December 13, 2011 Devotion Sharing (O Little Town of Bethlehem)

Submitted by Kevin H. from Gracepoint Davis Church

What warning is there from each of these characters in the text? Which character can you most identify with?

–          Herod

Herod’s reaction to the news of the arrival of the king of the Jews was being “disturbed.”  In ESV, the word used is “troubled.”  For the Magi that came from the East, this news of the arrival of the king of the Jews was such a good news, of great joy, that they were willing to invest in so much time and effort to come see this king.   For Herod, it seemed like it was one of the worst news he could receive.  From humanly perspective, this makes sense.  Herod had claimed himself the king of the Jews.  He had claimed the throne for himself.  His entire identity had to do with being the king, and he had invested much of his life getting to the throne.  It was for his to keep.  So when he heard the news of the arrival of another king, that put Herod in direct competition with this newly born king.  There can only be one king in a kingdom.  If a new king came, that means he can no longer be the king.  His self-interest of reigning as king was at stake.  In the same way, existence of God and Jesus’ claim to be the king of my life comes in direct opposition to my existence as the reigning king over my own life.  Jesus’ reality puts me in direct competition with him.

But the question has to be who is the legitimate king.  In the worldly perspective, it may have even seemed that Herod had the right to be king.  He exercised his wit, flexed his influence, grabbed for himself military power, invested his time and effort to climb up the ladder to the top, and he won.  He won his way to the kingship.  In my case, I claim legitimacy because it’s my life.  I put in my effort to be who I am, gain what I have, etc.  But here is Jesus, He was anointed King from birth, from the very beginning, predating everything that Herod had done to become king, and even before my life or anyone’s life began.  Who is the legitimate king?  To Herod’s disturbance, Jesus was the true king.  What Herod failed to understand fully was the fact that his very own life did not belong to him, nor did any of his subjects’ lives.  God is the creator.  Everything came from Him.  He is the one who has legitimate claim to ownership as the creator who has fathered all things.  As troubling this fact is, it is a fact that cannot be denied.  And that’s the same case with my life.  I used to firmly believe that my life belonged to me and that I had the right to do whatever I wanted with my life.  So the idea of having to give up control over my life seemed troubling – almost even unfair.  But that was in denial of the truth that my very life did not belong to me, but to God.  He is the legitimate owner.

When I insist on the illegitimate claim over my own life, that’s when God becomes a troubling reality.  When God feels burdensome or meddlesome, that’s when I am in denial of the very fundamental fact that God is the legitimate owner and king over my life.  I cannot be in competition with him.  I need to take warning from Herod’s troubled heart.  God’s reality and claim becomes troubling when I fall into the delusion that my life is my life.  The reality is that it is not.

–          “all Jerusalem”

I wonder about this statement, that all of Jerusalem was also disturbed.  Jesus was the king that was promised from long ago, in prophesy.  And yet all of the residents were disturbed as much as Herod.  I think this is a poignant warning, that even though they knew Herod to be a harsh king who extracted much labor and money and sacrifice from them, the people had accepted him as their king, and what mattered to them was that their ‘normal’ course of life, the one that they had come to accept to not get disturbed.  What would it have meant to have a new king?  Especially the one that God had anointed and sent?  That probably would have meant a lot of change – perhaps the world that they had known turning upside down.  This new king would have been different from the one that they had known, who played by the same rules of power and influence and might as the people were familiar with.  At least with Herod, as long as they paid him what he wanted, he would not have any say in how they lived their lives–whether or not they were cheating with faulty scales, whether or not they coveted the neighbor’s possessions, etc.  If this God anointed king is to shepherd the people back to God and if this king who knows all things about men’s heart and had a lot to say through his laws about the condition of the heart becomes the new king, what kind of moral room would they have?  It may have seemed even more oppressive.  I see two warnings here I need to be aware of.  One is that I should not be prejudiced against change.  I’ve seen people shy away from becoming saved because they are unsure of what it would be like to live life as a Christian.  At least they know it should be different than the one that they’ve known.  But for those who are just comfortable with the familiar, not wanting any change to the system that they have figured out to live with, whether or not the change is for true good or bad, it is ultimately undesirable.  Second warning is how welcoming I am of God’s involvement in my life.  How thoroughly, how deeply, how comprehensively do I really want God’s involvement in my life?  What am I afraid of, and in what things do I hesitate in God intruding into my moral space?  My ultimate goal and desire should be the truth and God’s holiness.

–          Priests and teachers of the law

The most troubling thing about the priests and the teachers of the law is the fact that they knew everything.  Just like the Magi, they knew about this coming king of the Jews.  They knew more, because they knew the location, Bethlehem.  And yet they had not known the time, and they had not sought Jesus out.  They weren’t really expecting Jesus, nor were they interested enough to have anticipated the new king and searched him out.  So they completely missed the arrival.  What it shows is that all their knowledge about the law and God’s prophesies, etc., never mattered to them in real life.  They were focused on learning the laws and keeping the rules in the arena of religion.  None of it mattered all that much to them personally.  They were content enough to keep faith as an intellectual exercise in their little arena of excellence.  As much as they had known about God, God was never that real.  I need to take great warning from this kind of trap that I can fall into.  The longer I have been a Christian, the more I can get practiced into explaining the gospel or answering tough questions or sounding like I know something about the Bible.  But the danger is that all of it can just remain as head knowledge and I can harden my heart against what they actually mean in my heart and in my daily life.

Reflect on the opening word of the Sermon on the Mount in light of the lines “… but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

Matthew 5:3–5  

3     “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4
     Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5
     Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

God knows the very condition of man and this world.  God is very realistic about it.  He knows what sin does to man with the consequences of broken heart and broken lives.  He knows the mournful state that we are in.  God does not have some delusional rosy picture of the state of humanity.  He knows the ravages of sin and all the brokenness that follow.  And into this kind of world, Jesus came.  The good news is that for the poor and the mourning and the broken and the meek Jesus came to save.  And I see this played out in real life quite often.  Those who feel they have everything that they could want and their intoxicating desire for wealth and the glitz of the world are not interested in Jesus and the forgiveness that God offers.  Personally, many times when I lose sight of this truth and get comfortable with my life when things seem to go well enough, my desire for God wanes.  When I focus on the things of this world, in terms of what pleasure or what benefit or what comfort they can offer me, I stop thinking about my heart’s true condition.  I get numb to God and his word as I seek to enjoy earthly things as if they would last forever.  But when I am in tune with the state of my brokenness, my sinfulness, and my relational location from God, I may not be ‘happy’ as the world defines happiness, but I am in the right place of seeking God.  Being right before God relationally is really the best place to be.  So even though it may be painful, I’m thankful for those times when God had to shake my life until I return to God and see my ugly sins and see Jesus who has come to rescue me.  There is no greater and more profound joy and peace than this.  I see God’s comfort and I become aware of his goodness and kindness.  I see God’s love manifested through people around me who offer me prayers and honest conversations and I become very thankful.  Through it all, I lose my palate for the frivolous things of the world and I hunger and thirst for God’s word that can guide me onto the right path.  I find room in my heart to serve others and the joy that follows.  It is good for me to be poor in spirit – to be fully in tune with my brokenness so as to hunger for God’s patience and kindness and the great love of Jesus’ death for my sins.  Even in sad times, I get to experience God’s divine comfort that goes well beyond mere sentiments as God becomes so near.  I need to strive for humility and meekness and that I don’t pound my chest at others demanding respect.  When I am in full acknowledgement of my sinfulness and my need for God’s sanctification, I can be teachable, humble toward others, and a source of blessing to others.

What is the “wonderous gift” and why is it the case that only the meek would receive this gift?

For the proud, a gift is very difficult to accept.  Accepting gift somehow diminishes me, puts me in debt, puts others as having one up on me in this imaginary competition of pride that I feel like I cannot afford to lose.  This wonderous gift of God, the gift of Jesus dying on the cross in my place and declaring me forgiven,  is harsh on my pride.   It says that I am so guilty of evil and that the rightful punishment for me is a violent death on the cross.  This fact goes against every grain of pride in me.  I hate being judged or evaluated by others, and on top of that to be judged morally.  This is shown by the fact that at every hint of me messing up or having acted selfishly or negligently, I feel indignant because of so many different excuses that line up in my mind.  Even if I were to go through every single one of these reasons and be proven unreasonable, yet still my reaction would be that no one should judge me.  Even worse yet, I am declared to be guilty, to be an utter moral failure, that there is nothing good in me worth saving.  Death is the right end to my life.

On top of all this, the forgiveness is offered to me as a gift – not to be earned or merited, but as a gift.  If I could earn it, then I can walk away from the forgiver after the transaction of payment and the due release of debt.  I can be of my own again, and I am free to live my own life.  But to receive the gift is to be indebted to the other’s kindness.  I have to live in constant debt of this kindness and mercy, and it does not let me forget about the whole thing.  I am fully capable of such ugly pride.

James 4:6–10  

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Evaluate the phenomenon of human pride. How well-grounded in reality is this pride?  i.e., what truths must be ignored or suppressed in order for man to be proud?

Human pride is completely ungrounded, for the very fact that my existence is owed to God.  I did not will myself into being.  I am created and brought into the world.  Every single aspect of my entity has been given to me as a gift from the very beginning, and I have no basis for ownership.  The only way for the created being to have legitimate ownership over his very existence is to have been given it or granted ownership.  If that were the case, then gratitude should be the right response to the giver.  However, the way that I played out my life is neither the case.  I denied God’s ownership over me, and I simply asserted that I was my own and no one else should have any say in it.  I lived my life the way I would have it, and the result was a lot of brokenness and darkness and corrupted desires.  Even in that sense, my pride was unfounded for I had no success in running my own life either.  In every aspect, my basic human pride does not make sense.  When I insist on it, I am against all the fundamental truths and facts about my life – that God created me, for his desire and will, for his purpose, for the love that he had in mind for me.  In order for me to deny all that, I had to maintain for many years all the wrong ideas about God, purely based on my own feelings toward Him, with the motivation of rebellion – that He is aloof and that he does not care, that He’s ought to harm me, that He’s like a moral dictator who’s on a power trip.  But Jesus and the cross speak against all of these faulty notions.  It judges me correctly that I am a corrupt being without much hope.  But it speaks of God’s incredible love, against which none of my demonizing picture of God would fit.  Against Jesus’ birth and death on the cross, all of my human pride is proved false and irrational and rebellious for the hopeless end.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,

Please quiet all of my ugly pride and rebellious grumbling, to humbly acknowledge the fact that I am in need of your grace, the precious gift of Jesus’ birth into my life.  If you had come in force with a lot of noise and oppression, I would have thought it right to be in rebellion against you.  But you came as an infant baby in a manger.  You came as a gift for me.  Help me to be humble, to receive you my Lord each and every day of my life.  Help me to live in the same manner that you came – meek and humble, always appreciating your descending love.  Help me to show this kind of love onto others, as you have shown me in the manger.

IJN.

Submitted by Gina H. from Gracepoint Davis Church

Although the hymn notes the obliviousness of Bethlehem, the Bible describes that the residents of Jerusalem received clear notice of Christ’s coming, yet none of them experienced Christmas.

What warning is there from each of these characters in the text? Which character can you most identify with?

–          Herod

Herod was disturbed at the news that there was a rightful king over the Jews. He was the king of the Jews for now, illegitimate king that he was, but king nonetheless.  To hear that the real King was now coming to take His rightful throne–this disturbed Herod. It would disturb his status quo, the brute power and force that he could exert, the thing that gave him his identity and sense of worth would be taken away, and others would no longer bow down to him. He would no longer have the control that he had over his own life, and would need to instead bow to another as King over his life.

The warning for me from Herod is that I cannot hold on illegitimately to my own sense of power and control, although I know that there is a true King – Jesus, who needs to be the Lord over my life. We know that eventually out of his desire to hold onto his own throne, he ended up killing many innocent people out of his desire to kill this King. When I try to hold onto my own illegitimate control over my life, the pathway that is shown to me here is one which will take me to a life of hurting many people, and eventually myself, as I become more and more of that twisted person who only cares about securing my own rule.

–          “all Jerusalem”

“All Jerusalem” comprises of the people who just followed the example of Herod’s reaction, and didn’t pause to think for themselves what this could mean. Each person had that personal chance to respond to this news of the coming of Jesus, but they just went along with what everyone else was doing. Just living their lives. Just staying within the status quo. Just not wanting to be disturbed. Just leave me alone to my own little life, and don’t bother me. Let me take care of my own things, my own agendas. They just went along with the rest of the crowd–that was probably the easiest thing. No need to think more deeply, make sacrifices of standing up for your own convictions, making any changes in your life to respond to the truth that was facing you.

The warning here for me is that I need to be willing to pause and step back from the hustle bustle of my daily life, and think actively about what I believe, instead of just seeking the comfortable easy way out. The comfortable, no-struggle-over-convictions-and-truth, kind of life will eventually find that the easiest thing to do is to just go along with what others around you.  The strongest voices (e.g.  the media, social standards) can hinder me from experiencing the coming of Jesus into my own life.

–          priests and teachers of the law

The chief priests and teachers of the law were able to rattle off the facts that the Christ, the shepherd of Israel, would be born in Bethlehem. They knew all the answers.  They had been steeped in all of the religious traditions and knowledge.  Although they knew the answers in their head, they also missed the coming of Jesus. There was no wonder or awe, as they answered Herod, “oh, He will be born in Bethlehem.” They lacked spiritual hunger of their own, to have a proper sense of awe or amazement at this thing that was about to happen.  The Magi saw the star from the East, and they traveled all the way to Jerusalem to find this baby. But the chief priest and teachers were right there the whole time, but had no desire to go to Bethlehem and search for the child for themselves.   They pointed the Magi in the right direction because it was their job. But for them, they wouldn’t go to Bethlehem. Why go to Bethlehem where they were comfortable, enjoyed their position of authority and respect.  The knowledge that they had about Jesus didn’t really end up affecting their lives in any meaningful way.

The warning here for me is that it’s very possible to be living the “Christian” life, and carrying the name of “Christian” but still miss the coming of Jesus.  As one who has grown up in the church and even served the church pretty actively, the warning for me here is that that is not enough to connect with Jesus. It’s not about the head knowledge, not about how well I know the Bible or the traditions, but it’s about how I actually live out a seeking heart after Jesus. The Magi got to meet Jesus, but the chief priests and teachers of the law weren’t really interested, even though they should have been the ones who were most excited and thrilled and in awe as they held the knowledge. I need to check my heart often that I am not just doing the things that I do to “serve God,” for my own glory, because I am just pursuing my own agendas of holding onto a religious title or position. I need to strive daily to make sure that I am connecting with God, still always that seeker, like the Magi, for way to find the King of kings daily over and over again in my own life.

I can relate a lot to “all Jerusalem.” They probably didn’t have too many dreams or aspirations. Just wanting to get by, survive each day, make it through to the next day while providing for their families. Just maintain that, and don’t let anything disturb that too much. A lot of times I just don’t want to be disturbed wanting to be left alone to my own little quiet life of my own little comforts and some semblance of control without too many interruptions. Although the King of kings has come, Jerusalem chose to keep their own agendas and “comforts.” They even ended up crucifying Jesus because they went along with the rest of the crowd. And ultimately they lost their lives for eternity. This is that clear warning for me that I need to continue to struggle daily against my own desires to just be comfortable. That this comfort can provide the best life for me is a lie. But as I commit to obey the call each day to respond to Jesus as the Lord of my life, my time, my energy, my resources, I know that I will continue to experience that Jesus is indeed the one who best knows how to be King over my life.

Reflect on the opening word of the Sermon on the Mount in light of the lines “… but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.” 

Matthew 5:3–5  

3     “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4
     Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5
     Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Jesus came to be with us, in our true state, to experience the brokenness of our lives and hearts full of sin. He left heaven’s throne in order to be with us in this way, so that we could know that He is the Savior, God with us. But if I’m in the halls of Jerusalem, on my own throne of my life, then I’m going to miss Jesus. Our paths will not intersect. I will not have a need for Jesus if my life is filled with concerns of my own kingship and agendas. The Sermon on the Mount says that blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek because that is what Jesus came to experience, whom Jesus came to comfort. If I say that I am not poor in spirit, that my greatest need is not for my spirit to be made anew, and I am not mourning over my sin and the brokenness around and in me, and if I am not humbling myself in order to see my true state, then how can Christ enter into my heart? Jesus came to save sinners, but if I say that I don’t need to be saved from my sin then Jesus just cannot enter in, because I am not agreeing with what He says is my true need.

Submitted by Megan A. from Gracepoint Davis Church

Although the hymn notes the obliviousness of Bethlehem, the Bible describes that the residents of Jerusalem received clear notice of Christ’s coming, yet none of them experienced Christmas.

What warning is there from each of these characters in the text?

The warning from each of these characters in the text is for us to not miss having that personal encounter with Jesus like King Herod, all Jerusalem and the people’s chief priest and teachers of the law did that first Christmas.

Herod was disturbed when he heard that the king of the Jews was going to be born and he felt threatened by this new king that the Magi had travelled so far to come to worship.  Herod found out by asking the chief priests and teachers of the law where the Christ was to be born and he told the Magi to report to him when they find the child and lied to them that he wanted to go and worship him.  His heart was far from worshipping Jesus because he was only interested in worshipping himself and preserving himself and felt threatened by any competition to his own illegitimate kingship.

All Jerusalem was disturbed with Herod even though they should have been overjoyed as this was the promised Messiah that they have been waiting for and who was prophesized but they didn’t want their complacent lives to be disrupted.

The chief priests and teachers of the law knew the prophecy of where the Christ was to be born but they weren’t interested in finding the Messiah because they were too comfortable with their religiosity and didn’t want to upset their status quo.  The tragedy is that they knew where the Christ was to be born but they didn’t bother to go to find out if it was actually true.

The only ones who were truly interested in Jesus were the Magi who travelled from afar to find him so they can worship him as the king of the Jews.

Which character can you most identify with?

–        Herod

–        “all Jerusalem”

–        priests and teachers of the law

I can identify the most with the priests and teachers of the law in doing and keeping busy, coming to prayer meetings, Bible studies, Sunday worship service, doing daily devotions, even serving but when my heart is preoccupied with my agenda and busyness of the day and not seeking for a personal encounter with Jesus—basically doing external acts of worship without a personal connection to the King of kings and Prince of Peace.  All these religious things that I do and keep busy with throughout the week is meaningless because I haven’t experienced the true blessing of Jesus touching and healing my heart full of deep rooted sins in me that hurt and alienate me from the very people who are closest to me and separate me from my loving Heavenly Father.  I miss out forfeiting this wondrous gift from God when I don’t deliberately and actively seek to hear what Jesus has to say to me through his word and prayer that corrects my self-centered perspective and worldly values.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for coming in your humble ways, of silently entering into our dark broken world, wanting to bless each one of us who have ears to hear and hearts who seek your blessings of God who came near to us to save us from our sins.  You show us how wrong we are in our view of power in Herod, of religion in the chief priests, and the pride in each of us and came to show us the true blessing is having You in our hearts for proper worship of You.

 

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