Below are 20 movies. You must guess the movie title based only on the emojis. Can you do it?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. But then sin and rebellion entered the garden, derailing God’s creation and breaking relationships. Humans would no longer share in the free and full relationship of love with God and each other. Evil had entered their hearts, dragging them away from God and driving a wedge between each other.
But God – don’t we love that phrase? – but God would not let his children suffer forever under the weight of their sin and brokenness and death. God would send a rescuer, someone of Eve’s own offspring, who would crush the head of the serpent once and for all. This One would deal a crushing blow to death itself, although he would endure the full force of the serpent’s venom in the process.
God worked through his people to prepare the world for the coming chosen One. Through Abraham, God promised a world-wide blessing. Through Moses, God promised the Prophet who would bring God’s word to his people. Through David, God promised a King on the throne in Zion forever, one who would be regarded as the Son of God and a Priest in the order of Melchizedek. Through Isaiah God foretold that this coming One would be born of a virgin and would be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Emmanuel – God with us. The One to come would establish justice and bring freedom for the oppressed. The One to come would be a servant who would suffer and die but would be raised again to the glory of God.
I’m mindful of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 1:10-12:
The prophets who spoke of this outpouring of grace upon you diligently searched and inquired of the Lord about this salvation: to whom and to what time was the indwelling Spirit of the Anointed referring when He told them about the suffering of the Anointed and the honor that would follow it? The Spirit revealed to them they were not serving themselves but you. And you have learned from those who told you the good news by the Spirit that was sent down from heaven. Even the heavenly messengers would like to explore this news.
Might the other prophets have something to tell us of the One who is to come, the Anointed One, the Messiah?
According to the prophet Malachi, the Messiah would be preceded by another prophet in the spirit of Elijah.
Keep watch. I am sending Elijah the prophet to you before the arrival of the great and terrible day of the Eternal One, and he will return parents’ hearts to their children and children’s hearts to their parents, or else I will come and strike the land of promise with a curse of annihilation.
(Malachi 4:5-6 | The Voice)
But you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
of the clans of Judah, are no poor relation—
From your people will come a Ruler
who will be the shepherd of My people, Israel,
Whose origins date back to the distant past,
to the ancient days.
(Micah 5:2 | The Voice)
From the prophet Hosea we learn that the Messiah would spend time in Egypt as a young child.
When Israel was a child, I loved him;
and out of Egypt I called My son.
(Hosea 11:1 | The Voice)
Jeremiah longed for a day when the Messiah would establish a new covenant with God’s people, a covenant not based on works but based on faith and grace and love.
Look, the days are coming when I will bring about a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors long ago when I took them by the hand and led them out of slavery in Egypt. They did not remain faithful to that covenant—even though I loved and cared for them as a husband. This is the kind of new covenant I will make with the people of Israel when those days are over. I will put My law within them. I will write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will people have to teach each other or encourage their family members and say, “You must know the Eternal.” For all of them will know Me intimately themselves—from the least to the greatest of society. I will be merciful when they fail and forgive their wrongs. I will never call to mind or mention their sins again.
(Jeremiah 31:31-34 | The Voice)
The prophet and Old Testament hero Daniel was given a vision of this Messiah as he would be received in glory at the throne of God.
I saw another spectacle in the night visions:
I looked and saw someone like a son of man
coming with the clouds of heaven.
He approached the Ancient of Days
and was ushered into His presence.
To Him was given authority, honor, and a kingdom
so that all people of every heritage, nationality, and language might serve Him.
His dominion will last forever,
His throne will never pass away,
and His kingdom will never be destroyed.
(Daniel 7:13-14 | The Voice)
I could go on, but I simply don’t have time to mention all the prophecies concerning the Messiah. I wish we could see all the times the Christ appeared throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, often known as The Angel (or Messenger) of the Lord.
The Coming Messiah would be a symbol of hope and God’s promises to his people for over a thousand years. And as we approach Christmas, we recognize that on one ordinary night in an ordinary stable in an ordinary town, two ordinary people became parents to the most extraordinary child.
The Word became flesh. The Promise took on skin and bone. The Light of the World stepped down into darkness. Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Priest, King. The Prophets foretold his coming. The angels waited with eager anticipation.
The Messiah is coming.
The history of Israel was a rough ride. You can read all the good, the bad, and the very ugly in the books of 1 & 2 Kings. God made a great promise to King David, but because of the foolishness of David’s own grandson, Rehoboam, the kingdom divided into two distinct nations – the 10 Northern Tribes formed the nation of Israel (also known as Ephraim), and the 2 Southern Tribes of Judah and Benjamin formed the nation of Judah.
The monarchies of these respective kingdoms were riddled with wickedness and sin. There was no one to keep the kings in line. They were answerable to no one, seemingly above the Law. So God raised up a school of Prophets who would be his mouthpiece to the kings. Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Amos – all these men and more were God’s means of speaking truth to the powers that be. But none would be more well-known or have a greater lasting impact than the priest-turned-prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah would become the most-quoted prophet in the New Testament. His writings became known as “The First Gospel.” This is because much of what we know about Jesus’ life and ministry was foreshadowed in Isaiah’s prophecies.
In chapter 7, Judah was being threatened by the joint armies of Aram and Israel. God reassured King Ahaz that the threat would pass and everything would be ok. In fact, God gave Ahaz a sign that God had everything under control.
Listen then. You are none other than the house of David, the one who inherited God’s promise of permanent kingship for David’s descendants. Is it so easy to be a bore to people that you would exhaust God’s patience too? Suit yourself. The Lord will give you a proof-sign anyway: See, a young maiden will conceive. She will give birth to a son and name Him Immanuel, that is, “God with us.” There will indeed be something Godlike about Him. He’ll be eating curds and honey when he knows to choose what is right and good and refuse what is not. But before the boy has the wisdom to refuse evil and choose good the territory of the two kings you now dread will be abandoned.
(Isaiah 7:13-16 | The Voice)
When the Southern nation of Judah felt anger toward their Northern neighbors in the region of Galilee, God reassured them that things would not always be this way. Darkness will turn to light, night will become day, and enemies will become brothers once again – all because of a baby.
Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace.
His leadership will bring such prosperity as you’ve never seen before—sustainable peace for all time.
This child: God’s promise to David—a throne forever, among us,
to restore sound leadership that cannot be perverted or shaken.
He will ensure justice without fail and absolute equity. Always.
The intense passion of the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, will carry this to completion.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 | The Voice)
God, through Isaiah, had much to say about this child who would come, who would be a sign of God’s presence with his people, who would reunite the people of God’s chosen nation.
Look here, let Me present My servant;
I have taken hold of him.
He is My chosen, and I delight in him.
I have put My Spirit on him;
by this he will bring justice to the nations.
(Isaiah 42:1 | The Voice)
The Servant, the Chosen One, the Beloved would be God’s agent for justice and righteousness in the world, calling people to faithfulness. But the words of Isaiah 52 and 53 also remind us that this Servant would suffer unimaginably at the hands of the worldly governments. The Servant, Emmanuel, would suffer and die and be vindicated by God for all to see.
See here! My servant will succeed.
He will grow in character and reputation, achieving high standing and status.
Just as people used to be shocked by you,
even so his appearance was disfigured;
His form—once glorious—was marred until it hardly seemed human.
Now many nations will be astonished at his prominence;
world rulers will be speechless in his presence,
For they will see what they’ve never been told;
they will understand what they’ve never heard.
(Isaiah 52:13-15 | The Voice)
It is only through the Chosen Servant’s suffering, death, and resurrection that he would complete the ultimate objective – bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth.
The Spirit of the Lord, the Eternal, is on me.
The Lord has appointed me for a special purpose.
He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to repair broken hearts,
And to declare to those who are held captive and bound in prison, “Be free from your imprisonment!”
He has sent me to announce the year of jubilee, the season of the Eternal’s favor:
for our enemies it will be a day of God’s wrath;
For those who mourn it will be a time of comfort.
(Isaiah 61:1-2 | The Voice)
The Messiah would be known as a Servant, on whom the Spirit of God would descend, and who would be chosen and loved by God – the one and only beloved. This Suffering Servant would right all wrongs and set the Kingdom of Heaven in motion, bringing joy and light and freedom and favor.
The Messiah is coming.
God made a covenant with Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his offspring. God made a promise through Moses that he would send the people a Prophet like Moses to speak on behalf of God. God made a covenant with David that his heirs would be enthroned forever in the sight of God.
The reigns of King David and his son Solomon were a kind of golden era for the United Kingdom of Israel. During their rule, Israel grew in strength, in numbers, and in territory. They established a military, a government, and a religion. The capital was moved to Jerusalem, and the Temple was built on the very mountain on which Abraham was commanded to offer Isaac so many years before.
It was during this time that the Psalms became an integral part of Israel’s worship and national identity. The Psalms reminded them of their past and brought hope for their future.
The Second Psalm was written for and recited at the coronation ceremony of Israel’s new kings. Let’s look at it, and see if anything sounds familiar. Pay attention to the words in red.
“I am the One who appointed My king who reigns from Zion, My mount of holiness.
He is the one in charge.”
I am telling all of you the truth. I have heard the Eternal’s decree.
He said clearly to me, “You are My son.
Today I have become your Father.
The nations shall be yours for the asking,
and the entire earth will belong to you.”
(Psalm 2:6-8 | The Voice)
There was a special relationship between God and the kings of Israel. As the Jews awaited the Messiah, which literally means Anointed One, they were looking for an earthly king from the line of David who would be honored, not simply as the Son of David, but as God’s own Son.
But even David himself recognized that the one to come would be far greater than himself. Looking ahead to the future Anointed One, David writes these words:
The Eternal said to my lord,
“Sit here at My right hand,
in the place of honor and power,
And I will gather your enemies together,
lead them in on hands and knees;
you will rest your feet on their backs.”
The Eternal will extend your reach as you rule
from your throne on Zion.
You will be out in enemy lands, ruling.
Your people will come as volunteers that day; they will be a sight to see:
on that day, you will lead your army, noble in their holiness.
As the new day dawns and dew settles on the grass,
your young volunteers will make their way to you.
The Eternal has sworn an oath
and cannot change His mind:
“You are a priest forever—
in the honored order of Melchizedek.”
(Psalm 110:1-4 | The Voice)
This coming King would be greater than David, would be honored as God’s Son, and would even take on the mantel of the priesthood in the order of Melchizedek, King and High Priest of Salem (see Genesis 14).
Prophet. Priest. King. Son of Abraham. Son of David. Son of God. Messiah. Anointed One. Christ.
This is who the Jews were waiting for, longing for, praying for. As their ancestors in Egyptian bondage, so they too were crying out to be released from the grip of Rome. The Messiah would do it. The Messiah would rally his followers, march on Jerusalem, and ascend the throne!
Little did they know or consider the prophetic words composed by David that would become the 22nd Psalm.
My God, my God,
why have You turned Your back on me?
Your ears are deaf to my groans…
My life is poured out like water,
and all my bones have slipped out of joint.
My heart melts like wax inside me.
My strength is gone, dried up like shards of pottery;
my dry tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
You lay me in the dust of death.
A throng of evil ones has surrounded me
like a pack of wild dogs;
They pierced my hands and ripped a hole in my feet.
I will speak Your Name to my brothers and sisters
when I praise You in the midst of the community…
He’s not put off
by the suffering of the suffering one;
He doesn’t pretend He hasn’t seen him;
when he pleaded for help, He listened…
They will tell the generations to come
of the righteousness of the Lord,
of what He has done.
The Messiah would be hailed as King of the Jews and Son of God – but only in his death. The Messiah would be pierced by men and forsaken by God. Yet God would not “let his holy one see decay.” The Messiah would be rescued and vindicated by God, beginning a whole new era of love and life and righteousness. The works of God through his Messiah would ripple out into the entire world, like waves in a lake.
The Messiah is Coming.
God promised Abram that he would become a great nation. The only problem was that he and his wife, Sarai, didn’t have any children, and they were well past the child bearing age. God eventually made good on the promise and blessed the elderly couple with a son named Isaac, meaning laughter. God has a sense of humor.
Isaac became the father of Jacob. Jacob became the father of 12 sons whose own offspring would become the 12 Tribes of Israel. Before that, though, they all ended up in Egypt through a series of betrayals, backstabbing, double crossing, and famine. They never intended to stay in Egypt, but that’s just what happened. They never went back home. The subsequent generations, known as the Hebrews, continued to grow in numbers and in strength until a Pharaoh came along who didn’t know about these outsiders. They became enslaved by the Egyptian government, forced into years of hard labor under brutal conditions.
The people cried out for a deliverer, and God heard their cries. God raised up Moses to free his people and lead them to the promised land. They escaped Egypt through a series a plagues. They encamped at the base of Mount Sinai. They ate manna in the wilderness. They were made to live as nomads, wandering the Sinai peninsula for 40 years because they didn’t trust God.
Finally, they were on the edge of entering the Promised Land, the land they had left so many years ago when they were just a small family. Now they are a nation on the brink of seeing God’s promise fulfilled.
But Moses was old. He wasn’t going into the land with them. What would they do without this leader who has guided them for the last 40 years? Who would speak the words of God to them?
Moses gives them this promise:
The nations you’re going to displace seek guidance from people who practice divination and predicting. But the Eternal your God doesn’t want you to do that. He will raise up from among your own people a prophet who will be like me. Listen to him. This is just what you asked Him for on the day you gathered at Mount Horeb: “Don’t make me listen to the voice of the Eternal my God anymore! And don’t make me look at that blazing fire! I’ll die!” The Eternal told me, “They’re right. I’ll send them another prophet like you from among their own people. I’ll put My words in the mouth of this prophet who will tell them everything I command him to say.” (Deuteronomy 18:14-16 | The Voice)
The Prophet is coming.
Moses died and passed the torch on to Joshua who led the people into the land of Canaan. They divided the land and laid down roots. But there was no king, so central government, no true leader. So God raised up a series of Judges who led their tribes in military, religious, and legal matters.
But the people wanted a king. They wanted to be like all the other nations. God warned them what would happen. God wanted to be their King. But he relented and gave them what they wanted. God, through the prophet Samuel, anointed Saul to be the first great king over the united tribes of Israel.
Saul did well for a while, but would ultimately break God’s commands and end up losing his kingdom. Through Samuel again, God anointed a young shepherd boy named David to become the next king after Saul. David was from the town of Bethlehem, of the Tribe of Judah. David was a “man after God’s own heart.”
To David, God made this covenant:
“More importantly, I, the Eternal swear to you that I will raise up a dynasty from your family. When you come to the end of your days, and you leave this life to lie down with your fathers, I will raise up from you a descendant, your own flesh and blood, and I will make his kingdom and family sure. He will be the one to build a temple honoring My name, and I will establish the leadership of his kingdom for all time. I will be to him a father, and he will be to Me a son. When he crosses the line and acts badly, I will teach him with a rod used by people for correction and a lash for discipline. But I will not withdraw My love from him as I did from Saul, whom I set aside in favor of you. Your dynasty, your kingdom, will stand perpetually in My sight; your descendants will rule continually.” (2 Samuel 7:11-16 | The Voice)
The King is coming.
The people of Israel would spend the next thousand years awaiting the Prophet of Deuteronomy and the King, the Son of David, promised in 2 Samuel. The people thought they were looking for two different men. Little did they know this Prophet and King would be one and the same.
The Messiah is coming.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. We know that story. We know its power, its beauty, its wonder. God simply spoke into being all the we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. At God’s word, galaxies were formed and our planet burst to life with vegetation and wildlife. The crowning jewel of God creation in this opening song of Scripture is man and woman who were created in God’s own image and likeness.
The woman ate the fruit and then gave it to her husband, and he ate, too. Their eyes were open to the realities of their sin, their nakedness, their shame. They hid from God. For the first time ever they felt unsafe in God’s presence.
God (to the serpent):
What you have done carries great consequences.
Now you are cursed more than cattle or wild beasts.
You will writhe on your belly forever,
consuming the dust out of which man was made.
I will make you and your brood enemies
of the woman and all her children;
The woman’s child will stomp your head,
and you will strike his heel.
(Genesis 3:14-15 | The Voice)
Fast forward in the story, past the flood, past the tower of Babel, and we’re introduced to a man named Abram (later known as Abraham) who lived in the Mesopotamian city of Ur. Abram was married, childless, and very wealthy. God chose Abram to be an integral part of his great plan to rescue his children from the schemes of the serpent.
Abram, get up and go! Leave your country. Leave your relatives and your father’s home, and travel to the land I will show you. Don’t worry—I will guide you there. I have plans to make a great people from your descendants. And I am going to put a special blessing on you and cause your reputation to grow so that you will become a blessing and example to others. I will also bless those who bless you and further you in your journey, and I’ll trip up those who try to trip you along the way. Through your descendants, all of the families of the earth will find their blessing in you. (Genesis 12:1-3 | The Voice)
As millions of people across the globe pause this day to reflect on the birth of Jesus the Anointed One by Mary, the elect, chosen one of God, I felt it appropriate to skip ahead in the Israel recap and tell of our experience in the Little Town of Bet Lekhem.
Bet Lekhem, or as we say “Bethlehem”, is one of the most hotly disputed cities on the face of the planet. It’s only 10km south of Jerusalem and is located within the West Bank. No Israeli citizen, whether Jew, Christian, Muslim, or atheist, is allowed to enter the city limits. We had to unload the bus and get on another one with a Palestinian driver and a Palestinian Christian tour-guide. The entire city is surrounded by cement walls about 15ft high with barbed wire across the top. After passing through the checkpoints it was as if we had entered another world, and in a way we did. Bethlehem is a Muslim city. It’s poorer, dirtier, and more third-world than the rest of Israel.
The main place we went in Bethlehem was the church of the Nativity, which is actually shared by 4 or 5 different Christian denominations. It’s a large cathedral built over the supposed birth place of Jesus, which was really the back of a small cave system. When Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem for the census there was no room in the inn, but really the inn wasn’t where they would have stayed anyway, at least not an inn like we think of. They really would have stayed in a deeper cave system which was set up for temporary housing of all the travelers. The “stable” was in the very back of the cave where the livestock and pack animals were kept. There was no room in the rest of the cave, so Mary and Joseph were forced to go all the way to the back of the cave to the stable. It is here that the Virgin Mary gave birth the the Messiah, the King of the Jews.
The church itself was built shortly after the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity and stood longer than any of its contemporaries. When the Muslims were marching through the holy land to take it back from the crusaders, they were destroying all the cathedrals along the way. But when they came to the Church of the Nativity, they saw a portrait of the Magi from the East and left the building standing because their people had already been there.
Below the building, beneath the altar area is the traditional location of the birth of Jesus and where he was laid in the manger. We were able to go down there and were hurried through the line, not giving us much time to take it all in. It was neat to say that we have been there, but it’s not the location itself that affects me, it’s the event and the people. I don’t worship the place; I, like the magi, worship the King who was born in that place on that day 2ooo years ago.
From the city of David, the great king of Israel, came Jesus, the Great King over all the earth. From the “House of Bread” (lit. translation of Bet Lekhem), came the Bread of Life. From one of the most disputed cities in modern history came one of the most disputed historical figures.
As we celebrate this day as a remembrance of the birth of our Savior, let us not fall into the trap of celebrating the day itself, or traditions, or materialism for that matter. Let us continually celebrate the coming of God to His creation in the form of a helpless, vulnerable baby. He grew up, matured, and lived a perfect life during a time of hostility, political upheaval, and concern about the future. I would say that life hasn’t changed much since those days, just a different context. It’s amazing that the story of Jesus, from his miraculous birth to his sacrificial death, continues to have the same impact on the world as it did 2000 years ago.
Merry Christmas to all, and let us all be thankful for the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.