In many towns and neighborhoods, during the Christmas season we see quaint depictions of the manger scene. We're drawn to these creative expressions of Christ incarnate because it reminds us of the historic moment when God became flesh. Today on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll invites us to follow along in Luke Chapter 2. In this study, originally presented at Christmas time, we're reminded that nothing is more important than confronting the person of Jesus. Not in some nostalgic yuletide way, but through a genuine encounter with Jesus the Messiah, Mary's little lamb. Picture in your mind, for that's the only place we can turn for the vivid scene, picture the little town of Bethlehem bursting at the seams with transients. People who didn't want to be there but had to be there, long lines, the deadline approaching, the nervousness of getting your name registered because the edict of Caesar said, do it. And in stumbles a couple looking for a room. There's no place for them.
And I am sure the innkeeper thought nothing of just the wave of his hand as he caused them and others to pass by and probably by then had found a sign that he had, on which he had scratched, no vacancy. And labor sets in. Her labor pains are being endured alone. Not even a midwife is present to help.
No one. Joseph must have tried a half dozen things to bring comfort, but there was no way. He's notably absent from the account in verses six and seven.
Did you observe? And Dr. Luke never showed his profession more clearly when the physician speaks or writes briefly than he does in these two verses. I would wish for a chapter of details, but they will never be. It came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth and Dr. Luke simply records it as a physician and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in cloths. She laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. And Luke must have taken great delight in observing that it was in a feeding trough.
He's the only one who mentions it. There was a free-standing feeding trough where sheep would come to nuzzle their food. But whatever, it was at a feeding trough she placed the baby.
That's a great thought. And for the first time, God's lungs breathed earth's air. There was no room for them in the inn and so the mother wraps him in cloths and places him in a feeding trough. Well, maybe everything was quiet and obscure at the birth, but it didn't remain that way for long. We read of the response to this birth in verses 8 through 20 and what a response it was. The angel, verse 9, suddenly stood before a cluster of shepherds and we read the glory of the Lord shone around them.
What does that mean? It means light. Light shines. And there was from the presence of heaven this laser beam, if you will, shining all around the shepherds and the angel is standing in their midst. This angel has been a busy angel, if it was indeed Gabriel. He has seen Zacharias and told him of the birth that they would enjoy, he and Elizabeth. He has also visited Mary and told Mary that there would be a birth, which surprised her. He has visited Joseph and convinced Joseph that the child is of God and now he suddenly appears to these shepherds standing and lying about in the midst of this light.
The shepherds listen to words that stunned them. Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people, a great joy. Isn't that gracious of God?
It's a universal message. And what is it today in the city of David? There has been born for you a Savior, Christ the Lord. Wonderful moment. And this will be the sign you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding trough, lest there were other babies born that night and very well could have been and they missed the one they should have visited.
This will be the one you will find in the trough. And just as quickly as he had come, suddenly we read again, there appeared with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts. I don't know, 50, 100? How many is in a multitude?
2,000? A hillside full of them? I don't know if they sang or spoke.
It says they said here. I don't know if they said it in a meter or if they said it in an antiphonal voice. I don't know if someone gave a melody to it. Angels sort of do what they want to do, you know? And so in a great multitude of voices, the shepherds are sitting there listening to this sound. Glory to God in the highest on earth.
Peace among men with whom he is pleased. Did you know the angels were there when the Lord Jesus had created this earth? Did you know the Lord Jesus created the earth? John tells us in John chapter 1 that he who was from the beginning made all things and apart from him nothing was made that was made. And in him was the light of man and later John writes, and the word became flesh and dwelt among us. And did you know angels were there at creation to sing their songs of praise? How appropriate they be here at his birth. The hymn writer who wrote the carol picked up the thought, angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o'er all the earth, ye who sang creation's story now proclaim Messiah's birth. Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn king. Why of course angels are timeless. Angels are ageless. The same ones who sang at creation were there to sing at incarnation.
I love it. It gives depth to the Christmas message. It says to the world, sing for joy.
God has been born on earth. Well, they're gone. What do you do when you're the recipient of an angelic message and you don't have anything to change into to visit the king? And I love the shepherd's response. By the way, forgive me if this is too earthy for you, but the shepherds were to those days what the homeless are to our day. They aren't nice, clean people dressed in terrycloth robes and rubber thongs standing there with papier-mâché crooks singing joy to the world, the Lord has come. They're the leftovers.
In many ways, they're the transients. Philip Culler does a masterful job with the shepherds as he paints this scene in Rabboni, his work. In the faint starlight little clusters of sheep accompanied by their watchful owners moved across the barren landscape in search of grass to graze or brush to browse. The shepherds were troubled men. Day after day, week after week, they watched the pastures shrivel and die. Their sheep too wasted away. The older ewes with worn out teeth could not survive on the hard herbage.
Finally, they would collapse in utter weakness. Starved and sickly, their carcasses littered the landscape. Vultures, crows, and ravens fed upon the corpses by day and jackals fought over them by night. The shepherds turned their troubled eyes to search the skies for clouds or hint of rain. There was none, only drow, drow, drow. But even that was not all. Each man wrestled with the anxiety of his own heart.
He struggled with himself wondering if he could survive. Had Jehovah, the Lord of Israel, forgotten his people? Were the heavens shut up against all his children that there was neither rain to refresh their land nor dew to refresh their flocks?
And to add insult to injury, had not Rome, that hated pagan power that ruled Israel with an iron fist, had not Rome demanded once again that all the world should be taxed? But all of a sudden, their anxiety is lifted. They've had a message from heaven.
They've been told where the child could be found and who the child is. Look at their response. I love it. Verse 15.
When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began to say to one another, well then, let's go straight to Bethlehem. Isn't that terrific? Now if these guys had been PhDs from the schools of higher learning, they would have said, now wait a minute, hold it.
I think I know the source of that light. I've seen a deal in Jerusalem. They're able to pull that off. It's another deal. And somebody else rather cynical would argue with that theory. And another one would say, I'm not sure. You mean feeding trough? Get serious. You're not telling me that Jesus is in a feeding trough.
We don't even know the name of his parents. But there's none of that. When you're homeless and you're told where to find hope, you go. You go.
That's exactly what they did. Let us go straight to Bethlehem and see the thing that's happened which the Lord has made known to us. And they came in haste and they found their way to Mary and to Joseph and the baby as he lay in a manger.
Oh, look. They must have crowded around and touched him and asked to hold him. He didn't have anything to give him.
He didn't need anything. And his little blurry eyes blinking, his face smiling, and the worthless met the worthy. And they would never be the same. When they had seen the child, they made known the statement that had been told him about this infant. Anybody ever told you about the first evangelists? Shepherds. Not a professional among them.
Just garden variety people like you and me. They told everybody they met. There is a special person that it would be easy for us to miss as we often miss her when we go to visit the newborn. But Luke doesn't let us forget her. He turns back to Mary and gives a quick little 35 millimeter snapshot, verse 19. But Mary treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart. I wonder if in the candlelight long after the shepherds left she didn't record in her book the visit from the shepherds who seemed so kind who took turn holding my baby.
And then I nursed him and he's fallen asleep. Oh, her response is a response of wonderment, silence. Just as every mother here in the twilight hours of the day had taken all the clothes off that little baby and looked for every little mark that has been growing within you, she must have done that.
Pondering in her heart all the things that had been taking place and she tucked him in for his first night's sleep. There would be others who would respond. In a brief matter of time there would be an old man named Simeon in Jerusalem who would make a prophecy in his response. There would come Magi from the east with their gold and frankincense and myrrh and they would fall on their knees and give him what he didn't need but they needed to give. That's why giving is so important. It isn't that God ever has a need, it's that we have the need to give to him.
It's an expression of our worship. There would come Herod in a matter of a brief period of time on the heels of the wise men and he would see that every child who was male under the age of two would be killed. There would come the day when John the forerunner would respond, behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And Peter would say to Jesus in a quiet moment, you are the Christ, the son of the living God. And Thomas would say to the resurrected Lord, having looked at the marks in his hands inside, my Lord and my God, John the Apostle would say he was full of grace and glory, grace and truth. The Pharisees would say let's kill him. Pilate would say I find no fault in him. The centurion would say surely this man was the son of God.
And Saul of Tarsus years later would say who are you, Lord? But what do you say? Three options. You've got three choices as I figure this out and look at it through fresh eyes. What's your response now that the gift has been unwrapped and has smiled at you today? Who do you say he is?
Here are the choices and they are not original with me. First, he was not who he said he was. The whole thing is a religious hoax, fabricated in the minds of a very clever, brilliant people, but he falsified and deliberately deceived a band of loyal followers who died for him and centuries of men and women who have lived and died for him. And if that is your response, be honest and do not hesitate on this Christmas season to say he is a liar. That is an option. But I must say if that is going to be your decision, you better let the facts back it up or you know it's going to be a fallacious decision. Examine the evidence, go back to as early a record as you can, the New Testament, the church fathers, the earliest documents, look for facts and determine in your mind if he is a liar. If you can prove it from the scriptures, embrace it.
That may be too far to go so some of you will have to choose option number two. He thought he was who he said he was but he was deluded. It wasn't a cruel hoax but he himself is a cruel example, humanly speaking, of a man who believed he was right but was mentally deficient. He was a madman. He was a lunatic. Say it. If he wasn't a liar, if it wasn't that deliberate a deceptive act, then he was crazy. And again, I commend you to the facts and if you can find reason to believe it from this book and the early evidence, believe it.
Embrace it. However, the third option which I obviously have chosen and many who you know have chosen, he was who he said he was and he proved it and he died before he ever reached middle age. He died having paid the price of sin for the world and if that is your response then call him Lord.
C.S. Lewis in 1952 wrote in a fine book entitled Mere Christianity, immortal words, I'm trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus Christ. I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher but I do not accept his claim to be God.
That is the one thing we must not say writes Lewis. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with a man who says he's a poached egg or else he would be the devil of hell.
You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the son of God or else a madman or something worse. And I commend to you that the one who was promised came to pass and he is the Christ, the son of the living God.
God's unspeakable, ineffable gift to precious for words. I'd like us to bow together. I invite you to join the ranks of the centurion and say in your heart, truly, he was the son of God. You may have come as far as Pilate in saying I find no fault in him.
This presentation makes sense. But I'm not quite ready to give him my heart. Don't take too long to decide.
We don't know what a day may bring forth. You may not live to see Christmas. This is an urgent issue, this matter of salvation and I invite you not to wait needlessly. I invite you to come. You can give your heart to Christ right where you sit, just like the shepherds who were told the good news. You can believe it now.
Do it. Father, this day we thank you for the simple shepherds who gathered in that place long ago, who had the privilege of being called as the first evangelists to make known the message of Jesus Christ. How like you to do that, to choose common ordinary people who would simply believe what they heard and what they saw and then made that known to the world in which they lived. We realize today, Father, that that is exactly what you are asking of us. That we begin where we are to declare to others what we have seen and heard and now embrace by faith. I pray for any who may have been listening to these words who have never come to trust in Christ, who have never considered Mary's little lamb as the one who was sacrificed for them, that they might today trust in Him with all their heart. And having trusted in Him, begin today a walk with Him that will take them through the rest of their lives on this earth and on into eternity. We commit the time we have spent to you, our Father, and these results as you work in the lives of those who need to respond to this message by faith. In the name of our Savior Christ, who has come to give us life abundant, we pray.
Amen. You're listening to the daily radio program known around the world as Insight for Living. With this closing prayer, Chuck Swindoll wraps up his three-day study in Luke chapter 2. He titled this message Mary's Little Lamb. To learn more about this ministry, go online to insightworld.org. Well, through this in-depth study, I'm sure you've gained a whole new perspective on the birth and ministry of Jesus. When we become better acquainted with Christ and His ways, it changes the way we see life.
Knowing Him brings life into focus. Along those lines, I'm pleased to tell you about a brand new book that's now available through Insight for Living. Chuck gave it a great title, Life is 10% What Happens to You and 90% How You React. The title comes from a statement that Chuck made, one that's become quite familiar across our country. He said, The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.
In fact, I'm convinced that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react. This statement has become the centerpiece of a new book from Chuck. With just seven chapters, Chuck has written about finding joy, maintaining relationships with the people in your life, and how to diffuse disharmony. Whether for yourself, a son or daughter, or perhaps a grandchild, we believe Chuck's new book will help you gain a new perspective on life, one that's squarely founded on the Bible.
To purchase a copy, go to insight.org slash store. And then as God prompts you to support Insight for Living with voluntary donations, we invite you to become a monthly companion. By giving a monthly donation and the amount of your choice, you play a significant role in making this daily program available. So call us. If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888.
You can also sign up online at insight.org slash monthly companion. Treat yourself to a vacation you'll never forget, on the Insight for Living Ministries cruise to the great frontier with Chuck Swindoll. Honestly, I had no idea that a cruise to Alaska could be so much fun. And without a doubt the stunning views took my breath away. God's artistic genius is on full display in Alaska. In fact, I guarantee this, you'll come home refreshed and filled with awe for his majestic creation. Yeah, at one point our ship was getting chased by dolphins.
They were playing and spinning in the waves. It was amazing. You'll have plenty of time for adventures on shore, lingering conversations around mealtime and strolling through the idyllic ports of call. You'll be a part of some of the best parts of our day, laughing, singing and celebrating our God. Plan to come with us, won't you?
The dates are July 1st through July 8th, 2023. To learn more, call 1-888-447-0444. That's 1-888-447-0444 or visit insight.org slash events.
The tour to Alaska is paid for and made possible by only those who choose to attend. I'm Bill Meyer. More from Chuck Swindoll on growing deep in the Christian life next time on Insight for Living.
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