Read Acts 2:14 - 40
When it comes to living the Spirit-filled life I can’t help but think of two of the greatest superheroes of all time, Superman and Batman. I was introduced to really cool analogy by pastor Efrem Smith at a conference I attended a few years and He equated how pastors can do ministry like one these two super heroes. I would like to share with you but I want to use these two heroes as examples of what a Spirit filled life is in contrast to a flesh driven life.
Superman and Batman are two of the best known super heroes in the comic book realm. Both heroes are considered American cultural icons. Their adventures and popularity have established themselves as inspiring forces within the public eye, Superman is hailed as "The Man of Steel”. He was born Kal-El on the alien planet Krypton, before being rocketed to Earth as an infant by his father moments before his planet's destruction. He was adopted and raised by a Kansas farmer and his wife, the child is raised with a strong moral compass. Upon reaching maturity he develops superhuman abilities and he resolves to use these for the benefit of humanity. A.K.A. Clark Kent lives among humans as a "mild-mannered reporter" for the Metropolis newspaper The Daily Planet . He possesses extraordinary powers, with the character traditionally described as "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound". Superman is truly the greatest of all American comic book superheroes.
A few years after the creation of superman the public demanded more superheroes for their reading enjoyment so a man named Bob Kane created a character much in the same vain as Superman but not so super in his powers and abilities. Batman's secret identity is Bruce Wayne, he is a wealthy business man, playboy, and goodhearted person. After witnessing the murder of his parents as a child he is trains himself to physical and intellectual perfection and don's a bat-themed costume in order to fight crime. Batman operates in Gotham City, assisted by various supporting characters including his sidekick Robin and his butler Alfred Pennyworth, and fights an assortment of villains influenced by the characters' roots in film and pulp magazines. Unlike most superheroes, he does not possess any superpowers; he makes use of intellect, detective skills, science and technology, wealth, physical prowess, and intimidation in his war on crime. Batman’s “powers” come from his utility belt. He utilizes a large arsenal of specialized gadgets in his war against crime, the designs of which usually share a bat motif. The exact contents of the belt are not known, as Batman changes them to suit his needs; his uncanny ability to carry the appropriate tools for a mission is legendary.
What we have in these men are two of the greatest superheroes known to humanity; they similar in some ways but completely different in most. A question that may be arising in your minds is, “What do these characters have to do with today’s topic?” Let’s look at these two superheroes closely and see if you can get the answers yourself.
First we have Superman. What are his powers and abilities? Flying, superhuman speed, strength and hearing, heat vision, invulnerability, and super breathe. Where does he get his powers and abilities? From another world or a supernatural entity or by non-human means. Next we have Batman. What are his powers and abilities? He has no known super human abilities. He relies on his own knowledge of science and detective abilities. He is trained in the martial arts and has a utility belt to help him out. He is matchless among all superheroes in his intellect and detective skills. But where does he get his powers and abilities? From himself or from other humans (training, scientists etc.).
Let’s put this together now. Superman gets his powers from an outside source making him truly a SUPER man and Batman gets his powers from himself which makes him… a man. Here we have two superheroes but one is truly a superhero; the other is just a man in a suit with many talents and does good things.
Here is our spiritual tie in; so many of us are like Batman but want to be like Superman in our Spiritual lives. We try to live the Christian life in our own strength and ability and never experience the power of God because we do not want to give up control of our lives. We depend on our abilities, intellect and means to manipulate situations to make them work for us and our benefit. Christianity is just one more thing that we do in our lives; we add it to a list of other abilities or groups that we belong to. We are members of the golf club, the library, the VFW, the book club and the church. It’s just another thing we belong to.
But God wants us to live as SUPER men/women. He wants us to live in His power and get our abilities from Him. He knows we are just human beings and without His power we are no more than that. This is what the Spirit-filled life is all about… being a man or woman who relies on an outside source (God) for our power and ability to live life.
This is what happened in today’s text. Peter gives a sermon that stirs the crowd and eventually brings 3,000 people to Jesus Christ, thus giving birth to the church age. Is this something he did in his own strength? NO way! The Spirit of God was upon him and the words he spoke were Spirit filled thus the result was a supernatural phenomenon.
Are you a Superman or a Batman? Are you living your life in the strength of the Spirit or are you living in the strength of your own power and abilities?
 www.wikipedia.org - Superman
 www.wikipedia.org – Batman
Read Acts 2: 1- 7
We are picking up about ten days after the ascension of Christ. It was during this time the celebration of Pentecost was happening in Jerusalem. Pentecost is also known as the Feast of Weeks. It is held at the beginning of June fifty days after Passover, hence the title Pentecost, which basically means fiftieth. This feast is the second of three major Jewish feasts which take place annually in Jerusalem. It was probably the most attended as well since the traveling conditions were the best this time of year.
Chapter two opens with all of the disciples assembled together in one place. They were all in one accord which means they were in the same physical place but also with the same mind and same passion. Suddenly a sound comes from heaven as a great and rushing wind that filled the house. This is one of three occurrences that is important for us to understand because the three occurences have a great symbolic meaning. The first is the wind. The Hebrew word for wind is ruah and the Greek is Pneuma; both of these words are used for the Holy Spirit. This is the moment Jesus spoke of and it was the time they were all waiting for. The Holy Spirit had come.
Next is the tongues of fire that were separated and came to rest upon them. Fire is the symbol of God’s presence. This is important to note it symbolically shows that the presence of God now rested upon each believer individually. Author and Pastor R. Kent Hughes says, “The emphasis from Pentecost onwards is on the personal relationship of God to the believer through the Holy Spirit.”
The third occurrence happens as they all began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. This sumbolizes the enabling of the Spirit. The result of being filled with the Spirit was that they began to do something that they could not do in their own power. According to Hughes, “In the O.T. inspired speech was regularly associated with the Spirit’s coming upon God’s servants. To the observant Jew, it was easy to see that the Holy Spirit had come.”
So what does this all mean? This special day that God had chosen becomes a day that God ordained to fill the believer with Himself. God Himself resided in the believer and they were empowered by Him to do a task He had called them to do. This applies to us believers today. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This strange occurence is what made the onlookers marvel. These onlookers were devout Jewish men, religious men, pious men and educated men from all parts of the known world at this time. They saw these Galilean men speaking in their native languages and they could hardly believe their ears. The onlookers respond by saying, "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?” This was actually not a positive response. Galileans were not educated men, in fact they were despicable men, they were men from whom nothing learned nor polite was to be expected. Jesus was thought to be a Galilean, and his disciples really were unlearned and ignorant men. This is truly an astonishing thing for these onlookers to witness. These men were not uttering garbled words, they were speaking the language of "Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians." What they heard were the Galileans praising God for His wonderful works. The only reasonable explanation the onlookers could come up with was that these men were drunk and knew not what they were doing.
This was a strange day. The believers who were filled with the Holy Spirit were not just given help to do something. They were empowered by the Holy Spirit to something that they could not do in their own power and wisdom. Jim Cymbala speaks of this empowerment as, “a typhoonlike visitation of the Spirit of God.”
John Stott writes, “As a body without the Holy Spirit is a corpse, so the church without the Holy Spirit is dead.” Could this be the one thing that is missing in the church today? Is the church depending too much on their OWN strength and power and not really depending on the Holy Spirit? When was the last time you said, “God I am dropping my agenda and emptying myself of me so that there can be room for you in my life, my family, my work, and my church.”? We like to be in control of things and often times we get in God’s way when He wants to do something that will blow our minds. The key to a Spirit filled life is found when we empty ourselves of ourselves and allow God to fill us with Him.
Have you been filled with the Spirit? Now I don’t want you all getting weirded out and think that I am talking about handling snakes, speaking in tongues or stranger things. Have you truly emptied yourself of yourself and allowed God to empower you? Take a quiet moment today and allow God to empty you of yourself and fill you with His presence. Allow God to empower you to live the Spirit filled life. May you, like the Apostles, have God’s life giving Spirit in a more intimate and powerful way than you have ever known.
When are you going to establish an ethnically restricted Kingdom?
In the Apostles narrow mindedness the second aspect to their question they were essentially asking, “When are you going to restore the kingdom of ISRAEL?” They didn’t care about the gentile nations, in fact they despised the gentiles. Their attitude was, “Who cares about the rest of the world? They can go to hell in a hand basket. We want to know when WE will be victorious." It was a narrow mind set and a selfish one at that.
When are you going to set up the kingdom in Israel?
It wasn’t enough to establish a Kingdom for the Jewish people; they wanted the Kingdom to be restored in Jerusalem, on their home turf. This is where David reigned and this is where God must want to establish His next Kingdom as well. The disciples never took in to consideration that maybe this Kingdom that Jesus was talking about was not about them. They never considered that it was aGod's Kingdom He was talking about and His Kingdom goes beyond the borders of Jerusalem
Now, we can’t fault the disciples for wanting and hoping for this. The Jewish people had lived under the thumb of Gentile rulers for centuries, and they were ready to take their rightful place. But Jesus had something more in mind. His response to the disciples may have been, “It’s none of your business.” But he didn’t end it at that. He said, “You have other things to concern yourself with.” In verse 8 He says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus was saying, “Let’s not focus on when the Kingdom will come, let’s focus on how the Kingdom of God will come.” These words were both prophetic and a command. They were prophetic because the disciples were Christ’s witnesses. But in the same way they were a command, because he was telling them what they needed to do. Their witness was to begin in Jerusalem, then expand outward like ripples in a pond to Judea, Samaria and the rest of the world. He was commissioning the disciples to be the voice of the Gospel message to the known world. BUT they were to wait until the Holy Spirit empowered them before they went out. This is important to note because without being empowered by the Holy Spirit they would have failed.
Being empowered by the Holy Spirit is essential for the believer when sharing the Gospel. It is imperative for us to understand that we must be driven by the Holy Spirit when taking the Gospel message to the world. Yes, we are to use every opportunity we can to share Jesus' love, but we need to realize that it is not us who does the changing or convicting. This is God’s job and He is pretty good at it. We need to trust that when we do share Christ’s love that God will work through us and we need to be sensitive to know that not every situation is the right situation. We need to WAIT for the Spirit and move when He tells us to move. This is what Jesus was saying to the disciples. Wait just a little bit longer and when the Spirit come then you will go to all the nations.
Luke records that after he had spoken these words, “He was taken up before their eyes, and a cloud hid him for their sight.” It goes on to say that they were looking intently up in the sky when two men stood beside them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking to the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heave, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” It is believed these two men were angels or some have suggested possibly Moses and the Prophet Elijah. Who they were does not matter so much as what they said. They questioned why the Apostles were gazing up at the sky? The Apostles were not to be star gazers. They will not be able to bring Jesus back by gazing up to the sky. He is gone, they must let him go; He will return in his own good time and in the same way.
Jesus is coming back some day! This is great news! He will return to establish the Kingdom of God. We do not know the day, the time, hour or the year. Only God knows these details. So in preparation for Jesus’ return we must take his commission seriously and be spirit empowered and go out to spread the Gospel. Revelation 1:7 says, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.” The return of Christ will be a public spectacle; it will not be private like his ascension. As Christians we anticipate this day of the Lord’s return but until then we must get on with our witness, for this is Christ’s mandate to us.
Read Acts 1:4 - 6
Luke writes in Acts 1:3 “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”
The author establishes the validity and the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He notes that Jesus appeared to His Disciples on various occasions giving proof that He was and is alive. There are three specific resurrection accounts found in the Gospels (Mat. 28, Luke 24, and John 20) and they alll give accounts of Jesus’ encounters with the disciples. Another noteworthy New Testament passage, I Cor. 15:3 – 8 is an interesting accounts as it documents Jesus appearing to over 500 people at one time and He also appeared to the Apostle Paul. Paul establishes the resurrection as the central part of the Gospel message; without the resurrection Christianity is empty, void and false (1 Corinthians 15:14).
For forty days Jesus walked the earth post resurection appearing to many people talking about the Kingdom of God. Luke goes on to tell of one specific encounter with Jesus and the disciples that brings up the topic of the Kingdom of God.
In verse 6 the disciples anxiously ask Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” And in a gentle rebuke He responds, “It is not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set by His own authority.” In other words, “It’s none of your business.” This response had a little reprimand behind it because Jesus knew what they were really asking and it seemed as though they still weren’t getting the big picture. The reality is that the disciples were asking a three fold question (we'll look at the first one today).
When are you going to establish your new political kingdom?
These men were Hebrews. They had grown up in the great hope of the Hebrew people. For centuries this nation had been waiting for Messiah to come and re-establish the nation of Israel to its place of glory. They wanted a restoration of what they were familiar with. They wanted things to be like the good ole days when King David and Israel reigned supreme. They were stuck in the past and couldn’t see the big picture of what the Kingdom truly was.
They were like class mates that have never been able to see or live life beyond high school or college. They were people who gloried in the past and looked back with fondness on the old days as though these were the best days of their life. To these peoplen life ended at graduation. I feel sad for these people. They live life like their best days are past and the future holds nothing for them. Their mantra is “If only things could be like they used to.” They fail to see that the world has moved forward but they have not. I feel sad for these people because they fail to see that each day brings forth new adventures and new possibilities. As believers we are supposed to embrace the future and the hope that we have. We can’t live our lives always reveling in the old days.
The disciples couldn’t see that Jesus wasn’t talking about the good ole days. The kingdom of God was not about going back; it was about going forward and making an impact on history and the future. As believers we need to be forward thinkers. We can certainly respect the past but we cannot be stuck in the supposed "good ole days". Instead we need to focus on looking forward to expanding the Kingdom of God here on earth for God’s glory and His purpose. We can look back on our history with fondness, but we need to realize that in order for God’s Kingdom to advance here on earth we must advance as well.
For the next few weeks/months I am going to be posting a devotional through the book of Acts. I had fun doing this and I thought I would share it with you. Today's devotional is pretty much just the background information of the book. I hope you enjoy it.
The Acts of the Apostles (which is the actual title) is an inspiring account of all the Apostles did in establishing the earlt Church but more importantly it shows how God can and will accomplish great things through the Holy Spirit. Today we are going to look at three aspects (Who, When and Why) to this book,
It is widely accepted that Luke (the author of the Gospel of Luke) was and is the author of the Acts of the Apostles. We know very little about Luke.
We presume Luke is the author because of who he was writing to. The first verse of Acts states, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach.” If you look at the Gospel of Luke 1:3 you will find the author writing to this same individual. Like Luke, not much is known about Theophilus. Some second century texts suggests that he was a man of great wealth and influence and quite possibly an official of Antioch. His name in Greek means “beloved of God” or “friend of God” so we can assume that he was a gentile (possibly Roman) believer.
The Book of Acts has become an excellent historical manuscript for both secular and Christian historians as it is one that is detailed and accurate. It was probably written around 63 A.D. and records the beginning, growth and spread of Christianity. Boice writes, “(Christianity) is not a religion based on an idea or philosophy. Most religions of the world can exist apart from their founder. You do not have to have a historical Buddha to have Buddhism. All you have are Buddhist teachings. So also with many other religions. This is not the case with Christianity. If you take away the history and reduce it to a religion of mere ethics and ideas- then Christianity evaporates. This is because Christianity is linked to the life and accomplishments of Christianities founder.”
So it is important for us to know and establish Acts as an important historical documentation of the early church and the works of the Holy Spirit. Acts comes as the Historical sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Some have even suggested that both The Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles is one book but due to the size of the scrolls it was needed to be put into two parts. Many refer to it as Luke’s second volume as he picks up where the Gospel left off and continues to write about Christ’s ascension through the coming of the Holy Spirit.
What was Luke’s purpose in writing the Book of Acts? I think we can find the answer in verses 1- 3. Luke writes that he is continuing to write about the work of Jesus Christ after His death and resurrection to the day of his ascension and then through the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. This is why he wrote the book. He wrote to tell us about the Aopstles activities and ministries. It is important to keep in mind that this is only the acts of some of the apostles (namely Paul and Peter). Many of the apostles are not even named in the book with the exception of a mere acknowledem of their presence in the list given before Pentecost. Acts is not a complete detail of all the acts of all of the Apostles, there are many other great acts of other apostles recorded in other scripts, it’s just that this book focuses more on the ministries of Paul and Peter.
The purpose of this book is three fold.
As we begin our journey through Acts I pray that God will do two things in your lives. I pray that you will be filled with hope... a hope in the reality that God is not finished with His Church. The Holy Spirit is still at work and He is empowering believers all around the world to do the work of Jesus Christ. The second is that you will be challenged to make Jesus known. Two thousand years after the birth of the Church, humanity is still called to fulfill the Great Commission; which is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the uttermost part of the world. There is a great deal that needs to be done.
May you fulfill the vision God has placed before you. May you all be a community of believers who are united under the banner of Jesus Christ as we share the good news of Jesus Christ which calls the needy, sick and spiritually deprived to come and seekforgiveness, grace, mercy and love in the same manner that God has given to you. Rejoice in the hope that God has given to you through the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Jesus’ life began and ended in humility. One would think when God himself came to this earth it would have been to straighten humanity out and set things on the right course but it was much more than that. We do know that Jesus had a destiny. If you look back in Luke 1:26 you can see what his destiny is. The angel proclaims that Jesus will be great and called the Son of the Most High, He will received the throne of David and reign over all of Israel and there shall be no end to His kingdom. However before we could recognize Him as the King of Kings and Prince of peace we need to grasp the humility of our God in flesh. While on this earth, He was God in the flesh living a life of humility showing others the path to the Kingdom of Heaven.
The humility of Jesus is showin in His birth. There is nothing spectacular about his entrance into this world. It all begins with our God coming into the flesh in the form of a baby… a weak, helpless and needy baby. Not a strong warrior, but a baby. He was born in a little town called Bethlehem and it was an insignificant town as Micah 5:2 prophesies, so insignificant that it is not even listed in the list of Judah’s towns in Joshua 15. Not only was he born a little weak baby in an insignificant town, he was born to a simple carpenter and a young mother in a cave. To top it off the angels did not proclaim the birth of the savior of the world to. Instead they proclaimed the Savior’s entrance into this world to a group of Shepherds. Smelly, stinky, and insignificant shepherds! Don’t you think Jesus could have had better PR than that? Wouldn’t it have been better announcing the birth to the city of Jerusalem? Or maybe they would send a wire to the Jerusalem Times that the long awaited Messiah had come and now He will start the process of setting up His eternal Kingdom? Maybe they could have called JNN Jerusalem News Network and had an anchor come and report on this event for the world to see? No, God chose shepherds. We have in the Biblical account… The Savior of the world comes to the earth in the form of a weak, helpless baby, born in a small insignificant town in a cave to a young mother and a Jewish carpenter father (who wasn’t his biological father). His birth was heralded by angels to a group of stinky, smelly shepherds who were tending to their sheep and eventually (probably one or two years after his birth) some wise guys come along and give Jesus some pretty sweet gifts. There is certainly no glamour in that!
Ok, so he had a rather humble beginning to life, certainly things will get better as he gets older right? Wrongo! A quick glance at Jesus’ life and we will see the opposite is true. First, Jesus was tempted by Satan as an average ordinary man. You can read the account in Matthew 4. Why was he tempted? Isn’t He God? Couldn’t He have just told Satan to take a hike and got on with his life? Hebrews 4 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." He was tempted so he could sympathize in our weaknesses and yet show us that we do not need to give in to temptation. Why would a king allow this to happen if He didn’t truly love and care for his people? Secondly, Jesus was a carpenter from an average family. Mark 6:3 says the people questioned Jesus’ wisdom by asking, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. The leaders question implied, “He is a common laborer like the rest of us.” All His immediate family—mother, brothers, and sisters—were known to the townspeople, and they were ordinary people. Thirdly, we see Jesus’ humility in the fact that He didn’t even have a home. Look at Matthew 8:20 when a Scribe told Jesus He would do whatever it takes to follow Jesus he responded, "And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”" He could have lived in mansions created for glory or even a semi decent house but the Bible tells us that He had no home. Fourthly, Jesus did have a moment where He accepted worship as a King however it wasn’t as a valiant knight on a white steed parading into town as a victorious warrior. Instead He came into town on a colt a simple work colt. Fifth, he referred to himself a servant and a servant King is what He was. In Philippians 2:5 – 7 it says, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." This tells us a lot about Jesus Christ. He made himself nothing and became a servant. How many leaders or kings do you hear who believe that’s their calling in life? Lastly, we see the humility of Christ in the way He died. He did not die of old age or die during battle as a warrior. No, He was crucified and died an excruciating, painful and dishonorable death. The fact that He gave himself over to death is an act of humility. He has the power to defeat death and yet, he became subservient to it. Yet He did this because this was the plan from the beginning and He needed to make a way for man to receive salvation.
Okay, let’s wrap this up and get to the point of the message. Jesus was born in humility and lived a life as a carpenter, a servant, who being tempted to sin yet not giving in, had no home, was eventually hailed as the Messiah but on the back of a donkey and was killed a week later as He hung on a cross. I think we can see and understand that our Lord lived a life of humility on this earth. Of course today He is seated at the right hand of the Father and will someday return as a triumphant King. But for now we have an example as to how we should live our lives here on this earth. Our Lord lived as a humble servant. He served the needs of those who had needs, He became subject to earthly leaders, and He didn’t put His own needs before the needs of others. What does this show us today? As we close out the Christmas season, let us humbly serve others, not just our own families or church body, in the name of Jesus Christ. Truly seek out ways that you can serve someone in the name of Jesus Christ.
Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (2:126). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Read Luke 2:1-14
Christmas is a special day for many but especially for us believers as we celebrate the birth of our Lord, Savior and King Jesus. I think it is safe to assume that we are all familiar with the Christmas story, I mean you have seen "A Charlie Brown Christmas" haven't you? The Christmas story is the tale of a young virgin girl named Mary who was with child and betrothed to marry her Jewish carpenter fiancé Joseph. Because Caesar made a census they travelled to Bethlehem… The pregnant Mary rode a donkey named Nestor who had unusually long ears and Joseph walked the whole way. While they were there Mary gave birth to her son and named him Jesus as the angel had instructed. He was a special baby because he had a little halo around his head that distinguished him from all other children. It was also a burden in his older years because that same halo also gave away his secret identity. He was a Christmas baby, born on December 25th in a nice warm barn with all the animals gathered around to see this beautiful haloed baby. Out in the fields some shepherds were tending their sheep and an angel appeared to them to announce the birth of the savior. The three shepherds thanked them and immediately followed the star that led them to a stable where Mary, Joseph and the barn yard animals all adored this baby Jesus. That same night three wise men came along and offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. A little drummer boy accompanied them as well but he was sad because he had nothing to offer the newborn king except for his song that went ra pa pa pum pum. Joseph, Mary, little baby Jesus, the shepherds, the wise men, Nestor, the little drummer boy and the angels all gathered around the stable and sang Christmas carols.
Well maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that. I may have missed the part about Santa and his reindeer coming along to bring Jesus a toy since he was such a good boy. The song “Away in a Manger” does say, “No crying he makes”. As far fetched as this story may sound to you the truth is this version of the nativity story may be more familiar to people than what may have actually be considered the more historical and biblical Christmas Nativity Story.
Today we will be looking more closely at the birth of Jesus Christ and the historical and biblical aspects of his birth and his life as He came to this earth in the flesh. Most of all we are going to look at the true meaning behind the Nativity Story which is the story of humility.
Jesus’ birthday is not December 25, 0 A.D. He was most likely not born in a barn, He definitely didn’t have a halo around his head, there were not necessarily three wise men, and it is certain there was no little drummer boy that we know of. In fact his birth was less glamorous. It is more commonly held that Jesus was probably born in September or October in the town of Bethlehem but it is still debatable as to the precise date. Historically it is believed he was born in a cave near the Inn. The Bible also doesn’t disclose how many Magi (or wise men) were present it only states there were the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
According to theologian D.A. Carson, It is most likely true Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem during this time because the Romans reorganized their administration in several parts of the empire and were carrying out fresh censuses for the purpose of taxation. The execution of such an imperial decree in Syria (with which the area of Judea was associated) brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, long ago prophesied as the Messiah’s place of birth (in Micah 5:2). There was no room for them in the inn, but as I stated tradition also holds that Jesus was born in a cave near the inn and not a stable.
There are more misconceptions about the Christmas story that I could talk about but I do not want to focus on them. I want to look at humility in this story and the humble life of our King of kings. I am floored when I think about the creator of all things coming to this earth in the flesh of humanity. One would think everything about his entrance would be a spectacle and his birth would be heralded among all the nations. However the truth remains, everything about our savior, including his birth, points to humility and serving others. Isn’t this really what Christmas is about? Serving in humility our brothers and sisters and sharing the message of hope through Jesus Christ.
Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (Lk 2:1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.
This Dec. 21st our church had a Blue Christmas service. This service is designed for people who do not look forward to the Christmas season, because of of some sort of loss. It is a service to allow your emotions to flow free. It's a service where you are encouraged to cry and just be. Ultimately It's a service of hope. Our Associate Pastor of Family Ministry spear headed this service and asked if I would be willing to give the message. I accepted. I struggled with this message, but I believe God spoke through me. Here is the transcript below...
Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas. Joy to the World. Peace on earth. Christmas cheer. These are all phrases we are used to hearing during the Christmas season. The problem is not all of us feel, happy, merry, cheerful and joyous during this season. Words like sadness, loss, despair and loneliness seem to resonate more for some. For many, if not most of you here tonight, your Christmas is more blue than it is merry. Maybe this Psalm paraphrase reflects your feelings accurately.
“O Lord, I have been on my knees to you night after night. I am so troubled, and in so much agony, I feel like I have one foot in the grave, in deep and dark places. I am absolutely without hope, including in you. You really don’t seem to care.
Actually, let me be blunt: you’ve abandoned me and so this is all your fault. You’re the one who makes me feel like this. You’re even the one responsible for my own friends looking at me like I’m some sort of freak show.
Even so, all night and all day I’m on my knees praying, still calling to you for some relief—I’m desperate. But you keep on hiding. I’m in absolute pain and the only friend I have is darkness. Thanks for nothing.” (Peter Enns P. 58 The Sin of Certainty)
Do you feel this way? Does this paraphrase make you a bit uncomfortable, because we all know that believers are always supposed to trust God, never complain against Him and certainly never question Him? This is far from the truth. A simple reading of the Psalms will tell us different.
There are three types of Psalms
Questioning God was a common practice among men and women of the Bible did over the centuries and eve in some part still do today. Abraham questioned God when He promised Abraham’s wife would one day bear a son, Job questioned God when he lost everything that was precious to him, Elijah questioned God’s whereabouts when he flees for his life from Jezebel and the Israelites continually questioned God in times of calamity. Jesus himself questioned God in anguish, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” All of these examples should comfort us. Why? Because we see some of the greatest men and women of faith having struggles and they had the guts to cry out to God with their tough questions and express their true emotions.
Some believe questioning God or voicing their true emotions and complaints to God is wrong, disrespectful and irreverent. I could not disagree more whole heartedly. God is not taken back, intimidated nor offended when we bring our raw unfettered emotions to him. In fact He welcomes the cries of despair and raw emotions we express to him.
I don’t know how you are all feeling tonight or this season. I don’t know your stories, I can’t say that know what you are going through. But I do know that there are some things going on in your life that may be causing you to be feeling sad, hopeless, lonely, abandoned, scared, empty, anxious, and angry etc. in life.
Two years ago this Christmas season I was in a place of despair. I lost my job at the church that I served for 7 years. I was betrayed, beaten down and humiliated as people I loved and trusted turned their backs on my family and me and abandoned us. As a result I had to work three jobs and barely made enough money to pay the bills, put food on the table, let alone get Christmas presents for my children. It was a dark time. These dirty, ripped and tattered gloves serve as a reminder to me of this difficult time in my life. These were the gloves I wore at one of my jobs, Wal-Mart Distribution Center, where I worked long hours during the third shift and barely made enough money to survive. I have a pair of work gloves pinned to my wall in my office to remind me of the pain, despair, and depression I was going through in this stage of my life; but they also remind me of hope that is brought through Jesus. I felt like the psalmist in Psalm 88 who was complaining and crying out to God in despair and I stayed there for a long time. However in this darkness, I had hope. God is a God of hope. He hears us when we cry. He understands when we question. He responds in a loving manner, to show us that through His son Jesus Christ, there is hope. This reality may not change your situation right now, this very moment. But it can offer a glimmer of hope when all can seem hopeless.
So in this night… The longest night of the year, I close with this quote, “Most of us probably live much of our lives in Psalm 88 – in that place where our spiritual scaffolding has crumbled, and we are no longer so sure about God or much else. What we thought we knew, what we could be certain of and count on, turns out not to be certain at all. And we are left shaking our fist at God. People, like me, and I imagine most of us, need to hear we are not alone.” (Enns p. 60)
You are not alone. We are here together for one another. God is also here with us. He wants to meet with you and he wants to meet where you are right, this moment.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Read 2 Peter 2:4
Vs 4: “As you come to him, a living stone, rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious…” I love how this verse gets personal as it says “As YOU come to Him…” This tells us a lot. It doesn’t matter what others think or perceive about the Messiah, it doesn’t matter what the historical records say on the subject, nor does it matter what the popular consensus is in regard to Jesus. It says as YOU come to him. This indicates people needing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, he was rejected by the Jews and this is apparent in his crucifixion but what matters is that God has chosen him. He was rejected by man but ordained by God so what does this mean to you?
Sure Jesus may not have been what the people were expecting or maybe they felt He didn’t qualify for the position of Messiah, but the fact remains that He was chosen by God and this is qualification enough. Unbelieving and stiff necked people may turn their backs on Him and reject His claims of equality to God but this does not change anything. Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
As I conclude I would encourage you to think about this stone that was rejected. Think about the feeling of being let down because what you were hoping for wasn’t what you were expecting and let’s apply it to this Advent season. Sure, we are going to get presents that we may not get excited about like socks, underwear and other things. Let us not be blinded by things like gifts, parties, cookies, Christmas cards, trees, lights, decorations, and so on that we truly overlook the whole purpose of Christmas. Kids are going to be let down because they didn’t get something, teens are going to get socks and underwear, adults we will get something that we have no need for, and some of us may not even get gifts at all. Let us not dwell on these things. Instead let us consider the stone that was rejected by its builders. Even though the stone was rejected it didn’t change the fact that it was indeed the chief cornerstone. It was/is the most important part of the building (the body of Christ), the essential parts; and there it sits rejected by many. May we not set our expectations this Christmas on getting expensive gifts, having the most memorable family Christmas or getting so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season that we too overlook the true cornerstone, Jesus Christ, of our lives ?
Read 1 Peter 2: 4 – 8
Watch the video above. Take note at around 1:44 where Luke Skywalker says, "I am looking for a mighty warrior." What Luke didn't realize is that he was already talking to the one he was seeking. The only problem was the mighty warrior didn't look like one. Luke had high expectations of this mighty warrior and not some puppet named Yoda. This scene always reminds me of the nation of Israel and the Messiah (Jesus). Read on and see what I mean.
The word Messiah means “Anointed One” or "Christ". For centuries the Jews were anticipating a great warrior who would one day come to set things right. Their expectations were kept alive from generation to generation, till the “fullness of the times,” when Messiah came, “made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” They were hopeful that their Messiah would come and bring Israel back to their intended glory. Since the Davidic king is the chosen ruler of God (2 Sam. 7:8-16), (the) ‘Messiah’ is often associated with the prophetic expectation that God would raise up an ideal Davidic ruler to occupy the throne of Israel. This basically means the Jews were looking for a great and mighty warrior King, not Jesus. They were looking for one who would lead the charges of battle and establish Israel to its rightful place as a “World Power” as the chosen nation of God. But that is not necessarily what they got when the Messiah came to the earth. The Jews were expecting one thing, but God had a different plan.
The text for today and tomorrow is 1 Peter 2: 4 – 8. As we look at this passage I think it will give us a glimpse at how the people of Israel completely missed their coming Messiah, and in their spiritual blindness they rejected and turned their backs on God Himself. The key verse we will look at is verse seven which reads, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” This is a quote from Psalm 118:22 and is referenced and quoted five times in the New Testament. It is quoted in three Gospels by Jesus and twice by Peter… once in Acts and once in his first letter.
What does this verse mean? What is being implied here? What is up with this stone that was rejected and what does it reference? We find the answer in Acts 4:11 when we find that the “stone” referred to in this Psalm is in fact Jesus. In their search for a great and mighty warrior King the Jews completely overlooked Jesus as their true Messiah. Had they really understood the prophecies concerning the Messiah they would have realized that Jesus was/is the fulfillment. Even today the Jews are anticipating the coming Messiah and do not recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
This stone which the people of Israel rejected turned out to be the most important stone... the Cornerstone. The cornerstone is most often the large stone placed in the foundation at the principal corner of a building but occasionally could be the top or final stone of a building. Most biblical occurrences of this term are metaphorical. How could this have happened? It is hard for us to imagine that the people of Israel could have been so blind and hard hearted.
Easton, M. (1996, c1897). Easton's Bible dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row, P., & Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). Harper's Bible dictionary. Includes index. (1st ed.) (630). San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row, P., & Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). Harper's Bible dictionary. Includes index. (1st ed.) (189). San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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