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The birth of Jesus Part 1

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The birth of the King of Kings is the perfect illustration of how God works in the lives of nations and people to accomplish His plans.  It is a love story filled with emotions, drama and villains and spanning continents.  The cast of characters includes an emperor, a king, scholars, commoners and shepherds.  This highly anticipated event was predicted in hundreds of prophecies spoken over several thousand years by scores of prophets.

 

This simple love story beautifully illustrates how God moves nations, world leaders, emperors, kings, and common individuals to bring His plans to perfect completion, at the right time, the right place, and the right circumstances.  Hundreds of years before the birth of the King of Kings, God began setting in place everything necessary for the successful ministry of Jesus Christ and the birth of Christianity! 

Synagogues (586 B.C): Though the origins of the synagogue is somewhat cloudy, most scholars believe the synagogue as a permanent institution that bloomed during the period of the Babylonian captivity, when a place for common worship and instruction had become necessary and the synagogue evolved.  Deprived of the Temple, Jews met to read the scriptures and pray in synagogues.  After they were released from captivity, not all Jew's returned to Jerusalem.  Many groups scattered throughout the world.  Wherever ten or more Jewish men gathered, a synagogue was formed.  However, it's during the first century A.D., after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D., that the synagogue emerges as an established institution that became the center of the social and religious life of the Jewish people. With the temple destroyed, the synagogues provided the bedrock of the Jewish faith. The role the synagogue played in Christian History? The apostles and early Christian leaders al,l used the synagogues scattered throughout the world as their pulpits or springboards to teach Jesus Christ as Messiah, Crucified, and Risen again and Savior and Lord.

Alexander the Great (356 - 323 BC: Conquered most of the known world of his day.  Alexander took with him Greek learning, philosophy and most of all, the Greek language.  It was the Greek language that eventually became the universal language of the world, used not only in Alexander's time, but also throughout the time of the Roman Empire.  The Greek language, as a universal language, allowed the apostles and early Christians to communicate the gospel throughout the Roman Empire to those who did not speak their language.

The Roman Empire: Following on the heels of the Greek Empire came the Roman Empire, which re-conquered the nations of the Greek Empire and beyond.  Where Rome went, Roman roads where built and protected.  The Pax Romana brought relative military peace throughout its Empire.  The Apostles and Christians used Roman roads with their safe passage to spread the gospel to the world.  As God intended, Christianity was able to use Roman roads to visit Jewish synagogues throughout the Roman Empire, and use Greek as the universal language.

 The Cast of Characters

 God used a full cast of characters in the Nativity Story, some never knowing the part they played!  The main characters:

 Caesar Augustus:  Emperor of Rome, master of the greatest empire to ever rule the world.  Never in his wildest dreams would Caesar have thought that God would use him as a pawn to bring about the completion of an ancient prophecy.  For many reasons, mainly taxes Augustus called for a census' throughout the Roman Empire.  His decree stated that every man was to return to the city of his Families birthplace to be counted.  Augustus never knew his decree would force a young couple expecting their first child, (the wife in advanced stage of pregnancy) to leave the city of Nazareth and travel seventy miles to a tiny little hamlet called Bethlehem.

 Joseph:  Age 18 to 30.  Josephis one of the unsung heroes of the Bible and history.  Everyone focuses on Mary, the mother of Christ, as the leading lady and co-star of the nativity story.  Poor Joseph on the other hand, is the quiet man in the background.  He’s the go to guy that gets things done with little or no credit or acknowledgement.  We know his name only because he was part of the nativity story and the early childhood of Jesus.  He never even gets any lines in scripture.  He does have a few action scenes, but then he slowly fades away into the mist of history.  What most people don’t realize is that even though he is little known, Joseph was given an incredible honor by God!  Joseph was chosen by God to be the adoptive father and guardian, of Jesus the long awaited Messiah of Israel.  Not only was he the adoptive father of the Messiah,  Joseph was also the father of Christianities first pastor, James, the writer of the book of James, and the father of Jude, also a writer in the New Testament.  Three famous sons recognized by history.

What kind of man do you think God would choose as the guardian and adoptive father of His Son?  Do you think God would have chosen a man that was:

  • Harsh
  • Abusive
  • Self centered
   

 

  • Bitter
  • Judgmental
  • Weak
   

 

  • Cruel
  • Mean spirited
  • Stingy
  • Emotionally cold
  • Indifferent
  • Greedy
  • Religiously rigid
  • Temperamental
  • Scripturally uneducated
   

 

 

 

 

         

Or do you think He would choose a man that was:

 

  • Loving
  • Kind
  • Provider
  • Meek
  • Knowledgeable of Scripture
  • Gentle
  • Considerate
  • Patient
  • Humble
  • Peaceful
  • Hard working
  • A natural teacher
  • Compassionate
  • Righteous
  • Merciful
   

 

Scripture does say Joseph was a righteous man. The Hebrew word for a righteous man is tsaddîyq. To the Jewish people, this meant he was zealous in keeping the Law of Moses.  Not because it was required by law, but because of his love for God!  Joseph obeyed God’s Laws and commandments because of his love and reverence for the God of his fathers. Joseph played a key role in the life of Christ.  The responsibilities of a Jewish father were enormous:

He was to be the provider of the family:

  1. He was commanded by law, to teach his children the commandments:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  5) Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6) These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7) Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8) Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9) Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

 20) In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 2) 1tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22) Before our eyes the Lord sent miraculous signs and wonders—great and terrible—upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23) But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. 24) The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25) And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

Deuteronomy 6:20-25

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6

  1. He was to teach Jesus a trade:

Rabbi Yehuda in the Babylonian said: “He that does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to rob. Teaches him to rob?”

 He was the Leader of the family:

In the Jewish Patriarchal system of the family, the father was the supreme leader.  This authority extended to his wife, his children, his children’s children, his servants and all in his household.  His word was law where the family was concerned.

In short, Joseph was the man chosen by God to fulfill the role of earthy father to His Son.  He was one of many thousands who belonged to the royal lineage of King David.  He was an honorable, devout, God fearing young man following in the tradition and trade of carpentry of his father and his father's father.  Carpentry in Israel was a poor but honorable profession.   As Joseph anticipated his up and coming marriage, he had no idea he’d been chosen to be receive a signal honor and job that most of the world would rarely acknowledge.  He would never begin to receive the recognition his young wife to be would receive, yet he is an interregnal part of the childhood of Jesus.

MaryAge 12 to 16 years was a typical young Jewish girl preparing for her marriage to Joseph.  Nothing is said of Mary’s personality or character except in Luke 1:28 where the angel Gabriel said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.”   What kind of character would a girl have to have to earn the title “Highly favored” by God?  Was she perfect or Sinless? No!  She was a normal girl pure in spirit, sweet, kind and considerate of other people and loved God. She like Joseph obeyed the Laws of God not because she had to but because she wanted to.  Mary probably displayed the characteristics of the wife of noble character described in Proverbs 31:10-31 before she was married. 

 Magi: Usually translated wise men, scholars, astrologers, or magicians. The Magi were believed to be from Mesopotamia, or Persia.   The wise men did not enter the scene until Jesus was nearly two years old.

 King Herod: Every good story has to have a villain and King Herod fit the bill to a t.   As a young man Herod seem to have the magical ability to be in the right place at the right time to help some powerful individual during their time of direst need. At one point he helped Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and Augustus Caesar.  He had the skillful knack of switching allegiance back and forth between these powerful men in their times of direst needs and gaining their gratitude.  Through these adventures, Herod won promotions, wealth and power until he was eventually appointed King of Judea.  He became a tyrannical ruler not particularly loved by his people.  Although he did help his nation to flourish by initiating large building projects throughout Judea (creating employment opportunities).  Just one of the magnificent buildings Herod was responsible for rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

 While Herod was a skilled builder, he was also an extremely suspicious, paranoid distrustful man.   Herod’s greatest fear - losing his throne!   Two things exhibit Herod the man. 

 First, Herod constantly petitioned the emperor Augustus for permission to kill members of his family he suspected of treason. He had wives, uncles and sons killed who he thought were a threat to his throne.  Augustus said of Herod "It is better to be Herod's pig then his son.

 Second, when he was old and ill from arteriosclerosis, Herod worried no one would mourn his death.  So, he issued orders from his deathbed that thousands of leaders from all parts of Judea be rounded up and locked in the great hippodrome at Jericho.  His orders! The instant he died he wanted archers to massacre these leaders in cold blood so there would be mourning at his death. That was the paranoid, vicious king, the Magi asked, "where can we find this new born king of the Jews?"

 The Inn Keeper (No room in the Inn) usually given a bad rap as a heartless man and probably was more along the lines of a Good Samaritan.  He found a quiet, private, warm and snug place where Mary could give birth to her son.

 The Shepherds:  the duties of shepherd were considered the poorest and lowest position on the employment scale in Israel.  The work was simple, yet demanding.  The shepherd was midwife to the birthing of lambs, the physicians to heal them of sickness, worms or injury and protector against thieves, wolves and lions.  Tradition indicates that these shepherds may have been responsible for the flock to be used for sacrifice in the temple.  If so these shepherds stayed with their sheep throughout the year keeping watch over them night and day.  These simple poorly educated men were soon to be honored by being the first to hear the good news of the birth of the Messiah.

These are the people who played a part in the royal pageant surrounding the nativity of the Son of the Living God, Jesus of Nazareth!  

The birth of Jesus Part 2

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The Annunciation

(Luke 1:26-38)

 It started as a normal day for Mary, up with the dawn feeding animals, cleaning out stalls, putting down fresh straw and gathering eggs, her normal daily chores.  She loved the little animal shelter.  It was a place she could be by herself away from the hustle and bustle of her busy family, if only for a little while.  She was lost in her own little world dreaming about her fiancé Joseph and their up and coming wedding.  She was kneeling, her back to the doorway, checking a hen’s nest for eggs.  Suddenly a brilliant light filled the dim stall she was kneeling in making it as bright as day.  Startled, she looked over her shoulder and nearly jumped out of her sandals. A man was standing there.  She swiftly turned and stood nearly slinging the eggs from her basket.   Her free hand flew to her chest and she gasped in surprise as she realized two things at once.  First, she didn’t know this man.  Second, she realized this was no ordinary man. He was tall, well built, his hair bound by a golden band, his brown eyes radiating compassion and kindness. His clothes were sparkling white trimmed in gold and his skin glowed like polished bronze.  Her heart leaped in her chest and began pounding like a drum. Her hands and body began to tremble from head to toe as she felt a hot and cold flash racing throughout her body in numbing waves. Yet, she he stood frozen like a statue.

Mary knew in her heart this was no ordinary situation! Then the man said in a deep majestic voice, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” her head bobbed forward and her jaw dropped.” confused by his greeting.  She’d heard about angels all her life, but never expected to meet one. She was absolutely stunned by what he said next!   Smiling he lifted up his hands toward heaven as if in benediction and said, “Don’t be afraid Mary, my name is Gabriel and you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  God will give Him the throne of His father David and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.” She knew the words he’d spoke were a divine blessing, but why would he bless her?  

Mary was shocked!  Her mind whirled at the declaration.  Her eyes wide, she shook her head in disbelief, her heart fluttering like a trapped bird in her chest.   She looked at the ground in confusion as she realized what he’d said, “His name shall be called Jesus which means the Lord Saves! He will be called the Son of the Most HighHis kingdom will never end!  She gasped as comprehension sank in, “The Messiah! He is talking about the Messiah! But how can this be?”  

In bewilderment she looked up at Gabriel and whispered in awe, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel smiled, looked toward heaven with one up raised hand and replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”  Seeing the questioning look on Mary’s face he added as if for confirmation, “Elizabeth your cousin is going to have a child in her old age!  She who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary’s mind raced.  If she'd truly heard what she thought she’d heard, she was to be the mother of the Messiah the Holy One of God.  Every young woman in Israel down through the ages had dreamed of being the mother of the Messiah. She didn’t know what to say. This was incredible. She loved the Lord God of Israel with all her heart and soul.  She lived in absolute obedience to His laws.  Her mind still churning, Mary humbly bowed her head and answered “May it be to me as you have said.” When she looked up the angel was gone.

Then she felt as if she were wrapped in a rainbow of love, peace and joy.  Light glowed around her and her heart thrilled to feel the presence of God.   She felt her heart and soul fill with the Holy Spirit.  Joy filled her soul and she felt herself praising God like never before in her life.  She knew her life had been changed forever.  She would never be able to explain what happened but she knew at that moment she had been touched by God.

Latter when she had time to think about what happened, her mind must have experienced a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts.  Excitement, “I’m going to be the mother of the MessiahFear, What about Joseph? How will he react to this news? Apprehension, how do I tell him? Will he believe me? Then it dawned on her. Legally Joseph could have her stoned since they were legally betrothed (Deuteronomy 22). Disbelief!  Did I really see an angel?

Mary, for a time was caught on the horns of dilemma:

  • She was pregnant before being legally married. 
  • How would her family respond to her being pregnant? 
  • Would they believe her story?  The bonds of family were so tight in those days that what affected one member affected the entire family.
  • How would Joseph react?  She was legally betrothed to Joseph, which in ancient Israel was as binding as if they were already married. 

What she faced:

  • Loss of her family, home if they refused to believe her.
  • Loss of her fiancé Joseph.  What if he refused to believe what the angel told her.
  • Ridicule, the people of Nazareth would turn on her with a vengeance.
  • Death by stoning if Joseph chose to charge her with adultery

The seriousness of Mary’s situation:

To understand Mary’s dilemma read the rules for marriage violations stated in the Law of Moses to get an idea of the dilemma Mary faced:

 If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin. Her father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her.  Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the young woman’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.  If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found,  she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21

If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.  If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.

 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders his neighbor, for the man found the girl out in the country, and though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her.

Deuteronomy 22:22-27

Pregnancy out of Wedlock was a serious crime in Israel!

 Knowing all this Mary willing humbly whispered, “May it be to me as you have said.”

This young lady was a woman of faith! Steadfast, rock solid faith that God would protect, take care of and provide for her!  What did she do next?  Luke says “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea.

  • What did she tell her father and mother?  It’s highly unlikely that as a young girl she set out completely on her own on this trip without telling anyone anything.  Did she tell them of the angel’s announcement that their relative Elizabeth who had been barren and was advanced in age was six months pregnant?  That was surefire way of proving the angels pronouncement.  After all she would need her family in this ordeal.
  • What did she say to Joseph? She couldn’t suddenly leave town without telling Joseph where she was going!  It was unthinkable, he was her betrothed spouse!

Mary Visits Elizabeth

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Luke 1:39-56 

Mary’s Song

 Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
   holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
   from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
   but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
   just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth and Zechariah for the next three or four months.

We need to talk

Luke 1:18-25

Three months later Mary was with her cousin Elizabeth when she gave birth to a healthy baby boy destined to become the legendary John the Baptist.  Once Elizabeth was able to be up and about and taking care of the baby on her own, Mary began her journey home to Nazareth.  Each step down that long dusty road toward home brought her closer to her dreaded conversation with Joseph.  She had faith God would protect and take care of her and the child she carried.  What deeply concerned her now was how Joseph would react to her news!  The memory of the dramatic appearance of Gabriel and witnessing the miracle of Elizabeth giving birth in her old age strengthened her faith.   But she didn’t know the whole story!  Every step she took now was a step of faith!  She knew God would protect the baby and her.  "But what about Joseph?  Would he believe her incredible story and stand with her?  Or would he reject her?  By law he could accuse her of adultery and have her stoned.  Or, he might simply divorce her quietly and set her aside destroying her reputation!"  Either way, she knew she could lose Joseph and the marriage she’d dreamed and planned for.

Each step seemed heavier and heavier as she walked into a known but unknown futureKnown she was pregnant and the mother of the Messiah.  Unknown was how she would raise this unique child! Alone or with Joseph?  She knew Judaic law.  She knew that even though they were not yet married, they were considered legally bound to each other by their engagement that could only be separated by divorce.  She also knew Joseph had only three options in this situation.   First, and by far the scariest, by law he could accuse her of adultery and have her stoned.   Second, he could quietly divorce her and set her aside destroying her reputation.  Either of these two ways she knew she would lose Joseph and the marriage she'd dreamed and planned for.  Third, and her most eager hope, Joseph could go ahead and marry her and adopt the child as his own.  If only she knew how he would react.

She knew that if Joseph rejected her, and by some miracle she was not stoned, she would still become a public outcast.   The other girls and women at the well would whisper behind her back.  She would become a social leper.  A part of the community, but never a true part of it, always banished to the fringe for life! She would be the girl who got" pregnant" before she was married in a society obsessed with the purity and sanctity of marriage. Each step closer to Nazareth was a step closer to her dreaded meeting with Joseph!  Each step she prayed to the God of Israel to give her wisdom, strength and protection.

Finally the moment arrived and she found herself standing at the open door of Josephs work shop.  She stood with one hand on the door post and looked into the dim interior of the work place. Joseph had his back to her as he sat at his work bench, sanding patiently on a piece of wood.  She watched for a dozen painful heartbeats enjoying watching him work his craft,  yet also knowing she was about to break his heart. How would he believe her? How could she tell him to lessen the blow?

She cautiously glanced around to make sure no one was around then stepped into the cooler shade of the shop. She walked halfway across the room; her hands clasped in front of her and whispered quietly, “Joseph!”  His head jerked up with a cry of joy and exclaimed, “Mary, you're home!”  He quickly set the wood and his sanding block on his bench, and stood up.  His apron, his beard, and his hair were covered in wood chips and dust.  He laughed as he brushed off his apron causing dust to billow up like a cloud filling the air. In the halo of particles, a huge smile on his face, Joseph excitedly stepped forward to embrace her.  He stopped half way, however, as he noticed the serious expression on her face and a strange look of heartache and apprehension in her eyes.  In that same heartbeat he also noticed Mary was wringing her hands nervously.  He stopped mid stride, his face creasing into a frown, and anxiously asked “What’s wrong?”  That’s when he heard those four words every man dreads to hear, “We need to talk!

Joseph listened in stunned disbelief as Mary rapidly spilled out her story.  He felt as if he’d been kicked by a mule and staggered back against his bench.  His eyes filled with pain as he looked first into Mary’s teary eyes, then down to the tiny bump of her stomach that had not been there before.  His heart felt like it was being squeezed in a vice.  Suddenly he discovered he was having a hard time breathing.  He felt as if he were in some kind of hazy fog as he realized he was hearing Mary speaking but he didn’t seem to hear her.  The eyes that came back up to look in to Mary’s eyes were filled with a mixture of confusion, pain, anger, hurt, disbelief and despair.  He shook his head as if to clear the fog that filled his mind and eyes.  Without realizing it, he looked into her eyes for what seemed like an eternity before hoarsely whispering, “How did this happen?” For the second time he listened to the story about the visit of the angel and Elizabeth being pregnant. Mary felt anguish because she knew he was struggling to understand but couldn’t.

He shook his head again after hearing the story the second time and whispered, “It's impossible!”  He stared down and gruffly croaked, “Were you raped?”  Joseph shook his head trying not to think of the other possibility. Mary quietly replied “No!”  She tried desperately to persuade him to believe her while she silently prayed to God to show her how to help ease his torment. Her heart was torn because she knew this was God’s will, yet she also couldn’t bear to see the hurt in Joseph’s eyes.   

Stumbling Joseph pushed past Mary and whispered painfully, “I, I  have to think!”  The next few hours were a blurred agony of feelings for both Mary and Joseph

Mary sat, prayed and wept in Josephs shop for what seemed like an eternity. When Joseph didn’t return, her torment grew. But now she had to also tell her family and that would not be easy either!  Should she just pack up and silently leave her family and her home? Would it be easier for Joseph to move on with his life if he did not have to see her? Would he be one of the ones who would shun her in her village? Or, if he did come to accept her and the baby and take her as his wife, would he be cruel and unforgiving: she had to have faith that God would tell her what to do and that he would give her the strength to do what He willed of her. Quietly, she left Josephs shop with a heavy heart and returned to her home and bed, though she knew she would not find sleep this night.

Joseph half walked, half ran into the hills surrounding Nazareth, his soul a cauldron of torment his mind screaming, “Mary pregnant?”  He felt betrayed, hurt, and humiliated beyond words.  His stomach was twisting in an aching nausea as if someone had stabbed with a dull knife, and was twisting it cruelly. His heart was cold and numb, his soul shredded and torn in a pain he couldn't release.  He prayed, he walked, and he prayed and walked some more pleading with God for wisdom and guidance.  He shouted to the heavens, "Mary's story seems impossible, beyond belief!"  Yet, his mind screamed, "Mary is not the type who would lie or deceive!”  As he looked up to heaven, his heart torn, he shouted, “What should I do?

For hours he walked, prayed and thought.  The options were simple, he could accuse her of adultery in front of witnesses and she would be taken out and stoned.  The image of the angry men of Nazareth savagely hurling rocks at the delicate and tiny Mary nauseated him.  His mind and soul cringed in horror just at the thought of Mary being stoned. He shook his head and whispered, "I don't even want to think about that!"  

He could divorce her, again in front of witnesses, and then quietly send her away. Or, he could marry her and claim the child as his own.  Yet, everything he’d ever been taught rejected that!  As a righteous man he could not condone the sin of adultery!  For hours he wrestled with his dilemma.  Finally, in the darkness of night he made his decision.  He loved Mary, and could not, would not consider allowing her to be stoned. No he thought, “I will divorce her quietly in the morning and send her away.  Then he wearily staggered home and collapsed on his bed. For what seemed an eternity he tossed and turned miserably on his pallet, his mind filled with mental and emotional torment.  Even though he had made his decision his soul still felt shredded and  his heart felt like a black cold void.  Finally, he fell into an exhausted sleep. 

Just before dawn he saw in a dream a point of light coming toward to him.  He heard a distant voice of someone calling him, “Joseph, Joseph.”  He watched in fascination as the light grew closer and closer till it took on the shape of a giant man glowing like one of the stars of the night. In his mind he knew he was dreaming and realized this was no usual dream. It all seemed so vivid, so real. His heart told him he was looking at the angel Mary had described.  The angel smiled and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means, “God with us.” 

Joseph was stunned; the angel knew him by name and knew he was from the lineage of King David.    Suddenly his eyes were opened to the prophecies’ he’d studied all his life.  As the angel words sifted through his mental fog of exhaustion and anguish, realization of what the angel was saying began to ring like a bell in his soul, “He's talking about the Messiah!” He heard as if from a distance, the angels say, “You are to give him the name Yeshua (Jesus) which meant “Savior. But the words, “Conceived by the Holy Spirit!” shook him to the core.  If this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit that meant the boy would be the Son of God!  Awe begin to wash over his soul as the angel explained the most puzzling of all the prophecies concerning the Messiah, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means, “God with us. (Isaiah 7:14).”  Suddenly the anguish and pain of Josephs soul melted away and  he felt incredible peace and joy fill his soul. "Mary had been faithful to him!  His mind race as he thought, "If Mary is going to be the mother of the Messiah and he was supposed to marry Mary.  That meant he, Joseph a humble carpenter was being given the responsibility and honor of being the guardian and adopted father of the Messiah!”

Joseph sat bolt upright on his pallet his heart racing. He felt excitement swell in his soul.  He felt equal parts of incredible joy and fear.  Joy that he would not only have the privilege of witnessing the Messiah in his life. But he would be able to hold him as a baby, to touch his face, feel his little hands wrap around his fingers.  Fear, in that he was the child's protector and teacher an incredible honor and responsibility.   His heart swelled with deep love and a lions protective sense to protect this precious Holy Child at all costs.   He looked out the window and saw the sun peaking up over the horizon.  Mary!  he must get to Mary and tell her the news.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 1:24-25

 

“Taxes”

For a few months life was pleasant as Joseph and Mary learned to live together.  As time flew by Mary grew large with child.  Then one day soldiers came to Nazareth with shattering news.  The emperor has declared that every man is to register for taxes in the city of his ancestors.  I have often wondered, "Why did Mary have to go with Joseph?" In those days it was customary for the girl to give birth at home where she can be taken care of by her parents or in-laws.

Consider this:

  • In the Roman providence of Syria women 12 years and older were required to pay toll taxes.  Therefore Mary who was also a descendant of David may have required to register for the census.

Maybe Mary was also required to travel to Bethlehem with Joseph.  Or maybe she just wanted to be with Joseph.  We don’t know.  What we do know is she made the long difficult trip with him.

Christmas cards often depict the idyllic scene of a very pregnant Mary riding sidesaddle on a donkey, led by Joseph with a star filled night as the background.  But did they travel alone?  Not likely.  Since there were many decedents of King David Joseph and Mary probably traveled in a caravan of family for safety.  In truth we don’t know how Mary traveled to Jerusalem.  We do know the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was around eighty miles of rough country roads spanning rolling hills and wide ravines.  Under normal circumstances a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in that day would have taken at least three to four days of walking about twenty miles a day.  A young girl in advanced months of pregnancy could not have traveled very fast.

  • It is possible Mary may have ridden on a donkey with a padded cushioned pack saddle.  It would have been possible, but not very comfortable for a pregnant woman.  No matter how she sat Mary have would have still felt every sway, dip, bump and jostle of a donkey walking on the rough uneven road. 
  • Mary may have traveled in a cart cushioned with hay.  Yet again, even in a cart with no shocks, and no suspension, pulled by a donkey she would still fill every bump in the road all the way to Bethlehem. 
  • In all probability Mary may have walked a great deal of the way to Bethlehem since people of that day were accustomed to walking long distances.  

However she traveled, the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem would not have been easy for a very pregnant thirteen or fourteen year old girl.  Every day she had to travel ten to twenty miles a day enduring the elements whether hot or cold.  Every evening camp had to be set up, and the family meal prepared over a campfire by the side of the road then the family slept under the stars.  Finally, after many grueling days on the road the caravan reached Bethlehem.  The stage was set, the caste assembled in the greatest story ever told!  Angels by the countless millions hovered unseen waiting with great anticipation for the birth of the King of Kings.

Bethlehem 

The picture of Joseph rushing from door to door, desperately begging for shelter because Mary was in labor tugs at your heart strings.  The tiny little hamlet of Bethlehem was bursting at the seams from the sudden influx of descendants of King David.  Thousands of David’s descendants had traveled to Bethlehem to be counted.  Every Inn, every house was filled to capacity and beyond.  Joseph and Mary probably did go from inn to inn and house to house, looking for a place to stay.

 

One poor harried inn keeper has been portrayed as a villain on the order of Judas Iscariot.  In truth he was more along the lines of a compassionate Good Samaritan.  He realized Mary needed a private place to give birth, instead of a crowded inn.  He offered the small little grotto (cave) behind his inn which offered the perfect solution.  Cleaned up the little cave provided a dry, snug quiet place away from the crowds for Mary to give birth in privacy.  First century tradition describes Mary giving birth to Jesus in a cave used as a stable.  Bethlehem was and is perforated with caves, and were often used as barns or stables.

 

“EMMANUEL”

 It was a cold chilly night and the world slept in quite solitude, unaware of the dramatic events unfolding that evening.  In the quiet sleepy little town called Bethlehem, in the stall of a cave/stable, a young woman struggled to give birth to her firstborn son.  Out among the rolling hills surrounding Bethlehem shepherds huddled near fires as they watched over their sheep.  In the angelic realms myriads of angels watched in wondrous fascination, waiting for the birth of the child.

Within and without the stable thousands of powerful angelic warriors stood guard with drawn swords while countless angels watched intently.  The air was charged with excitement.  The angelic hosts had witnessed countless millions of births.  But this child was different.  This was the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel.  Anticipation mounted, while angels strained to witness this wondrous event. 

Then through the still of the night the shrill of a baby's cry split the air.  The angelic warriors standing guard turned to face the young woman and snapped to attention.  Then with glorious light flashing around them they knelt, touched their swords to the ground in salute, bowing their heads in holy awe.  Emmanuel (meaning "God with us") had been born.  Throughout the starry sky the Host of Heaven held its breath as they strained to get their first glimpse of God in the flesh born among men. 

Glory in the Highest

From heaven's throne an angel was dispatched to issue the joyous news of the royal birth of the King of Kings.  The angel's destination did not include Caesar Augustus, emperor of the Roman Empire, nor any other earthly king or queen.  Instead streaking across time and space the angel arrived at his destination--the humble camp of a handful of shepherds guarding their sheep outside Bethlehem. 

Out on the dark hillside these shepherds huddled around their campfire.  Suddenly above their camp a brilliant light shattered the darkness of night.  The shepherds froze with absolute terror and shock.  But the angel said, "Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy for all people.  For unto you a child is born, Christ the Lord."  In the heavens above the angelic host could contain its joy no more. The shepherds were once again stunned when suddenly the evening sky burst with light as myriads of angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." 

“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. Now when they had seen Him, they made widelyknown the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them Luke 2:15-20.”

What does the nativity story tell us about the personality of Christ?

  • He could have been born in any one of the great palaces on the face of the earth, yet He was born in a humble stable. 
  • He could have been wrapped in the finest silks and linens yet He was wrapped swaddling cloth. 
  • The announcement of His birth could have been made to kings and queens, yet it was given to simple shepherds. 
  • He could have been raised in the emperor’s palace in Rome with all the benefits, the finest foods, the best clothes, all the perks and privileges of royalty.  Instead He choose to be raised in a poor carpenters home, wearing simple clothes, eating simple foods and being raised in an obscure rural town in a small province of a tiny nation.

Why the announcement to the shepherds? 

Because He was and is the Great Shepherd!  A shepherd knows his sheep by name and each sheep’s individual characteristics.  A shepherd takes care of his sheep, making sure they have plenty of water and food to eat.  If one of the sheep gets sick or hurt it is the shepherd that becomes the doctor that tends to its needs.  If predators threaten the sheep it is the shepherd who protects them.  If one of the sheep becomes lost it is the shepherd that goes out to look for it.

He who holds the highest rank humbled himself to be born in unpretentious circumstances.  And because of His love for man the King of Kings quietly submitted himself to live the life of a common man.  God came down to earth so that He might experience for Himself the struggles and trials common to man. 

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need Hebrews 4:14.”

Wise Men from the East

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
       ‘ But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
      Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
      For out of you shall come a Ruler
       Who will shepherd My people Israel.’

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”


When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen 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 exceedingly great joy.  And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. Matthew 2:1-23 (New King James Version”

Wise men (Magi): The Magi were believed to be from Mesopotamia, or Persia. They were believed to be from the priestly caste and were extremely well educated.  They specialized in medicine, occult mysteries, astronomy/astrology, divination and magic.  They were the counselors of kings, pharaohs and emperors.  Magi were prized for their seeming abilities to predict the future through the study of the stars, divination and the interpretation of dreams.  The bible mentions wise men many times and their dealings with many kings and pharaohs (Daniel 5:7-9, Isaiah 47:13, 2 Kings 21:60. These wise men guided their lives by the movement of the stars and planets.   They were taught from earliest childhood the complex intricacies of astrology.

Astrology is the study of the influence stars and planets have on human lives. The position of the sun, stars, moon and planets at the time of people's birth in the twelve constellations of the zodiac is said to shape each individuals personality, affect their romantic relationships and predict their economic fortunes and the major events of their lives.

 

 Astrology dates before written history, and there is evidence of it all around the globe. The ancients believed that if the gods lived in the heavens, then it made sense to study the heavens for guidance from them.  Over thousands of years the movements of the stars were charted and interpretations of their alignments and movements compiled.  The earliest forms of astrology came from Babylonia, Assyria and Egypt.  Egypt has star charts that go as far back as 4,200 BCE.

 Studying the movement of the stars was the life's blood and focus of a magus.   In the years preceding the birth of Christ, these men began to see momentous signs and alignments in the stars that captured their attention. While noting alignments of the moon, the planets and the stars they consulted, charts and interpretations of charts, and muttered in amazement.  All their computations and arcane interpretations pointed to something phenomenal about to happen.

There have been numerous speculations of what captured the attention of the wise men. For sure, there were multiple astrological alignments in the sky that must have captured their attention.  For example, in:

 7 B.C., the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn aligned in the sign of Pisces (the fishes).

  • Jupiter: known as the “Kings” planet, represented the highest god and ruler of the universe.
  • Saturn: was thought to be the shield or defender of Palestine
  • The constellation of the Pisces (fishes) was associated with Syria and Palestine and represented either epic events or disasters for that region.

 

 

In the Babylonian interpretation of astrology, the planet Jupiter represented “Marduk, “the supreme Babylonian god. Saturn was the "Steady One." The constellation Pisces was associated with Ea, the god of wisdom, life and creation. The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces predicted from the Babylonian's viewpoint, "The end of the old world order and the birth of a new king chosen by God." Some believe that there was a power vacuum in the Middle East, and the people, including the Jews, were looking for a new King that would topple the Roman Empire.

Jupiter encountering Saturn in the sign of fishes to the Magi would have signaled that a cosmic ruler or king was to be born in Palestine at a culmination of history.  ** Notice when the Magi approached King Herod, they asked where they could find the child “born king of the Jews.

 6 B.C., The near conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn and the planet Mars.  

 5 B.C., Comet No. 52 (on John William’s list of comets) appeared and was visible for seventy days in March and April near the constellation Capricorn

 4 B.C., Comet No 53 (on John Williams’s list of comets) appeared in March and April in the constellation of Aquila.

 Were any of these the star of Bethlehem?  Only God knows.  What we do know is something in the stars captured the attention of the Magi and sent them on a quest that would last several months, possibly even a year of travel.

 Arrival

When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem they began to ask, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  They didn’t go directly to King Herod because it says, “When King Herod heard this he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him.”  Maybe they went to the temple and asked the priest there.  Maybe they asked in the market place, the bible doesn’t say.  It does say that when the king heard what they were asking for he became deeply worried.   And for good reason, he wasn’t the hereditary king of Israel. He’d been appointed king by Rome.  And, for a child to be born king, the old king had to be dead!   Herod was already paranoid that someone would steal his exalted throne.  And suddenly these magi show up and asking, “Where is the new born king of the Jews?” That was not something he wanted to hear.  Jerusalem was buzzing with the news, “There are magi asking around Jerusalem for a child born king of the Jews.”

 This was exciting news to the people of Jerusalem. The theological scholars at that time all predicted the Messiah could arrive during their lifetime.  Jerusalem was buzzing with excitement.  Herod on the other had decided to be crafty. He called together the chief priest and scribes and asked them where the Messiah was to be born?  They replied, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for it is written by the prophet:


      ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
      Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
      For out of you shall come a Ruler
       Who will shepherd My people Israel.’

When he learned all he needed, Herod dismissed them.   As the priest's and scribes left the chamber, Herod motioned to an aide and instructed him to secretly bring the magi to the palace.  Wouldn't you have loved to sit in on that meeting?  Where the magi nervous?  After all, how do you ask a king, "Where is the newborn king who is going to replace you?"  Seated on his throne, Herod cordially greeted the distinguished scholars warmly as befitted their ranks.   Pretending deep interest, he asked them questions, “Why were they on this quest?  When did the star appear?” Trying to get an idea of how old the young king would be. Herod smiled, nodded his head sagely, and said, “I have heard about the questions you've been asking around Jerusalem.  I too became fascinated and looked into it.  My priests have informed me the Messiah, if that is who you're looking for is to be born in Bethlehem.”   Gesturing grandly Herod asked, “Please, go and search carefully for the child, and when you find Him, bring back word to me, so that I may come and worship Him also.

 Note.  It's interesting that the scriptures never imply that the chief priests or scribes made any attempt to go find Jesus.  You would have thought they would have been frantic to find the Messiah.  Something to think about!

 
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

 These two verses are interesting.  Notice it states that the star went before them, till it came and stood over where Jesus was.  And notice this, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great joy.”  Had the star disappeared for a time?  Was that the reason they stopped in Jerusalem to ask where the newborn king of the Jews was to be found?   Why else would they become excited and then rejoiced when they saw the star?  Was this a normal star?  Some have suggested it was a unique star, an angel, others claim it may have been a column of fire, or the Shekinah glory of God.  Again, only God knows that answer.  Many try to explain the star through nature such as a nova, or a comet.   But consider this; if it was a supernatural star, would that be impossible for the creator of the heavens and the earth? After all, this was an epic watershed moment for earth.  The son of God was born.   What the scriptures do say is that the star stood over the place where Jesus was living.

 We know it was dark because the wise men were following the star.  Mary and Joseph probably just finished supper when they heard a knock on the door.  Or maybe they heard the braying of camel’s in their yard.  Anyway, imagine their surprise when they opened the door to find a group of rich foreign men in grand silk robes, turbans, and jewels asking them if they had a son?  I wonder if Mary or Joseph blurted, "You guys are not from around here are you?"   What questions did the magi have?  How did they explain what they were doing there?  What did they talk about?

 Now imagine the look on Mary and Josephs face as these dignified men dropped to their knees, held out their hands in worship, and bowed their heads to the ground to Jesus.  Do ya think Joseph and Mary's mouth dropped open? What happened next must have floored the poor young couple from Nazareth.  The magi presented incredible gifts to their son.

  • Gold symbolized His royalty  
  • Frankincense: a valuable fragrant gum resin, burned as incense, symbolized his future priesthood
  • Myrrh: another fragrant resin and very expensive, was used in perfumes, anointing oil, medicine and embalming and was symbolic of his future sacrificial death.

Legend suggests there were three "Wise Men", Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, because of the three royal gifts presented to Jesus.  Again the scriptures are silent.  But these rich gifts were a windfall of wealth to the young parents.  How much did they give?  No one knows.  However, these were gifts given to a young king and would have been generous.  That night, satisfied by the completion of their quest, the magi went to sleep in their tents.  But their sleep was troubled.

 12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

 No doubt each shared his dreams with the others.  Recognizing a dramatic sign from God, they broke camp and left to return to their country a different way. 

  

HERODS RAGE

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Matthew 2:-14

 That night Joseph had a very vivid disturbing dream. Once again the angel of God spoke to him and warned him of imminent danger to the child.  Joseph woke up in a sweat, his heart pounding and an overwhelming feeling of danger.  He instantly got up, woke up a sleepy Mary and told her about his dream.  The young couple rapidly bundled up the infant Jesus.   With the feeling of extreme anxiety and danger they could not have packed all the belongings the small family had.  In all likelihood they loaded up  some clothing, the gifts of the magi and a few provisions on donkey and in the dark early hours of the night and fled to Egypt, fulfilling the prophecy of Hosea 11:1. 

 Remember Joseph had been a poor carpenter.  This is where the gifts of the Wise Men became very timely as it paid for their escape to Egypt.  God had provided for their needs.  I bet if we could go back and ask Joseph and Mary, I bet we would find out that the gold, frankincense and myrrh was exactly enough to pay for food, clothing, and living quarters while Joseph and Mary were in Egypt.  And, there was probably enough money left over to buy new tools for Joseph to start over again as a carpenter when they returned to Nazareth. God knows our exact needs and is faithful to provide them.

 For several days Herod waited to hear from the wise men. When he discovered that they had outwitted him, he flew into a rage. He screamed angrily for the captain of his guard. Shaking in rage he pointed his finger at the man and shouted, “Take two cohorts and kill every male child in Bethlehem and the surrounding area below the age of two.” The captain of the guard used to the cruel eccentricities of his king, didn’t bat an eye and did an about face and hastened to obey his orders.  Behind him he heard Herod manically screamed, “I will not allow someone else to gain my throne or destroy my dynasty.”

That afternoon the young parents of Bethlehem experienced their worst nightmare.  Their lives were shattered as soldiers battered down doors and seized children.  Little girls were left alone but boys under the age of two were coldly dragged outside.  Screaming parents were horrified as their sons were brutally killed in front of them.  How many little boys died that day?  a handful? a hundred?  History does not say.  Some try to say that Herod could not have committed that atrocity.  But remember, this is the same man who had ordered that the instant he died his archers were to massacre senators and national leaders in cold blood so there would be mourning at his death[1].  It was very much in this man’s character to order the deaths of little boys so that he could keep his crown and dynasty intact.  For the next few years Joseph, Mary and Jesus safely lived in Egypt.

A new Home in Nazareth

 “Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.  And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:19-21).”

 But when Joseph returned to Israel he discovered that Archelaus had inherited his father King Herod's throne and was also  a tyrannical ruler.  Being warned by God in a  dream decided to take his young family out of Archelaus realm to the region of Galilee to a town called Nazareth Matthew 2:1-23).    Why Nazareth?  Did Joseph go to Nazareth specifically to fulfill prophecy?  No, Nazareth was both Joseph and Mary's hometown, that's where their family lived.  But, as in all things God's plan was complete and another of the prophecies concerning the life of the King of Kings was fulfilled.

 Jesus as a Boy

 The mists of history obscure the years between the time when Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth. During His childhood and youth, Jesus was probably the most protected child who ever walked on this planet (Psalm 91:9-15, Rev. 12:3-17) with legions of angels protecting Him twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

 The only clues to what was going on during Jesus childhood is found in Luke summarized Jesus childhood:

 40. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

 

Luke 2:40

Joseph and Mary quietly settled back into the little town of Nazareth where the mist of time clocked their lives for the next twelve years.

 

….To be continued in “Getting To Know Jesus” by Chuck Pearce



[1] Herod’s sister countermanded that order instantly after her brother’s death.

Temptation Number 3

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8 )  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9)  "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."  10)  Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

 

Matthew 4:8-10

 Next, the devil took Jesus to a high place where he showed Him all the kingdoms of the world.   In a moment of time, he projected the wealth, power, and authority of the empires of Rome, China, Aztec, the Mayans empires and all the other kingdoms of the world.  The panoramic view no doubt, included the awesome power of the armies of Rome and the other empires, glorious mansions and villa's, mountains of gold and other precious metals, jewels, wines, clothing, beautiful women, farm lands, vineyards, cattle, sheep and everything that could possibly stimulate greed or lust for power.

Gesturing his hand majestically over the panorama of the kingdoms of earth, the devil arrogantly stated, “All this belongs to me and I can give it to whomever I wish.”  Then he slyly looked at Jesus, and whispered, “I will give all this, with all the authority and splendor that comes with it, to you.”  Then, he gestured toward the ground at his feet and said, “All you have to do is worship me!

Sounds simple right?  But was it?  Once again, this is a temptation that strikes at multiple levels.

First, many believe that the devil was offering Jesus a demonic short cut.  “Worship me and you won’t have to have to endure the horrors of the cross.  Avoid the pain, and gain the kingdoms of the world at the same time!   All you have to do is worship me!” But is that all that is going on here?

Consider this.  Was it possible that Lucifer was aiming for a higher plane? A higher goal?  He was gambling for the Kingdom of Heaven itself.  He craved worship and majesty.

Isaiah 14

13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

Lucifer wanted to become God!  He coveted God’s power, authority and majesty with all his heart, and soul.  The bible implies that the devil gained the kingdom of earth by enticing Adam and Eve into sinning against God by eating the forbidden fruit.  He'd gained the kingdom of earth through one sin, why not throw the dice to try and grab it all?  Was he trying to gain the Kingdom of Heaven by enticing Jesus into kneeling down to worship him?

There’s no need to ask what the sin is here.  At this final climatic test, the devil rolled the dice for the biggest prize of all time, the Kingdom of Heaven itself.  For Jesus to kneel in worship to Satan would be abject rejection of God, transferring his allegiance to Satan and acknowledging him as Lord.  This would have been blasphemy on the ultimate scale! Why?  Consider the word worship itself; it implies that one individual is submitting obeisance to the authority of another, in other words, acknowledging the superiority and power of the other as with a servant to his lord.   Was the devil trying to get Jesus to transfer His power to him?  The devil was in deed playing high stakes poker, his audacity staggers the mind. 

You can almost feel the tension on the mountain that day, the static electricity between the two combatants must have been crackling around them like a summer storm. On one hand, the steely eyes of the Son of God, fighting to suppress His deep, utter revulsion.  On the other, the cold, -reptilian, lifeless eyes of the prince of demons.    

Jesus looked Satan in the eye and said with definitive authority, “It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”  The second half of that verse is, "Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.” Deuteronomy 6:13." 

Jesus once again used scripture to answer the prince of darkness.  Throughout the Old Testament, the words fear and worship are used interchangeably.  Fear, not as in terror, but as in respect, awe and admiration.   Therefore, in definitive terms, Jesus told the devil, " I will never kneel to you! I serve the Lord God of all creation, now get out of my face.

Then the devil reeled, as if struck by a blow, stung by the rebuke and then left Him.   In an instant, the angels of heaven came to minister to Jesus, giving him food, drink and companionship.  God had provided, just as Jesus had told the devil.

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.  

Matthew 4:13

Points to ponder:

  • Jesus used scripture as a weapon against Satan. The bible is filled, cover to cover, with sage advice, commandments and examples of God's provision and protection. Learn to use the scripture wisely.
  • Jesus provided the example.  Resist the devil and he will flee. James 4:7

 Here are just a few examples of scriptures to add to your arsenal:

 2 Timothy 2:4, KJV

“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man (or woman) that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that (s)he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”

2 Cor 10:4, KJV

 “(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)”

Joshua 1:9

 

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

 

Psalm 91:1-13

1Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”

3Surely he will save you

from the fowler’s snare

and from the deadly pestilence.

4He will cover you with his feathers,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

5You will not fear the terror of night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

6nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,

nor the plague that destroys at midday.

7A thousand may fall at your side,

ten thousand at your right hand,

but it will not come near you.

8You will only observe with your eyes

and see the punishment of the wicked.

9If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”

and you make the Most High your dwelling,

10no harm will overtake you,

no disaster will come near your tent.

11For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways;

12they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

13You will tread on the lion and the cobra;

you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

 

 

Psalm 23 the Lord is my shepherd

 

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 

 

Isaiah 54:17 - No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue [that] shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This [is] the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness [is] of me, saith the LORD.

Psalms 91:1-16 - He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (Read More...)

Jude 1:24-25 - Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present [you] faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, (Read More...)

Isaiah 26:3-4 - Thou wilt keep [him] in perfect peace, [whose] mind [is] stayed [on thee]: because he trusteth in thee. (Read More...)

Psalms 23:1-6 - (A Psalm of David.) The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want. (Read More...)

Isaiah 40:28-31 - Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, [that] the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? [there is] no searching of his understanding. (Read More...)
1 Peter 2:9 - But ye [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Psalms 18:1-6 - (To the chief Musician, [A Psalm] of David, the servant of the LORD, who spake unto the LORD the words of this song in the day [that] the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul: And he said,) I will love thee, O LORD, my strength. (Read More...)

John 10:10 - The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have [it] more abundantly.

John 8:32 - And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Daniel 12:1 - And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation [even] to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.

Psalms 121:1-8 - (A Song of degrees.) I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. (Read More...)

Psalms 61:1-4 - (To the chief Musician upon Neginah, [A Psalm] of David.) Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. (Read More...)

Psalms 46:1-7 - (To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth.) God [is] our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Read More...)

Psalms 1:1-6 - Blessed [is] the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Read More...)

Revelation 13:1-18 - And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. (Read More...)

2 Peter 3:11 - [Seeing] then [that] all these things shall be dissolved, what manner [of persons] ought ye to be in [all] holy conversation and godliness,

Titus 1:16 - They profess that they know God; but in works they deny [him], being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

Hebrews 4:16 - Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Temptation #2

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Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written: 'He will give his angels charge of you, and On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.‘” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”

Matthew 4:5

The second temptation of Jesus seems simple and straightforward on the surface, or is it?  Scriptures point out that the devil took Jesus and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple.  Here's the first interesting point. What was considered a pinnacle in the time of Christ?  Modern readers tend to think Satan put Jesus at the top of a sharp steeple structure similar to steeples on medieval or modern churches. However the Greek pterugion is translated as a little wing, like a battlement.  Wings, or parapets, in the ancient middle east were generally flat, roof type surfaces with a balustrade around it to keep people from falling off.  Second, where was the pinnacle of the temple?  There are three potential spots scholars have considered for the pinnacle of the temple.

  1. 1.      The number one contender would be the southwest corner of the temple mount.  The southwest corner would be visible from a large portion of the city itself. It overlooked the old city of David.
  2. 2.      Second would be the southeast corner of the temple mount which was a staggering 400 cubits (600 feet) drop to the Kedron valley below (Josephus Ant.xv. 11,5). The southeast point is the highest point overlooking the Kidron Valley below (and outside the walls of Jerusalem).
  3. 3.      Third, the temple proper which was over 100 feet tall

Southwest corner of the Temple                  Southeast corner of the temple

 

 

  The Temple Proper

 

Here is the third dilemma.  What was the enticement Satan was aiming at here? Remember his temptation is as follows:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written: 'He will give his angels charge of you, and On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.‘”

Again, it seems straight forward, but is it?  There are two basic answers:

 

Answer number one

  1. 1.      Satan has taken Jesus to a tremendous height (scary) and says "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  After all it has been written that the angels of heaven will catch you, lest you strike your foot against a stone!

Some scholars seem to think that the tremendous height here was meant to intimidate Jesus. And for that reason, they believe that Satan set Jesus at the southeast corner of the temple, which incidentally, loomed over the Kidron valley.  The drop from the southeast corner of the temple was about 500 to six hundred feet straight down.   When Herod the great built the second temple, he had to create a vast, level area to accommodate the temple complex  To accomplish this, he  had his engineers add stones to the side of the Kidron valley on top of the blocks from Solomon's temple. Each stone was a rectangle around three feet wide, three feet tall and about six feet long.  It required about 43 flights of these stones to level out the temple area.  Which is about 129  feet just in the stone base.  On top of that was built Solomon's porch, which was another 75 feet high that comes to about 204 feet.  Then there was the drop into the Kidron valley. Josephus the Jewish historian, stated that the southeast corner of the temple was 400 cubits high (600 feet), a staggering drop.  The wailing wall currently displays about 19 flights of these massive stones.  Archeologist's, however believe there are 23 more flights of stone beneath the dirt, below the wailing wall.

            The wailing wall in Jerusalem was a part of that foundation that King Herod built.

 

 Standing at the edge of such edge of such a drop would be daunting for almost anyone.  The wind tugging at your clothes, while the great void dropping before you seemingbto suck you downward, would have indeed been a terrifying. 

 

But, again we have to ask, "What was the sin Satan was aiming at?"

These scholars explain that in the first temptation, the Devil was insinuating that God would not provide for Jesus needs (food/provisions).  And, that in the second, they say he was trying to get Jesus to take advantage of God's provision, "the angels will catch you and bear you up in their hands."

  • ·         Was this an attack of Pride?
  • ·         Was Satan trying to get Jesus to abuse His power?

But the question is, why the temple?  If height was part of the intimidation, the devil could have taken Jesus to any number of high cliffs or mountain tops.  So again, why the temple?  And that, I believe, is the heart of the question.

In the first temptation of  Jesus we saw that a smart general strikes on multiple levels.  This temptation would only strike one, maybe two levels.  If you were Satan, wouldn't you use this opportunity to strike at as many levels as possible.  I would! 

So the answer lies in the fact that Satan  took Jesus to the temple. 

 

Answer Number Two:

 

If Satan had taken Jesus to the Southeastern corner, very few people would have seen Him jump, if anyone at all. Hmmmm, something to think about. Remember, Satan the former Lucifer, is one of the smartest most, cunning angels ever created.   With that in mind, I believe there was a specific reason Satan took Jesus to the temple for this temptation.  And, the answer lies in Jewish tradition.  The biblical scholar, Alfred Edersheim, had this to say about this tradition:

Our Rabbis give this tradition: In the hour when King Messiah cometh, He standeth upon the roof of the Sanctuary, and proclaims to Israel, saying, Ye poor (suffering), the time of your redemption draweth nigh. And if ye believe, rejoice in My Light, which is risen upon you . . . . . Is. lx.1. . . . . upon you only . . . . Is. lx.2. . . . . In that hour will the Holy One, blessed be His Name, make the Light of the Messiah and of Israel to shine forth; and all shall come to the Light of the King Messiah and of Israel, as it is written ..... Is. lx.3. . . . . And they shall come and lick the dust from under the feet of the King Messiah, as it is written, Is. xlix.23. . . . . . And all shall come and fall on their faces before Messiah and before Israel, and say, We will be servants to Him and to Israel. And every one in Israel shall have 2,800 servants, as it is written, Zech. viii.23.' One more quotation from the same Commentary: In that hour, the Holy One, blessed be His Name, exalts the Messiah to the heaven of heavens, and spreads over Him of the splendor of His glory because of the nations of the world, because of the wicked Persians. They say to Him, Ephraim, Messiah, our Righteousness, execute judgment upon them, and do to them what Thy soul desireth.'[1]

To simplify what Edersheim wrote, the Jews believed that when King Messiah appeared (then and now) He would appear in the temple in a dramatic fashion!  Not only would Messiah appear, He would appear on the roof of the sanctuary shouting "You poor and suffering, your redemption has arrived!"

WOW!!!  Can you imagine?  The Jews had been waiting for generations going back to Adam for the Messiah.  Can you imagine a more dramatic entrance onto Israel's stage?  This adds a whole new dimension to this temptation. Both the devil and Jesus would have known of this tradition because it was a popular interpretation of Messianic prophecy of that day.

Now for the placement.  We have two options:

The temple itself:

The temple proper was approximately 104 inches tall and stood over the court of the priest and the court of women. Again, an impressive height and a place easily seen by hundreds of worshipers priests and Levites.

The southwest corner: 

On the Southwest corner of the temple is what has become called as the Robinson arch.  The Robinson arch was actually part of a wide pathway that led pilgrims from the street level, up through a staircase, across over the street, then into the south-western entrance of the temple mount. This was one of the three bridges that led into the temple.

The arch that once existed at this place connected the staircase to the base on the wall, as indicated on the illustration with a yellow circle. The base is 36.08 feet above the level of the street. The diameter of the arch was 43.64 feet. Under this arch, at a total height of 62.32feet, passed a paved street which was lined with stores. The walls of the temple were higher than the entrance - they raised to a staggering height of around one hundred feet high.  An impressive height, though not as steep as the near 600 foot plunge of the southeastern corner.

 

However, the eastern portion of the Robinson gates were used for entry to the Temple, while its western gates were used as the  exit,  illustrated in the figure below.

The monumental staircase was more narrow on the eastern (entry) side. The reason may have been since the entrance to the Holy temple was regulated, and the visitors had to present a certificate that they were purified after visiting a Mikveh (baptismal) before entering God's place.

   

 

Therefore, if someone were to jump from the Southwester wing of the temple, he would be seen by a large multitude of people either entering or exiting the temple.  So, if Satan placed Jesus on either the southwest corner of the temple or the temple itself, Jesus would have been seen by hundreds if not thousands of people!  Use your imagination. What would have happened if Jesus had suddenly thrown Himself off of either the Southwest corner or the temple itself shouting, " You poor and suffering your redemption has arrived!"  He would have been seen by hundreds of pilgrims,  priest's and Levites traveling up to the temple.  Talk about your Biblical special effects!  Picture  Jesus gently floating down from an impossible height, His clothes softly billowing, only to land safely on the ground.  The people back then would have dropped to their knees in awe.  In a matter of heartbeat's ,word of this incredible miracle would have spread throughout the temple, then out to the city of Jerusalem.  Within moments,  the entire city would have flocked to the temple in mass to see Jesus.  This incredible news would flash like summer lightning throughout  the entire land of Israel, who in turn would also rush to Jerusalem.  In a matter of days Jesus would have been established and proclaimed Messiah and king. 

This temptation struck at a mind boggling level:

  • ·         Attack of Pride?
  • ·         Trying to get Jesus to abuse His power?
  • Offering a demonic shortcut to Jesus to announce Himself as Messiah and King.

The devil was offering a staggering short cut.  The unspoken implications shouted out, "Forget God's plan! Here's your opportunity to gain your kingdom in one easy, dramatic step!" Jesus however, knew the devils enticing shortcut would have unraveled God's itinerary for Jesus ministry in a multitude of ways. Rebuking the devil, Jesus said, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’” quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.

 

16Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.

So what exactly happened at Massah? After being delivered from slavery out of Egypt, Israel had rejected the promised land by their lack of faith.  As a result, the entire nation was being led through the desert by God from one place to the next as a period of trial and testing.  Eventually, they stopped at a place that was dry and dusty with no water for them to drink.  In bitterness they start arguing with Moses complaining against God, telling him to give them water, to which Moses responds by saying, "Why do you put the LORD to the test?" The word "Massah" means "testing." God was testing the Israelites to see if they would follow His ways or not follow His ways in their journey through the wilderness.  The Israelites, showing their true colors, tested God, challenging Him to see whether He would really provide for them - as if parting the Red Sea and providing manna and quail had not been enough!  And God did provide water.  But, who do you think planted the idea of testing God in the hearts of the people?  You got it, Satan.

Jesus answer to Satan.  God will provide!  You will not tempt me with this short cut, I will gain my Kingdom through the Fathers plan!  Ba Boom, a victorious counter punch.



[1] The life and times of Jesus the Messiah; Alfred Edersheim  pg 204

 

Temptation #1 Turn these rocks to bread

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Temptation # 1

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:1-11

Forty days seems to be the wall where the body becomes so desperate for nutrition it begins to feed on itself.  The acid in the stomach begins to eat at the lining of the stomach itself as the body urgently fights to find some kind of nourishment.   People who have undertaken long fasts lasting over forty days often state that they "know" the fast is over when they become extremely hungry around the fortieth day.  Jesus has been fasting in the desert for forty days and forty nights.  His mind was clear, but His body had reached its limit and he was hungry.

A 40 day fast requires

  • Determination
  • Dedication
  • Strength of will
  • Strength of character
  • Discipline

This test shows a great deal about the character of Jesus, His strength of will, determination and endurance.  Why? Because it takes a person of strength, character and willpower to complete a long fast.  Personally I have a hard time enduring from one meal to the other and that’s with snacks involved.  Jesus had reached that point of intense hunger.  His stomach had begun to rumble and cramp with the need for food. 

With temptation, timing is everything.  Jesus was evidently near a pile of stones that were round and flat, looking similar to the small loaves of bread that were a staple of Judean life.  Seizing his opportunity, Satan came to Jesus and said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” as he pointed to the stones.

To understand this temptation, we have to discover what the sin was that Satan was trying to entice Jesus into committing.  Which brings up an excellent question.  What was the sin involved in this temptation?  The Bible describes sin as the breaking, or transgression, of God's law (1 John 3:4). It is also defined as disobedience or rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 9:7), as well as independence from God. The original translation means "to miss the mark" of God's holy standard of righteousness.

It would help if we could hear Satan’s voice inflection when he threw out this temptation.  We all know that just changing our voice inflection can add multiple meanings to our words and actions.  For example some have suggested Satan was trying to incite lust in Jesus. 

Lust defined is an intense desire, physical hunger or need for something.

If it was lust, Satan probably used a smooth oily sales pitch of a used car salesman whispering,"Go ahead turn these stones to bread.  Think about the soft chew, bread in your mouth, the smooth buttery flavor saturating your taste buds with the essence of heaven.  The satisfying feel of it sliding down to your stomach to ease those hunger pains!”  You can imagine Satan made those stones to suddenly appear as the most delectable looking looking bread a man could sink his teeth into,  while the mouth watering aroma of fresh baked bread began to waft through the air.  Have you have ever been hungry and experienced the luscious aroma of fresh baked bread?  If you have, then you know the intense visceral affect it has on the body. The powerful aroma stimulates sudden intense hunger pangs, causing the stomach to rumble, and the mouth to salivate and the taste buds to tingle in anticipation of that first bite.  For a man who has endured a forty day fast, this would have struck like a physical blow with almost unbearable hunger pains. The heady aroma began to stimulate Jesus’ mouth to water and his stomach to rumble intensely.  Just writing this makes my stomach begin to tighten and rumble a little.  Imagine what it did to Jesus who hadn’t eaten anything for forty days?

We know Jesus had the ability to turn the stones to bread. He turned water to wine (John 2:2-12) and later took five small loaves of bread and two small fish and multiplied them to feed 5000 people (Matt. 14:13-21).   Would this sudden powerful desire cause Jesus to lust and use His power to transform those rocks into bread to satisfy his intense hunger?  Would it have been sin to give into the temptation of desire and lust to transform the stones into bread?  Maybe! Or was there another element in this temptation? 

 

PRIDE?

Others have suggested that Satan was attacking Jesus’ pride?  After all Lucifer's  weakness and sin had been pride as evidenced in his five I will’s. 

12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!  13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

Isaiah 14:12-15

Satan/Lucifer’s Pride

“ ‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. 14You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned.  So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.  So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. 18By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries.  So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching.

 

Ezekiel 28:12-18

Lucifer was the anointed Cherub who covers.  Ezekiel chapter 1 describes the four remaining Cherubs who guard God’s throne and move His throne from place to place.  Tradition suggests Lucifer’s position had been above or before God’s throne (who covers) and that he lead the angelic hosts in praise and worship of God.  Can you imagine how beautiful Lucifer must have looked with the light of God reflecting through and off all the precious stones and gold he was covered with?   Wow! He must have looked spectacular and he knew it!  Because Lucifer’s downfall was pride!  He was the seal of perfection, wisdom and beauty and it went to his head.  Somewhere along the line he began to crave worship for himself.  Over time this craving grew until he dreamed of rebelling against God and putting himself on the throne thinking, "I will be like the most High".  He decided he wanted to be God and lead a rebellion against God Himself.

*Note:  We as Christians must never underestimate the persuasive enticements of the prince of the power of the air.  Remember, with his wisdom and cunning, Lucifer/Satan successfully enticed one third of the angels of heaven into rebelling against God with him! (Revelation 12:4).  That shows that he is a charismatic and seductive manipulator at the highest level.

So, why not roll the dice and try to stimulate that same sin in Jesus?

If so, he may have sneered as he said, “If you are the Son of God?” implying, I don’t really believe you’re who you think you are!  Prove to me that you’re the Son of God by using your divine power to turn these stones into bread.  Was he trying to sting Christ pride, inciting Him into acting rashly?  Maybe?  But, again maybe there is another element or level in this temptation.

Selfish Idulgence

 

Maybe his voice insinuated, “Hey you’ve endure a lot, forty days without food. If you’re the Son of God, you can turn these stones into bread!”  Why not? You’ve endured. You’ve proven yourself.  Go ahead, indulge.  Go ahead and  turn these rocks to bread and you can end the pain, enjoy the pleasure and be satisfied all at the same time!”

 

Pleasure has always been one of Satan’s most effective lures, combined with lust.  How many millions has he sent down the slippery slope of sin and destruction with the lure of pleasure?  He knows how to wrap temptation in tantalizing packages that look so desirable while he whispers, “No one will ever know, go ahead, try it, it will taste or feel so good! It only affects you, so why not?”  What he never shows is the destructive hooks of the lure that bite’s into your soul and threatens to drag you down to destruction.  Was Satan trying to lure Jesus into indulging Himself?  Maybe.   But, I think the answer may be in Jesus’ answer to Satan’s temptation.

 

Disobedience

Jesus’ response to Satan’s temptation was to quote scripture, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”  An interesting answer!  To understand its significance you have to know a little about Jewish customs and Jewish rabbis.  It was, and still is customary for a rabbi to answer a question with half a scripture, expecting the person asking the question to know and understand the other half of the scripture and the context of the verses surrounding it.  With that in mind we need to look at the verse Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.

Deuteronomy 8 (NIV)

8 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

6 Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

19 If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.

Reread Deuteronomy 8 and notice its high points.  This whole chapter focuses on Israel’s testing in the wilderness for 40 years in the desert, God’s commands, and God’s provision.  The chapter is an interesting parallel to Jesus' temptation in the desert for forty days and forty nights.

  1. Obey all the commands I am giving you that you may live and increase
  2. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.
  3. Remember how God lead them through the wilderness to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger.
    1. He led Israel through the vast and dreadful wilderness for forty years, a thirsty and waterless land, with venomous snakes and scorpions.   
    2. He brought water out of hard rock
    3. He gave manna to eat

 Satan’s temptation may have hinted at disobedience, insinuating, “God’s forgotten all about you out here in the desert.  You’re, hot, miserable and starving.  Why wait for God? Be a man, make a decision on your own and  take care of yourself.  You can do it.  If you’re really the Son of God, all you have to do is wave your hand and you can transform these rocks into bread. Why suffer? Why wait on God when you can perform this miracle on your own.”  Was part of the testing waiting on God’s provision?

If you think about it, there were probably elements of all of these sins in Satan’s temptation.  He was playing high stakes poker, rolling the dice for the big prize.  A skillful general and manipulator, he would have designed his attack on multiple layers with multiple hooks. 

Jesus’ answer nullified all four temptations with scripture that cut to the heart, “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  In other words, “I will obey God’s commands and He will provide my needs”  Case in point, at the end of all the trials and temptations, God did send angels to minister to Jesus.

THE TEMPTATION'S OF CHRIST

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The Temptation of Christ

 

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

 

Luke 4:1-14, Matt. 4 1-11

 Luke says that immediately after His baptism the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out to the wild, harsh, Judean desert where He fasted for forty days.  God often used the desert as a crucible for preparing prophets.  Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist all spent long periods of time in the desert in preparation for their life’s ministry.  Desert life is an enigma, it offers extremes of temperature, exceedingly heat during the day, and chilly and cold at night and where everything seems to have thorns, horns or bites.  Yet the desert can be incredibly beautiful and peaceful, stimulating deep thinking.   This became the harsh, hot, dry stage for one of earth’s epic battles, between the devil and the Son of God.  Most people think Jesus was only tempted three times, however, Luke points out that Jesus was tempted for forty days and nights while he was fasting in the desert.  Also, keep in mind Jesus was tempted and tested His entire life, especially during His three and half years of ministry.   These scriptures indicate however, that this was a period of intense testing.   The gospels don't  specify what took place during those forty days.  But, you can bet Lucifer planned his campaign with meticulous care.  What we do know is that Jesus was tested in every way:

14  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.

 

Heb. 4:14-15

Temptation

 

Before we examine the epic battle of wills, let's look at the meaning of temptation.  The word tempt means to entice, to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain.”  The bible defines the action of sin as a three step process; James 1:14-15.

 

14. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.  15. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

James 1:14-15

 Step one: Identify the lust of the heart. 

 The word “lust” means a longing or craving, a wish; sexual appetite; an expressed wish.   Over the thousands of years of human history, the devil and his armies of demons have skillfully studied humans, learning to identify human weaknesses, to pinpoint the lust of our heart.  Once they identify a weakness they move to step two.

Step Two: Enticement

The word “entice” means to draw on by exciting hope or desire; to allure or attract; to stimulate or excite.  The devil and his demons are master's of stimulating our desires.  They know how to manipulate our five senses; sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch in by triggering our most intimate passions.  They whisper in a sultry voice, “No one will ever know! No one will see! Nothing will happen!  You won’t get pregnant!  You won’t become addicted. Don’t worry just think how good it's going to  feel! Just do it!,  What can happen?”

To get a mental image of this process, consider the example of a fish and a fishing lure. 

Fish have very simple desires in life, to eat, sleep, survive and make more little fishes.  Picture a bass swimming along, hungry, with a rumbly in his tumbly.   He hears a plop in the water and looks up and see's what looks like a wounded minnow struggling through the water.  Food!  His stomach starts to growl.  But warnings go off in his tiny little fish brain, “minnows

don’t swim in the open water like that!” He reasons to himself, “but this one is wounded and all alone.  All I have to do is race out of these weeds and grab it before some other fish does.”  He watches the lure wobbling through the water.  His stomach rumbles, he's getting hungrier by the second.  What should he do? Stay in the safety of the weeds and go hungry?  Or, swim out as fast as he can and  suck in the minnow, then race back to the safety of the weeds?  

Fishing lures are designed to attract and excite fish, fooling them into thinking that what they  “see” is an easy meal.  Their desireto eat” is stimulated.  The enticement, “the lure,” looks and moves like a wounded minnow, frog or insect; their favorite foods.  What the fish doesn’t know is the lure has hooks hidden in it.

The fish continues to watch the lure wobbling through the water.  His stomach rumbles, the lure looks so good he has to have it.  In a flash he makes his decision, shoots out of the weeds flying through the water, closes his eyes and sucks the lure into his mouth.  That's when the pain begins.  The experience is far from what he expected.  The hook in the lure bites into his jaw.  In desperation he tries to fight and swim back to safety.  But the hook in his mouth pulls him relentlessly from the safety of his home, into an environment he would have never chosen, then death.

Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:15) .

 Satan’s lures however, are much subtle then a fishing lure.  He displays sin in beautiful, alluring packages, hiding the hooks until he has his victim where he wants them.   That’s when he sets the hook and drags his victims down the slippery spiral of sin, pulling his victims to a spiritual death.

 13  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

With Jesus, you know Satan pulled out all the stops, expertly casting out every form of temptation, every stimulating lure in his arsenal, in an effort to entice Jesus into sinning.  Some of the attacks were probably subtle and deceiving, others blatant in the face temptations.  Every smell, every taste, every image, every sound, supernaturally stimulated and aroused a craving. Nothing was held back. 

Keep in mind that Satan had already used his considerable skills to lure one third  of all the angels In heaven to rebel against God (Revelation 12:4).  So, he was and is consummately skilled at his trade.  This was a battle royal, the devil and his minions assaulting Jesus in every conceivable way imaginable, attempting to entice Him into succumbing to sin.  Remember, Lucifer/Satan is evil personified with no morals, no scruples, and no compassion whatsoever.  This was  no holds barred, spiritual warfare at its most intense, deadliest level.  The prince of darkness with his hosts of demons versus the Son of God, set in one of the harshest deserts in the world.

Jesus was Satan’s ultimate challenge; the Son of God, born both human and divine which is a concept hard for us to wrap our minds around.  Was Jesus born with all the natural urges of a normal human man?  I  believe so.  He, like us, had choices.  I think that because He was fully man and fully God, He had greater insight into the danger of sin to aide Him in His choices.  I believed that when the devil tempted Jesus, Jesus chose to follow God's commands rather than fall for the devils lies and deceit.   Jesus was able to stand His ground more firmly because He'd studied and applied God's word to His life and headed the counsel of the Holy Spirit implicitly.  He completely understood the "Why" behind each commandment and its purpose. He set the example for us to follow.

Here is something to think about.  Why did God provide commands/guidelines for us to follow?  I believe that the ten commandments are in essence, a summation of all the commandments given by God to the children of Israel.  Every single commandment is for our benefit and for the benefit of those around us!

Exodus 20 And God spoke all these words:

  1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods beforeme.  
  2. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
  3. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Read each commandment slowly and ask yourself, how does this protect me and the people around me?  Some are easy, some are a little more challenging.  But you should see that there is a purpose behind each commandment.  I believe that Jesus being fully God and fully human understood those reasons and choose to abide by God's rules.  Jesus was not a robot incapable of human feelings or desires. I believe His body was exactly like our bodies with all five senses, feelings, emotions etc.  Jesus even allowed Satan to take his best shots at Him during a time when He was physically weakest.    This prince of darkness had successfully seduced the first sinless man Adam into sinning. Now he'd set his target on the second sinless man, the Son of God.  But here's the major difference.  Adam had never experienced the concentrated type of temptation the devil aimed at him.  Therefore he was innocent, completely unaware of the deadly consequence of sin.    He knew God's warning, "Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil."  However, he'd never experienced sin and it's deadly consequences.  Adam was unprepared for the, lie's, lures and enticements Satan used. Jesus, on the other hand knew well the deadly seriousness of sin and was prepared to defend Himself.   There was no lust, no weakness, no sin, no crack in Jesus' armor.  Let's examine this epic battle of wills over the next few weeks to see how Jesus dealt with temptation and sin! 

 

Jesus baptized

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Jesus Baptized

As John’s ministry reached its apex to the point where he had effectively laid the spiritual groundwork for Jesus. Jesus finished up His final contracts and projects as a carpenter.   When the last peg had been hammered in place, and the wood of His final project sanded and ready for its customer, the Holy Spirit whispered, “It’s time.” Taking off His carpenter’s apron, He set aside His tools for the last time.

Everything was set. He'd made provisions for the care of His mother, brothers and sisters. His brothers were all trained carpenters, capable of taking over the shop and running it for the families provisions. It was time to begin His Father's business so He set out on His journey down the Jordan River, to where John the Baptist was preaching.

 Why did Jesus come to John the Baptist to be baptized?

There seemed to be no prophecies that required Him to be baptized. He did not need to repent! So why did Jesus go to John the Baptist to be Baptized. I believe there were two reasons at least. First, John would bear witness that Jesus was the Messiah the Holy One, the Son of God. Second, to put it in military terms, it was a change of command. John's ministry was completed and would decrease, and Jesus' ministry would begin and increase. Let's take a look at the story.

It was a beautiful warm morning. John had finished preaching and as was his custom, he began to baptize the people who had been convicted by his sermon and had come forward to be baptized. It was his custom to question each person who came to be baptized to test his or her sincerity. He was so focused on the man he was about to baptize, that he took little notice the next man in line waiting to be baptized. As he brought the baptized man up out of the water John clapped him on the shoulder, smiled, and told him to go and seek God's will. Then he looked up to the next man in line and his heart leaped  seemed to freeze. in awe. In his heart and soul, John felt the Holy Spirit whisper, “This is Him, this is the Messiah!” His heart fluttered, his mouth opened and closed, but no words were coming out. His hands dropped to his sides into the water, and for the span of a few heartbeats he was completely dumbfounded, stunned to the point where he could only stammer, “you come to me? I need to be baptized by you!” His knees, on their own volition, beginning to bend in homage and respect for the man before him (Matt. 3: 13-17,Luke 3:14).

The stage was set.  John had fulfilled his mission and this was Jesus’ way of stepping onto the stage that had been prepared for Him. This may have been Jesus' way of telling John, “Well done good and faithful servant, I'll take it from here."

 As John began to kneel, Jesus grasped his shoulders and stopped him. John looked up in confusion and Jesus whispered, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” In a stunned daze, John straightened up and watched in amazement as Jesus bowed His head in prayer waiting to be baptized. John's heart raced in joy, excitement, and wonder as he placed his trembling hand behind Jesus’ head and gently lowered Him under the water. He'd waited his entire life to meet the messiah, and here he was baptizing him. As John brought Jesus out of the water, his eyes were drawn upward by the sound of fluttering wings. He was stunned to see the Holy Spirit in the form of a beautiful white dove descend from heaven and lighting on Jesus. Then chills raced up and down his spine and his heart began to pound like a drum when heard the voice of God rumble like thunder, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” This is the first time in recorded history that the trinity is mentioned to be in the same time at the same place, Jesus coming out of the water, the Holy Spirit coming down in the form of a dove, and God the father saying, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” John was probably about to have a heart attack!

Filled with holy awe he looked into Jesus’ eyes and watched as a smile spread across His face. He stood frozen in place as Jesus clasped him briefly on the shoulder, then turned to wade out of the river to change the world.

 

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