A Journey to the Manger, Pt. 3

A Journey to the Manger, Pt. 3

Study Guide, December 17, 2023

Pastor Clay Olsen

We know that Christmas is a season of surprises. Although, sometimes when people receive a gift that they already know about they just act surprised. That’s kind of awkward, right? Some may even practice acting surprised…have you ever done that? You don’t have to answer…but still, it is the season of surprises. Of course, nothing compares with the surprise of the Incarnation. Even though it was prophesied for thousands of years, no one could have fully prepared for the appearance of a human child that is also the Sovereign Lord and Creator of the Universe!

And note this: In a very real sense, the Incarnation could also be called ‘The Second Creation.’ Say what? And how so? And in what way? Well, Christmas was the Second Creation, at least the Second Creation of Man. How about we just go right to the source? 1 Cor 15:45-49- “So also it is written, “The first man Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.” NASU

There we have it! The first man, Adam, was made from the dust of the ground and given the breath of life from God. However, the last Adam, or the Second Adam, who is Christ, was of the Holy Spirit born through the seed of the woman, as we saw last time in Gen. 3:15. The first Adam originated upon Earth, but the Second Adam originated from Heaven. Plus, the Second Adam is our life-giving spirit. Through the first Adam, physical life was granted to all mankind, but through the Second Adam, spiritual life is granted to all who believe and receive new life in Christ!

This is further explained in Rom 5:12; 15-17- “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned — But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” NASU

Through the first Adam came the gift of physical life to all mankind, but so did the sin nature…and all have sinned and fall short of the righteous standard of God. But through the Second Adam came the gift of spiritual life and a new nature, reunited to the Creator Himself. But the gift can only be granted to those who receive the abundance of grace and this gift of righteousness that is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. So again, in a very real sense Christmas is the second creation, since it brought the creation of the Second Adam, or the Incarnation of God and Man, Christ Jesus! That is truly reason to rejoice at Christmas!

However, long before the appearance of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, this Second Person of the Trinity had other appearances to make along this journey to the Manger. Other appearances we say? Actual appearances? Bethlehem was not the first time that Christ had made an appearance on Earth. Christ had many pre-Incarnate appearances on the Earth along His journey to the manger. Which would be a great trivia question at Christmas…like, “So, how many times had Christ appeared on the Earth before He appeared in Bethlehem as Jesus Christ?” And the answer is: “At least 8!”

Now, we know that this pre-incarnate appearance of Christ is called a ‘Theophany’. ‘Theophany’ is the combination of two Greek words: Theos…God, and phainein…to appear. And here’s an amazing thing about it all: We can think of these visitations by God in pre-incarnate forms as clear examples of the Sovereign Creator of the Universe coming to those He created because He cared for them and wanted to have a relationship with them. Just think about that…God comes to us. It’s always been that way with our God. He comes to us because He wants to be with us, and to help us with our needs and to meet our needs. God wants to be with us! That’s even the meaning of one of His names: ‘Immanuel’…God with us!

Take Hagar, for example. Hagar had a tough situation, being the handmaiden of Sarah and then the mother of Ishmael. And then she was sent away and left confused and seemingly alone. Even her name meant ‘stranger’. She felt estranged and without hope. But she was not a stranger to God, who cared for Hagar and was her own Blessed Hope. So what did God do? He came to her as ‘the Angel of the Lord’! That’s the clue…for whenever Christ appeared, He was referred to a ‘the Angel of the Lord, or Angel of God’…not just ‘an angel’. And after Christ meets with Hagar, speaks to her and helps her, it says: “Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered.” Gen 16:13-14

We don’t have time to go through each of these ‘Theophany’ or ‘Christophany’ appearances, but remember the time when Jacob wrestled with a man on his journey to Canaan? He discovered he was not wrestling with a man, but with the One who one day would become ‘The Son of Man’. He was wrestling with the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ Himself in the pre-incarnate form of a man. And when it was daybreak Jacob said: Gen 32:30- “So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” NASU

Then, from the midst of a burning bush Moses had a face-to-face encounter with the pre-incarnate Christ. Notice: Ex. 3:2- “The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.” 4-6- “God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” NASU And from then on Moses was blessed to witness several face-to-face encounters with the Christ…or Christophanies!

Then, how about the surprising encounter that Joshua had? You talk about a mistaken identity! He comes upon a soldier with a sword drawn, and totally underestimates who it is that he is dealing with here until he hears this: Josh 5:13-15- “Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” (And I love the Lord’s answer here…) He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” The captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.” NASU Don’t you love that… “Are you a friend or foe?” “NO!” He was way more than that….how about ‘GOD’! But Joshua’s encounter with Christ encouraged him to begin the conquest of Canaan and fulfill God’s promise to Abraham.

Okay, one more…and this one is terrific because an idol worshipping King even realizes that he is seeing Someone who is even more than an angel. It was the experience of Daniel’s three friends, ‘Shake-a-bed’, ‘Make-a-bed’, and ‘To bed we go’! Not really, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego…yeah, that’s the ticket. But anyway, from the midst of the fire the King sees and says this: Dan 3:25- “He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” NASU Well, pretty close, and not bad for a pagan King, for Nebuchadnezzar was looking at ‘the Son of God’…the Second Person of the Trinity!

So again, long before the Christ took on humanity and became Jesus Christ, He was making appearances on the Earth. And He was making appearances because He was always coming for His people…coming to them as their Immanuel…coming to be with them. Just like with us…Jesus came to us to call us to Himself. He comes to us because He wants to be with us. In fact, even though it’s hard for us to believe, Jesus wants to be with us even more than we want to be with Him! Remember, we love Him because He first loved us…and still loves us most!

But suddenly, after all the prophecies and all the appearances and all the revelations through the Prophets, it becomes silent…like silent night, except there were 400 years of silent nights, as far as receiving new revelations from God, that is. The period between the Old Testament and the New Testament is referred to as ‘The Intertestamental Period’. Approximately 400 years lie between the time of Malachi, the final prophetic book of the Old Testament, and the birth of Jesus Christ. Those who were watching were used to the Prophets speaking to them from God, recording guidance and revelation from God. But it all stopped, like when all the winds stop, and it all gets really quiet…with not a leaf moving…eerily silent.

Yes, we know that religious writings were still going on in this Intertestamental period. These writings are referred to as The Apocrypha. Some of these writings are good for historical information, but they were not considered as doctrinal writings to be included in the Scriptures, although some religious groups do. Jesus never referred to them in His teachings, and even when He ‘book-ended’ the Old Testament in His rebuke to the Pharisees, He did not include them in the ‘canon’ of the Scriptures. Matt 23:35-36- “…so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” NASU The account of Zechariah is in 2 Chronicles, and the Hebrew Bible ends with 2 Chronicles instead of Malachi. Malachi is included in the section of ‘The Minor Prophets’. By the way, they are called ‘Minor Prophets’ only because of length, not because of importance. That’s important to know! Plus, the Apostles never included these Intertestamental writings in their accounts.

But again, for 400 years it was silent. And yet, within the silence, the anticipation grew greater and greater for the arrival of the Messiah. And then it began with the Angelic announcement to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist…soon followed by a visit from Gabriel to Mary: Luke 1:28-34- “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” NASU

Christmas was coming!’ Christ was about to take on human flesh and become ‘Jesus Christ’! The Shekinah glory that Ezekiel saw leaving the temple in Jerusalem, and that had not been on Earth for hundreds of years, was about to return in the body of the Christ child. As John later described it: John 1:14- “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” NASU In fact, the body of Jesus was necessary since it also served as a ‘veil’ to cover the full glory, the Shekinah glory of God, as explained in Heb 10:19-20- “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh…” NASU If the glory of Christ had not been veiled in the body of Jesus, that Star of Bethlehem would have seemed dim compared to the brightness glowing from the manger! If Christ had not veiled His glory in the body of Jesus, people could not have stood in His presence…or even survived the brilliance and power of His glory. Remember, God even had to veil His presence in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night when He led His people through the wilderness. How strange, that most people who saw Jesus on Earth had no idea that just behind the veil of Jesus’ body was the Shekinah glory that had filled the Temple for thousands of years. It’s also partly why Jesus is still in His resurrected body, for it’s the only way we can physically experience the full glory of God without being consumed.

But just like our God, He made a way for us all to come to Him…and to come to Him just as we are…just as I am. He became one of us so that He could save any of us who would make room for Him in our heart and life. This…is Christmas…from the throne of Heaven to the Manger in Bethlehem to the Cross of Calvary to the Resurrection and Ascension…and all the way into our heart! God’s indescribable gift, indeed!