Behind the Christmas Scenes
Study Guide – December 9, 2018
Pastor Clay Olsen
Christmas tends to fill our minds with the many scenes of the Christmas story; from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Shepherds to Angels to Wise Men and gifts. These are great images and features of the great message of our great Savior and our great salvation. But in thinking of these great scenes, we thought it would be fascinating to take a bit of a look behind the scenes of some of them in order to gain a greater understanding of the greatest story ever told.
Take Nazareth for instance – At that time Nazareth was a small dusty town in the region of Galilee. One of the most ironic questions ever asked was in connection with Nazareth. And, strangely enough, it was asked by a future disciple of Jesus’; Nathanael. Here’s what he asked: John 1:46- “Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” NASU What? ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Talk about missing the mark by a mile! The answer is: How about the most wonderful thing in the Universe would come out of Nazareth: the Savior of the World! (by way of Bethlehem, that is.)
So why would Nathanael say something that sounds so crazy to us? Well, Nazareth was one of those towns that just had a bad rap in that region. Although, it was quite a mixture of religious beliefs. It was also a place where half the population was ‘unsynagogued’…just kind of made that up…like the Jewish form of ‘unchurched’. They were just unreached, or refused to be reached. Plus, many said the people there had what they called ‘a rude dialect’. That’s like one guy kind of apologizing to another about the way he talked said, “You’ll have to excuse me…I don’t talk so good.” And the other man said, “Ah, don’t worry about that. Most people don’t hear so good neither!”
But probably a lot of that bad attitude against Nazareth by the people of Judea was simply because a lot of Judeans had bad attitudes anyway about the people who lived in Galilee. They were just sort of prejudiced and carried a ‘more kosher than thou’ attitude toward those who lived in Nazareth. In fact, their bad attitudes infected their thinking so much that they even had bad theology. In another instance, while Nicodemus was being insulted by other members of the Sanhedrin they said: John 7:52- “They answered him, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” NASU Yet, Jonah was from Galilee. They were badly mistaken. Bad attitudes and disobedience always distort your theology.
People tend to think that their disobedience is caused by their lack of understanding, when it’s the other way around: a lack of understanding is simply further set into motion by their disobedience and by their resistance to repentance toward God. If people will listen with a repentant spirit, they will be given more light for understanding. But when they turn away in their heart, then they also shut the door to understanding in their mind. Remember Jesus said: “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to My teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” Luke 8:18 NLT So we are to listen with the purpose of obeying, and then we will be given more understanding.
But back to Nazareth: Remember, God works according to His plan, not according to people’s prejudices or cultural pressures. And His plan involved choosing a godly couple from a not so godly town to care of and raise the Son of God and Savior of the World. Remember: It’s not where you’re from or what others think of you that matters, but where you are going and what God thinks of you! That’s what matters now and forever.
Now, here’s another intriguing thing that was going on behind the scenes that first Christmas. And it also was put in the form of a question: Matt 17:10-13- “Then his disciples asked him, “Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?” NASU Elijah has always been a hero to the Jewish people and to us all. Remember, like Enoch, Elijah also was taken up to Heaven without first dying…As in, Enoch and Elijah already experienced the Rapture. It’s the Church’s turn next! But the unbelieving Jews again distorted the teachings about Elijah and the prophesies. So Jesus went on to explain. “Jesus replied, “Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready for the Messiah. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, but he wasn’t recognized, and they chose to abuse him. And in the same way they will also make the Son of Man suffer.” Then the disciples realized he was talking about John the Baptist.” NLT The prophecy was that John the Baptist would come in the power of Elijah, but not be the prophet himself. Again, They got their theology mixed up because of their unrepentant hearts and minds.
It’s really strange how the unrepentant teachers of the Law tended to latch onto Old Testament prophets and like to think that they were following in their footsteps. Remember how they liked to use Moses to say he was their guide in all matters of belief and practice? But they weren’t believing and following Moses’ teachings at all, and Jesus blew that mirage up when he told them this: John 5:44-47- “No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God. Yet it isn’t I who will accuse you before the Father. Moses will accuse you! Yes, Moses, in whom you put your hopes. If you really believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” NLT
What a stinging rebuke?! They said they believed and follow Moses, but Moses was writing about Jesus; Yeshua the Messiah. They weren’t followers of Moses at all, just like they weren’t followers of Yahweh. You see, most people are okay with having a religion, as long as they are still in charge of what they want to do about it or make of it. What they aren’t okay with is surrendering to a relationship in which God is their Lord and only Savior.
It’s like with Christmas: most people like the idea of the religious holiday with a baby Jesus and having some religious experiences when they want and the way they want them. What they have trouble with is surrendering their lives to the King Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all and only Savior of their soul. They have their hopes in their religion, but what they don’t have is a repentant faith placed in one Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Just like with the Pharisees; they, too, loved the idea of holidays…they just didn’t like that need to be holy in the sight of God…as in, separated unto Christ as Lord, who came to them in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.
Again, they were heart headed because they were hard hearted! They were still looking for Elijah the prophet, but not listening to what God said about the one who would come in the power of Elijah in order to prepare the way for the Messiah! Listen to Jesus explaining that: Matt 11:10-15- “John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, ‘Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.” 13-15- “ For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” NLT
Note again: that last thing that Jesus said is a crucial teaching. Like: “So, what are ears for?” Most would say: “Ears are for hearing.” But no – “Ears are for listening”. God says, ‘Since you have ears to hear you should then listen to what I am saying to you.” ‘Listen’, as in ‘pay attention and then obey’. Many hear…few listen and obey.
It’s like with the Angels; people tend to be selective listeners…even when it comes to listening to what Angels have said to mankind. Now, it’s pretty bad when you can ignore Angels, right? But for example: Most people love that account of Gabriel telling Mary that she had been chosen to carry the Christ child and to then care for Him as His mother. What a wonderful announcement and image to think about this season, right? But here’s the odd thing. Most people have pretty much ignored everything else Gabriel has announced to the world, even one of of the most precise prophecies ever given. Most have ignored Gabriel’s earlier account to Daniel where he gave to mankind the very time line for the future of the Earth, including the First and the Second Comings of Christ, the Messiah! We have gone through it in detail before, but just to say again: Gabriel’s countdown of Earths’ history is the most precise yet most ignored revelation in the Bible. It gave the exact number of years until the appearance and even the appointed death of the Messiah, along with the prediction of Christ’s return to Earth as King of all.
God expected the Israelites to be keepers of this time line and to then tell people what time it was, prophetically speaking. Even part of Gabriel’s visitation to Mary was like: “Hey, do you know what time it is? Haven’t you been paying attention to the time line I gave you? It’s time for the Messiah’s first advent!” Again, we won’t go into this time line as it does take some time, but we just want to make the point that we should each become more and more familiar with this prophecy of the 70 weeks of Daniel in Daniel chapter 9. The prophecy is so exact that it calculates out to the very day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem as His official announcement as being the long awaited Messiah. In fact, as Jesus was coming into Jerusalem He spoke of how they should have known that this was the time that the prophet Daniel had spoken of, through Gabriel’s announcement. Luke 19:41-42- ”When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” 44 – “…because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” NASU
It’s like again, if people really want to know if the Bible is truly the inerrant Word of God, all they have to do is examine the prophecies of the Scriptures, like this one by Gabriel to Daniel. God has given an overload of evidence that His Words are the very words of truth and life.
In fact, one more ‘behind the Christmas scene’ has to do with this very concept of God’s Word. For the Apostle John even goes back long before Jesus’ coming to Earth. John tells us that the reason we can trust these words of God is because they come directly from the ‘Word’ Himself. John 1:1-4- “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through Him,and nothing was created except through Him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone.” NLT
Of course, God would give us His words to teach and guide our lives because He Himself is the very Word of Truth and Life. And then the Word became flesh. Logos became a human being. Truth took on a body and walked among us. And it’s the Apostle John that told us that Jesus is still in His resurrected human body and will be both God and Man forever. John 11:25- “Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” NLT
And all those who have given themselves to God in repentance and received Jesus Christ by faith as their Savior will also live forever with Jesus. And we trust that each of you have that assurance that Jesus is your Savior. If not, talk to Jesus about that today and make sure.
These scenes behind the scenes of Christmas really are fascinating. And the more we explore them the more we will experience of the wonders and joys of Christmas. So, keep exploring and sharing what you find with others this Christmas season and beyond.