Echoes of Christmas – Obedience

When I read the Christmas story, I am struck by the obedience of the people involved in the story.

Consider them:
Zacharias – he doubted the angel’s message, yet John was born in due time.

Mary – she could have refused to be the mother of Christ.  She had no forewarning of her role in God’s plan, but she did not approach it lightly.  She declared herself “a bondslave of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).  Her beautiful Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55 is all about God and He dealings with mankind.

Joseph – he thought about sending Mary away and not marrying her.  Instead he obeyed the instructions that he was given and married her and named the baby Jesus.  He also obeyed when he told to take his little family to Egypt to save Jesus’ life.  Later he obeyed again and took his family to Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-23).

Joseph and Mary – they followed the law and brought Jesus to the temple to present Him before the Lord.  While they were there, Simeon blessed them.  Because they obeyed they received the blessing (Luke 2:34)

The shepherds – imagine looking for a baby in a manger!  Pretty ridiculous sounding, yet these men followed the instructions that they were given and found the Messiah.

The wise men – in their journey to find the king, they received instructions from two different men – a worldly king (Mat. 2:8) and the King of kings (Mat. 2:12).  They chose to follow God’s instructions.  We don’t know anything else about these men, but we do know that their deaths were not caused by Herod.

We can learn from the obedience of these people.  From Zacharias we learn to not allow ourselves to be hindered by doubts.  Mary’s story reminds us that our obedience should bring us closer to God.  Joseph helps us to see that the first step of obedience makes the next step easier.  The shepherds’ story points out the obedience brings blessing.  The importance of following the right instructor is the lesson from the wise men.

The obedience of these people who are part of the Christmas story gives us some insight into the life of Jesus Himself.  His life was one of obedience.  He said,

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will,
but the will of Him who sent Me.
John 6:38

We admonished to follow His example.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps
1 Peter 2:21

 

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Echoes of Christmas – Do Not Be Afraid

Three individuals and one group of people were told to not be afraid.

First, Zacharias
 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.”
Luke 1:13

Second, Mary
 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.”
Luke 1:30

Third, Joseph
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 the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew 1:20

Fourth, the shepherds
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”
Luke 2:10

The Christmas story is a reminder that Christians do not need to be afraid.  They can trust God and know that He will only do what is best for us.  If we are following His will for our lives, as these people did, we will not need to be afraid.

All things may not be easy.  Consider Zacharias.  He was unable to speak for awhile.  That could not have been an easy situation.  Notice the difference between what he said when the angel spoke to him and what he said after John was born and his voice was restored to him (Luke 1:1-20, 64-79).  This trial that he went through helped him to understand God better and to be in a better relationship with God.  That is what the hard times are supposed to help a Christian to do – build a closer relationship with God Himself.  If we can trust the Lord completely, we will see that we do not need to be afraid.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Isaiah 41:10

 

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Echoes of Christmas – Emmanuel

Yesterday, I wrote about the name Jesus.  He was also referred to by another name – Emmanuel.

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.”
Matthew 1:24

This verse in Matthew is a quotation of Isaiah 7:14.  Seeing the name in both the Old and the New Testaments helps us to see the eternality of Jesus.  He is God and has always been God.  The name Emmanuel reminds us of a precious truth about God – His omnipresence.   To know that God is always present with us, especially with those who are Christians, is a comfort.  It should also be a caution to help us to not do wrong.

This name Emmanuel also reminds us that Jesus is God so by studying the Gospel account of His life on earth as a man we learn about God.  Combining what we learn from the Gospels with the truths we learn about God from the rest of the Bible, our study will increase our love and worship of God.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying,
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

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Echoes of Christmas – Jesus

Joseph was told by the angel that the child that Mary was carrying should be named Jesus.

you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21

The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Jeshua or Joshua.  It was a common name.  There are two examples in the New Testament.

 and also Jesus who is called Justus;
these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.
Colossians 4:11

When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos,
they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus
Acts 13:6

Notice one of these men was a false prophet.  Why would God allow the name of the only Saviour of the world to be named a common name?  To add to that in the last days there will be multiple anti-Christs.

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming,
even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.
1 John 2:18

I think that God allowed this so that we would search for Christ.  He wanted us to study the Bible so that we will know who Jesus is and what He has done.   Just because a person uses His name does not mean that he or she knows the true Jesus.  The Jesus to follow is described in Philippians 2:5-11.

 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, although He existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,
and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him,
and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow,
of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is the Jesus to believe in.  He alone can give salvation from sin.

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.
Acts 16:31

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Echoes of Christmas – Prayers

Prayer is an important part of a Christian’s life, but it isn’t usually considered part of the Christmas story.  There are two stories in Luke that show us the value of prayer.

The first story is in the first chapter of Luke, and it is about Zacharias.  He was taking his turn as the priest to offer incense at the altar of incense.  The altar of incense is a picture of prayer and was to have new incense in the morning and in the evening, according to Exodus 30.

While Zacharias was laying the incense before the Lord, he learned that his own personal prayer was going to be answered.  His prayer was for a child.  The angel Gabriel reported that the child would be a boy and that his name was to be John.  At the same time as Zacharias was learning about the answer to his prayer, the people outside the temple were also praying.   This gives a picture of the unity that is part of Christian praying.

The Christmas story gives us another picture of this unity of prayer in the story of Anna recorded in Luke 2.  She shared the joyful news of the Messiah’s coming “to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (v. 38)  This story shows us the unity of purpose in prayer – prayer for a Redeemer.  This prayer was also answered as the Messiah was there at the temple as a baby.  This seems to be an unusual way to answer this prayer, but Jesus did grow up and did die on the cross for our sins.

Matthew 18:20 states, “ For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”  These are words Jesus spoke, and they remind us that there is value for more than one person praying.  Having a godly purpose for praying and having more than one person praying about this purpose, we can be assured of answers.

There is a caution concerning prayer that we see in the story of Zacharias.  When we pray, we must believe that God can answer and that we are trusting in Him alone.  Zacharias did not believe Gabriel when he presented his message of John’s birth.

And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak
until the day when these things take place,
because you did not believe my words,
which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
Luke 1:20

God will not deal with us in the same way if we do not believe, but we can be certain that He will deal with us if we choose not to believe Him and His Word.

 But if any of you lacks wisdom,
let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach,
and it will be given to him.
 But he must ask in faith without any doubting,
for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,
 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James 1:5-8

James has some encouraging words concerning prayer.

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
James 5:16b

When we pray according to the Scripture, we will be praying in unity with other Christians.  We can be assured that our prayers will be answered, even if the answer does not come immediately as happened to both Zacharias and Anna.  As we pray, let us not follow Zacharias’s disbelief.  Let us instead learn to trust God more and more.

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Echoes of Christmas – Waiting

For the next few days I would like to share some thoughts that I gained from this Christmas.

Waiting.  That is a big part of Christmas.  Waiting for the season to come.  Waiting until it is time to decorate.  Waiting until guests arrive.  Waiting for the time to open presents.

This waiting, although it is exciting, is for something temporary.  Eventually the tree and decorations are put away.  The guests leave.  The gifts are used up, broken, lost or set aside.  The season changes so that there is nothing to remind you of Christmas.

In the Christmas story there are two people who waited.  What they waited for was eternal.  The two people I am thinking of were Simeon and Anna.

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.
Luke 2:25

 At that very moment [Anna] came up and began giving thanks to God,
and continued to speak of Him
to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2:38

Simeon was waiting for “the consolation of Israel.” Consolation means comfort such a person gives in response to another person’s grief.  In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is called the Comforter.  He can be the Comforter because there is Someone who can give the ultimate comfort.  That person was the one Simeon held in his hands – Jesus.

Anna and others were waiting for “the redemption of Jerusalem.”  This redemption is possible because of a Redeemer.  The Redeemer is the One Anna was thanking God for – Jesus.

It is easier for us to wait because we have the complete Scriptures.  We can find the answers that we need in God’s Word.  We can read that our salvation is possible because of what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross for our sins and that our salvation can make us completely His.  This waiting will bring us eternal rewards that can never be destroyed or lost.

My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation.
Psalm 62:1

And it will be said in that day,
“Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”
Isaiah 25:9

Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed;
Those who deal treacherously without cause will be ashamed.
Psalm 25:3

For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.
Isaiah 64:4

We wait, not for something intangible, but we wait for a real Person who is coming again.

For our citizenship is in heaven,
from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;
who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
Philippians 3:20-21

What are you waiting for?  Every day we wait for something.  We wait for answers.  We wait for pay checks.  We wait for family or friends.  We wait, but are we waiting for the One who can answer our questions, who gives eternal rewards, who “will never leave us or forsake us”?  Read the Bible.  Your waiting does not have to be long.

 

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Remember

 Therefore remember
that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision”
by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—
remember that you were at that time separate from Christ,
excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise,
having no hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus
you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:11-13

The focus of these verses is to remind us of what we were without Christ.  We were separate from God and could not receive all the promises of God.  We had no hope.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world,
according to the prince of the power of the air,
of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh,
indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind,
and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
Ephesians 2:1-3

These verses give us a dismal, but true, picture of ourselves when we were without Christ and were controlled by sin.

But God, being rich in mercy . . .
Ephesians 2:4
But now in Christ Jesus
Ephesians 2:13

Remember! We have been provided an incredible cleansing from sin through Jesus.  We should have no desire to sin as we did before or desire to see how much like sinful people we can be without being totally like them or desire to follow man’s thinking which is likely to be wrong.  We were corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit (Ephesians 4:22) – the deceit of the great deceiver, Satan. 

But God, being rich in mercy . . .
Ephesians 2:4
But now in Christ Jesus
Ephesians 2:13

Because we have been forgiven so much we should quickly and joyfully follow our great Saviour.

 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus,
  that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self,
which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,
and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self,
which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Ephesians 4:21-24

Remember why we should do that.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions,
made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
and raised us up with Him,
and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace
in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God;
not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Ephesians 2:4-10

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