Friday, December 23, 2016

Faithfully Watching

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. "And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.         Luke 2:1-16 NKJV

I’m sure most of us are familiar with the Christmas story and have either read or heard it preached on for many years.  Being raised in a Christian home my earliest memories of Christmas are filled with images of Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, finding no room at the inn, and Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger.  Of course, like most of us, as I grew older I began to study and learn about the “stories within the story” and of those, the one that has always fascinated me concerned the wise men who followed the star, and exactly how they knew to do so.

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, 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. When Herod the king had heard [these things], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 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. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 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. 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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, 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. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.       Matthew 2:1-12 NKJV

The answer as to why the Magi came in search of Jesus is contained in the single phrase, “ Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east”.  Obviously, the Magi had been told that a future King of the Jews would be born one day and a star in the east would not only herald His birth, but lead them to Him.  The Magi were priests and advisors to the rulers of Parthia, a kingdom whose roots go back to the Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar.  Their knowledge of the prophecy of a coming King came from the teaching of Daniel, and his revelation of the message he received from the angel Gabriel spoken of in Daniel 9:24-27.  The result was that these Magi had been “faithfully watching” for over 600 years for the sign they had been told to watch for.

Believers too, have been given the task of faithfully watching for the return of this King, Jesus, for His bride.  We have been given signs to watch for and they are all around us today.  The most important question is, though, are you prepared to go home with Him when He calls?

My prayer is that all of you have a joyful holiday season remembering that Christmas is all about the most precious gift of all, the gift of God's Son to die for our sin so we may spend eternity with Him. I hope you have received that free gift by praying to our Father and accepting the salvation He has offered.  As we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, I hope we remember that He was born to die, so that we can live. While we celebrate His birth by giving gifts to one another, may we never forget that it was His gift to us, the ultimate sacrifice, which allows us to make the choice to accept Him as our Savior and become one of His own.

If you are reading this today and have never made the decision to allow Jesus Christ to come into your heart, and accept the free gift of eternal life He has offered you, I urge you to do so right now. You can do that by simply praying this prayer and accepting the gift of eternal life God has offered all of us by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner and I believe You died for my sins. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and life to you. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you for saving me. Amen.

Keep watching.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Hanukkah Coincidence

Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon's porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, "How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me. "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. "My Father, who has given [them] to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch [them] out of My Father's hand. "I and [My] Father are one."   John 10:22-30 NKJV

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah occurs this coming Saturday, and I thought today we might recall a few observations about it that we have mentioned in the past, and the fact that Jesus chose this day to speak the words we read in the passage above.

It seems evident to me that there was a reason in Jesus' mind that it was important to walk in the Temple and make this statement on this particular day.  This Feast is known to us as Hanukkah, and I believe Jesus chose this day because of what this celebration was about, and the events it would recall to every Jew. Remember that Hanukkah celebrates the revolt which occurred because of the events which occurred only about two hundred years earlier in their history.  Every Jew would know this, and I am sure that the religious leaders of the day were making sure that everyone remembered what this celebration was all about.

During the occupation of Israel by the Syrian/Greek forces, the Selucid King of Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, not only commanded the people to worship the Greek gods, he set up a statue of Zeus in the temple and sacrificed pigs on the altar. A revolt began and the end result was that in 165BC the king was overthrown and the Jews were able to resume worship in their temple. The trouble was, they discovered that when they went to relight the Menorah, or lampstand in the temple, there was only enough oil to burn for one day. Since this oil was specially consecrated by the priests for use, it would take days to prepare more. However, a miracle occurred in that the one day supply of oil burned for eight days allowing time for the priests to complete the process of acquiring more.

Although not one of the seven feasts of Israel ordained by God in the Old Testament, it is a very important celebration in Israel and is even referred to in the New Testament. So why do I bring this up? I suppose because I find so many interesting things associated with this celebration that we as believers can and should be aware of. So I want to take a little time examining some of them, and share my thoughts with you as to why I think they are important. So first of all, let’s talk about the Menorah. Of all the things to be found in the Temple, I think the Menorah was probably the most impressive. A description of it is found in Exodus 25 where God instructs Moses on how to construct it.

"You shall also make a lampstand of pure gold; the lampstand shall be of hammered work. Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its [ornamental] knobs, and flowers shall be [of one piece]. And six branches shall come out of its sides: three branches of the lampstand out of one side, and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side. Three bowls [shall be] made like almond [blossoms] on one branch, [with] an [ornamental] knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almond [blossoms] on the other branch, [with] an [ornamental] knob and a flower--and so for the six branches that come out of the lampstand. On the lampstand itself four bowls [shall be] made like almond [blossoms, each with] its [ornamental] knob and flower. And [there shall be] a knob under the [first] two branches of the same, a knob under the [second] two branches of the same, and a knob under the [third] two branches of the same, according to the six branches that extend from the lampstand. Their knobs and their branches [shall be of one piece]; all of it [shall be] one hammered piece of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it, and they shall arrange its lamps so that they give light in front of it. And its wick-trimmers and their trays [shall be] of pure gold. It shall be made of a talent of pure gold, with all these utensils. Exodus 25:31-39 NKJV

Notice how ornate this object was, and how much care had to be taken to make it. Notice too how specific God was with His instructions on how it was to be made. Here is what I get from reading this description. First of all, God is very specific when He says that there are six branches, three on each side, emanating from a main shaft. Why is that important? Type in "menorah" in your search engine and read some of the results. I bet every one of them describes a menorah as a "seven" branched candlestick. Am I being picky here? I don't think so. I believe the picture God paints for us here is very important, and often missed. I think most of you are probably familiar with the following verse;

"I am the vine, you [are] the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NKJV

"Without me you can do nothing". I would think we should consider that a rather important statement by our Lord. You see, something has to support the branches.  When I look at a picture of the menorah I see one main shaft from which branches grow. Is this the picture God intended for us to see? The branches get what they need not from themselves, but from the vine itself which has roots. So in essence, the main vine is the most important part of the picture. The vine supports the branches, not the other way around. Have you ever seen a vineyard when it is pruned? I live in wine country, and am surrounded by vineyards and wineries. After a vine is pruned I can tell you they look like stumps. Yet they aren't dead, and have plenty of life inside which manifests itself in the spring when the branches begin to grow. So the first thing I see when I look at a menorah is Jesus as the main shaft supporting the branches which symbolize all those who choose to believe.

Let's now consider the purpose of the lamp itself which is to give light. The purpose of having a lamp is to give light when it is dark in order to show us the way to walk without stumbling over something we would not ordinarily see. If God is showing us a picture of His Son as a lamp, with those who believe as the branches whose purpose is to give light, can we find another part of scripture to support that thought?

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. John 8:12 NKJV

So if Jesus is the light of the world and the main shaft or vine, as His branches we have that light as well with the ability to give light. Jesus told us that in the book of Matthew where He says this;

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 NKJV

So what I see here is this, a lampstand such as the menorah gives light two ways. One, it shines light outward to fight the darkness that surrounds it. But two, the branches also send light inward, lighting up the shaft itself. When the world looks at the lamp, not only do they see the effect of the light it produces, but they see the lamp itself. So the second thing I think of when I see a menorah is Jesus as the light of the world, not only giving light but being glorified (lit up) by those who believe.

Then of course we come to the reason behind the celebration of Hanukkah, and that is the miracle of the oil. Obviously a lamp without oil cannot give light, so the oil is probably the most important part of the picture we are looking at here. Throughout the Bible it is plainly seen and accepted that oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament kings and priests were annointed with oil as a sign they were being "consecrated" and filled with the spirit. In Zechariah we see that the prophet was shown a vision of a lampstand with oil dripping into it and when he asks what it signifies is he is told;

So he answered and said to me: "This [is] the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' Says the LORD of hosts. Zechariah 4:6 NKJV

We also know Jesus told His disciples that they were going to receive the Holy Spirit as a gift and just what the results of that gift would be.

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:8 NKJV

When we become believers and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit we receive the "oil" we need to light our lamps. We have the power we need to live the life God expects from us and "light" the world with the deeds that will bring glory and honor to God. It also gives us the strength we need to let our light shine in the midst of the darkness we seem to be finding ourselves surrounded by more and more as we get closer to the end of this age. So I guess this is the third thing I see and think about when I look at a menorah, and that is the oil of the Holy Spirit which lights up the world through those who believe.

You will recall my feeling that the branches light the center stem, which I look at as Jesus, the light of the world. I also mentioned that the branches represent us as believers, reflecting the light of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving, or dark world. Now I want to suggest a possible implication related to the rapture of the Church. There should be no question in our minds that Jesus is indeed the Light of the world. I think the passage from John 1 makes that pretty clear, but if that is not enough, consider the following words from Jesus;

I have come [as] a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. John 12:46 NKJV

So when thinking about Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Light, and the fact that John, as well as Jesus said He came into this world as a light, something else naturally comes to my mind.  We have, of course, mentioned the subject of coincidences lately, so let me share another one with you. The following paragraphs are from my blog from 12/14/08 called Christmas in September.

..... The best indication, however, of just when Jesus was born can be found in the first chapter of Luke when we are told of the conception and birth of Jesus' cousin John the Baptist. When we are introduced to Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, we are told in verse 5 of chapter 1 that he was a priest "of the course of Abia", or Abijah. It says also that he was beginning his service in the temple when he was told by the angel Gabriel that he was about to become a father. We know from 1 Chronicles 24:10 that the course of Abijah was the eighth course to serve in the temple. This would mean his service would have ended around the month of July. Assuming a normal term of pregnancy, John would have likely been born around April of the next year.

Why is this important to our question of when Jesus was born? If we look at Luke 1:36 we see that when Gabriel visited Mary to tell her about what was about to happen to her, he also said that Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist and Marys' cousin, was in her 6th month of pregnancy. This means that Jesus was to be born approximately 6 months after John the Baptist. Look at John being born around April, and you end up with Jesus being born around September. Is it possible that Jesus was actually born in September rather than in December as we celebrate it?

Now many who have studied this subject consider it a very strong possibility that Jesus was not only born in September, but on the Feast of Tabernacles as well, because in verse 14 of the passage from John 1 the word translated "dwelt" is "tabernacled" in the Greek. So what does this have to do with Hanukkah, the Festival of Light? Just this, if you subtract a normal 9 month pregnancy from the Feast of Tabernacles you get a date of conception in December, right where we find the Festival of Light. If you believe as I do that life begins at conception, then when did the "Light" of the world arrive? Hanukkah? Interesting thought isn't it? Just another coincidence?

I did, however, also mention this might have implications for the rapture of the church. How is that? Well, if we the Church, the Body of Christ, are a "light" in this world of darkness, reflecting the "light of Christ" to an unbelieving world, is there a possibility that "light" would leave on the anniversary it first "arrived"? If the past is any indication, we know God has allowed numerous historical events to occur on the anniversaries of His feast days, so why would it be a surprise if He did it again on this day?

Am I predicting a Hanukkah rapture? No, but truth be told, I for one would not be surprised at all. What I get from studying Hanukkah is just more conviction of my personal responsibility to shine my light as bright as I can to a world that seems to be getting darker every day. And if you may have stumbled onto this blog by accident and question where you may spend eternity, may I encourage you to pray to Jesus Christ and confess your sins, ask Him to come into your life, and begin to experience a life filled with the "light of life".

As most eagerly wait for Christmas to arrive, may we all remember to give thanks to God for His gift of salvation to us through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  If you have never made the decision to accept that free gift I encourage you to do so today.  Simply ask God to forgive you of your sin based on your belief that Jesus died to pay the price for your sin, and turn over control of your life to Him.  You can do that right now by praying a prayer just like this one;

"Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I believe You died for my sins. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and life. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank You for saving me. Amen."

Keep watching.

update:12/20/16...were we talking about coincidences?