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Millions of people the world over will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th, one of the busiest celebrations in the Christian world. It is traditional to go to church on Christmas day, or perhaps the evening before. For the Christian world in general Christmas is one the most important events in its religious calendar. For members of the Church of God it is exactly the opposite. Why is this so?
In the Book of Daniel, four successive world ruling Empires are mentioned - the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greco-Macedonian Empire, and the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire was perhaps the strongest and the most powerful empire of the four. Its Roman Legions conquered many countries and its soldiers remained as peacekeeping forces in quite a number of areas.
In one of the historical records we find a remarkable story about a young man and his wife who lived at the time when the Roman Empire was in power. This couple lived in one of the countries under Roman rule. A peacekeeping force of Roman soldiers occupied their land.
In the course of time, this young woman gave birth to a child. Possibly the only one present with her when the child was born was her husband. It was probably her husband who mopped her brow as she laboured to deliver her child. It was probably her husband who held her hands and encouraged her as the birth pains grew stronger and stronger. It was probably her husband who held the child when it was born and handed the baby to her to cuddle and nurse. It was probably her husband who cut and tied the umbilical cord. The historical record does not tell us specifically about these things. We can only speculate.
But this baby was destined to alter the course of history. This baby was destined to influence the lives of millions of people. In fact, this child was destined to affect the life of each and every human being who has ever lived. You and I are here today because of this baby born in a small country, in the most humble of surroundings, under Roman rule, some 2000 years ago. The baby to which I am referring is, of course, Jesus Christ. His mother was Mary, and her husband was Joseph.
In just a few weeks time, millions of people the world over will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. December 25th will be one of the busiest celebrations in the Christian world. It is traditional to go to church on Christmas day, or perhaps the evening before.
In the lead up to Christmas, we are familiar with the carols by candle light programmes aired on television. As we walk through the shopping malls we see the signs of Christmas - the Christmas decorations, the Christmas trees, Father Christmas in the large stores, there's the tinsel, and so on. The old time Christmas tunes are played over the PA system in large shopping malls and we find ourselves humming along with the tunes. They are very catching tunes and have been around for so long. There will also be the traditional Christmas dinner for many families.
In pulpits around the country passages from Matthew and Luke will be read and ministers, pastors, priests, and the clergy in general, will deliver the traditional messages of peace and good will among men.
Plays and pageants telling the story of Mary and Joseph, and the birth of Jesus, will be performed by the children. Someone will dress up as Joseph, another as Mary; a crib or a manger will be made up with straw and a baby doll placed there to represent the newborn child. There will be some to represent the shepherds, and others may dress up as the wise men from the East. There may be a representation of some sheep included as part of the stable scene as well.
For the Christian world in general Christmas is one the most important events in its religious calendar. For members of the Church of God it is exactly the opposite.
We have come to understand that Christmas has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and we do not celebrate Christmas.
We know that Christ was not born on December 25th. The Christmas tree and all its trimmings originated in paganism. Numerous historical evidences abound which show that the Christmas tree, mistletoe, yule logs, stockings on the hearth, exchanging gifts and so on, were part of pagan celebrations originating centuries before Christ was born.
None are of Biblical origin.
Anciently, December 25th was the date of the pagan Roman Brumalia, the final day of the popular week-long Saturnalia celebration. The Saturnalia was a celebration in honour of the god Saturn.
There are no instructions in the Bible saying we should celebrate Christmas. Christmas was not celebrated by the early New Testament Church. It was not until the mid fourth century that Pope Julius I decreed that December 25th was to be Christmas Day - actually Christ Mass Day. He sought to overshadow the popular Brumalia by imparting Christian meaning to the day.
But then some may ask, What is wrong with borrowing some of these early pagan customs and using them to honour Christ? Is it not appropriate to celebrate December 25th as long as we are doing it in His name, and because we want to honour Christ's coming into the world?
The core question then arises: Can pagan practices be Christianised?
We have an incident in the Old Testament which answers this question very clearly.
In Exodus 32 we find the incident of the Golden Calf. While Moses was away in the mountain talking with the Eternal, the children of Israel got restless and fashioned a golden calf - a pagan idol. This golden calf represented the sacred Egyptian bull deity.
When the golden calf was completed, Aaron made an altar before it and declared a feast to the Lord.
Exodus 32:5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.
Now did God feel honoured by this proclamation? Did God approve of Aaron declaring the use of the symbol of a pagan god in a feast to the Lord?
Absolutely not! This was a great sin and some 3000 people lost their lives because of it.
God had commanded Israel not to seek to worship Him with customs borrowed from other nations, and other religious forms of worship. That's in Deuteronomy chapter 12.
Deuteronomy 12:1-5 These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall NOT worship the LORD your God with such things.
God's people should never comprise and meet paganism half way. Pagan worship - even if it is given a Christian flavour - is still paganism. Christianity mixed with paganism is not Christianity at all. Righteousness has no fellowship with unrighteousness
Notice 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?
This instruction is very clear. Any form of paganism is unacceptable to God.
If God wanted us to observe Christ's birthday, He would have given us the exact date, instructions how to observe it, and the reasons for doing so. But He has not. Christmas is an invention of human reasoning under the sway of the god of this world - it did not originate with God, neither does it have His approval.
As members of the United Church of God, Christmas holds no significance to us whatsoever. What does have significance for us is God's annual holy days - which are His festivals - and which wonderfully picture God's plan of salvation for all mankind.
But setting Christmas aside, we certainly do have the story of Christ's birth in the Bible and it is the culmination of a series of remarkable events directly orchestrated by God over many centuries of time. Let's examine some of these events. I believe we will be inspired as we see the hand of God working miracle after miracle over centuries of time, in empires, in nations, in communities, and in the lives of individual people. This is the Amazing Story of Christ's Birth.
I'd like to begin with:
1 Peter 1:18-20 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you
Before the foundation of the world - the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was planned by the Eternal Being whom we have come to know as God the Father, and the other Eternal Being whom we have come to know as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and our Saviour.
At some point in time past, God the Father and the One who became Jesus Christ formulated a plan to prepare a family of eternally living spirit beings - their children - just like them, in mind, and in nature. It was perhaps the most ambitious of all of God's creation.
This plan called for the creation of human beings composed of flesh and blood, composed of physical matter, subject to decay and death, but with the power of free choice, with the capacity to sin, and in doing so they would face the death penalty for transgressing God's great spiritual laws. The wages of their sin would be death.
It was, and is, part of God's great plan that we come to love Him, desire to be like He is, to willingly follow Him, of our free choice. Only through the power and commitment of our free will in submitting to God, will God truly know that we love Him.
Enduring love comes not through being forced to submit, but only through the commitment of one's free choice and will.
No one is forced to love God. We love Him because we WANT to. We love Him because of what He is - He is a God of love.
In order to redeem those who sinned from the death penalty, in order to be able to grant eternal life to those who would choose to love God and His way of life with all their heart and mind, it was decided that one of the two Eternal Beings would also become a human being and die for the sins of the entire human race. The One whom we call Jesus Christ willingly took upon Himself this enormous responsibility.
When Christ would be born, where he would born, in which country, in which city, in what place, amongst which people, in what circumstances - all this had to be meticulously planned. Nothing could be left to chance - nothing could be missed out - no possibility overlooked. The redemption of mankind was at stake.
At the appropriate time, Adam and Eve were created. And in a short time, they sinned. When they sinned, God did not suddenly come to the realisation that His creation had not made the right choice and now He was in trouble and He had to think quickly and devise a plan to rescue His creation.
God had already considered the possibility that His creation, human beings, would sin and would require deliverance - would require a Saviour.
Even if Adam and Eve had chosen of the tree of life, instead of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they still had the potential to sin, just as we do today. Though we have God's Spirit, we can, and do, sin from time to time. We all need a Saviour.
The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was not an effort by God to repair the damage done by Satan in the Garden of Eden. It was meticulously planned long before Adam and Eve sinned. It was foreordained before the foundation of the world.
God's plan to bring salvation to the world was meticulously planned, and brought to pass.
The Eternal of the Old Testament, the One who became Jesus Christ, was the One who created Adam and Eve, who walked and talked with them. He was the One who dealt with Noah, Abraham, the children of Israel, and the prophets of old.
He also inspired the writing and preservation of the Books of the Old Testament and inspired numerous prophecies about Himself - about His first coming and what would happen to Him.
We do not have time to consider all the Old Testament prophecies which pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God who was also the Son of Man. There are indeed numerous prophecies which pointed to Christ's first coming which were all meticulously fulfilled.
I want to refer in particular to several Old Testament prophecies in the Book of Isaiah. I have chosen Isaiah because the New Testament confirms that Isaiah was inspired to write about the coming of the Messiah centuries before He was born.
The Apostle John wrote in the Gospel of John:
John 12:37-41 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them. These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.
Halley's Bible Handbook says that Isaiah was called the Messianic Prophet because it was to his nation that one day a great and wonderful blessing would come from God to all nations. Isaiah refers to this wonderful blessing that was to come to all nations.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
The prophet Isaiah was inspired to write about the coming the One who would be born of a virgin and that He would be called Immanuel- meaning GOD WITH US.
Isaiah 53 - This is a famous chapter with prophecies which describes in detail many of the things that Immanuel would do, and suffer.
Isaiah 53:1-12 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked--But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.
These words are very familiar to us and we could go through this passage verse by verse and see how Christ fulfilled each one. But I don't have time to do that in this sermon.
But I do want us to notice that Isaiah prophesied of these things some 750 years before Immanuel -- that is, Jesus Christ -- was born in Judea.
Now if we say 750 years quickly it does not seem such a long time. But it is over three times the length of time Australia has been a nation. Australia was founded in 1788 and 1988 was our bi centennial -- our 200 years anniversary.
For Australia to be 750 years old as a nation, it would have been founded in the 13 hundreds. That's a long time ago.
When God inspired Isaiah to write these prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, He has a specific time plan in mind and He carefully orchestrated every aspect of that plan over centuries of time.
Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman
Notice it says: When the fullness of time had come. Fullness: Like filling a cup with water drop by drop until it is completely full.
God watched over the course of events, century by century, decade by decade, year by year, month by month, week by week, day by day, ruling and guiding the circumstances until the right time - the exact time - came.
God was watching over the woman who would become the mother of Jesus Christ, and His foster father, Joseph, and they had to be there, in the right place, at the right time, of the right lineage, of the right age, of the right maturity in order to handle the responsibility of being the human parents of the Son of God.
What a weighty responsibility for Mary and Joseph? They fulfilled all the requirements and they were right there when the fullness of time had come.
We don't venerate Mary but she was a remarkable woman to be chosen by God to be the mother of Immanuel - Jesus Christ. And likewise, Joseph, he indeed was a remarkable man to be entrusted with the care and upbringing of the Son of God.
Micah 5:2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.
Here was a further complication. Not only did Christ have to be born at the right time, and of parents God could trust, but Christ was prophesied to be born in a particular town - BETHLEHEM.
Micah prophesied around the same time as Isaiah, some 750 years before Christ.
Luke 1:26-33 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women! But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.
So here's another complication. Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem.
How would God engineer their move to Bethlehem to be there exactly at the right time so Jesus would be born in this town and fulfil the prophecy in Micah?
Luke 2:1-7 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into 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 wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 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.
God is not limited like us. He had it all under control. Caesar Augustus was the Emperor of the Roman Empire and he suddenly made a special decree - a census of the entire world under his control must be taken.
And a special requirement of this census was that all had to be registered in his or her own city. Each person had to register at his or her place of origin - where the family originated.
Joseph was of the house and lineage of David so he went to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.
God now has the right parents, He has the right time, He has the right place, for the birth of the Son of God to take place.
And the timing of the census was brilliant because in the space of time that Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, the baby had to be born—the birth was not to occur before, or after - but while they were there.
And who says that God is not in control. In the Bible God says, I will do all my pleasure. My counsel shall stand.
Now God takes care of another matter.
This is no ordinary baby. This is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is born to be a king. He is the Messiah. He is the Savour of the world. He is Immanuel- God with us. His office is one of tremendous glory.
How would God announce to the world the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ?
When a baby is born to the Royal Family in England, the whole world knows via television, radio, the newspapers, and magazines, and the Internet. But there were no such communication systems available to the masses in Christ's time.
What if Joseph went around Bethlehem and said to everyone he could find, Say everyone, I want you all to know that I'm taking care of the Son of God. This baby boy here is the Messiah.
And what if Mary had said, And I'm the mother of the Son of God.
I don't think that would have gone over very well.
But let's see what God did to announce the birth of His Son.
Luke 2:8-18 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. And 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, goodwill toward men! So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us. And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
Notice Verse 8: Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
This shows that Christ's birth was no where near December 25th. December 25th is in the winter in the land of Palestine and, during winter, the sheep are taken into sheepfolds, or barns, especially at night, to protect them from the cold. But these shepherds were out living in the fields - they were out under the stars so the weather must have been pre winter - probably early autumn weather - and they were keeping watch over the sheep during the night.
And suddenly, out of the blue, as we say, an angel appeared to them and he announced to them the birth of the Saviour, Christ the Lord.
I think their reaction was quite normal. They were first afraid and then puzzled, and then comforted by the angel. Then suddenly before them was not just one angel, but a heavenly host - a large group of angelic messengers - all praising God.
This was indeed a remarkable experience for the shepherds.
So they hastened to go to Bethlehem and see if these things were true. But all the shepherds were told by the angel was, You will find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
BUT NO ADDRESS
So, naturally, in order to find the baby Jesus, they had to ask around. Where is the newborn Saviour? Where is the Christ child who is Christ the Lord? We were told by an angel that we would find him lying in a manger - but where? This would have aroused the people's curiosity and the news would have spread rapidly through the town of Bethlehem.
Finally, they find the stable, they find Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus, and then what did they do?
Luke 2:17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
The shepherds, now that they had found Jesus, made it known all around the town. They spread the news. Wherever they went they talked to people about it. THIS WAS BIG NEWS.
So what has God done so far?
But God does not leave matters there. He goes on to spread the news of the birth of the Messiah, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, far and wide - far far beyond the confines of Bethlehem.
Matthew 2:1-12 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel. Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also. When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Now who were these wise men from the East. The Greek word for wise men is magoi or magi
But notice several verses in particular in Matthew 2:
Matthew 2:2 The wise men are before Herod and they ask him a question: Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.
Why would people from a distant country be concerned about the birth of a king in Judah - in a land other than their own? And why would they come to worship him? Why would they commit themselves to travelling a considerable distance, at considerable expense, to find a child in a distant country and desire to worship him? And then when they did find him to present this newly born king with expensive gifts?
Now notice Matthew 2:9-10 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
This tells me that the star was actually an angel. No physical star in the universe could move into a position where it could directly identify one specific house. This star stood over where the young child was. A star is used in the Bible at times as a symbol for an angel and this is one of those instances where reason and logic tells us that this star which identified specifically the house were Jesus was had to be an angel.
These Magi were led by an angel directly to the house where Jesus was living with Mary and Joseph. This was a divine miracle - and they were ecstatic. They rejoiced exceedingly.
If these Magi were pagan astrologers, why would God lead them - these pagan astrologers -- from a distant land, directly to the very house where Jesus was? That does not make sense.
Notice now Matthew 2:12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
This verse indicates that these Magi were people who were receptive to God's direction. They were divinely warned in a dream, and they immediately obeyed. No questions asked.
So who were these Magi and where did they come from?
According to research done by the Church over many years it is understood that these Magi came from an areas east and north of Palestine, from an area known in past times as the PARTHIAN EMPIRE.
The Parthian Empire came to power around 250 BC - 250 years before Jesus was born - and this empire was situation in an area south and west of the Caspian Sea. The Caspian Sea is east and north of Judea. This was the land into which the House of Israel - the northern ten tribes - had been taken into exile by the Assyrian Empire around 722 BC. If you will recall after Solomon's death, his son, Rehoboam, came to the throne. Under Rehoboam, the 12 tribes of Israel broke into two divisions:
The northern ten tribes became known as the House of Israel. And the southern two tribes became known as the House of Judah. The northern 10 tribes, led by Jeroboam, soon fell into idolatry and Sabbath breaking.
God warned them through His prophets to repent and turn back to Him. If they did not, He would eventually punish them. As you know, they did not turn back to God, and God sent the House of Israel, the northern ten tribes into captivity by the hand of the Assyrian Empire and they were taken to the east and north of Judea to an area near the Caspian Sea.
The Parthian Empire took over that region where many of the House of Israel were still living and when Jesus was born some of the descendants of the northern ten tribes were still there in this area east and north of Judea.
If you will recall that the prophets of old time, such as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah, all prophesied before the northern ten tribes were taken into captivity and therefore it is reasonable to believe that there were men and women in the House of Israel who also looked for the coming of the Messiah, just as they did in the House of Judah.
It is also reasonable to believe that the Magi - the wise men - who were led by the star, who came searching for the King of the Jews - the Messiah - who came to worship him, who were jubilant when they found him, who gave to Christ expensive gifts, who were immediately obedient to the divine dream not to return to Herod - it is reasonable to believe that these wise men were actually descendants of the House of Israel.
And God used these men to announce the birth of the Son of God to the House of Israel - the descendants of which are still in existence at that time, and are still in existence today.
The Church has a booklet on this subject. It is entitled The United States and Britain In Bible Prophecy. There is a wealth of information about the identity of these two nations in this booklet, with maps and dates and charts showing where the House of Israel was taken captive and where they are today.
Now it is interesting that Matthew is the only Gospel writer who mentions the wise men - the Magi - and he is the only Gospel writer who makes mention, by name, the House of Israel.
Matthew 10:5-6 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Now the twelve disciples, at that time, when sent out by Christ, confined their preaching of the Gospel to the land of Palestine, but later, after Christ had ascended into heaven, and the disciples had received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and the church was scattered in AD70 by the Roman forces which seized and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple there, we understand that some of the twelve disciples made their way to the lands where the House of Israel was still living and they worked among those descendants, while others went to other lands.
On a side point, my wife and I had opportunity to visit a church in southern India, inland from Madras, and there is a coffin there, which is supposedly the place where the disciple Thomas is buried. It is quite possible that Thomas made his way across to India and preached the Gospel there. And it is interesting that it is the South of India where the people are more receptive to the Christian message. In the North of India the Hindu and other Eastern religions hold a more powerful hold over the people, but in the South there seems to be a greater knowledge of the Bible. It is just an interesting observation.
So now God has announced the birth of Jesus to the people of Bethlehem and the surrounding areas, He has announced the birth of Jesus through the wise men to the House of Israel, and now another incident occurs which spreads the news of Christ's birth to another group of people.
Matthew 2:13-18 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him. When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt I called My Son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.
As you will recall the wise men made their inquiries about the birth of the King of the Jews, not in Bethlehem, but in Jerusalem. News of Christ's birth spread in the capital city and the news reached Herod the King. There's a group here making inquiries about the birth of the KING OF THE JEWS. Now Herod is troubled. A king of the Jews? To him, this could be a catalyst for an uprising among the Jews against the Roman occupation. Perhaps his position is also under threat. He calls the chief priests and the scribes - the Jewish Sanhedrin - to inquire of them. So now the chief priests and the scribes are aware of the matter. They advise Herod that the Messiah, the Ruler, the Shepherd of Israel, was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem.
Now notice Matthew 2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.
Herod is furious when he finds out that the wise men had not returned to tell him where the Christ child was, so he gives a command which leaves one absolutely astonished because of its utter brutality. He sends Roman soldiers to Bethlehem and the surrounding districts and they massacre all the little boys from 2 years old and under. Such a horrific event would have been spread far and wide. Perhaps Roman soldiers wrote home to relatives and friends about it. Perhaps Herod sent a report to Rome of the potential threat of a king rising among the Jews and what he had done stop any such event from taking place.
Now the Gentile world, at least in part, is becoming aware of the birth of this extraordinary person.
The news of Christ's birth went to the House of Judah. It went to the House of Israel. And it went to the Gentile world.
So now, let's summarise:
I think we can see how effectively the news of the birth of Jesus was spread.
As the Apostle Paul before King Agrippa said, This thing was not done in a corner.
The coming of our Saviour into the world was a momentous event. It was meticulously planned. God left nothing to chance. And it was announced far and wide to the world of that day.
The day will come when the fascinating and incredible events surrounding the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, will be told to every human being who has lived, is living now, or ever will live.
And that momentous event will not be celebrated on Christmas day, as it is being done by millions in the world of Christianity today. The sincerity of those who celebrate Christmas is not in question. We all have family, relatives and friends who are genuine in their observance of Christmas.
Our decision not to observe Christmas is based on a careful research of the Scriptures, and of history, and we have found that Christmas originates in paganism and God nowhere sanctions this day of festivity in the Bible. In fact, just the opposite is true.
Christ said, In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Christmas has its origin with men - it is not a commandment from God.
It is our sincere hope and prayer that when the knowledge of the origin of Christmas comes to those who sincerely observe it today, they will also carefully research the Scriptures as we have, and arrive at the same decision. We also pray they will learn of God's annual festivals where God's great plan and purpose for all mankind is outlined.
Then, and only then, will they come to understand their true potential.
Let me conclude by reading Isaiah 9:6-7
Isaiah prophesied of the One who became our Saviour, the Son of God, and the Son of Man, whose name is Immanuel - God with us - Isaiah prophesied of His glorious destiny:
Isaiah 9:6-7 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever.
Let's all look forward to that day when Jesus Christ, born to be King, will indeed be King over the entire earth.
In many countries fewer children than ever will have the opportunity to grow up in a home with both a father and a mother.
Because of a comment taken out of context the Apostle Thomas is often referred to as 'Doubting Thomas'.
Much of Bible prophecy centers on the return of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth.