A recent Pew Forum survey found 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, but only half those say it is primarily an occasion for worship. However, Southern Baptist-owned LifeWay Research surprisingly reports 65 percent of those in the U.S. think Christmas should be more about Jesus.
Even more unexpectedly, LifeWay’s questionnaire resulted in 35 percent of those of other faiths saying they want to raise the Lord’s profile in the occasion. Even 28 percent of the “nones” – agnostics, atheists and those who don’t believe anything in particular about God – would like more Jesus with their “happy holidays.”
This sounds like confirmation we pastors should be discussing Christ at this time of year in more ways than how cute he was as a baby in the manger. “How shall they hear without a preacher?” as Romans 10:14 says.
God usually enters most powerfully into desperate situations, not those going well. The Jews began in abundant faith with Abraham following God – whom no one else apparently knew – in leaving Ur of the Chaldees (modern-day southern Iraq) to go to an unidentified location the Lord would show him. Yahweh helped the Hebrews escape to Egypt to avoid starvation, and when their exploding numbers scared the Egyptians into making them slaves, God delivered them from Pharaoh through Moses’ leadership and sending plagues.
The Chosen People finally got into the Promised Land after four decades wandering as penalty for their unbelief and rebellion. Now, at the time of Christ, they are again in a sorry state.
Once in the territory the Lord gave them, the Hebrews disobeyed him by failing to drive out the pagans there. This led to their marrying idol worshippers and bowing down to demonic “gods.” These included Ashtoreth of public sex, Moloch of the fires of hell for child sacrifice, and Anat the queen of heaven, who had defeated peoples skinned alive.
God sent prophet after prophet to turn his people back to himself. They warned of destruction and deportation, but the Jews would not heed them. The Assyrians and Babylonians eventually carried away the Chosen as captives.
The Holy Land came under Persian and Greek rule. Then, for a short time, the Jewish Hasmoneans reigned, but their civil war let Rome take control, and so it was at Christ’s birth.
Spiritually, God had been silent for 400 years since Malachi closed the Old Testament with these ominously prophetic words: “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
Meanwhile, the Jews separated into several groups: Zealots, wanting political control by deposing Rome; Pharisees, attempting to keep Moses’ Law to the letter but in their own strength; Sadducees, observing only a portion of the Law and not believing in resurrection or spiritual beings; and Essenes, retreating into the desert as monks awaiting the final battle of good and evil.
The Chosen People were divided, their land was divided, they served others and chafed at it. They failed at keeping the Law, they failed at repentance, they failed in making war, and they failed to stay together.
The Jews looked for a great warrior with a spiritual side like King David to arise among them and unite the Holy Land into one kingdom ruled from Jerusalem. Many were thinking Messiah would come soon at the time Jesus was born. They were right, but he came not as they supposed.
In the first chapter of Luke, an angel appears to Zacharias, a priest in the synagogue at Nazareth. The heavenly visitor tells him that though the clergyman and his wife are elderly and childless, they will have a son, John, who will go before the Messiah. Sounds a bit like Abraham and Sarah.
However, Zacharias doubts the messenger. The angel gives him his requested sign by making him unable to speak. During this time of silence, the priest’s wife Elizabeth not only becomes pregnant but gets to know Mary, who is carrying Christ.
When Zacharias’ boy is circumcised, he writes, “His name is John.” The father is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks prophetically in Luke 1:68-69, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.”
This is six months before Jesus’ birth, and the purpose of his redeeming God’s people is already evident. Every Jew knew the Messiah had to be in David’s lineage for in 1 Kings 2:45, God says, “The throne of David shall be established before the Lord forever.”
Zacharias continues in verse 70, “as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, who have been since the world began.” Recall this uttered 700 years before: “The Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel (God with us),” Isaiah 7:14.
Verses 71-73 say, “That we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to our father Abraham.”
This oath is in Genesis 12:3. “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” God says. The Lord is about to make a new covenant, to save people through repentance and faith in Christ. That fulfills the promise that in Abraham, all will be helped.
Verses 74-75 state, “To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.”
While most Jews have rejected Jesus as Messiah, the Lord has not forgotten the first covenant, to bless those who help his own and curse those who hurt them. The Chosen have been chased from one end of the globe to the other, pursued but not overtaken. Never has such a small people group been so consistently influential throughout time yet always discriminated against.
In verses 76-77, Zacharias says, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest, for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the remission of their sins.”
The priest now shifts to talking of his son, John the Baptist, whose constant message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” He baptized those who did so, though he did not claim they were saved, saying they needed to turn from sin to be ready for Christ enduing them “with the Holy Ghost and fire” (Matthew 3:11).
Zacharias’ praise concludes by talking of deliverance “through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).
Those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death are all humankind. From Adam and Eve’s fall, the world has been blackened with offenses against God. The sacrifices and offerings of the Old Testament covered sins but did not wipe them out. A last Adam, perfect in his ways but perishing for the evils of the globe, would be necessary.
“The Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” Isaiah 61:1-2 says. Jesus read this in beginning his ministry at the same synagogue where Zacharias served.
Christ’s purpose is not only to liberate the Jews but to free those of every race. The Old Testament reveals the flaws of a physical kingdom, as it is inhabited by sinful, fallen people who cannot govern in line with God. Now, there will be a spiritual nation, a royal priesthood needing no temple made with human hands. Salvation shall come through repenting from sin, believing in the rising of Christ from the grave bodily the third day, and following him as Lord and Savior.
Jesus will come a second time when the Gospel is preached “in all the world as a witness to all the nations” (Matthew 24:14). There now are churches from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle, on all continents, in all places. Today, only 2 percent of the world population does not have the Good News available through the Bible, Christian radio, “Jesus Film” or other recordings, the Joshua Project reports.
The age of grace and mercy is ending. The wrath of God is coming.
Have you received Jesus and been born again? Don’t wait. Go here to see how to be saved.
Choose life. His name is Christ.
About the author: The Rev. Kyle Huckins, Ph.D., has an earned doctorate and taught both journalism and religious studies in universities, winning three honors for scholarly research on the intersection of faith and media.
He's won 25 awards for professional media writing and production in a career stretching back to the 1980s and covering every mass medium. For 20 years, he's worked in public relations and marketing with outstanding results in placing articles, generating click-throughs, growing social-platform accounts, and more.
Ordained in 2003, he's clergy and has served congregations and their associations in numerous positions of pastoral, administrative and educational leadership. He has a master's degree in theological studies from Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary. Click here for more on Huckins.
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Jesus comes to tell the Jews of the New Covenant, then has the Gospel go worldwide until every ethnicity would hear it.
While many Americans fail to see Christmas as a religious occasion, a sizable majority want the holiday to center upon Christ more greatly.
When Jesus comes, the Jews are in four major groups: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes & Zealots.
Zacharias' exultation looks forward to when Christ will begin his earthly ministry by "givling light to those who sit in darkness."
Zacharias' son John the Baptist is born six months before Jesus and becomes the Lord's forerunner in ministry, too, preaching repentance while Christ will bring the "Holy Spirit and fire."
God promises Abraham that he would bless those who blessed him and curse whoever cursed him. The Lord continues to keep this oath as the New Covenant unfolds and Abraham's progeny, Jesus, becomes a blessing to all nations.
The childless, elderly Zacharias is ministering in the synagogue at Nazareth when an angel appears to tell the priest he will have a son named John.
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