Christmas 2018 – Day 23

Annunciation to the ShepherdsAs part of my 25 for 25 (25 devotionals leading up to 25 December), here is Day # 23: we’ve covered the prophesies and some main characters in the birth of Jesus but today we’re going to tie those two together by looking at the shepherds and angels. Luke 2 tells the story of the angel speaking to the shepherds out guarding their flocks. In verses 10-12 it says,

Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 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.’”

Obviously, these shepherds knew the Scriptures of prophecy concerning the Messiah. The angel is able to speak to them without explaining thousands of years of history. But I find it fascinating that the angel gives them some prophecy to follow, the “sign” to tell the Messiah would be that he would be (1) a baby (2) wrapped in swaddling clothes and (3) lying in a manger. This is much like the prophecy of Jesus being born of a virgin which people like to mock and say, “virgin” can be translated “young girl” (as we discussed on Day 16). People can mock the sign to the shepherds, but for them these three things had to line up perfectly in order to find baby Jesus.

I find it interesting that they didn’t balk at the fact that He was a baby. And neither did the wise men. And neither did Simeon (Day 22) or Anna. They all agreed that if God wanted to come in the form of a baby – that was good enough for them. God humbled Himself and not only came down to weak humanity but also in the most fragile form: a baby. Consider yourself this Christmas. At parties are you bragging about yourself? At church is your mind wandering to your lists or what presents you’ll be getting? Consider the shepherds humbling and focusing their attention on the only thing that matters: baby Jesus, the Savior of “all people!”

Devotional # 116. Luke 2:1-20 (Special Christmas Devotional)

Devotional # 116. 12/22/14. Luke 2:1-20. Christmas 2014, part 4.

Intro. Now that we’re only a few days away from (American) Christmas our final Christmas Devotional will be from the story of Jesus’ birth. I’ve been thinking a lot about the humility of Jesus during this holiday season. I’ve been reminded by other’s sermons, my own personal reading and conversations with other believers. In Proverbs 18:12 it says, “before honor comes humility.” Jesus demonstrated this by coming to earth in humility but when He came back after His resurrection and when He returns at His Second Coming it will be in honor. As we read through these 20 verses (feel free to read chapter 1 for a fuller understanding) be thinking about how amazing it is that the God of the universe decided to come to earth to reach His creations.

vv. 1-3. Just like most governments who want to know how many people they have, this government conducted a census to count people.

vv. 4-5. A couple weeks ago I mentioned this: that both Joseph and Mary came from the family of David. Now we’re also told that everyone from the lineage of David had to meet in Bethlehem since that was the “city of David.” This fulfills the prophecy about Jesus being born in Bethlehem from Micah 5:2. So Mary went with Joseph because they were betrothed. To be “betrothed” was more than just engaged. In the Hebrew culture it was just like being married except you didn’t live together (or have sex) and you hadn’t had the official marriage ceremony.

v. 6. We’re also reminded that at this time Mary was very pregnant with Jesus. What a rough trip it must have been to be due and going through contractions!

v. 7. It was always God’s plan to have Jesus be born in a barn. Why? Because when Jesus was born to two teenagers in a garage there wasn’t anyone poorer than Him. No one will be able to say, “Jesus can’t love me, I’m too poor.” Not one person can say, “Jesus doesn’t know what I’ve been through, being born in poverty.” Not only that but His parents had to escape to save His life. Can you imagine having lived in three different countries by the time you were two years old because people were hunting you? Jesus knew all of this and yet, in complete humility, not only came to earth like this but planned it even before He created the earth.

vv. 8-12. Again we are reminded of Jesus’ humility. If we know the culture of this time then we recognize that shepherds were outcasts from the rest of the society. They smelled bad, they had the 24 hour job of watching over their sheep and had less then desirable duties. Why did God chose to have the angel announce the birth of the King of the earth to some stinky shepherds? I think there are a couple reasons: 1. God usually uses foolish things to confuse and surprise the rich and the “wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27), 2. To show His humility, 3. To show that He was for all men, not just the rich but of the outcasts and anyone who would accept Him, 4. Because God looks at Himself as a Shepherds of His people (Psalms 77:20; Ezekiel 34:31; etc.). We also see that the angel is joyful that God has finally been born to save men. Although angels are not all-knowing they do have a little more perspective then we who are stuck on earth. They get to proclaim the great plans of the LORD to His people.

Notice two things in what the angel says: 1. That Jesus was sent to “all people” – not only the Hebrews (although He went to them first, as God had promised) but to us Gentiles too! And 2. That this little “Child” was “Christ the Lord”. Proper translation of this is that the baby who was just born was the Savior and Master* of the world. Savior and Master of the world!?! Jesus was truly special to be lauded by angels as the Master of Universe (Before He-Man had that title!) as just a little baby. When we recognize that Jesus is our Master we can begin to worship Him in a correct way.

 

*“Christ the Lord”. Christos (G#5547) means “Savior” and kyrios (G#2962) means “Master”.

vv. 13-14. The initial angel is joined with thousands more of his brethren. Notice that they are praising God. Not just announcing that the Savior had been born, not just telling people where to go to see Him. But they were saying “Glory to God in the highest!” It is the first thing that must be done when anyone recognizes what a great thing it was that Jesus came to earth. We must be encouraged to glorify God, of course in all things, but specifically during this time of year for His goodness in sending us a Savior. Many of us who have spent more time meditating on all the bad stuff we’ve done then on the amazing gift of God’s own Son, need to be reminded to worship Him! To glorify God. So what does that look like? How do we bring honor to His name? The next verses will show us.

vv. 15-20. The shepherds had no question that it was God who spoke to them, they say let’s go check out what “the Lord has made known to us”. And they put their faith into action – they make the trip to see Jesus. Note that they had to leave their flock, they had to leave their comfort zone. They had to go to where other people were, maybe people that would judge them, maybe people that would hurt them but nevertheless they went. And when they saw Him they told everybody (“made widely known”).

Can you imagine being Mary and Joseph? You’ve been ridiculed by everyone for having an unlawful pregnancy, made a horrible trip on a donkey, gave birth in a barn – your life has been pretty bad lately. Then Jesus is finally born and shepherds show up saying that angels told them (of all people!) about the baby. Mary treasured these things in her heart (v. 19). She couldn’t believe that she went from being a nothing to someone that people would come to visit (and later the Magi). But that’s what Jesus does, He takes people who are nothing and He makes them worth something. He blesses them.

This section ends with the shepherds “glorifying and praising God”. So why would they have told so many people and praised God just from seeing a baby? Because the interaction with thousands of angels and seeing the Messiah that had been promised for thousands of years solidified their faith. Remember God had been silent for four hundred years and now that He was speaking to the Hebrews again there was much to rejoice over. We are very blessed that God speaks to us today in so many ways but do we go out and share it with others like the shepherds did?
Conclusion. My prayer for you is that you read the story of Jesus’ birth to your family or friends as you gather together over the next couple of days. Read it to your kids as you gather around the tree or read it at the table as your friends eat a meal. Every year we see people calling it “X-Mas” but taking the Christ out of CHRISTmas leaves you with nothing. But when you recognize that you are nothing without Him then, like Mary, He blesses you and makes you worth something. He came in humility but He deserves your honor (as we read from Proverbs). Just remember to have a truly enjoyable Christmas this year: keep Christ in Christmas.

Devotional # 56. Acts 16:1-40

Devotional # 56. 10/14/13. God uses Paul’s obedience to save Lydia & a Warden.

This week’s Reading: Acts 16:1-40.

Introduction. This week we have several eye opening accounts of the early church. Each of these fairly well known stories pack an important lesson that we should apply to our lives.

vv. 1-5. Paul and Silas go through Derbe and Lystra where, if you remember, in Acts 14:1-21 (Devotional 54) Paul had been worshipped as a god. Now he is checking up in those churches and he meets up with Timothy who was half Jewish and half Greek. I really like what David Guzik says here: “No single worker in God’s kingdom is irreplaceable. When a Barnabas leaves (for whatever reason), God has a Timothy to go on with him”(Source 1). So Timothy impresses Paul but his bloodline meant that he was uncircumcised which didn’t bother Paul but since they would be preaching to Jews (who would think it was a big deal) Paul circumcised Timothy. Paul also circumcised him to allow full access to the synagogues they would be preaching in (Source 3, p. 1662).

vv. 6-10. This section has always been interesting to me. Why would the Holy Spirit not allow Paul to preach the good news of Jesus? First, we need to realize this wasn’t all of Asia but “only so much of its western coast as constituted the Roman province of Asia” (Source 2) nowadays it would be Turkey (Source 1). Second, even if that wasn’t the case it wasn’t that God wasn’t letting these people know about Jesus but instead Paul wasn’t the right person and it wasn’t the right time (Source 1). He moves on but Paul is again stopped, this time from going to Bithynia. Finally he’s directed to Troas. So we see that although Paul didn’t set out for Troas that is where God wanted him. He was being led by “doors” being shut in his face. Who knows how the Holy Spirit told him not to go but it could be how God stops us from doing things against His will now. We need to be willing to be flexible. Often we’re frustrated when we’re doing something godly or for the gospel but then get shut down. It’s just as important to have a good, obedient and joyful attitude when we get shut down as it is when we are allowed and accepted in our ministry. Either way God is glorified and we’re allowed to be part of his plan!

Then Paul has a vision where a man asks him to go to Macedonia. We will talk more about this in a minute. Notice the “they” in v. 8 and the “we” and “us” in v. 10. Up until now in the book of Acts the author (Luke) had been told what had happened from witnesses. But now we’ll see where Luke includes himself into the stories since he saw them first hand.

vv. 11-15. So Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke and possibly others go into Macedonia and on the Sabbath they visit the river. This is interesting because it doesn’t mention that they went to church or that they abided by the Hebrew rules of not walking far on the Sabbath. Instead they went to the local spot where prayers were usually made. But they didn’t just sit by themselves, they started a conversation with some of the ladies who were meeting there. One of the ladies, called “Lydia” probably because she was from “the Roman province of Lydia”, believed in the God of the Hebrews but didn’t know about Jesus. When Paul speaks to her about Jesus the “dots” are connected and it all makes sense. She is excited because she finally sees the bigger picture. She was rich (being the seller of “purple” garments made a good profit) so she was able to house the missionaries (Source 3, p. 1663).

It is interesting that Paul’s vision in order to go to Macedonia was of a man but the focus is this woman, Lydia. Who was the man? When I looked into it most commentators are silent; however Matthew Henry seems to think it was an angel appearing as “a man of Macedonia” that Paul would recognize as God’s call for the gospel to finally go into Europe (Source 4, p. 496).

vv. 16-19. Now the group goes to pray together and there is a girl who has a demon and she follows Paul around. The demon isn’t silent but yells that Paul and his friends are ambassadors of the One true God “for many days.” It’s interesting that angels, fallen or not, can’t help but proclaim God. Although what the girl says is true it finally annoys Paul so he casts the demon out. This angers the guys who had been making money with her because they don’t have an easy way of making money anymore. They go report what happened (with a little embellishment, v. 20-21) and get Paul and Silas arrested.

vv. 20-26. Paul and Silas are wrongfully put into prison but they rejoice by “praying and singing hymns to God.” These prisons were horrible places (http://www.scribd.com/doc/14354155/Life-in-Prison-in-1ad) and this specific one can still be visited (http://www.bibleplaces.com/philippi.htm, 5th picture down). But Paul shows that he lived what he said. The church of Philippi would develop in Macedonia (Source 5) and Paul would later encourage them: “I have suffered the loss of all things…that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8; also see 1 Peter 1:6-9, James 1:2-4). Notice this doesn’t just impact Paul and Silas’ disposition but “the prisoners were listening to them.” God sends a huge earthquake that opens all the cell doors.

vv. 27-34. The Warden wakes up, sees the doors open and assumes all of the prisoners have escaped. He gets ready to commit suicide since if Roman soldiers allowed prisoners to escape they would be executed. But no one has left and the Warden is so overjoyed, wondering what kept these honest men in their cells, that he doesn’t kill himself. He accepts Jesus’ salvation and brings his family in and they are saved also. Minutes before the Warden was going to kill himself but now he’s alive AND going to live forever!

vv. 35-41. Once dawn breaks the officials who imprisoned Paul and Silas send the orders to release them. But Paul denies the release. He basically says, ‘they made a big deal in front of everyone and illegally put us in jail and now they want to send us away secretly. No way! If they want us free they have to come release us themselves.’ Henry says it wasn’t so much a personal retaliation for Paul as it was about the importance of his cause (Source 4, p. 500). So Paul wasn’t worried about his personal liberties (although he always acknowledged legal stature) but that these people had stopped the holy gospel from going out. The officials weren’t scared to try and stand in God’s way but did get worried when they realized they had imprisoned legal citizens.

Conclusion.

We saw the start of Timothy’s missionary career and what a great man he matured into (read 1 & 2 Timothy to see Paul’s lessons to him). We got to read what a great historical story Europe has for its official birth into the gospel! We got to see how the Holy Spirit guides us, often by stopping the very opportunity we think we’re supposed to take. We saw the importance of Paul’s journey to meet up with Lydia and then to get to be imprisoned. They witnessed a true act of God and more converts with the Warden and his family.

Also it is important to not fall into the same trap as the officials. Henry says, “if the repentance of these magistrates had been sincere, they would not have desired them to depart out of their city, but would have begged of them to continue in their city, to show them the way of salvation. But many are convinced that Christianity is not to be persecuted who yet are not convinced that it ought to be embraced” (Source 4, p. 500). Do you find yourself thinking that no one should be punished for how they want to believe? Do you take it a step further and think God is unfair if He punishes a person who is sincerely religious? This is a great lie the devil tells us every day (especially Americans). We think we know better than God. But God has called us to commit to embrace Him. Anything less is treason. Every person is responsible for what they have been given. If the officials never accepted Christ then they died in their sin. If we are unsure if someone has heard the gospel then it is our duty to pull a Paul and start a conversation with those Lydia’s…but it is up to the Lydia’s to answer!

 

References:

Source 1: David Guzik, David Guzik Commentary,  http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Act/Act_16.cfm?a=1034001.

Source 2: David Brown, Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Commentary,  http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Act/Act_016.cfm?a=1034001

Source 3: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible.

Source 4: Matthew Henry, the Matthew Henry Commentary, NT.

Source 5: J. Vernon McGee, Acts: Volume II, p. 196.