Luke 1:16-17 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Before there was Jesus, there was John the Baptist. There had to be. If Jesus had come into the world apart from the way being prepared for Him, the mission would have been compromised. The people were not ready for the Messiah, they needed someone to prepare them. John was that someone.
Long before John’s birth, there was a prophesy of the one who would come in the power of Elijah to prepare the hearts of the people to turn back to God (Malachi 4:6). John’s one role was to make the way for the Promised One, and then it was his time to decrease so that the Savior could increase (John 3:30). Because of the prophesies, John’s parents would have understood what the angel’s revelation to them meant. Their son would be the last prophet before the coming of the Christ.
In God’s sovereignty it just so happens that John and Jesus were relatives. The man who would declare Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) was His own kin. The baptizer who would watch as the Father and the Holy Spirit gave testimony about Jesus (Matthew 3:16,17) had affection for Him as family. Before Jesus could come, John had to come and get things ready for Him.
Luke 1:26-27 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
Why Mary? This is a question that some think is important while others brush it off as not important at all. Regardless of where you stand on that, Mary was part of a grand story and it was for a reason.
God is sovereign over all things and He provides a way for His will to be carried out. Long before John the Baptist was preparing the way for the Messiah, God was getting things in order. Mary was chosen specifically by God. There is no coincidence in regards to her being the one who would carry the Christ child in her womb. Mary was descended from the right line of Jews to fulfill the prophesies of old. Not only her, but Joseph as well.
Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). He was to be born unto a virgin mother (Isaiah 7:14). He was to live a life that could only have happened exactly as it did if Mary was His mother. Being engaged to Joseph meant that Mary had to make a journey to Bethlehem in Judea for a census at the time of Jesus’ birth. This was God’s provision for the prophesies to be fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. Mary was chosen for many reasons, but it had to be her. It had to be her that bore the Son of God into the world.
Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
The story of Jesus does not begin with His birth in Bethlehem. The entire Old Testament is the story of a people who were to be the heritage from which the Messiah descended. Their customs, the events of their lives, everything was all part of the greater story of Jesus. He didn’t just appear out of nowhere, the way was prepared for Him.
Hundreds of years before that night in Bethlehem under the star, God was already making it known through His prophet Malachi that He would send Elijah to prepare the people for their Messiah. They were not only expecting the Promised Messiah, but also His forerunner, who it so turns out was John the Baptist.
Before we can really understand the significance of the Christmas story, the ministry of Jesus, the death, burial, and resurrection – we have to understand that Jesus came from a real history of real people with real stories. His birth was foretold and expected, but it was also part of a larger narrative. To understand Jesus we must understand His people. Christmas is the climax of a promise given by God to His people, a promise to send someone to save them. He sent Himself.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
God isn’t just another person in life who goes around saying things He doesn’t mean. God cannot lie and He does not make promises He doesn’t keep. When He says He loves us, He doesn’t just leave it at that. He demonstrates it.
Do we understand what it means that God loves us? Do we grasp the heaviness of the fact that the one who created all things has affection for us? That He thinks about us? That He has a plan for us? He works in our lives, shaping us to be who He created us to be. He disciplines us when we’ve done wrong, just as a father disciplines his children so that they’ll learn right from wrong. God shows His love by being involved in our lives.
In an act that could never be confused for anything but love, God sent His Son to die a painful death of suffering on a cross, taking on our sin and giving us His righteousness, so that He could have a relationship with us. This act was not because we had done anything to earn His love, but because He just loved us that much.
When we struggle in life, when things just don’t seem to make sense, when we feel like no one loves us, we can look at all that God has done for us. Look to the forgiveness you’ve received in Christ, to the wonderful promises God has made, and to the Holy Spirit He’s placed in your life to comfort and guide you. He loves you so much that He can’t stay away from you. He’s crazy about you.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Why is it so important that a virgin be the one to become pregnant with Jesus? Since the beginning, when Adam and Eve sinned and introduced a corrupt nature into all of mankind, we’ve been tainted. We can’t be good no matter how hard we try because we have that sinful nature.
Some have tried to convince us that a virgin birth was necessary in order for Jesus to be without a sinful nature. The logic is that the sinful nature must be passed down from generation to generation from the father. This may be the case, but a mother is also a sinful human being and therefore capable of passing down her sinful nature to her offspring.
Mary was a real person with a real human body and within that body was the Christ child. No other person ever had such a physical connection with Jesus than did His birth mother. How she became pregnant with the Son of God is where the importance of her virginity becomes important. Mary conceived without the help of a man. She was impregnated supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. Because He did this work in her to bring about the Christ’s birth into the world, there was no earthly explanation for her pregnancy. The supernatural circumstances of her pregnancy make it the only time in the history of humankind for a baby to be born with no earthly father involved. This was the sign promised in Isaiah, hundreds of years before.
Isaiah 33:22 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us.
The bad news is, God is our judge. The good news is, the Judge is on our side. If we’re in Christ, we have a mediator who acts on our behalf to keep the Judge’s wrath from us. The Judge sees His Son in us and rules in our favor.
Which of us is worthy of judging another? We’ve all committed sins and are guilty of our own transgressions. How could we judge anyone with so many strikes against us? But God isn’t like us. The Judge is without sin, without blemish. He is holy, and only one who is holy is worthy to judge. He alone holds the right to hand down a verdict.
One day we’ll all stand before Him and He’ll make His ruling. We’re either not-guilty because we’ve believed on Christ for our salvation, or we’re guilty because we tried to be good enough on our own and didn’t measure up. Where will you stand on the final judgement day? Will you be acquitted of all charges because Christ your mediator stands between you and the Judge, or will you find yourself accused without counsel to defend you?
Ephesians 1:13-14 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, there was some point at which you heard God’s Word, felt His prompting, and responded. This might not be an exact moment that you can pinpoint on a calendar, but the fact that there was a period of time over which this process was occurring is certain. God was working in you and you responded to His call. You became part of His family. And He sealed you.
Much like the seal of royalty in times of old, a wax emblem placed on a document so it could only be opened by the rightful recipient, God has placed His seal on us with His Holy Spirit until the right time for our inheritance. No one can snatch us from the Father’s hand (John 10:29). He has guaranteed our inheritance as His sons and daughters.
Likewise, in the same way the seal of royalty showed the king’s approval of the document (his endorsement), God has stamped His endorsement on us from the time that we believed on Christ for our salvation. Rest assured. If you are a believer, you belong to the Lord and He belongs to You.
Isaiah 64:8 But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
What does God want from us? Sometimes we need but ask Him. We’ll find many times that He’s already at work in us to bring about His purposes. We are His instruments in this life, if we’ve given ourselves over to Him…and really even if we haven’t (Romans 9:20-23). He makes us into what He needs us to be, what He wants us to be.
We all have our own desires and our own ideas about what being godly means, but it’s God himself who determines what our strengths and weaknesses are, what our opportunities will be, what our roles in life will be. But we get to where we are in His great plan one step at a time, one little minor change at a time. We experience and encounter things that develop us as a people and then we in turn become a little bit more of what God intended. If we’re following Christ, we’ll be used for good. God will have us play out a role on His team. The wicked and ungodly play a role too in His plan, but not for the same side.
Pray for wisdom, pray that God the Father would work on you to make you into the creation He intended you to be. Seek to be more like Christ, in His character and in His devotion to the Father. Let God work in you and through you as He shapes you into a fine piece of art.
Hebrews 12:7-8 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
How does a child learn to do what’s right? They learn through the example their parents give, yes, but they also learn through correction and discipline when they do the wrong things. By being taught what the rights things are and disciplined over the wrong things, a child can grow into maturity, knowing right from wrong.
How does a Christian learn what God wants? We have Jesus as our example and we have the commandments to guide us in what’s right. But when we stray from what God has taught us doesn’t He also correct us? Doesn’t He sometimes put us back on the right track because He loves us? There’s a big difference between punishment and discipline. Some have the view that God is up above watching for us to mess up so He can take His vengeance on us. That action out of anger would be punishment. But God doesn’t punish those He loves. He disciplines them.
The truth is, we may not always even know we’re being disciplined. The Father may remove something from us that isn’t good for us in a way that provides correction. We may not even have been aware of what happened. God may also put people in our lives at certain times that give some correction. Whatever the method, God disciplines because He loves. Any parent who provides no guidance and no boundaries to their children does not love them. If a child is allowed to destroy themselves, the parent has no love for them. But our Father does love us, and He loves us enough to make sure we’re everything we’re supposed to be.