|The virgin birth of Jesus Christ was required in order to fulfill the plan of God and must be upheld as an essential teaching of Orthodox Christianity. [63 minutes]|
|The gospel offers peace with God, but on His terms. Many who hear the message of reconciliation will not agree to His terms. [42 minutes]|
|My title is calculated to raise a quizzical brow or two. I should explain straight away what I mean by placing “Christmas” in inverted commas. I know it is unnecessary to say that the term is not of biblical origin. Then again, one could say the same about the whole idea of Christmas. Scripture knows nothing of it. |
However, we do refer to the Bible when we explain what Christmas is supposed to be about. We tell about the annunciation to Mary. We may even speak a word of explanation about the Virgin Birth. Then we relate the story of the shepherds on the hills outside of Bethlehem. If we are being anachronistic we may commit the fallacy of bringing the Magi to the occasion too. And after we’re done relating these phenomena, the message comes out: “Jesus was born to save us from our sins.”
Let me say at once that I do not disagree with that statement. Nor do I deny it is an earth-shaking announcement. My issue is that it does not state the whole truth. And it falters because is a statement divorced from its context. Let’s look at that context:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matt 1:1)
Immediately before the birth story the Evangelist provides a genealogy expressly linking Christ to Abraham and David.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:18-23)
In this context the angel’s deliberate referencing of Joseph’s Davidic roots would have evoked recollections and hopes of fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. Reference to the salvation from sins and possibly the Holy Spirit would have encouraged hopes of the New covenant. Putting yourself into Joseph’s shoes, imagine the level of expectation in his mind. Finally the God of Abraham and David would reveal the Messiah: the king who would restore Israel and bring peace.
It would have taken an angelic announcement for Joseph to believe that the once proud line of David, represented by him as a lowly carpenter, would again be exalted. The thematic connection with the Old Testament is natural. In fact, one could easily see that had Matthew 1-10 been an OT Book there would scarcely be a blip on the screen. What was promised had come and the kingdom was being proclaimed. The dials seemed set for the Golden Age.
What about Luke?
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.” (Lk. 1:30-33)
I cannot imagine that these words did not recall the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7 to Mary’s mind:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore.
Here again “Christmas” is about the throne of David and the kingdom. It is about the Messianic reign over Israel in perpetuity. It is about peace and rest for God’s people.
Then the scene shifts to Bethlehem and the shepherds:
8 And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Lk. 2:10-14)
Enter the shepherds, who were not marking their calendars awaiting anything special. The hills were quiet, the night drew on, and out of the blue there is the angel of the Lord! No wonder they were scared. The word “Christ” would not connote exactly the same notions in the shepherds as it does for Christians. To them this was an announcement of the coming King Messiah; the Shepherd of God’s choosing who would establish Israel in glory (cf. Ezek. 34:23f.).
The “song” of the heavenly choir (Lk.2:14) is not an ill-timed attempt at angelic wishful-thinking. In the context of the early chapters of the Gospel Story it represents a real expectation. That expectation, we now know, did not dawn. Christ was rejected. He still is! But He will return and He will be accepted by repentant hearts. The Evangelists look beyond our time. They look to a better world. “Peace on earth” is true! But it is ahead of us. The One who was despised and rejected and who died and rose will usher it in when He descends to claim what the “Infancy Narratives” proclaim clearly is rightfully His. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.
So when we wish each other a “Merry Christmas,” let us not only look back to a manger in a stable, or to an empty cross. Let us join with the angels in joyous anticipation of the coming Kingdom of Peace! Because that is the message of “Christmas.
|The following contribution was written by Pastor Eric Peterman of Valley Bible Fellowship.|
There is certain to be a lot of "why did this happen?" There is certain to be much analysis and soul searching, and many facts and accurate assessments made, and so many wounded hearts to bind up, and some families and individuals who will never be OK again. I'm just sick at heart. I see that the news channels are already asking, "How do we stop the cycle of violence?"
I've observed the repeated pattern of these deliberately public, virally propagated, violent explosions of murder and then self-suicide or suicide by cop, with collateral death and destruction and woundings of apparent innocent bystanders. I've listened in the aftermath of these shootings and the predominant word that comes out is, "senseless!" That description is somewhat helpful, but it's not even close to the whole story.
I think there is an underlying reason that is a more accurate and helpful one and something that we can actually do something about. Quite simply, America has lost it's understanding that the human heart is depraved, it is has abandoned the rational fear of Hell and of Hell's Creator, the Judge who will hold them to individual account and personally send and maintain them there. America has lost the details of proportionate eternal punishment corresponding to evil done on this earth. And America has lost it's knowledge of and love for Heaven and it no longer yearns and pines for that beautiful high home country or for its Emperor. Because of that it has all but lost the ancient knowledge of the narrow pathway to that country.
Men mistakenly think that they can take out their murderous anger and frustration on a parent, co-worker or boss that has disrespected, controlled, hurt or deprived them of some supposed right, and they can purge their anger and frustration on surrounding innocent bystanders, and then they can take their own lives at the end (or force that cowardly duty on a poor policeman or SWAT member) and they think that in a wild orgy of blood and adrenaline that their reputation for having gotten even will go out in the internet and news, their reputation written, and then they themselves will have no further suffering or frustration because they'll be dead, dead, dead. How utterly ignorant of what comes after, and eternally and wickedly wrong!
"It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" (Hebrews 10:31) These self-absorbed evil-doers will face not just the fact of terror on judgment day at their own abuse of the stewardship of the lives granted to them, but the moment-by-moment agony of the attentions and perfect maintenance of their condition in misery by the One who created and who owns that place of perfect justice. Unmitigated Goodness meting out wrath with Infinite Might and Exacting Justice at those undead rebels who are unalterably evil. That is how the Lord Jesus describes the judgment and condition of those who spite their Maker: "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! (Luke 12:5)
I fault many of the churches and Christians and pulpits in America for this loss. We need a lot less “seeker-sensitive” therapeutic draw and more of Jonathan Edwards', “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” We need less purpose drivel, and more revelation of God through exposition of Biblical doctrine. We need to be reminded that in Christ it is gloriously true that it is, "your best life later, not now." We need less weepy preaching to citizens of Hell on social justice and more on divine justification of us wicked sinners through faith in Christ. We need to see division in the churches as the delighted applause, the smile of Heaven, when the division arises because of the revealed truth. We need to exposit Heaven and Hell, and our own depravity, but for the grace of God. As Robert Lightner once urged a group of us, “For God's sake, men, when you preach give them something to believe in!”
When the church is again humble Salt and Light in a crooked and perverse generation, then maybe it will have something worth listening to, or at least something worth persecuting. And then men will once again think not just twice, but enduringly about the fearful consequences of pulling that trigger.
By Eric Peterman
|Does Abraham's expectation of a heavenly homeland negate the land promises of an earthy territory found within the Old Testament?|
|What study resources help to illuminate the meaning of the original language words behind our English translations?|
|In order to better acquaint our readers with some of the features on our website that they may not be aware of, I've decided to feature some of them in this and upcoming newsletters.|
We offer a number of different Bible study tools on our website. These tools operate directly within most web browsers so that no special software installation is necessary. We offer the following resources. (1) Bible translations: American Standard Version (ASV), King James Version (KJV, with and without Strong's numbers), King James 2000 (KJ2K), Literal Version (LITV), Modern King James Version (MKJV), New American Standard Version (NASB, with and without Strong's numbers), Reina-Valera (Spanish), World English Bible (WEB), and Young's Literal Translation (YLT). (2) Dictionaries: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionary, (3) Cross-reference: The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (TSK), (4) Commentaries: Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary. This set of resources offers everything needed for getting started with computer-based Bible study, either over the Internet, or on your own computer without any internet connection--simply download the resources for offline use.
|More than six decades since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls - and thousands of years after they were written - Israel on Tuesday put 5,000 images of the ancient biblical artifacts online in a partnership with Google.|
The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library offers an exceptional encounter with antiquity. Using the world's most advanced imaging technology, the Digital Library preserves thousands of scroll fragments, including the oldest known copies of biblical texts, now accessible to the public for the first time. Included within the library is the oldest known copy of the ten commandments from Deuteronomy 19.
(The image can be expanded to full-size by clicking on the lower right corner.)