Over the Years: And the Testimony of Two Witnesses

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David—just as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient times—Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; To show mercy to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham, To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Would serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days” (Luke 1.68-75; NASB).1 —Zacharias, father of John (the Baptist)

Now, Lord, You are letting Your bond-servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all the peoples: A light for revelation for the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel… Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and as a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce your own soul [Mary]–to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed’” (Luke 2.29-32, 34-35). —Simeon, a devout man of God from Jerusalem

INTRODUCTION:

Over the years I have touched on various aspects of the Christmas narratives during the Season of Advent. I have done this for many reasons.

*One was to show that Christmas is a holiday (holy day) that ought to be remembered and celebrated by all Christians; despite the charge that the celebration and its surrounding symbols were once used by unbelievers before 336 A.D. in light of the Winter Solstice.

My point at that time was rather simple. All of creation is God’s. He made it very good (Gen 1.31; 1 Tim 4.4-5), and while it is true that the result of the Fall of man brought about the curse of sin, the coming of Jesus the Christ is a reversal of the curse. Through Christ Jesus all things are made new (cf. Rev 21.5). Through Him we are able to exercise godly dominion over all areas of the earth (Gen 1.26, 28; 9.1-4; Matt 28.18-20). Thus we enjoy all things that God has created for our benefit and enjoyment as we seek to use them in a way that glorifies Him above all, and not the wanton lusts of the flesh driven by a sinful heart (Tit 1.15; Rom 14.17; 1 Cor 11.29-31). Being made in His image (Gen 1.26-27; Rom 8.29) we seek to subdue every part of creation in His name (Matt 6.10). This reformation first starts in our own hearts (Rom 12.2; Eph 4.23), but extends from us to the world in which we live, as we seek to bring every idle thought captive to our Lord’s will (2 Cor 10.5).

Therefore, while it may be true that unbeliever’s used decorated trees in their superstitious festivals, we do so because the evergreen symbolizes our eternal life in Christ Jesus. Like the boughs of the tree that never wane, neither will our time of fellowship with Him end. Although, unbeliever’s used lights/fire in their celebrations of false gods, we do so knowing that the One we serve is the Light of the World (John 8.12), the Father of heavenly lights (James 1.17). While, it is true that they gave gifts during their idolatrous activities, we do so because of the precious gift of Jesus from the Father who is the giver of every good and perfect gift (Luke 11.13; John 4.10). As Christians, we are charged with redeeming the time (cf. Eph 5.16; Gal 6.10), and the celebration of Christmas is one such redeeming moment.

**Another aspect was to help the student of Scripture better understand the narratives of our Lord’s birth, rather than accepting notions based on mere tradition.

For example, how many wise men (or magi) were there at the birth of Christ? None. There were wise men who came to see the one born King of the Jews, but they didn’t arrive until he was at least 2 years old (Matt 2.16). The royal family had moved from a manger to a house (Matt 2.11). As for the number of wise men, Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell us. All we know is that they gave three kingly gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) to Jesus as they lay themselves prostrate before Him in worship.

It was lowly shepherds, who being visited by an angel, came to see the baby Jesus lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes (Luke 2.12, 16). They were the ones who first heard the gospel of the birth of our Lord (Luke 2.10). They witnessed the glory of God that night (Luke 2.9), as a multitude of angels lifted their voices in praise stating:

Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2.14).

The caretakers of sheep were the preachers that night proclaiming the Word of God to all who had ears to hear, as they praised God for His goodness (Luke 2.17-18, 20).

What of the star that appeared that the wise men from the east saw? Was it a celestial body? If it were a true star from the heavens, would it have not burned up the earth? The nearest star to our planet is the sun and it is many, many times larger than our entire planet.

The Greek term aster translated as “star” in Matthew 2:2, can also refer figuratively to radiance or brilliance. A similar term is found in Hebrew (kôkāb) and it shares the same meaning (literal= star; figurative= brilliance or radiance). More than likely, what the wise-men from the east saw was the Shekinah glory of God put on display the night that the shepherds tending their sheep were visited by the angel (Luke 2.9). An observant reading of the text will show this:

  • The wise-men are the only ones to see it, when in fact there were trained astronomers in Israel at that time.2
  • The star appeared to them 900 miles away leading them to Jerusalem in Israel, but then did not reappear to them until they received word where this king was to be born (compare Matt 2:2; 9)
  • Finally, the star traveled from North (Jerusalem) to south (Bethlehem) about six miles and then stopped at the exact house where Jesus was at. Heavenly bodies travel from east to west never from north to south and they most certainly do not stop above a person’s house.3

Finally, I’ve cleared up the misconceptions surrounding Jesus’ birth. Often portrayals of this event show an exaggerated reading the text. Were Mary and Joseph frantic in their search of an inn that night she gave birth? Was she bursting at the seams when they arrived in Bethlehem? Were they forced to stay in a barn, or a cave?

Their “flight” to Bethlehem was a planned trip, not one of desperation. The decree of the Emperor of Rome (Caesar Augustus) gave them plenty of time to make it to their tribal heritage—Judah (Luke 2.1-5). This was a place where they had relatives residing, not some foreign, unknown town. In Luke 2:6 you should note that the text reads,

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth.”

The reason they had to stay in the manager was the place where they were staying was filled with Joseph’s relatives. And, they needed space in order for her to give birth. The manager, though less than satisfactory to our Western standards (let alone fit for the King of kings), provided a warm and protective environment for Mary to have her child. In that culture it was not uncommon to have the lower level of the home or even a small cave4 next to the home set aside for the family’s livestock. Somewhere where they could be put up at night away from predators, be fed, and have a place to sleep.5

These were a few of the subjects that I have covered in the past regarding Christmas and the biblical narratives that gave birth to the holiday (holy day).6 But, what I want to briefly look at this morning, is the prophetic utterances offered about Jesus right before and after His birth. In particular, I want to highlight two different responses we see put on display.

Before the birth of Christ…

We are told by the apostle Paul that at the time of Christ’s birth the world was ripe for His coming.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons and daughters” (Gal 4.4-5).

The fullness of time, which amounts to a fulfillment of the time that God, in His providence, chose to reveal His blessed Son, our Redeemer, the blessed King and Lord over all things; including our great salvation which He bought with His life as a substitute for us.

According to Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father, the coming of the Christ is the assurance that the “Lord God of Israel…has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people” (Luke 1.68). A truly remarkable statement as Jesus has not yet been born, and will not be for another six months (comp. Luke 1.36 & 1.56). Zacharias spoke as he was being led by the Holy Spirit to declare that the redemption promised from of old had come. It was a done deal. He speaks of it as a past event. Which in reality, what the Lord God promises to do is accomplished. There is never a doubt in this.

Zacharias identifies the child in Mary’s womb, who is only about three months old at the birth of John, his son (cf. Luke 1.56-57)7, as the “…horn of salvation” (Luke 1.69) from the lineage of David’s royal line. That is to say, “Jesus to come,” says Zacharias is the power or strength of God’s salvation (cf. Rom 1.16). What type of salvation? According to Zacharias, Jesus will bring salvation “from our enemies, and from all who hate us” (Luke 1.71; cf. Psa 106.10).

The term “salvation” means deliverance. It is term filled with military might. The comment by Zacharias (Luke 1.71) is a recitation of Psalm 106.10, where the prophet says,

He delivered them from the power of the one who hated them and rescued them from the power of the enemy” (NET).

This is in reference to what God did to Pharaoh and his mighty army when he drowned them in the Red Sea. At that time, it is acknowledged that the Lord God is a God of war:

The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone. Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thous sentest forth they wrath, which consumed them as stubble” (Exod 15.3-7; KJV).

It is by God’s power alone that salvation comes. His strength brings deliverance from our enemies. This we see in the prophetic utterance of Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, as he is being carried along by the Holy Spirit uttering jubilant words about the soon to be born Christ. Don’t overlook the reference to the throne of David. Jesus is of the royal line of David (see Matt 1.1-17; Luke 1.4), therefore, we must not forget what type of king David was. He was a shadowy representation of what his future progeny would be: a warrior king (1Kgs 5.3; 1 Chr 22.8; 28.3).

In 1 Samuel, David is introduced to us as a shepherd and a warrior (man of war) from his youth (1 Sam 17.32-37; cf. 18.5). He demonstrated his prowess on the battlefield against the enemies of Israel (against God) when he slew Goliath, champion of the Philistines. First, David crushed the giants head with a stone (1 Sam 17.48-49). Then, he severed it from the body with Goliath’s sword (1 Sam 17.51). Jesus the Christ is a greater warrior still for He is the chief stone of God that crushes the enemies of God (Dan 2.35, 44-45; 1 Cor 15.25; cf. Matt 27.33; Mark 15.22; Luke 23.33; John 19.178), and severs them from life with the sword of His mouth (cf. Rev 1.16; 19.15).

Now the point of this salvation or deliverance, Zacharias says, is that in God being faithful in remembering His covenant with Abraham, the ones freed from the grasp of their enemies will be able to

...serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days” (Luke 1.75).

After the birth of Christ…

Let us now turn our attention to the testimony of another holy and devout man of God, named Simeon.

Simeon had been promised from the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he saw the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2.26). No doubt he was ecstatic when he saw the blessed child that Mary and Joseph were carrying. We can see it in his testimony of praise. He says,

Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles [i.e., nations], and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2.29-32).

Let us first notice the temperament of the man about to die. For you see, he knew his death was upon him, that his hour was up, his time… short upon the earth, but where did his focus lie? He is seen rejoicing in receiving what God the Spirit had promised him. He saw the redemption of mankind in an eight-day-old baby. Unlike Zacharias whose focus was primarily on covenanted Israel, we see here in Simeon’s testimony a promise of hope not just for those in Israel, but the nations dispersed throughout the world. Gentiles (lit. the nations) will now receive the light of God in their hearts. No longer will the glory of God be reserved for the nation of Israel alone, but the rest of Adam’s race will share in the light of God’s glorious revelation of Himself through Jesus the Nazarene, the Christ of God.

When you think about it. When you truly ponder it. There should be no surprise in your mind, in your heart at why this man is so excited to see God’s Christ in the flesh. This holy child offers salvation (deliverance) from the curse of the law; which is, eternal separation (death) from the author of life. The birth of Jesus offers hope to the repentant sinner. The man or woman who recognizes their dreadful sin, and turns to God for His aid. Jesus is the mediator of such a gift (1 Tim 2.5). This is the reason why Simeon is so pleased, so ecstatic to see this newly born babe. For though Simeon’s death is upon him, he knows without a shadow of a doubt that life everlasting is his and his children (cf. Acts 2.39). Why wouldn’t you be excited. That is a “Christmas” gift worth having. In fact, it is worth more than all the riches this world has to offer!

Simeon isn’t finished though. He adds to his statement further. In so doing, he also offers some words of encouragement to Mary, Jesus’ mother. Simeon says to Mary,

Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from may hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2.34-35).

The birth of Jesus is the birth of the King. Not just any king, but the Anointed One of God. That’s what Messiah or Christ means. Jesus entered history at the appropriate time to wage war against the enemies of God. Such language is troublesome, I think, to our modern ears. We think of Christ’s entrance into the world as a season of great joy. And it was! It is! But not for all people. Simeon was excited about it. Zacharias was too. But, not everyone would be overjoyed about the birth of the promised king. As far as many were concerned in Israel, David’s line (lineage) was better off dead.

This is the meaning behind Simeon’s words to Mary. “This Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel,” that’s what he said. What does it mean? That not everyone who hears of Jesus’ birth is going to be happy about it. Not everyone who learns of His heritage is going to be pleased. You see, kings rule. They dictate the laws to their citizens. Not all citizens like this. Herod didn’t. He sought to kill Jesus before He grew too strong. Infanticide or the murder of a child, of many children, was preferable to allowing this kid to grow up and take the throne. So, as soon as Herod learned of Jesus’ birth and the whereabouts of his possible location, in a rage he ordered the death of every male child two years old or younger (Matt 2.16).

After he grew up, others joined efforts in killing Him (e.g., Luke 4.28-29; Matt 12.14). They thought in their hearts if they could rid the earth of His existence, then nothing would come from it. Things would return to normal. They could live their life unbothered. As a result, natural enemies joined forces in an effort to kill Jesus.9 However, to their horror they learned the hard way that killing Him would not be accomplished until God’s appointed time, and the grave was powerless to hold Him. His kingship covered matters of life and death. He holds the keys (power) to both (cf. Matt 16.19; Rev 1.17-18).

The existence of Jesus (aka., God-in-the-flesh; John 1.14) brought about such contention. He spoke the truth with grace, but that only had a positive effect on those who would be His followers, servants, and friends. It only enlivened His enemies to hate and oppose Him all the more.

This reaction towards Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry was spoken of by Simeon to Mary when our Lord was only eight-days-old. He noted that Jesus is,

“…a sign to be opposed [refused]…to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2.35; bracket added for clarity).

Closing Remarks on this Christmas Season…

In the past, I have noted how there is a struggle within our society here in the United States regarding the holy day known as Christmas. You have probably heard the familiar phrase, “There is no Christmas without Christ.” But the world around us is ever hostile to the semblances of our Christian heritage. Our culture is at war with Christ and anything that bears His Name.

I make every effort to say “Merry Christmas” when I am out and about. Some people reciprocate that saying with joy, repeating it back. Whereas others, a look of disapproval is revealed on their face. If you are fortunate you are greeted with silence, rather than a tongue lashing.

But such things pale in comparison to what we are being greeted with this Christmas season. Our nation has now embraced something at the Congressional level that smacks the face of our Lord. The so-called Respect for Marriage Act is seen by some within the “Christian community” as a gift to be greeted with open arms. I read an op ed piece on Christianity Today praising the passing of this farce of a legal bill, as they eagerly anticipated the signing of it into law by President Joe Biden. A gift? Such news turns the stomach of the true Christian. There is no such thing as gay marriage. God created marriage. God defines it. It is one of the most treasured gifts that we receive from our Lord, our Creator, our God! And a great number within our nation revels in the defamation of it!

It is hard to imagine how one could be joyous when we see such evil being practiced in our midst. But then, the days of Christ birth were also evil days. The days of His earthly ministry were evil days. The day of His crucifixion was an evil day. And yet, in the midst of such wickedness there is to be great rejoicing. For as Zacharias and Simeon both testify the wicked do not prevail. Our enemies are defeated. Their plotting is in vain (cf. Psa 2).

I read a Christian response to the wicked bill about to be signed into legislation federally, and the man made an excellent observation. The good news is that false Christians and their churches will be revealed. Their hearts will be revealed. For you cannot love Jesus Christ and at the same time love that which He is at work destroying.

“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abies in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3.9-10; ESV).

My point is this. Jesus was born a King. He is God’s Anointed. He is appointed for the rising and falling of many, not just in Israel but in the world. We can rejoice because He gives us victory over our enemies. Just as Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the Red Sea because God fought for His people then, so too will He fight for us now. His Light is given to shine in the life of His people and to reveal the works of darkness (cf. John 3.19). We rejoice in the goodness of our God. We celebrate His birth. We also celebrate His judgment. We remember Him at Christmas as the greatest gift given to mankind. And we thank Him every year for the life He has given. Though we might be surrounded by evil, we know that it will not tarry long. He judges the living and the dead.

I hear people speak of wanting this nation to return to her Christian roots. I too look forward to this. But it cannot possibly occur without revival. And for revival to occur we need to be aware of our sins (personally and corporately—i.e., nationally), so that we know what to be praying for and where to stand. And for such awareness to occur, Christians need to open their mouth and proclaim the gospel of Christ’s Kingdom. May our Lord be remembered this Christmas for not only His birth, but His life, and the promise that He has made on our behalf.

Let us pray.

ENDNOTES:

1All Scripture shall be of the New American Standard Bible, 2020 update (NASB), unless otherwise noted.

2 William Geating, “The Star of Bethlehem,” Bible and Spade 13:4 (Fall 2000), 123: 121-124.

3 Ibid, 123.

4 Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1074.

5 Tim Chaffey, “Born in a Barn (Stable)? Clearing up Misconceptions,”Answers in Genesis, November 30, 2010, accessed December 11, 2015, https://answersingenesis.org/holidays/christmas/born-in-a-barn-stable/.

6There are many more that I have covered in the past, but if I spoke of all of them there would be no time left for this mornings message.

7Since Mary arrived when her cousin was sixth months pregnant and she stayed for three months, it may be surmised that Mary was not only there for Elizabeth’s giving birth, but that Jesus was only 3 months old in the womb of Mary.

8Christ’s cross upon which He was crucified pierced the high point of the ground called Golgatha which means Place of the Skull. The Latin term is Calvaria (Calvary), and the Greek is Kranion (skull). This place is a symbolic reference to the destruction of Satan and his works, for there his head was crushed (bruised or pierced). See: Genesis 3:15 and 1 John 3:8.

9Here I speak of the religious parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees; conservatives (supposedly Bible believing) and liberals (those who had made friends with the rulers of this earth; namely, Rome). Not only did these two differing religious groups join forces, but they also tied themselves to the Herodians and the Romans who they said they hated because they’d enslaved them nationally under the umbrella of the Empire. And, the plotting master behind them that hated them all (and they him)? None other than Satan himself.

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