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“In those days…” shows us our days are in God’s hands

"In those days..." shows us our days are in God's hands

“In those days…” shows us our days are in God’s hands

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree… So Joseph also went up… to Bethlehem…”
(Luke 2:1).
.

One of the most profound parts of the Christmas story is the small phrase “In those days.” This concept comes up repeatedly in the Nativity story. In those days there was a powerful Roman Caesar, a cruel Edomite king, a young virgin girl, an elderly Jewish priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, a righteous but clueless man named Joseph, startled shepherds in the fields,  Magi from the East, a devout man named Simeon, an old prophetess named Anna, and John the Baptist.[1] In those days…

God’s timing has always been perfect and will always be perfect.

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be…” (Ps. 139:16)

“He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live… so that men would seek Him…” (Acts 17:26-27)

“But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman born under the law” (Gal. 4:4).

“The mystery… to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment…” (Eph. 1:9-10).

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…” (Rom. 5:6).

“He gave His life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time” (1 Tim. 2:6).

“The time has come… Repent and believe…” (Mark 1:15).

The coming of the Messiah was with exact timing. God does all things with precise timing.

Historians point out some elements of the exact timing of the arrival of the Messiah:

Pax Romana (Roman Peace)

For around 200 years (BC 27-180AD) there was remarkable peace or lack of war in the Roman empire. This provided a safe passage for the Messiah and His message.

Julius Caesar was killed and his stepson Octavius, later named Augustus, established peace by powerful armies and began taxing people to pay for those armies. He traveled with 23 legions—23,000 men. This tax is what is spoken about in Luke 2:1. Augustus also began the practice of deifying the Caesar. A practice the Jews and Christians resisted.

Roman Roads

During a period of 700 years the Romans built 55,000 miles of roads. These roads were built to move troops and maintain order in the kingdom (similar to our modern interstate system of highways).

The Roman roads were:

  1. straight, the Fosse Way only veered a few miles in 180 mile length
  2. paved with stone, had bridges, and drainage
  3. marked with signs and mapped
  4. protected and patrolled
  5. taxed and tolls were collected
  6. durable, it was the 19th century before roads of this quality and scale were built again

The Romans thought they built roads for the glory of the empire, but in reality, they built them for the glory of God. The Roman roads enabled the Gospel to quickly spread throughout the Roman Empire.

All the way to the British Isle and Germany and France, which affects many of us to this day.

Greek Language

At the time of Christ, the entire Roman empire spoke and wrote the Greek language and used Greek logic. This enabled the good news of Jesus to spread.[2]

The Greeks came first then the Romans. The Greeks by way of Alexander the Great introduced language, culture, and logic. The Romans used Greek culture and language but established Roman government and military might.

There were two Greek languages used, Classical Greek and koine/Common Greek. The koine Greek used Phoenician or Hebrew alphabet.

The Greeks, following Aristotle’s influence, introduced inductive inference/reasoning (e.g. Geometry).[3] Also, reasoned arguments like:

  • All humans are mortal, I am a human, Therefore I am mortal.
  • All have sinned therefore I am a sinner.

Septuagint

Sometime about 300BC in Alexandria Egypt, the Old Testament was translated into koine Greek. Tradition says by 72 translators. This translation is known as the Septuagint or LXX. Again, this prepared the way for the Gospel—God’s Word in man’s language. There is little to no doubt regarding the OT text because of the scholarship of these translators.

Diaspora

Beginning around 600BC, the Jewish people began to emigrate to the Mediterranean basin and eventually into all Europe and the Middle East. This was the initial channel for the Gospel into the cultures of the world.[4]

In the first century (at the time of Christ), there were more Jews living in Alexandria Egypt than in all Judea (see Acts 2:7-11). Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD and all the inhabitants killed and the Jews were driven out of the land. The land was renamed Syria-Palestine. So, Jews emigrated to North Africa, Persia, Caucuses, India, China (Kaifeng) North Europe, and eventually the Americas.

The North American Jews are the most intermarried of all the groups. According to DNA, the North European Jews came from four Germanic women. It is thought Jewish merchants followed Roman legions to Germania and married local women.

Synagogues

Synagogue is a Greek word. Before the coming of the Messiah, the Jews began to develop the concept of the “spiritual temple” as opposed to the actual physical Temple in Jerusalem.  So there were synagogues in all the towns and cities of the Roman empire. The priest became rabbi (cf. Mark 1:21).

This kept Judaism alive in all the diaspora.  There were two distinctives:

  1. Calendar – Sabbath and Feast days (The Greeks and Romans did not have a weekend in their calendar)
  2. Diet – kosher diet

Also, many Gentiles began to enter Judaism. For example, Cornelius in Acts 10:1-2. It was first to these synagogues that the apostles went with the Message (cf. Acts 17:1-4).

“In those days…”

Someone has said: A miracle is an event with precise timing that brings glory to God. This was part of the miracle of Christmas. “In those days…”

Our whole lives are made up of a series of miracles, from arrival to leaving this world. God is still orchestrating all the events of the world and in our individual lives—for His Glory and our good.

As Romans 8:28 says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”

“In His time, in His time,
He makes all things beautiful, in His time
 
Lord, please show me every day,
As You’re teaching me Your way,
That You do just what You say, in Your time.
 
In Your time, in Your time,
You make all things beautiful, in Your time.
Lord, my life to You I bring,
May each song I have to sing,
Be to You a lovely thing, in Your time.”
.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

The second appearing of the Lord will also be with exact timing. As Matthew 24:36 says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

What is God doing with precise timing in your life today?

Colossians 1:9 should be our prayer: that God would fill us with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

May we all have confidence in the Lord’s good timing this Christmas. As God did long ago—He makes all things beautiful in His time!

Amy, my missionary daughter, has had to wait for a visa and I have had to tell her repeatedly, you need to be patient, this is often the hardest thing for missionaries to do—be patient and wait for the Lord.

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps. 46:10).

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:8-9).

“In those days…” shows us our days are in God’s hands. And God is faithful.

Notes

[1] See Matt. 1:18-19 for Mary and Joseph, Matt. 2:1 for King Herod, Luke 1:5 for Zechariah and Elizabeth, Luke 2:1 for Caesar Augustus, Luke 2:8 for the shepherds in the field, Luke 2:25 for Simeon, Luke 2:36 for Anna, and Luke 3:1-2 for John the Baptist.

[2] Romans was wrote in precise Greek language and logic.

[3] Aristotle was born near Thessalonica (384-322BC). He was the tutor of Alexander the Great. What bearing does this have on Acts 17:11? Also, note: Very little of Aristotle’s writings remain yet no one doubts the authenticity of his work. Yet many doubt the Scriptures?!

[4] The apostles went to the Jews first (see Acts 17:1-4).

*Photo by Ivana Cajina

How can we keep from canceling Christ?

How can we keep from canceling Christ?

I do not think we will be challenged to cancel or deny the deity of Christ. As in the example of Peter on the night of Jesus’s trial. But I do think the time is coming soon when we will be coerced to celebrate and approve of the LGBT perversion. According to Romans chapter 1, this will be the issue that will become the point of the spear. The Bible is now considered hate speech in many circles.

So, to believers what is the big issue regarding “canceling Christ”?

I think we fail to “deny” ourselves. And, in that way we are canceling Christ. We are trying to cancel out the fact that He is the Lord.

Where do we believers tend to deny Christ every day?

I start with Matthew 6:33: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need” (NLT used in these thoughts). When we seek our own kingdom above the Kingdom of God we are denying or canceling Christ.

Also, Matthew 16:24: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow Me.’” I feel this is the hardest statement Jesus made. This is the hardest directive for us as believers to follow. We are to deny ourselves and our selfish desires and sacrifice those desires and follow the Lord. In not denying ourselves we “cancel” Christ.

Paul said we need to follow Christ in Romans 12:1, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him.”

To not deny ourselves is to deny the claims of Christ—cancel Christ. To deny ourselves is the daily battle we face. This is a greater battle than any challenges coming from society. When we can die to self we will have no problem standing for Christ in the public square.

The New Testament is clear in regard to self-denial (and suffering). It is also often named self-control. As in the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love… and self-control…”

We actually do not want self-control, we desire Spirit control. When we fail to yield to the Spirit in our lives and put our own desires first, we are canceling Christ.

Paul said, “I die daily.” We too should consider ourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11). When we fail to die to self we are canceling Christ. Denying or canceling Christ is a matter of continual dying to self and our desires and being obedient to the Spirit.

How can we keep from canceling Christ?

We’ll be willing to die for Christ if we die to ourselves daily. So, we daily deny ourselves—cancel our sinful and selfish desires—and serve Christ. That’s how we position ourselves to never cancel Christ.

Strangers

Stranger
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
 
What is the greatest problem I’ve had being a missionary? It hasn’t been:
  • The language – even though we have learned one National language and one tribal language and function in a third area trade language and deal with 3 other tribal languages.
  • The bugs – even though when people ask about the most dangerous animals we have, I reply – mosquitoes, ameba, thyroid, and other assorted microbes.  The Lord has been very good to us and our kids, He has, I know, protected us from many things we were not aware of.
  • The snakes –  I saw more snakes growing up in Eastern Oklahoma.  We see some big snakes on occasion. I have seen 20ft snakes and eaten them. I have been face to face with a king cobra.
  • The rivers – we travel by river, not road. And in the beginning, made some unplanned swims in the river.
  • The mountains – we are thankful for missionary pilots that fly us over the mountains.
  • The heat – this is a much bigger issue and seems to be affecting us more as we go along.  But we have fans that help.

What I’m talking about is something that is more basic than just physical comforts. It has to do with relationships and our reason for being in a 3rd world tropical environment. The most difficult thing has been that we are always strangers/foreigners. I am always too tall, and too white. I don’t always talk and think like the natives.  

Now I don’t even think like the natives in the US. I am a stranger in America. I’m a river boat man. We travel by boat, I marvel at all the boats on the lakes here. I can’t understand why people would have boats like this to just use a couple of times a year, and they are not even going anywhere but in circles. It seems strange to me.
 
I have a problem when I come to the US. I am now a stranger. I feel it every time I come back.  Now my daughter shows her old Daddy how to use the credit card at the gas pump and at the check out in Wal-Mart. I have a problem every time I start driving in the US. Every time I have the green light and start through the intersection and have an approaching car – I pause to make sure the approaching car will stop.
 
We don’t have stop signs where I come from and folks don’t always stop for red lights where we come from. Teresa and I are strangers in this country. I feel like I am always trying to find my way around in traffic – always driving in a strange place and new roads. I need patience. Now I don’t always understand the words people use.
 
Is this wrong or sinful to feel like a stranger? No! I think the opposite is true. If we feel at home in this world we have an ungodly and non-Biblical worldview. I know that is strong language, but we have some things in Scripture to back this up. In a godly and Biblical sense, we should feel like strangers in this world. If we feel at home in this world we shouldn’t. This is not our home we are just passing through.
 
Heaven should be the home that we long for. I appreciate Don Wyrtzen’s song, “Finally Home”:
“Just think of stepping on shore, and finding it heaven
Of touching a hand, and finding it God’s
Of breathing new air, and finding it celestial
Of waking up in Glory, and finding it ‘Home'”
That’s what I long for, to finally go home.
 
We often joke about the fact that in the Rapture there will be no packing and houses to close up, no kerosene fridges to shut down, no luggage to pack, list to make, nothing to forget,   nothing to move and check-in, no passports or visas, no security checks, or immigration points!  Nothing – just home, home at last.
 
Let’s think about some other folks that were strangers.
    1. Abraham was an alien and even had to buy a site to bury his wife Sarah. By faith Abraham was a stranger – by faith he saw his real home (Gen. 12:1; 23:4; Heb 11:8-10,13-16).
 
    2. Moses was a stranger all his life. An alien Hebrew in an Egyptian court for 40 years. A refugee in Midian for 40 years. A transient in the Sinai for 40 years. Yet he wrote of his dwelling place in Psalm 90:1: “Lord you have been my dwelling place throughout all generations.” This is a Godly attitude.
 
    3. John the Baptist was the original nonconformist, he marched to a different drummer, saw a different world.  He was the original nonconformist, a genuine free thinker. He adhered to Romans 12:2 which says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” (cf. Matt. 3:4-6; Lk. 7:28). Our home as Christians, after all, is heaven, not this world. We are not going to live forever in this world.
 
    4. Jesus was a stranger in this world. Jesus said in Matthew 8:20-21, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Having no “nest” is the cost of following Jesus (from my experience, our “nesting instinct” is one of the biggest hindrances to mission work).
 
    5. Paul the apostle shows us that being homeless on this earth is part of the job of an apostle (1 Cor. 4:11). He also reminds us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:16-18).
 
The majority of the world thinks that the visible is the most important thing. Money, a house, a car, land, a job, a position, recognition–all the things, the visible things, the world considers important. If we genuinely believe that the invisible is eternal, we will be a stranger in this world.
 
I am a stranger in this world because I believe the invisible is more important than the visible. “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).
 
    6. Peter says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11-12). Peter says we are strangers and should behave as such.
 
    7. James is very clear on this subject, as is typical for James. James 4:4 says: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (see also Jn. 17:14-16; Rom. 8:7; 1 Jn. 2:15).
 
Samuel Rutherford said, “If we were not strangers here the hounds of the world would not bark at us.” When I was growing up everybody had hounds that ran loose around the yard and would bark at strangers. How many of you remember that? Nowadays they have to be tied up. But those same hounds would not bark at us kids when we would come home but would come running for a pat or a scratch.
 
The world is threatened by us. We are of another world. They bark at us because we threaten their sinful desires and lifestyles. As John 3:20 says, “Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” We are to be in the world but not of the world (see 1 Cor 5:10). We are to be a boat or ship on the water but not have the water in the boat.
 
I am a poor wayfaring stranger – this world is not my home. I’m just a pass’en through. So we don’t lose heart (2 Cor. 4:16-18), we continue to labor (1 Cor. 15:58) because we know an eternal reward is coming (Matt. 10:40-42; 19:28-30)! In fact, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
 
So, keep in mind everything is either a tool or an idol. And everything is going to burn.
 
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (Jn. 15:18)
 
“For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).
 
You can play this song at my funeral: “Wayfaring Stranger.

Joseph

Joseph

“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 NIV).

Joseph is a hero of the Christmas story. Generally, at this time of year, we hear about Mary, angels, donkeys, etc. But we rarely talk about a real hero of the birth of Christ. Without Joseph, Mary would have been an outcast and unwed mother. Baby Jesus would have been a victim of a jealous king’s rage. It is not recorded that Joseph says anything, but he does a lot. He does not sing a magnificent. He does not preach or prophesy. He just immediately does what he is told to do. No questions or objections. He just does it.

In Matthew chapter 1 we read that Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy. How he learns this news we are not told. From Jewish traditions, we learn that he would have had limited personal contact with Mary at this time of their engagement. So, he most likely would have learned from the village gossip machine. He did not want to embarrass Mary but probably in profound disappointment was going to divorce her.

Then he had a dream and heard an angel telling him the meaning of this pregnancy. This must have been quite a dream. Because Joseph did not hesitate, did not argue, did not ask for further clarification. He did not wait to see what else would happen. He did not put out a fleece. He did not ask for money. It says he woke up and “did” as the angel commanded.   He just did it.

Joseph was a man of extraordinary self-discipline. He took Mary to his house and lived with her but did not have sexual relations with her. He was a man of inner strength. An example we desperately need in this day and age of promiscuity and weak men. He was not a man without normal sexual urges as Roman Catholic traditions have us believe. We read later that he and Mary had other children.[1] In fact, we read in Matthew 13:56 there were 4 brothers and some sisters (all his sisters – plural) so this would make a minimum of 6 children besides Jesus (some traditions put the number at 10). After Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had a normal husband/wife relationship, but not before Jesus was born. The text does not state why Joseph did this but evidently, he understood from the dream that he was to exercise this self-discipline. Joseph was a strong man, strong on the inside and strong on the outside.

Matthew 13 also states that Joseph was a carpenter. This was in the days before sawmills and power equipment. No chainsaws, no table saws, no electric planers, no square straight lumber from the store. Probably just an ax and a soot line. In those days if you made something of wood, you went to the woods with an ax and cut the tree down and hewed the object from a round log.   I have lived with people that make boats, and boards from round logs with an ax from standing trees. I have gone with men that make lumber from round trees with just an ax. To hew with an ax all day long makes for tough men – rawhide tough men.

Then when the object has been “roughed out” in the woods, it has to be carried home – no trucks or tractors or forklifts. He put timbers on his shoulder and carried them home. I have known men and boys like this who carry their own weight for long distances – day after day. These are rawhide tough men and in my mind’s eye, I see Joseph as one of these men.

Read More…

In the shelter of the Most High

Sunday morning in church we were looking at Luke chapter one and my attention was drawn to verse 35.  The angel said to Mary, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”1

This phrase brings us to Psalm 91 verse 1: “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. “

If we go on and read the entire Psalm.  We have some serious food for thought regarding the present situation we are in regarding COVID.

“For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease” (v. 3).

“Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness” (v. 6).

“No plague will come near your home” (v. 10).

“The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me” (v. 14).

There are many other promises in this powerful Psalm but the one regarding disease and plague stands out. These promises are contingent on sheltering in the shadow of the Almighty.

So does this mean no true believers in the Almighty will get COVID?  We know this is not true.  Many believers have contracted COVID and been healed—100% recovery rate.  Some recovered on this planet in this time and space and others are now experiencing the ultimate recovery and healing—instant healing—in eternity.  In thinking of a friend with COVID, he will be healed; it is a confirmed fact, one way or the other he will be healed. The Almighty has said so—Psalm 91 ends with the final and ultimate shelter: “and give them my salvation”.

So what does it mean to shelter in the shadow of the Almighty? To me sheltering in the shadow of the Almighty means being always conscious of God’s presence and “shadow” around me.  He is always there and by faith, I see His shadow.  He has said, “I will never live you nor forsake you.”

Isaiah put it this way, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God in the eternal Rock” (Is. 26:3-4).

To abide in the shadow of the Almighty means to have our heart, minds, and faith fixed, fastened securely to the promises of the Almighty.  Not fixed ultimately on medical science, our insurance policy, the government, our diet and health regiment, a vaccine,  but fixed on the Almighty.

My prayer for all of us this season will be that we are sheltering under the Almighty—not mainly sheltering in place but under the shadow of the Almighty.

1 Using the New Living Translation for all of this.

 

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