Mark Fox December 12, 2023

Jesus Was Born in Bethlehem

Micah the prophet told the Old Testament folks about a New Testament truth hundreds of years in advance. I love what John Piper wrote about this: “Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem, as Micah’s prophecy foretold, and that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah’s mother and legal father were living not in Bethlehem but in Nazareth; and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two unheard-of, insignificant, little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town? A decree for the entire world in order to move two people seventy miles!”

Joseph must have understood something extraordinary was going on. I mean, an angel told him that Mary’s baby, which was not his, would save the people from their sins. But did Joseph understand that this meant he needed to make sure they were in Bethlehem for the birth? There’s no indication that he did, no record of him asking Mary to get packed and ready to go. We have to be in Bethlehem before this baby is born! No. God used Caesar to move them to Bethlehem. Solomon wrote, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” But some may ask, why did they need to have the baby in Bethlehem? Luke explains it in his gospel: “And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.”

Joseph may not have understood this, and the wise men did not know for sure either. They came from the east and into Jerusalem, asking everyone they saw, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” The “king” of the Jews, umm, Herod, heard this and he was troubled and so was everyone else in the city. Can you imagine something like that today? Wise men from the east walking through Washington D.C. asking everyone, “Where is he who has been born President of the United States?” Well, when Herod heard what the wise men were asking, he called for the chief priests and the scribes. He knew they would know. And they did. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,” and then quoted Micah’s prophecy to the king. I don’t want to get too far off the point here, but isn’t it mind-boggling that the chief priests and the scribes and Herod himself knew that there were magi in town looking for a baby that was going to be born in Bethlehem, (a king!), and not a single one of them went over there to find out if it were true? Not one. We talk every year about the very few people who showed up to see the Christ in Bethlehem. The shocking truth that God chose poor shepherds to be the first eyewitnesses to the greatest birth in history. But there’s also the shocking and sad truth that the powerful and the rich and the well-educated and the religious did not even bother to see what the fuss was about. And that’s still true for the most part, today. Ok, back to the story. Who else knew where Jesus was?

The angel of the Lord knew and showed up in the night sky on a Bethlehem hillside to proclaim the good news to shepherds and scared them to death. So he started his message to these guys with, “Fear not!” (Hey, guys, it’s ok, don’t be afraid…guys? Come out from behind the sheep for a sec..) “For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The Christ, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, had to be born in the city of David, the shepherd of Israel.

God used prophets of old to tell the people of old the good news that they would never see come to pass. Abraham and Jacob never saw it. Isaiah never saw it. Nor did Micah. They could only imagine it, dream about it, and look forward to the time that they were with God and finally know and understand the perfect plan he put into place for our salvation. What a glorious gift we have been given, to know what was prophesied in the old and what was brought to pass in the new. What a Christmas gift!

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Mark Fox December 12, 2023
Mark Fox December 3, 2023

Feel Free to Share this Secret

Jason Lehman, at 14 years in 1989, expressed a common problem well in his poem, “Present Tense”.

It was spring, but it was summer I wanted,
the warm days, and the great outdoors.
It was summer, but it was fall I wanted,
the colorful leaves, and the cool, dry air.
It was autumn, but it was winter I wanted,
the beautiful snow, and the joy of the holiday season.
I was a child, but it was adulthood I wanted,
the freedom, and the respect.
I was twenty, but it was thirty I wanted,
to be mature, and sophisticated.
I was middle-aged, but it was thirty I wanted,
the youth, and the free spirit.
I was retired, but it was middle-age that I wanted,
the presence of mind, without limitations.
My life was over,
but I never got what I wanted.

I don’t know the secret to the changing seasons. I don’t know the secret to a long life. I don’t know the secret to keeping a clear complexion, or keeping my hair from turning gray or turning loose. I don’t know the secret to avoiding the common cold in the winter. Those would be nice secrets to unlock, and I would be happy to share the answers with you if I stumbled upon them. But can I tell you a secret? This one is huge, and makes long life, hairiness, clear skin, and healthy sinuses seem trivial in comparison. It is particularly appropriate to learn this secret during this season of the year, as we bask in our recent thankfulness and approach a time of giving and receiving gifts at Christmas. OK, here it is:

I am learning the secret of contentment. I am not able to say with Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” No, I am still learning. But what Paul said was no glib statement from a man in a chaise lounge on the deck of a cruise ship, sipping a lemonade and reading Grisham. Contentment in any circumstance for the Apostle Paul included having his back laid open with a whip more than once, being stoned and left for dead, being shipwrecked, and sitting in a Roman prison awaiting trial and possible execution. He says, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Whether he had a full belly or not, whether he had just been beaten or just been welcomed to a warm home, Paul was content. It stands to reason that Paul didn’t fret about losing his hair, or his complexion, or even his life! He had found the secret of contentment.

The secret of contentment is found in joyful submission to Christ. It is realized as we grow in our trust that He does all things for our good. We can trust Him when there is plenty, and we can trust Him when there is nothing at all. Whether he was sleeping on the stone floor of a dungeon or in a comfortable bed, Paul’s life was in God’s hands, and he knew it. He kept himself under God, accepting with joy everything God brought his way, instead of putting himself over God by expecting or even demanding a quieter, easier, more prosperous and enjoyable life. Those who do not know Christ have what they have simply from God’s general providence. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, as the Bible says. Jeremiah Burroughs writes, “But the saints have (what they have) in a special way. The saint says, ‘I have it, and I have a sanctified use of it, too; God goes along with what I have to draw my heart nearer to him and sanctify my heart to him.’” There it is. The secret of contentment is found in trusting God for each moment of each day, that what He gives is for our good and for His glory.

This is a secret too good to keep to yourself. Pass it on!

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Mark Fox December 3, 2023