Bethlehem Ephratah

Thursday, December 22, 2011

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2 KJV).

Today’s Scripture, written about 700 B.C., prophesies the exact birthplace of Israel’s Messiah. Notice the Bible is very specific. “Bethlehem Ephratah specifies the Bethlehem in southern Israel (there was another Bethlehem, in Galilee, northern Israel). Bethlehem of Judaea, as today’s Scripture teaches, is “little among the thousands of Judah” (a little-known village).

The Bible tells us that Bethlehem Ephratah was the birthplace of King David (1 Samuel 16:1-18). John 7:42 reads: “Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” Recall that Jesus Christ will inherit His father David’s throne, and that David is a type (preview/shadow) of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 9:6,7; Luke 1:31-33). Thus, they share Bethlehem Ephratah as their birthplace (cf. Luke 2:4).

“Bethlehem” is an interesting word. Jesus Christ likened Himself to the manna of the Old Testament. He claimed, “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world…. I am that bread of life: I am the bread which came down from heaven…. I am that bread of life” (John 6:33,35,41,48). Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1,5,6): “Bethlehem” is Hebrew for “house of bread.” Thus, the “Bread of Life,” Jesus Christ, was born in the “House of Bread,” Bethlehem. Fascinating!

Furthermore, Joseph (Jesus’ legal father) lived in Nazareth. When Roman emperor Caesar Augustus sent out a decree for taxing the people of the empire (conducting a census), Joseph had to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem of Judaea, taking pregnant Mary with him (Luke 2:1-5). Christ was born there in Bethlehem. Some 700 years beforehand, the Bible knew Joseph and Mary would not be in Nazareth for Christ’s birth, but in Bethlehem, thereby fulfilling the prophecy of today’s Scripture. Amazing!

These are evidences that the Bible is a supernatural Book—it is God’s Book.

The Virgin Conception of Christ

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 KJV).

While Christendom speaks of the “virgin birth of Christ,” according to today’s Scripture, a more accurate term would be the “virgin conception of Christ.” There was nothing unusual about Christ’s birth; it was the conception that was unique because there was no human father!

Interestingly, today’s Scripture has been the point of controversy for over a century (to Satan’s delight!). Some modern Bibles (RSV, NRSV, et al.) translate the Hebrew word here translated “virgin” as the vague “young woman,” thereby leaving room for the heretical idea that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father (and denying Christ’s deity)! If someone ever tells you almah (the Hebrew word translated “virgin”) can mean “young woman” or “virgin,” they are right, but point out that the key to choosing the right translation is not up to a translator, but rather the Holy Ghost!

The author of Matthew’s Gospel, filled with the Holy Ghost, knew which translation—“young woman” or “virgin”—was what God had intended in Isaiah 7:14. If we want to know what God meant in Isaiah 7:14, why not ask God?

“Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, “Behold a virgin shall be with child…” (Matthew 1:22,23a). The Greek word translated “virgin,” parthenos, can only mean “virgin,” not “young woman.” Isaiah was prophesying a virgin, indicated by the words “firstborn son” (Matthew 1:25; Luke 2:7) and “Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son” (Matthew 1:25). Isaiah 7:14 meant “virgin,” as indicated by Luke 1:34, for Mary “knew not a man.” Again, the Bible is clear that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father.

Matthew 1:23 indisputably proves that almah in Isaiah 7:14 did not simply mean a “young woman,” who may or may not be sexually pure, but “a virgin,” a woman who never had any sexual intercourse. Thus, the Holy Ghost, not Joseph, was the Father of Jesus’ body (Matthew 1:18-20).

Emmanuel, God With Us

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23 KJV).

John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, was a priest, “of the course [order] of Abia [Abijah]” (Luke 1:5). Under King David, Israel’s priests were organized into 24 courses (1 Chronicles 24:7-19). A priest from each course served a week in the Temple ministration (and thus served one week twice a year). Israel’s calendar began with Abib/Nisan, equivalent to March 16-April 15 (Exodus 12:1,2; Exodus 13:4). Passover was observed on April 14, starting Israel’s religious calendar.

Passover week (The Feast of Unleavened Bread) lasted from April 15-21. The first course of priests served in the Temple around this time. Zacharias’ course, Abijah, was the eighth course after Passover (1 Chronicles 24:10), thus placing Zacharias’ service roughly eight weeks after Passover (or June 17-23). This was the time when the angel appeared to Zacharias to announce John’s conception (Luke 1:8-22). Once Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth leave the Temple and go home, Elizabeth conceives John (late June; Luke 1:23-25).

Six months after Elizabeth conceived John in late June (Luke 1:26), Mary conceived Jesus—in late December. Contrary to religious tradition, the birthday of Christ is not December 25. Late December is the time of Christ’s conception. The conception of Christ in Mary’s womb, not Mary’s conception in her mother’s womb, is the biblical immaculate conception: it was Christ’s conception, not Mary’s, that was sinless (Luke 1:35).

If a perfect human gestation lasts 280 days (9 months), late September/early October is the time of Christ’s birth. During this time of year, recall that God had Israel observing the Feast of Tabernacles, when Jews would dwell in “booths” (tents, tabernacles) for seven days (Leviticus 23:39-44).

While Israel was observing Tabernacles in September/October, God was born as a man (Jesus Christ) of the virgin Mary, and dwelt (“tabernacled”) with them! Sadly, very few Jews paid any attention to Jesus, “Emmanuel,” “God with us” (today’s Scripture). The rest of Israel ignored “God dwelling among them” (John 1:14).

Was It a White Christmas?

Monday, December 19, 2011

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:7,8 KJV).

Religious tradition demands Christmas is Christ’s birthday. Was our Lord Jesus really born in wintertime? Today’s Scripture replies with an emphatic NO. According to the Bible, on the night of Jesus’ birth, there were shepherds out in the fields watching their flock. Would shepherds be abiding outside on a cold winter’s (perhaps snowy) night? This is only one line of biblical evidence that Jesus was not born on Christmas. However, there is a biblical significance to late December.

God had commanded Israel through Moses that Jews were to celebrate many feasts year-round. One of them was the Feast of Tabernacles, observed during late September/early October. During this seven-day feast, Jews were to dwell in “booths” (tents, tabernacles) (Leviticus 23:39-44; Nehemiah 8:13-18).

The Bible likens our physical bodies to “tabernacles” for our souls and spirits (2 Corinthians 5:1-4; 2 Peter 1:13-15). Furthermore, Isaiah 40:22 says God “spreadeth [the heavens] out as a tent to dwell in:” God created the universe so He could dwell in it, specifically on a little planet… earth. When Jesus Christ was born, “the Word was made flesh [God became a man], and dwelt among us [He “tabernacled” in a human body]” (John 1:14). Jesus Christ came to tabernacle/abide with mankind on earth, to establish that earthly kingdom prophesied throughout the Old Testament!

To make the Word flesh (for Jesus Christ to be a man), God’s Holy Spirit conceived a physical body inside of the virgin Mary, a body in which Jesus’ Spirit could dwell (Matthew 1:18-20; Luke 1:35; Hebrews 10:5-9). Jesus was named “Immanuel,” or “God [dwelling] with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). As we will see in tomorrow’s devotional, the Bible indicates that Jesus was conceivednot born—in late December. Jesus Christ was actually born in late September (coinciding with the Feast of Tabernacles).

‘Twas the Sunday Night Before Christmas

Sunday, December 18, 2011

“But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 KJV).

During the Christmas Season, we wonder how many people are visiting church for the second time this year (the other being Easter Sunday). Since Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year, how many will be going to church just to feel “religious” or “holy?” How many really know Jesus Christ? For many, visiting a church building is just an obligation; they do not have faith in God’s Word and have no interest in God’s Word.

We do not go to church to “feel closer to God,” for if we have trusted in Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour, we cannot be any closer to God than we already are in Christ! “[Before salvation, we were] without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh [close to God] by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12,13).

Furthermore, we do not go to church in order to get God’s blessings, for God has already given us “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). We go to church, not because we are keeping Israel’s Sabbath day, since we are not obligated to observe Israel’s religious days (Colossians 2:16). We go to church to fellowship with like-minded believers and hear sound doctrine… more than twice a year, by the way.

In today’s Scripture, the Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy that whenever he would assemble with fellow Christians, certain behavior was acceptable and other types of behavior were not (described throughout the epistle of 1 Timothy). Recall that when the Bible refers to “the church,” it refers to the body of believers, not the physical building in which they meet.

As we get opportunities, let us make an effort to reach these dear souls misled by all the vain religious tradition and Christmas commercialization, and may we tell them about the wonderful Christ Jesus whose name is found in Christmas!

*Based on the poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

When the Fulness of the Time Was Come – 333’s 200th

Saturday, December 17, 2011

“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4,5 KJV).

In the beginning God set the first man, Adam, on earth to “subdue [control] it,” to “have dominion” over it and everything on it (Genesis 1:28). Alas, Adam sided with Satan, joining the rebellion against God. The human race, now marred by sin, was unable to fellowship with its holy Creator God.

Fortunately, God promised mankind’s Redeemer in Genesis 3:15: a Man who would do what Adam failed to do—rule earth for God’s glory. Adam was “the figure [preview/type] of him that was to come” (Romans 5:14c). About 4000 years after Adam, the “him that was to come” finally came—Jesus Christ. How human history was forever impacted when that Redeemer came!

Jesus Christ’s birth was not some haphazard event of nature. God the Father had preplanned the exact moment of the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ (today’s Scripture). Recall that, unlike us, before His physical birth, Jesus Christ lived as a Spirit in heaven’s glory with His Father (John 1:1,2; cf. Micah 5:2).

When the appointed time came, at His Father’s behest, Jesus’ Spirit came to earth to indwell the body in the virgin Mary’s womb. For nine months, God Himself actually lived inside Mary’s womb! Being delivered, He lived a sinless life of 33 years, despised by His family (Israel) and the world. As one dear Christian brother explained, “That was the greatest life ever lived in a human body!”

No event in human history compares to the coming of Jesus Christ. As today’s Scripture teaches, the Lord Jesus became a small Baby… to become a grown man… to become Israel’s rejected Messiah… to ultimately die for us, the wretched Gentiles! God became a man, to “give Himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6).

We are ever grateful that “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son….”

Saints, we have reached a milestone – #200. WOW!

Two Trees With Two Different Roots

Friday, December 16, 2011

“For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not” (Jeremiah 10:3,4 KJV).

Currently, Christmas trees decked with “silver and gold” tinsel and ornaments are commonplace. Interestingly, today’s Scripture describes such an object… a Gentile idol.

The prophet Jeremiah declared (circa 600 B.C.): “Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them” (verses 1,2). Jeremiah then proceeds to tell Israel of the heathen’s ways (today’s Scripture). The heathens (Gentiles) chop down trees, set them elsewhere, and fashion idols by decking them with “silver and gold.” (This is why some Christians prefer not to display a Christmas tree in their homes.)

Jeremiah continues (verses 5-7): “They [the pagan idols] are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might.”

Pagan Gentiles bowed and prayed to these wooden, worthless, mindless idols which did nothing for them… except distract them from worshipping the only true God. Sadly, Israel was just as guilty of this pagan worship, having “idols under every green tree (Deuteronomy 12:1-4; 1 Kings 14:22,23; 2 Kings 17:7-23; et al.).

Like the pagan idols of old, the Christmas tree keeps people preoccupied with the wrong tree! The Christmas tree decorated with hanging ornaments and tinsel is nothing compared to Calvary’s tree decorated with the hanging body of Jesus Christ. Rather than silver and gold, it was decked with crimson red, the precious blood of God’s Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Unlike the Christmas tree, Calvary’s tree has no pagan roots.