Saturday, December 23, 2023

Christmas Commission

Last time I wrote about the Christmas Crisis, which immediately followed the birth of Jesus. This time I will be writing about OUR role in the Christmas story.

In Luke 2:10, we read about the angels announcing the birth of Jesus, saying, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people…” Fast forward about 33 years, and Jesus uses a very similar phrase when speaking to His disciples. In Mark 16:15, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

The word the angels used for “good tidings” in Luke 2:10 is the same word Jesus uses in Mark 16:15 for “gospel.” The good news of Jesus was for all people over 2,000 years ago, and it is still for all people today.

As Christians, we are told by Jesus in Mark 16:15 to go and preach the Gospel (good tidings) to all people. The same news given to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus and what the Magi experienced when meeting Jesus is what Jesus instructs His disciples to do as well. Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all people. If you are a disciple of Jesus, then you are commissioned by Him to go and share good news.

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” “All people” and “every creature” are clarified even further to “all nations,” which means all ethnic groups. According to the United Nations, there are 195 recognized countries globally. There are several thousand different ethnic groups in the world. The largest country by population is China, with almost 1.5 billion people. The second largest country by population is India, with about 1.4 billion. Can you guess what the third largest country by population is? It’s the USA, with about 330 million people!

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Most of us reading this article are living in the third largest populated area for sharing the Gospel. For going! For loving! We are to go and bring good news of great joy to all people:

to the shepherds and the Magi,

to the Republicans, the Democrats, the politically homeless, and the indifferent,

to the vaxxers, anti-vaxxers, and everyone in between,

to the rich, the poor, and the middle class,

to the citizens, the refugees, and the illegal aliens,

to every nation, every tribe, every tongue, and every ethnic group!

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to begin to bring the good news of the Kingdom of God with you wherever you go. Jesus is good news that will bring you and others great joy! Experience Jesus for yourself and then share Him!

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Friday, December 22, 2023

Christmas Crisis

Last time I wrote about the Christmas communication from the angels to the shepherds of good tidings of great joy for all people. This time I will be writing about the crisis that later followed the birth of Jesus.

In examining the Christmas story, we understand that the conception and birth of Jesus are both miraculous. The days and weeks immediately following His birth were fairly standard. Eight days after the birth of any Hebrew boy was their circumcision, and a couple of weeks after the birth of any firstborn Hebrew was their presentation to the Lord in the temple. (Luke 2:21-24) After they fulfilled their religious duties, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph traveled back to their home in Nazareth. (Luke 2:39-40)

Several months or even a year or two later, the Magi, wise men from the East (most likely Arabia or Persia), came to find Jesus. The Magi were astrologers and noticed an important star in the sky. Knowing about prophecies written of a King being born, they traveled for many months to find and worship the new King.

Not knowing exactly where the new King was, the Magi asked around and got in touch with the people who should know of a new leader being born, the political authorities. Herod, the Roman king/governor of Judea, told the Magi to find this King and let him know where the King was living so he too could worship Him. (Matthew 2:1-8)

After visiting Herod, the Magi see the star again and follow it until they find King Jesus. They are filled with joy and give gifts to Jesus and worship Him. The Magi are another excellent example that the birth of Jesus was good tidings of great joy for ALL people. The Magi were not Hebrews; they were astrologers and magicians from the East. They would have most likely been followers of a different religion, but they were now worshippers of Jesus. (Matthew 2:9-11)

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After meeting King Jesus, the Magi were told by an angel not to revisit Herod, so they traveled back home a different way. An angel also told Joseph of Herod’s anger and evil plan, and he, Mary, and Jesus escaped and lived in Egypt. Herod, not wanting someone to take away his job as king/governor, ordered the mass genocide of all children two and younger. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were refugees in Egypt until the death of Herod, and then they moved back to Israel and lived in Nazareth. (Matthew 2:12-23)

Next time I will wrap up the Christmas story and write about the most important part of all, the Christmas Commission.

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Christmas Communication

Last time I wrote about the many difficulties of Mary and Joseph as they obeyed the commands to travel to Bethlehem while pregnant. This time I will be writing about the communication of the birth of Jesus.

In Luke 2:8-14 we read of angels appearing to shepherds and communicating to them the birth of Jesus. The only event as important as the birth of Jesus (the Christmas story) is the death and resurrection of Jesus (the Easter story). The news of Jesus being born is world-changing, history-changing, and life-changing for any person who chooses to listen! The angels chose to tell this incredible news to, first of all, lowly shepherds.

If it was my job to tell of the birth of the Savior of the world then I would have picked someone to tell other than shepherds. Shepherds were out in the middle of nowhere and often alone. Who were they going to tell other than their livestock? Why tell shepherds? I think this would be news you would want to announce to the most important and well-connected people you know, people who could spread the news the furthest and the quickest. God had a much better plan.

Luke 2:10 says, “Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people...’” The first thing the angel said was, “Do not be afraid.” If any of us ever have an angel encounter like this then I’m sure they will need to tell us to not be afraid as well! The second thing they said was “behold.” They were telling the shepherds to pay close attention. The angels were bringing “good tidings” of “great joy” for “all people.”

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“Good tidings” is where we get the word evangelism from. The angels were sharing good tidings or good news with the shepherds. These good tidings were of “great joy”. Up until that time, there had never been such an occasion for as great of joy or gladness as the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. This good news that brings great joy was to be for “all people.” The good news of Jesus was for everyone, everywhere, for all time. This is demonstrated immediately as the angels choose to tell people of low economical and social status.

Immediately after hearing the wonderful news from the angels, the shepherds go and visit Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and praise and glorify God for what they experienced (Luke 2:15-20). The next post about the Christmas story will be on the topic of the Christmas Crisis.

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Christmas Commands

A couple of Decembers ago I had the opportunity to write devotionals once a week for the local newspaper in Park Rapids, MN. I wrote about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Since they were already written, I figured I would share them here as well for anyone interested.

Most of us are probably familiar with the Christmas story, but I want to examine the story a little more closely and pull out a few key points. In Luke 1:26-38 we read about Mary being visited by an angel of the Lord and being told who her Son will be. She is confused and has questions, as any of us would, but she responds in such a beautiful way I pray we can all emulate. Mary says to the angel, “Let it be to me according to your word.” May we all respond to the commands and words of the Lord in a similar fashion!

In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, Luke mentions there being a decree or command by the political leader Caesar Augustus. This command forced Joseph and his soon to be wife, Mary, to go to his hometown to be taxed. (Luke 2:1-5) This would have been a several day walk for Joseph and ride by donkey for Mary. All while Mary is VERY pregnant. I can’t imagine how difficult and uncomfortable of a journey this would have been for the couple! Unfortunately, disobedience to the Roman Empire would have been even more difficult.

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Conquering nations in the ancient world worked in various ways. Some brutally destroyed and plundered, some conquered people as slaves, others allowed the people to remain in their land and work as before, but with one major change: the conquered people had to pay taxes to their rulers.

In addition to the political and physical adversity Joseph and Mary faced, there were also cultural and religious complications. Mary was pregnant by someone other than Joseph, and this would have been difficult to deal with and explain. Joseph had the right to divorce Mary and probably would have if he had not received a visitation from an angel of the Lord. (Matthew 1:18-25) The angel let Joseph know Mary’s virgin birth story was true.

Joseph had to face the awkwardness of relatives and friends knowing his wife was pregnant by someone other than him. I believe this is the reason they didn’t find anywhere to stay while in Bethlehem and were forced to sleep with livestock in a stable. (Luke 2:6-7) While completing their civic duty in Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus, all while receiving no help or support from their extended family. The next post will be about the communication of the birth of Jesus.

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel