"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And Joseph went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem;...to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:1, 4, 5-7). As familiar as this story is, it always retains its timeless ability to clutch at my heart when I read it. For the past few days, I've been contemplating Mary, this young woman, chosen of God to bear His son. The church I grew up in does not believe in celebrating Christmas because they say it's not scriptural, and because no one knows the exact date when Jesus was born. It seems to me that this is "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel," (Matt. 23:24) type thinking. Do we really need book, chapter, and verse to specifically command us to praise God for giving us His only begotten Son? I see no reason to lose any opportunity to glorify God for the gift He gave, no matter what the date was when Jesus was actually born.
Yet, even though many Christians celebrate Christmas as an act of worship to God, Mary herself still gets mixed reviews in most Protestant churches. Possibly, they think that Catholics make too much of her, even going so far as worshipping her. The Catholics probably think Protestants haven't a clue about what's important. Even though Mary is not my main topic here, still I have been pondering her words to her cousin Elizabeth, this week. As you recall, after the angel Gabriel announced to her that she had found favor with God and was going to be overshadowed from on high and impregnated with a holy child, she went into the hill country to visit her cousin, whom the angel had told her was 6 months pregnant. Elisabeth and Zechariah's miracle baby, John the baptizer, would be born, in fulfillment of prophecy. (Mal. 3:1; 4:5; Lk. 1:14-17). Elisabeth's pregnancy might have seemed astonishing to Mary, since this couple was old and well past child bearing age, but after what she'd just been told by Gabriel about her own destiny, perhaps she was becoming accustomed to miraculous things. After all, hadn't Gabriel told her, "For with God nothing will be impossible." (Lk. 1:37).
The scene changes to Mary's cousin's house, where the Scriptures relate, "when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, 'Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb'." After this remarkable confirmation of what the angel had told her, Mary replied, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, FROM HENCEFORTH ALL GENERATIONS SHALL CALL ME BLESSED." (Lk. 2:46-58). The annunciation, this blessed revelation is referred to by some, as the "The Magnificat," and many lovely songs have been written in celebration of Mary's blessing. My heart bore witness this week, that indeed, whether going too far one way as the Catholics have, in my opinion, or going too far the other way, as some Protestants have, in my opinion, nonetheless, the Scriptures say about Mary that "ALL GENERATIONS SHALL CALL ME BLESSED." And blessed she is.
The reason this is true is the real subject of this journal. Mary is dear to my heart because she was just a common, ordinary young woman. There was nothing special, or righteous, or remarkable about her, EXCEPT her willingness to trust God, to believe His promises, and to humble herself to His control. Since countless seekers of God over the centuries have had those same qualities as well, it is obvious that Mary was God's sovereign choice to bear His son in His first incarnation. When He became flesh and dwelt among us, it was from her womb that He sprang, clothed in human form. It was from her loins that He entered into the earth realm to taste death, once, for every man. (Heb. 2:9). Surely this verse is speaking of spiritual rather than physical death, because men and women continue to die physically. Paul wrote, "The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God." (Rom. 6:10). He lives that life within you and within me. (Gal. 2:20). The Spirit has quickened to me the fact that when Jesus came from Mary's womb, He first entered into death even as each of us begins the death process from the moment we are born.
Paul wrote to the Philippeans, that Christ, who was in the form of God, "thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:5-8). As the old hymn says so well, "Out of the ivory palaces into the world of woe," Jesus came as God's gift to His creation. It was His death on the cross and His resurrection therefrom which delivered man once and forever from the bondage of sin and spiritual death that had been our lot since the fall of man. Paul speaks eloquently of this fact when he wrote, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive, But every man in his own order:" (I Cor. 15:22). He continues the explanation in that same chapter: "So it is written: ''The first man Adam became a living being;' the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual." (1 Cor. 15:45-46, NIV).
First the natural, then the spiritual. This is God's order, the way He does things. He shows us something earthly, something in the natural as a pattern or a shadow of heavenly or spiritual truth, which may not become manifested for years, decades, or even millennium. Thus, Mary was God's example for us. She was not divine, but very human, like you and me. Jesus was birthed from her human womb, and when He grew, He shed His blood to save her as well as the rest of us. All week, I thought about how the lowly manger where they laid Him is also a perfect type and shadow of the human heart with all its waywardness, its corruption, its faithlessness, and all its sinful dealings. The Christ child came to each of us, stinky, smelly mangers all. He entered into our primal, degraded human condition and as He did for Mary, He elevated our lowly estate to one of glory and majesty, because to all who believed in Him, "gave He power to become sons of God!" When Christ was birthed in our hearts, we were "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (Jn. 1:12-13). And for us, the words found in the Christmas carol, "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," are true: "Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing." Of Him, the Apostle John said, "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," (Jn. 1:14) and I dare say, that when God takes the blinders off our eyes, and the shackles off our hearts and minds, then like the early disciples, so also shall "we behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:12-14).
Consider the wonder of it, my brothers and sisters! We are children of the most High! Like Mary, we have been overshadowed by the Holy One of Israel. He impregnated in each one of us His seed, and the only begotten of the Father lives and moves and has His being in us, and we in Him. (Acts 17:28). We are one with Him, formed by Him, chosen by Him, loved by Him. "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men." (Jn. 1:3-4). Now follow the Apostle's reasoning here, as he explains that John the baptizer was only a witness of this light, but Jesus "was the true Light, which lighteth EVERY MAN that cometh into the world." (Jn. 1:9). Think of the glorious impact of that statement. Jesus was the life, John says in verse 4, and that life was the light of men; then he continues with his spectacular conclusion in verse 9 that, this light, this life of Christ, lights every man that comes into the world! That verse puts me on my face in worship to the Father of lights, in whom is NO shadow of turning. (James 1:17).
He came to His own, and His own knew him not. (Jn. 1:11). This sounds sad, but it was always God's plan, hidden "from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col. 1:25-26). He did this marvelous work in order to bring the rest of the world, i.e., those of us Gentiles, who by reason of birth, found ourselves "outside the camp," into fellowship with God Himself. (Hos. 2:23; Rom. 9:22-26) Do you realize that if we had lived in Jesus' days on earth, we would have had no access to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, no representation, no voice, and no sacrifice to allow us to approach the living God? We would not have known that He was able to deliver us by the power of His right hand. (Is. 50:2). We were out of options, or as Paul said, we were dead in our trespasses and sin. (Eph. 2:1). There was no life in our spirit, no light in our souls. This, of course, was true of the Jews as well, because of their sin and disobedience and their refusal to listen to the prophets God had sent them over the centuries. Thus, it came to pass that every soul lay in darkness waiting for the Son of righteousness to arise with healing in His wings. (Mal. 4:2).
But glory to God in the highest, Jesus came into this dark night of sin, this incredible barren waste of the human heart, bringing with Him life and light. He brought Isaiah's prophecy to pass: "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." (Is. 9:2). That Scripture, my friends, refers to every one of us, to every man, woman and child on planet earth, and beyond if there are any out there. Paul may have been thinking about that when he wrote, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." (I Cor. 5:18-20, NIV). Now this is a "mission statement," that the lost are longing to hear. Who would not respond to this "Good News" with joy and thanksgiving.
Several years ago, in our real estate business, Lenny and I met a young man and his wife who were sent by their church back east to Los Angeles as missionaries. When they asked if we wanted to join them, preaching on the street corners of LA, I said, "If you are going to tell the people that God isn't mad at them anymore, that He is not just waiting to burn them in hell forever, but He has forgiven their every sin through Jesus Christ already, then I'll gladly go. But if you are going to tell them what miserable sinners they are, forget it. These poor people don't need for you to tell them again what they already know. If preaching hell fire and damnation had the power to change people's hearts, to deliver men and women from addiction, from disease, and from the bondage of sin, then the world would be just about perfect right now, because enough of that 'Bad News' has gone out to last a lifetime." The preacher went away shaking his head, and probably went into his prayer closet to pray over me. That's OK; maybe the Spirit said something to Him that he needed to hear.
The fact remains that the Apostle Paul, chief of sinners by his own admission, said that God is not imputing the world's sins unto them. He is NOT counting their sins against them. Why? Because, He was in Christ on that cross outside the gates of Jerusalem, spilling His blood for the sins of the whole world. Jesus came, "not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." (Jn. 3:17). Can you really image that any human heart would not rejoice to hear that our sins were blotted out, and no longer held against us, but were nailed to the cross? (Col. 2:15). There is now NOTHING to keep us from getting up from whatever pig pen we find ourselves in and going home to the Father, who waits for our return, and who, when He sees us coming, says to the servants, "Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him: and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry." (Lk. 15: 22-24).
Isn't that the most glorious message you ever heard? Isn't that why the heavenly host sang praises to God the night Jesus was born? No wonder they could not contain themselves with the glorious wonderment of it. This is why I believe that today, unlike the night Christ was born, there is room in the inn; there is a big "welcome mat" laid in every heart where this glorious gospel has truly been preached. By "the gospel," I do not mean the conditional "Bad News," doctrine, preached in most churches, which announces that God's free gift of salvation is dependent upon man's actions. I'm talking about the "Good News," the Gospel, which Paul says is the power of God unto salvation, to everyone who believes, first to the Jew and also to the Greek. (Rom. 1:16). "Ah ha," you say, "there's a condition in there. You have to believe." This is true, my friends, but in the Gospel Paul preaches, "a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith'." (Rom. 1:17).
In this glorious gospel, what you are asked to believe in, to have faith in is God's power to save, NOT in your own ability to obey, as the churches hammer from the pulpit week in and week out. It is easy to have faith when you learn that God's promise to Abraham to bless every family on earth through His seed, (Gen. 12:2; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; Ps. 72:17; Gal. 3:8) depends entirely on God's ability to carry it out: "For when God made promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no greater, He sware by himself, Saying, 'Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying, I will multiply thee'." (Heb. 6:13-14). And as long as we're on the subject, let us not forget that faith itself is a gift of God. Why? so that man cannot boast of any works of his own! (Eph. 2:8). In one of his tapes, Gary Sigler recently said, "If God's commitment to me is dependent on my commitment to Him, what do I need God for?" That's it in a nutshell. It is VERY easy to have faith in a God who is never defeated because it is His will, that none should perish, but all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:11). Dear ones, there is no time limit on God's will stated anywhere in the Bible, for it truly stretches from one age to the next, from everlasting to everlasting. Paul tells us that not even "death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, NOR THINGS TO COME, ...can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:38-39). Peter says that angels have been looking into this miracle of the incarnation, and the message of the gospel, pondering what it might mean for mankind. (I Pet. 1:12).
I imagine they paid close attention and were very attentive the night Jesus was born, in order to catch a first glimpse of God clothed upon in flesh. I can't improve on Luke's description: "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, good will toward men." (Lk. 2:13-14). Every time the manger known as a human heart opens itself for the Christ child to come in, the angels still sing their glad song of rejoicing. To me, this is reason enough to celebrate Christmas now and every day of the year! A couple of years ago now, during this season the Spirit gave me a song. I'll include the words here, but I still haven't figured out how to get the notes onto the web.
Have a blessed Christmas. May the love of the Christ child flow out from your heart to the world, which in solemn stillness lies, waiting to receive Him.
Much love from Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
Our Christmas Greeting
We would enjoy hearing from you!
Last edited in 11/07/08.