Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-23)

Nazareth Village, Israel

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene. (New International Version)

Jesus is the New Exodus

Joseph was told to take Jesus to Egypt. He obeyed the Lord and assumed the role of protecting the child Jesus, unlike King Herod’s demented attempt to murder Jesus. Whereas Herod sought only his own personal agenda, Jesus identified with the people of God and sought their best interests.

Just as God brought the Israelites out of Egypt through a great deliverance, so God brought up Jesus, the Great Deliverer, out of Egypt as the unique Son of God. Jesus is God’s divine Son, and so is the rightful Ruler in God’s kingdom.

In Christianity, Jesus is the special God Man who secures salvation for us. God preserved Israel from Pharaoh’s wrath; God protected Jesus from Herod’s wrath.

Flight to Egypt by He Qi

God’s kindness and loyalty preserves us from the wrath of the devil who seeks to keep as many people as possible in the realm of darkness. 

Our hope is in the Lord, specifically, in Jesus who has conquered the devil; and he did it by first establishing a beachhead on this earth through his incarnation as the Son of God.

Just as Hosea’s prophecy was an appeal to turn from other gods to the true and living God of mercy and grace, so Matthew calls us to turn from idolatry, from anything that would displace Jesus as the rightful Ruler of our lives.

Jesus brought us out of exile

King Herod massacred innocent toddlers in order to ensure the destruction of Jesus. Behind his atrocity was the devil himself who knew that Jesus was the coming King who would one day bring salvation, and the satanic agenda was set in place.

However, nothing can thwart the fulfillment of God’s promises – including Satan, whose most powerful weapon, death, has now lost its sting because of Jesus.

Just as the prophet Jeremiah spoke hope to the people that exile will not be forever, so Matthew speaks the fulfillment of that hope. The incarnation is here. Jesus has arrived. Salvation has come in the form of a child. He is the Deliverer, the Savior. Christ brings us from captivity into the promises of God.

Jesus came to save the littlest, the lowly, the least, the lost, the lonely, and the last. God demonstrated the commitment to deliver such persons through a humble existence in a backwater town called Nazareth.

Jesus is the new Moses

Joseph is, again, unexpectedly visited by an angel with instructions concerning Jesus. Herod, after all his sinister shenanigans, finally dies. The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, described Herod’s death: 

He had a terrible craving to scratch himself, his bowels were ulcerated, and his privates were full of gangrene and worms. At Jericho he assembled the men of distinction from all parts of the nation and ordered them shut inside the hippodrome. He told his sister, Salome, that as soon as he died, all these men were to be killed, so that there would be grief throughout the country at his death rather than joy. (Paul Maier, Josephus: The Essential Works, 252)

The contrast between King Herod and King Jesus could not be any more pronounced; Jesus said in a clear demonstration of his humility and grace at his death:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24, NIV)

With Herod dead, it was safe to return to Israel. Matthew links Jesus to the exodus and deliverance of the Israelites as the new Moses. Just as Moses was by God to go back to Egypt because all the men who wanted to kill him were dead (Exodus 4:19) so Jesus is also told to return from Egypt because he will save the people from their sins.

Everything in Holy Scripture points to Jesus, in one way or another, on purpose, as the center from which all things hinge and revolve. 

Christ the Deliverer, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

At the beginning of this New Year, in the middle of Christmastide, it is good to remember the incarnation of Jesus to help set the tone for the entire year.

Christ came to us so that he might set apart a holy people, dedicated to doing his will, and living according to the ethics of God’s kingdom. 

God doesn’t determine who is a good follow through the metrics of perfect attendance to church services, but in how we interact with people while we are there, and how we live our lives when we are outside the four walls of a church building. 

God has found us, and the purpose of our existence is to know God and enjoy the Lord forever.

Jesus of Nazareth

Nazareth was an obscure village, not a likely place for a king to settle down and live. Yet, this is in line with what the prophet said would occur:

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:1-2, NIV)

The choice of settling in Nazareth underlines that the gospel is not only for particular people, not just for Jews, the wealthy, or the influential; the gospel is for everyone, especially for the lost, the least, and the lowly. 

Describing Christ as “Jesus of Nazareth” means we are expressing an important theological truth that God is with us, that the Lord identifies with us, that the universal Sovereign of all is concerned for the common person, the poor, needy, and powerless among humanity.

The settling in Nazareth also underscores that Jesus is a different kind of king – he rules over God’s kingdom as a servant leader, using his power to dispense grace. Christ shares that power by giving it away, and together with the Father, gives the Holy Spirit. 

Unlike earthly political kings who demanded outward allegiance, Jesus gains followers through touching the heart by means of grace and love. Christ doesn’t coerce and cajole but serves others. He is patient, not wanting any to perish but all to come to eternal life.

Jesus is the culmination and climax of history. Hope is not found in electing the right politicians or having the right boss at a workplace; hope is not in attending church services and doing all the acceptable Christian activities.

Rather, hope resides in the child Jesus who was born to die so that we might live. We aren’t saved by the right people in the right positions, or in doing the right things, or having the right ideas – because Jesus is the Savior; he is our hope.

Almighty Lord God, give us true faith, and make that faith grow in us day by day. Also give us hope and love, so that we may serve our neighbors according to your will; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Christ Candle of Light (John 1:1-5)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (New International Version)

Merry Christmas!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward humanity! Today we celebrate the mystery of the incarnation – the unfathomable miracle of God becoming human – all for us and for our salvation.

The beginning of the Apostle John’s Gospel is an astounding passage of Scripture. These are verses to slowly and worshipfully read through because it is a theologically rich, lovingly beautiful, and missionally sensitive piece of Holy Scripture. 

The high and holy God has chosen to come and reveal true divinity to us in the person of Jesus. We know God through Christ. We learn what God is like through Jesus. God graciously condescended to us, bent down to communicate in ways we can understand and discern, through the Lord Jesus. 

The God which Christians worship and serve is an over-the-top gracious and generous God. This is a God who has gone to incredible lengths in restoring lost humanity. Since God has bridged the great chasm between heaven and earth, we have hope, joy, peace, and faith. With God in the neighborhood, divine love becomes our motivation to reach out in compassionate service. People matter to God – so much so, that the Father sent the Son to be with us, our Emmanuel.

Jesus is the light of the world.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)

Jesus told his followers they are the light of the world.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV)

A simple observation: Neither Jesus nor his followers become light. They are light. So, what does that mean?

To be light means we take a particular posture toward the world. It means we have a unique role in how we are with one another and in society.

Sometimes it’s important to say what something is not before we talk about what it is. To be light means we are not:

  • The Judge. The incarnation of Jesus was not for the purpose of playing Sheriff in the Old West, riding into the town of this world and gunslinging the bad guys either out of town or into the cemetery. Just because the world shot the sheriff, does not mean they’re off the hook for not shooting the deputy. There is judgment coming. But neither you nor I are the judge. “Do not judge,” said Jesus, otherwise you will be judged. (Matthew 7:1-2)
  • Cave-Dwellers. Rabbit-hole Christians. Dorm toads. Or any other metaphor for separating oneself from society and hiding out. Cave-dwellers want to hide out and start little fires that will only warm themselves. A rabbit-hole Christian scurries from hole to hole trying to avoid the world. Dorm toads never leave the friendly confines of their apartment swamp.

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

John 12:46, NIV

Rather than judging and hiding, people of the light are:

  • Encouragers. They speak constructive words of edification. Encouragers know there is a bit of light in everyone, so they see through the darkness to the good which can be enlightened and called forth in others. People who encourage have a glow about them which is attractive and winsome.
  • Aware. Being light causes one to see themselves in high definition. Both the image of God and the fallen nature of humanity is seen and held together. People of the light are aware of their identity. They are then able to act with humility, gentleness, and meekness. Since they know they are infinitely loved by God, this brings a great freedom to speak and act with confidence.
  • Believers. Faith begins with receiving grace. It then works its way from an internal truth to an outward expression. People of the light follow in the footsteps of their Lord Jesus. They love, lead, and linger in society as spiritual beings who help illumine the path.
  • Merciful. Since they were once in darkness themselves, people of the light set aside pre-meditated judgment and deal compassionately with those who are spiritually blind.
  • Pure. The light has its way of exposing impurities. People of the light squarely face their own reality and purposely seek purity in all their dealings with society.
  • Peacemakers. Being characterized by the light means we not only possess personal peace; we also make peace through creating and sustaining harmonious relations with others. The light enables us to be spiritual ombudsmen who carefully and effectively bring peace between warring factions.

Jesus is the light of the world. We are the light of the world. That means we do not hide but are present and involved in our families, neighborhoods, communities, local institutions, national affairs, and world problems. Being characterized as followers of Jesus causes a person and a faith community to be visible, to show the world who Jesus is, and what he is like.

The earliest followers of Jesus allowed their light to shine in the world through:

  • Taking in unwanted children, orphans, and babies left exposed to infanticide.
  • Ministry to the sick and dying during times of plague and disease, as well as visiting those in prison without families.
  • Help and kindness to the poor, foreigners, immigrant strangers, and widows, especially when no one else would.

Where light is present, no one needs to remain in darkness. Even a small flickering flame can illumine enough to make a way. And when many small flames come together, there is a great light for all to see.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6, NIV)

May the light of Christ, the living Word, dispel the darkness of our hearts so that we may walk as children of light and sing the praises of a merciful God throughout the world. Amen.

Almighty God, for unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. You have given your one and only Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born on this day of the virgin Mary.

Help us, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may be a light for the nations, being daily renewed by your Holy Spirit. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

The Mighty God (Isaiah 9:2-7)

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this. (New International Version)

Bully-Buster

I am the youngest of five siblings. I have a brother two years older than me. When he was younger, my brother spent summers doing bench press contests, and won most of them. This kind of big brother in very handy all through school growing up because, believe it or not, I could sometimes be mouthy toward kids I thought were jerks, who were much bigger and stronger than me. On more than one occasion, my big brother became my bully-buster.

Sometimes we all need a warrior who will take care of the enemy, the bully, who is too big and strong for us to handle on our own.

On this final day of Advent, Christmas Eve, let’s consider one of the titles in today’s Old Testament lesson: “Mighty God.” 

The prophet Isaiah spoke to the spiritually backslidden nation of Judah. They faced continual war, not always looking to God to handle their predicament. Yet, despite the people’s failings, the Lord is a God of grace and hope. Conflict and war won’t always exist; hope will come, not by a larger military or more weapons, but through a child.

Jesus has become our warrior, our bully-buster, defeating the powers of sin, death, and hell, and bringing salvation to us.

El Gibbor

The adjective “mighty” comes from the noun form of the Hebrew word “gibbor” which means “warrior.” In other words, God in Christ is our Warrior. 

God is the One who fights our battles. This reality has a rich history in the Old Testament, beginning with the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt: 

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14, NIV)

God in Christ fights to uphold justice and righteousness, using divine power to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 

The ultimate “bully” is the devil himself, and Christ has defeated him on the cross and brought victory and deliverance from sin to our lives.

“With good reason does Isaiah call him strong or mighty, because our contest is with the devil, death, and sin, enemies too powerful and strong, by whom we would be immediately vanquished, if the strength of Christ had not rendered us invincible. Thus we learn from this title that there is in Christ abundance of protection for defending our salvation, so that we desire nothing beyond him; for he is God, who is pleased to show himself strong on our behalf.”

John Calvin

While we were yet 90-poiund weaklings, the cross of Christ became our strength and our hope: 

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15, NIV)

Jesus is our Victor. Christ’s vicarious atonement for humanity brought victory over sin and evil through the cross. Thus, the devil is defeated; the prince of this world cast out. Jesus has brought a great moral triumph over the powers of darkness. The evil yoke of slavery to sin has been broken through the blood of Christ. The Son overcame the tyrant of our souls and secured liberty and salvation from the dogged effects of Satan upon us. 

Jesus as our Warrior, the Mighty God, brings a big dose of hope and confidence to our lives. 

I walked the halls of my school without fear because of my big brother. So, how much more can we move about our lives, not cringing in fear, but confident and full of hope because we have Jesus the Warrior who has taken care of the sin issue once for all, and puts the devil in his place?

The Divine Warrior

Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Isaiah 11:5, NIV)

He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
    and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
    and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17, NIV)

If those verses sound familiar to Christians, it’s because the Apostle Paul had them in mind when he wrote to the church at Ephesus:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17, NIV)

Our response and responsibility, in light of Jesus as our Victor and Divine Warrior, is to take our stand as we continually deal with the world, the flesh, and the devil. 

Jesus has won the war, yet there are still mop up operations that need to take place, that is, pockets of resistance which must be dealt with. 

We face the enemies of our souls with the equipment given us and move ahead with confidence – and not fear – because we have protection from God. We have all we need, because we have Jesus, the bully busting, divine deliverer who is working on our behalf and growing his church.

Conclusion

Jesus is the Mighty God, the Divine Warrior, the powerful One who has conquered sin and death. Christ’s divine power was evident from the very beginning of his birth: conceived by the power of the Spirit; led by the Spirit; living, teaching, and healing in the Spirit; and resurrected with divine spiritual power.

Therefore, put your trust in Christ.  

Are you carrying a heavy yoke of trouble? Give your troubles to him because he is “the mighty God.” 

Do you have burdens that weigh you down? Cast all your anxiety on him; he is “the mighty God.” 

Is someone oppressing you? Go to Jesus in all your dilemmas; when the enemy comes in like a flood, this mighty God shall make a way for your deliverance. 

Are you overcome with grief and sorrow over a situation? The mighty God can deal with it. Tell him everything. He’ll handle all the bullies.  

If you have royally messed-up or feel as though you have screwed-up everything, then go to Christ because he is “the mighty God.” Fall on your knees. Confess your guilt and shame. Lay bare your poor, guilty, helpless, naked, and defenseless soul before his mighty power. For the Lord is able to save completely all those that come to God by him.  

Silent night. Holy night. The Prince of Peace is entering this world. The Mighty God is our joy and our song of deliverance, now and forever. Amen.

Law and Gospel (Galatians 3:6-14)

Nativity by He Qi

The Scriptures say that God accepted Abraham because Abraham had faith. And so, you should understand that everyone who has faith is a child of Abraham. Long ago the Scriptures said God would accept the Gentiles because of their faith. This is why God told Abraham the good news that all nations would be blessed because of him. This means everyone who has faith will share in the blessings given to Abraham because of his faith.

Anyone who tries to please God by obeying the Law is under a curse. The Scriptures say, “Everyone who doesn’t obey everything in the Law is under a curse.” No one can please God by obeying the Law. The Scriptures also say, “The people God accepts because of their faith will live.”

The Law isn’t based on faith. It promises life only to people who obey its commands. But Christ rescued us from the Law’s curse, when he became a curse in our place. This is because the Scriptures say that anyone who is nailed to a tree is under a curse. And because of what Jesus Christ has done, the blessing promised to Abraham was taken to the Gentiles. This happened so that by faith we would be given the promised Holy Spirit. (Contemporary English Version)

We are just a day away from the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas Eve, the night Christians everywhere observe the birth of Christ.

And just two days from now Christians throughout the world will have a grand celebration of Christ’s incarnation – God breaking into this old fallen world to be with us and redeem us.

Many will be show up at a church worship service on that day, perhaps especially because Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, in the year of 2022. All might be in the same place; yet they’re there for different reasons.

Some come to the worship service because that’s what they have done every Sunday throughout the year – and they wouldn’t think of being anywhere else.

Others choose to be a part of the gathering because they enjoy the specialness of the day, the beauty of the celebration, and the traditions which surround it all.

There are also those who show up because the season has been hard; while others may bask in the joy of Christmas, they’re just looking for something positive to get them through for a while.

Ethiopian Orthodox icon of the Nativity of the Lord

And then there are those who enter the day for none of the previous mentioned reasons. No, they simply show up because they feel it is their duty to do so, or at the least, because they might receive some special spiritual Brownie points from God. In other words, they gather with the rest with the sheer motivation of Law.

Such an approach illustrates the “curse” of the Law. The Law itself is not bad. But if the rest of the equation isn’t factored into life, Law becomes a hard taskmaster and keeps the law-keeper in a terrible bondage without any delight to go with the duty.

People also need Gospel, the good news which fulfills all the requirements and demands of Law. Law is good, but by itself, apart from Gospel, it becomes an insidious tool of evil.

Whereas Law focuses solely on what we do, Gospel homes in on why we do it.

Law bosses us around and tells us what to do. Gospel frees us to embrace the spirit of Law to love God and neighbor.

It doesn’t take faith to obey the rules and regulations of Law. Gospel, however, can only be realized, internalized, and lived by faith.

It takes faith to receive grace and forgiveness – and to give it. Faith requires an acceptance of spiritual realities. It is the key to tapping into the power of love in the universe.

By faith, people throughout history, like Abraham, have listened with spiritual ears to the God of all. They step out, not merely because of Law, but because they rely on divine promises. Such faith enables them to wait patiently for the coming of eternal forces to take permanent residence on earth. Law can’t do that; only Gospel can.

Faith in the Bible is a complete trust in God, in who God is and what God has done. Because God has demonstrated faithfulness through steadfast love, people are gifted with faith to know the Lord and exhibit love through good works. 

God Is with Us by Hanna Varghese

In Christianity, the height of faith is to place one’s life completely in God’s hands, believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “I assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will go. There will be nothing that you can’t do.” (Matthew 17:20, CEV)

The size of faith isn’t the issue – it’s in whom that faith is placed. The littlest of faith in Jesus can have massive results, whereas the biggest of faith in someone who cannot get you to where you need to go, is useless.

Outward rituals and observance of Law have their place; but they don’t deliver anyone from sin, death, or hell. Only faith can do that.

If you are a follower of Christ Jesus, it makes no difference whether you are circumcised or not. All that matters is your faith that makes you love others. (Galatians 5:6, CEV)

It’s one thing to be kind and love others during a holiday season; it’s quite another thing to have that be your default character throughout the entire year. Love for a season comes merely from Law. But Love for a lifetime grows from the rich soil of the Gospel.

And it’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ which we celebrate and give thanks.

Gracious God, we thank you for sending your Son. Even before we loved you, you loved us and gave us the gift of faith. Help us to love one another and to see all people in the same way you do – to love them even when they don’t love us back. Enable us by your Spirit to show continual love throughout the entire year, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.