“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Of the four records, only John attempted to trace our Lord’s genealogy to the heavenly source, and to show us that before he was made flesh, he was a spirit being with the Father and a sharer of His glory – a god with The God. All the Evangelists are clear in their statement that he “was made flesh.” But not that he remained a spirit being, and assumed flesh as clothing in which to appear to men, but, however explainable, that the life power of the spirit being, the Logos, became the life power of the human being, born of a woman and under the Law, subject to all the conditions and circumstances of the Jews.
Matthew traces Joseph’s genealogy; for although the statement is clear that Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nevertheless, being adopted by him as his son, He might, without impropriety, inherit through him. Luke shows the genealogy of Mary, by which our Lord was actually related, according to the flesh, to our race and to the royal family of David through the line of Nathan.
The time of our Lord’s birth was an auspicious one in several respects. It is very evident Divine wisdom had exercised itself in respect to the world’s affairs by way of preparation for the important event: (1) The spirit of world-conquering that began with Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was favorable to it, in the sense that it brought the various families or nations of mankind into closer contact with each other, broadening their ideas. (2) This policy had resulted in the transplanting of peoples from one land to another, and thus had made them more cosmopolitan in their sentiments. (3) Israel and Judah, thus transplanted in their captivity to Babylon, became so attached to the new conditions that comparatively few of them availed themselves of the offer of Cyrus to return to their own land, only about fifty thousand of all the tribes, out of several millions. The Jews among the Gentiles were not at all lost and had not abandoned all of their hopes in the Abrahamic Covenant, or all of their faithfulness to the Mosaic Law. However they were lax in these matters and too full of the love of gain and ease to cultivate the spirit of Israelites indeed. Nevertheless, they had their influence amongst all the nations with whom they dwelt, and were witnesses to the hopes of Israel in the one God and in a coming Messiah, the Son of God, to be the world’s Deliverer.
(4) The triumph for a time of the Greek Empire had brought to the civilized world a highly developed literature. The Greek language had reached its zenith, and was the literary language of the civilized world. (5) The Roman Empire had conquered the world and was in the height of its power, and as a result, there was a time of universal peace and hence a more favorable time than any before for the announcement of the Gospel and for the safety of its representatives in passing from nation to nation. (6) Israel itself had reached probably its highest development, intellectually, morally and religiously, and additionally we are told in the Scriptures that “All men were in expectation” of the Messiah’s coming. (Luke 3:15)
The noting of these little incidentals by which Divine providence prepared for our Savior’s earthly birth and for the sending forth of the Gospel message, is strengthening to the faith of the Lord’s people. Realizing God’s care in the past even over the little things, gives a foundation for confidence in His wisdom and provision for the features of His plan which are yet future. The fulfillment of all the exceeding great and precious promises which centered in Him who was born in Bethlehem and so also a realization of the Divine providence in the larger affairs of the Divine plan, stimulate faith in the Lord’s providences as respects the personal and more private affairs of His people. Let us more and more realize that as even the smallest incidents connected with the birth of our Savior were ordered of the LORD, so also He is both able and willing to order all of the affairs of His spiritual children.Let us reason with the Apostle that if God loved us when we were yet sinners, so as to make such careful provision for our redemption; how much more would He love us now that we are no longer rebels, aliens, strangers or foreigners, but have become His sons, fellow-heirs with Christ and all the saints? We may have confidence in His love and in His providential care. According to His promise to the called ones to His purpose, all things shall work together for good to them that love Him (Rom. 8:28).
The same decree that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem brought many others of the numerous family of David, and as the inns or hotels of that time were comparatively limited in number and in capacity, it is not surprising that the inn proper was full of guests when Joseph and Mary arrived. Indeed, it was rather the custom for many travelers to carry with them their own lodging outfits, and to provide for their own conveniences in the courtyard connected with the inns. And hence, the experiences of Joseph and Mary were by no means exceptional. When therefore the Babe Jesus was born, a manger became His most convenient cradle.
The city of Bethlehem today, probably is not so dissimilar from what it was in that day, for in that land customs seem to have changed but little in centuries. A certain grotto is claimed to be the one which two thousand years ago was the stable of the inn, and a certain stone manger is shown which, it is claimed, was the one in which the Baby Jesus was laid. Over this has been erected a Catholic Church, and various ceremonies are continually performed in and about and connected with “the sacred manger.”
With those ceremonies, we can feel little sympathy, believing them to be rather of the nature of idolatries. To us the center of interest is not the holy ground on which our Savior trod. Or the holy manger in which He lay as a babe, nor His holy mother; yea, though we reverence His flesh, and are deeply interested in all that pertains thereto, especially in all its experiences, from the time of its consecration to death at baptism. Nevertheless, our greater interest is in our risen Lord, the new creature perfected, the spiritual One, far above manhood, far above angels, principalities and powers and every name that is named – next to the Father, and exalted to His right hand of power. The Apostle voices this sentiment well, saying, “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him [so] no more.” Our knowledge of Him as the risen and glorified Lord and Savior thoroughly outshines all of our interest in His earthly life. (2 Cor. 5:16) And yet His earthly life is interesting and profitable to us, as we have seen and shall see.
Had the people assembled at Bethlehem realized who this was that had come to their city – that He was from the heavenly courts, that He was the Logos made flesh, that He had come to “save His people from their sins.” How gladly they would have welcomed Him into the inn, have given for His use and comfort its choicest apartment! But they knew Him not and hence lost this great privilege of ministering to Him. Similarly, in every city and town where the Lord’s people are (His true saints), there are many who would make them welcome and give them the best at their disposal, did they but recognize them as the messengers of Jesus and of the Heavenly Father; but as the Apostle says, “The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.” (1 John 3:1) The disciple must not expect to be above his Lord, and hence, even when going upon missions of mercy and benevolence and as ambassadors for God, we should expect that the Lord’s providence would furnish for us, not the most palatial accommodations, but probably very humble conditions.
When we find it thus we should rejoice that to some extent at least we have experiences which harmonize with those of our Lord.
The Lord’s people will obtain a blessing in proportion as they are prepared to receive all opportunities for God’s service as Divine favors, and to appreciate them, no matter how humble the conditions. And it is noteworthy that Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the disciples or the Evangelist who recorded the incident, offer the slightest complaint or suggestion of dissatisfaction with the arrangements provided by Divine providence. In proportion as they would have felt dissatisfied with those provided, in that proportion the Divine plans would not have worked for their good.
SHEPHERDS WATCHING BY NIGHT
The vicinity of Bethlehem is a pastoral countryside, and even today is still covered with flocks of sheep. It was and still is the custom for shepherds to remain with their flocks by night to guard against thieves and predatory wild beasts. It was in this vicinity that the future King David, as a shepherd-boy protecting his flocks, slew a bear and on one occasion a lion.
Shepherds as a group were not particularly well educated through formal schooling. But sheep are more or less a docile animal that requires very little attention beyond herding and protecting. The shepherd has quite a bit of peaceful time for reflections and conversations with each other and can become very knowledgeable, philosophical and intellectual. The shepherd whom God honored in making him king of HIS typical kingdom, was a great poet, and evidently much of his time while shepherding was given to the muse, and one of his most beautiful poems (Psalm 23) represents The Holy Father himself as the Shepherd of His people, His flock, for which He cares. It was to men of this thoughtful class, and no doubt men familiar with David’s Psalms and with the Messianic hopes therein set forth, that the Lord sent the first message respecting His Son made flesh.
The description of the appearance of an angel, and of the fear which the brightness of his countenance engendered, is both simple and natural. All mankind more or less feels instinctively a fear of the supernatural, a trepidation at the very thought of being in the presence of the holy angels. And this is proper as well as natural, for all realize their own imperfections through the fall, fearing more or less that the results to themselves would be unfavorable if Divine justice were laid to the line and to the plummet in respect to their affairs. All seem instinctively to realize their need of mercy at the hands of Him with whom we have to do. And so it was with these shepherds; they were frightened as they beheld the heavenly visitor in their midst; but his message was not one of justice, nor in any sense of condemnation, but of Divine mercy. He soothed them with the words, “Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be unto all people.” Can we wonder that joy took the place of fear in their hearts as they heard the gracious words? Surely not. And so it is with all who from that day to the present time have heard this true Gospel message, not merely with the outward ears, but truly, with the ears of their understanding, comprehending and appreciating it.
How false and how sad has been the understanding of this message by many of God’s people, as it has echoed to them down through the Age! How few have heard it gladly, appreciatively! How remarkable that nearly all of the different churches and their thousands of ministers and hundreds of thousands of Sunday School teachers should unite in a complete contradiction of this message of the angels.
This contradiction not only wounds their own sentiments and grieves their own hearts, but robs our dear Savior’s mission of nine-tenths of its majesty. It thoroughly dishonors and maligns the name of our gracious Heavenly Father by its misrepresentation of the salvation HE has provided in Christ Jesus. Even in our day there are some who having received the true “good tidings of great joy which shall be unto all people,” and deny this great Truth. They say, “Not all the people – only those people who join with us.”
GOOD VERSUS BAD TIDINGS
Some perhaps may be surprised, and even shocked, at such an arraignment of the message which they and other well-meaning, but blinded, Christians are delivering in the name of the Gospel – for the word “gospel” signifies by derivation Glad or Good Tidings. We are quite ready to believe that the vast majority of those who promulgate these bad tidings of eternal misery, as being the Divine message and sentence to the vast majority of mankind, are wholly unaware of how seriously they misrepresent the Divine character and government in the message which they carry to men. They misstate the Gospel, not of intention, but of blindness, the very blindness mentioned by the Apostle as originating with the great Adversary (2 Cor. 4:4). The blindness by which he blinds the minds of the vast majority, to hinder them from realizing the glorious light of God’s goodness revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Oh, if we could only get all true Christians to study Luke 2:10, and see the depths of its significance, it would quickly revolutionize the teachings of Christendom! But as our Lord declared, some of the deep things of the Divine plan are hidden from many of the wise and prudent according to the course of this world, and are revealed only to the humble – the babes. Nevertheless, the testimony of God standeth sure. All whose understanding has been opened and who have been enabled to comprehend some of the lengths, the breadths, the heights and the depths of God’s love may rejoice. The ignorance of the world in general on this subject and the opposition of the great Adversary, who is blinding them, cannot continue forever. It must soon give place, when the Lord’s due time shall come. When He who died on Calvary for the world’s redemption shall begin His glorious reign by binding that old serpent, the devil, Satan, that he should deceive the nations no more for the thousand years of the Millennial reign. Then all shall see out of obscurity, and shall discern that at present it is the privilege only of the favored few to see respecting the Divine character and plan that the message of the angel was true, every word of it. That the grand results to flow from the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem justified the message sent by the great Father in Heaven. It is a good message of great joy which eventually shall be to all people. As a result, all whose enlightenment and blessing shall have no hindrance, no restriction. All shall come to “an accurate knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4, Dia.) And an opportunity to avail themselves of the grace, mercy and peace provided for all in the great salvation secured by Jesus’ ransom-sacrifice. In that glorious reign, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:9) In contrast to the present “evil world” when “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not.” (2 Cor. 4:4)
The angel further explained his great Gospel message, showing its basis, and declaring that all the good things mentioned should come to pass because the Savior–Messiah, had been born. The one so long looked for in Israel, the promised seed of Abraham in whom not only Israel should be blessed and exalted to honor, dignity and cooperation, but in whom also “all the families of the earth should be blessed.” And let us here remark that the order of presentation used by the heavenly messenger, and evidently divinely ordered, is the proper presentation of this subject which should be adopted by all who seek to be used of the Lord as His ambassadors. First, there is the grand pronouncement of Divine favor and blessing. It is a cause for joy and ultimately shall extend to every creature. Secondly, there is the specific explanation of how all this is to be accomplished through a Savior, a Deliverer, who as stated in our text; in order to deliver His people from the wages of sin, death, into eternal life and blessing. But first of all must save them from their sins. And we see from other Scriptures that this salvation from our sins signifies not only the payment on our behalf of the penalty for Adamic Sin, but also, subsequently, man’s instruction in righteousness and lifting out of sin; in which uplift each one is required to cooperate to the extent of his will and ability.
So all teaching of the grace that is to come to mankind should be coupled with the philosophy of the salvation. The Savior made flesh and the flesh devoted or sacrificed for our sins. The Savior glorified in due time after the selection of His Church, His Bride. Then He shall, with her, according to the Divine plan, establish His Kingdom of righteousness for the uplifting of the world of mankind from ignorance, superstition and general degradation into which the great Adversary has gotten them through the fall and through his subsequent blinding and misleading. In this connection, it is well to remember that our Lord’s name, Jesus, signifies THE GOD is salvation. All who would be of the elect Church must have the spirit of the bridegroom (as well as by faith be covered with the garment of His imputed righteousness); and that His spirit is one of opposition to sin to the extent of self-sacrifice. We also are to “resist unto blood (death) in striving against sin.” (Heb. 12:4)
Then the angel gave the shepherds an intimation of the humble conditions under which this great King of earth was born into the world, as a babe, wrapped in swaddling bands and lying in a manger. This was necessary, not only to their identification of Jesus, but necessary also to bring down their thoughts from the great and grand results to its humble beginnings, lest they should be misled in their expectations. And as it is with every part of the Divine plan, so also it should be in respect to all of our proclamations of the same. We are not only to tell of the future glory, greatness, and grandeur, but we are to tell also of the present humiliation. Not only of our Savior who humbled Himself to take a low estate amongst men, and to die for our sins but also, to point out that the “elect” are called to walk in His footsteps, under similarly humiliating circumstances.
If they would reign with Him, suffer with Him, and die with Him they would live with Him. And thus, the prophets spoke not only of the glory that should follow, but also of the sufferings of Christ (Head and Body) which must precede the glory (1 Pet. 1:11).
The lesson to everyone who has ears to hear it is “No cross, no crown.” Let us then, humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, and rejoice in every step of the humiliation that He may exalt us in due time to share the glories of His Son, our Lord. To share with Him the grand work of blessing all the families of the earth.
It was a fitting climax that, after the one angel had told the surprised shepherds of the good tidings of great joy for all people and was ready to depart, he should be joined by an angelic host, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” This was but a reiteration of the Gospel message already delivered. It declared that the work which should be accomplished by the babe just born should redound to the highest glory and honor of The High God, His Father. It declared also that through this work to be accomplished by Jesus, should come to earth divine good will and consequently peace and all that these would imply in the way of blessings of restitution and privilege of attaining everlasting life.
But how much in conflict with all this are the erroneous theories which have gained credence in Christendom. Teaching, notwithstanding the ransom, which our Lord Jesus gave and notwithstanding the turning aside of the original sentence upon our race as the result of the propitiation for our sins accepted by the Father; the vast majority of the human family will nevertheless to all eternity, be in rebellion against God, and in torture will continually blaspheme His name. That is without ever having had a full, reasonable opportunity to know the Savior or to accept His salvation. How strange that any should think that such a plan would be glory to God in the highest!
How strange that any should refuse to see the very plain statement of the Scripture that God has provided through Christ that every member of the human family shall have a full opportunity of coming to a knowledge of the truth, and then of relinquishing sin and of accepting new life of righteousness under the New Covenant. Then whoever still refuses and will not submit himself to this righteous arrangement (refuse to rid themselves of the Adamic Death Process, the defilements they had remaining in their characters from the reign of sin) shall be utterly destroyed from amongst the people in the Second Death (Acts 3:23). That none will be suffered to live in sin and opposition to God to blemish any part of God’s dominions, but that all the incorrigible shall be as though they had not been. In no other way can we possibly imagine that the time will ever come when there will be full peace among men.
The only solution which God offers respecting the establishment of peace is in connection with the establishment of His Kingdom, for which our dear Redeemer taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.” That will mean peace in its fullest and most absolute sense. The Scriptural proposition does not include the violation of any man’s will. But merely the offering through Christ of any opportunity for the everlasting blessing and peace, or he will be cut off in the Second Death if he fails to appreciate the Divine offer (Acts 3:23). Isaiah 35th Chapter is a brief and beautiful description of that glorious Kingdom.
The shepherds having heard of God’s grace manifested their interest by visiting and paying their homage to the Savior. So each one who has heard of the grace of God with an appreciative heart can do nothing less than seek the Lord and do Him reverence and serve His cause by proclaiming the gracious message with which he has been favored.
Let us each do so, and thus more and more increase in our hearts our joys and our appreciation of the Gospel – the Good News.
THE GREAT SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEEP
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” (Psa. 23:1,2)
The thought presented in this text as in other Scriptures is that the great Over-Shepherd appointed His Son to be the Under Shepherd of the Sheep, even as the Son has appointed under-shepherds in the Church subject to Him. The great Under-Shepherd does not shepherd goats or wolves. The only ones who are shepherded are the sheep; and special care is taken of the faithful Flock of God. The great Over-Shepherd looks out for the interests of His sheep, provides for them, and leads them into green pastures, as the Psalmist tells us. He also protects them from wolves and other ravenous beasts. The Scriptures give us good evidence that originally the Jewish nation constituted this flock, and that King David recognized himself as one of the sheep. Israel was not chosen by the Lord because they were better than the rest of mankind; but God made an exception of the people on account of Father Abraham, for whose sake He became the “Shepherd of Israel.” Because of Abraham’s great faith in God and his implicit obedience under the most crucial tests, the Lord promised to make of his seed a peculiar people above all the peoples of the earth. He promised to bless them, to assume a particular care over their affairs, and eventually to use them in blessing all other nations.
So God made the twelve tribes of Israel His chosen people. And in proportion as they were obedient to His commands, He blessed them; and whenever they went astray, He chastised them and brought them back again under His care. And this is true of spiritual Israel, during the Gospel Age, He chastises the “children of disobedience” (the Measurably Faithful New Creatures) and aban-dons them for a time until they are penitent and repent of their willfulness, at which time He brings them back again under His care.
So while the Lord had a care over the affairs of Natural Israel, and still has a care, He has a still more particular care over the affairs of Spiritual Israel. However, as we know, the first privilege of becoming a member of Spiritual Israel was offered to Natural Israel just as the first privilege of becoming a member of Christ’s children when the New Covenant is inaugurated will be to Natural Israel after the flesh. But all now who are privileged to use these words are the fully faithful of the Faith Age: “God is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” In this 23rd Psalm, there is a distinction between sheep and wolves in the Faith Age, just as there is a difference of sheep and goats during the works Age and during Christ’s Kingdom. God has chosen for the members of this nation those, few in number, who are sheep-like in disposition and who desire to come into His Fold. For these He has provided a particular way in which to enter this Fold. He does not have bears in His Fold, nor tigers nor wolves nor birds of prey. God does not recognize such; they are not to be fed and cared for as He cares for His sheep.
If, therefore, we would claim the promise of this beautiful Psalm, we must make sure that we are of sheep like disposition and desirous of being led of the True Shepherd. We are to be careful to note that there is only one Shepherd who is able to care for our interest and who can be safely entrusted with them. A strange shepherd would lead the sheep astray, would lead them into difficulties, dangers and disaster. For this reason, we do not trust everybody who wears the garb of a shepherd. There is but one Shepherd that we can trust. He has appointed as the Under-Shepherd the One who died for us, that He might fully deliver all the sheep from the Evil One – the roaring lion who walketh about seeking whom he may devour.
Our gracious Savior left the Courts of Glory and came down to earth, and for thirty-three years He traversed with weary feet this vale of tears. He mingled with the poor and lowly; He wept with the sorrowing and the sinful; He had no place to lay His head. He bore the grieves and sickness of those about Him. He did all this to recover us from the bondage of sin; to deliver us from the death sentence imposed upon Adam and all in his loins. How grateful we should be for such a Shepherd! How can we sufficiently show forth His praise! Truly we can never know it on this side of the veil; “how dark was the night that the Lord passed through,” that He might redeem us to God – and not only His sheep of the Faith Age, but also the sheep of the Millennial Age.
But the sheep of the present Age, who are to be exalted, and are to do a shepherding work for the sheep of the incoming Age, are given a distinct and peculiar training, to fit them for their future great work. From the time they are accepted to this higher plane, they are dealt with accordingly. This means that they must have certain trials and afflictions, according to the flesh. They represent only a small portion of mankind, those who have special qualities of earnestness, humility and love of righteousness. It is a “narrow way.”
But, having come into this Fold
of God, we have every reason for confidence in the great Shepherd, and should
recognize His constant care over us, His supreme interest in our spiritual
welfare. Let us be good sheep! Let us not stray from the Fold, to the right
hand or to the left, nor be attracted away from the green pastures and pure
waters to go browsing on the thistles and
poisonous weeds of some by-path, or to drink of the muddy, polluted waters of human speculation and delusive theories of men. In other words, let us keep the Truth and the Spirit of the Truth even though we travel a very lonely way. The way has indeed been lonely in this day of “special wrath,” with some of the Lord’s dear people becoming weary of well doing, attracted away from the green pastures, frequently into the “fold” of the measurably faithful under-shepherds.
The basic concepts of the foregoing are from the writings of the fully faithful under-shepherds of the Laodicean period, much of which is verbatim. Since the demise of That Servant, however, the measurably faithful under-shepherds have perverted and distorted the “faith once delivered unto the saints.” These have especially so in regard to the Messianic blessings “to the Jew first,” those covenant-keeping Jews after the flesh.
It will be through natural Israel that “all the families of the earth” will be blessed, even as we have been taught. We see ever increasing evidence of these truths in the study of Israel today, its economy, agriculture, advances in the sciences, medicine etc.
And for these “good tidings of great joy which shall be unto all people,” we echo the singing of the angelic host – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Although we know that December 25th is not the true date of Christ’s birth. But, since we were never enjoined by either Him or the Heavenly Father to celebrate Christ’s birth, we are content to join all people of good will in so doing.
Our cordial good wishes to all for a Blessed Holiday Season – and may “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7)
(Garnered from and inspired by Brother John J. Hoefle’s paper No. 375, December 1986.)