Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Manger Meditation

For all the times I’ve heard it, I still can’t wrap my mind around God choosing to come to earth, as a baby, under Roman rule, as one considered illegitimate, not in a grand house or even a hotel but in a place smelling of barn animals.
And yet, his humble beginning makes perfect sense.

Jesus began his life in poverty and banishment.
He was not allowed to be born or to die as anything but an outcast man. "Outside the city" (Hebrews 13:12) was his position as he entered and as he left our earth. (Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889)

We learn from the manger that, from the very start, Jesus came for the ordinary, the overlooked, those outside acceptable circles. Mary was an ordinary girl from a disreputable town; outcast shepherds were visited by an angelic choir; pagan astrologers came to bow before the Messiah of Israel, where well-bred Israelites were notably absent.

He has come to your face, O man, because you were unable to reach His face, and he who was invisible has become visible for your redemption.
(Peter Chrysologus, 406-450)

In the crude humility of a feeding trough, we see how very far down God had to reach to have a relationship with us. Try as they might to reach towards Him, the nation of Israel had already proven it impossible for man to find his own way to God through living by His laws. Imperfect people simply cannot perfectly love and obey a holy God! God Himself reached down through the vast expanse between heaven and earth, between our fallen nature and his utter holiness, and opened the way for us to have a relationship with Him.

So, at the time of his birth, Christ, through whom every place was created, finds no place in the inn; and he who is Lord of all the world is born as though a foreigner, to enable us to be citizens whose homeland in haven. (Peter Chrysologus, 406-450)

He came as a an infant, vulnerable and helpless. From childhood, he was hunted, ridiculed, disbelieved, mocked. A sin-dark world shaded its eyes against such dazzling light: the literal embodiment of God’s love. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:4 )

Rest assured that He did not come in such a way and live such a life in order to have a polite, well-dressed acquaintance with you on Sunday mornings! Instead, He came to know you and be known by you, intimately. Jesus meets us in the lowest places of life, in the mire of sin, in secret guilt and private shame, in those moments when you lose our temper with your child or give in -- again -- to a vice you hate. He came with open arms to lift you from the muck, to wash you clean, to be your brother and Saviour and friend and Lord.

We may fear to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger. (Charles Spurgeon)

The King of Kings and Lord of Lords came not as a rich prince in a palace, but as a small baby in a borrowed manger. He calls you to see His face, to know His salvation, and to bow in worship before Him, just as those shepherds and wise men did all those years ago.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Long List of Names

"A list of names?" Ben groaned, looking a bit bleary-eyed. It was our first subject of the school day, and he was not enthusiastic. That is, until I handed him the printout of Matthew 1:1-17 and told him he could circle all the names that he recognized.

Both Matthew and Ben were surprised at how many familiar names they found in this long, ancient genealogy. Some names made them giggle as I read them aloud: Jehoshaphat, Salmon, Zerubbabel. Just who were these people? And what can we really gain from reading this list of archaic names?

As all of Scripture does, this segment reveals precious truths about God’s gracious and powerful work in His gift of Jesus to sinners.

Wouldn’t you expect Christ’s ancestors to be holy, upright, exemplary folks who reflected God’s character? Some are, like Josiah, the boy king who led revival in Israel, and Jotham, who helped rebuild the temple. But many others are downright despicable. Old Testament historical accounts sum up the idolatry, treachery and pride of Ahaz, Rehoboam, Amon and others this way: they "did evil in the eyes of the Lord." We learned about Manasseh, who erected an altar to the idols in the holy temple of God. He shed innocent blood and did more evil than the surrounding pagan nations, which the Lord had already destroyed (2 Chronicles 33). Yet, we discovered that in his later years, under God’s judgment, he repented, destroying every idol and unclean altar. He pleaded with the people of Judah to follow the Lord (they didn’t listen).

Our God forgives even the most horrific offense against His holiness, when the offender truly repents.

Normally, a Jewish genealogy would list only men, but here we meet four women — including Gentiles! Tamar, after being unjustly treated by her father-in-law Judah, deceived him in order to perpetuate the Messiah’s line (Genesis 38). Rahab was a pagan prostitute who took a stand for God by hiding Israelite spies (Joshua 2). Ruth was a gracious Gentile woman, but of the tribe of Moab, an avowed enemy of Israel whom God later cursed (Jeremiah 48). Uriah’s wife Bathsheba was drawn into adultery with King David, sparking the flame that fueled David’s most grievous sin (2 Samuel 11). Each of these women behaved in ways that appeared promiscuous; yet the first three are later praised in Scripture for their faith! Ultimately, the genealogy ends with Mary, Jesus’ mother, a betrothed virgin found to be pregnant out of wedlock.

Our God came for men and women, for the upright Jew and the God-seeking Gentiles, for sinners certain that they need a Saviour.

The genealogies found in the gospels are often reserved for Christmas devotional reading, yet they are so much more than a preface to the nativity story. They reflect the remarkable human heritage of the Son of God — who, notably, most often referred to Himself as the Son of Man.

His deity means that He alone has the power to redeem us from sin; His humanity means He is a Saviour who understands our earthly struggles and temptations! He is the suffering Saviour and sympathetic High Priest. As we contemplate the descendants through whom Christ came, we recognize the full scope of fallen mankind that this wonderful, one-of-a-kind God-Man came to save.

And for those who call upon Him as Saviour and Lord, He welcomes us into His family as His descendants, born of God (John 1:13, 1 John 3:1).

[To help] Abraham's descendants, . . . [Jesus] had to be made
like his brothers in every way,
in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest
in service to God, and that he might make atonement
for the sins of the people.
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted,
he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:16-18)