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The Christmas Story

By admin | December 5, 2017

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2).

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isa. 9:6-7).

“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

In the fullness of time, God sent the angel, Gabriel, to Zacharias, the priest, who was serving in the temple. Gabriel announced that he and his barren wife, Elisabeth, would have a son whose name would be called John. God predestined John not only to be the forerunner of the promised Messiah, but also to introduce Him to the people.

Six months later, in the city of Nazareth, Gabriel surprised a young girl named Mary by telling her that she would be the mother of the promised Messiah. He would be born under the most unusual circumstances! He would not have a natural father!

Matthew and Luke give us the story of the birth and childhood of Jesus. Matthew reports the events relating to Joseph, Jesus’ foster father. Luke gives us the details of the events that are centered on the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Some scholars believe that Luke, who was a historian noted for his accuracy, probably interviewed Mary before writing his narrative. It is Dr. Luke who provides most of the details of what we now call the Christmas story. Both Matthew and Luke make it very clear that Joseph was not the natural father of Jesus.

About four or five BC, Joseph and Mary lived in the small town of Nazareth in Galilee. Mary, probably no more than thirteen or fourteen years old, had become betrothed to the young carpenter, Joseph. The Jewish concept of betrothal is very much like our concept of engagement except it was legally binding. After the betrothal period, which usually lasted for a year, a marriage ceremony was performed, and the bride joined the groom in their new home. The groom was usually several years older than the bride as he learned a trade before taking on the responsibilities of a family. We assume that Joseph was in his twenties or early thirties – ten or fifteen years older than Mary.

One day, soon after Mary was officially betrothed to Joseph, she was startled by the sudden appearance of an angel. Luke gives us the details. “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS”‘ (Luke 1:26-31).

The Greek name “Jesus” like the Hebrew name “Joshua” means savior. This little baby is to be the promised “Seed of Woman” and the “Lamb of God” who will give His life as a permanent sacrifice for the sins of the world. He will also be the promised Hebrew Messiah; the Greek word for “Messiah” is “Christ” which means “The Anointed One”. “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).

Now Mary became concerned as to how she could conceive a child without having physical contact with a man. “Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.’”…“Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:34-36,38).

As we are caught up in the beauty of Christmas pageants and the spirit of the season, many times we fail to reflect upon the social and legal problems facing the young girl. How could she make her parents understand? What would she tell Joseph? What about the gossip that may have been spread within the small town of Nazareth? Who would believe her? In the eyes of others she would be guilty of adultery – punishable by death. But she accepted the call of God and stepped out on faith; as many of God’s chosen servants had done in the past.

Shortly after she conceived, she left Nazareth, and made her way to a small town near Jerusalem where her cousin, Elisabeth, lived. Elisabeth was six months pregnant with a baby, who would later be called John the Baptist. He was destined to present the credentials of Jesus to the nation Israel.

“And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord”‘ (Luke 1:41-45).

God again showed his faithfulness by paving the way for Mary. The Holy Spirit quickly revealed to Elisabeth that Mary was to be the mother of the promised Messiah, and Elisabeth was moved to prophesy about Mary’s future. Let us be aware that Elisabeth was a righteous woman; she would not have spoken these words if she had thought Mary had been with a man. God spoke to Elisabeth and she believed. Because of God’s marvelous provision, Mary was not required to explain her condition.

After three months in the home of Zacharias and Elisabeth, Mary returned to Nazareth to face Joseph and her friends. Matthew provides the narrative. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly” (Matt 1:18-19).

Matthew tells us that Mary was “found to be with child”. Dr. A.T. Robertson, the noted Greek scholar, in his commentary on Matthew, Word Studies in the New Testament, tells us that the word “found” means that Mary’s pregnancy was discovered – apparently before Mary had gained the courage to explain the unusual circumstances to Joseph.

Joseph, a devout Jew, had three alternatives. Since it appeared to him that Mary had committed adultery, according to the Levitical law (Deut. 22:22-23), he could have had her stoned. The Levitical law also gave him the option of divorcing her (Deut. 24:1-4). His third option was to disregard the law, forgive his bride-to-be, complete the marriage ceremony, and take Mary into his house as his wife. Matthew said that Joseph was a righteous man, which meant that he was faithful to the Levitical law – he could never take an adulterous woman as his wife. Probably because of close family ties and Mary’s young age, Joseph did not want to disgrace her in public. So he began making plans to divorce her and “to put her away secretly”.

“But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.’ So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’“ (Matt 1:20-23).

“Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS” (Matt 1:24-25).

Again, we see that God is faithful and continues to meet Mary’s every need. He is always one step ahead of her. God is revealing to his chosen servants the circumstances of the forthcoming miraculous birth of the promised Messiah. Mary was an earthen vessel chosen by God to be the mother of His Only Begotten Son – no more and no less. God took care of all the other details. Joseph was also an earthen vessel chosen by God for this awesome responsibility. Acting upon faith that God was real, and works in mysterious and supernatural ways, Joseph took Mary into his house as his wife. But they were not united physically as man and wife until after the birth of Jesus.

Matthew makes it clear that Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus, and that Joseph believed that Mary had not become pregnant by another man. Many today do not believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, but a careful search of Scripture shows that the Bible teaches this miraculous conception as a fact. Both Luke and Matthew have very carefully explained this aspect of the conception.

From the beginning, God stressed that the promised Savior would be the seed of women. God told Satan, who had possessed the serpent in the Garden of Eden: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). The “Seed of Woman” was destined to eventually defeat Satan, and bring an end to spiritual warfare. Since any physical seed of man is a sinful creature, a sinless person must defeat Satan.

The Bible teaches very clearly that sin is a hereditary condition, and with a careful search of Scripture, we conclude that sin is inherited through the father. If Jesus had been conceived of an earthly father, He would have been a sinful creature. The Bible clearly states that He had no sin, and upon this fact, stands the entire validity of the New Testament. Without the virgin birth, Jesus’ death on the cross would have been in vain.

They Beheld His Glory

The next five or six months must have been both exciting, and apprehensive for both Joseph and Mary. Can you imagine the excitement that they must have experienced! God had honored them by allowing them to be the earthly parents of His Only Begotten Son. But there were also problems – the kind we experience each day.

How much did the neighbors know? What about the gossip that may have been spoken within the community? Could it be that Mary remained in her home, and the people of the little village of Nazareth never knew that Mary was expecting a child? Perhaps they did know that Mary was expecting, but did not know that she was already with child when she married Joseph. How would they explain the early birth of Jesus? Then there was that prophecy in the book of Micah. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). Since Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth, how could this prophecy be fulfilled?

As Mary and Joseph struggled with all their problems and frustrations, in Syria, the Roman government was busy making plans which would have a direct impact on their lives. Luke gives us the details.

“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1-7).

Since it was not customary for a righteous Jew to take the direct route to Bethlehem through Samaria, Joseph and Mary probably went through the Jordan Valley. Riding a donkey for eighty miles over rough terrain is difficult for anyone, but seems virtually impossible for a woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy. Since God was in control, and had predetermined that Jesus would born in a cave, used as a stable, in the city of Bethlehem, He gave them strength and endurance for the journey.

We may be more familiar with the King James translation, which calls Mary “his espoused wife” while the New Kings James translation calls Mary “his betrothed wife”. Also note that the New American Standard Bible translation states that Joseph was engaged to Mary. The Greek word is “emnesteumenen” which means “betrothed”. Yet, we recall that Matthew said that Joseph took Mary as his wife. Has Luke made a mistake? No, it appears that Luke is making a point. The wedding ceremony did take place, and Mary became the legal wife of Joseph, but the marriage was not fully consummated. We recall Matthew stating that Joseph did not have sexual contact with Mary until after the birth of Jesus. Marriage is not ultimately complete until there is physical union between man and woman. Thus, Luke made an important point by referring to the relationship as a betrothal. We should not let this special emphasis pass without notice.

Now let us return to Luke’s story. ” Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men’ “ (Luke 2:8-14)!

God sent an angel to make the birth announcement to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. Perhaps these are the same fields where David tended the sheep, and where David’s great grandmother, Ruth, gleaned grain.

Let us pause and reflect upon the angel who is making the announcement. He is probably the angel Gabriel who has already appeared to Zacharias and Mary. Gabriel told Zacharias: “… I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God…” (Luke 1:19b). Gabriel first made his appearance to Daniel. In the seventh chapter of Daniel, he interprets a messianic vision of the future reign of Jesus, and in the ninth chapter, he gives Daniel the seventy-week, messianic timetable. It seems that the angel Gabriel was given the responsibility of announcing, to Israel, all the events relating to the coming of Jesus. So it seems logical that it was Gabriel, who appeared first to Daniel, then to Zacharias, then to Mary, then to Joseph, and now to the shepherds.

Let us make certain that we do not confuse “an angel of the Lord” in the New Testament with “The Angel of the Lord” of the Old Testament. A careful study of the Old Testament shows that the term “The Angel of the Lord” refers to the preincarnate Son of God. Now the “Only Begotten Son of God” has become incarnated in the human form of baby Jesus. The writer of Hebrews says: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).

God, in his infinite wisdom, chose this time to bring forth His Son incarnated as the baby Jesus. The apostle Paul gave special emphasis to this day, on God’s calendar, by referring to it as “The Fullness of Time”. This was a time when there was peace around the world.

Note that the announcement was made to the lowly shepherds, who represent the ordinary people of the world. Whereas, in the past, only the High Priest could approach God, now God is accessible to all people through His Son. Jesus later told his apostles: “… I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6b).

“So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (Luke 2:15-20).

“And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21). Jesus was born a Jew under the Mosaic Law, and he kept every letter of the law until His death. In his death, the law was fulfilled.

After waiting thirty-three days, which was required by the Jewish law (Lev. 12:1-8), Joseph took Jesus and Mary on the ten-mile journey up to Jerusalem. Required sacrifices were made for the purification process following childbirth.

In Jerusalem, on this special day, there was a man and woman who were destined to take their place in history along with God’s other chosen servants.

“And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: ‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel'” (Luke 2:25-32).

“And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against(yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed”‘ (Luke 2:33-35). Simeon’s statement to Mary: ” a sword will pierce through your own soul” referred to Mary’s suffering as she later watched her son as He died on the cross.

“Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem ” (Luke 2:36-38).

Joseph and Mary then returned to their new home in Bethlehem. We can only speculate as to why they did not return to Nazareth.

A New Born King

Just before or shortly after this time, a mysterious star appeared unto a group of Gentile men who were in the East – probably present-day Iran. These men, who are known to Christians around the world as “The Wise Men”, were believers in God, the Creator, and they waited with anticipation for the coming of the Jewish Messiah.

Having studied the writings of the Jewish prophets, they were familiar with the prophecy of Balaam as recorded in the book of Numbers. “…A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel…” “Out of Jacob One shall have dominion” (Num. 24:17b, 19a). Led by God, they believed that the mysterious star was the star of the newborn King, and they began to follow it westward. Matthew tells us the story.

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet”‘ (Matt. 2:1-5).

We do not know how many “Wise Men” came to Jerusalem nor exactly when they arrived, but some scholars have speculated that Jesus may have been at least one year old. King Herod was surprised and frightened by the questions asked by this elite group. He ruled Palestine with an iron rod, and it was quite obvious that he did not know a newborn king was living in his land. No one had told him about the baby “Jesus” who had been born in Bethlehem. Herod was a mentally disturbed man, and was extremely fearful that he would lose the throne. He made it a practice of eliminating any potential competition, and thus, wasted no time in devising a scheme for finding and killing the newborn King.

“Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.’ When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.” (Matt 2:7-12).

Since Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords for both Jews and Gentiles, God used both groups to present His Son’s credentials. The shepherds were Jews and the “wise men” were Gentiles. God chose Gentiles to bring gifts that symbolized the newborn Kings’ future role. Gold, a precious metal, was symbolic of His Kingship; frankincense, a sweet incense, represented by the fragrance of His life; and myrrh, an ointment used to embalm the dead, reminds us of His death as payment for the sins of all.

There does not seem to be a prophecy that relates to the bringing of gifts at the first advent of Christ, but there is one relating to His Second Coming. Let us look at the words of Isaiah: “The multitude of camels shall cover your land, The dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense, and they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD” (Isa 60:6). These are Gentiles who will bring gifts to Jesus, the Messiah, when He returns to reign as King of Kings at Mount Zion. Myrrh is not included in this gift list. Why? Because it was the symbol of death – Jesus conquered death during His first advent.

After the departure of the “Wise Men”, Joseph was warned about Herod’s plot. “Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’ When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son’” (Matt 2:13-15).

“Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.’ Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene'” (Matt 2:19-23).

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

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