Category: History


This great nation may very well become little more than a footnote in a book at some point in the distant future. It will be yet another testimony to the glory of God and what happens when a nation so blessed by His manifold kindnesses and favorable Providence turns its back on Him.

 

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Churches may, indeed, soon face more vicious forms of government sanctioned persecution in this country. This is not something new, nor should it surprise us. (Matt. 5:10-12; John 15:20-23) Let us be sure of one thing, however: the Church of Jesus Christ, over which He is Head (Eph. 1:18-23), will never cease to exist on the earth. (1 Cor. 15:22-28) The people of God do not have to have buildings and public meetings to carry on the work of the gospel, which is the one unique and glorious thing about this message– it does not deal only with external behavior, but is the power of God to penetrate to the very soul and no opposition, seen or unseen, will ever succeed in stopping it. (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12, 13) You can forbid people to meet and you can destroy our buildings and you can threaten us all you want, but the gospel will continue to be applied to the human race according to the sovereign decree of God and then it will be over–and not a millisecond before God has done whatsoever He pleases with this world. (2 Pet. 3:3-10) Rave on God-haters. He who sits in the heavens is laughing at you. (Psa. 2:1-4) You are only storing up wrath for that great Day. (Rom. 2:5-8)

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” (Obama at this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast)

Sadly, I suspect that many Christians will see this and not realize what a distortion of truth it represents. Facts are essential so that we maintain an honest perspective on reality and, therefore, have the ability to analyze current events properly. Misrepresentation of the facts of history is a critical component in controlling contemporary opinion. Look for increasing examples illustrating deceptive rewrites of the history of the Crusades. This is only the beginning of efforts to remake Christianity in the image of radical Islam.

 

Thoughts for All Saints

Commentary by Jim Bordwine, ThD

Volume 3 Number 3

February 26, 2014

The Tyranny of the Minority

 

 

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

(Isaiah 5:20)

Have you noticed how many aspects of our lives these days are governed by a minority opinion or a minority preference or a minority demand? I am not referring to race relationships; I’m referring to the upheaval that can be traced directly to the willingness of our culture to capitulate to highly vocal, consistently pushy, and well-financed groups that represent minority perspectives on issues that are, from a Biblical standpoint, definitely moral in nature.

Take the institution of marriage, for example. Some in the moral minority, in terms of the traditional ethical context that has been one of the distinguishing features of our history, have insisted, not only on recognition under the law, but also that the institution of marriage be re-constructed in order to accommodate their sexual proclivities. And a related area in which the tyranny of the minority is being frighteningly effective is in the matter of what is being called “gender identity.”

Recently, I read a news article that began with these words: “A California high school student who believes he is a girl trapped in a boy’s body just made the girls’ softball team.” A new state law, which went into effect last month, declares that “a pupil [must] be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”

Consequently, a 17-year-old teenage boy, described as a “strapping senior,” is now a member of the girls’ softball team and is allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms previously designated for females only. This is just one of many examples that could be cited. To put it bluntly, as a country, we are doomed if such forced acceptance of moral perversion continues unabated. And there really is no evidence to suggest that this movement can be stopped. Politicians, educators, and entertainers, generally speaking, fully support this transition and these kinds of laws are being considered and enacted around the country.

As the prophet Isaiah warned in the verse quoted above, there is no future for those who would disregard the definitions and boundaries established by our Creator. Ignoring His Word or pretending that His will is irrelevant guarantees only one thing and that is destruction, not freedom. This will not end well for any of us, believer or unbeliever.

 

Thoughts for All Saints

Commentary by Jim Bordwine, ThD

Volume 3 Number 1

February 13, 2014

Conjunction Malfunction

 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him;

male and female He created them.

(Genesis 1:27)

Is it possible that we have misinterpreted one of the most significant Biblical declarations concerning the nature of humanity? I’m referring to the verse quoted above, Genesis 1:27, in which we are told that God created human beings “male and female.” Traditionally, we have interpreted this short phrase in which the conjunction “and” connects the words “male” and “female” as teaching that God created two genders of human beings. Some human beings are male and other human beings are female. We have assumed that Moses meant that God created a male gender and a female gender, separate and distinct from one another.

This assumption, however, is certainly no longer the norm in our culture. A different idea has become prevalent, namely, that an individual human being may consider themselves male or female or some combination of both, if they choose. Therefore, what Moses was really saying is that God created human beings with no distinct male or female gender identity, but so designed human beings that we are capable of being either male or female, or a combination of both, depending on how we feel about ourselves.

This is absolute foolishness, of course, to anyone who believes the Scriptures. In fact, it should be a ridiculous notion to anyone, Bible believer or not, who takes seriously the history of our race. In our contemporary culture, however, those who see themselves as “progressive” and, therefore, unrestrained by traditional definitions and social morays, are celebrating the enlightenment that is finally becoming mainstream. This step forward in our collective self-awareness has now been acknowledged and incorporated into the operations of the world’s most popular social media platform known as Facebook.

Today Facebook announced “a custom gender option,” which will allow users to select the pronoun by which they would like to be referred to publicly. Those who wish to be identified as males may choose “he/his”; those who wish to be identified as females may choose “she/her”; and those who wish to maintain neutrality may choose “they/their.” Moreover, users may select from a number of options to identify their sexuality, including: “androgynous,” “transgender,” and “gender fluid.” Ironically, in what is supposed to be, I assume, a liberating opportunity for self-expression and an historic step forward for social consciousness, Facebook will also allow users to control who sees these custom gender specifications.

As one who believes the Bible is the very Word of God and is, therefore, always binding and relevant, regardless of the passage of time, I see these kinds of developments in our society as nothing less than brazen expressions of rebellion against God and His authority. We cannot expect to prosper or even remain stable as a nation as such trends toward autonomy continue.

The Gospel

2014

 

Introduction

Several years ago, on the first Sunday of the new year, I began a tradition, which I have repeated each year since. I spoke on one particular doctrinal issue in order to set the course for the coming year and remind us all of what really is the most important matter we handle as a congregation (All Saints Parish Church in Vancouver, WA). All that we believe, practice, and hope to become is grounded in one issue. It is essential, obviously, and due to the essential nature of this subject, I want to revisit it this afternoon as we begin a new year. I’m referring, of course, to the gospel.

The beginning of a new year is a time for reflection. People think about the state of their lives, what they wished they had accomplished, what they hope to accomplish, and so forth. The gospel is the heart of the Church’s life and, therefore, serious reflection on the gospel and the state of our ministry is both edifying and advisable.

I want to explain what I mean by the term “gospel.” When I use this term, I have in mind what God has revealed to us about our redemption. Therefore, I’m using the word “gospel” in a broad sense to include all that the Bible has to say about our restoration as a fallen race. The manner in which the gospel is understood and taught is the life-blood of any congregation, as I’ve already stressed. What is believed about this subject determines the spiritual character of a church; in fact, it determines whether we really are a church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If a church believes and teaches what the Bible proclaims on this issue, then that church is bound to have a good apprehension of everything found in God’s word. On the other hand, if a church does not understand, believe and teach what the Bible says about man’s salvation, that congregation is bound to have defective doctrine across the board. Command is illegal

First, we will consider the necessity of the gospel. If the gospel, broadly defined, has to do with the restoration of man, we must know what it is about man that requires a restoration. Second, we will look at the provision of the gospel. Under this point, we will see what God has done in response to man’s need. The third point will be the exclusivity of the gospel. Here, I will concentrate on the unique nature of God’s provision for our need.

01. The Necessity of the Gospel

We are all aware of the event that occurred early in the history of our race which unalterably established our need of redemption. I’m referring, of course, to the fall of Adam and Eve. This is such a familiar portion of Scripture that I’m sure I could just mention it and proceed without much elaboration. Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, I will review this story briefly.

As we know, the Biblical description of man’s origin is composed of two primary elements, his creation and his disobedience. The Scripture tells us that God created the first man and he was perfect. In addition, because this creature was made in the image of the Creator, he was morally upright. In the beginning, therefore, Adam, the first man and father of our race, existed in a state of innocence.

All was harmonious in this setting. God was recognized and served as the almighty Creator; man recognized himself as one that came from the hand of this almighty Creator and was, therefore, bound to relate to God as the thing made should relate to the sovereign Maker. In this state, Adam enjoyed communion with God and was at peace and able to pursue his calling.

In this original environment, God designed a circumstance in which Adam would be tested regarding his willingness to abide by the implications of the Creator-creature relationship. God granted Adam access to all that the Garden of Eden had to offer with one exception. Adam was forbidden to eat the fruit that was found on one particular tree.

This was a simple arrangement, yet one with profound implications. This circumstance declared that this was God’s world and, therefore, His will was supreme. It taught Adam that he had to submit to the Creator in all things. The point of this test was not the fruit of that particular tree, but Adam’s willingness to abide by the command of the Creator.

After receiving instructions, Adam also received Eve, a creature like him. Together, Adam and Eve were commissioned to multiply, subdue the earth and rule it under God. Together, as man and wife, our first parents were to serve the Creator and thus enjoy His blessings.

As we know, however, things changed drastically:

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

These few verses record the most tragic event that could be imagined. Here is the ruination of our race! That which was perfect is perfect no longer. The relationship between the Creator and the creature is horribly disrupted and the narrative hardly reveals the devastation which resulted from this episode. It is this one incident which determines the nature of our existence from that point forward. This act forever changed all of creation.

Consider the manner in which this story is given to us. The writer records the facts in a simple, straight-forward manner. I have already rehearsed the background for this story. We know that this was a perfect environment; we know that God and man existed in harmony; we know that all of God’s creation was what He intended it to be; and we know that Adam had been given a command that epitomized his relation to God. But into this picture came the deceiver, the enemy of righteousness.

The woman was questioned by the serpent: “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” (v. 1) And the woman captured the essence of the command when she repeated God’s prohibition (v. 2) Clearly she knew that the Creator had forbidden her to eat from that particular tree; she was not ignorant of the law that governed her relationship with God. Nevertheless, instead of ceasing contact with the serpent immediately, she continued and heard these words: “You surely shall not die!” (v. 4)

And, as we know, Eve considered the words of the deceiver and “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (v. 6)

If we ask, “What happened in the Garden of Eden?”, the uncomplicated answer is that the command of God was broken—and this is the fundamental definition of all sin. Perhaps this is why this important event is recorded in such a simple fashion. Perhaps it is so that any child can read this account and understand what happened. God gave a command and it was not obeyed. Anyone can listen to these words and know that Eve and then Adam disobeyed the Creator.

This brings me to a second question: What is the meaning of this event? We get a symbolic answer to this second question in our passage: “7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. 8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

Consider how awful it was for the creatures made in God’s image to sense the need to hide themselves from Him! Clearly, something horrible occurred. When they broke God’s commandment, they immediately sensed that what they had done was unnatural; they immediately realized that the peace of the Garden had been disturbed.

For Adam and Eve, the repercussions began with their instant realization that they were transgressors and could no longer appear in God’s presence without shame and guilt. Adam and Eve attempted to avoid confrontation with God because confrontation with God would require them to own up to their disobedience. They did what they could in those circumstances to evade the Lawgiver.

Adam and Eve did what they were forbidden to do and, as a result, their relationship with God was ruined. This is the story of the beginning of our race. From this time forward, Scripture teaches, every descendant of Adam and Eve is conceived in the state of alienation; every descendant is born in that state of estrangement from God. At its core, the action of Adam and Eve was rebellion. They both substituted their will for God’s will; they both ranked their wisdom above the wisdom of God.

We know from later revelation that the transgression of Adam and Eve had a most extreme impact upon their natures. Soon, we are told about the banishment of our first parents from this place of fellowship with God. Life in the Garden meant fellowship with God; it meant that all was right and that all relationships were what they should be. Banishment from the Garden meant just the opposite; it meant that fellowship with God had been broken and that things were not right and all relationships had been adversely affected.

From a blessed existence to a cursed existence; from peace to disorder; from fellowship to antagonism. Now man is at odds with God, now he is God’s enemy, now he struggles under the weight of guilt for having disobeyed. Man comes into existence now with a rebellious heart and throughout his miserable life, he gives continual expression to the corruption of his soul.

This is the doctrine of man’s total depravity. Every facet of his existence, every faculty of his soul, is marred by sin. Depraved man will not and cannot restore what has been lost; he knows only the way of defiance because his soul carries in it the seed of corruption. This is fallen man; this is man before the gospel.

Returning to the Genesis record, we know that something else was said between God’s cursing of the parties involved and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden. When God came to Adam, Eve and the serpent, each party was cursed and bound to live with certain temporal consequences of this incident. And the consequences went well beyond temporal considerations; the very nature of man was affected.

However, following His denunciation of the serpent, the woman and the man, God gave that wonderful promise of a coming restoration: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (v. 15) Here is the first indication that God, the One offended, would undertake the rescue of His special creatures.

This is the promise that unfolds throughout the rest of the Bible and throughout the rest of history. This is the first announcement of the gospel and it comes here in Genesis, in the midst of man’s ruin. The gospel that we love and cherish cannot be rightly understood, believed or taught apart from an understanding of its origin. A plan of restoration was necessitated by the events that transpired in the Garden of Eden.

02. The Provision of the Gospel

We have seen what necessitated a plan of redemption; now we can see what God meant by His promise to send a Deliverer. What must be kept in mind is fallen man’s need. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, that spot which symbolized fellowship with God and harmony in relationships. After disobeying God, they lacked the quality of moral uprightness, which is defined by God’s character alone.

Man’s need, then, is great; it is almost beyond comprehension. However, God’s provision is also great. The provision of God in the gospel centers upon one concept: substitution. For fallen man to be reconciled to God, two things had to happen: one, fallen man had to render unto God a perfect life and thus do what Adam failed to do; two, fallen man had to provide a payment for his sins. The problem, of course, is that fallen man is incapable of providing what is absolutely necessary for his redemption.

Without going into great detail, let me state that one aspect of man’s total depravity is his inability to do anything about his condition. Man was not just wounded, spiritually speaking, he was killed. A sinner is a walking dead man when it comes to spiritual matters. He can do nothing about his circumstance and does not care to do anything about his circumstance. What, then, is the solution? It is what I mentioned earlier. The solution, the only solution, is substitution.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes: “2:13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Here is the substitutionary payment for our sins; here is the satisfaction of our debt before God. Notice that Paul reminds us that we were “dead” in our fallen state; however, God made us alive in and with Christ.

Jesus Christ is the provision for our salvation. He is what God had in mind when that glorious promise was made in the midst of the ruin of the Garden of Eden. According to these verses, God was willing to let Jesus Christ take our sin-debt to Himself and bearing it, be nailed to a cross where He gave His blessed life in our place. So great was the quality of that life, Paul teaches, that the debt we owed to God is “taken out of the way.” It is not forgotten nor is it ignored for a time—our sin is paid for by Christ’s sacrifice of Himself in our place.

When Christ paid for our sins, that was one component in our restoration. The second component is something I mentioned already, namely, a righteousness of our own. Having our sins paid for does not, at the same time, make us righteous in the eyes of God. Therefore, a second component in man’s restoration—or the sinner’s justification—is the provision of a righteousness. Once again, let us hear from Paul:

Phil. 3:8… I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…

After his conversion, Paul understood that the needed righteousness cannot be earned, but must be imputed. The sinner’s hope is not only that Christ will pay his sin-debt, but also that Christ will credit to the sinner the perfect life He lived while on this earth. Therefore, Paul rejects the notion of self-justification or any idea that the sinner can restore himself. Instead, Paul embraces and teaches the idea that the righteousness that the sinner must have is not his own and cannot come from himself.

The needed righteousness must come from One able to provide it and that One is Jesus Christ. Not only does Christ become our Substitute in His death, He also becomes our Substitute in His life. All that is required of the sinner is supplied by the sinner’s Substitute. Payment for sin is made and righteousness is given and both things are grounded in the Savior.

This brings me to the third point of this sermon, which has to do with an aspect of the gospel that needs to be stressed frequently. Man’s need necessitated a particular provision, which God supplied in Christ. This means that the manner in which fallen man is restored to God’s favor is singular, narrow and restricted.

03. The Exclusivity of the Gospel

By this heading, I mean that there are not many avenues to restoration; there is only one and that is the one designated by the offended Party, namely, the God of this creation. The fact that the way of reconciliation for sinful man might be singular should come as no surprise. Therefore, I will not spend a great deal of time on this third point. Let me refer to a definitive statement made by Paul in 1 Tim. 2: “5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time.”

In the context of these verses, the apostle is urging believers to pray for all who are in authority, regardless of rank. His reasoning is that God would have all classes of men, the rulers and well as the ones ruled, to come to the knowledge of salvation (cf. v. 4). Then Paul makes a restrictive, intolerant declaration: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Two parties are envisioned here, God and fallen man. Standing between the two, as it were, is a Mediator, One who is able to bring the two together. To be more precise given all the Biblical data, this Mediator is bringing the one party, man, to the other, God. It is man who needs reconciliation and this reconciliation is achieved by One and only One Mediator, Jesus Christ. He is the One, Paul notes, “who gave Himself as a ransom” for all men.

The need of men, all men, was determined in the Garden. The singular provision of a Substitute for those in need was determined by God. That provision was His Son and that provision is exclusive in the sense that it is the only provision given and accepted by God. As Paul implies here, if a man is to have fellowship with God, it must be by way of the Mediator, Jesus Christ. The sinner cannot go to God on his own, nor can he devise some way that might gain him access to God’s blessed presence.

What Paul teaches here is repeated throughout Scripture. God promised a Deliverer at the time of Adam’s fall. That promised Deliverer was the focus of all prophecy and expectation. No other means of restoration for fallen man is ever mentioned in God’s word because no other means of restoration exists. God accepts sinners in His Son and only in His Son. Since all men are in a state of condemnation, this means that all men either have Christ as their Mediator, and therefore enjoy God’s saving favor, or they remain in their fallen condition and await the day of God’s wrath.

To all sinners, Christ declares: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6) This is not a debatable issue! There are sinners and there are saved sinners in this world and the only thing that separates one category from the other is the Substitutionary mediation of Jesus Christ. There are not many gospels, there is only one gospel and this one gospel is from God and makes known to us our need, God’s provision and the exclusive nature of that provision.

Application

One purpose I had in mind in preparing this sermon was to declare the essentials of the Biblical gospel. While much more could have been said about the gospel, I do believe that an outline of the gospel has been presented and in this outline, I have touched upon the primary elements. Explaining the gospel consists of two chief facts: man’s need and God’s provision.

The gospel is a simple message; it is one easily understood by all who hear it. We were in need and God provided what we needed. In a day when the churches of Christ are dabbling in so many things unrelated to the true ministry of the gospel, we would do well to meditate upon the gospel as it is found in the Bible.

Another purpose for this sermon was my desire to “go on record” regarding my own beliefs and the beliefs of this church where the issue of salvation is concerned. What I have related to you is what I believe Scripture teaches. I believe that man is conceived in a state of alienation from God and that his only hope is the substitutionary life and death of Jesus Christ.

Further, I believe that fallen man is incapable of doing or desiring any good whatsoever as far as his restoration is concerned. He is a creature absolutely dependent upon the grace of God. This is what I believe and this is what this church believes, by which I mean that this is the doctrine that we hold and teach.

As I noted, these convictions about the nature of man and the nature of salvation will influence everything you will hear taught from this pulpit in the coming year. You will hear statements indicating our utter dependence upon God in all things; you will hear statements ascribing all glory to God and statements urging complete devotion to God and His holy will.

All these things and more are grounded in what the Bible teaches about our need as fallen creatures and God’s response to our need in Christ. Whether we are talking about salvation or our ethical obligations or our vocations, all that we are to know and do is traced back to man’s fall in the Garden and God’s merciful restoration of man in Christ.

And a final purpose for this sermon was my desire to encourage you to consider anew the glorious work that God has done for us. Let us begin the new year with a fresh perspective on what God has accomplished for us. In connection with this purpose, I want to emphasize to our young people their responsibility to consider the gospel of our salvation. You are privileged to be growing up in an environment in which we all are attempting to serve God and communicate to you the knowledge of the Bible. Understand, however, that the gospel that I have described is just as relevant for you as it is for anyone else.

When the Bible describes the miserable state of fallen man, it is describing your state apart from Christ. When it speaks of the condemnation of all who are descendants of Adam, it is speaking of you. Give thanks to God that He has placed you in the community of believers—this is no small privilege—but also know that you are a sinner and you must own Christ as your Substitute if you are to escape the inevitable end of God’s enemies.

The Means of Peace

This is the third study in my Advent Devotionals. First, I examined The Promise of Peace as presented by Isaiah; second, I looked at the Declaration of Peace, as recorded by Luke in his account of the shepherds visited by the angels; and now, I consider The Means of Peace, also found in Luke’s account of the birth of Christ.

In a recent study, I mentioned that one of the primary themes associated with the coming of Christ is peace. We considered one of Isaiah’s prophecies in which he said the Child to come would bring peace, restoration, and reconciliation to the whole world. In another devotional, we looked at a passage in Luke’s Gospel in which angels announced the birth of that Child; and one of the truths they emphasized was the arrival of peace in the Person of the Savior. In fact, everything associated with the birth of Christ carries this same encouraging tone—peace, relief, return to God, forgiveness of sins, and hope. Both before He came and after He was born, the Savior’s arrival was interpreted as the dawning of an age of peace and gladness.

After finding the Child and relating their experience, the last thing we read about the shepherds in Luke’s account is that they went on their way “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.” (2:20) And this is where Luke jumps ahead a week in his report and records that the Baby was given the name “Jesus,” according to the instructions of the angel who visited Mary. In our retelling and rehearsals, this is where the recounting of the Savior’s birth often stops.

At this point, all who know of the Savior’s birth are thankful and happy. But there is a bit of news about to be introduced into this story and it will completely change the tone. Some news is going to be announced that will require people to rethink the future and the ultimate reason for this Child’s birth.

In vv. 21 and following, we find Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus coming to the temple where they encounter a man named Simeon.

Luke 2:21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD “), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.” 25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Simeon was a Jew who faithfully attended to his religious duties. He is introduced in such a manner that his spiritual devotion is highlighted. (v. 25) Notice that Luke says that the “Holy Spirit was upon [Simeon].” This statement is made of few people in the Bible. The fact that it is made of this rather obscure figure in Luke 2 is intriguing. Simeon obviously walked with God and knew fellowship with God. In the plan of God, Simeon had one primary task to perform and that task was associated with the birth of the Messiah. Simeon was appointed to make a declaration that would provide balance to the world’s understanding of the Messiah’s mission. He is going to speak words that point to something else that is to come, something beyond the birth of the Messiah.

Given this description of Simeon, we are not surprised to hear that he was concerned for the spiritual condition of his people. Luke writes that Simeon “was looking for the consolation of Israel.” This phrase has a particular meaning; at that point in history, it referred to the redemption that would come with the dawning of the Messianic era. The “consolation” would be the Messiah’s arrival and rescue of the Jews. This brief statement tells us that the chief desire of Simeon’s life was to see the arrival of God’s promised Redeemer. He was one of the devoted Jews who continued to believe God’s promise of a Deliverer. He hoped it would come in his day, of course, and so it did.

The most unusual element of this story is revealed when Luke tells us that “it had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (v. 26) Simeon knew, therefore, that the Messiah would appear soon; he knew for certain that the redemption for which his people had waited was about to be manifested. We have no idea how long before this event Simeon had received this information. We can be sure, however, that his life had been affected by it.

At the time when Joseph and Mary came to the Temple, Simeon was moved by the Spirit to enter as well:

27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.” 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed– 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

This was, of course, a Divinely-arranged encounter and the purpose of this encounter, as I indicated, was so that an announcement might be made that would complete the prophesied picture of the Messiah’s ministry. Simeon, as I noted, is going to reveal an aspect of Christ’s ministry that is emphasized elsewhere, is certainly discernible when we consider Christ’s work, but which is, nevertheless, frequently overlooked when it comes to commemorating the Messiah’s arrival. This announcement has to do with how this Savior will bring peace to the earth. Isaiah promised the peace, the angels announced the peace to the shepherds, but so far, the means of that peace, or how that peace will be achieved, has not been revealed.

It appears that Simeon recognized the child of Joseph and Mary as the promised Messiah. Luke records that Simeon took the boy into his arms, blessed God and began to praise Him (v. 28). The very issue that had occupied Simeon’s thoughts and prayers, that being the consolation of his people, now had become the focal point of human history with the arrival of the Christ-Child.

Having taken the Child into his arms and having realized that this was the Messiah that God promised and that the people of God had looked for throughout their history, Simeon declares that he now is ready to depart from this world because God had fulfilled His promise and his eyes had seen the Christ (v. 29). As God’s servant he had witnessed the arrival of the Savior. He was ready to rest in death assured that redemption had come.

Luke tells us about the reaction of Mary and Joseph; they were “amazed at the things which were being said about [Jesus]” (v. 33) As had happened before, they heard unusual remarks made about their Baby. Simeon understood the advent of the Messiah as a glorious event for which he offered praise to God. The things that he had said up to this point caused joyful amazement in the hearts of Joseph and Mary. However, Simeon’s tone changes and he paints a distressing picture of Christ’s destiny. From Simeon’s perspective, not only did the Messiah’s birth mark the beginning of salvation, it also signaled the beginning of turmoil: “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (vv. 34, 35)

Earlier, I referred to the prophecy of Isaiah. That prophet predicted that a revolutionary process would take place in the world. He said it would begin with the birth of this Child. The world would come under His increasing dominion until He ruled over the whole earth, the prophet taught. Obviously, the coming of the Messiah represented a disruption of sin’s dominion and influence in this world. This disruption and realignment would, by necessity, involve human beings and would mean that their lives would be disturbed, to put it mildly. This aspect of the Messiah’s coming is what Simeon mentions in his last few words.

Simeon declares, “This Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel; and for a sign to be opposed…” (v. 34) The coming of the Messiah manifested the love of God as His plan of redemption continued to unfold, but it also marked the beginning of a process of separation. Some in Israel would be attracted to the Messiah while others would reject Him. Christ would be the cause of a division in the nation and, ultimately, of course, in mankind.

What Simeon predicted is precisely what has unfolded in history. Some have found forgiveness and everlasting life in Jesus, and others have encountered condemnation and everlasting death. There is no neutrality where Jesus Christ is concerned. The Scripture plainly declares that “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36) For some, therefore, the arrival of the Messiah meant condemnation.

This is Simeon’s message in Luke 2. The coming of the Messiah meant joy, of course, for those who longed for His coming and for those who had remained faithful to God; but the coming of the Messiah meant judgment for others who took pleasure in sin. Without Jesus, the day when we all stand before God to take responsibility for our lives will be a day of absolute horror. To stand in the pure light of Deity without Jesus to shield you will scorch a man down to the very center of his soul. No one will escape and no one, except those standing with Jesus, will receive mercy.

That elderly man was predicting that some men would oppose God’s Messiah and work against Him. What Jesus Christ represented and what He had to say would cause many to despise Him. He would cause the true intent of men’s hearts to be revealed. For the first time in the birth narrative, the coming struggle and suffering of Jesus Christ are mentioned. The fact that these elements are mentioned even at the birth of the Christ-Child emphasizes that a significant portion of His ministry would be concerned with disrupting mankind.

Simeon concludes his remarks with a special word for Mary: “and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (v. 35) She would experience deep sorrow over the treatment given to her Son. His coming would cause there to be a revelation of the hearts of all. As we know from a later Biblical record, Mary did, indeed, live to see her Son hated and rejected and nailed to a cross upon which He died.

We know that the Messiah has come. All of the prophecies made concerning Christ’s arrival have been fulfilled and we are living in the days envisioned by the prophets. The coming of the Christ no longer is a promise, it is an accomplished fact of history. His work in this world has begun and the Church is evidence of the progression of that work. The coming of the Messiah means salvation. It means that a payment for our sin has been made and we are reconciled to God. These truths are cause for excitement, optimism, and thanksgiving. Give thanks to God for your salvation even as you pray for the world to embrace the Savior.

If you have a hymnal handy, you might enjoy the following short study I put together for Christmas Eve.

 

Isa 9:6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah gives us an amazing description of the nature of the Child who is to come. He will have an authority that will encompass all rule, all dominions. He will mean light to a sin-darkened world and He will bring order to a world thrown into moral chaos by the fall. Then the prophet lists names/titles that describe what this coming One will be to mankind.

This description should be kept in mind when we think of Christ’s work today and when we consider what the future holds for the work of the Savior through His Church.

Isaiah 40:1-5  “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.  2 “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD’S hand Double for all her sins.”  3 A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.  4 “Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley;  5 Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

This passage comes at the beginning of Isaiah’s extended commentary on the Servant of God. Chapter 40 marks a point of transition in which the prophet’s primary focus is on Christ, rather than Israel. This Servant will do what Israel as God’s servant failed to do.

The hymn Comfort, Comfort Ye My People is based on Isaiah 40:1-5. Many of the prophecies from this point in Isaiah express consolation and hope that Judah’s exile in Babylon is almost over. Isaiah 40: 1-5 is a passage with words of comfort that forecast a new reign. The passage also calls for preparation or repentance in light of what God is going to do.

The author of this hymn is Johannes Olearius (b. Halle, Germany, 1611; d. 1684). The hymn was written in honor of John the Baptist and published it in 1671. It was part of a collection of 1200 hymns, 300 of which were written by Olearius. Olearius came from a family with several Lutheran theologians. After his education, he was ordained as a Lutheran pastor himself. Although Olearius wrote a commentary on the entire Bible and a number of devotional books, he is best remembered for his hymn collection.

Micah 5:2 But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. 3 Therefore, He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel. 4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And this One will be peace.

Other prophets, such as Micah, supply details regarding the circumstances of the Messiah’s birth. Roughly 700 years before the event, Micah foretold the place of the Savior’s birth; and he says something about the beneficial effect of His coming. The people of God will begin to be united under Him and He will be great and He will be peace—peace with God and peace among men.

The hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem was written by Phillips Brooks in 1868. At one point, he spent a Christmas Eve in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity, which made a tremendous impression on Brooks. Three years later, while pastor of the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, Brooks was searching for a new carol for his children to sing in their Sunday School Christmas program. He then wrote the words of this hymn. The church organist, Lewis H. Redner, was asked to compose a melody that children could sing easily. On the evening before the program, Redner came forward with the tune that has become most familiar. He claimed that he was awakened from sleep with the turn running through his head.

What is predicted and described in the Old Testament is fulfilled at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. This event is recorded at length by Matthew and Luke.

Matt. 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”

“Jesus” is the Greek equivalent of “Joshua,” which means “Jehovah saves.” This is the designation given by the angel to Joseph. Jesus would be God the Savior in human flesh. The angel declared that the birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that Immanuel (“God with us”) would come.

The hymn O come, O come, Emmanuel originated in the medieval Church of the 12th century. It began as a series of Antiphons—short “back and forth” statements sung as part of worship services during the Advent season. Each of the statements uses one of the many titles ascribed to Christ in the Scriptures. Today, most hymn books have only five statements, although there were more in earlier versions of the song.

Luke 2:1 ff. (Luke narrates the birth of Jesus) 8 And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night.9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Luke, of course, tells us the most about the birth of the Savior. In this passage, he describes the appearance of angels to a group of shepherds outside Bethlehem. To these ordinary men the announcement came of the birth of the One who would perfectly exemplify meekness and self-sacrifice.

The hymn While Shepherds Watched was written by Nahum Tate in 1700. This hymn is one of the most popular ever written. It is found in nearly every Protestant hymnal. It is a simple narrative account about the shepherds and is written on a level that allows it to be easily understood. The music for the hymn was adapted from a work of Handel.

Luke goes on to say: 15 And it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.

Silent Night was authored by Joseph Mohr who, according to his own testimony, intended to write “the perfect Christmas hymn.” The church organist, Franz Gruber, supplied the tune in time for a Christmas Eve service in 1818. The first performance of this song involved both Mohr and Gruber singing, while Gruber also played the guitar.

Our last selection, also reflecting the significance of the words of the angel to the shepherds, is Joy to the World, written by Isaac Watts. Watts said he did not intend this song to be a Christmas carol. Rather, it was a part of a work in which Watts paraphrased the message of many of the Psalms that spoke of the day of the Messiah’s reign.

 

One of the most interesting periods in history, I believe, is the period of silence between the close of Old Testament revelation and the incarnation, at which point revelation continued. After giving so much information about the coming Savior, information about His character and accomplishments, God stopped speaking. As just indicated, the last prophet to speak before this silence commenced was Malachi.

The people of Malachi’s day were steeped in sin. Some of the most serious charges ever made by God against wayward people are found in the book of Malachi. God accuses them of robbery—they were robbing God by withholding His tithe; perversion of justice—they were calling evil good; mistreatment of the needy—they were taking advantage of the poor and defenseless among them; showing contempt for God—they were offering to Him blemished animals in their sacrifices. And, in the midst of it all, God tells them He knows what they are thinking; they are thinking that God didn’t care about their wicked behavior or despicable lack of regard for Him. But they were wrong.

To say that the sin of Israel had been costly would be a massive understatement. The visitation of God’s covenant curses had decimated the nation, that nation that once had such a glorious future. About 100 years before the time of Malachi, the people had returned from the Babylonian captivity. Eventually, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the temple and city walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt. But instead of gratefully and humbly living out their lives in service to Jehovah, the people continued their unfaithful ways.

When Malachi came upon the scene, the people were far from God in heart, in devotion, and in faith. The time for God to exhort Israel to obedience and the days when He would patiently receive them back after periods of rebellion were coming to an end. One of the last things they hear, however, has to do with that message that has been given again and again, that promise of God upon which the nation was founded, the promise that the majority of the people counted as insignificant. The last words spoken to them are about God’s intention to save our race from the misery of sin:

3:1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. 2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. 5 Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.

Interestingly, although he is speaking of the coming day of the Messiah, this prophet focuses attention for the first time on another character—not the Messiah Himself, but one who will appear at the time of the Messiah to serve as a herald of the Savior’s arrival. Speaking through Malachi, the LORD describes one He calls “My messenger.” The task of this messenger will be to “clear the way” before the LORD. We know, of course, since we have additional information, that this messenger is John the Baptist, the man who preached repentance to the Jews and called them to prepare themselves for Christ’s arrival.

In reference to the coming of God in the flesh, the LORD asks: “But who can endure the day of His coming?” This question sets the mood for what follows, which is a warning that the Messiah will come to purify the people of God; His arrival will mean judgment. He is not coming to accept the people as they are, but to make them into what they should be—and that is part of the wonderful story of our salvation

The people of Judah and Jerusalem, which is a way of describing those who follow the LORD in the day of the Messiah, will be made pleasing to Him once again (v. 4). The Messiah will ensure the acceptability before God of all who are found with Him. Those who break God’s laws, however, will have every reason to fear, the LORD adds (v. 5).

So, Malachi is the last to speak and his message is both encouraging and disturbing. As I noted already, after this, there is silence from God. And this silence was not short in duration. It lasted for more than 400 years. The faithful and unfaithful alike who were alive with Malachi went to their graves with those final words of the LORD ringing in their ears.

The Jews of Malachi’s day were under the authority of the Persians who had conquered the Babylonians, the ones used by God initially to disperse His people in response to their unfaithfulness. For the first 60 years of this period of silence, the Jews remained under Persian rule. Then, as Daniel had predicted many years before, the Greeks, under the leadership of Alexander the Great, subdued the Persians. Eventually, the Jews came under the Syrians who were the political descendants of one of Alexander’s generals. The Syrians took over Judea and the region was divided into various provinces, including Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. This period of Syrian rule was one of much calamity for the Jews.

Antiochus the Great, the leader of the Syrians at the beginning of this period, was harsh in his treatment of the Jews, but his successor, Antiochus Epiphanes began a campaign of terror against them. In 170 BC, Antiochus marched on Jerusalem under the pretense of quieting various Jewish factions He promptly destroyed the city and committed unspeakable acts against the Jews. Thousands were killed; women and children were sold into slavery. The temple was invaded and the Holy of Holies desecrated. Jewish religion was outlawed and a foreign governor was appointed. All copies of the Law that were found were burned or otherwise mutilated; those in whose possession copies of the Law were found were executed. After offering a pig on the altar of God, Antiochus erected on that spot a statue in honor of the pagan god, Jupiter Olympius.

If we understand the significance of the temple and the Holy of Holies within the temple, then we understand the stunning implications of this event. The temple represented the presence of God in Israel; the Holy of Holies was the place where He appeared to the high priests. God has left His people. This event, like few other events ever could, signaled the breach between God and His covenant people. The year was 168 B.C., and still, no word from God.

Three years later, a resistance movement emerged under the capable leadership of Judas Maccebeus, or Judas “the hammer.” The movement grew and, in time, Jerusalem was retaken from the Syrians, the temple was refurnished and on the 25th of December, three years to the day after Antiochus sacrificed that pig on the altar of God, the sacrifices of the Jews were offered once again. This resistance movement, however, was greatly hampered by fighting between the orthodox Jews who wished to preserve their heritage and those who wished to continue the assimilation of the Jews into the surrounding culture. In time, the Maccabean family died out and a rival family, the Herods, moved into a position of power. The Herods secured the support of the Romans who were, at this time, conquering that territory. From 63 B.C. onward, the Romans were in control. The Jews had passed from under the authority of the Persians to the Greeks, and from the Greeks to the Syrians, and from the Syrians to the Romans.

In about 3 B.C., Herod the Great died and his son, Herod Antipas, became king over the region in which the Jews lived. Now, God began to speak once again:

Luke 1:5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. 8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. –by the way, let me note here that the people had been taught to pray for the Messiah during this particular incense offering– 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

In this familiar story, we are told about Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. Elizabeth and Zacharias are introduced as “both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly” before Him (v. 6). This phrase does not mean that they were without sin; it means that they were true worshipers of Jehovah. We also are told that they were childless and “advanced in years.” (v. 7) Luke means to indicate that although they wanted children, Elizabeth was barren and, at this point in their lives, the two were beyond the time of having offspring. Luke states further that Zacharias was chosen to perform a particular act during temple worship (vv. 8, 9). He was to enter the temple and offer the incense that was associated with both the morning and evening sacrifices. The interesting element here is that there were so many qualified priests at this time, that a man had an opportunity to perform this task only once in his lifetime.

We know what happened while Zacharias was in the temple. An angel of the Lord revealed that he soon would become a father (vv. 11 ff). This child, the angel explains, “will be great in the sight of the Lord.” (v. 15) And the angel applies to this child the prophecy of Malachi, that prophecy we just considered—those words that were among the last spoken by the LORD before His voice fell silent (vv. 16, 17). That prophecy, you’ll remember, told of a figure who will appear just before the Messiah, and his task would be to announce the Savior’s coming. Here, the angel adds that this messenger “will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.” This quotes from the very end of Malachi’s book where the LORD again emphasizes the ministry of the coming Messiah.

Now that the silence is broken, the news that had been anticipated for so many generations is being broadcast by God to His servants. For over 400 years, God had said nothing, but now He is speaking again and what He is saying is the most wonderful message our race could hear. The day of redemption has arrived; the day of the Messiah, promised in the Garden of Eden and longed for by the faithful, is dawning.

Elizabeth conceived and gave birth; Zacharias, having been made deaf and dumb by the angel, insisted that the boy be called “John.” His ability to communicate was restored and we are told that “Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied.” His words are found in Luke 1:68-79. For four centuries, the people of God have had no communication, no assurance that God would keep that promise He made, no revelation telling them to remain hopeful. But now the Spirit moves upon Zacharias in the same way He did upon the prophets of the Old Testament. Their words were the words the Spirit wanted communicated and the same is true in this instance.

As he begins, Zacharias blesses the Lord God of Israel because the birth of his son meant that God was coming to visit His people and accomplish their redemption (v. 68). Zacharias believed that the birth of John means God is worthy to be praised—not just because John is born, but because of what is going to happen in connection with John’s birth. Additionally, two things stand out in this prophecy. First, Zacharias ties together many of the ideas and themes that are part of the story of redemption from Adam through Isaiah. The overall theme, of course, is mentioned immediately: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people.” This is what the promise given by God was all about for those many centuries. God promised to save the faithful and deliver them from sin.

Zacharias says, the Lord “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant.” (v. 69) This is a common metaphor in the Old Testament. It is a symbol of power and victory. In this case, Zacharias is connecting the birth of John to the Messianic prophecies concerning the house of David. The Messiah would be a descendant of David and would come to occupy David’s throne to rule over the people of God. In vv. 70-75, he refers to God’s previous promises of redemption spoken through the prophets. The events unfolding had been foretold long ago and had been anticipated by the faithful. Above all, as Zacharias says, the coming of the Messiah would mean that we would be able to serve God without fear, serve Him in holiness and righteousness all our days. This is what the faithful longed to see generation after generation; they lived for this day, they prayed for this day, they knew that the day of the Messiah would mean salvation for the world.

The second element that stands out in this prophecy is the specific information given about John, the son of Zacharias. After tying together many of the Messianic strands in his prophesy, Zacharias adds information not yet given. The ministry of John would be unique among all the prophets who ever spoke for the LORD. He is the last prophet to appear before the Messiah, who Himself is God’s final Prophet. John will be “the prophet of the Most High” and he will “go on before the Lord to prepare His ways.” (v. 76) Zacharias shows the association between John’s coming ministry and that of Christ when he says that John will “give to the people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins.” (v. 77) John will declare to the people that the way of redemption has come and that in Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness and reconciliation—the very things needed by fallen man.

Notice how Zacharias closes his prophecy: the Messiah will come “to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (v. 79) This is a partial quote from Isa. 9 where that prophet characterized the people as being in spiritual darkness. So John’s ministry would be to announce that the One spoken of in such prophecies had come and with Him had come deliverance from the darkness of sin.

Here again we see how the message of hope has been one. John would not predict the Messiah’s coming, like all his brethren before him, he would announce that their predictions were realized and now the time had come to receive the Messiah, not just long for Him; now the time had come to embrace Him instead of hoping for Him; now, that which had been the focus of attention throughout history was a reality. God was no longer silent, but had come in the flesh and was preparing to save His people.

From this story of the breaking of God’s silence, we should come to an important realization: God does not ignore sin. This is one of the ironies of this season. Much of the world is celebrating its condemnation. If Christ has come, it means that sin is real and the fall of our race is real and our condemnation before God is real and our alienation from God is real. For those not found in the Savior, His arrival means judgment. His coming means deliverance for those who love Him, but just as assuredly means judgment for those who do not embrace Him.

Throughout history people have often mistaken the supposed silence of God to indicate that He is not there or, if there, cares little about the behavior of those on the earth. When God is not speaking or striking down His enemies, the wicked assume there is no accountability. They ridicule those who warn them about the coming day of judgment. Christians alone have reason to celebrate. The coming of Christ meant our deliverance from condemnation, not our confirmation in condemnation. Keep this in mind as you interact with people this season. Spend some extra time, perhaps, praying for the salvation of a friend or relative.

Previously, I noted that the work of redemption is described in various ways in the Bible. The primary theme associated with the ministry of Christ, however, is peace. Before He came, the prophets described peace as one of the leading characteristics of His reign as our Redeemer-King. While on earth, Jesus frequently spoke of peace as He taught His disciples and, on occasion, strangers. In the epistles, we find this same theme expounded upon.

The lack of peace between God and man is traceable, as we know, to man’s fall in the Garden; that incident set the human race on a course of conflict—conflict with God, of course, but also conflict with one another. This latter issue is described by God when He confronts our first parents and the serpent. The LORD says that two lines will come forth from the woman—the line of the Deliverer and the line of the serpent. They will engage in continuing battle until the serpent’s head is crushed by the One who will be sent into the world from heaven.

The coming of the Savior is often described as the arrival of peace, the cessation of conflicts, and the end of hostility throughout God’s creation. The Lord’s appearance is seen as a restoration of the harmony that once characterized God’s creation. In the Savior, fallen man is reconciled to God and enjoys peace once more.

Please read Luke 2:1-20

In the first seven verses of Luke 2, we are given a brief account of Christ’s birth. Luke merely gives us a broad description of the circumstances in which the Child was born. In response to an order by the Romans, Joseph made his way to Bethlehem in order to register for a census (vv. 1-4). Luke adds that Joseph was accompanied by Mary who was engaged to him and who was “with child.” (v. 5) Nothing else is said to establish the context for what is about to take place.

We know from other portions of Scripture that Joseph is aware that Mary has conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and he knows that she is carrying the Christ. After this limited introduction, Luke writes:

“6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

One issue of inconvenience for Joseph and Mary was the fact that they could not secure a normal hotel room due to the fact that the city was filled with visitors who had come to register for the census. But the truth is, God arranged this context for the birth of the Christ.

Think of all the wonderful descriptions of Christ that we find in the Bible. Think of all the wonderful things said about Him—what He would be and what He would do; think of the fact that previous generations had hoped in Him, had prayed for His coming, and had been kept from despair by the mere thought that someday the Messiah would come into the world.

The fact that Mary and Joseph did not have a typical place to spend the night is attributable to something more than the overcrowding of the city due to the census. Through His prophets, the LORD declared that the circumstances of the Savior’s birth would emphasize His humble character. God appointed these circumstances and this time so that His Son would come into the world in a manner fitting for a Servant.

But let’s also remember a few other things, such as God’s declaration that the One to come would crush the head of the serpent and destroy his works. And remember God’s dramatic judgment of sin in Noah’s day to demonstrate that righteousness would yet triumph (and thus the promise of a Deliverer was kept alive).

Recall God’s words to Abraham in which that patriarch heard of a world-wide blessing to be brought by the Savior; and the days of Moses, the people were reminded with every sacrifice—especially the annual sacrifice for the nation on the day of atonement—that a great and powerful Savior would one day come and accomplish in reality what was pictured in the types of the Levitical system.

Remember how the coming Savior was presented in David’s day—as a beautifully arrayed and victorious Warrior-King; and think back to Isaiah’s incredible description of the work of the Messiah. He would bring light to those sitting in darkness; He would bring peace to the world; He would have all authority and He would be God in the flesh.

Keeping all that in mind, keeping in mind the magnificent buildup that the Messiah has had over the centuries, keeping in mind what His coming meant to mankind, listen again to Luke’s words: “6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

The Baby referred to is that One promised by God, explained to Abraham, pictured in Israel’s religious services, described by David as a stunning and mighty King, and presented by Isaiah as Ruler of the earth! And here He is being born in a stable—not a palace, not even in a home; and being wrapped in cloths, not garments of royalty.

And yet—and here is one of the unique truths about the Christian faith—this is perfectly in keeping with everything we have learned about the Messiah. How can that be? It is so because the information given to us prior to this event describes a King of a different kind and a Ruler of a different authority and a Captain of a different army. This One comes to accomplish a great feat, but not through the means normally employed in this world.

From the moment of His birth to the day of His death, Jesus displayed meekness. This Savior comes to rule by submitting to Another and gain the conquest by surrendering Himself. This is God’s Messiah, not the world’s version; this is the One who saves from sin and gives eternal security, not one who merely delivers from temporal threats. This is the Christ, the Savior of our race and Luke’s portrayal of His humble beginning is completely in keeping, as I said before, with the image we have throughout the Old Testament.

After telling us the most basic facts about the circumstances of the Savior’s birth, Luke continues and describes the announcement that was made on that night. Somewhere outside the town of Bethlehem, there were certain shepherds (v. 8). These men had settled in for the night; their animals were resting and they, no doubt, would soon take turns sleeping and keeping watch over the flock.

On this night, everything appeared routine. In fact, everything seemed routine throughout the whole world. There were no celebrations because no one knew what was happening. However, heaven knew was happening and Luke tells us about heavenly beings who made an announcement regarding the Savior’s birth:

9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

One second, these shepherds were enjoying a quiet evening after a long day of hard work; they were preparing for the night watch. The next second, however, the area is filled with the purest light they have ever seen and an angel is speaking to them. They had never had such an experience. They were simple men, men of no renown.

Yet, they were the perfect candidates to be the first to hear of the Messiah’s birth. He, too, will be a Shepherd. He will be judged as a Man of no renown in the eyes of the world; He will know what it is to labor and to care for those around Him. He, too, will have a flock—the very elect of God—and He will love them and tend to them and even give Himself for them. So it is entirely fitting for these shepherds to have this announcement made to them.

The fear felt by the shepherds was only momentary and what they heard from the angel immediately vanquished any dread. “Do not be afraid,” he said, and he had good reason to make that statement! The Savior, the Son of David, had been born in the city of David, just a short distance away! They must have been instantly overwhelmed with various impulses—confusion, curiosity, hopefulness.

The shepherds, no doubt still dumbfounded, are then told how to find this Savior (v. 12) and the scene then changes as “there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’” (v. 13) The magnificence of this moment grows now as the announcing angel is joined by a host of others and together they praise the LORD. This must have been an astonishing sight—the night sky filled with angels singing to God.

This scene ends with the shepherds determining to go straight into Bethlehem to find this Christ-Child. And, just as they had been told, they found the Baby lying in a manger (v. 16). Naturally, as Luke tells us, the shepherds related their recent experience with the angels (v. 17). As they related this news, “all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.” (v. 18)

Luke specifically mentions Mary among those who listened to the shepherds’ report (v. 19). She heard these men state that her Baby was the Messiah, the Savior promised and anticipated. Here, we are told that she “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The idea in the Greek is not simple astonishment, but holy wonderment and, further, the notion is that Mary kept going over these elements in her mind.

Finally, the shepherds are on their way, “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.” (v. 20) And this is where Luke ends his report on the birth of the Savior. The peace promised has been declared.