Sheep in the Stable

Today we will continue our study of the animals surrounding Jesus at His birth. We know the characters. Let’s get to know the animals better. We may discover that we have personality traits similar to the characteristics of the animals.

Luke 2:7 says, “And she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. People in Bethlehem did not provide a place where Jesus could be born. However, the animals welcomed Him into their shelter. It may have been a little stinky but I don’t think that bothered Jesus.

As I gaze upon our nativity scene, I pick up a little lamb. I also pick up the figure of baby Jesus, the Lamb of God.

In John 1:29, John the Baptist proclaims, Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John not only gave Jesus a title but defined His purpose. Jesus was born, probably among lambs, in order to provide salvation for people. He would die for the salvation of the people who would not provide Him a warm, clean place to be born. I think Jesus, as the Lamb of God, would have been very comfortable among some four-legged creatures who were snuggled down for the night in a cozy barn.

The lambs and sheep surrounding Jesus at His birth, symbolize us. Jesus came to earth and was born in a stable to offer us eternal life. We cannot forget the words of John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.We need the Lamb of God.

Sheep are rather dumb animals. No other livestock requires more handling and detailed direction than sheep. We will have to admit that we can act and react in some not so brilliant ways. At times, we can be stubborn and dumb like sheep. If we had lived over 2000 years ago, we may have been like the innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph. Today, do we have room in our hearts for Him?

Isiah 56:3 states, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.We are sheep. Jesus is the Lamb who came for His sheep. I Peter 1:19 says we are redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Jesus says in John 10:27-28, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.

If we are part of the Lord’s sheep fold, we can personalize Psalm 23. We are privileged to have the Lord be our Shepherd, We can be confident that we shall not want for provision. We know we will lie down in green pastures and be led by still waters. The Lord assures us He will restore our souls and guide us in paths of righteousness. He does it for His name’s sake. Even though we may walk through valleys and shadows, we are told that we do not need to fear evil because He promises to be with us. He prepares us a table even if we are surrounded by enemies. He will anoint our heads with oil. Our cups will overflow. We have the blessing of knowing goodness. Mercy will be available  and we will always dwell in the house of the Lord.

I now place a couple of little lamb figures in our nativity scene. I put one close to the feet of Jesus. This little lamb represents those of us who have a personal relationship with Jesus. We desire to sit at His feet and learn from Him. We want to hear His voice and follow Him as our Shepherd. I place another lamb further back in the stable. This one may symbolize the one lost sheep that Jesus talks about in the parable of the lost sheep. (see Matthew 18:10-14) Jesus desires to bring this little lamb into His fold.

During this Advent season, I encourage you to carefully examine your life and determine your location in the manger scene. Do you truly believe He is the Lamb of God? Is He your Shepherd? Do you hear His voice? Have you invited Him to be born in your heart? Is there room in your life’s inn for Him?

 

A Donkey in the Stable

Advent has begun. It is time for me to get out Christmas decorations. The first thing I set up is our nativity scene. I lovingly hold each figure as I place it in the stable. Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph, take center stage. Rightfully so. However, my attention is drawn to the animals.

No scripture mentions the animals being in the barn. However, we know Jesus was born in a stable. A stable was the home of animals. They had to have been there! It was the animals who were willing to share their abode with Jesus because there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn.

Luke 2:7 NKJV says, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

During the coming weeks of Advent, we will carefully look at the various animals who surrounded Jesus at His birth. We will think about the nature of each animal and meditate upon their symbolism.

Our first focus is upon the donkey. After all, it was a donkey that brought the star character to the scene. While Jesus was still being cradled in his mother’s womb, he traveled upon a donkey to where he would be born. Without the donkey, there would not have been a baby born in Bethlehem’s manger. There would not have been a reason for a star to shine above the stable. It all depended upon the donkey. This animal was the mode of transportation for the fulfillment of the prophecy recorded in Micah 5:2. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

A donkey is a cross between horse and mule. It is a lowly animal. Mary and Joseph were also of lowly status. In the Magnificat, Mary described herself as being in the humble state of a servant. (Luke 1:48) Joseph was a carpenter. He was not wealthy nor a man of political status. When people learned that Mary was pregnant and unwed, she was looked down upon.

Lowliness is humility. On two occasions, Jesus and a donkey shared humility. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He traveled to Bethlehem upon a donkey while still in Mary’s womb. Jesus died in Jerusalem. He arrived in Jerusalem riding upon a donkey where He was tried and crucified.

Philippians 2:5-11 describes the mind of Christ exhibited by Jesus while He lived on earth. Verses 7-8 say, “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.

I believe the lowly donkey sets an example for us.
Proverbs 16:19 declares, “It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Philippians 2:3-4 encourages us to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (my emphasis)

I place the donkey near Mary, Joseph and Jesus in our nativity scene. As a lowly animal, the donkey symbolically reminds me of humility. Colossians 3:12 is a good scripture for us to strive to fulfill during this season of preparation for Christmas. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Fear Not, Shepherds

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid;
for behold, I bring you good news of great joy
which will be for all the people;
Luke 2:10

Fear not! Fear not! Fear not! Fear not! This is the fourth week we have heard these words. We need to be reminded to not be afraid numerous times throughout our lives. It is easy for us to be overcome by fear. However, God wants us to replace fear with faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In the natural, we tend to become fearful of something we cannot see or understand. We feel anxious and uneasy. However, God wants us to trust Him regarding unseen things. He desires our respect and reverence.

Over the past few weeks, we have observed the evidence of God’s faithfulness to Zechariah, Mary and Joseph. They did not need to fear. Today we will study our final example – the shepherds.

It was dark. It was night. Shepherds were taking care of their sheep. Suddenly, the light of the glory of the Lord shone around them. Darkness disappeared and angels appeared. An angel spoke, “Do not be afraid.” The angel continued to tell the shepherds good news – the Savior of the world had been born.

So much for the shepherds to think about! I would like to have heard their conversation after encountering the angel. We only know that they decided to go see this newborn baby. (see Luke 2:16) Upon their arrival, the shepherds discovered that the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6 was fulfilled before their eyes, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” What a wonderful experience they encountered because they were not afraid!

The shepherds did not let fear prevent them from going to see Jesus. Neither should we allow fear to hinder us from developing a personal relationship with Jesus. Deuteronomy 31:8 tells us, “The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

During the time the shepherds traveled from their flocks to Jesus, they exchanged scared fear for sacred fear. We, too, must let go of our terrifying fear and grasp hold of reverential fear. Proverbs 3:7 warns, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD.” Psalm 34:9 exhorts us, “Fear the LORD, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing.

Psalm 103:11 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.” The heavens reveal the vastness of God love. While watching their sheep this particular night, the shepherds saw angels in addition to stars in the sky. The angels may have caused them to be fearful but God’s love helped them overcome their anxiety. Sacred fear is more powerful than scared fear. Psalm 103:17 gives us an awesome promise, “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children.

John Bevere explains that moving from fear to faith (reverential fear) involves an inner transformation of the heart. He goes on to say, “Holy fear gives God the place of glory, honor, reverence, thanksgiving, praise, and preeminence He deserves.” David asks in Psalm 56:1 NLT,I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?We will deny God what He deserves if we focus upon being afraid of what mankind can do.

After seeing baby Jesus, Luke 2:20 NLT says, “The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” Their joy overflowed. When the shepherds refused to yield to emotional fear, they experienced reverential fear. Psalm 128:1 NLT declares, How joyful are those who fear the LORD–all who follow his ways! Now it is our turn to decide whether we will act out of fear or in faith. Psalm 145:3 NLT says, “Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness.”

In just a few days we will celebrate Christmas. Let us exchange fear for fear. Celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord with reverential awe and adoration. He is Emmanuel – God with us! Psalm 147:11 says, “The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”

Fear Not, Joseph

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,
because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:20

 

We are now in our third week of Advent – preparing our hearts and homes for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Joseph is the next Christmas character we will consider who faced fear.

Mary had broken the news to Joseph that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. He had to decide what he was going to do. Being a righteous man, he considered quietly divorcing Mary as his way of getting out of this predicament. God had other plans and He needed to get Joseph’s attention.

God spoke to Joseph a dream.

Let’s think a little more about dreams. The Lord says in Joel 2:28-29, I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.Chronologically, Joseph was a young man. However, I believe his spiritual maturity qualified him as an older man. Joseph’s dream was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. This prophecy was also fulfilled at Pentecost. (See Acts 2:17.) The Holy Spirit still speaks through dreams. Be alert. The Lord may choose to help you overcome fear through a dream.

God gave Joseph instructions through a dream – and he obeyed. Joseph’s obedience is a good example for us. Jesus says in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Since God could trust Joseph to hear and obey, He spoke to him three more times through dreams. Each time the Lord gave Joseph further guidance. There accounts are found in Matthew 2:1-12, Matthew 2:16-18 and Matthew 2:22. Joseph’s encounter with the Spirit of God was not a one time experience. The Holy Spirit also came upon the disciples more than once. Acts 13:62 NASB says, “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit wants to speak to us as well. And, He will speak to us numerous times!

Last week we emphasized that Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. This week we find Joseph was guided and instructed by the Holy Spirit. Both of them listened to the Spirit. Joseph was not fearful because he was not afraid of what God was doing.

Joseph entrusted Mary’s life as well as his own into the hands of God. Joseph felt no reason to fear the Spirit’s work – neither should we. Hebrews 13:5 NLT declares, “So we can say with confidence, ‘The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’”

Jesus tells us in John 14:16, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.Different translations use different words to describe the Holy Spirit – Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Helper. All these terms help us understand the role of the Holy Spirit.

God had a plan for Joseph. Joseph was an integral part of the birth of Jesus. God also has a plan for each of us. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” With this promise, we need not be afraid. We are simply to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Georgio A. Dano has said, “Fear ends where faith begins.”

Fear Not, Mary

 

Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her,
“for you have found favor with God!
Luke 1:30

Today we continue our Advent study of Christmas characters who were told not to be afraid. May we also be encouraged to discard fear from our lives. We must remember that these are real people who had genuine encounters with God. We are not just reading fictional stories.

Let us look closely at Mary.

One of the first things I notice about the scripture of Luke 1:30 is that the angel addressed Mary by name. God knew her name! He spoke personally to her.

The Lord says in Isaiah 43:1, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” God addressed Isaiah with these words. He spoke similar words to Mary approximately 700 years later. Now over 2000 years later, He still speaks these words. Place your name in the blanks and hear the Lord say, “________, don’t be afraid; I have called you by name. You are mine. ________, do not be afraid.”

What was happening for Mary before she heard God calling her name?

Mary lived in Galilee and was planning her marriage to Joseph. Suddenly there was a change in plans when an angel appeared. The first thing the angel told Mary was to not be afraid. However, being told not to fear, did not mean she would not encounter fear.

The angel gave Mary a revelation as well as a warning. She was told she would conceive a baby by the Holy Spirit. It would be scary for any unwed young woman to find out she was pregnant. But there was more for Mary to learn. Things got even scarier when she found out the conception would take place by the Holy Spirit. She could not comprehend how this could happen.

Mary needed to grasp that although she was in a scary situation, God was with her. She did not need to be afraid. Something good was coming – the birth of the Son of God and Son of man. Emmanuel, God with us, would be born through her body.

Mary did not have the scripture of II Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” These would have been comforting Mary. The are reassuring words for us today.

Although we may be told not to fear, it is not always easy to avoid fear. Fear often leads to worry. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The angel informed Mary that she had found favor with God. This meant He was pleased with her. He loved her. According to gotquestions.org, those who are favored of God know that God is with them and that nothing can happen to them apart from His good purpose. Romans 8:28 says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Those who receive God’s favor also have the assurance that the Lord is attentive when they walk through difficult times. According to Psalm 34:15, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry.” When we have the favor of the Lord, we rest in quiet confidence. Isaiah 30:15 NLT tells us, “In quietness and confidence is your strength.”

When Mary followed the Lord’s plan, His plans were fulfilled. Mary had been preparing for her marriage celebration to Joseph. It didn’t go exactly as she planned. However, she did not walk in fear. Mary set an example for us. We must not become fearful when everything does not go as we have planned. Let us be impregnated with Jesus and His ways. God’s plans may be different from ours. Matthew 6:34 says, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Fear Not, Zechariah

Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.
Luke 1:13

Do not fear” is a command given by God. Numerous people heard these words throughout scripture. God speaks similarly to us today. We must remember that these words are a command. They are not just a suggestion. It is interesting that God often follows this directive with a further revelation or interaction. When He requires us to do something, He helps us do it.

According to the Christian calendar, Advent will begin Sunday. This is a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. May we also use this period as a time of preparing our hearts to gain insight of how not to fear.

Between now and Christmas, we are going to look at four Christmas characters who were told to not be afraid. Today we begin with Zechariah.

While Zechariah was in the temple burning incense, an angel appeared to him. Luke 1:12 says, “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear.” I can’t blame him! An angel would startle anyone. There were two reasons for him not to be afraid. First, he was not to be fearful of this heavenly being’s appearance. Secondly, he was not to be afraid that God had not heard his prayers.

The angelic messenger told Zechariah that Elizabeth would finally have a child. According to verse 14, Zech and Liz would experience joy instead of fear.

We can be assured that God will also answer our prayers. Psalm 91:15, “He will call on Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.Calling is praying.

The Lord says in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Zechariah heard things he did not understand. He was not confident about what he was hearing. In Luke 1:18, Zechariah asked, “How can I be sure of this?” After questioning God, Zechariah was not able to speak until his son John was born.

During this time of silence, I assume that Zechariah’s fear was replaced with faith. He had a lot of time for quiet meditation. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” This verse applies to us as well as Zechariah. When we become anxious and fearful, let us be quiet and listen for the Lord. We must allow faith to overpower our fear.

Hebrews 11:1 NLT states, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” I also like the New King James translation which says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A note in the Spirit Filled Life Bible points out that this is not a definition of faith. This is a description of how faith works. Faith is the assurance of what God promises. Faith is being confident that God is constantly working behind the scenes in our lives even when we do not see any tangible evidence.

An anonymous quote says, “Faith allows things to happen. It is the power that comes from a fearless heart. And when a fearless heart believes, miracles happen.This was true for Zechariah. When he replaced the fear in his heart with faith, the miraculous birth of John the Baptist transpired with Zechariah and Elizabeth being the parents. God’s faithfulness was stronger than Zechariah’s fear.

Fear and faith cannot coexist. My Reader, may you not only hear God say to you, “Do not fear.” – also hear Him say, “Have faith.”

Jesus: Majestic, not Messy

In a few days, we will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior! My heart and our home are ready. Our house looks “Christmasy.” My attention continues to be drawn to our nativity. With the little lights of the stable twinkling and the infant Jesus in the spotlight, Christ is the center of our Christmas scene. Today I see Jesus – not the messy manger. What if there were cobwebs and straw piles along with some dung around the manger that night over 2000 years ago? My focus is on Jesus. He is the light and the life. Today I want to correlate several verses of the first chapter of Ephesians in the Living Letters translation with the birth of Jesus as recorded in Luke 2:7 NIV.

Now she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths,
and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7
NIV

When Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, was born, Mary used a cow’s feeding trough for a cradle. However, before she laid him on his bed, she tightly wrapped him in a clean blanket. What a discrepancy between the purity of the newborn baby and the messy manger!

Long ago before He made the world God chose us o be His very own,
through what Christ would do for us; He decided then to make us holy in His eyes,
without a single fault –
we who stand before him covered with His love.
Ephesians 1:4 LL

I focus on the highlighted portion of this verse. While thinking about Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths, I also picture myself swaddled in God’s love. All of us are privileged to be tightly wrapped in God’s perfect love even though we live in a world that appears to be like a messy manger.

Now all praise to God for His wonderful kindness to us and His favor that
He has poured out upon us because
we belong to His dearly loved Son.
Ephesians 1:6 LL

When Jesus was born, his cradle was a cow’s feeding trough. Thirty-three years later, he died on the cross creating the way for us to belong to Him. We no longer have to be controlled by the world’s mess. Jesus cleans up the messiness of our lives when He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. (See I John 1:9) As the emphasized words proclaim, we belong to Jesus, not the world’s messy manager.

And this was His purpose: that when the time is ripe He will gather us
all together from wherever we are – in heaven or on earth-
to be with Him – in Christ – forever.
Ephesians 1:10 LL

According to Matthew 1:23, Emmanuel was the name of the baby to be born of Mary and conceived by the Holy Spirit. Emmanuel means God with us. Emmanuel came to be with us at Christmas. Emmanuel will be with us forever! He is coming again to rescue us from the world’s messy manger. He will then take us to live with Him in the eternal city where He now resides in the throne room of God. (See Revelation 22:1-5) What a difference from the messy manger! Jesus says in Revelation 22:7, “Behold, I am coming soon!”

I pray for you constantly asking God the glorious Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you wisdom to
see clearly
and really understand who Christ is and all He has done.
Ephesians 1:17 LL

While gazing at the figure of baby Jesus in our nativity scene, I no longer see a messy manger. I  envision His majesty. He did not stay in a wooden cradle. He later died upon a wooden cross and rose again as the Savior of all who live in a messy world. Philippians 2:5-11 LL says, “Try to be like Jesus Christ Who, though He was God, did not demand and cling to His rights as God, but laid aside His mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled Himself even further, going so far as to actually die a criminal’s death on a cross. Yet it was because of this that God raised Him up in the heights of heaven and gave Him a Name which is above every other name, That at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, And every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In honor of the birth of Jesus, please join me in singing the first verse of Away In A Manger and the chorus of O Come All Ye Faithful.


Away in a manger, no crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!