31. Belief

Short Meditations in John 7:  31.  Belief

Jn 7:31  Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”

There are times, possibly because they deserted him at the Cross, that we think that few people believed in the Jesus, but John challenges that belief. First, his disciples: “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (Jn 2:11) Then others: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.” (2:23) Also Samaritans: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” (4:39) Families: “the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.” (4:53) Generally: “Still, many in the crowd believed in him,” (7:31) and, “Even as he spoke, many believed in him,” (8:31) and, “And in that place many believed in Jesus,” (10:42)and, many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him,” (11:45) and, “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed.” (12:42)

Isn’t that amazing! It started with the disciples, picked up many Jews who saw what he did, included Samaritans, other specific people touched by him, then the crowd, specifically the Jews, and finally even Jewish leaders!

Far from receiving rejection, John shows us that in fact all along the way there were people becoming believers. The fact that most of them did not appear to be there on that last morning before Pilate, or perhaps were overawed by the directions of the religious leaders of the Temple, including the High Priest, does not mean that people’s hearts were not being changed.

None of the Synoptic writers picked up on this for perhaps they were too busy simply putting together the basics of what had taken place in those three years. It was left to John, after decades more of pondering on exactly what went on, to pick up on this. It also fits with his overall goal stated near the end: Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31). It is perhaps no coincidence that the word ‘believe’ occurs 84 times in John, but only 9 in Matthew, 15 in Mark and 10 in Luke.  

In verse 31 we see the start of the final phase in the chapter where questions are asked, and we see how the tension builds and the authorities are moved to act- but don’t!  But there are lots of believers!  

1. Introduction

The Impossibilities of God in a Broken World, the story of Christmas, Meditations:

1. Introduction

Jn 6:38    I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.

Genesis of an idea: Every year Advent arrives and I think, “Well, I have written about Christmas several times before, there’s not a lot left to say. What shall I write about instead?” (A rather short-sighted approach for you can, I believe, look afresh at the same Scripture time and time again and see something new). Anyway, the same thing happened at the beginning of December this year, but then I was sitting in the worship of a Sunday morning service and had a strong sense of a different view of the events in respect of what we now call ‘Christmas’.  I don’t know what caused it but I suddenly found myself thinking about all these things that go to make up the Christmas story and saw them as simply impossible – in human terms – and yet things that happened because God was stepping down onto this broken world.

A Micro Thought: A little while back I started writing what I called ‘Micro thoughts’, short writings on my Facebook pages that were short, sharp and to the point, making a single point each time, written every three or four days, and when we came to December I focused them as ‘Advent Micro Thoughts’.  Here is the first one I wrote then: “Why, before all else (1 Pet 1:20), should the Godhead have planned for one of them to leave the wonder, the beauty, the glory, the peace and the harmony of heaven to come to the war-torn earth where human beings abused and enslaved one another, fought one another, argued with one another, allowed their minds to be distorted and twisted and warped in self-centred godlessness? Why would he come down (Jn 6:38) into all this in total vulnerability, almost hidden from view, utterly reliant on a teenage mother and questioning father? Why? Love.”

Silent Night? There is a Christmas carol that starts, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright,” and it conveys this beautiful picture of what was taking place two thousand years ago, as if everything was wonderfully peaceful, but the truth is very far from that. It is a beautiful romantic picture conjured up by that carol and the first verse goes on to speak of the crib scene: “Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.” It’s a beautiful carol and I have lost count of how many times I have sung it over the years, but really and truly, when you start thinking of the circumstances that make up the Christmas story, peace is the last thing than comes to mind! We’ll see that as we go along.

Context – Ben Hur: Perhaps to understand something more of what I have just been saying, it might be appropriate to think about the film ‘Ben Hur’. I realize I haven’t seen the 2016 version and so you must put up with my comments about the 1959 film starring Charlton Heston. When people speak about that film the thing that usually comes up first in conversation is the deadly chariot race, but the images that always stay with me are those of Judah Ben Hur as a slave on a galley, chained in position with absolutely no hope whatsoever of his life as a slave ever changing. That is the world of two thousand years ago under the domination of the Roman empire with possibly one of the most disciplined armies of the world, disciplined by fear (because punishment for disobedience was either death or worse, slavery) and triumph (being part of a totally successful army).

Life in General: But life in general – although we may view it through the lenses of life today – was nothing like life today. When sickness struck, the odds were against you. If there was a bad harvest, you would know the pangs of hunger and fear of food running out. If you travelled it was either by foot or possibly by donkey, horse or camel, depending on how rich you were. There were no social security benefits so you took whatever job was available and if your father was a carpenter, you probably followed in his footsteps. Money came from work – your work. If your family didn’t have a trade or business, you worked as a servant, or even slave, for someone else.  If you were a woman, you cared for the home and had children.  Life for most was entirely parochial, you just didn’t travel. The word ‘holiday’ was probably unknown for most. If you had a disability and could not work, you begged and relied upon charity of passers-by or of your family. Because of the Roman presence, sometimes you worked for these overlords, perhaps collecting taxes for them and as they were not too concerned, just that you collected sufficient, it gave you space to be less than scrupulous in your dealings with the ordinary people. Yes, they may have disliked you but who cares, you are in the place of power and power means wealth and wealth means comfort in this often-uncomfortable world.

Why this world? Perhaps most people were too busy surviving to bother thinking about such issues but for us today we have space to ask the big questions, why is this world like this, why did you allow it to be like this God, why don’t you do something to change it? Security comes from an ordered life, and for a Jew living in the land we call Israel, order came through following the Law of Moses, hoping for a Messiah to come one day to bring us freedom as the prophets hinted, attending Synagogue on Saturday and entering into the life of our local community. As long as you kept the rules you were acceptable. Those who collaborated with the Romans were despised, and some had jobs that put them outside the ambit of community life, like those who were shepherds and who had to live out on the hills looking after their master’s sheep. Why was life so tough?  Why did God make it like this? Why didn’t He do something to change it? Those are some of the questions we’ll pick up along the way in these days ahead.

Meanwhile, back in heaven: Some have the view that Jesus first came into existence when he was conceived in Mary but such people clearly have never read John’s gospel. Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, certainly did appear in human form for the first time two thousand years ago, but the Son of God had existed with the Father from before time began and was there with the Father bringing the material world into being (Jn 1:3, Heb 1:2, Prov 8:27-31) and there he existed as the glorious second person of the Trinity (Jn 17:5,24). From there the Son ‘came down’, “I have come down from heaven.” (Jn 6:38)

And to Christmas? Unfortunately so often, in our thinking, we have relegated the Christmas story to nativity plays in schools where the baby Jesus gets accompanied by angels, sheep, penguins, lions and anything else that takes the school’s fancy, just helping the reality of what really happened drift further and further away from our understanding today. It is actually a harsh and difficult story, with occasional bursts of glory, but it is the story of God coming to do things which most people consider impossible – the first being that Almighty God, who sits on clouds in many people’s imaginations, comes to earth in the form of a baby. How ridiculous – but true!

The reality: Perfect God coming to a very imperfect world, perfect God coming to very imperfect people: that is what brings hope for you and me, and that must be one of the primary messages of Christmas, that God acted on their plan to leave the wonder, the beauty, the glory, the peace and the harmony of heaven to come to the war-torn earth where human beings abused and enslaved one another, fought one another, argued with one another, allowed their minds to be distorted and twisted and warped in self-centred godlessness. That is the wonder of Christmas and if you’ve never seen it like that, perhaps you’ve missed the reality of this story.  But it’s not just a story, it is history, facts of time-space history, and it is, together with the story of Good Friday and Easter Day, the most incredible and wonderful story ever to be declared on the earth.   It is only, I suggest, when we see the impossibilities confronting these people and the harshness and difficulties that they went through, will we truly see the wonder of these events.

7. Mourning and Grieving (1)

Transformation Meditations: 7. Mourning & Grieving (1)

Isa 61:1-3   He has sent me ….. to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion

The list of those to whom the Messiah has been sent to minister goes on to include those who mourn and grieve. The synonyms for the two words are almost exactly the same so it suggests Hebrew parallelism, but the action for both is apparently different. A dictionary suggests ‘to comfort’ means, ‘to ease or alleviate a person’s feelings of grief or distress,’ while ‘to provide’ means, ‘to make available something’. So the Messiah comes to alleviate a person’s distress by providing them with something. The implication is that when we mourn we are lacking something which the Messiah then comes to provide.

So when do we mourn? We mourn over loss of someone loved. We have a sense of sadness at their absence. The word grieving is slightly stronger and usually speaks of a more intense sorrow at such loss. Now this is a subject that calls for honesty. We are all different and we all feel differently about people we love. I have taken and attended a number of funerals and watched ‘the mourners’.

Some people stand or sit throughout the service in tears, others appear unmoved, and Christians often rejoice at the ‘promotion’ of their loved one to heaven. Yes, there will still be a great gap in our lives at the loss of our loved one, but the reality of heaven and the comfort of the Lord’s presence can turn such a time into a time of praise and worship.  However strong the reality, the anguish is still so great for some that tears are the appropriate expression. There is no ‘right’ way.

But then there is the death of a loved one who has gone through years, perhaps, of suffering, and death is a welcome relief. Most people feel it is unseemly to express such relief at such times, but it is the reality and we should not feel guilty about it. Then, of course, there is the death of a person we hardly knew, and sorrow is almost hypocritical in such a case. Care and concern for those who remain, is something else.

So we said that the Lord, the Messiah, Jesus, comes to provide something that is missing. What can that be? There may be loneliness, an acute sense of being left alone when a life-long partner passes away. The Lord comes to bring comfort through an intense sense of his loving presence. For some grief may be accompanied by fear, an intense worry about how they will cope on their own. Again, perfect love casts out fear (1Jn 4:18 – although that is strictly in a context of judgment, it is nevertheless true).

The assurance that only he can bring also brings a sense of security. Similarly it may be the absence of peace, because of the nature of circumstances surrounding the death, but again it is the Lord’s presence with us that brings that peace. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4) God is known as a God of comfort, not One who stands off at a distance, impartial and uncaring. When Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus, he wept, he felt for the people. God feels for us, draws alongside us with His comforting presence. If you are grieving, may you know that experience.

2. The Poor?

Transformation Meditations: 2. The Poor?

Isa 61:1 the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

We have started to look at the subject of life transformation that takes place when a person encounters God and we have started by looking at the Messiah’s mandate in Isa 61, quoted by Jesus of himself when he started his ministry.  The Messiah comes and says, this is what my Father wants me to do – to proclaim good news. When Jesus started his ministry he declared, The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15)

How frustrating; there it is again, ‘good news’. Well, perhaps we have to see Jesus’ summary of what he then went on to do: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) Well good news certainly for the first five in that list, but there it is yet again, this reference to ‘good news’ being proclaimed to ‘the poor’. So what is the ‘good news’ and who are ‘the poor’?

Well I am old enough to remember the excitement in the Christian world when ‘the Cross and the Switchblade’ was published, the story of a young pastor who felt called to the streets of New York. It’s a long time back so my quote may not be completely accurate, but I remember one time when he was looking on the street people as his team was preaching in the slum streets and he pondered on what they were really achieving. A girl, I believe it was, came up to him and said, in respect of the salvation she and a number of others had received as the Gospel was preached there, something like, “Pastor Dave, the streets don’t change, the poverty and drugs are still here, and we still live here, but inside we are utterly different, utterly changed.” Something like that, at least. That stayed with me. The outward circumstances may remain the same – we may still be on low incomes, in poor circumstances – but inwardly we are transformed.

It may not be monetary ‘poor’; surely the blind, the lame, the lepers and the dead of that list in Mt 11 are poor. Surely those in Isaiah’s list – the broken-hearted, captives, prisoners, those who mourn and grieve, those in despair, they are all ‘poor’. Surely the reality is that anyone who has not entered into a living relationship with Almighty God, anyone who has not received the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience (Rom 2:4), His shared glory (Rom 9:23), His wisdom and knowledge (Rom 11:33), His grace (Eph 1:7), His glorious inheritance (Eph 1:18), and his power through His Spirit (Eph 3:16).

So what is the good news for these people, for all of us, because whoever we are, if we haven’t entered all of those things, we are ‘poor’. The ‘good news’ that God announces from heaven is that, “I love you, I have sent Jesus to die for you, I want to redeem you, justify you, forgive you, adopt you and empower you, transform you.” THAT is the good news. Let’s exult in the wonder of it, praise and worship Him for it, share it, and ensure it is beyond mere words, but comes with the power of the Spirit to guarantee that complete life transformation.

1. Transformation Declared

PART ONE: The Need

Transformation Meditations: 1. Transformation Declared

Isa 61:1-3 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

I recently finished the series entitled, ‘Reaching into Redemption’ which was all about the ongoing redemption process of God which starts when we are saved and continues throughout our lives. Some might prefer to refer to this as our sanctification, but I wanted to put the focus on the Lord and His activity, even though it did involve us. Having completed that series I have pottered in various attempts at other meditations but find myself coming back to this subject of ‘transformation’, the incredible nature of what takes place when God meets with a human being.  The thrust or main purpose of this, I sense as I have prayed, is the potential for life change that comes with encounters with God, something that perhaps we so often take for granted. My intent is that each of these (limited number of) meditations will be a lot shorter that those ‘Redemption’ ones, for I am aware the length of those required a high level of discipline to read, so I am intending to make these more manageable.

In this first study I simply want to take a preliminary look at these amazing verses from Isaiah that Jesus quoted at the beginning of his ministry in a synagogue in Nazareth (see Lk 4:18,19) Let’s be very simple; the intent of the Messiah, empowered and directed by the Spirit of God, was to proclaim good news to the poor, but that wasn’t just a word exercise, it was to be a life transforming exercise:

  • He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
  • to proclaim freedom for the captives and
  • release from darkness for the prisoners….
  • to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion
  • to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
  • the oil of joy instead of mourning, and
  • a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Note first of all the people he goes to: the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, prisoners, those who mourn and grieve and despair, to bring them to a place where there is something beautiful about them, and they are characterized by joy and known as a people of praise. So here’s the questions that must follow: do we see people around us without Christ like this, do we see life transformations like this when they (we) come to Christ, or is our evangelism simply words without power? The activity of Jesus seen through these words is a power ministry and he says to us, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) May it be so.

27. The Waiting Game (2)

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 27. The Waiting Game (2)

Luke 2:25,26  Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ

Long Periods: In the previous two studies we have seen first how God nudged Cyrus to release the Jews to go back to their land to rebuild the Temple, and then how Nehemiah’s anguish for the state of Jerusalem caused the rebuilding of the city to come about. In the midst of this, there are long periods – seventy years between the start of the deportation of Israel to the time post-exile when they started returning, seventy years between the destruction of the temple to the time when the rebuilding was complete, twenty years for the rebuilding, seventy years between the completion of the temple rebuilding and the start of rebuilding the city. These are long periods that roll off the tongue too easily. Seventy years is my complete lifespan!  But all of this pales into insignificance when we realise that between the last historical details of Ezra and Nehemiah and the last of the prophets through to the start of the records of the Gospels, is over four hundred years.  Four hundred years for the USA takes us back to colonial history. If we go back to 1700 you would have to wait another 32 years for George Washington to be born. Four hundred years for the UK means 1700 was seven years before the union of England, Wales & Scotland.

One man: Yes, four hundred years is a long time, especially when it means silence from heaven for a nation that had known prophetic input for hundreds of years. When a man named Simeon, living in Jerusalem, was getting old, he might have reflected that a once godly (well semi-godly) people were now a shadow of what they once had been. Now they were a vassal state to the Roman Empire with Roman occupancy and oversight. The Romans had allowed them to have nominally Jewish rulers, but the real power came from Rome. Simeon and all his fellow Jews might have been excused if their faith levels were rather low, because they appeared a somewhat abandoned people. Yes, they still had the temple that had been built after the exile and, in fact, Herod had greatly enlarged it and made it a truly splendid building. And yes, they had a high priest and all the trappings of a religion. Yes, there were guardians of the Law of Moses, called Pharisees, but religion was more a formality rather than a reality. So Simeon could have been excused if he just filled his life with growing vines or whatever – we don’t know what he did – but all we are told of him is detailed as four points in two verses.

First, we are told he was “righteous and devout”. Now there is a challenge! In our Western societies when God is absent, ethics go out the window, morals decline. It has been a very obvious thing to note. I have noted in these studies before my measuring stick. Many years ago, for seventeen years, I taught Law. At the beginning of every year I asked the class about their beliefs and at the beginning of that time (late 1970’s) a hundred per cent of the class each year said they believed in absolutes, there was a clear distinction between right and wrong. By the end of that seventeen-year period (early 1990’s) one hundred per cent of the classes said they did not believe in absolutes, in a difference between right and wrong. That was the change that took place in our society, and so it is little wonder that over the last twenty to thirty years, every area of our society has had moral scandals. Perhaps it was only Judaism’s remnants that kept people on track in Simeon’s day. Simeon was clearly a follower of God and of His Law for he was both righteous (morally correct) and devout (a follower of the Lord). A faithful man!

Second, he was waiting for the consolation of Israel”. He was a man aware of the prophetic Scriptures about a coming Messiah and as he read them or heard them read in the local synagogue, they rang true and his heart leaped.

Third, “the Holy Spirit was upon him.”  This man had a close relationship with the Lord, so much so that he was open to the prompting and leading of the Spirit, which is what eventually got him into the Temple precincts when baby Jesus was brought there.

Fourth, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  Not only had the prophetic scriptures about the Messiah rung true, the Spirit had imparted to him the knowledge that he would see this one. We might add, fifth, “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts,” (v.27a) and it as there he encountered Mary and Joseph and Jesus (v.27b).

And Us? Now it seems to me that Simeon stood out in his generation. Apart from the Wise Men, the Magi, Simeon seems to be the only one on the alert for what is going on, so here is the question I find rising in the light of this: how many of us today are alert to a coming move of God? How many of us are living in expectation of the Lord doing something? The other side of the coin, somewhat negatively, might be, how many of us are involved with ‘religion’? We go to church every Sunday. We may even go to a prayer meeting or bible study. But we don’t go with much expectation.

Church with expectations? Turn the coin over again. How many of us ‘go to church’ on a Sunday morning with great expectation of meeting with God, of hearing from the Lord (more than just a good sermon), of being used by God as an instrument to bring encouragement, revelation or even perhaps healing to others? How many of us go to the Prayer Meeting with the strong expectation of hearing from God, of getting direction from Him what to pray, who leave with a sense that He had been there, He had revealed His heart and His will and when we prayed, He had decreed change? How many of us pick up our Bible every day or go to the weekly Bible Study with a strong expectation that His word is going to come alive and we are going to be thrilled, challenged, taught, encouraged and corrected by it?

Simeon’s Example: Simeon stood out in his generation as one full of expectations. He was a man of the word, of the Law, of righteousness. He was a man of prayer and of listening to God. He was a man open to the Holy Spirit. He was a man available to the Holy Spirit to bring encouragement and blessing to Mary and Joseph, while everyone else was just taken up with life or with religion. Can we be such people of expectations?

Waiting Faithfully: In a previous study we saw how David’s life was largely one of waiting for God’s time for him. While he waited he was faithful and was still used by God against the enemy and to encourage God’s people. We may not think Simeon did a great deal, but he did encourage Mary and Joseph, and so he did earn a place in the Bible. Amazing! Let’s go for it! It’s too late to appear in the Bible but it’s never too later to appear in the archives of heaven!

8. The Bottom of the Barrel

Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 8. The Bottom of the Barrel

Reading 7: Luke 2:8–16

Luke 2:8,9  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them

Context: Whoever it was who set up this service and put headings over each set of verses, really excelled themselves with this one: “The shepherds go to the manger” which sounds as mundane as ‘the hungry person went to the fridge’ but, in fact, covers up a most incredible experience. Now before we get into the  reading itself, we need to recognise there is something slightly different about these  verses. The verses from the Old Testament pointed towards a Coming One, then in the last two studies we have seen the angel coming to Mary and then the baby being born in Bethlehem.  There is a sense with this reading that it is about events that don’t actually change the circumstances of the baby, but maybe simply bring a little encouragement to his parents. Yet, I am going to suggest, there is an amazing lesson here.

The Reading: Luke recounts this incident involving shepherds somewhere out on the hills near Bethlehem (v.8), looking after their sheep, when an angel appears to them. Now I’ve never thought of this before  but quite often when angels turn up they come in simple human form and initially at least, the person they are coming to doesn’t recognise them for what they are. This one turns up with the glory of the Lord shining all round and it scares the life out of the shepherds (v.9). Now forgive me if you don’t like this comment, but it seems to me that the Lord is putting on a show here; it’s like He is making a point – be under no illusion guys, this is my angel, yes from heaven! So when he speaks, you want to listen! So the angel reassures them that he’s come with good news (and by implication, not bad news – you’re not in trouble!) and this news will be for everyone (v.10). In Bethlehem, the Messiah has been born (v.11) and you’ll know this is true if you go down there and look in a stable and see him in a manger – yes a manger! (v.12) Now as if that wasn’t enough, there suddenly appeared an immense crowd of angels all singing and praising God (v.13,14), and then they were gone and it must have gone silent again and dark. So impacting was this that they determined to go and see what God had said (v.15) and when they got there they found it exactly as they had been told (v.16). And that’s it. No explanation, just the story.

Lessons? Now it may be that we have heard this story so many times that the familiarity of it means we’ve lost any sense of wonder. Also, as an account of something that actually happened, it is quite difficult to see any lessons within it that might apply to us. It is unlikely that these events are ever going to be repeated and so we are left scratching our heads and are left pondering, well, what actually happened here? Why did it happen? Why did it happen as it did?

God’s excitement? Again you may not like the idea of God being ‘excited’ but the picture of an angel with the full glory surrounding him, then “a great company of the heavenly host” turning up singing, speaks to me of an air of celebration about all this. It has the feeling that heaven cannot contain itself, there is such excitement that God has come to the earth in human form; it is that incredible.

Now the question that must follow, and this surely must be one of the lessons here, is, do you and I get excited about God, about Jesus, about the Christian faith, about church, about prayer, about the Bible, about evangelism? Are we, I wonder, sober, conservative, unemotional Christians? The other day I saw the portrayal of the British Royal Family back in the 1950’s, when Billy Graham first came to London. The response of some of the ‘top people’ was that this was un-British emotionalism (one has to say that was not the response of her majesty the Queen). British churchmanship did not have room for emotion, but the truth is these things ARE exciting, they are thrilling. This account with the shepherds IS mind blowing! The Bible is wonderful. Prayer is wonderful. God is incredible. Jesus is incredible. The Christian faith is unique. If we remain coldly unemotional we have either lost something or never found it!

Bottom of the barrel: Yes, this is the heading I’ve put at the top of this study, because I have written on this story a number of times in the past and this is the expression that I have this time round. The shepherds of Jesus’ day tended to be outcasts. They lived out in the hills with their sheep or the sheep of their master, and so existed out there and clearly would not be able to participate in any of the religious life of Israel. For that they would be looked down on by the religious leaders. They would not be the best dressed and they probably smelled.  Socially, they were the bottom of the barrel, we might say today. And this is where it gets thrilling. Why should God choose scruffy, outcast shepherds to whom to announce the arrival of His Son on the earth, unless He is sending a subtle message to all similar ‘outcasts’, those who have made a mess of life, those who are excluded by the great and the good, those who don’t turn up at civic receptions, those who aren’t invited to special religious celebrations, and the message is – I see you, I know you, I love you and I don’t reject you. I am here for you and I want you to know the wonder of the salvation I have laid on for whoever will receive it.

Let’s not add anything more to these two ‘lessons’. You may have just thought that this was a nice, if not fascinating, little story in the Nativity play, but it speaks out these two powerful and profound lessons: God was thrilled when the time was right for Jesus to come to the earth to reveal the love of heaven for mankind, and it is a message for ALL mankind and no one is excluded. Whoever you are, wherever you have come from, whatever you have done, whatever has happened to you, this is for you. This is God’s calling card, this is the Lord saying, Hey, I am here, and I am here for you!