Hebrews 11. 30 - 40|
Soon Christian churches everywhere will be focused on the birth of Christ.
And one can’t help but ruminate on his birth and consider the beginning and the end of things. We’re reminded yearly in the newspapers of the depression and suicides that surface at this time of year. Why is this? I suspect they deplore the pagan aspects of Christianity as much as we do. They may see the emptiness of what is a vain hope of Peace on Earth. How can it be? A state of world peace which mainline churches sincerely believe they can accomplish? Is this vanity? Today conditions in the world are perhaps much like they were just prior to the birth of Christ. Israel had long been without the visible hand of God. You could say that Israel was in the spiritual doldrums. Luke records of two individuals who had remained faithful, Simeon and Anna, who looked towards the ‘consolation of Israel’ (Luke 2. 29 - 32).
He took him (Jesus) up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,
which Thou has prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles,
and the glory of Thy people Israel.
At Christ’s birth there was a great burst of enthusiasm for the Messiah, a birth accompanied by wise men, a star over Bethlehem, and angelic choirs. Ironically, the gospels of Mark and John do not speak of these events–both books begin when he is grown . Not long after the story of his birth Matthew and Luke leap right into his ministry. When he now appears on the scene -- his birth seems to have been forgotten. Had it become a fantasy–just a fantasy? Why was this so? How to explain?
King Herod had issued an edict that all males under the age of two in Bethlehem and vicinity be killed. Everyone thought the boy was dead. But Joseph and his family had gone to Egypt and didn’t return until after Herod had died, at which time they returned not to Bethlehem, but to Galilee. So when the Pharisees persecuted Jesus because they thought he was a usurper, born in Galilee, not Bethlehem, as prophesied. Some said that he was the Christ, but others asked, ‘could Christ come out of Galilee?’ Didn’t the scriptures say that Christ comes of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? (John 7. 41, 42). It was Nicodemus–not yet fully committed to the Lord, who spoke up in Christ’s defense saying, Does our law judge any man before a hearing? The Jews rude reply, Are you from Galilee, too?
This incident was the basis for my having read to you the 11th chapter of Hebrews, a litany of Old Testament heroes. There is no equivalent chapter for heroes of the New Testament. We have to figure them out for ourselves.
They are of two kinds: those who had less courage of their convictions before Christ’s resurrection, and those who became heroes afterwards. And we have just met one of them–Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, who first appeared to Jesus at night to hear him, then again in John 7. 42, 43 when he appeared a second time to speak in Christ’s defense. The third time is when he accompanies Joseph of Arimathia to the tomb to attend to the burial.
Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes. . . Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen cloths with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. (John 19. 39, 40).
In spite of the powerful positions of these two men, their courage wavered. There is no record that either one of them attempted to prevent Christ’s crucifixion–far from it. In fact, before the resurrection, all the disciples were much the same. Their faith wavered before the resurrection. The disciples fled. Peter did not have the faith to walk on water. Sometimes they had it, sometimes they didn’t. Does that remind you of anybody?
Immediately after the resurrection, their spines grew firm–set. No lack of courage now for Peter and John. They had seen a death defying event, one they didn’t just read about in a book. It was more than merely intellectual. It was conviction from the heart. This witness moved them with an unshakable faith. In our day the resurrection is just an episode written in a history book. When we read about it we can make a choice–you can choose–you say to yourself ‘maybe it’s so, maybe not’. Even among us who believe it, it is difficult to make it more than just an intellectual thought, not a belief of the heart. How can we make it more real? We can do this by tying it to our hope–our hope for the world. As truly as I live all the world shall be filled with my glory. (Num 14. 21). This great hope is an anchor for our souls–the promise of eternal life in His Kingdom and demonstrated in the resurrection.
So what can we do now? We strengthen our faith by exercising it. Every day reading books that feed our faith, diligent Bible study and looking into prophecy and current events. If your faith is strong, the head will follow the heart. Works will follow. Think of your faith as a muscle that has to be exercised.
A random thought. In my flesh dwells no good thing, said Paul (Rom 7. 18). Well, we’re in real trouble. Surely he must not mean that. We’ve been created with the capacity to enjoy the pleasures of life. God created in us this capacity–to enjoy the pleasures of life, not to have them forever denied. If the latter, then we’re all in a peck of trouble. Rather what it means is–what is meant is, that the flesh cannot be trusted to save . A stumbling block to the Pharisees. Fleshly desires must be balanced against the desire toward others, i.e. to serve God. In this duality of our human nature–natural and spiritual–we need to find an equilibrium when life is like a seesaw. When selfish desire is balanced against the desire to serve God you gain an equilibrium–or at least can tip the scales towards service.
One more random thought. Do we feel good, even superior about it? Here we are in possession of the pearl of great price (in a balanced seesaw) which we found in what is called the Greatest Book in the World, The English Bible. In 1494 William Tyndale was born. He became a Catholic priest, but later saw the corruption in the church. He studied, and learned, and worked to translate all of the New and most of the Old Testaments. The King James Bible is mostly Tyndale’s work. He was known to have said :
I defy the Pope and all his laws and say,
that if God spared my life ere many years
I will cause a boy that driveth a plow
to know more of the scripture than thou dost.
In this his work he harvested the truth, which was probably the real reason for him being hounded all over England and Europe; strangled by the executioner and then his body burned in 1536, at age 42.
When we compare ourselves to Tyndale we should be grateful beyond all measure–that we know we are saved by grace and not by works. We could never accomplish all that he did. But the knowledge and understanding of his legacy is something we can all embrace–the truth of the gospel and our trust in God’s word to man.