31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 14 – Gabriel visits Mary

annunciation2Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 

Here we continue with the story of events told by Luke.

Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month (of Elizabeth’s pregnancy), the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  And the angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you.”  But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be.  Then the angel told her:

Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Now listen:
You will conceive and give birth to a son,
and you will call His name Jesus.
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.
He will reign over the house of Jacob forever,
and His kingdom will have no end.

Mary asked the angel, “How can this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?

The angel replied to her:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore, the holy One to be born
will be called the Son of God.

And consider your relative Elizabeth—even she has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called childless.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”

“I am the servant of the Lord,” said Mary. “May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.

May you believe this Christmas, that the God who created the world, and created you, can do anything.

* Merry Christmas

31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 13 – An angel visits Zechariah

isaiah-scroll_lFour hundred years of silence from God spans the time between the Old Testament writings and the New Testament. No more prophets, no more prophecy, and no more discipline. Were the people awaiting the Messiah or had they given up? Did they feel forgotten?

Even though there is no further word from God during this period, prophecy is being fulfilled and a lot of activity is happening. Daniel’s prophecy for three of the four major kingdoms is fulfilled with amazing accuracy: Medo-Persia in 539 BC, Greece in 331 BC, and Rome in 63 BC. The area of Jerusalem is now called Judea, the Romans replaced the Persians, and Latin and Greek are the new major languages. The one temple of the Old Testament is now transformed into a new form of Jewish government, by way of synagogues and the positions of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Sanhedrin.

The Jews produce many writings during this period. One is known as the Qumran scrolls, or Dead Sea scrolls. The Qumran society lived around the Dead Sea area when the scrolls were written. They believed in a “new covenant” or messianic theology that looked for the Messiah and followed the prophetic promises. Ironically, these scrolls were discovered by shepherds in a cave in 1947. This happens one year before Israel becomes a nation again, almost 2600 years after they were first exiled.

Now we enter into the New Testament period of the Christmas story, where we have the writings from a Gentile doctor named Luke. Luke is my favorite gospel book to read. I like his style, and much of the Christmas story we hear today comes from Luke. It is a more modern style of writing than what we previously read in the Old Testament. Luke explains things in a very factual and methodical way. Here is his account of what becomes the beginning of the fulfillment of the Messiah, the birth of the forerunner to Christ.

Luke 1:1-24
Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.

When Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, it happened that he was chosen by
lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense.
 At the hour of incense the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.  When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and overcome with fear. But the angel said to him:

Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you will name him John.
There will be joy and delight for you,
and many will rejoice at his birth.
For he will be great in the sight of the Lord
and will never drink wine or beer.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit
while still in his mother’s womb.
He will turn many of the sons of Israel
to the Lord their God.
And he will go before Him
in the spirit and power of Elijah,
to turn the hearts of fathers
to their children,
and the disobedient
to the understanding of the righteous,
to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.

“How can I know this?” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. Now listen! You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them. Then they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept making signs to them and remained speechless. When the days of his ministry were completed, he went back home.

After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived and kept herself in seclusion for five months. She said, “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.”

May God bring you comfort and reassurance in these messages of angels and prophets, proclaiming the good news of this Holy season of Christ’s birth.

* Merry Christmas *

31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 12 – Expect a forerunner

001-john-baptist

The prophet Malachi gives us the last recorded words we have from God before the 400 year period of silence begins between the Old and New Testaments. No more prophets, no more writings, and no word from God. Only 50,000 Jewish exiles return to Judah after their captivity in Babylon. And with this last prophet’s words, God closes out the Old Testament history and prophecy.

Malachi 3:1
“See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts.

The prophet Isaiah also confirmed this messenger, or forerunner to the Messiah.

Isaiah 40:3
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.”

How were the people to know when the Messiah was to come, and how would they recognize him? Malachi said a messenger would come first to clear the way for the Messiah. He would be a witness, one to help prepare the way.

Four hundred years later, when all hope seemed lost, an unusual man named John the Baptist arrived on the scene. He lived in the desert wilderness and came preaching a unique message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” He was the forerunner to Christ.

“See, He is coming”, says the Lord of Hosts.

This Christmas season, may you feel the joy and anticipation of the Savior that is Jesus Christ. 

* Merry Christmas *

31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 11 – Place of birth is named

3-wise-men

Micah was another Hebrew prophet that was a contemporary of Isaiah. He was considered to be a great communicator and was known as a prophet to the common people. If Isaiah had been the only prophet to prophesy about the coming Messiah then it might have been less believable, but when there are multiple witnesses and sources, it becomes even more credible.

Micah’s writings were read and studied by kings several hundred years after his death, and they also appear in the United States Government today. In this next prophecy from the book of Micah, he actually names the place of birth for the Messiah – Bethlehem!

Micah 5:2
Bethlehem Ephrathah,
you are small among the clans of Judah;
One will come from you
to be ruler over Israel for Me.
His origin is from antiquity,
from eternity.

These are the words the wise men read that led them to the Star of Bethlehem. They had studied Micah’s writings, where it was prophesied 700 years earlier that the coming Messiah would be from the small town of Bethlehem, from the tribe of Judah, and with an origin from the beginning of time lasting for eternity. What incredible faith they must have had to travel such a long distance to a foreign land with nothing more than these ancient prophecies. God clearly rewarded their faith.

And today, if you look in the Library of Congress next to the U.S. Capitol building, you will see these other words from the Prophet Micah inscribed above one of the reading alcoves.

Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Judeo/Christian principles are found everywhere in the beginning of the U.S. Government.
~ In God We Trust is imprinted on the U.S. currency.
~ A painting of the Baptism of Pocohontas at Jamestown in 1618 hangs in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
~ The Liberty Bell is inscribed with Leviticus 25:10 (proclaim liberty throughout all the land).
~ A large bronze statue of Moses with the 10 Commandments is located in the Library of Congress, along with over a thousand rare Bibles including an original Gutenberg Bible.
~ All 50 State Constitutions reference God.
And there are many other historical references. God rewards our faithfulness.

This Christmas season, may you have the faith of the Wise Men, the prophets Micah and Isaiah, the founding fathers of America, and countless numbers of others who have gone before us. May God bless you for your faithfulness during this special season of celebration – from a little town of Bethlehem long ago.

* Merry Christmas *

31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 10 – Salvation through His death

watchman

Harper Lee is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the famous book, To Kill a Mockingbird, written in the 1950’s. In recent years, another novel of hers was discovered and released, called Go Set a Watchman. I didn’t understand the meaning of the title at first until I learned the phrase actually comes from the book of Isaiah.

For thus has the Lord said to me: “Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees.” Isaiah 21:6

Much of our literature, art, and culture has Biblical references. A watchman was to be a moral compass, one to keep you on the right path and to guide you in the right direction when things go wrong.  Chapters 52 and 53 of the book of Isaiah contain some of my favorite references and literature in the Bible.  I hope you enjoy reading these amazing and undeniable prophecies from Isaiah about the Messiah’s death, written several hundred years before Jesus was born and while the nation of Israel was still in captivity.

Isaiah 52-53
“Wake up, wake up;
put on your strength, Zion!
Put on your beautiful garments,
Jerusalem, the Holy City!”

For this is what the Lord says:
“You were sold for nothing,
and you will be redeemed without silver.
At first My people went down to Egypt to live there,
then Assyria oppressed them without cause.
My name is continually blasphemed all day long.
Therefore My people will know My name;
therefore they will know on that day
that I am He who says:
Here I am.”

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the herald,
who proclaims peace,
who brings news of good things,
who proclaims salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
The voices of your watchmen—
they lift up their voices,
shouting for joy together;
for every eye will see
when the Lord returns to Zion.

See, My Servant will act wisely;
He will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted.
His appearance was so disfigured
that He did not look like a man,
and His form did not resemble a human being.
Kings will shut their mouths because of Him,

For they will see what had not been told them,
and they will understand what they had not heard.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
Y
et He Himself bore our sicknesses,

and He carried our pains;
He was pierced because of our transgressions,

crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet He did not open His mouth.
They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man
at His death,
although He had done no violence
and had not spoken deceitfully.

My righteous Servant will justify many,
and He will carry their iniquities.
B
ecause He submitted Himself to death,

and was counted among the rebels;
yet He bore the sin of many
and interceded for the rebels.

May you listen to the watchman’s words and let your life be guided by the truth. Jesus came as the messenger of truth, and He is the true “Peace on Earth.” 

* Merry Christmas *