‘Genesis 24 and God’s plan for the world’ by David Schrock

camel train, Middle East, Palestine, Egypt, Abraham, Genesis 24, Isaac

Image from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs online catalog.

“And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” . . . . ”Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor.” (Genesis 24.2-4,10). An old photograph (taken between 1934 and 1939) showing a camel caravan in the Middle East.

Genesis 24 tells how Abraham found a wife for his son Isaac. It’s the longest chapter in the Book of Genesis. David Schrock explains this story and explores its importance in the Bible storyline. He writes, “. . . the longest narrative event in Genesis is a love story, one that seems Dickens-like in its profusion of extraneous information. Certainly, as the promises of God are given to Abraham and his offspring, the marriage of his son is no small matter. Yet, it seems as though the account of the servant traveling back to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac is prolix detour from the rest of Genesis. . . . . So why the long drama of finding Isaac a wife? My answer is that this story reflects God’s story for the world, and the long-time-in-coming union between God’s beloved son with his bride. Let’s consider.”

After showing us how Genesis should be read in the context of the whole Bible story, he comments, ”. . . we have reason to read Genesis 24 as a narrative meant to point to Christ, just as the firstborn son of Abraham points to Christ (cf. Romans 8.31–32). We should likewise see the account of Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage as patterned after the original marriage and foreshadowing a greater marriage—after all, this is the mystery marriage, that every husband and wife are types of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5.22–33). Last, we should consider how Moses intended to tell the history of Isaac and Rebekah and perhaps something else—namely another rehearsal of the exodus event he had experienced with Israel. . . . . With these ‘reading requirements’ in place, what do we find in Genesis 24?”

Dr Schrock details how the story in Genesis 24 foreshadows how God will bring a bride to His Son. He concludes, “Incredibly, Genesis 24 is not the longest chapter in Genesis by accident. It is a pure and holy story of covenant marriage, set against all the other debauched stories of sexual immorality in Genesis. And . . . it teaches us how to look at the entire world with hope in Christ and the marriage he offers to those who forsake their fathers and join themselves to God’s Son. . . . . It surely should encourage us as we the bride serve our Master and call others to come to him!”

Read the whole article HERE.

CREDITS Scripture citations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘On the third day’ by James M. Hamilton

Image © Lumo Project through Free Bible Images All rights reserved

“But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 26.5-6)

In this fascinating little exploration of Old Testament typology, James M. Hamilton writes, “There is no prediction in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be raised from the dead on the third day, but when Paul says that Jesus “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”, he’s not referring to a prediction. Paul is referring to the fulfillment of these patterns . . . .” Dr. Hamilton briefly explains seven Old Testament passages which he sees as foreshadowing Jesus’s resurrection on the third day. They include events in the lives of Abraham, David, Hezekiah, Esther and Jonah; a passage in Hosea’s prophecy, and something that Moses tells us in His narrative of the covenant that God made with His people at Mount Sinai. Dr Hamilton tells us “All the promises are yes and amen in him, all the patterns find fulfillment in him, and all the shadowy types have their substance in him.”

Read the whole article HERE.

CREDITS Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations (other than those quoted by other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved..

‘Sabbath: a token of eternity’ by Bernard Bell

The Garden of Eden from Wikimedia

The Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole (1801-1848).

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2.1-3).

Bernard Bell explores the theology of the Sabbath from Genesis to Revelation – in the creation account; in the Old Testament era; for Jesus, during His earthly ministry; for us as God’s New Testament people; and in the new creation. He writes: “On this seventh day [of creation], four verbs are predicated of God: he completed, he rested, he blessed, and he sanctified.”

Bell comments, “The climax of creation is the consecration of time.” God called His people Israel to observe the sabbath. Bell writes, “The Sabbath was given to Israel as a picture of the seventh day. On the Sabbath, Israel was to fall into the pattern established by God when he completed his work and rested. This established a rhythm to the week: for six days the Israelites labored, then for one day they rested. Each week, the Israelites took a journey through time. The Sabbath was the goal of the week, the day that gave meaning to other six days. But after each Sabbath they had to start the journey over again. This rhythm that Israel observed each week was itself contained within two larger rhythms. Every seventh year, Israel was to give her land a sabbatical year, a year of rest from being cultivated (Leviticus 25.1-7). After every seventh sabbatical year, i.e., every fiftieth year, Israel was to celebrate a Jubilee Year in which slaves were set free and land restored to its rightful owner (Leviticus 25.8-55). These cycles of a week, of seven years, and of fifty years, were powerful reminders that there lay something beyond the mundane life of the daily routine. Beyond the common lay the sacred, the holy. Beyond the six days lay the seventh. Beyond the six years lay the seventh. Beyond the forty-nine years lay the fiftieth.”

He asks, “Why did Jesus choose the Sabbath for so many of his healing miracles, such as the one in Mark 2.23-3.6? . . . . The seventh day was the goal toward which God moved his Creation, the day in which God brought creation into completion. The Sabbath was his gift to Israel, the goal towards which both creation and redemption moved. Surely then, Sabbath is the most appropriate day for Jesus to heal people, . . . . Sabbath was the day for being made whole, made complete so that one could enter into rest.”

But what does the Sabbath mean for us now? Should we observe it – and, if so, how? Bell writes, “The first Christians recognized that with the death and resurrection of Jesus, something dramatic had happened to Sabbath. These Jewish Christians quickly moved their assemblies to the first day of the week. Paul, formerly the most fanatical of Pharisees, and therefore punctilious about Sabbath observance, came to realize that Sabbath was just a shadow of a reality that had now arrived.” He concludes, “Today [Sunday] is not Sabbath; it is what Sabbath pointed to. In turn, both Sabbath and Today point towards the Seventh Day that will fill all of time. Both are tokens of eternity. Sabbath was one day in seven. Today is seven days in seven. Go out today and live it as a token of eternity, but then carry on living that way on Monday and on through the week. Improvise however you see fit, but do so within the framework established by the rest of the plot. Then it will be a day of completion, of rest, of blessing, and of holiness. Sabbath is not the place we’re not allowed to play football, but the place where we enter God’s teleological rest through Christ, and live a foretaste of eternity. ”

The sermon is available as an audio file and a PDF HERE.

CREDITS Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘The four seeds of Abraham: natural, national, Christ and “in Christ”‘ by David Schrock

“And [the LORD] brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15.5–6).

David Schrock writes, “. . . it is vital to see how God’s earlier revelation prepares the way for his later purposes. Sometimes this is called an ‘eschatological’ reading of Scripture. That may sound complicated, but it’s not. Eschatology means ‘the study of last things’ (eschatos = last), and most of the time people immediately jump to what they perceive are the ‘last things’ in the Bible. However, if we consider that God stands outside of time and created all things for the purpose putting them under his Son’s feet (see Ephesians 1:10), then we must read the Bible as one unified-but-unfolding plan of redemption. In this way, eschatology doesn’t begin in Revelation, or Daniel, or Zechariah, it begins in Genesis. And from Genesis to Revelation, God is working all things for the purposes of his people—the offspring of Abraham. But who is/are Abraham’s offspring?”

Dr. Schrock explains who the four seeds of Abraham are, and places them in the developing storyline of the Bible. He concludes, “. . . ultimately, it is the third and fourth seeds that are most important. To be sure, the second seed takes up most of the pages in Scripture, but that second seed was always chosen for the purpose of the third seed. And nestled within the second seed, even before the coming of the third, was the fourth. . . . . Keep your eyes on the storyline of Scripture, and watch how the historical figures in the Old Testament bear witness to the coming Christ. In Scripture, all things are directed towards him, and thus only as we place faith in him, do God’s people find their blessing, as children of Abraham. This is how the Scripture explain God’s purposes in time, just as Paul puts in Galatians 3.23–29. . . . . Indeed, as we read Scripture may we learn how to tell the time. And most important for setting our watches is learning to see how God is at work over the different covenants of Scripture.”

Read the whole article HERE.

CREDITS All Scripture citations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘Holy War: Jesus Style’ by Nick Batzig

The charge © Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Roman soldiers charging – a re-enactment by the Ermine Street Guard. The Guard’s reconstructions are primarily from the latter half of the first century AD (the period of the early Church). Paul would therefore have been familiar with soldiers’ uniform of this type. In Ephesians 6.11-19, Paul pictures believers as Roman soldiers. He writes: “Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” He lists the pieces of armour that God provides: “the belt of truth” , “the breastplate of righteousness” , “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” , “the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” , and “the helmet of salvation” . Our weapon is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” . Then he writes, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, . . . .”

Nicholas Batzig writes, “While it may not appear evident at first glance, the Holy War in which Israel was engaged in the Old Covenant (Exodus 34.11-16) and the Holy War in which Christians are engaged in the New Covenant (Ephesians 6.10-19) are directly related to the saving work of Christ.”

A key point that Batzig makes is this: “The idea of purification stands at the forefront of God’s command for Israel to destroy the nations in the land of Canaan.”

He tells us: “The cleansing of the land of Israel through Holy War prefigured the cleansing of the Temple. Vern Poythress explains the connection between the land and the Temple when he writes: “ . . . . Because the land is particularly associated with God, it is in a broad sense holy and will be defiled by gross sins (Leviticus 18.24-28). . . . . Defilement of the land corresponds to defilement of the tabernacle, and cleansing of the land, as in Numbers 35.33-34, corresponds to cleansing the tabernacle. . . . . ”

Batzig continues, “ . . . . “The several acts of Temple cleansing in the Old Testament pointed back to the conquest of Canaan and forward to the work of Christ (2 Chronicles 29.3-19; Nehemiah 13.4-31). . . . . At the beginning of his ministry our Lord said, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2.19); He “was speaking of the Temple of His body” (John 2.21). . . . . When Christ was crucified, the Temple was cleansed in the greatest act of judgment. In the destruction of His flesh, the sin of His people was cleansed (2 Corinthians 5.21). The Father declared Holy War on His people, and their sin, when He declared it on His Son. In the death of Jesus, the people of God were judged for their sins. When Jesus was crucified, we were crucified with Him (Galatians 2.20). The power of sin was destroyed (Galatians 5.24). When He rose, we rose with Him to newness of life (Romans 6.5-10; Colossians 3.3).”

Batzig tells us, “Today, the Church is engaged in Holy War. It is a war against the spiritual enemies who lay behind the kingdoms of this world (Ephesians 6.10-11). . . . . At the cross, Jesus disarmed principalities and powers (Colossians 2.13). In His ascension He plundered the enemy (Ephesians 4.8), freeing His people from the power of sin and the devil. We participate in His victory by participating in the Church’s mission. When sinners are converted, they undergo a spiritual death and resurrection. Their hearts are cleansed through faith in the crucified Savior. Wherever the message of the cross is proclaimed—and whenever believers engage in hand-to-hand combat with their sin—Holy War is being fought.”

Read the whole article HERE.

In his article, Batzig quotes a number of passages from Vern Poythress’ excellent book The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses. The full text of a draft of this book is available in two parts, HERE and HERE. Or you can purchase the book; the publisher’s information is available HERE. More free resources by Vern Poythress are available HERE. I recommend them.

CREDITS All Scripture citations (other than those made by other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Why was Jesus’ birth announced to shepherds?

Image from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection.

An old photograph (taken between 1920 and 1933) showing shepherds watching over their flocks at night. You can see the town of Bethlehem in silhouette in the background.

Just a final thought about the nativity narrative. Have you ever wondered why Jesus’ birth was announced to shepherds? Luke tells us, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2.8-20).

So why did the angels appear to shepherds? There seems to be more than one reason. In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, I. Howard Marshall writes, “the motif that God reveals the birth of the Saviour to ordinary, lowly people, is undoubtedly present.” God’s angelic army announced the Saviour’s birth to humble shepherds, not to those of wealth and status.

But is there another reason why shepherds were privileged with the news of the Saviour’s birth? In his classic work The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim tells us: “That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, was a settled conviction. Equally so was the belief, that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, ‘the tower of the flock.’ This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheepground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices, . . . .” If so, God is pointing these shepherds, who watched over sacrificial lambs, to the true Sacrificial Lamb, the Lamb of God Who would be the perfect Sacrifice for sins. John, of course, picks up this theme at the beginning of his Gospel: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1.29, see also John 1.36).

But perhaps there’s a third reason why God chose to reveal the news of Jesus’ birth to shepherds. Matthew tells us this: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2.1-2). Herod gathered all the chief priests and scribes and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They replied, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2.5-6).

Notice how the chief priests and scribes connect the birth of the Messiah to His role as Shepherd of God’s people. The citation in Matthew 2.6 is a paraphrase of Micah 5.2, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” But two verses later, Micah tells us this about the Messiah: “And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” (Micah 2.4-5a). The Messiah will be a Shepherd of God’s people. The chief priests and scribes pick this up and allude to Micah 5.4 when they add, “who will shepherd my people Israel”. The actual words used, however, are drawn from 2 Samuel 5.2, when the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron. One of the things the tribes said was this: “And the LORD said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, . . . .” .

So Bethlehem was the town of David, a shepherd of God’s people. Now it became the birthplace of the Great Shepherd of God’s people, Jesus the Son of David. The sacrificial Lamb of God would be “the Good Shepherd” Who “lays down his life for the sheep” . (John 10.11). The writer to the Hebrews, too, connects Jesus sacrificial death and resurrection to His role as the Great Shepherd of God’s flock: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,” (Hebrews 13.20). When the shepherds gathered around the baby Jesus, and gazed in wonderment upon Him, they beheld a Shepherd ― the Great Shepherd of God’s people, Who would lay down His life for the sheep.

Alfred Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah can be downloaded in PDF form HERE (the quotation above is found on pages 209-210 of this edition).

CREDITS Text copyright © 2017 Robert Gordon Betts Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘King of Glory’: a video Gospel presentation for mission

King of Glory is a Gospel presentation in video and book format. This superb resource is designed to be suitable for all ages and across different cultures. It would perhaps particularly appeal to children aged 8-13, but older children and adults would also find it engaging. King of Glory was written by Paul D. Bramsen of Rock International and illustrated by Arminda San Martín.

In the author’s words, King of Glory “weaves together 70 key stories to show the big picture of God’s purpose and plan for mankind. . . . . More than half of the book’s Old Testament scenes are from Genesis 1 to 4. These stories provide solid foundations to help a person see why they need a Savior and why it was necessary for that Savior to shed His blood for our sins.” Bramsen describes the message of King of Glory in a nutshell, as “The cross explained”. It is, by design, selective – for example, the prophecies about Jesus in the Psalms and the Old Testament prophets are covered in just one very short chapter; the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is not mentioned. But what it does cover is told well and in a way that is faithful to Scripture.

Paul Bramsen says, “The Lord began to put into my heart a burden to produce an illustrated book that would make His story and message clear to people of all ages and cultures—giving special care to present it in a way that could penetrate Muslim minds and hearts.”

Bramsen tells us, “We produced this film because we see the urgent and widespread need for a captivating audio-visual gospel tool for all ages in many languages that chronologically presents the big picture of God’s plan of redemption, using key Old Testament stories to explain why the Messiah shed His blood on the cross for our sins. We wanted a movie that would powerfully communicate to people of all cultures and worldviews. King of Glory doesn’t use actors, which can distract the audience or even date a movie; it uses paintings. It avoids clearly showing the face of Jesus and rarely shows the faces of the prophets, since that can offend Muslims. . . . . Most importantly, this movie exists to do what Jesus did on the Emmaus Road: “And beginning at Moses [Genesis] and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:27).”

King of Glory is designed to be watched in 15 episodes, each around 15 minutes long. It’s also available in a 70-episode format: each episode corresponds to one of the 70 ‘scenes’ in the book, and is around 3 to 4 minutes long. It’s also available for purchase as a two-part DVD or Blu-ray set, or as a digital download. In the DVD and Blu-ray sets, the Old Testament runs 1 hour and 47 minutes; the New Testament runs for 1 hour and 55 minutes. This two-part movie is available in multiple languages. The narrative in all versions is a word-for-word presentation of the text in the book’s 70 stories, or scenes, as they are called.

The main webpage for the King of Glory movie is HERE. From this page you can download and watch it for free in either the 15-session or 70-session versions, or purchase the DVD or Blu-ray sets, or the digital download. Alternatively, the YouTube playlist for the 70-session version is available HERE.

The 8-page conclusion in the King of Glory book, entitled The Message in the Story is available in video format HERE.

The main webpage for the King of Glory book is HERE. From this page you can, among other things, download the book free of charge in English and in various other languages. An Illustrated Study Guide, plus an Answer Key, is available HERE.

You can read more about the story behind the production of this movie HERE. Paul and Carol Bramsen have served in the Muslim world context since 1981, first in Senegal, and later with an expanded focus to reach Muslims and others through multi-language radio broadcasts, books, booklets and now the movie.

The Christmas army of angels

Image © Lumo Project through Free Bible Images All rights reserved

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2.8–14).

In his book, A Not-So-Silent Night: the Unheard Story of Christmas and Why It Matters, Verlyn D. Verbrugge writes, “One of the most familiar elements of the Christmas story in Luke 2 is the appearance of the angel to the shepherds. That angel was soon joined by a “great company of the heavenly host . . . praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2.13– 14 NIV). I doubt if there is anyone who does not envision this scene as a huge company of angels dressed in choir robes, perhaps complete with sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses, singing praise to the newborn king . . . . . . . . I, too, have always had this picture in my mind. . . . . But . . . I decided to revisit this passage in Luke 2, reading it in the Greek New Testament to see if there was something I may have missed. In doing so, I discovered something I had never realized before and something that is rarely mentioned and never discussed in detail in commentaries on Luke. This passage fits in with one of the two main themes I have been exploring in this book, namely, that Christmas is the beginning of war. Where is the military imagery in Luke 2:13? Listen carefully: The word that Luke uses for “host” is the Greek word stratia, a word that in classical Greek almost invariably denotes an army or a company of soldiers. On occasion the word could be used as an alternate for the Greek word strateia, which denotes a military expedition. In either case, the word has strong military connotations. . . . . What the NIV translates as “heavenly host,” Luke Timothy Johnson translates as “the heavenly army.” Christopher Evans refers to the “angels as the divine soldiery,” and F. L. Godet calls them a “troop of angels.” The NRSV has a footnote by the word “host” and indicates that in Greek this word means “army.” . . . . Most commentators, however, understand this word as a large choir.”

Dr. Verbrugge asks, ”How does this military imagery, then, intersect with the Christmas story? He explains, “In chapter 2 we discussed the evidence in the Bible that Christmas was the beginning of a celestial war. Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil, and Satan reciprocated by trying to destroy Jesus. . . . . . . . Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, he had numerous encounters with demons, the cohorts of Satan.  . . . .  Our Savior openly admitted that he had always had a spiritual army at his disposal: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26.53).  . . . . It seems to me that those legions of angels who were ready to do the bidding of Jesus in Matthew 26 are identical to the multitude of the heavenly host, the stratia, that is out on the fields of Bethlehem. In other words, the song that these heavenly angels sing, . . . is not sung first and foremost by a heavenly choir, though I don’t doubt for a minute that they were trained in music as well as in military procedures. It is sung by legions of heavenly soldiers whose Commander in Chief has just been born, and they know that full-fledged war is just ahead of them.”

Verbrugge’s explanation throws a floodlight onto this heavenly encounter that Luke narrates. The appearance of this army of angels signals that a war – whose field of conflict embraced both heaven and earth – was entering its decisive phase. Christ’s nativity was the prelude to the great climactic battle in the war against Satan, the battle that took place on the cross, in which Satan was defeated, in which Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Colossian 2.15).

That war against Satan began in heaven, when Satan first rebelled against God. Other angels joined Satan’s rebellion. From that time, Satan and his evil forces have opposed God and every angel and human loyal to Him. This cosmic conflict is central to the Bible story.

When Adam and Eve, too – tempted by the serpent – rebelled against God, the theatre of war now extended to planet Earth. After Adam and Eve’s sin, God cursed Satan. He said to him: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3.15). There would be conflict between Satan and Eve. And there would be conflict between their offspring – between people who follow Satan and God’s people. But, one day, a single offspring descended from Eve would – though suffering fearfully in the process – defeat Satan, and deal with all the consequences of sin. In Vaughan Robert’s words, “The rest of the Bible can be seen as a ‘search for the serpent-crusher”.

From the moment of the Fall, through century after century, God prepared the stage of history for the coming of the Serpent-Crusher. Alec Motyer comments that the Old Testament “is, in many ways, a book standing on tiptoe, straining forward into the future.” As we travel through the Old Testament God fills out the details of this Man Who would defeat Satan and rescue and restore mankind and the whole creation. So, after many centuries, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, . . . .” (Galatians 4.4). Just as angels sang at Earth’s creation (Job 38.4-7), now they celebrate our Saviour’s birth (Luke 2.13-14). God’s heavenly host rejoice every time Satan’s dark dominion is pushed back – and Jesus’s birth heralded Satan’s total defeat. No wonder they sang!

Details of Dr. Verbrugge’s book A Not-So-Silent Night: the Unheard story of Christmas and Why It Matters are available HERE.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2018 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.

‘The God Who Is There: a Basic Introduction to the Christian Faith and the Big Story of Scripture’ by D.A. Carson.

This course by D.A. Carson takes people through the big story of Scripture. It is thoughtful, engaging and theologically rich. The course comprises 14 videos (which are free!), each of which is accompanied by the audio-only version plus a transcript. There’s also an accompanying book and a leader’s guide which are available for purchase. It’s primarily written for seekers and new Christians. But it would be a great refresher course for those who have been Christians for a longer time – they would undoubtedly discover new insights here, too. This would make a great resource for small groups, as well as for individual study.

In the preface to his book, Dr. Carson writes, “If you know nothing at all about what the Bible says, the book you are now holding in your hands is for you. If you have recently become interested in God or the Bible or Jesus but quite frankly you find the mass of material rather daunting and do not know where to begin, this book is for you. If you have been attending a Christian church for many years in an indifferent fashion—it’s a nice extracurricular activity now and then—but have recently come to the conclusion you really ought to understand more than you do, this book is for you. If you have quite a few of the pieces of the Bible stored in your mind but have no idea how the exodus relates to the exile or why the New Testament is called the New Testament, this book is for you. If in your experience the Bible has lots of data but you do not see how it conveys God to you or introduces Jesus in a fashion that is utterly humbling and transforming, this book is for you.”

Dr. Carson continues, “This book is not for everyone. The person who does not want more than a bumper sticker introduction to Christianity may find this book a bit much. What I have tried to do here is run through the Bible in fourteen chapters. Each chapter focuses on one or more passages from the Bible, unpacks it a little, and tries to build connections with the context, drawing the lines together to show how they converge in Jesus. By and large I have assumed very little prior acquaintance with the Bible. What I do assume, however, is that a reader will get hold of a Bible and have it near at hand.”

The course is available HERE. Here you’ll find the 14 videos (with audio-only versions) together with the transcripts – all of these are free! The course introduction page also provides links to the book and the leaders’ guide, which are available for purchase through Amazon (they can be purchased through other retailers as well). The video and audio series fairly closely parallel the chapters of the book. The leaders guide, in addition to helping people to lead classes or small groups, provides suggestions for further reading.

A sample chapter of the book is available HERE.

The videos have also been published on YouTube. The playlist is available HERE.

David J. Jackman, former president of the Proclamation Trust, London, England, writes, “This may well prove to be one of the finest and most influential books D. A. Carson has written. A comprehensive apologia for the Christian faith, it is rooted in engaging exposition of major biblical texts, tracing the chronological story of God’s gospel grace with rich theological insight. Skilfully related to the objections and issues raised by twenty-first-century culture, it will inspire and equip any Christian who desires to communicate Christ more effectively and can confidently be given to any inquirer seeking to discover the heart of biblical faith. It is the best book of its kind I have read in many years.”

‘Once more: Jesus was not born in a stable’ by Ian Paul

Image © Lumo Project through Free Bible Images All rights reserved

A re-enactment of the nativity scene: Jesus with His mother Mary, and her husband Joseph.

Dr. Ian Paul writes, “I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas . . . . But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case. So where has the idea come from? I would track the source to three things: traditional elaboration; issues of grammar and meaning; and ignorance of first-century Palestinian culture.”

Dr Paul opens up some fascinating insights into Jesus’ nativity. He tells us why oxen and asses are traditionally placed in the nativity scene. He explains the meanings of the Greek word in Luke 2.7 that’s translated “inn” in the ESV and the King James Version (but translated “guest room” in the NIV). And he takes us back to the first-century setting of the narrative, including the culture of the time and the actual design of Palestinian homes. Dr Paul draws on resources by other writers and provides links to two sermons, one by himself, another by Stephen Kuhrt, that retell the Christmas story in way that is faithful to its first-century Palestinian background.

Read the whole article HERE