Jesus Was Born! Where?

Let me ask you a very simple question Ð Where was Jesus born?

It is an academic question, and to answer the question you draw from knowledge stored away in your brain. You might have learned in Sunday school or at church that he was born in Bethlehem. Maybe you had a book of Christmas stories in your home, and one of your parents read you the story of Jesus the night when he was born. Or you could have learned that Jesus was born in Bethlehem from Philipps Brooks’ marvelous carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem.

While Bethlehem is a small town located about five miles south of Jerusalem, it is well known. With all of the fighting that goes on in that part of our world, Bethlehem has been involved. We have read in our newspapers that troops have invaded the little town and even taken up residence around the very place where Jesus was born.

In more peaceful times, travelers have visited the little town. I recall the day my wife and I stood in the Church of the Nativity. Our guide told us that this was the place where Mary gave birth to her child. It was an emotional experience for both of us. It is the place God chose to be the site of the incarnation.

Do you know what the incarnation is? It means that God came into this world and took on the form of a human being in the person of Jesus. He lived on earth thirty-three years, then he suffered and died as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Bethlehem is an important town for Christians. When we stood there, the words of God to Moses at the burning bush came to mind. This bush was on fire, but it did not burn. Moses became inquisitive and went over to the bush until God spoke and said, “Moses, Moses. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

At Bethlehem I believer we were standing on holy ground. It is the place where Jesus was born. We thank God many of us can still answer the first question Ð Where was Jesus born? But now comes a second question, and one that is much more personal. Its answer must come from your heart: Has Jesus been born in your heart?

The reason I ask this question is to clarify some confused thinking about the birth of Christ. It is very possible that He can be born in our heads and not in our hearts. We can know about Him, but not know him. It is true that many people know Jesus academically, but do not know him spiritually. The answer to the question regarding his birth comes from the head, not the heart.

There are many learned theologians who know a lot about Jesus. They have written books about him. They have lectured in some of the most prestigious universities, but still do not know him. Knowledge about Jesus does not make you a Christian. It is trusting him as your Savior and Lord that makes you a Christian and God’s redeemed child.

The years went by. We are told, though the Bible gives us little information, that Jesus spent the first thirty years in Nazareth where he worked in Joseph’s carpenter shop and led the family after Joseph’s death. At the age of thirty, he began his ministry. One of the first stories St. John tells us in his Gospel introduces us to a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. In their conversation Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again. Here Christ makes it clear that one is born again when Jesus lives in you. Christ meets us in his Word, we receive him as our Savior, and the new birth takes place.

Such teaching was a mystery to Nicodemus, who was a religious leader, but never heard such teaching. The Bible says it took Nicodemus three years to understand what the new birth was all about. We learn that when Jesus was being buried after his crucifixion, Nicodemus assisted in burying his Savior.

When President George W. Bush was asked in a televison interview to explain his rebirth, he answered well, “It is something you cannot explain. You have to experience it.”

This new birth, Jesus Christ being born in us, can take place in sundry ways. Some will answer, “I was born again when I was baptized. Being a Lutheran Christian, God entered into a covenant with me at that time. I would be His child, and he would be my Father.”

Obviously, as a baby only a few days old, I was not conscious of what had happened, but God did not stop at my baptism. He began to feed me through His Word, and faith began to grow. I can remember singing Away In a Manger as a child, and my parents reading me Christmas stories about Jesus’ birth. This was a part of growing up in the faith. Finally, when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, God spoke again through His Word. It was always through His Word. This time he clearly said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is who will bear much fruit, for apart from me Ð Homer Larsen Ð you can do nothing. This was my awakening.

He continues to walk with me, at eighty-one years of age. How often I sin against Him, but he forgives me. Continually His grace picks me up and strengthens me.

Others have another testimony. Christ has been born in their hearts. It came at a worship service, with a Christian friend, at a Bible camp or retreat, at college or university. It might have been through some heart-breaking experience, such as losing a spouse, parent, or good friend. Maybe it was in the midst of battle in Iraq. There comes the Lord. He never stops seeking us.

Now this rebirth could also take place on Christmas Day in 2005. Could it be that there is something stirring in your soul? Life hasn’t been right since your divorce. The children spent Christmas Eve with you and your family. Now, on Christmas Day, they are going to be with their father and his relatives. As the youngest one leaves, he looks into your face and says, “I wish we could have Christmas like we used to and be together.”

Doesn’t it make you want to call your ex and say, “We’ve got to talk. The Lord Jesus, who lives in my heart, is speaking to me through our children.” This could be the greatest Christmas you have had for years Ð home again at Christmas with the whole family.

Philipps Brooks writes:

O holy child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in,

Be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels

The great, glad tidings tell;

Oh, come to us, abide with us,

Our Lord Immanuel!

That was Brook’s prayer in this famous carol, and it is my prayer for all of us today.

Why Did He Come?

Experience tells us that we live in a biblically illiterate world. The Christian Church must not take for granted that most people know the basic truths of the Christian faith.

Today we ask the question, Why did He come? The Bible answers that question. The angel gave a clear answer when he said, “He will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). At thirty-three years of age Jesus said, “I came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Whether you believe this answer or not is not the point; it is what the Bible teaches. This is the message that is to be proclaimed by the Christian Church.

But who are the lost? I like what William Barclay says, “The best translation of the word Ôlost’ as used in Luke 19:10 is, being in the wrong place. We were created to live in fellowship with our Creator, who is our Father. He wanted that fellowship with us, but our sinfulness made this impossible until the sin was taken away. So He sent His Son, who died to pay the price for our sins and restore us INTO FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM. Jesus came to bring us back to the right place Ð a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

“I came to seek and to save the lost.” This is the Christmas Gospel as spoken by Jesus, not in Bethlehem as a babe, but in Jericho as a man, and around the world as the crucified and risen Christ to all people. In this Christmas week, this is the message spoken about him by Christians, because it is the message Jesus spoke about himself. He wants to put us in the right place, which is, in His Kingdom. This comes only by grace through faith in Christ.

The majority of people who hear this message do not understand its meaning, for they have never known him. In fact, some of them are trying to quiet the message, because it is offensive to them. Others who claim to know Him take a broader look at the message of the Christmas season and say, “Let’s not be so traditional in our Christian witness that we become offensive to our friends who do not accept Christ as presented by the Scriptures.”

This week I attended a meeting where, at this time of the year, the Christmas Gospel is the topic for discussion. But for many years now, we have found other topics such as the one last night Ð What’s happening in our city? Don’t get me wrong, it was a good meeting. I know the man who presented the paper. He is free to confess his faith in Jesus Christ. I would have loved to hear him present a paper on the topic, What Jesus Christ could do for our city if He were only accepted. He could have done it, and done it well. In fact, I believe the man would have preferred to address this subject. Well, if that is the case, why did we not give him the opportunity? We were afraid to be offensive to the unbeliever.

In this Christmas week, Christ comes to those who are lost, meaning those who are out of relationship with God, their Heavenly Father. Perhaps you have never known him as your Savior. Others might have known him as a child, but walked away. The Bible gives you a picture of yourself in Luke 15:15f. It is the story of the prodigal son. He is calling you to come home. That is why He came.

Who else in this crowd is spiritually out of place? Yes, it might be the person who is sitting in his or her prison cell, or the one awakening on Christmas morning with a hangover after celebrating all night with the old gang. Or you might be the agnostic who is so proud you cannot stoop to accept the mysteries of the Christmas Gospel. It was alright for your mom and dad who did not have a PhD, but not for you.

He still loves you. He is seeking you.

But there is another way that we can talk about the lost. We who are Christians experience this feeling of being lost also. This does not mean we are not God’s redeemed children. Our sins are forgiven, and we are assured of our heavenly home, but as Christians we often find ourselves walking away from our Lord. Christians? Yes! But in need of help from our Lord.

¥ When we have an unforgiving spirit, we have walked away, He is seeking us and wants us to get back in the right place.

¥ When we fail to tell people of the Savior in a loving way, He is concerned and wants to put us back in the right place as His witnesses.

¥ When we pick and choose what we accept in the Bible so it suits us in addressing social issues of the day Ð cohabitation, homosexual behavior, injustice, forgetting the poor and needy, greed, self-righteousness, and the list goes on Ð Jesus says, “You need help. You’re out of place.”

That’s why Jesus came.

Christmas can be such a fun time! You meet Christ through the words of the Prophets who wrote, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

The angels talk about Him and say, “He will save his people from their sins.”

Jesus himself says, “I came to seek and to save that which is lost.”

I pray this message may become very personal for each one of us, for then it is Christmas.

Who Is He?

As our world grows small through modern communication and transportation, we are brought into closer relationships with people of other religions and cultures. We are no longer an island unto ourselves. In this kind of world we need to make a defense for what we believe. The Bible says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15).

One of the questions we need to answer with strong conviction is, Who is Jesus? You can be sure that the majority of people with whom we are in daily contact are not willing to answer this question in a loving and dogmatic manner. Here is where Christians must be people with strong convictions.

Our grandparents did not wrestle with this question as do their children and grandchildren today. The community in which I live was once made up of people whose ancestors came from Europe. While all were not committed Christians, the religion they were best acquainted with was the Christian faith. Those who worshiped attended various Protestant churches or the Roman Catholic Church. This is not so in the community today. Now your next door neighbor may be a Hindu, your doctor may be Moslem, your boss may be a Jew, your child’s teacher may be a Buddhist. Once our parents worried about their children marrying a Roman Catholic, or a Roman Catholic parent worried about their children marrying a Protestant. Today this is not as much of a concern as inter-faith marriages of people with non-Christian religions.

It is in this culture that the Christian needs to be able to articulate out of conviction some of the basic truths of the Christian faith. The confession needs to be given out of love, but with no compromise. This is not a popular conviction, for we do not like to be labeled a bigot or prejudiced.

Today the question we discuss is, according to the Bible, who is Jesus?

Note, we seek an answer from the Bible. Our only authority in matters of faith and life is the Bible, which is the inspired Word of God. The message goes beyond human reasoning. It is revelation.

Seven hundred years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and we will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The name Immanuel means God with us.

Micah, the Prophet, promised the restoration of Israel and a kingdom of peace for those who trusted God. He prophesied that a ruler born in Bethlehem would set up a kingdom that would last forever. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2). Jesus is presented as eternal.

From prophetic passages such as these, we learn that this child will be the God Incarnate, a basic confession of the Christian faith.

we move on in history to the time when a young couple, Mary and Joseph, were visited by an angel. His announcement to Mary was confusing: “Mary, don’t be afraid. You will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:29-33).

“How will this be? I am a virgin,” Mary asked.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

Though Mary was confused, she obediently replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

In the meantime, Matthew in his gospel, tells us that Joseph had learned that Mary was pregnant. How could this be? Was she that kind of a person? When his emotions quieted, Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly and not make her a public disgrace. The angel spoke to Joseph and said, “Joseph, what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son, and you shall call Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. And Joseph did what the angel had commanded him to do. He took Mary home as his wife.”

Like Mary, the angel’s message went beyond Joseph’s understanding, but he accepted the message that had been delivered to him.

The child was born and grew to be a man. For the first thirty years Jesus worked in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. At that time His ministry of three years began. He and his disciples traveled in Galilee and Judea. Listening to Him preach and watching Him perform miracles, Philip said, “Jesus, show us the Father.”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” In this statement, Jesus affirmed what the prophets and angels had said about him: “I am God.” When Jesus told the jews that he and the Father are one, they were anxious to kill him.

While the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God, the struggle goes on in the hearts of people. How can this be? Many can accept Jesus as a great man whose teachings have inspired others to do great things. Not belittling the humanitarian projects of the Church, non-Christian organizations have brought blessings to this world. I belong to the Rotary Club and am proud of some of their activities in assisting humankind. This organization has blotted out polio in the third world. Recently they have cleaned up the drinking water in an African country where thousands of children were dying because of some parasites that were fatal to their small bodies. They have fed hungry people around the world.

Reading of these great accomplishments, society says, “This is the same work that the Church is doing, isn’t it?”

Yes, but with one exception. The Church says, “We come to care for some of your physical needs in the name of Jesus Christ. He offers you the Bread of Life. He grants you not only the blessings that make up the abundant life, but He also offers you eternal life. He assures you that, through faith in Christ, your sins are forgiven and you have the promise of eternal life.

These gifts of forgiveness and eternal life come only from Jesus because he is God.

If you struggle with this great truth, just remember that so have the fathers. You can be sure that the writers and the Apostles wrestled with these truths, and this confession was not written in one afternoon around a cup of coffee. We know not how long it took for these words to fall into place: “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.

Three hundred years later, theologians wrote the second confessional statement to let the world know what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ in the words of the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of the God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, Of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

You can feel the struggle these men experienced as they attempted to put in human words this divine truth, Jesus is God. Is it any wonder that this great truth is surrounded with mystery, and it is impossible for us to explain. It can only be experienced.

In this Advent season, let us make use of every opportunity to let our friends and relatives know that Jesus is God, truth that cannot be compromised.

Your Guilt Can Kill You

There is an old saying: Your guilt can kill you.

Well, for most of us, our guilt may not kill us as it did Judas, though it is a major reason for suicide. What a shock a wife got when she returned home to find her husband on the floor with a gun by his head and a note saying, “I just can’t live with myself any longer.”

However, guilt can kill in other ways.

It can kill our spirits and our enthusiasm for life. It can kill our feelings of self-worth. How often you hear someone say, “I’m no good. I have never amounted to anything. See how well my brothers and sisters have done. I could have been successful too, but I wasted my opportunities.”

It can take some of the joy out of family living. Strong feelings of hate over the family estate have been the cause for more than one family reunion to be cancelled. “We used to have good times when the folks were alive, and then there was disagreement over certain items in their will. Getting the whole group together was simply too uncomfortable.” Ever heard that one?

Hearing this much conversation about hate, someone says, “I don’t think many people suffer from guilt today. Our society is so wide open and morally corrupt that we are not sure what is right and wrong. Without any absolutes, how can you be guilty?”

Well, let’s see what the Bible has to say about guilt.

St. Paul writes, “God will punish the heathens when they sin, even though they never had God’s written laws, for down in their hearts they know what is right and wrong. God’s laws are written within them, their own conscience accuses them, or sometimes excuses them” (Romans 2:14-15 Living Bible).

Paul tells us that people who have nothing to do with the Christian faith have a conscience. It may be marred, and our culture works overtime to make them question what is right and wrong. Nevertheless, they live with guilt. Bill’s wife divorced him, but he had visitation rights to see his seven-year-old son monthly. He exercised these rights the first years of the divorce until it became too difficult for both him and his son to say goodbye after each visit. Bill took what he thought was the best way out of the situation. He didn’t see his son for many years, though he paid his way through the university.

One evening the door bell rang at Bill’s house, and a young man in his 20s stood there. “Do you recognize me?” he asked. Bill couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was his son. They embraced and shed a few tears. Later in the evening, the son asked his father, “Why did you ever leave me? I love mother, but she is a very difficult person to live with, and often I needed your help.”

Bill told me years after that meeting with his son that he lived with guilt, but could not make himself change the situation. It helped him to pay the monthly support stipulated in the divorce settlement, and to even pay for his son’s education. However, he realized there was more to raising a son than simply meeting the financial responsibilities. The natural law is written on a person’s heart.

Guilt is a destructive emotion.

Now turn in your Bible to Psalm 32. King David, who wrote this psalm, tells of his destructive experiences after committing his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. About a year after the murder, God sent His servant Nathan to talk with David. You can read about it in II Samuel 11 and 12. He was one miserable man trying to live with his guilt. God’s hand was heavy upon him. David knew he had sinned, not only against man, but against God. His confession is specific.

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” He couldn’t eat or sleep.

Yet notice how God took away that guilt. He can do the same for you and me. He sent Nathan, the pastor, to have a heart-to-heart talk with David, and they got right down to the specifics. Nathan confronted David with God’s Word. He didn’t reason that David felt bad enough without any more pressure being placed upon him. Nathan was there to increase the guilt trip. This sounds strange to our ears in this day when Christianity is supposed to send us on an all-time high. The pastor confronted David with his sin of stealing Uriah’s wife and killing Uriah so all evidence of David’s sin was erased.

Unless we know the enormity of our guilt, we will not see the work of forgiveness. Nathan was God’s spokesperson, and the Holy Spirit did His work. The results were David’s confession: “I have sinned against God” (II Samuel 12:13).

Then came the glorious hour when Nathan, acting as God’s servant, declared the absolution. “David, the Lord has taken away your sin.” From that day on David never ceased proclaiming the Gospel. “When I did not confess, my life was miserable, but when I confessed my sins, God forgave the guilt of my sin.” That is how God deals with sin. The Bible makes it clear there is no other way to get rid of sin. Fortunate is the person who has come to this understanding.