Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by Jeannette Haley

In spite of the world with all of its allurements, false promises of happiness, and deceptive lie that this life is all that matters; in spite of the tidal waves of false religions with their false hopes of eternal bliss, the truth of Christ’s advent over 2,000 years ago still shines through it all. At no other time of the year is His birth brought into focus more sharply than during this season. Regardless of the controversies that surround the establishment of the Christmas holiday, the historical record agrees with the scriptural account that Jesus Christ was born.

What matters is how each of us personally responds to the intervention of God in human affairs. Many people fear Him, because, while they do not know Him, they know that they deserve judgment. Some resent Him because He interferes with their life and plans. To these people, He is good enough to use when they need help, but that is all. Finally, there is the remnant that love and adore Him because they have entered into a personal relationship with Him. He is their life.

When Jesus came into the world wrapped in human flesh, he was announced by heavenly angels, loved by Mary and Joseph, adored by shepherds, worshipped by the wise men, and feared and hated by King Herod. And, so it is to this day. Some hearts are open and respond to the call to come and worship Him, while other hearts are hard and closed.

God knew that Mary’s heart was receptive, submissive and pure. Her humility shines through in verses 28 and 29 of Luke 1 where we read, “And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highlyfavoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.” The word favouredin the Greek means, “to grace, i.e. indue with special honor; make accepted, be highly favoured.” The word cast means, “to disturb wholly, i.e. agitate (with alarm): trouble.

Now, if Mary had a very high opinion of herself, she would not have been disturbed, or troubled. Rather, she would have jumped at the chance to be a “somebody.” Mary never saw herself as a special being, let alone a goddess as some would have us believe today. She quietly submitted to the will of God for her life even though she didn’t understand all of the details. Instead, she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” Luke 1:38b.  Then, in recognition that she was a sinner in need of a savior, Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God mySaviour” verses 46, 57.

What about Joseph’s heart? I believe his heart was upright, faithful, and obedient. Only a man with such a heart could be entrusted with both Mary, a pregnant virgin, and the Son of God. Matthew 1:19 tells us that Joseph was a “just man.” The Greek definition for just in this verse is, “equitable (in character or act); innocent, holy, just, meet, righteous.” Joseph received divine direction through dreams which he was quick to obey. Any hesitation on his part could have been disastrous.

Joseph’s greatness lies in the fact that he was content to remain behind-the-scenes, working hard as a carpenter in order to provide for his growing family. He was content in his relationship with God. A lesser man would have sought ways in which to exploit both his own genealogy, which extended back to King David, and Jesus’ uniqueness to exalt himself into a position of importance, at least in the religious community.

How many men today, if given the opportunity, would take liberties with their God-given advantages for their own aggrandizement and profit? The world’s idea of success has so permeated the thinking of modern Christians that God’s definition of success is either completely ignored or repudiated. Today success is measured not by godly character and faithfulness in the face of insurmountable odds, but rather by the impressiveness of the church building, the number of members, the size of the offerings, the type of music and entertainment presented, and the number of programs that are available.

The night in which Jesus was born there were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. We can determine by their reaction that these people had open, believing and expectant hearts. The Bible tells us that when the “angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them”that “they were sore afraid.” (Luke 2:9.) But that fear turned to faith and joy as soon as the angel said to them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” Luke 2:10-12.

To these ordinary men a sign from heaven was given. They were not, like so many are today “sign seekers.” True signs and visitations of God are usually given to those who are busy taking care of their daily responsibilities. For example, when Jesus called His disciples, they were all occupied in their respective forms of employment in order to provide for themselves and their families. None of them were pre-occupied with self, or wasting time, or running around in spiritual “noo-noo land” looking for some special visitation from heaven.

Even a cursory search through Scripture shows us that God’s call came upon busy men and women such as Deborah, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Ruth, David, and the prophets. God uses people who have their feet on the ground and their “wits about them” because they are grounded in the Word of God, and they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Rayola and I have met many souls through our years of ministry that have spiritually derailed themselves through spiritualizing everything, or through excessive prayer and fasting, or through morbid introspection. We have met people who give forth the impression that they have a corner on God, know all truth, and are somehow everybody else’s judge, jury and executioner, but their fruits always tell on them. Such people maintain their right to be right no matter what, which means that in reality, they are wrong. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” 1 John 4:1.

   The three wise men from the East, like Job, possessed reverent, understanding, and seeking hearts.“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” Proverbs 9:10. True wisdom and understanding comes as a result of the fear of the Lord. The extremely advanced technology of today may delude us into believing that we are “wise” and “civilized,” but the truth is our society is in many ways just as pagan and depraved as Sodom and Gomorrah were before God destroyed them. Technology in and of itself can do nothing to improve the wicked condition of men’s hearts.

We know from Scripture that the wise men arrived within two years of the birth of Jesus, and seeing His star, greatly rejoiced. “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense. This sign was not given so they could feel spiritually superior, or feel important in the scheme of things, but so that they could find their hearts’ desire—God in the flesh! They knew who Jesus was because they “fell down, and worshipped him.” Only God deserves our worship. If Jesus was not God Incarnate, He could not have received their worship. Even the angels refuse man’s worship. (“And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” Revelation 19:10.)

The wise men are fascinating to study. These men came from afar which to me represents that God calls people to Himself from every corner of the world. They were in total agreement as to their conclusions and kept their focus on the goal. They never wavered from their diligent search. They brought their best to Jesus rather than their second-hand leftovers, and they obeyed God rather than the king. (See Matthew 2:12.)

King Herod, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, declared that he desired to find Christ and worship Him. Herod is typical of the wolves we find everywhere among God’s flock today. Giving lip service, they proclaim that they are true believers, but their hearts are hard and full of treachery. The Apostle Peter warned, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whomthe way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumberethnot” 2 Peter 2:1-3.

Thanks to these false prophets and false teachers among the people today multitudes have been led astray from the true faith and because of them the “way of truth” is scorned by both false “Christians” (who know neither the Lord Jesus nor His ways) and those in the world. Never before has there been such a tidal wave of rich, greedy liars in the limelight who “make merchandise” of God’s people for their own gain. God’s house has become a marketplace for every kind of worldly entertainment designed to draw people in (instead of lifting Jesus up) and vain philosophies of men that tickle itching ears. Of course all of these man-made, man-exalting methods, programs and tactics are for the purpose of building bigger churches regardless of how much scripture must be compromised. The end result is a shallow circus that has nothing whatsoever to do with the real Jesus. My Bible says that Jesus is the One who is building His church, not man!

In conclusion, where is your heart during this special time of the year? Are you receptive, submissive and humble as Mary was, willing to do whatever your Lord asks of you? Perhaps, like Joseph, your heart is strong, faithful and obedient, and you are prepared to listen and obey the Lord at a moment’s notice. Maybe your heart is like the shepherds’—open, believing and expectant. You hunger and thirst for more of Jesus and you are simple enough to take God at His word without question. Perhaps, like the wise men, your heart is seeking Jesus in all earnestness. Finally, maybe you are a person who finds your heart hard and unreceptive to God and His Word. If that is the case, you need to know that God, who knows the hearts of all men, has provided a way for you to have a new heart. But, first you must confess to Him that you are a sinner, that you have fallen short of His glory, and that you need a Savior. Then you must believe in your heart that Jesus died in your place on the cross to take the punishment for your sins, and that by faith in His death, burial and resurrection, and by putting your trust in Him, you can be forgiven, cleansed and made into a new creation.

Jesus emptied Himself of His glory to take on the form of a servant that He might bring reconciliation between man and God. “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Philippians 2:8-11.

   May the reality of Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God, bless your heart today and always.