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I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live. PSALM 146:2

When God entered time and became a man, he who was boundless became bound … For more than three decades, his once limitless reach would be limited to the stretch of an arm, his speed checked to the pace of human feet.

I wonder, was he ever tempted to reclaim his boundlessness? … When the rain chilled his bones, was he tempted to change the weather? When the heat parched his lips, did he give thought to popping over to the Caribbean for some refreshment?

If ever he entertained such thoughts, he never gave in to them … Not once did Christ use his supernatural powers for personal comfort. With one word he could’ve transformed the hard earth into a soft bed, but he didn’t. With a wave of his hand, he could’ve boomeranged the spit of his accusers back into their faces, but he didn’t. With an arch of his brow, he could’ve paralyzed the hand of the soldier as he braided the crown of thorns. But he didn’t.


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Sign in the Sky – Merry Christmas

Digging into the details can increase our wonder at Christ’s nativity.

During December, churches throughout the country will participate in a time-honored tradition: the annual Christmas pageant. This re-enactment of our Savior’s arrival is likely to include Mary (toting a doll), Joseph, shepherds, angels, and animals—along with wise men bearing gifts. Typically cast as Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, these three characters represent some of the first Christ-followers mentioned in Scripture.

But in such simplistic plays, the reality of their story is largely untold, obscured by our fondness for habit and tradition. Despite several widely held—and dearly loved—assumptions about the Christmas story, the text bears closer examination.

Matthew 2:1-12

Why did the magi care?

Identified in other versions as “wise men from the east” (NKJV), the caste of seers known as magi were official advisors to the king of Babylon. One must ask, then, why Gentile scientist/counselors would be interested in or even aware of a coming Jewish king (v. 2). The connection lies in two Old Testament stories.

When the Jews were exiled to Babylon, Daniel and three of his friends were taken into the king’s personal service because of their unrivaled wisdom and knowledge (Dan. 1:19-20). In the following chapter, Nebuchadnezzar insisted that the royal team of wise men interpret his troubling dream but refused to tell them what the dream was. When they protested that the request was humanly impossible, he decreed a death sentence for failure to comply (Dan. 2:11-12). But God revealed to Daniel both the dream and its meaning, thereby saving the lives of the wise men—compelling evidence for the authenticity of Daniel’s faith. So when a prophecy about timing of the Messiah’s arrival was later revealed to him (Dan. 9:25), it’s likely his peers not only took notice but also passed the word of hope along to subsequent generations.

What’s this about a star?

The Old Testament tells another story about an even earlier Babylonian seer—a man named Balaam. Though Moab’s king instructed Balaam to curse the Israelites, God made him pronounce blessings instead. These included the foretelling in Numbers 24:17 of both a king and a star rising out of Israel.

Since Daniel was a student of Scripture (Dan. 9:2) who enjoyed credibility among his fellow wise men, one can easily picture him taking the opportunity to share this story of prophetic and local interest.

It’s understandable, then, why magi from the east would have been on the lookout for a celestial phenomenon coinciding with the Daniel 9 timetable—or why they’d travel hundreds of miles to worship the Jewish king when they saw “his star” (Matt. 2:2).

Other details to consider

Though we sing about three kings, God’s Word nowhere numbers the wise men, except to indicate there were more than one. However, Scripture does list their three gifts, whose symbolic significance is noted by many scholars: gold representing Christ’s kingship; frankincense, His priesthood; and myrrh—an aromatic used in embalming—His sacrificial, substitutionary death.

Note also that the star of Matthew 2 not only rose but also was able to move horizontally and stop (v. 9). This is certainly not typical star behavior, leading some to believe that it was the Shekinah glory, or godly radiance. And because the magi traveled such a great distance after it first appeared, we shouldn’t be surprised that their arrival was long after the family had left the manger: they found Jesus in a house when he was perhaps as much as two years old (vv. 11, 16).

Familiarity can create impressions and assumptions that, albeit lovely, can detract from the wonder of what truly is the greatest story ever told. This year, pray for a fresh look at Christmas, and then read with spiritual eyes wide open.

Reflect on these insights from supporting scriptures. If you have time, explore the passages and journal your responses.

• Scripture teaches that God’s glory has been revealed in various ways, from His handiwork to a visible radiance.

Psalm 19:1-4 and Luke 2:9. How have you experienced His glory?

• Matthew 2:1-12 in a different version than you typically use.

Do any details stand out in a new way or seem at odds with how you recall the story? Something new—even a blessing—can disturb us if we don’t fully understand.

• Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:13, 1:30, and 2:10.

The unfolding Christmas story was the best news possible, but notice how many people were told not to be afraid. Have blessings in your life ever felt unsettling at first? If so, what helped you stay on the Lord’s path toward fulfillment?

When God Became Man

“Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands.” (Hebrews 2:7)

We cannot comprehend what it meant for the infinite Creator God to become finite man, even coming “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3). Nevertheless, we can, and must, believe it, for “every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God” (1 John 4:3).

The Scriptures have given us a glimpse of the “emptying” that His incarnation required—the setting aside of certain outward aspects of His deity. He had been “so much better than the angels” (Hebrews 1:4), but He had to be “made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death” (Hebrews 2:9)—“put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18).

The eternal Word “was God” (John 1:1), but it was necessary that “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). “The world was made by Him” (John 1:10), but “the princes of this world . . . crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8).

He “being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:6). That is, He was not fearful of losing His deity and, therefore, did not have to cling to His divine nature and attributes as He became man. Thus, He “made himself of no reputation” (emptying Himself of the outward form of God) “and took upon him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).

Yet that was only the beginning. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He suffered hell for us, that we might enjoy heaven with Him.

Because He was willing to be so humiliated, He will one day be crowned with glory and honor. “God also hath highly exalted Him, . . . that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:9, 11). HMM

An Intimate Look at the Birth of Jesus

Luke 2:1-7

Every year around Christmastime, we read the account of Jesus’ birth, but perhaps we’ve let the familiarity of the story dull our concentration. More often than not, we skim over the well-known verses, telling ourselves we already understand all there is to know about the story. But without a deeper, more intimate look at our Savior’s birth, we’ll miss some of the truths the Lord wants us to learn and apply to our lives.

From a human perspective, there was nothing special about this scene. Mary and Joseph were just an ordinary couple having a baby. Because poor people were so common, even the lowly setting of a stable as a birthplace was no big deal. Yet this was the most significant event in human history. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, that baby was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy—the Creator and sovereign Ruler of the universe became Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1: 23). The Son of God and Savior of the world was lying in a cattle feeder!

Who could ever have imagined God’s plan—to send His Son into the world as a baby who would grow up in an ordinary family? It’s such an unimpressive way for the Messiah to make His entrance. The lesson is that we can’t judge a situation on the basis of appearance.

Likewise, events that seem ordinary in our lives may be occasions when God is doing something awesome. Since He works continually to achieve His will, every event and choice in our lives has significance. We just need the eyes to see beneath the surface and the faith to believe that He’s working.

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together

“The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Isaiah

We anticipate the happy day when the whole world shall be converted to Christ; when the gods of the heathen shall be cast to the moles and the bats; when Romanism shall be exploded, and the crescent of Mohammed shall wane, never again to cast its baleful rays upon the nations; when kings shall bow down before the Prince of Peace, and all nations shall call their Redeemer blessed. Some despair of this. They look upon the world as a vessel breaking up and going to pieces, never to float again. We know that the world and all that is therein is one day to be burnt up, and afterwards we look for new heavens and for a new earth; but we cannot read our Bibles without the conviction that—

“Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run.”

We are not discouraged by the length of His delays; we are not disheartened by the long period which He allots to the church in which to struggle with little success and much defeat. We believe that God will never suffer this world, which has once seen Christ’s blood shed upon it, to be always the devil’s stronghold. Christ came hither to deliver this world from the detested sway of the powers of darkness. What a shout shall that be when men and angels shall unite to cry “Hallelujah, hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!” What a satisfaction will it be in that day to have had a share in the fight, to have helped to break the arrows of the bow, and to have aided in winning the victory for our Lord! Happy are they who trust themselves with this conquering Lord, and who fight side by side with Him, doing their little in His name and by His strength! How unhappy are those on the side of evil! It is a losing side, and it is a matter wherein to lose is to lose and to be lost for ever. On whose side are you?

For your sakes he became poor

“For your sakes he became poor.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

The Lord Jesus Christ was eternally rich, glorious, and exalted; but “though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor.” As the rich saint cannot be true in his communion with his poor brethren unless of his substance he ministers to their necessities, so (the same rule holding with the head as between the members), it is impossible that our Divine Lord could have had fellowship with us unless He had imparted to us of His own abounding wealth, and had become poor to make us rich. Had He remained upon His throne of glory, and had we continued in the ruins of the fall without receiving His salvation, communion would have been impossible on both sides. Our position by the fall, apart from the covenant of grace, made it as impossible for fallen man to communicate with God as it is for Belial to be in concord with Christ.

In order, therefore, that communion might be compassed, it was necessary that the rich kinsman should bestow his estate upon his poor relatives, that the righteous Saviour should give to His sinning brethren of His own perfection, and that we, the poor and guilty, should receive of His fulness grace for grace; that thus in giving and receiving, the One might descend from the heights, and the other ascend from the depths, and so be able to embrace each other in true and hearty fellowship. Poverty must be enriched by Him in whom are infinite treasures before it can venture to commune; and guilt must lose itself in imputed and imparted righteousness ere the soul can walk in fellowship with purity. Jesus must clothe His people in His own garments, or He cannot admit them into His palace of glory; and He must wash them in His own blood, or else they will be too defiled for the embrace of His fellowship.

O believer, herein is love! For your sake the Lord Jesus “became poor” that He might lift you up into communion with Himself.