran toward it!

This is no small thing.  It was near 800 miles between Babylon and Jerusalem.  It not only would have taken them a long time to travel that distance, but they would have needed a large group carrying a large number of supplies, and most of all, they would have needed a very good reason for being willing to travel such a distance.  So why go?  Remember, they were learned men who would have been familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. They knew what was going on, remember they said, “We saw HIS star rising, and have come to worship Him.”  For them, the star rising indicated a Person worthy of their worship had come.  What led them to believe this?  They knew the prophecy written down almost 1600 years earlier found in Numbers 24:17 which says, “I see Him, but not now.  I behold Him, but not near.  A star shall come out of Jacob, a scepter shall come out of Israel.” You see it? A star will rise? A scepter shall come out of Israel? They saw the star, they knew that only a King could hold a scepter, and they knew He had finally come. So off they went.

That non-Israelite men would journey this even more gospel roots. Long ago, it was spoken of in prophetic visions that “all peoples” and “many nations” would come streaming in to Mount Zion to behold the King on His throne and worship the true God.  Both Isaiah and Micah say, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and they will all say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob…” These wise men remind us that there is only one God, and that this one God is the Christ who was born in Jerusalem. He is the King who reigns, He is the One who made the world and all in it, who desires all tribes, and tongues, and peoples, and nations to come and worship and bask in the light of His infinite glory.  Jesus has just been born and already the peoples and the nations are streaming to Him worship!

You know what this means right?

The Kingdom of God is here.

God has come.

The darkness is about to fade.

Light is breaking through.

Dawn is here!

Advent Has Come – And I Rejoice!

advent-art1No holiday stirs the heart like Christmas does.  Normally the historical Church has celebrated Christmas for the whole month of December rather than just on the 25th.  Even with the massive commercialization of Christmas the true meaning has refused to take a back seat.  This time is usually called “Advent” (which in latin meanings arrival, emergence, or appearance) to celebrate the day our Redeemer Jesus Christ entered into this world.  It is not just about a baby, it is about the incarnation of God.

That God would be wrapped in skin is simply astonishing.  Jesus is the long foretold coming King, who ushered in His Kingdom, healed the wounded, gave the blind sight, raised the dead, touched the untouchable, proclaimed the truth, while being Himself the Truth.  The One who cried out in the manger was the very One who, bearing the sin of God’s elect, would one day cry out “It is finished!” on the cross finally and decisively reconciling mankind to God Himself.  Thus, Advent is a time to celebrate our Hope.  It is a time to celebrate the gift God gave us in His Son, and in light of His gift to us, it is a perfect time to give gifts to one another.

Bells may ring, chestnuts may roast, families may gather.  Presents may be opened, egg-nog and hot chocolate may be consumed by the masses.  Santa’s will fill the malls, stores will lower prices, and we all gain a bit of extra weight.  Despite all these superficial things – Jesus Christ, the new born King, will not be forgotten.  He came to us when we needed Him the most.  He came to do what we couldn’t do on our own and because He came, everything will be ok.  For the baby grew up into the God-Man, and this God-Man became the sin-bearer.  He died, He rose, and is now reigning with perfect justice forever and ever.

Advent has come!  Join me this month in celebrating the King of Kings, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Hope, our Life – Jesus Christ.