What Was God Thinking?

Today’s reading is Luke 2.

If God wanted to make a splash, He sure went about it an odd way. It’s almost like He was doing everything He could to turn people off from Jesus. Jesus comes from a poor family living in a backwoods town of a backwoods nation. Not only that, but everyone who knew anything about the family would think Jesus was an illegitimate child. I know that term is out of favor in our day and age, but that is exactly how those around Jesus would have viewed it. The birth is first announced to shepherds. Really? Of all people, not the Jewish Council, not magistrates, not officials, but shepherds? Why would God start this way? Perhaps for the same reason He whittled Gideon’s army down to 300 (Judges 7). When this story is done and it is successful, it leaves everyone knowing one thing. God must be behind this. And that really is where we are, isn’t it? We live in a world whose largest religion follows the Man described above. He not only came to popularity, but He claimed to be divine and was then killed. Did that end His popularity and His following? Nope. It only increased it. Everyone else, throughout all history, who claimed to be divine lost their following when they died. But not Jesus. That is amazing. How could this happen? Only if God is real and really behind it. Hang on to Jesus today. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

Next week’s reading is Luke 3.

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Good News of Great Joy

Today’s reading is Luke 2.

When Luke was written, “gospel” or “good news” was not a religious word. It was a political word. That is, “gospel” or “good news” usually referred to some great news about the emperor, the empire, or victory. It was the word used to describe the birth of the coming emperor or the ascension of a new emperor or the victory of the emperor over Rome’s enemies. When the angels used this word to describe the birth of Jesus, it was a powerful word for those Jewish shepherds. The anointed King of Israel, the descendant of David was born. He would be both Lord and Savior of the Jews. Rome would not be able to withstand this King. It was very much a challenge to the politics of the day. It was good news of great joy because finally the real King had been born, and victory over all enemies was coming. What good news of great joy this still is today. Our King was born. He lived. He conquered. He reigns. Follow Jesus today. He is the Savior. He is the Lord. He is the King. He is the Emperor. He is the only way to victory over and salvation from every enemy, including sin and death. And that is good news of great joy.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 2.

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Lost Tribes of Israel?

Today’s reading is Luke 2.

Have you ever heard anyone talk about the “lost tribes of Israel”? The idea is that the northern kingdom of Israel was taken captive by Assyria and then essentially just vanished. Judah was taken captive by Babylon and then was released by Cyrus, but the ten northern tribes are never heard from again. Some religions even make a big deal out of so-called lost tribes traveling to the Americas. However, none of this is true. When Babylon conquered Judah, they also conquered Assyria. The Assyrian captivity of Israel essentially blends into the Babylonian captivity. When Cyrus let’s the Jews go, that would include not just the two tribes (three when you count Levi) of the southern kingdom, but also those of the north. No doubt, because of greater time, those ten tribes were greatly diminished. However, did you notice what tribe Anna the daughter of Phanuel was from? She is from Asher, one of the northern tribes. Asher wasn’t lost. In a subtle way, this is just another reminder that God knows who are His. He doesn’t lose His people. Hang on to God; He won’t lose you either.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 2.

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Which Story is True?

Today’s reading is Luke 2.

If we were only to read Luke, we might believe Joseph, Mary, and Jesus stayed in Bethlehem for a about a month after Jesus’s birth, traveled to Jerusalem for the purification rites (see Leviticus 12), then immediately went back to Nazareth. However, when we read Matthew alongside Luke, we discover they actually remained in Bethlehem for much longer. Considering the wise men visited Jesus in a house, not a stable, and considering the age of the children Herod killed, it appears Jesus was closer to two years old before that event took place. Then they spent time in Egypt before they finally moved to Nazareth. So which story is true? Both are. They don’t contradict. Neither Matthew nor Luke are even remotely attempting to give us a step-by-step, day-by-day record of the life of Jesus. Rather, each author included the events in Jesus’s life which support the points they are making about who Jesus is. And that is the key. Ancient biographies did not intend to give as much information as possible, they didn’t even intend to give the information chronologically. They did not intend to give a record of life events. Ancient biographies simply wanted to show who the person is.* Each of the gospel writers had the same operating procedure and goal as described in John 20:30-31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” That is, there were plenty of other events, occurrences, speeches, miracles, parables, teachings, interactions the writers could have included, but each one picked and organized the events they believed most explained who Jesus is. The trip to Egypt didn’t serve Luke’s purpose, so he skips it. In like manner, the story of 12-year-old Jesus didn’t fit Matthew’s purpose, so he skips it. So which story is true? Both, because they introduce us to the same Jesus, the Jesus who is the Son of God, who came into the world as an infant, died on a cross, and then ultimately was raised on the third day. The fact that they use different events and organize the story differently doesn’t actually change the story they are telling. This is Jesus. His parents kept the Law, He grew strong and was filled with wisdom, and grew in favor with God and men.

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No Room for Jesus

Today’s reading is Luke 2.

Almost everything I grew up picturing about Jesus’s birth was wrong. Does this sound familiar to you? Because there was a census, Joseph takes his pregnant wife Mary on a solitary journey into their ancestral home arriving late in the evening. The local inn is already full, so they hole up in a nearby stable. Perhaps because of the trip or the stress or maybe just because it was time, Mary goes into labor that night. Almost none of that is how it would have happened. First, folks in that day rarely traveled alone for fear of bandits. Joseph and Mary would have been in a caravan of family making the exact same trip. The word translated “inn” doesn’t refer to a motel (this is not the same word as found in Luke 10:34-35 but rather in Luke 22:11 where it is translated “guest room”). Joseph and Mary were going to their ancestral home. They would have had all kinds of family there. In that culture, they wouldn’t be staying in a hotel, but with family. Mary didn’t go into labor the night they arrived. This wasn’t a day trip. This trip wasn’t “there and back again.” Considering the visit of the wise men in Matthew 2, it seems they essentially moved to Bethlehem. The text says, “While they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” They had been there for a time and she gave birth. This makes the issue of no room all the more poignant. This wasn’t an issue of getting to the hotel too late and there is a “no vacancy” sign. Rather, this is the picture of families opening their homes to one another, but when the baby comes, there is no room for that among all the guests staying in the guest room. If you are going to have a messy, screaming mother giving birth to a messy, crying baby, don’t do that in the guest room where the rest of the family is wanting to sleep and live. Put them out in the stable where they won’t bother anyone. It never really gets any better for Jesus. When we get to Luke 9:58, we will read Jesus saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The fact is from His birth to His death, folks saw Jesus as an inconvenience. There was no room for Him. This leads to a question for us. Do we have room for Jesus? Are we willing to welcome Him in to our home, our heart, our lives, letting Him take up residence no matter how messy and inconvenient it becomes? Or will we send Him out to the stables? Do you have room for Jesus today?

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 2.

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Fear! No Fear!

Today’s reading is Luke 1.

Mary praises God saying, “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50). Zechariah, on the other hand, says, “We, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74). Which is it? Does He have mercy on those who fear or can we serve Him without fear? Yes! I admit, it is possible Zechariah is referring to a fear of the enemies. That is, he might be saying that because we are delivered from our enemies, we can serve God without fearing them. That is a lot like the prayer we hear so often in worship assemblies today saying, “Thank you for letting us gather here without fear of persecution.” My struggle with that is when Christianity started, that is exactly what all Christians faced. Perhaps we can read this as we have no reason to fear our ultimate enemy, Satan. There is definitely truth to that. I can worship God without fear that Satan is going to win. However, I think this struggle we have between scriptural commands to fear God and scriptural promises that we don’t need to fear God comes down to a very simple principle. It was one I was taught back in my college days when I was trained as a trim carpenter. A table saw is a powerful thing. One wrong move, and a finger is gone or an artery cut, and you’re bleeding out on the wood (my boss was always more concerned about blood getting on the wood than leaving my body). However, when you recognize the power and fear it–not a paralyzing terror, but a healthy fear–then you take the proper precautions. When you take the proper precautions, you don’t have to fear the saw. Another illustration comes to mind. When driving, if I fear getting a speeding ticket, I drive the speed limit. When I drive the speed limit, I don’t have to fear a speeding ticket. As odd as it sounds, my fear removes the need for my fear. God has mercy on those who fear Him. Because of that, we have no need to fear Him. Today, because you fear God, go forth without fear.

Next week’s reading is Luke 2.

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Filled with the Spirit

Today’s reading is Luke 1.

John was filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. However, according to the people’s testimony of John 10:41, he never performed any signs. Not only that, he would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. Elijah multiplied the flour and oil for the widow of Zarephath, raised the widow’s son from the dead, called fire from heaven. Yet, John never performed any signs. He didn’t speak in tongues, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, foretell a drought, pray the rain back, call down fire from heaven. We might claim he prophesied in that he spoke from God about the the identity of Jesus. Even with that, there were never any accompanying miraculous signs to testify that his teaching was from God. There was even a time when he wasn’t sure about Jesus’s identity (see Luke 7:18-19). Yet, he was constantly filled with the Holy Spirit his entire life, even from the womb. This is different from his parents’ experiences. They were also filled with the Holy Spirit, but only for short periods of time (see Luke 1:41-45, 67-79). This is important to note because when we talk about any aspect of the Holy Spirit, we sometimes commit a Bible study fallacy. We think particular phrases, like “filled with the Holy Spirit,” are technical terms that always refer to the exact same experience or manifestation.* The fact is seen in this very chapter: John being filled with the Holy Spirit was a manifestly different experience from Elizabeth and Zechariah. By the way, the text doesn’t at all say Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit, but she experiences the exact same manifestation as Elizabeth and Zechariah (see Luke 1:46-55). What a fantastic rule of Bible study we should learn here. Certainly, whether we are studying the Holy Spirit or some other issue, we examine all the uses of similar phrases. We will learn a great deal from that exercise. However, never forget immediate context is our biggest help in understanding what is meant with a given word or phrase at a given point. Don’t assume every time you see a word or phrase it means the exact same thing as every other time you read it. Further, don’t assign technical meanings that you then try to force into the words or phrases every time you see them. Stick with the context.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 1.

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