christmas

Psalms 144-147

Today we’re reading Psalms 144-147.

Psalm 144 is a wartime Psalm but it is a good choice to read on Christmas eve. In verse 5 David wrote, “Part your heavens, Lord, and come down.” This is not a reference to the coming of Christ because verses 5b-6 say, “touch the mountains, so that they smoke. Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy; shoot your arrows and rout them.” The visitation David wanted from God was not the incarnation of Christ but the direct military defeat of Israel’s immediate enemies.

Still, Israel’s enemies were God’s enemies because of the covenants God had made with Abraham, Moses, and David. Asking God to defeat Israel’s foes was in keeping with the promises he made to his people. So was asking for God’s deliverance as David did in verses 7-8: “Reach down your hand from on high; deliver me and rescue me from the mighty waters, from the hands of foreigners whose mouths are full of lies, whose right hands are deceitful.” Ultimately, Christ will return and defeat all of God’s enemies, so the requests in this song will finally be realized when Christ’s kingdom is finally established.

Jesus’s birth was the beginning of that kingdom; it was an invitation to believe that he was the promised king and that faith in him would cause someone to be included in that kingdom. So, just as David said in verse 9, “I will sing a new song to you, my God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you,” so we can rejoice and sing today that Christ will deliver us from this present evil age, will judge his enemies with justice, and will bless us with eternal life in his kingdom. At Christmas, we remember the inauguration of these promises and we give thanks for God’s grace which extended these promises to us in Christ. We are his people, now, so as verse 15 put it, “Blessed is the people of whom this is true; blessed is the people whose God is the Lord.”

Matthew 2

Today’s reading is Matthew 2.

From the beginning of his life Jesus was met with extreme mixed reactions. He was born in Bethlehem, a town famous for being the hometown of David but with nothing else admirable or prestigious about it. His parents did not live in Bethlehem, so he was born in very humble surroundings. Although his birthplace had been prophesied to be in Bethlehem (v. 6), nobody in Israel was expecting him to be born there when he was. With the exception of a handful of people, God’s chosen people were unprepared for the coming of Christ and unaware of his arrival.

Even though people in Israel were unprepared for and largely unaware of Christ’s birth, others outside of Israel were aware of it. Verse 1 told us that “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” That statement is not specific enough to identify what country these men came from, but they were definitely Gentiles, not Jewish men. Verse 2 told us that it was astrology that drew them to look for Christ for they said, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” The Old Testament condemns the use of astrology (see Deut 4:19 or Isaiah 47:13-14) and it is not one of God’s methods of revelation. But, just as God allowed the medium at Endor to conjure up a vision of Samuel from the dead for Saul (1 Sam 28), he used a star to draw these men to the birthplace of Jesus. And their attitude and reason for coming honored Jesus because they said, “We... have come to worship him” (v. 2).

Once Herod heard from the Magi, his reaction was extreme. He first desired to use the Magi to hunt down and kill Jesus (vv. 8, 12, 16a). When God warned the Magi not to tell Herod where Jesus was, he brutally murdered the baby boys in and around Bethlehem (v. 16). It is the identity of Jesus that draws out these extreme reactions in people. Because he is God in a human body, most people want nothing to do with him or to extinguish any memory of his existence. But those whom God has called and blessed with faith want to worship him. These reactions, obviously, exist to this day. God protected Jesus from all harm until the time came to harm him by crucifixion for our redemption.

This passage also shows us another theme that is true of Christ. In addition to sparking extreme, mixed reactions in those who meet him, those who accept and worship Jesus often come from unexpected backgrounds. It seems natural to expect that “the chief priests and teachers of the law” (v.4) that Herod consulted would be interested in seeing Jesus. But, although they knew where to look for him, they took no effort to come to his cradle. Foreigners who looked for signs in the stars came to worship Jesus but those who were experts in the prophesies about him couldn’t be bothered. This is the unexpected grace of God. God calls and saves people who seem unlikely to embrace Jesus while leaving religiously-oriented people in indifference and unbelief. This gives us a good reason to thank God who saved us in Christ when we were unlikely to be saved. It also reminds us not to decide for ourselves who would and would not be interested in Christ. If God has chosen him or her and is working in his or her heart, he might use you to save someone you’d never expect to trust him.

2 Chronicles 30, Revelation 16, Zechariah 12:1–13:1, John 15

Merry Christmas!

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Chronicles 30, Revelation 16, Zechariah 12:1–13:1, John 15. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Zechariah 12:1–13:1.

Today’s passage from Zechariah is not nearly as well-known as other prophecies of Christ but it is an important one because it foretold the sufferings of Christ on the cross. After promising destruction to Israel’s enemies (12:1-9), God promised “a spirit of grace and supplication” for “the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (v. 10). Surprisingly, however, after prophesying grace and supplication, Zechariah immediately said, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (v. 10). You may recognize the first part of this verse from John 19:37 where John quoted it as fulfilled at the crucifixion of Christ. While not everyone in Jerusalem mourned the death of Christ, the faithful disciples who followed Jesus did, just as this passage said.

But what brings together the two seemingly disjoined ideas in verse 10--the idea that there would be “grace and supplication” while “they look on me, the one they have pierced and they will mourn for him...?” The answer is provided in Zechariah 13:1: “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” This is why Christ was pierced and how his piercing could provide “grace and supplication.” His death on the cross for us became a fountain that cleanses sinners from sin and impurity. This is something to remember and be thankful for on Christmas morning! As we gather to worship together this morning, prepare your heart by giving thanks for the fountain of grace and forgiveness that Jesus is for us.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.