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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 30 2021

God's great love for us

God's plan, nature, and actions - past, present, and future - are all based on a foundation of love. As humans, it is difficult for us to adequately comprehend the love God has for undeserving man and his desire for the redemption of all mankind.

by Janet Treadway

Recently I was at my daughter Michelle’s house to help her with her new baby. He seemed really fussy that day, so I made the comment that he was a little grumpy. My daughter looked at me and said in defense of her newborn (while having a gleam in her eye), “Mom, he is not grumpy!”

Michelle is totally smitten with this bundle of joy. She looks at this little boy as if he can do no wrong.

Zayn was a long-awaited gift. Michelle and her husband Ken had been trying for eight years for this little one. My daughter waited patiently as she prayed and trusted God that in His time it would happen (though if it didn’t, she was okay with that, accepting God’s will).

Watching my daughter interact with her newborn reminds me of the old saying, “There is no greater love than that of a mother’s love.” But wait—yes there is! Our Heavenly Father’s love for us is even greater! God looks at us with great hope, love and with a tremendous amount of compassion.

Many times we can view God as harsh, unforgiving and ready to wipe us off the face of the earth when we sin—and, yes, when we have a grumpy day. But the fact is, He loved us so deeply that He gave His Son for us! In Romans 5:8 we read, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (New International Version 1984 throughout). Could any of us give up our only child for someone else? I don’t think any of us could. But our Father in Heaven did!

Someone bought our Zayn a beautiful little blanket that my daughter loves wrapping him in. Printed on it is the passage from Jeremiah 29:11 that reads, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

That is how Michelle feels about her little Zayn—the same way God feels about us!

In Psalms 103:13-14 He tells us, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

What a great Father we have! If God loves us so much, how does He show it? Here are three of the many ways God shows His love for us.

1. He gave His Son for us!

John 3:16 states, “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.” And Jesus Christ willingly gave His life for us. As He said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

2. He will never leave us!

I can never imagine my daughter rejecting her little Zayn. When he cries, she picks him up to comfort him. That is how God is with us. But if you have felt rejection or abandonment, it might be hard for you to trust God. “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” (Deuteronomy 31:8). Nothing is so bad that He will abandon you—nothing!

3. He comforts us!

As a mother comforts her child, so does God comfort us. In 2 Corinthians 1:4 we read that He “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” We should always go to God for encouragement. When you are down, ask God to encourage you. Psalms 46:1 reminds us, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Romans 8:38-39 states, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Even when we mess up, or have a grumpy day, God is still there ready to help us, show us love and even defend us, as long as we repent and keep trying!

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … 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 [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.