In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 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, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Luke 2:1–5
Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5:2 shows); 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!
Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of seven billion people, where all the news is about big political and economic and social movements and outstanding people with global significance and lots of power and prestige?
If you have, don’t let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake, but for the sake of God’s little people — the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to fulfill his word and bless his children.
Do not think, because you experience adversity in your little world of experience, that the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity or our fame but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart. And to that end, he rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” And he is always turning it for his saving and sanctifying and eternal purposes among his people.
He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors and chiefs of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ — and then enter his eternal glory.
By John Piper
Then a servant girl saw him as he sat near the fire, and gazed at him, and said, “This man was with Him.” But he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” Peter said, “Man, I am not!” About an hour later another man firmly declared, “Certainly, this man also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying.” Immediately, while he was yet speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And Peter went outside and wept bitterly.
– Luke 22:56-62
One of the most challenging things in life is learning to read people. We’ve all had people who completely surprised us. In Jesus’ life there were people constantly seeking to get closer to Him and enjoy a more intimate relationship with Him. Jesus was not paranoid, trusting no one. Neither was He naïve, trusting everyone.
Instead, Jesus was wise and discerning. His wise discernment was possible by the Holy Spirit who knew everything about everyone. For this reason, even though Judas and Peter failed, Jesus restored Peter to friendship and ministry but sent Judas away. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, Jesus knew what was in each man’s heart and knew who to walk with and who to walk away from.
The difference between Judas and Peter is the difference between covert and overt. Judas was covert. His sinful scheming and plotting were secretive, hidden, and deceptive. For the entirety of his three years with Jesus, he stole money and plotted against Jesus.
Outwardly one would never know this. He hid who he really was from everyone except Jesus who alone knew his heart. Lots of people are like Judas—they can steal money from their bosses, cheat on their spouses, use church membership solely as a means to appear pious in public, and have no heart for the Lord. Covert people are incredibly difficult to have a relationship with because you never know them, and they only use you.
Peter, however, was overt. He could not keep his mouth shut, and as a result, you always knew what he was thinking, feeling, and doing. He would boss Jesus around, grab a sword and cut someone’s ear off, and seemed utterly incapable of hiding his inner life.
Some people are like Peter. They want to get it all out, put all their cards on the table, and just tell you up front who they are, what they think, and what they are doing. Overt people can be blindsided by covert people. They simply cannot understand how someone could lie, hide, cheat, steal, and conceal who they truly are throughout life. Covert people often take advantage of overt people since overt people assume they agree unless they say otherwise and have no idea there is a problem unless something is said.
By Mark Driscoll
Who is your best friend? Who is the person who has stuck with you through the rough times and celebrated with you in the good times—the one person you trust more than anyone else?
Jesus and His disciple John had a loving relationship that was basically a best friendship. In fact, John is referred to on five occasions as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20).
Arguably, no one knew Jesus as well as John did. Not only were they close friends, but John was also only one of three disciples whom Jesus chose to be a part of His inner circle. Peter, James, and John had unique access to Jesus when the others did not. Subsequently, they were present for the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5, Luke 8), Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9), and they saw Jesus sweating drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). These were moments in Jesus’ life and ministry when no one else was present as an eyewitness.
At the Last Supper, John sat at Jesus’ side and asked who the betrayer of our Lord would be (John 13:23–25). While hanging on the cross to atone for the sin of the world, Jesus looked down at His devastated mother, Mary, and asked John to care for her upon His death (John 19:26–27). That scene pretty much tells us everything we need to know about Jesus. The person who you assign to lovingly care for your mother as you are dying is the person you trust the most.
John was the first man to arrive at the empty tomb (John 20:1–10) and to recognize Jesus had risen from death (John 21:4–7). John was even gazing into heaven as his best friend, Jesus, ascended to His eternal throne (Acts 1:1–11).
What we learn from John is how to be a good friend to Jesus. The life of John should cause us to ask ourselves what kind of friend are we to Jesus? Can He depend on you to follow through with things He asks you to do? This year, what specific things can you do to improve your friendship with Jesus Christ (e.g., Bible reading, prayer, worship, church participation, following through on your commitments, etc.)?
by Mark Driscoll
“Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2: 13–14).
Undoubtedly, we tend to put a heavy emphasis on the lowly circumstances of Jesus’ birth when we retell the Christmas story each year. Certainly this is appropriate, for the Son of God humbled Himself profoundly when He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:5–8). Christ’s entire life was marked by humiliation, as He moved from a manger in Bethlehem to life as a common person in Nazareth to His ignoble death on the cross. Yet this humiliation led finally to glory. God the Father, because Jesus had been faithful to His mission, exalted Jesus and “bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Luke 2: 9–11).
Our Savior’s glory was veiled by human flesh in His incarnation, and it remained hidden throughout much of His ministry. Yet there were points in our Savior’s life when His glory shone temporarily through the veil. The best example of this is the transfiguration, the moment when Peter, James, and John were granted a vision of the Lord’s glory as it shone through the flesh of the Savior (Matt. 17:1–13). Furthermore, this glory also shone brightly at times when the people might not have been expecting it. In the midst of the humbling conditions of our Lord’s birth (poverty, being unable to find shelter in Bethlehem), there was a special manifestation of the Messiah’s glory to people nearby. The account of this manifestation is found in today’s passage.
While Mary and Joseph tended to their son, many shepherds were nearby tending their flocks (Luke 2:8). In those days, shepherds occupied the bottom rung of society’s ladder, and the average citizen of Judea wanted little to do with these keepers of sheep. No one could have predicted that the first people to hear of Jesus outside of His parents would be a motley crew of shepherds. Nevertheless, an angel of the Lord appeared to these men, who got to watch the greatest sound-and-light show of all time (Luke 2:8–9).
Understandably, the shepherds were afraid, but in this case the glory of the Lord’s presence, which they could otherwise not endure, was a good thing. This was the announcement of the Savior, the One who had come to redeem even society’s outcasts. So, after the angels sang their praises to the Lord, the shepherds hastily traveled into Bethlehem to see the wonderful gift the Father had given to His people.
The shepherds were eager to see the Savior of the world, and we should be eager to see Him as well. This involves not only coming to Him in our conversions but also seeking His face each and every day of our lives. Though we will not see the fullness of His glory until we see Him face to face in heaven, we will nonetheless come to a fuller appreciation of this glory as we study His Word and pray to Him. Let us be diligent in these means of grace.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. (Luke 1:46-56)
Unmarried. Poor. Young. Pregnant. Mary has a lot to worry about.
Rather than worrying, however, we find her worshiping in Luke 1:46–55. Mary belts out a beautiful, spontaneous, anointed, worshipful song in response to God’s goodness and long-awaited provision. Worship encompasses all of life, but it most assuredly includes singing. Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
What she’s saying is that deep down, from a heart made new by the grace of God, she wants to worship the Lord. Her life may be uncertain, but she wants God to be honored and glorified because He is good even when times are hard. Her spirit and the Holy Spirit intersect to honor Jesus—the son in her womb—that God the Father might get praise.
Her song continues, and we see more of Mary’s heart. Like all of us, she is an image-bearer of God, made to mirror God. She reflects Him beautifully in her song, which highlights the love, truth, compassion, justice, selflessness, and humility of God.
Mary is a theologically astute teenage worshiper. Her lyrics are saturated with biblical language drawn from 1 and 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy, Job, the Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah—all of this despite the fact that it would have been very unusual for a woman of her age and upbringing to be formally educated. Perhaps she heard the Scriptures read to her in synagogue each Sabbath and committed them to memory. In any case, she has chosen to live her life top-down: She trusts the Scriptures, she understands who God is, and she lives her life in light of that reality in the most difficult of circumstances.
What worries or stresses do your mind drift toward throughout the day? How can you worship God and fight for joy in these moments?
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