Luke 2:1-4 “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.”
Ceasar Augustus was perhaps one of the most powerful people of the day, he ruled the whole of the Roman Empire. Augustus was not actually a part of his name, but more of a title. When given the chance to be known as Emperor or King, he chose neither, but instead chose to be called Augustus which was a religious title. By choosing Augustus, Caesar was choosing to declare himself a God.
The purpose of the census that he ordered was to have a database of all the taxable citizens of his realm. Being as he was short of funds, he intended to tax the people to support his grand plans and lavish lifestyle. And so Mary and Joseph – being as they both were of the line of David – had to make there way to Bethlehem to pay up.
Perhaps it escapes us that a mere man, drunk on his own power and considering himself to be a god, was moved by The God – of Heaven and Earth – to order a census to fulfil his own evil purposes, in order that two poor people might be found to be in Bethlehem, and one of them ready to give birth to God Incarnate. And all in order that a promise might be fulfilled; that “You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” – Micah 5:2. Are not God’s ways higher than ours? We may be small, we may be insignificant on the earth in comparison with the ruling powers and monarchs, but God moves the world to save people who trust in Jesus – even insignificant ones!
Luke 1:67-69 “His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David…'”
Mary was a humble woman, but Zechariah was a man humbled. Mary’s comprehension of the power of God had so impacted her thinking that when the angel had brought the message that she would be with child, she praised God that instant. Zechariah by contrast, when met with a similar message from the Angel Gabriel about his wife Elizabeth was not steadfast in believing, but doubted that it could be possible. So Zechariah became a mute, unable to utter a word until the birth of his son John the Baptist.
And he learnt his lesson, for the first words from his lips after receiving back his voice are these: “Praise be to the Lord”. Zechariah had been humbled and the result was praise to the Lord! But why praise? Praise because of His plan of redemption. Praise for the provision of the Strong King who God was about to raise up for His people. Zechariah’s son had been born for sure, but it was Jesus who dominated his words when his voice returned.
Perhaps this Advent we would be humbled to speak forth the praises of God for the provision of our Redeemer, Jesus. He is our Strong King and the powers of heaven and earth cannot prevail against his work on Calvary’s Cross.
Luke 1:54-56 “‘…He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.’ Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.”
On Sunday we gave ourselves to this song of Mary – the servant of the most high.
The birth of Jesus had been heralded from long long before the angel ever came to Mary. Mary knew that, which is why she was blown away that God should choose to entwine her little life with that of the King of Heaven. And that prompted her to sing her humble song.
The weaknesses of Mary (the Virgin one) and Elizabeth her cousin (the barren one), are used of God in his unfolding plan of redemptive history to display His might and these women love Him for it. How would either have children given their circumstances? Yet both of them would, by the overcoming power of God.
Their humility glorified God as they wondered at the condescension of their maker to use them! Our souls would do the same this Christmas as we contemplate that the saviour was born a babe for weak sinners like us!
Luke 2:25 “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.”
Simeon was a man who had made ready for the appearing of Jesus. He was waiting in anticipation for the arrival of the Son of God. For Simeon there was nothing on earth that could eclipse the significance of the Advent of Jesus. This event above all others, was about to turn the world upside down, and he wasn’t going to miss it for anything.
Today is the 1st of December and the countdown to Christmas has started, but for most of us, if we let it, advent will be less about preparation for the Saviour, and more about preparation for fun, festivities and gift giving.
Rather than letting the more insignificant aspects of Christmas obscure Jesus altogether, why not this year use Advent as an opportunity to do as Simeon did and prepare for the coming of the One who can save us and give us peace with God? The festivities will then be even sweeter!
After reading the 42 chapters devoted to the character Job in the bible, it’s quite easy to find yourself scratching your head wondering what you’ve just read. On first glance, Job seems self righteous, even irreverent and yet by the end we see God vindicates him. His three friends by contrast seem to rightly rebuke him and yet at the end it’s the three and not Job, God requires repentance from.
What are we missing?
We’re not so used to long discussions these days, so it’s hard to keep pace with the wordy rounds of rethoric that the four main characters engage in. What we can figure out quite quickly though, is that Job has one view about his suffering and his three friends have a very different view, and that both concern man and God.
What we’re probably missing however, is that both Job and his friends have got the wrong end of the stick in their various interpretations of why God has brought this terrible calamity on Job. It’s only Elihu who weighs in at the end of the discourse, who has an understanding which reflects the truth.
Job repeatedly makes the claim that he is righteous, even in the face of his three friends who continually accuse him of wickedness and wrongdoing. He makes audacious claims to be able to stand in the presence of God and vindicate himself (23:4). This sounds very bold for a sinful human being, but we mustn’t forget God’s opening words about Job to Satan: “have you considered my servant Job…he is blameless” (2:3). Job is not lying in his claim to be righteous.
His mistake isn’t in his bold claim that he is upright, it is in his interpretation of God’s righteousness in light of his own suffering. He thinks that God is being unjust, rewarding his righteousness with suffering. He thinks he deserves better. He claims that not even a fellow man would treat him this way (30:24).
Job’s friend’s mistake
Job’s friend’s understanding of the suffering God has brought upon Job, is that God uses calamity as a punishment when human beings have sinned. In their view the equations are simple: sin results in righteous retribution from God and righteousness results in prosperity from God. Therefore Job must have sinned (8:20), his suffering confirms it!
Job’s continuous defence of himself as a righteous man only deepens his guilt in their eyes and improves God’s case for bringing vengeance in the form of suffering on Job.
Their mistake, that Job successfully highlights (21:30), is that they think God awards people on this earth, according to what they do instead of recognising that all people are the same. No one deserves anything good from God, everyone only deserves God’s vengeance in spite of what they may or may not have done, good or ill.
The two mistakes are the same in one sense, that is they both result from an error made in their first assumption about suffering. Job and his friends have both made the wrong assumption that God is angry with Job in a punitive sense. That is to say, that his anger has flared up against Job and he has manifested it by bringing calamity on Job.
From this wrong beginning, Job goes on to conclude that God has no right to be angry with him because he’s good, and his friends proceed to conclude that Job must be bad, because God is angry with him.
The last person to speak before God does, is Elihu. It seems from what he says that he has managed to avoid the mistakes of both Job and his friends. He has based his conclusion on a right knowledge of God. He understands the fatherly role that God plays in the life of a person that he has made righteous in his sight. God disciplines those that he loves we read in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:6), and anyone who is not disciplined is not loved.
Discipline which results from love is not punitive; it is not retributive. It is curative; it is, in Elihu’s words, preservative. Elihu reveals a side to God’s character that the others have failed to see, though they should have understood it clearly enough.
He may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrongdoing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit, their lives from perishing by the sword. (33:16-18)
When God finally speaks, he rebukes Job and his friends for the darkness which has clouded their understanding, but has no rebuke for Elihu. He simply builds upon what Elihu has started to say, but with perfect clarity and unwavering commitment to his own righteousness. Job and the others have nowhere to go.
By His own words God justifies his own righteous ways, Job cannot even speak in his presence, never mind challenge his justice. And by his own words God shows grace to his son Job and has him intercede on behalf of his friends. Though their own words would surely have condemned them to God’s wrath and punishment, yet God provides Job to pray for them.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
It has been over 70 years since Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Human Motivation and Needs’ was published and it has since gained immense popularity across the areas of business and personal development. (more…)
To consider who Jesus Christ is you need to expose yourself to his claims, character and power. Read the Gospels and Jesus Christ will be revealed. Philip Schaff, a 19th Century Swiss theologian wrote a very useful insight into the impact Christ has had on our lives and throughout the World: (more…)
Some weeks ago I had entered into a rather challenging conversation with a lady in Denby Dale whilst handing out leaflets inviting people to attend our Church service. The lady was clearly well read and was interested in history and philosophy and I’m afraid my knowledge on such matters does not go to any great depths, as far back as World War I really. (more…)
So often we can find ourselves discouraged by our own sense of unworthiness and inability to speak to friends, neighbours and strangers about God’s grace in Christ.
We feel that we let The Lord down; that we do despite to his name by our poor understanding, or our feeble words or inability to be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us in the moment when it matters most.
This sense of letting The Lord down can have a very real impact on our desire to go ahead a share (more…)
Our God likes it when the numbers are not in our favour. There are plenty of examples in the bible where The Lord either allows or actively makes the numbers hopeless.
When Gideon was getting ready to face the Midianite and Amalakite forces, The Lord told him he had too many men. Despite the fact that in a battle you cannot have too many men, The Lord actively reduced the Israelite numbers from 22,000 to 300 saying, (more…)