Monday, December 26, 2016

The Two Spirits of Christmas

The Two Spirits of Christmas

The birth of Jesus in the city of Bethlehem was determined about BC 1300 with the marriage of the Moabite Ruth to Boaz after Ruth’s confession of faith and return to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi.  The significance of the book of Ruth in the narrative of the birth of Jesus is that of the Kinsman Redeemer typified in Boaz.  Boaz was the kinsman redeemer of Ruth.  Ruth would give birth to Obed who would father Jesse, who would father king David.  All of this took place “in Bethlehem of Judaea.”  In BC 710 the prophet Micah would proclaim God’s Words, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah {fruitfulness}, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).  Micah speaks of the preexisting eternality of the Son of God before the incarnation. 
The Saviour was born into this world about 2012 years ago, (the dates are off by about four years).  We would think that the world would be a much better place to live after thousands of years of influence by faithful Christians living out the teachings of Jesus.  Sadly, the world is possibly even more wicked now than it was then.  Christianity has not failed.  Christians have failed to be Christians.  Apostasy and false doctrine have all but consumed true biblical Christianity reducing the number of faithful believers to a small remnant.  This is very similar to the history into which Jesus was born.  Israel, God’s chosen depository for the propagation of the truths of His Inspired Scriptures, had reduced itself to a small remnant of faithful believers through false doctrine, legalism, the corruption of the priesthood of Israel, and apathy towards the commands of God to them.  This historical scenario is all summed-up in statement of Matthew 2:1. 

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him {signifies great emotions, although not all the same}. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel {from Micah 5:2}” (Matthew 2:1-6).

Although there is no break in the text, there is about a two-year span of time in between Matthew 2:6 and Matthew 2:7. 

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was {now about two years of age and no longer at Bethlehem}. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house {no longer in the manger of Bethlehem}, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way” (Matthew 2:7-12).

Jesus was most probably born closer to April than in December.  December 25th has its connections to paganism and much of the traditions of Christmas are pagan coming into Christianity through Roman Catholicism.  We certainly do not celebrate the Christ Mass.  However, we rejoice that the world remembers and celebrates the birth of our Saviour Jesus the Christ of God.  We may hate the way the celebration of Christ’s birth has been stolen by the secular business world to make profit from people’s generosity to one another.  It bothers us that the same institutions that capitalize on the celebration of the Saviour’s birth want none to mention His Name during the season of celebration.  The world is wicked!  Uniquely, this is the exact reason why the incarnation of the eternal Son of God was necessary. 
Jesus was born into a hostile and wicked world.  The historical backdrop for the birth of the Saviour was a particularly wicked time in Israel’s history.  The King of Judea was Herod the Great (47-4 BC).  He was a Gentile (Edomite or Idumean) appointed to power by Rome.  He began his political career as the governor of Galilee at the age of twenty-five.  He was appointed King of Judea because of his success in collecting taxes for Rome.  He certainly did not think he needed a Saviour. 
Matthew 2:6 says, “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”  “Herod the king” greatly oppressed the children of Israel by over taxing them for his own opulent, selfish, and greedy lifestyle.  The citizens of Jerusalem were “troubled” over the news of the birth of the descendent of king David Who would be their Messiah and Deliverer.  They believed the Messiah would destroy the enemies of Israel through war and lead the nation of Israel to world dominion.  The Greek word translated “troubled” simply means agitated or stirred up.  Herod was fearful and paranoid. 

The corrupted priesthood of Israel was equally fearful and paranoid because they knew that when Messiah came, the Levitical priesthood would be terminated according to the prophecies of Malachi and Hosea.  Knowledge of these prophesies would create great anxiety for the children of Israel living in Jerusalem.  The universal principle for these people being “troubled” is that “judgment must begin at the house of God” (I Peter 4:17). 

6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. 7 As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame. 8 They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity. 9 And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings. 10 For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to the LORD. 11 Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart” (Hosea 4:6-11).

At the time of the birth of Christ, Herod the Great was in the declining years of his reign (about 14 to 4 BC).  He imprisoned his two favorite sons (Alexander and Aristobulus) because he believed they were involved in plots to overthrow him.  They were then put to death by strangling after a trial.  Three-hundred other people were executed as well simply because Herod considered them to be the friends of his sons believing them to be complicit in the plot.  The last years of Herod’s life were lived in constant turmoil with his own sons as they attempted to overthrow him.  The two sons of Herod manifest the principal of reproduction - “Everything produces after its own kind.” 

It was into this historical turmoil of the wicked greed of Herod’s life that Jesus was born.  Herod needed a Saviour, but was so wrapped up in his own selfish greed and self-sufficiency that he was instead threatened by the One who came to save his soul.  It is usually the very things that imprison people that keep them from seeing their need of a Saviour or from wanting to be saved.  They find no lasting satisfaction in their foolish pursuits of revelry and lusts, yet they languish in the shackles they have created for themselves.  Their lives are in a downward spiral nosediving into the ground at hundreds of miles an hour while they shout “whee” all the way down into the fires of Hell.
About four-hundred years prior to the birth of Jesus, 42,360 of the most faithful of God’s chosen people returned from Babylonian captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah.  They brought with them another 7,337 servants and maids (Ezra 2:64-65) to begin rebuilding the Temple, which had been destroyed at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s captivity of Jerusalem.  One-tenth of this number were Levites. The number of qualified priest had been greatly reduced during the captivity through compromise.  We also read in Ezra 2:69 that this faithful remnant generously gave a huge amount of money and one-hundred very expensive “priests’ garments” of their own resources. 
What we learn from this is that it took less than two-hundred years before this very devote and faithful remnant had corrupted themselves practically and doctrinally.  Learn from this history lest your generations become a repeat of the same failure.  Creating another generation of faithful children will not happen without considerable effort by both parents in conjunction with a local church intent upon the same goal. 

The majority of the group of the generations of returning remnant formed the sect of the Pharisees, who continually increased the requirements of the Law to ensure that no one drifted into compromise.  The affect was just the opposite developing into Legalism.  Another group rebelled against the strict and literal interpretation of the Mosaic Covenant (the Law) forming the liberal group known as the Sadducees.  Most of the remaining children of Israel struggled within this tension.  Others had abandoned the Mosaic Priesthood, the Temple, and the now corrupted offerings because the priesthood that offered those sacrifices were politically, doctrinally, and morally corrupted.  This is the historical context of the Jewish world into which Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, was born. 
In the parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus concludes the parable with a remarkable statement in verse eight, “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”  This is the second coming of Jesus at Armageddon to establish His Kingdom on Earth.  The scenario appears to be very similar to the historic time into which Jesus was born.  This defines what happens in the world when Bible doctrine is diminished, holiness is ridiculed, the preaching/teaching God’s Word is viewed as boring, and church services are reduced to music concerts.  This kind of world, and even this kind of Christianity, does not want or welcome the presence of God in human flesh. 
Shortly before Herod’s death (4 BC), the Magi came to Judea searching for the new born King of the Jews.  These “wise men from the east” carry further historical significance to Herod’s slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:16). 

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not” (Matthew 2:16-18).

The Magi were originally a hereditary priesthood who offered animal sacrifices to an un-named god.  Although occultist in their practices of divination and such, they were essentially monotheistic and many of their beliefs and their religious practices paralleled those of the Jews.  By the time these men appear on the pages of sacred history, the Magi had evolved into a powerful group.  They held leading positions in a constitutional council known as the Megistanes whose duties included the election (or deposition) of a monarch.  Therefore, they were considered by most people to be divinely appointed king-makers.
Their coming in search of this new born King of the Jews must have struck fear into the heart of the corrupt, wicked, and vile King Herod the Great who lived in constant fear of being overthrown.  They would have come with all the pomp of their position, traveling with a large armed force to protect them.  Had Herod tried to take them on, he would have risked war with Parthia.  Instead he took his usual avenue.  He just decided to eradicate the opposition by having all the children under two years old who had been born in Bethlehem slaughtered.
About two years has gone by since Herod’s initial contact with the Magi (Matthew 2:16).  That is why he had all the children two years old and under, “according to the time” he had talked with the Magi.  In Herod’s corrupt, arrogant heart lay the pride of power.  He would do anything to protect that position of power, even to the extent of having his own sons killed.  This is the spirit of Antichristism.  From Matthew 2:1-12 we see two spirits that motivate humanity.

  • We see Herod the Taker.
  • We see God the Giver.

We are all Takers as part of our corrupted nature.  This corruption defines our fallen nature.  From the degree of our corruption in this area of our character will flow the degree of our selfish demands.  The very idea that it is “more blessed to give then receive” (Acts 20:35) is foolishness to the corrupted mind of a Taker.  The spirit of God’s birth of a Saviour is giving, but that seems to degenerate more each year into a season of getting and taking.
Christmas is the time of the year we celebrate the birth of the Saviour.  We cannot separate the word Saviour from the love of God and the giving of God out of that love.  The kind of love that is God is defined by extreme selflessness and personal sacrifice.  When God commands Christians to love one another, this is the kind of love of which He speaks.  When God commands believers to minister as servants to the lost souls of this world, He expects us to love and give the way He loves and gave to us. 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

          We cannot separate the word Saviour from the love of God and the provision of the free-gift of salvation to “whosoever will.”

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of extreme self-sacrifice (love and giving).  Self-sacrifice means giving ourselves.  The spirit of Christmas is the desire to be a blessing to someone and is about being others-minded

The Magi brought their “treasures” to baby Jesus and gave Him “gifts” (Matthew 2:11).  Before they gave their gifts to Jesus, these powerful men (who caused kings to tremble), humbled themselves (“fell down”) and “worshipped Him.”  Praise is what we say to others about God.  Worship is what we say and do in direct communicated with God.  They gave gifts merely as expressions of their worship.  They understood this little toddler Name Jesus was God’s gift to the world - a Saviour.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

It becomes the responsibility of every individual Christian to translate the things he knows and believes about the Person of Jesus Christ into practical realities of living that communicate the gift of the love of God offered to humanity.  In this venue of expression, the believer becomes the vehicle of transport of God’s love to the world.  In this venue of expression, the believer becomes a continuum of God’s love in the “work of the ministry” called evangelism and discipleship. 

Without the continuum of the “work of the ministry,” the knowledge of God’s love in the giving of His Son for the sins of the world would cease to exist after one generation.  Sadly, in most part, this describes exactly the scenario of the generations of most believers.  They may communicate the truth of the gift of salvation, but fail to communicate their love for God and appreciative worship towards God for what He has given.  This is the very thing that God said to Israel through Isaiah. 

9 Stay yourselves {continue to be stupefied}, and wonder {astonished}; cry ye out, and cry {the idea is, ‘stay blind since you choose not to see the light’}: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink {they were drunk with pride and self-trust}. 10 For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes {spiritual blindness happens when a person closes his eyes to what God reveals}: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered {he has covered his eyes from seeing what God is saying and doing while crying out in complaint against God for his spiritual blindness}. 11 And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed {they could not understand what Isaiah was saying because they refused to acknowledge the message was about them}, which men deliver to one that is learned {taking a book to someone who could read to have the book read and explained}, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: 12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned {even the educated if Israel could not understand, again because they would not see that God was speaking about them}. 13 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men {having reduced God’s divine commandment to mere rules of human invention; this is what happen in the expanded interpretations of the Torah into the written traditions known as the Mishnah}” (Isaiah 29:9-12):

Isaiah 29:9-12 describes the spiritual state of the clear majority of professing Jews occupying the Promised Land at the time of Christ’s birth.  This was especially true of the priesthood of Israel.  Therefore, the angels appeared to the shepherds rather than to the leadership of Israel.  The shepherds were told they would find their Messiah all wrapped up in “swaddling clothes” and lying in a manger.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

What a remarkable place to find the greatest gift ever given to anyone.  The eternal Son of God was not only born into a hostile world intent on His death.  He was born in humility and poverty.  The God Who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and gave out of the abundance of His love was born in humility and died in humility to give us salvation and to teach us a new way of life – sacrificially giving ourselves to help others.  Once we understand this, every believer should sing at the top of our lungs from the roof tops with the chorus of “heavenly host” to the glory of God.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:13-14).

For one small moment, a window into heaven was opened and the spiritual blindness of the shepherds was made sight.  They saw and heard with what the angels of heaven eternally occupy themselves – praising God! 

If we really understood and remembered the magnificence of the gift of God in Christ Jesus, our song services would be filled with joy and rejoicing.  We would shout out “glory to God in the highest” from the bottom of our hearts overflowing with gratitude.  The songs of praise and worship would burst forth from our hearts through our mouths directed to the glory of God.  Our lives would be like loaded cannons ready to explode with glory to God at the slightest spark of remembrance of what God has gifted us. 
Often, we sing words put to music with little praise from our hearts and even less comprehension of the wonders of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.  We must always take care that we do not slip into what God rebuke the people of Israel about in Isaiah 29:9-12 - If we really understand our dilemma without God’s gift of a Saviour, we would better understand the wonders of that gift.  This understanding is the spring from which pure worship erupts.

6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

“While we were yet sinners,” prideful, hostile, God hating, takers of whatever we wanted without any consideration of the consequences, “Christ died for us.”  The little baby boy, born in a manger, was born to die for us, to be our Saviour and to be God’s gift of salvation.  In that gift are many gifts.

  • In God’s gift of salvation, the sin penalty (death) is fully paid and remitted.
  • In God’s gift of salvation, the believer is restored to a position of righteousness before God.
  • In God’s gift of salvation, the believer is “born again” of the Spirit of God, removed from the condemned family of Adam becoming a Spirit born child of God.
  • In God’s gift of salvation, He promises resurrection and glorification to all believers.

The key words here are gift and believe.  Salvation is free to anyone willing to put their faith in what Jesus Christ accomplished in His death and resurrection and acknowledge His Lordship (Romans 10:9-10).

24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he {her dead brother Lazarus}shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this” (John 11:24-26)?

“Believest thou this?”  Martha was being asked to believe in what she had not seen.  Martha was being asked if she could believe the promise of the Word of God now incarnate before her.  Jesus was asking the ultimate question of faith.  God gave from His heart the most precious of gifts.  He gave His only begotten Son.  He gave because He loved us.  He gave His best.  He gave Himself.  You can be saved if you will trust in the finished, substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  “Believest thou this?”

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Numerous studies and series are available free of charge for local churches at: 
Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist. 
He has served the Lord for over 47 years.

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