The Presence Of The Gift

Author: Alan Smith Date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 Campus:

On Sunday, Alan continued our Christmas series “The Gift” The questions and transcript are below, but if you want to listen again to the talk click here. If you have any thoughts, comments, or suggested additional resources please let us know in the comment section.

Questions for Union Groups:

What element of the birth of Jesus is the most surprising to you?

Why was it that the Messiah was expected but only those who God told directly seemed to know he had actually arrived?

Why were the Temple shepherds told first?

Why were foreign wise men (Magi) told but the Jewish and Roman leaders bypassed?

Have you ever wished God would solve a problem of yours a particular way only to find he did something different? How is your ‘unexpected journey’ progressing?

The Presence of the Gift

Slide 1

We started this Christmas series with Leon talking about the “Promise of the Gift” – how the coming of Jesus had been foretold in the Bible. And not just foretold but Jesus had appeared at various times and places as God’s messenger to help people at crucial times but he had never come before to live an entire life.

As Jesus was the promised one – the “Messiah” of course his arrival was expected and everyone knew about it and they queued round the town when he was born? Not quite!!

Let’s look at Jesus arrival – what happened and what did not happen. We will consider the people who experienced his arrival and what the significance was.

Jesus came to be born in human form while still being God. We have a few details recorded in the Bible which describe the birth and it does not sound like a grand event. It has been said the birth of Jesus was a ‘lowly’ birth. He born into a life of near poverty – it was not a ‘royal’ birth. Stories have grown up which describe his birth in a stable, with animals around and Jesus himself placed in a manger – a feeding trough – for a cot.

It was a miraculous birth – Jesus was born to a woman who was still a virgin. Would anyone believe that today? Did they believe it then? No!

But for Jesus to carry out his purpose – to be a perfect sinless sacrifice – he could not be a blood-relative to his earthly father Joseph. Otherwise he would have inherited the same sinful behaviour that everyone else is born with.

So God sent his Son into the world as a gift – but did it meet the expectations of the people? What happens if we don’t get the presents we were expecting? …

02:53 > 04:12

Slide 2

So what kind of Messiah were the Jews expecting?

Messiah ‘anointed one’ – Christ (Greek) set apart by God to rule Israel – and start the age of global peace. Anointing – ritual involving oil on the head was carried out on priests and kings. The Jewish principles of their faith include this statement about the Messiah:

“And if a king shall arise from among the House of David, studying Torah and occupied with commandments like his father David, according to the written and oral Torah, and he will impel all of Israel to follow it and to strengthen breaches in its observance, and will fight God’s wars, this one is to be treated as if he were the anointed one. If he succeeded and built the Holy Temple in its proper place and gathered the dispersed ones of Israel together, this is indeed the anointed one for certain, and he will mend the entire world to worship the Lord together.”

Slide 3

So a king was expected, a leader, a warrior, obedient to all of God’s laws, a rebuilder of the Temple a peacemaker with all other nations so everyone would have peace.

Yet after about 400 years no one seems to be looking out for the Messiah.

No one recognises that the baby who just arrived in Bethlehem is the one who will ultimately fulfil these expectations. You see the picture of what the Messiah would be like is based on what he will do for the Jews and not on bigger reason that God has given him.

The Jews expected a rescuer, a leader, one who would restore their honour and their temple… but God sends a helpless baby to become the Saviour of the whole World – not a warrior to be the rescuer of the Jews.

Slide 4

God shares the arrival of Jesus with shepherds and foreign kings – bypassing the Jewish religious leadership and Roman-appointed king.

Now, among the Jews at that period shepherds were held in low estimation among the people. They were not to be allowed in the courts as witnesses. No help must be given to the heathen or to shepherds. The sheep intended for the daily sacrifices in the temple were fed in the Bethlehem pastures. This semisacred occupation no doubt influenced these poor toilers, and specially fitted them to be the recipients of the glad tidings. They would hear much of the loved Law in the solemn ritual of the great temple. They would know, too, that there was a rumor widely current in those days that the longlooked – for Messiah was soon to appear, and that their own Bethlehem was to witness his appearing.

Slide 5

Luke 2

2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Slide 6

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Slide 7

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Slide 8

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Slide 9

But for all the prophecies it wasn’t the religious leaders who came to see Jesus – they had all the clever arguments as to why this could not possibly be the Messiah.

It was the shepherds – the despised shepherds who supplied the lambs for sacrifice at the temple every day who God called out to. They were first to see the perfect lamb of God! How merciful of God to treat the despised as the most important and how right to treat the least of the workers as the most important.

The great reversal of our human priorities is often a sign of God at work!

There has been much debate over the years as to how the shepherd knew exactly where to find the baby.

Micah, the Jewish prophet who foretold of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem, also prophesied, “And you, O Tower of the Flock (in Hebrew, Migdal Eder), the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto you shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem” (Micah 4:8). Although obscure and often overlooked, Micah disclosed that the Messiah, who embodied the hope of the Kingdom, “was to be revealed from Migdal Eder – ‘the Tower of the Flock’.” Close by where the shepherds were camped that night, in the northern part of Bethlehem on the road to Jerusalem (less than an hour’s journey by foot), was the tower known as Migdal Eder, the “watch-tower of the flock.”

During lambing season the sheep were brought to the tower from the fields, as the lower level functioned as the birthing room for sacrificial lambs. Being themselves under special rabbinical care, these priests would strictly maintain a ceremonially clean birthing place. Once birthed, the priestly shepherds would routinely place the lambs in the hewn depression of a limestone rock known as “the manger” and “wrap the newborn lambs in swaddling clothes,” preventing them from thrashing about and harming themselves “until they had calmed down” so they could be inspected for the quality of being “without spot or blemish” (ibid, the Jewish oral tradition & Alfred Edersheim, the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah).

So these Temple lambs born in Bethlehem were wrapped in swaddling bands – soft strips of gauze cloth so they did not injure or damage themselves. And while the lambs were wrapped up they were laid down inside a bowl-shaped rock – called the Manger! Is it possible that the baby Jesus the perfect baby lamb of God was treated in the same way as the other lambs for sacrifice?

The shepherds would know exactly where to go to see him.

He was already in their manger in the Tower of the Flock.

No house to house search of Bethlehem town required!

Slide 10

The visit of the kings – they were familiar with the Biblical prophecy and the skies – so the sign in the sky (whatever it was) was sufficiently meaningful that they started the journey.

Matthew 2

2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

Slide 11

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]”

Slide 12

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.

Slide 13

10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Slide 14

Sometimes God gives us clues that he wants us to change something or do something which would make no sense to other people. We must weigh it up – God would not do anything which would cause us or others harm but he will ask us to take steps which require faith. Faith is having that trust in God that whatever happens he will be with us – not wishful thinking – but quiet certainty that he is reliable. But God is always consistent with his Word and by reading the Bible we can gain confidence about what he is telling us.

The sign of the star in the heavens was sufficient for those wise men to journey many weeks across the desert on their camels. They were certain because what they saw meant something to them. The wise men were not Jews – they were Persians who believed they worshipped the creator God and although they did not have a relationship with him they believed in doing good and being generous.

How merciful of God to tell them! I’m sure the star would have been seen by many people but no-one else understood the same significance. If they had they could have followed it and found the baby Jesus too!

A year ago I became aware that my job – the one I had done for twenty years did not sit comfortably with me anymore. I had those feeling some years before and changed my job to a different employer but the feelings returned. I said I enjoyed the type of work I did but deep down it was not really work I truly cared about. I found my free time becoming less and less and the pressure to work round the clock and never have time to enjoy a break just increased. I could have parked the feelings and changed job again or I could try a different approach.

I took the step of giving up my job before I had any certainty of what I would be doing next but I felt my work would be at least partly involving the church. It made little sense to others to take that step but I knew I could rely on God. As time passes the worrying thoughts begin – what if God doesn’t do something soon? What if I lose everything? How stupid have I been? Surely if you have work you should keep calm and carry on and put up with it or just ask God to make you stronger, more patient?

Sometimes we should, and sometimes we should take a step of faith knowing that God is with us. Today part of my work is indeed for the church and early next year we will be opening the storehouse and I will be asking many of you to consider volunteering to help run that.

The challenge to us today is that Jesus is everything we will ever need from God.

Slide 15

Is Jesus that important to you? Is Jesus the right gift from God to you or do you see him as the wrong gift because you were expecting something else?

If you have never thought about Jesus as someone who is alive today by his spirit and is able to give you what you need – really need deep down – then I urge you to pray now and ask him to show you.

If you have turned away from Jesus because he didn’t do something for you that you thought was essential, then I urge to turn back ask for trust so that can help you.

Slide 16

The coming of Jesus – the presence of the gift – reminds us when we demand that God act a certain way to solve our problems he often moves to do something far greater but which will ultimately solve those problems of ours too!

Let’s pause and think about those areas of our lives that need Jesus – this Christmas he will be the one gift you need, his presence will restore you even though it may take you on an unexpected journey.


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