Monday, December 25, 2006

The Work of Christmas Begins

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins.

To find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart ...

And to radiate the Light of Christ,
every day,in every way, in all we do
and in all that we say.

Then the work of Christmas begins.

- Canadian Bible Society Christmas card, 2006

Saturday, December 23, 2006


The prophets spoke of a coming Messianic King. This King would rise from the dynasty of David.

I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the horses from Jerusalem. The bows used in war will be broken. The king will talk to the nations about peace. His kingdom will go from sea to sea, and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. (Zech. 9:10 NCV)

His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!
(Isa. 9:7 NLT)

Such were the hopes and prayers of Israel as they languished under the domination of Caesar's Rome. They believed the Messiah would be in the same order of their mighty warrior, King David; a conquering Champion, overthrowing the foe.

Instead, Jesus came. Outwardly He bore the image of a commoner but inwardly He bore the image of The King. The Magi came looking for One who is born King, not a prince. ( Matt. 2:2) And the angels sang! Jesus moved about with a royal presence. No one spoke like Him. His authority was unparalleled, His power unequalled. Over nature, demons, death. Life itself rested in the palm of His hands.

He did not attempt to subvert the existing government. He came preaching the Kingdom of God. He led, not an army, but a motley crew of 12. With these He demonstrated the Kingdom of God, preaching conversion, a change from within of heart and life. Such conversional change would transform societal standards for the benefit of all. The inner tendencies toward evil would be conquered.

Popularity disintegrated into betrayal. I wonder if the angels cried. Condemned to death by crucifixion Jesus stood before Pilate. Condemned but kingly. So much so that Pilate inquired, Are you the King of the Jews? Jesus answered, "I am not an earthly king. If I were, my followers would have fought when I was arrested by the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world."

Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. The soldiers made a crown of long, sharp thorns and put it on his head, and they put a royal purple robe on him. "Hail! King of the Jews!" they mocked, and they hit him with their fists. Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, "Here is the man ... Here is your king!" !" (John 19:1-3, 14 NCV)

Reading this and parallel passages I am always reminded and intrigued by Psalm 93:1 (NCV) The Lord is king. He is clothed in majesty. The Lord is clothed in majesty and armed with strength. The world is set, and it cannot be moved.

Clothed in majesty! Armed with strength! Fully in control!

No greater - nor grander - display of majesty do we see than Jesus coming forth wearing the crown, the blood, the robe, in purchasing our salvation! Like His ancestor David, Jesus went to battle armed with just the essentials. The Cross became the eternal sword of the LORD against everything wrong and evil. Jesus wore the mockery with a regal dignity, a majesty no other could or did. The battle was His. And He conquered all! He proved Himself The King!

A television program asked the question "Where are they now?" The program was about celebrities and child stars who had been famous but had quickly faded from the public eye. Now, with 2000 years of hindsight, years littered with the bones of the famous and infamous, we might ask, "Where are they now?" Where is Caesar and his kingdom? Well, Augustus died, and his kingdom faded long ago. But Jesus lives, and His kingdom - not of this world - is all around us.

We await today His second advent. The final scene of the Bible is the coronation of Jesus Christ - the act and ceremony of crowning Him King of Kings and Lord of Lords - the banishment of Evil and its consequences, and the ushering in of the eternal Kingdom of God.

Then I saw heaven opened, and there before me was a white horse. The rider on the horse is called Faithful and True, and he is right when he judges and makes war. His eyes are like burning fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him, which no one but himself knows. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.

Jesus rides in splendor and victory to establish the final installment of the Kingdom of God on earth. His robe dipped in blood - reminiscent of another time - signals ultimate defeat of the forces of evil and victory for the armies of heaven. The King rides magnificently! And angels will rejoice!

Of this King and His Kingdom the promise is made: He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn't even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn't want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten. (John 1:10-13 Msg)

We get in on the eternal victory of The King!

Come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us give a joyous shout to the rock of our salvation! Let us come before him with thanksgiving. Let us sing him psalms of praise. For the LORD is a great God, the great King above all gods ... Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker ... (Psa. 95 NLT)

Let Earth receive her KING! The ruler of the kings of the earth ... King of the nations ... All the nations will come and worship you ... (Rev. 1:5; 15:3,4)

Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

WHAT WAS THE STAR? - John MacArthur/Grace To You/12-21-06

What was the nature of the star? “We have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” What was the nature of the star? So I did some reading this week and last week, to try to find out what the star was, you won’t believe the suggestions. First of all, some people say it was a genuine, real, bonafided, gild edge, honest to goodness star. Some say it was Jupiter, because Jupiter is called the king of the planets. Some say, and this was Kepler’s theory that it was the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the sign of the fish. And some say it was just an erratic comet. Some say it was a low hanging meteor, and some say it was the star of destiny in the heart of mankind. That’s a lot of dribble if ever I heard it.

You wanta know what it was ... I’ll tell ya what I think it is. Look at Luke 2:9 and maybe this will help to answer a question you’ve probably had since you were a little kid, if you’re still a little kid you’ve still got it. Luke 2:9, now wa...here’s a good key, here we are not at the wise men incident but at the shepherds, and they were the first to come, and they were of Israel. And they are a sort of a picture of the remnant. “There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, an angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were very much afraid.”

Now what was shining in the sky when the shepherds saw it? What was it? It was the glory of the Lord. And if you go back into the Old Testament and you studied the concept of the glory of God, you will find that the glory of God is manifest as light, right?

Over and over and over again in the Old Testament the glory of God is manifest as light, when God radiates His presence He transforms it into ineffable light. When the glory of God appeared at the daytime it was like a cloud of light, when it appeared at night it was a pillar of fire, when the glory of God descended on the tabernacle it was as light, when Moses went up into the mountain, and he said, show me Thy glory, God hid him in a rock and God showed him His glory manifest as light, and it was so much light that it got on his face and when he came down the mountain side and spoke to the people his face was lit up. The glory of God is blazing light.

And when Jesus revealed who He was, and revealed His glory on the mount of transfiguration, He pulled back His flesh and they beheld His what? His glory, as transparent light. And when Jesus comes the second time out of heaven, He will come in blazing light, and Revelation says, God will turn out all the lights of heaven, all the stars will fall, all the suns, all the moons, everything goes pitch black, heaven rolls up like a scroll, and when it’s pitch black then Christ comes revealed as blazing light, and people cry for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them to hide them from the face of His glory.

Now all that just to remind you that God’s glory is manifest in the scripture as light, as light. He told Moses he couldn’t look upon His face and live, he'd be consumed in it. It’d be like standing ten feet from the sun only it would be like a million, million suns. And I believe that it was the glory of the Lord that shone that night when God’s glory was as ... was descending to earth, it was God’s glory descending on the earth, coming in the form of a man, and I believe that that glory of God is the thing that the wise men saw.

Now let me give you a little more support on this cause I think it’s kind of interesting to trace this thought. The chief word in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for star is the word kôwkâb, not that that’s important just a point of contact with the Hebrew. But it has a basic meaning, and its basic meaning is to shine or to blaze forth, to shine or to blaze forth. Now sometimes the word kôwkâb is used of a real star, sometimes it’s used to speak of just a regular star, sometimes it’s used to speak of an angel, sometimes it is used to speak of men. So it doesn’t necessarily always mean a real star, it can mean anything that blazes, anything that shines, in an incredible way.

In fact in Numbers 24:17, a most interesting scripture. It says, and this is a Messianic prophecy. “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near: (now listen) there shall come a kôwkâb out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” That’s Numbers 24:17. That is a Messianic prophecy, there will come a blazing forth, there will come a shining One, there will come a star. And people I believe that the prophecy there is, that none other than the glory of God incarnate is the star, the blazing.

Look for a moment at uh, Matthew chapter 24, Matthew 24:4, well let’s go over to verse 30, we’ll just ... Instead of trying to go through all of it we’ll just go to verse 30, “Immediately after the tribulation (verse 29 says) of those days the sun’s dark and the moon doesn’t give its light,” that’s what I told you, all the stars fall out of heaven and everything goes black and then 30, “Then shall appear (now watch this, then shall appear) the sign of the Son of man,” now mark that phrase out, “the sign of the Son of man.” In other words, whenever the Son of man is about to show up there will be a sign pointing to Him.

Now do you know what a sign is for? The sign is to point you to something that you want to see. You’re driving on the road, and the sign says, Roscoe Boulevard three quarters of a mile. The sign is not Roscoe Boulevard but it’s there to point you to Roscoe Boulevard, it has a function, it’s purpose is to point you to something. And the Son of man has a sign, “the sign of the Son of man in heaven;” oh, interesting, that sign is in heaven, and what is it? “they shall see the Son of man coming In the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

Now here is His kôwkâb, His blazing forth. And although kôwkâb, the Hebrew word is not used in the New Testament it is the same idea. I believe that this sign of the Son of man is nothing more and nothing less than the shekinah glory of God Himself. God revealing Himself in ineffable glorious light. In fact, it even tells us, I think it’s Revelation 1:16 that, that the Son shines, the Son of God, shines as if He were the sun in its strength.

Somehow, now watch this, somehow connected to Jesus Christ is this incredible blazing glory of God, it is His sign in the heavens, He is a spirit, He is a spirit being, He is also in a sense a physical being in the glorified body that He has from His resurrection, but there is a sign that goes with Him, and it is blazing glory, and one day on the mount He showed it to His disciples. And one day when He returns the sign of His coming, the sign of the Son of man in heaven will be there, blazing glory in the heaven.

Well, you know what I think? I think He had the very same sign the first time He came too. I just think it was the sign of the Son of man in heaven. And the sign of the Son of man in heaven is not a star, it’s not an astral body, it’s not a conjunction of planets, it’s not uh, thoughts of human destiny rattling around in somebody’s mystical mind, the sign of the Son of man is nothing more and nothing less than the shekinah glory of God revealed in light, blazing, dazzling in the heavens.

I would add this thought, verse 2 says, “We have seen (watch this) his aster.” His blazing. The word astēr incidentally people, the word is translated star here, but it is used of other things than stars. So He has His own ... and again it means a blazing forth or a shining. “We have seen his shining in the east.” We have seen His kôwkâb, His astēr, His blazing, His glory.

And the very fact that it’s His star means it’s something very special. It has appeared. That’s an interesting word. “We have seen his star in the east.” His star. Verse 7, Herod says, I want to know the time the star appeared. And the word phainō in the Greek means that which lights up. What, what time was it when that thing lit up? And the word ... the same word, interesting thought, the same word is used with lightning. Lightning is a form of astēr, sometimes it’s translated as a star in the sky, sometimes it’s translated as lightning, sometimes as the shining forth of something, and here it is a shining forth. We can’t push it any further, we can’t make it mean a real star, and there is the sense in which Herod says, when did this particular shining forth light up? And even that is sort of a hint that it was something that never existed and was called into existence only because Jesus was coming, and so I believe this was His astēr, the sign of the Son of man, in the heavens. It was there at His first coming, and beloved it’ll be there at His second coming. It’s His sign, it’s His star, it’s not some astral body.

The pseudoscience of astrology could never predict the Lord, they weren’t looking in their little puny deals and seeing, well looky there, there’s old Saturn and whatever doin’ their thing, it must be that He’s being born, no, no. What they saw was something they never saw before, and they knew that it had to be something unique and they tied it together with what the Old Testament said and what Daniel had told them. No astronomical research gave them their direction, God revealed Himself. It was no different than the pillar of fire in the Old Testament.

And you remember the pillar of fire and the cloud, in the Old Testament stood over the Holy of Holies? Well in this it tells us that whatever this star was it went and stood over the house where He was born. Now you tell me how a literal star would ever do that. Can’t do it, it’s none other than the sign of the Son of man.

You say, well, well if it was such a blazing magnificent glory of, of Christ’s sign in the heavens, how come only the wise men over there in Persia and nobody else saw it? Now that’s a fair question, that’s the second question I asked. How come God is so selective? Well, you know He ... that’s nothin’ new for God, He can make everybody in the world blind to something if He wants to.

In Exodus chapter 14, 1 found a good parallel, 14:19 says, “And the angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them;” now they’re going to go through the Red Sea, so the angels been leading them down to the Red Sea, once they get to the Red Sea he goes around the rear, gets behind them. You say, to push? No, I’ll show ya what: “the pillar of cloud (of cloud, here’s the glory of God, the pillar of the cloud) went from before their face, and stood behind them.”

Now behind the Israelites you’ve got the pillar of cloud, God’s glory, and you’ve got the angel of the Lord, and who’s the angel of the Lord? Jesus Christ. “And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these, so that the one came not near the other all the night.” You know what happened? Israel saw it as light and the...and the Pharaoh and his army saw it as what? Darkness. And it was the same thing. There’s something about God revealing what He wants to reveal just to those to whom He wants to reveal it. And that’s all I can say about it. How did they connect it with Jesus Christ’s birth? I don’t know, I really don’t know, except that God made it so obvious that they knew, that they knew.

Now do you want to know something very fascinating people, this may shake you up a little bit, might mess up your Christmas story next year. But do you know in nowhere in the Bible does it ever say they followed the star to Bethlehem, from Persia? No. It doesn’t say it led ‘em to Jerusalem, it doesn’t say it went anywhere, not at all. “We have seen his star (where?) in the east.” They saw the star in the east, and it didn’t need to tell them where to go. They knew where the Jewish Messiah was supposed to be, they knew the royal city was Jerusalem, they knew that’s where all Jewish kings reigned, they knew exactly where to go they didn’t need some star to guide them, and when they saw His glory, and God made it so evident and obvious as He always does when He reveals what He wants to reveal to whomever He wants, that they didn’t even ask a question, they got on their horses and they went, and they went right to the right place.

And Matthew doesn’t give us all the bits and pieces and details of how they saddled a Persian horse and how many miles and how it was and where they ate and all of that, because this isn’t the story of these people - it’s the story of Jesus Christ. And they have a place only in so far as it’s related to Him. So the details aren’t there. But it ‑ it’s incredible to me how God works things out when He wants to get His things done, He gave these Magi, God fearing Gentiles way off in Persia, king makers, His sign and they knew that it was His sign and they knew where to go to Jerusalem.

And the emphasis of Matthew is so beautiful, he says in verse 2 that they said, “we have seen his aster in the east, and are come (for what purpose?) to worship him.” They knew that He was to be worshiped, to worship Him, they knew there was no other one as worthy as this one, and they were right. Here ya have it, pagans who had nothing to guide them but smatterings of Old Testament prophecies, nothing to guide them but their own science mingled with its funny superstitions, and yet they are the true seekers of God. And when the sign came with all of their misgivings and lacks in knowledge, they were enthusiastically embarking on a journey to seek a king they had a long time waited for.

Who Were the Wise Men? - John MacArthur/Grace To You/12-18-06

Matthew 2:1

We really are very, very limited in terms of specifics. In addition to what we have here in Matthew which is very limited, it says, "There came wise men from the East." That's it, folks, right there. We don't know their names, we don't know anything from that. But as we put the pieces together historically and we do have some very fascinating history. Some of it from the Old Testament, books such as Daniel where the Magi or wise men appear in several different texts, other Bible books as well as the writings of Herodotus and other historians. We basically have found, and here's the basic thrust of who they were and then we'll get into the specifics and I think you'll be fascinated by it, we're going to spend a lot of time with history tonight, this is going to be teaching not preaching.

We believe they were members of an Eastern priestly group, descendant of a tribe of people originally associated with the Medes, M‑e‑d‑e‑s. Now I just want to remind you of something so you'll get a little bit of a picture. Basically in the history of the world there have been four major world empires, all right? First one was the Babylonian Empire. And that basically was settled in the fertile crescent area east of Israel in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates River, north or the Arabian gulf, east of what we know is Israel today. That was where the Babylonian Empire was. It was followed by the second great Empire that Daniel talks about and that was the Empire known as the Medo‑Persian Empire, it was a conglomerate Empire made up of the Persians and the Medes. The Medes were a very large and powerful people. The third great world Empire was Greece. When the Medo‑Persian Empire was conquered by Alexander the Great the world became Greek, as it were. The fourth great Empire was the Roman Empire.

Now as we go backwards even while the Babylonian Empire was in existence there was still Medes and Persians. So they are very ancient people. In fact, there are many people in history who trace the origin of the Medes all the way back to the time when Abraham was called out of Ur of the Chaldees, way back in the 12th chapter of Genesis. So it may well be that these are very, very ancient people. Certainly they are people who appear in the Babylonian Empire because we see them in the book of Daniel. They are people from the Medo‑Persian Empire and existed on through the Greek Empire and are still in existence in the Roman Empire when Christ is born. So they are a very ancient and long lived people were these wise men.

And by the way, the word wise men it says, "When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king behold there came magi." The Greek is magos, magoi, magi, it is really an untranslatable word. It is not a translatable word it is simply the name of a certain tribe of people. It should better be translated, perhaps, magi. The magi were a priestly line, a priestly tribe of people from among the Medes. This very ancient and large people. They were very skilled in astronomy and astrology, this was a very great preoccupation with them. Their interest in astronomy and astrology was only part of their involvement. They were sort of occultists in a way, they had some sort of divination processes, they were involved in certain kinds of things that we would assume, perhaps were like a sorcery and that's why the word magi was corrupted through history into the word magic, magician which is a synonym for sorcerer. But the magi originally were basically a pagan, priestly tribe of people from the Medes and the Persians and there are many, many historical sources to validate this.

They became interested in astronomy and astrology and the study of the stars and in those days they didn't make much of a separation between the superstition and the science. The science is astronomy, the superstition is astrology and they were pretty well blended at the time. Now what's interesting about this is that during the time of the Babylonian Empire these magi were dwelling in the area of Babylon. They were there during the Babylonian time and the Medo‑Persian Empire as well. Now while they were there during the Babylonian Empire they were very heavily influenced by the Jews. You remember that one of the things that Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon did was take Israel, rather take Judah into captivity. Do you remember that?

That's what Jeremiah was saying, You are going to be taken into captivity. Jeremiah pronounced this fact and of course even the book of Lamentations laments this reality. And they were carried off into the Babylon captivity. Well, here in Babylon were existing these magi and they were very high ranking officials, by that time they had ascended to a high place in the Babylonian Empire because of their amazing intuition, wisdom, knowledge, astrology, occultic ability whatever you want to call it, they had risen to a place of prominence and so immediately they came into contact with all these Jewish people who had been brought into captivity. They also came into contact witH one very specific Jew by the name of Daniel who was elevated in the Babylonian Empire. Consequently, they were very familiar or made familiar in the dispersion of the Jews in Babylon with Jewish prophesy regarding the Messiah. They were made aware of what was really on the Jewish prophetic plan for this one who was to come. And so that's basically who they were.

Now I want to really dig into that a little bit and set the scene for what happens in this incredible incident in chapter 2 of Matthew. Let's go back and see their history. According to the ancient historian Herodotus the magi were a tribe of people within a larger people called the Medes. Now listen to this. They were a hereditary priesthood tribe. In other words they were like the Levites in Israel. In Israel there were twelve tribes but one of those tribes was set apart as the priestly tribe and they were the ones who ministered in the rituals and the religious ceremonies of the temple and they were the Levites. Well the pagan Medes had a similar thing. Of all of the tribes within the Medes they had selected one of them to function as priests in their pagan rituals.

And that tribe which they had selected was the magi, again it's an untranslatable word, really. This is the name of that priestly group of people. It was a hereditary priesthood. Now as I said earlier some historians see them all the way back in Ur of the Chaldees as a part of a nomadic people that were wandering about in that part of the world. Whichever is true, whether they go all the way back to Ur or whether they first kind of surface in the Babylonian time we don't know, the point is this ‑ during the Babylonian World Empire they were significant, during the Medo‑ Persia Empire they were significant, during the Greek Empire they were significant and during the Roman Empire. they were significant. And in all of those empires they maintained a place of tremendous prominence in the orient, in the east. You see, even when the Greek Empire was in vogue there was still certain eastern culture and power. Even when the Roman Empire was in vogue there was certain eastern power. And in both of those periods the Magi were really the key people in the government of the easts, centered in the fertile crescent, the area around Babylon and Medo‑Persia.

Now they always appear with tremendous political power. Now this is very important for you, you have a little history lesson. They always appear with tremendous political power. I would say the majority of historians, at least the ones that I read and the ones that were referred to, see them as an eastern people who rose by virtue of their very unique priestly function, by their unique rather occultic powers of divination, by their astrological, astronomical knowledge, they rose to places of prominence. And they rose high in Babylonian government, Medo‑Persian government, even in some cases in the East during the Greek period and for sure during the Roman period to be the advisors to the royalty to the East. And that's where they got the name the Wise Men. They were the ones that were consulted about the various things that the kings and the rulers and the nobles and the princes wanted to know. Now we even have some history that tells us about their religious activities. Now I'll give you a little description of the kind of religion that the Magi were involved in. Their priesthood had certain functions and here are some of the things:

The principle element of their worships seems to have been fire. It's apparent from history that they worshipped or that they sort of reverenced fire. And we don't know for sure why but perhaps they saw fire as some kind of incarnation of deity. And, by the way, they were monotheistic, they only believed, really, in one God and so they had that in common with Israel. But they looked at fire as the principle element of their worship. And in connection with that they had an altar which burned with a perpetual flame. And they believed that that perpetual flame was kindled by God from heaven.

So they had this perpetual flame altar. Now, over beside that in their temples and wherever they also had another altar and on that altar they offered blood sacrifice. So they actually had a blood sacrificial system. And they lit the fire to burn the sacrifice with the flame off the perpetual altar. And then when they had burned their sacrifice, this is interesting, the victim was then eaten by the worshiper and by the Magian priests. What's fascinating about that is that's almost a direct parallel to Judaism. And you can see how way back then Satan was counterfeiting true religion ' from the very beginning, you see.

He's always done that. You know, even today, there is real Christianity and there is phony. And in that day there was real sacrificial system with genuine worship toward the one right true God and there was phony monotheism, phony blood sacrifice, false sacrifice and offering burned and then eaten by the worshiper and the priest.

Additionally, these people had a hereditary priesthood. Again, a counterfeit of the Levitical priesthood. These people carried about small bundles of divining rods in their garments and they used these divining rods for their little ceremonies. Not unlike the Urim and Thummim of the priests, the high priest, by which the knowledge of God was sought. They believed in the distinction of certain kinds of unclean animals. That's interesting. They believed that certain insect and certain reptiles were unclean. Again this is an interesting parallel to what God truly revealed to Israel. And another thing that I felt very interesting as I was reading about it was they were very ritualistic about ever touching and disposing of a dead body. Another thing common to God's standard for Israel.

So in the Babylonian Empire this very interesting religious group of people appears. And they rose to tremendous prominence. In Jeremiah 39:3 and verse 13. A man by the name of Nergal‑sharezer is mentioned. And Nergal‑sharezer is the chief of the Magi in the court of Nebuchadnezzar.

Okay? These oriental kings starting with Nebuchadnezzar had elevated the Magi, and even before that but as far as the Scripture is concerned we see them first with Nebuchadnezzar, they had elevated this priestly group from the Medes to the place of being the official advisors to the king. And so they are tremendously powerful people.

And even when Babylon fell and the Medo‑Persian Empire came in and you have great rulers like and Cyrus and others you still have the high ranking officials of the Medo‑ Persian government being taken from this group called Magi. They were unmatched in political power.

Now I want you to turn in your Bible with me for a minute, back to Daniel and I want to show you how they appear in the book of Daniel.

Daniel, chapter 2, when I get all done with this and you re‑read verse 1 of Matthew 2 it's going to make a lot more sense. Daniel chapter 2 and verse 10, and we won't take time to set all the context, but here we are in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel is there, the Jews are in captivity in Babylon and it says, "The Chaldeans answered before the king and said, There is not a man on the earth that can reveal the king's matter: therefore, there is no king, lord, nor ruler that asked such things of any Magi or astrologer or Chaldean." And it' very likely that those are all synonyms. And then astrologer and Chaldean may just be other ways of saying the same thing. So here we find the word Magi, it's not strictly the word magician, that's an English corruption, it's the word Magi. It's talking about this priestly tribe.

They had a very prominent place at that time. They were known as those who could interpret dreams. Now you remember Nebuchadnezzar had this bizarre dream and none of them could handle it. New you know what's so fascinating about it is there was one man who could interpret it.

You know who that man was? It was Daniel. Let's go on a little bit, Chapter 4 verse 7. We again see the Magi. Chapter 4 verse 7: "Then came in the Magi, the astrologers, the Chaldeans and the soothsayers, and I told the dream to them but they didn't make known unto me its interpretation." Verse 9, "O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians.” Now here we meet the master of the Magi.

And I'm just trying to point out that they are mentioned repeatedly in the book of Daniel. And rather than call them magicians, they should be Magi, that's essentially what he is referring to. Now when Daniel came along and all these Magi who were in the high, high ranking place of advisors to the king couldn't give any answers, Daniel could, something amazing happened. Daniel 5:11, "There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods, and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods was found in him:" talking about Daniel now, "Whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king I say, thy father made master of the Magi." Now how interesting. Daniel was so adept at telling the dreams of the king that the king made Daniel the master of the Magi.

So that Daniel was literally in Babylon the chief over this whole priestly group. Okay? It's fascinating. Now, that puts Daniel in the tremendously unique position of being able to dispense to these Magi all of his information about the Old Testament which without a shadow of a doubt is precisely what Daniel did. We know that Daniel was a man of God. We know that Daniel was a man totally devoted to worship and expression of his faith because he wound up in a lion's den because of it, didn't he? And there's no question in my mind but that Daniel and the other godly remnant in the diaspore of the dispersion shared their knowledge of the Old Testament and their copies of the Scripture with these people in Babylon and additionally, when the final decree of Cyrus came that they could go back to the land the majority of the Jews never went back.

The majority of the Jews stayed in Babylon, intermingled, intermarried and throughout the remaining history of Babylon and Medo‑Persia there were people in the noble families, people in the high ranking offices, some say even monarchs in that part of the world who had part Jewish blood. And certainly we would have to conclude that Daniel had a profound impact in the dispensing of that information. And, by the way, I want to add another footnote to this that as I was studying this ‑ it was very fascinating to me because I began to think about this ‑ if Daniel was so good at winning these Magi over and convincing them about this fact of the coming Messiah why was it that they plotted against him and threw him in the lion's den? If he was so influential and believable.

And so I began to study and the 6th chapter of Daniel revealed a most interesting thing, you don't need to ‑ we're not going to go all through it but this, in the sixth chapter of Daniel we find a plot against Daniel based on jealousy but what is really amazing about this plot is that it is not a plot devised by the Magi who dominated the hierarchy of the royal court, it is a plot developed by men known as the satraps, and I don't mean s‑e‑t I mean s‑a‑t, satraps. That was the term used to describe the regional governors who had nothing to do with the palace. So remember, the plot that was hatched in jealousy against Daniel was not a plot hatched at the hands of the Magi. Which again leads me to see that very likely Daniel was extremely believable and convincing in his impact.

In fact, do you realize that when Daniel was actually being thrown in the lion's den the king said, "Daniel, I know that your God will deliver you." You remember the king actually said that? He was so convinced of the power of God through the testimony of Daniel. And I'm sure he just checked it as often as he possibly could to see that that anticipation was in fact a reality.

So, the Magi kept their place of prominence. Influenced, no doubt, by such a great man as Daniel and there were few ever lived like him, influenced by Godly Jews in the dispersion.

Influenced by the intermarriage and the constant Jewish culture that was imposed upon them in many ways. And they became and maintained a position in the Medo‑Persian Empire of great power in the court of the king.

Now let me tell you something else interesting. In the sixth century B.C. there was a great king of Persia by the name of Darius. Darius the Great, this is in the Medo‑Persian Empire.

This is right around the time of Daniel. And Darius came in and Darius said ‑ "I am going to establish a national religion." And you know which one he picked? Zoroastrianism. Now we don't have time to go into Zoroastrianism but Zoroastrianism had with it a lot of astrology. And it may well be that the final little nuances of astrology and the pre‑occupation of the Magi with that came in the merging of Zoroastrianism..

So, now what you've got, you've got these Magi who have their own culture religion on top of that has been superimposed Judaism and on top of that has been superimposed Zoroastrianism. Now that's really a can of worms to put it mildly. But what's so interesting is the Magi was so anxious to maintain their political power and they were so anxious to maintain their religious power that when the decree came from Darius that Zoroastrianism was the religion that was going to exist they just slid right in and said ‑ Fine with us. And they made some adaptations.

But now what you've got is very interesting. You've got the Magi all gobbled up here and you've got some of them, no doubt, committed to Zoroastrianism as time went on, some of them committed to ancient magian formulas and some of them maybe believing honestly in their heart that the God of Daniel was the real God. And so this is the key as history moved on from here, the Magi began to depart from a singular commitment to their historic religion and they began to find their way into different things. Some of them may be leaning toward Zoroastrianism, some toward the ancient magianism and I believe in my heart that some, like these Magi that show up at the birth of Christ were really true seekers of the true God. So that gives you a little bit of the background.

Now, I'm going to talk some more about this history. The Magi were so powerful that historians tells us that no Persian was ever able to become king, now watch this one, never able to become king except under two conditions: one ‑ he mastered the scientific and religious discipline of the Magi: two ‑ he had to be approved of and crowned by the Magi. Now that's something, that's power.

Do you know what they called the wisdom of the Magi? They had a name for it. The name for it was this ‑ the law of the Medes and the Persians. That law was the law or the code defined by the Magi. And if you want to see that phrase it's in Esther 1:1? and Daniel chapter ? a couple of times. The law of the Medes and the Persians was the code the scientific religious discipline of the Magi and their wisdom was that which was required for anyone to be a monarch in Persia. Additionally, historians tell us that they controlled the judicial office as well as the kingly office.

In Esther 1:13 we have the indication that the royal bench of judges was all chosen from the Magi. Man, they were powerful. And you have to remember when you talk about the Persian Empire and the Median Empire and the Babylonian Empire you are talking about control of the Orient. These were powerful men. And they were not only responsible for making every monarch that was made in that era but they were responsible for setting up the judges as well. They had a check system for the despotism that could grow out of a kingship and so they were the judges that counter‑ balanced the dictator king. History tells us they knew astronomy that they were very good in mathematics, they knew natural history, they were good at agriculture and architecture And do you remember back in ‑ I think it's Acts 7 that talks about the fact that Moses was raised up in all the wisdom of the Egyptians?

Samething was true of anybody who was raised in a nobility in the East, theY were raised in the law of the Medes and the Persians. All nobility, raised by them. And they were the king makers. They were the king make And no one ruled at all apart from them. Now, as I mentioned earlier on of their special skills was interpreting dreams. And when they failed to do that and Daniel moved in on top of it and became the chief as we saw in Daniel 5:11, the set‑up was made by God to set the scene from Matthew chapter 2.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Six‑hundred. God was setting up the situation for a great Hebrew prophet to rule a group called the Magi so that one day when a baby was born in Bethlehem some of those Magi would find their way to the house where the baby was. That's planning history. And so the syncretistic hybrid religion of the Magi very much like Judaism, monotheistic and hereditary priesthood, blood sacrifice, believed also in supernatural revelation, believed in prophesy, these common things sort of made Judaism an easy thing for them to accept and I believe in my heart, and this is just what I believe because of what I see happen in Matthew 2, I believe that apparently there were some God fearing Gentile Magi historically existing in that eastern part of the world.

Now I want to move to the time of Jesus. Look with me at Matthew 2. Time has gone one, century after century until Jesus is to be born. Somehow and by some marvelous way God has managed to maintain some true seeking Magi. Most, may be corrupted. Certainly, may corrupted. And we'll meet a few of the corrupt ones that are in the New Testament. But there were some real ones, some like Cornelius, you know, God fearing Gentiles. There were some like Lydia, a God fearing Gentile.

There were some back there in that part of the world, some from the Magi, high ranking king makers in the great Empire of the east. There were some at that time who were still waiting for Daniel’s great hope to be fulfilled, you see.

Now let me set the stage. Politically speaking, Rome was scared of the eastern Empire. Now if you'll just focus in your mind a little map of Europe and that was the Roman Empire, this massive chunk of Europe. And technically it swept to the east. But by virtue of distance cross the Mediterranean, across the blazing desert to get to the east, there was a certain isolation in the east which caused Rome a lot of anxiety. And they were always fearful that what then became known as the Parthean Empire, the eastern empire made up of the Medes and the Persians and the old Babylonian Empire that Parthean Empire was always kind of an anxiety for Rome. Rome, you know, had stretched its tentacles out as it were to rule the world but they never really felt secure about the Parthean Empire. And they had become violent enemies, violent enemies. And they fought. In 55 B.C. they fought. In 40 B.C. they fought. And what's fascinating is, you know where they always fought? The great empire in the west, the great empire in the east came together and guess where they always fought?

Right along the coast of the Mediterranean, Syria, Jordan, Palestine.

Israel was a little no‑man's land between the powers of the east and the powers of the west.

Now Rome was afraid of them. And if you look at verse 3 of Matthew 2 it says, "When Herod the king had heard these things, he was", what? "Troubled" When he heard that Magi, oriental, Parthean king makers had arrived in Jerusalem he was rattled. And we'll see more about that in a few minutes. Now, let me tell you a little more about what happens. By the time we get to the time of Christ the Magi are still in tremendous power in the east.

Some of them used their power their position, their skills with a great amount of human wisdom. Some of them just really turned into awful people. Like any scientist, any priest, any preacher any other skilled person of modern days we can either apply our craft deceitfully or we can apply it honestly. Some of the Magi were honest and they exalted the craft of wisdom and political advice. Some of them were corrupt and they prostituted it. Both kinds were vary common in the Mediterranean era when Christ was born.

Let me introduce you to a couple of corrupt ones. Turn in your Bible to Acts 8. Acts 8, verse 4: "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word", Acts 8:4 says. "Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them and the people with one accord gave heed to those things which Philip spoke, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did." And it tells all about those.

And you come to verse 9, "But there was a certain man called Simon who previously in the same city used sorcery and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:" Some great one.

"To whom they all gave heed from the least to the greatest saying, This man is the great power of God." Now here is Simon, Simon Magus if you will, Simon the Magi. And here is a man who has prostituted his position into deceit as it were, he has sold himself to Satan. He used sorcery, did you notice that? The root of that word is Magi, maguo in the Greek, he used his Magi art in a prostituted manner.

And later on he tried to buy the Holy Spirit and Peter really lays him out, he says in verse 2O your money perish with you, you have, verse 21, neither part nor lot in this matter. Verse 22, repent of your wickedness. Verse 23, I perceive you are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. Boy, oh Peter didn't mince any words.

Look at the 13th chapter of Acts. Acts 13:6: "And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos", and this is, of course, Paul and Barnabas starting on the first missionary journey, and they're in Cyprus the little island there in the east coast of the Mediterranean, "the isle of Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar‑jesus." And it goes down in verse 8 and it say "Elymas, the sorcerer." The Greek is Elymas the magos. Elymas the Magi.

Here's another one who also has prostituted this craft, prostituted this strange pagan religion in order to seek the ends of Satan. And of course, he tried to mess up Paul and Paul says, ‑ O full of all deceit and mischief, you child of the devil, you enemy of righteousness will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord and now behold the hand of the Lord is upon you, verse 11, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a season and immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Paul dealt with this one. Now you see, both Simon and Elymas were brought into the bondage of Satan himself who is the god of all astrologers and the god of all sorcerers.

And frankly, these were the kind of people that made intelligent folks in the Roman Empire despise such sorcerers. Philo the Roman says they are are vipers, they are scorpions and they/other venomous creatures. You see, these were the kind of people the kind of Magi the Romans despised. but in the east as I said, they were tremendously powerful men. And some among them, no question in my mind, were genuine men.

Now at the time of Christ, at the time of Christ in the eastern empire there was a ruling body called the Megastones, you don't need ‑that won't be on the quiz so you don't need to worry about ‑ but there was a ruling house called the Megastonnes and they would be like the United States Senate. Okay. That's just a name ‑ Megastonnes. And this ruling house ruled in the Parthean‑ Persian Empire at this time.

Now listen, it was totally composed of Magi whose duty it was, now watch this, to have absolute choice for the selection of a king. They were king makers. And you know what happened? They had some real problems with the king that they had. They wanted to fight Rome and knock off Rome but they had a loser for a king, Freidas the Fourth and Freidas the Fourth had been deposed and listen, the Magi were looking for a new king, a new king for the east, a new king of the eastern empire who could come against Rome. When they arrived in Jerusalem Herod knew what was going on. They were king makers and when they wandered around town saying ‑ Where is this new king of the Jews?

Herod got panicky. When suddenly these Persian king makers appeared in Jerusalem no doubt traveling in full force with all their oriental pomp and they use to wear conical hats with points on the top and big deals clear down to the bottom of their chin and they rode Persian steeds not camels. And when they came in they didn't come alone, the estimates of history are they came with Persian cavalry. When they came charging into the city of Jerusalem and Herod peeked out his little palace window he flipped.

These are powerful men and to make it worse his army was out of the country on a mission. And the Bible says Herod was troubled.

I guess he was. The word in the Greek is he was agitated like your washing machine he was shaking. You see, Herod had a title. You know what Herod's title was? King of the Jews. He got it from Caesar Augustus. Caesar Augustus crowned him king of the Jews.

And he realized the great dream of his life was to get that little buffer state under his power and here he was in the middle of two huge contending empires. And all of a sudden this massive coterie of Persians arrive in the city and he is panicked and they say we're coming to find the new king.

Now at the time Herod was close to death. And Caesar Augustus was really old and hanging by a thread. And since the retirement of Tiberius the Roman army didn't even have a commander‑in‑chief.

And they knew that this would be the time to bring about an eastern war against the west. It was right. And so Herod was shaking. You say, Well, what were the Magi thinking? I don't know. Maybe, they had looked at it politically. Maybe they thought ‑ Oh, man, here comes the king. And I think that that's probably true but additionally I think they looked at it spiritually. Because when they got to that little room in Bethlehem the Bible says they worshipped Him. They saw more than just a king. I believe they saw the Messiah they had heard about from the days of Daniel. I think we have God‑fearing, seeking Gentiles. And it was two‑fold. I'm sure they were thinking maybe this is the Savior. The Savior who is called the Anointed One which is a term describing a king. And maybe He will not only be the Savior, the Messiah but maybe He will be the one who will gather all this people of the east together and go against the oppression of Rome.

By the way, the Magi knew that the people of Israel were on their side, not Rome's. And so that's why they came into town and started asking the people where this new king was. They thought the people of Israel would be just as excited as they were. But you see the people of Israel were blinded by their unbelief. Isn't it fascinating to you?

It is to me that the first people in the world to recognize the arrival of the King were Gentiles. Gentiles! Does that tell you something about history? He came unto His own and His own what?

Received Him not.

And Matthew follows that all the way through. The rejection of the King. Could this be the invincible monarch? They could crown Him.

They could take Him back and they could make Him king and they could unify the east and with this great Messiah that Daniel had prophesied they could go against Rome with invincibility. And so into Jerusalem rides the group of Magi. King makers of the east on their fine Persian steeds escorted by mounted cavalry. And so the stage is set. What happens after this?

Let me close by saying this. Isn't it exciting to you how God controls history. Does that excite you? Now see, you looked at every‑thing I said and you listened to it and I talked to you for fifty minutes and you know why it was so fascinating to you? Not because it was just a bunch of historical facts but because you were seeing God at work. History is His story. Long ago He picked out a man named Daniel, put him in a place to influence some men who had arrived in perfect timing.

You say, ‑ Well, why does Matthew present this? Why? Listen!

Matthew, all the way through his gospel is trying to tell the world that Jesus Christ is what? King. And just to make sure nobody misses it he has the most famous king makers in the world come and bow down at His feet. Do you see= It's all a part of Matthew's strategy. He's the king. And if Israel isn't going to acknowledge it then God is going to drag a bunch of people from Persia to acknowledge it. He's king. God has master‑planned history. And the sad part of it is that the people who should have known, the people who should have known missed it and the people from way off who should have never guessed showed up and worshipped. That's history. Jesus came. Paul said, To the Jew first, also to the Gentiles. Jesus came and said, "I'm come not but for the lost sheep for the house of Israel." Israel turned his back on Christ and He called a people from a no‑people. He reached out to the Gentiles, Romans says, and grafted us in. And the hint of that was right here in the beginning.

Remember what it says, if ‑ the Bible says if we don't praise Him what? The very rocks will cry out.

And when the king arrived, beloved, when the king arrived, if His people wouldn't praise Him then God will make sure that there's somebody there to do it and there was. And you know in our world today they celebrate Christmas. Pass around the Christmas cards, look at the wise men, they don't understand the point, they don't know the meaning, they don't see who He is but here and there, hither and yon some of us do. Right?

And there's some of us who bow to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Silent Nights, Silent Miracles

"I, Jesus, ... am the bright morning star." (Rev. 22:16 NCV)

One of the most beloved of Christmas carols is Silent Night. Though full of activity there is a stillness, a calmness, reflected as we watch God bring about His story that silent, holy night long ago. Silence though serene can also be unnerving.

The Silence of God. For four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments the voice of God remained silent. The Mosaic Covenant closes with the promise of a coming Messiah, without which the earth remains cursed. Then a deafening silence. Hope ebbed and flowed with each passing year and each succeeding generation. Would the promise be fulfilled and the curse removed?

Even in His silence is God really silent? No. Matthew's Gospel opens with the detailed family tree from Abraham to Jesus the Messiah. Such accounting reveals from generation to generation God's design, though detoured many times, was never derailed. There was always a moving forward. God was at work.

In our own times of silent nights we can be encouraged knowing that God is aware and working behind the scenes bringing us into position.

Miracles are public affairs. But there are miracles of the silent type, that go unnoticed and unannounced. Jesus on occasion operated in this realm. Stars are active bodies of gas and energy but on a starlit night they are seen as twinkling points of light. They shine constantly but are seen best at night.

I have a picture of a silhouetted steeple cross on a dark starlighted night. That's Jesus, our morning star, always present, always shining; our guiding light in the night.

The Silence of Doubt. The first person God spoke to after His silence was Zechariah announcing the forerunner of the Messiah and he was to have a part in it. So unbelievable was the message that the aged priest doubted and fell silent. Doubt peels away our confidence and we are left speechless. God didn't leave Zechariah in that state. The next time we meet him he is Zechariah the prophet, filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesying. The fulfilling of God's word changes everything and we proclaim His glories.

The Silence of Contemplation. Everyone was amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured these things and continued to think about them. Then the shepherds went back to their sheep, praising God and thanking him for everything they had seen and heard. It had been just as the angel had told them. (Luke 2:18-20)

Such amazement. Such wonder. Such praise. And adoration. But Mary treasured these moments in her heart. Some things are just too holy, too precious, to talk about. Simeon, Anna the prophetess, the Magi, all had their seasons of holy devotion before speaking.

"He was praying, or he was weeping, or he was staring into eternity." This is how the servants of George Fridric Handel described the master's fevered labour as he composed the classic work Messiah. After reading a compilation of biblical texts Handel was overcome by their power. The music began dancing and exploding within him. Closeting himself in a room he worked night and day, often forgetting to eat or sleep. His servants often heard sobs as their dedicated master poured his soul into the musical composition. In just 24 days the masterpiece was completed.

The Silence of grief
. In a frenzied attempt to silence the messianic threat to his rule Herod initiated the Slaughter of the Innocents.

"A voice was heard in Ramah of painful crying and deep sadness: Rachel crying for her children. She refused to be comforted, because her children are dead."
(Matt. 2:18)

This is the other side of Christmas; the sad side, the dark side. Death. Separation. Hatred. Homelessness. Hunger. War. Sorrow. Tears. This is for many today, US!

What a gift it is that God in Jesus became a human, a human who cries as we do, who understands our tears, and who has assured us He is coming ... and asks us to hold on! (John 11)

The Silence of the Journey
. Each character in the Christmas Gospel walked individually toward their destiny. Alone and often lonely. Their they encountered doubt, failure, uncertainty. Their they discovered hope, future, God. So will we. So do we.

One final silent night which puts all others into perspective is the Silence of the Cross.

He was beaten down and punished, but he didn't say a word. He was like a lamb being led to be killed. He was quiet, as a sheep is quiet while its wool is being cut; he never opened his mouth.
(Isa. 53:7)

When His persecutors falsely accused Him, Jesus said nothing.

Hanging in torment on the cross for nearly six hours, He spoke only a few brief sentences.

While darkness covered the land and it was like night for three hours - the voice of Jesus and the voice of the Father were both silent.

Silent for you. For me. For the world.

Silently bearing our wrong doing. Our rebellion. Our pain.

Silently turning our nights into bright tomorrows.

Our silent nights, of whatever kind, can produce silent miracles.

And we sing The Hallelujah Chorus!

Joy to the World!

Thursday, December 14, 2006


The last book of the New Testament is the Revelation and contains these words of introduction, This is the revelation of Jesus Christ ... It is the word of God; it is the message from Jesus Christ. (NCV)

A revelation is an unveiling, an unwrapping. It enlightens and informs. It's a dramatic understanding of something not previously known or realized; in theology, a manifestation of divine will or truth.

The Bible claims such revelation. The Sciptures are not merely the "record" of revelation; they are the revelation itself in a written form, in order to have the accurate preservation and propagation of truth.

This revelation lifts the veil on God, His plans and purposes for the world and humankind. This information is general - revealing God through Creation and Human Conscience - and specific - the Word of God. The Word of God is communicated verbally in written and human form. The latter being the person of Jesus Christ. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Heb. 1:3 NIV) Jesus puts a face to the unseen God.

Unwrapping Jesus Christ as the Messiah and legal King of Israel Matthew introduces his Gospel reminiscent of Revelation 1:1, This is the family history of Jesus Christ. He came from the family of David, and David came from the family of Abraham. He then ends this section with these poignant words, All this happened to bring about what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and they will name him Immanuel," which means "God is with us." The Gospels are a revelation of the God-Man, Jesus, come to earth, and as the Samaritans declared, the Saviour of the World. (John 4:42 NCV)

Hollywood has unwrapped this gift in a new movie, The Nativity Story. Its description is, One family. One journey. One child who would change the world forever. Two themes are woven throughout the story: the prophetic stance and the human factor.

Centered around Jeremiah 23:5-6, "The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety, the Judean King Herod, subject to Caesar and the Roman Empire - and also to paranoia, searched to stop this messianic threat. The prophetic secret was while Herod sought for a man God had a baby. Herod's attempts to 'end this prophecy' failed.

The human factor is often missed. The people laboured under an oppressive heel and yearned for a deliverer and a return to Davidic glory. Mary and Joseph, though obedient to the call, had questions, fears, and tears, alongside of the joys. They had to withstand the awkward silence of family and friends, and the vocal disapproval of the community. Travelling one hundred miles over rugged, dangerous terrain and encountering all sorts of weather was not easy. Understanding God's purposes in everything they suffered, even in the comfort of shepherds and magi, tested their resolve. Living homeless in Egypt tore at their fabric of life. They lived on a promise.

Mel Gibson's blockbuster Passion of the Christ unwraps the story further. Jesus is in the olive grove battling dark spiritual forces. He surrenders to the religious and political authorities. Tried. Sentenced. Crucified. Again human emotions are raw in every scene and cannot be ignored. Anger. Hope. Betrayal. Love. Sorrow. But so is the prophetic stream:

You people know nothing! You don't realize that it is better for one man to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed." Caiaphas did not think of this himself. As high priest that year, he was really prophesying that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation and for God's scattered children to bring them all together and make them one. (John 11:49-52)

Jesus dies a substitutionary, in place of, death. It was not for Himself but for you and me. His resurrection breathes HOPE. This Christmas, hope is coming from Heaven.

Another movie which brings the story to a personal level is, Walk The Line, the Johnny Cash story. Johnny grew up on a cotton farm with Christian principles. His love of music led him down different paths and into drugs. With help from friends and family his life and career was saved. Foundational during the ups and downs was his upbringing and faith in God. That faith is central from beginning to the end of the movie.

I like that. The Christmas story must be personally unwrapped. Faith to be effective must become personalized. From being externalized to being internalized. It must move from head to heart, from fact to trust. Fact alone could not save The Man in Black but trust would and did. We all need the "Johnny Experience".

Real-life stories that will change your life story ....

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why Jesus is better than Santa Claus

Santa lives at the North Pole.
Jesus is everywhere.

Santa rides in a sleigh.
Jesus rides on the wind and walks on the water.

Santa comes only once annually.
Jesus is an ever-present help.

Santa fills your stocking with presents.
Jesus fills your heart with love.

Santa comes down your chimney uninvited.
Jesus stands at your door and knocks, then enters your heart when invited.

You have to wait in line to see Santa.
Jesus is as close to you as the mention of His name.

Santa lets you sit on his lap.
Jesus lets you rest in His arms.

Santa does not know your name.
Jesus knew your name before you did.

Santa has a belly full of jelly.
Jesus has a heart full of love.

All Santa can offer you is HO, HO, HO.
Jesus offers you health, help, and hope.

Santa says, "You better not cry."
Jesus says, "Cast all your cares on me for I care for you."

Santa's little helpers make toys.
Jesus makes new life, mends wounded hearts, repairs broken homes, and builds mansions.

Santa may make you chuckle, but...
Jesus gives you joy that is your strength.

While Santa puts gifts under your tree,
Jesus became our gift and died on a tree.

It is obvious that there is really no comparison. We need to remember what Christmas is all about. We need to put "Christ" back into the word "Christmas". Jesus is the reason for the season.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

People often think of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' as the days preceding the festival. Actually, Christmas is a season of the Christian year that lasts for the twelve days beginning December 24 and lasting until January 6 - the Day of Epiphany, when the church celebrates the revelation of Christ as the Light of the world and
recalls the journey of the magi.

Concerning the popular song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas', a couple of years ago, I learned the story behind the text from an article in the newsletter of the Immanuel
Presbyterian Church in Montgomey. From 1558 until 1829 Roman Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their faith openly. During that era someone wrote 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' as a kind of secret catechism that could be sung in public without the risk of persecution. The song has two levels of interpretation: the
surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of the church.

Each element in the carol is a code word for a religious reality.

The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ.

The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testaments.

Three French Hens stand for faith, hope and love.

The four calling birds are the four Gospels.

The five gold rings recall the Torah (Law), the first five books of the Old Testament.

The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.

Seven swans a-swimming represent the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit.

The eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes.

Nine ladies dancing? These are the nine fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5)

The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.

Eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful disciples.

Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the 12 points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.