If you have stumbled here by accident let me first insist that there really are no accidents in life. If however, you came on your own free will then please by all means open your hearts and your minds to the "New Wine" that God has prepared for you!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The story (part 2)

Zacharias kept himself busy studying his collection of ancient scrolls.  Studying carefully each scroll, Zacharias searched for the prophecies foretelling the birth of the prophesied Messiah-King.
In the dim light of his oil lamp, Zacharias poured over the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Although his heart was pounding, it filled with complete joy upon reading the text that foretold of the birth of the coming Messiah “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Zacharias marveled at the fact that his own relative, Mary, was carrying the promised Child! 

He unrolled the scroll further “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace their shall be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and Justice from that time forward, even forever.”

As the hours passed, Zacharias remembered what Joseph had confided in him the night the couple came to visit. When it was discovered that Mary was pregnant, Joseph wanted to save her from public judgment, humiliation or something worse. He explained that while he was planning their escape, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream and said “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

The next day Elizabeth’s time came to deliver. All the neighbors asked if she was going to name him after his father, but she shook her head no, as Zacharias motioned for a writing tablet and scratched out “His name was John!” He had been mute for nine months but now immediately after writing the child’s name his voice returned.

Six months later, Mary was also getting very close to the birth of her baby. She lived with her mother, father, brother and two sisters. Joseph lived just outside of Nazareth near the main road that led to the Mediterranean Sea. His father was a carpenter who built wagons, carts and repaired broken wheels for a living. The nearby road afforded a steady stream of customers to his shop.

Today, Joseph had promised Mary that he would take her for a wagon ride through the vineyards and olive groves that covered the hills and mountains to the north toward the sea. Joseph was sitting up front on the buckboard with Mary snuggled around a pile of pillows in the back of the wagon. She was eight months pregnant but was willing to endure any discomfort to ride through the beautiful Nazarene countryside. Soon after they left the outskirts of town, they spotted a Roman legion about a half mile away marching towards them. Joseph pulled the  wagon off the road into a turn out as the officer in front looked them over and motioned to the centurion to inspect the wagon. 

After a thorough inspection, the centurion informed Joseph that Caesar Augustus had decreed that a worldwide census was to be taken. He said they had orders to visit every village in Galilee where they were to post the decree. 

The baby kicked Mary as the Roman soldiers filed past them kicking dust into the air. Joseph turned onto a back road and returned home to begin preparations for their trip. They had taken this same trip just six months earlier when visiting Elizabeth and Zacharias. Joseph knew that the trip would be dangerous for Mary and the baby and that he needed to make preparations to get them to Bethlehem before the baby was born. 

The next morning, Joseph gathered food and supplies for the trip. Joseph helped Mary get up onto the donkey. Everyone was there to ask God’s blessings on them and to say goodbye. Joseph planned to head south towards Beth Shean, avoiding travel through Samaria. Mary closed her eyes and pondered all these wonderful things; she was carrying the baby who was to be the world’s coming Messiah and future King!
Follow Mary and Joseph in next week’s edition as the couple travels back to Bethlehem to take part in the world wide census. 

Follow along with Mary, the mother Jesus, as she endures seventy mile journey to the City of David. All during a time when the crowded roads and cities left few options for Jesus Christ to be born.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The story (part 1)

Zacharias and Elizabeth lived in a very modest home nestled in the hill country just south of Jerusalem. Zacharias was a priest at the temple in Jerusalem. There were thousands of priests; each served a total of two weeks during the year. This was going to be a special year for Zacharias because, as a priest, he was allowed to burn incense in the temple once during his lifetime and this year the lot fell to him. Elizabeth, Zacharias’ wife, was a direct descendant of Aaron, the very first high priest of Israel and brother of Moses.
Both Elizabeth and Zacharias were advanced in years as Elizabeth became pregnant with their first child. She had been barren but now God had sent an angel to announce to Zacharias that his wife would bear him a son. Zacharias shook with fear as the angel said “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer has been heard; your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” 

The news was just too much for him; he doubted that this could be true. Once more, Gabriel spoke to Zacharias who was  face first on the ground, “But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time”. Zacharias peeked through his hands that were clenched tightly around his face.  As he exited the temple a crowd of curious onlookers could not get Zacharias to speak a single word. 

Six months later and seventy miles away, Elizabeth’s relative Mary was also greeted by the angel Gabriel “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women! Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” Mary stood speechless in the dim light.

As the words left the angel’s lips, the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the power of the Highest overshadowed her; she immediately became pregnant. Before disappearing, Gabriel informs Mary that Elizabeth and Zacharias were also going to have a son. “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Mary would reflect on these words many times before Jesus was born.

Mary’s father and brother saddled the family’s donkey and then set out on the 70 mile journey to visit Elisabeth who lived in the hill country of Judah. Mary longed to see her and witness the miracle that the angel Gabriel had prophesied to her concerning her child. So as night began falling, Mary, and Joseph set out in haste towards the south towards the hills of Jerusalem. The road was very dusty filled with ruts and rocks. The entire trip took several days to complete. 

Passing through Jerusalem, Mary noticed the temple’s white limestone blocks colored orange in the late afternoon light. Soon Mary and Joseph neared the village where Zacharias lived. Mary’s heart began to pound as she remembered what the angel told her. Mary pushed aside the drape covering the front opening. Inside sitting near the fireplace warming herself, was Elizabeth. 

Mary ran to greet her and kissed her on each cheek. And just as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the baby leaped inside of her womb; And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary and Elizabeth talked and encouraged each other with all the wonderful news God had delivered through the angel Gabriel, however Zacharias was still unable to speak to anyone. Mary decided to stay and help Elizabeth with the day to day chores of cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. She ended up staying three months with her until it was just time for the arrival of her son.

Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth.  The trip back took much longer because Mary was much further along in her pregnancy.  Again as they traveled through Jerusalem, the morning sun illuminated the gold doors of the temple and the baby kicked inside of her. Soon she would be back in her own quaint village of Nazareth awaiting the birth of the blessed Son of God! 

Follow Mary and Joseph next week’s edition as the couple travels back to Bethlehem to take part in the world wide census. Ride along with the mother of Jesus as she endures the journey to the City of David during a time when the crowed roads and inns lend them very few options for the birth of their child.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Promise

From the very beginning God promised us that He would be the source of our redemption. After the “fall of man” in Genesis 3:15, God speaking directly to Satan says, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head and you will bruise His heel.” In this text, God was hinting at the virgin birth of the Messiah that would come from the woman’s seed. This fact is further revealed in a prophecy 1500 years before the birth of Christ by the prophet Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” Isaiah 7:14. “Immanuel” means “God with us”. 

Finally, this great truth of how God would be born into His own creation was recorded in the gospel of Luke “Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; also, that Holy One who is born will be called the Son of God.’” Luke 1:34, 35.

The bible’s genealogy is very specific and documents one family’s line from Adam to Jesus Christ. Over and over again God promises, through all these recorded prophecies, the greatest gift the world would ever be given was His Son.  Even when Ham (Canaan’s father) sins against his father Noah, God uses this heinous ordeal to bless Shem and Japheth “Blessed be the Lord, The God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem;” Genesis 9:26, 27. This early prophecy is especially interesting as we see the Messiah ultimately emerge from Shem’s descendants. Japheth’s descendants (European gentiles) would one day be grafted into the kingdom of God under the covering (tent) of Israel’s relationship to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

God hints again at the future gift of salvation as He promises to Abraham that in him all the families of the earth shall be blessed. “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:2, 3. Truly all the families of the earth were blessed as God’s Son was born in a manger in Bethlehem. 

The Bible is filled with prophecies about the Messiah. In the last book of the Old Testament the prophet Malachi says “But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings;” Malachi 4:2. After four hundred years of inter-testament silence, Zacharias breaks his own muteness as he proclaims “Through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-80. Zacharias’ choice of the Greek word for “Dayspring” literally means “dawn”. So the coming of Jesus was like a sun rise. The night was now over as the world was exposed to a Great Light!

So as we decorate our houses and Christmas trees with bright light, let us remember the Great Light that dawned in Bethlehem. A morning that made its mark in history forever as God Himself came into the creation that He made; the day that Jesus was born to Joseph and Mary. 

Moreover, may our homes be filled with Christmas carols and joyful voices singing praises to God.  “Now 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 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 a 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 towards men.’” Luke 2:8-14.