Monday, December 23, 2013

The Path Of Peace - A Christmas Prequel

There are tons of movies that have sequels. A sequel is sort of the next episode - part II. The Christmas movie "Home Alone" had a sequel, "Home Alone 2".  It's just a continuation. The opposite of a sequel is a prequel. A prequel is a movie that tells a story that precedes the original movie. For example, "The Planet Of The Apes" came out originally, and then, years later, a prequel came out, "The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" which described how it all started. I know you can think of many more examples yourself.

Well, the story of the birth of Christ, as found in the New Testament,  has a prequel too. This prequel begins 15 months before the birth of Jesus, and it starts with a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.

One day, it was his turn to perform his duty at the temple, burning incense in the sanctuary. Suddenly, an angel appeared to him and said, "Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth."  But Zechariah had doubts and asked, "How can I be sure this will happen?" Because of that doubt, the angel, Gabriel, the same angel who appeared to Mary 6 months later, told Zechariah that he would not be able to speak until his son, who would become John the Baptist, was born. 

So for 9 months Zechariah was dumb, speechless. When his son was to be circumcised at 8 days old, they were to name him. Everyone thought he would be named after his father, but Zechariah wrote on a tablet that his name should be John. At that moment his speech was miraculously returned to him. And the first thing he did was to praise God. He also prophesied about the coming Messiah. Here's what he said...

"Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 NLT)

I can just hear the excitement in his voice, perhaps yelling at the top of his lungs those words, trying to convince everyone that something big, really big, was about to take place. He was predicting the birth of Jesus!  Six months before it happened!

The "morning light from heaven" is a reference for Jesus. Jesus was about to come to earth - from the spiritual to enter in the physical realm. A similar title for Jesus is found in the book of Revelation. The bright "Morning Star". In astronomy, Venus is called the bright morning star because in some months, it appears just before dawn, heralding in a new day. Another word used in this text is Dayspring, meaning a new era or a new order of things. What Zechariah was saying is that the Messiah is about to come, about to break upon us, bringing a new era, and bringing light in a dark world. 

Jesus is called the light of the world. The Apostle John describes Jesus as the light. "The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world." (John 1:9 NLT)  The Apostle John also says, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it." (John 1:5 NLT)

What does this light do? This light that can never be extinguished?  First it reveals. In other words, Jesus, the light, reveals God to us. Through His life - through His word. Secondly, the light, Jesus, illuminates our way. He brings light - new light -  to those who sit in darkness - those without hope, those locked in the bondage of sin and despair.  He offers forgiveness and a way to be right with God. Instead of being in conflict with God, we can be in a loving relationship with Him, through Christ.

Notice Zechariah's words, that the morning light from heaven will "guide us to the path of peace". What he was predicting is that Jesus, the light, will illuminate for us the way to the path of peace. Jesus show us how to find this path. Who wouldn't want to walk on the path of peace as we go through this life? This walkway of peace is sure better than the road of chaos, confusion, and despair. Jesus offers us the path and He is always calling, "Come, follow me."

Also notice how Zechariah says that the coming light, which will illuminate the way to peace, inner peace, and peace with God, is all the result of "God's tender mercy". What a Christmas present!

The prophet Isaiah, when prophesying about the coming birth of Christ, 700 years before it happened, referred to Jesus as the "Prince of Peace." 

This Christmas, if you are not already walking on the path of peace, may you let the true light of heaven guide your way to it.  May the Prince of Peace guide you to the Path of Peace. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Without Santa?

I like Santa. Even as a Christian. When my children were little we had fun with the idea of Santa. They just knew it was 'pretend'. And they knew right from the toddler stage the real reason why we celebrated Christmas....the birth of Jesus. So, Santa was just pretend and just fantasy, and that was the way my family handled it. We even sort of jokingly put cookies and milk out for Santa. I don't think my kids were fooled by it. They just went along with my craziness.

I like Christmas trees, and Christmas lights, and Christmas presents (but not Christmas shopping). I love Christmas movies. I can't count how many times we have seen the Grinch. Our house is filled with Christmas decorations, as well as Christmas cards and cookies. However, there has never been a Christmas in my house without our manger scene. My family knows the real Christmas story. And to me, all the decorations and the hype that comes with Christmas is fine, but it's just the frill - the fireworks - the confetti - for just one thing......the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord! That's what the celebration is all about.

Christmas celebration in America is extravagant when it comes to the hoopla. My question is this. Could you personally still celebrate Christmas if all the hoopla was gone? If Santa is removed, the Christmas lights are taken away, the Christmas decorations are gone, the Christmas tree is not there, and there are no presents.....could you still celebrate Christmas?

There are places in the world like that...without the frill. Just look at the situation in the Philippines right now. Because of the recent typhoon that killed approximately 4000 people, four million people are displaced from their homes! In other words...homeless! There is no extravagant frill there. In such a terrible situation, can a Christian there still celebrate Christmas?

In North Korea, don't even try to put up a Christmas tree in front of your home. Christianity there is forced underground. North Korea is one of the worst places in the world when it comes to Christian persecution. People have been given the death sentence, executed, for simply possessing a Bible! Are the Christians there, who are in secret, celebrating Christmas this year?

Recently in the news, you may have heard about Pastor Saeed Abedini. He is the Christian preacher who is currently being held in an Iranian prison, one of the worst prisons in the world, for preaching Christianity. He is an American citizen and has been in prison there since September 2012. He has been beaten and tortured in attempts to have him renounce his faith in Christ. If he would submit to that and return to Islam, then he woud be released to his wife and two small children.  He is held in the violent criminal ward, in terrible conditions, and his health is failing. Because of his beatings, he has had internal bleeding, with very little medical care or concern, if any. But throughout all that, his faith is stronger than ever. Will he celebrate Christmas this year?

Will the Christians in the Philippines and in North Korea celebrate Christmas this year? Will Saeed Abedini celebrate Christmas this year? You better believe it! That's because Christmas is the day that commemorates of the birth of Jesus - His entry in this world - and because of that, it is a very special day.  Jesus is the one who brings light into a dark world - who brings the promise of new life, even life after death. And through His life, His death, and His resurrection from the dead, and our faith in Him, we have hope and salvation. 

Maybe the question you really need to stop and consider is this..."Would I be able to celebrate Christmas, even without Santa, without the frills, without the presents, without the decorations, even if I was alone and in uncomfortable circumstances?" The answer will reveal your true heart and your true faith. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Chronological Christmas Story - 7 Day Bible Reading Plan

When's the last time you've read the Christmas story in the Bible? At this time of year it's something you should definitely do. It's not that long, actually. It's only found in 2 of the 4 Gospels. The Book of Mark and the Book of John don't mention the details of the birth of Jesus at all. Only the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke talk about it. So below is a 7-day Bible reading plan that is in chronological order as far as how the timeline of events occurred. Read it at least once through before Christmas. There are some amazing, miraculous things going on in that story, so take your time and read slowly. Make today Day #1.

Day #1: Read Luke 1:5-25
The Birth Of John The Baptist Foretold

Day  #2: Read Luke 1:26-56
The Birth Of Jesus Foretold
Mary Visits Elizabeth
Mary's Song Of Praise

Day #3: Read Luke 1:57-80
The Birth Of John The Baptist
Zechariah's Prophecy

Day #4: Read Matthew 1:18-25 and then Luke 2:1-7
The Angel Appears To Joseph
The Birth Of Jesus

Day #5: Read Luke 2:8-20
The Shepherds And The Angels

Day #6: Read Luke 2:21-38
Jesus Is Presented In The Temple
The Prophecy Of Simeon
The Prophecy of Anna

Day #7: Read Matthew 2:1-23 and then Luke 2:39-40
The Wise Men
The Escape To Egypt
The Return To Nazareth
Jesus Grows Up In Nazareth

The more you read these scriptures, the more you really get a good knowledge of the true story of Christmas. Everything else aside from scripture is speculation. So....don't base your theology on a Hallmark Christmas card!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The 19 Supernatural Events Of The Christmas Story!

It’s amazing to see the extent of God’s providence in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Not only is an Angel used at least 7 different times, a multitude of Angels are used at one point also. Dreams are used no less than twice. A miraculous star appears on two occasions. The influence of the Holy Spirit is involved at least 4 times. Considering all this, it’s easy to see that the birth of Jesus leaves nothing to chance. It was planned and orchestrated by God!

#1. The Angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah (Luke 1:11-17)
#2. The Angel Gabriel strikes Zechariah dumb (Luke 1:19-22)
#3. God allows Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, to become pregnant (Luke 1:23-25)
#4. The Angel Gabriel appears to Mary (Luke 1:26-37)
#5. Mary miraculously becomes pregnant (Luke 1:38) 
#6. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:39-45)
#7. Zechariah’s speech miraculously returns (Luke 1:57-66)
#8. Zechariah speaks prophecy (Luke 1:67-79)
#9. An Angel appears to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25)
#10. An Angel announces the birth of Jesus to shepherds (Luke 2:1-12)
#11. A multitude of Angels appear to the shepherds (Luke 2:13-20)
#12. Simeon speaks prophecy when baby Jesus is brought to the temple (Luke 2:21-35)
#13. Anna speaks prophecy acknowledging Jesus (Luke 2:36-38)
#14. The Wise Men are led by a miraculous star to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1-8)
#15. The miraculous star reappears to the The Wise Men and leads them to Jesus (Matthew 2:9-11)
#16. The Wise Men are warned in a dream to escape from Herod (Matthew 2:12)
#17. An Angel appears to Joseph to tell him to escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-18)
#18. An Angel appears to Joseph to tell him to return to Israel (Matthew 2:19-21)
#19. Joseph is directed in a dream to bring Jesus to Nazareth (Matthew 2:22-23)

Amazing!! Now....don’t just read the list above, read the scriptures listed, in order.