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Sermon of the Week 
Tuesday, December 19 2017

Show Me The Way To Bethlehem

To me, Bethlehem represents that place we never intended on ending up, but somehow, some way we got there. It’s as though in spite of all our planning and preparing for another direction and another place, there were forces at work that had another idea about our lives.

Let’s start by asking, how did you get to where you are today? I’m sure none of us could begin to recount the millions of events, people and circumstance all through our journey, that got us to this place and this time in our lives, and yet, here we are… We could have ended up in a thousand other places, but HERE WE ARE!

Two cowboys come upon an Indian lying on his stomach with his ear to the ground.   One of the cowboys stops and says to the other, "You see that Indian?" "Yeah,"   says the other cowboy. "If you’ll notice, he's listening to the ground and he can hear things for miles in any direction."

Just then the Indian says "There’s a Covered wagon, about two miles away.  It has two horses, one brown and one white. There’s a Man, woman, child, and all their household effects in the wagon."

"Wow, that’s Incredible!"   says the cowboy to his friend. "This Indian knows how far away they are, how many horses, the color they are, who is in the wagon, and what they have in the wagon. I am amazed that he can tell all that by listening to ground! "The Indian looks up and says,"It ran over me about a half hour ago."

Well, life is full of surprises, and along with the plans we have planned, it’s those very unplanned events that have usually brought us to where we are. The Bethlehem story, would have been altogether different, if it weren’t for some unplanned surprises. One of those surprises is in…   Luke 2:1 “There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” SURPRISE!!!

Caesar Augustus was the greatest of the Roman emperors, greater even than his granduncle, Julius Caesar. It was said that when he came to Rome it was a city of brick, and when he left it was a city of marble. He reigned as emperor for 41 years. His greatest single act–that would have the most lasting effect on world history–was to call for a census of the empire. It’s the kind of thing governments have been doing every since. 

When the time came to take the census in Israel, it meant that the Jews would have to return to their ancestral hometowns. That would explain why Joseph and Mary had to return to Bethlehem at a most inconvenient time–in the ninth month of Mary’s pregnancy.

So, Merry Christmas, Caesar Augustus. You played a part you never knew and paved the way for the birthday of the King of Kings. 

As a matter of fact I want to take time to thank all the folks and situations that taken all together, brought you to exactly where you are today, doing what you are doing at this time in your life, and perhaps, for you being the person you are now….The truth is, we have all been on our own unique journey filled with unplanned events, to our own Bethlehem.

Joseph was a good carpenter, but probably knew nothing about bringing babies into the world. I submit to you that there was another woman there in the manger, and that Mary probably had the help of a local midwife there in Bethlehem, to assist with the birth of Jesus in the lowly stable. How could this lowly midwifehave known that she would be called upon to bring the Son of God into this world. What an unplanned event she was brought into, the first one to introduce the Messiah to the world. She was called upon because the local folks knew she had done this before, probably often and would have sent for her.  

It makes me think that the Messiah is looking for some midwives to help Him to be born into the lives of those who need some help, in making that important life changing decision.                                                                         How wonderful that there are some among us who are known for assisting Jesus to be born into many people’s lives. We think of Billy Graham, the TBN network, 700 club, Reinhart Bonke, and we could go on and on…. But what if each of us made the history changing decision to be God’s mid wife in the world, to see Jesus born into the lives of families, friends, neighbors and those many folks without Christ in our city….

Philip Yancey has a line in his book, “The Jesus I Never Knew”, where he puts it this way: “The God who came to earth came not in a raging whirlwind nor in a devouring fire. Amazingly, the Maker of all things shrank down, down, down, so small as to become a single fertilized egg barely visible to the naked eye, an egg that would divide and redivide until a fetus took shape, enlarging cell by cell inside a nervous teenager. Growing in her womb toward the time of birthing…. Scripture tells us that He ‘made Himself nothing . . .and He did it to give us everything”!

This Bethlehem story tells us that as folks are going about their daily tasks, just living life…. Working, playing, interacting and just doing their daily stuff….suddenly God shows up, and GOD INVADES the natural order of things with the supernatural!HEY THERE’S AN INVASION GOING ON! It’s those times when things begin to develop that take us to another level and we are launched onto an uncertain path that takes us in an uncertain direction…..that changes everything forever!

The road to Bethlehem is about never giving up….There is no way they could have known, that what was being done in the palaces of Ceaser, would touch the lives of this teenage girl and the man she was espoused to, but they persisted in spite of all the surprises,.                                                                                                                                              I wonder how many times, things that didn’t look spiritual at all, none the less, positioned and located us in such a way, that God moved thru them, to bring about Spiritual transformation and a Holy birthing!

So many have heard the call of God on their journey to their own Bethlehem, and because they refused to give up…they ended up as a Martin Luther King Jr…. a Paul Crouch, a Pat Robertson, a Joel Osteen, T.D Jakes, or maybe a little woman who anointed and washed the feet of Jesus. The apostles were fishermen, carpenters, a doctor, and a couple of religious zeolots…. Who ended up changing the world!

Perhaps you didn’t know that when he was 15, actor Jim Carrey had to drop out of school to support his family. His father was an unemployed alcoholic musician and as the family went from “middle class to poor,” they eventually had to start living in a van. Carrey didn’t let this stop him from achieving his dream of becoming a comedian: He went from having his dad drive him to comedy clubs in Toronto to starring in mega-blockbuster movies and becoming known as one of the best comedic actors of an entire era.        

Benjamin Franklin dropped out of school at age ten. That didn’t stop this determined young man from his journey of learning and self-development. He taught himself through his constant reading and studying, and eventually went on to invent the lightning rod and bifocals. He was a world traveler, and Oh yes, he became one of America’s Founding Fathers, who helped compose and sign, the Declaration of Independence! And my favorite picture of him is on the $100.00 bill!!! *….Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting in his entire lifetime and it wasbought because his brother’s girlfriend felt sorry for him. It was sold for 80 dollars. Today that same painting sold for 82.5 million and is exhibited at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. Van Gogh is considered one of the greatest artists of all time, and even though Van Gogh made no money while he was alive, he still painted over 900 works of art. Each one of these paintings are now worth millions. Even though his persistence went unnoticed when he was alive, Van Gogh proves that you can’t judge your success by what you see at the moment.

Here's some quotes I found about success…. 

Jay London… Your window of opportunity sometimes involves a rock.                                                             A. H. Weiler…Nothing is impossible if you don’t have to do it your self..                                                   Darrin Weinberg… Before you start climbing the ladder of success, be sure you have it propped against the right wall.

If you were to ask one of the locals, “How far is it from the gates of Jerusalem to Bethlehem”?. He would tell you that it is about eight kilometers or just a two hour walk to the sleepy little town where Christ was born. Sometimes things seem to take forever, but as you look back, it’s amazing how quickly it happened. At 74, I look back at some points in the journey that seemed to never end, and now I’m amazed at how the time has flown. The older you get the faster it flies… and the hurrider you go the behinderyou get.                                                                                                     Why make mountains out of molehills? We can’t be like the man who was making a big deal of washing the dishes… He said, ‘I washed the forks, then the spoons, then the knives, then I washed the plates and saucers, after that I did the cups and glasses…. And that was just putting them in the dishwasher!  We call that much to do about nothing!                                                                                                                                                                                                                          An NFL player, gets a lot of bumps and bruises on the way to the playoffs…. But he keeps moving forward, because his eyes are fixed on the purpose for which everything else is preparing him in his skill level and his endurance. He’s not a champion because of winning the big games, but he becomes a champion through the journey to that goal. The journey is shaping and molding him into the champion he becomes and there comes a point where he realizes that it wasn’t about the big games, it was about the personal journey.It’s about what you do after football!

There’s A lot of history tied to that two hour walk called the Bethlehem road. It was in Bethlehem that Rachel was buried, and it was to Bethlehem that Naomi and Ruth returned, and where Ruth married Boaze and became part of the linage of Christ. King David was born and raised in Bethlehem and the prophet Micah wrote in….                                                                                          Micah 5:2 “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village in Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come forth from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.”                                                                                                                   On your journey to your personal Bethlehem, you will find a lot of great inspiration and direction from so many who have gone before you. We can benefit from the history of our Bethlehem, or we can ignore it and we’re doomed to repeat the parts that are not so good… We need to learn from the mistakes of others, because we can't possibly live long enough to make all the mistakes ourselves.

The Bethlehem road is a two lane highway, which not only brought a carpenter and his virgin wife, pregnant with child to it’s manger stable on that starry night, but when you take that road back to Jerusalem, it brings you to Calvary’s hill.                                                                                      “How far is it from Bethlehem to Calvary?”   Compared to the Millenniums that have come and gone since God spoke the world into being, the thirty-three year life span of Jesus is a relatively short period of time. There is only a short lifetime between singing angels, shepherds and wise men, to cursing soldiers with cat of nine tails at the Savior’s whipping post, (for by His stripes we are healed).  

It’s Just a few short years from swaddling clothes and a babe in manger straw,  to a crown of thorns…. from dimples and stubby fingers to blood stained cheeks and nail pierced hands. And yet as close as it might be, it is a sad fact of life that not enough have made that all important journey from Bethlehem to Calvary.                                                                                                                                                Yes, it’s just 2 hours from Jerusalem to Bethlehem… but from Bethlehem to Calvary, is a journey from Christmas trees, bells and bangles, to Easter Lillies, a cross and a tomb. But one cannot find the real power of Christmas, separated from that place called Calvary…. Whether society wants to admit it or not, When they celebrate Christmas, they are joining in the celebration of the Messiah’s birth. Our Father’s road map will always take us from a stable manger to Calvary’s hill where the wood that built a manger is transformed into an old rugged cross. 

It was Dr. Seuss who wrote….“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!” 

Every advertisement for Christmas keeps the name of Jesus in front of people. And while local stores may not play “Victory in Jesus” or “Power in the Blood”…they proclaim the birth of Christ to everyone in the store with “Silent Night”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, and “It came upon a midnight clear”…. Christmas without Calvary is like a snowman in August, it’s just a puddle….

There’s a cross in the cradle. A Christ child in a manger is a safe place,  because a baby makes no demands on our life. But a crucified, resurrected Savior, requires that we make a decision about Him, to accept what He offers, or to walk away and refuse His gift of forgiveness and salvation. You see, without Calvary, there would be no Bethlehem celebration, because Jesus would have been just another fake…. A good, wonderful person, but just a fake. 

A guy bought his wife a beautiful diamond ring for Christmas.After hearing about this extravagant gift, a friend of his said, "I thought she wanted one of those sporty four-wheel-drive vehicles." "Oh yeah, She did," he replied. "But when I checked, a fake Jeep is harder to find?" Thank God Jesus is the real deal….and there is coming a day when the world will see and know!

Jesus Laid Aside His Godhead….And when He was born in Bethlehem, He chose to leave His divinity, and become flesh. He chose to live with the same limitations that you and I have. He told the disciples that the glory He had with the Father, was available to them also. He said that He did nothing of himself, but that it all came from the Father in Heaven. Jesus said that the Father showed Him what He was to do, and as He obeyed, the Father’s glory was what made the difference. The mystery of the incarnation is that He was fully man, while being fully God.                         The story of Christmas is a mystery of integration, where the life force of God entered the seed of a woman. God the Son, chose to lay aside His God part, as an example and as sin’s remedy for each of us.

So, the big question is… how can Christ, dying on a cross, cleanse my soul from it’s sin, 2000 years later? That’s simple…..He’s not dead! He’s alive and after leaving us as the heirs of His kingdom, He came back to be sure that we receive what He left for us.                                       Hebrews 7:25 tells us…“Wherefore He is able also to save all of those totally and completely that come unto God by Him, seeing He forever lives to make intercession for them”.                                                                                                                

Why should we be content to stay in Bethlehem when there is so much waiting for us just a 2 hour walk down the road? After all Bethlehem holds the promise of eternal life but it’s Calvary that holds the actual gift of eternal life.

Mary Ellen Chase said  “Christmas, is not a date on the calendar,it is a state of heart and mind. ” 

Luke 2:8 tells us that some shepherds were in the fields outside the village that night, guarding their flocks of sheep. . What an announcement They received! They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. But what about those Christmas  shepherds? I hate to malign the shepherds but I tend to think of them as flash in the pan believers. They had this great choir of angels who told them about the Christ child, and if anything should move you to action I would think this would. Luke 2:17 tells us that the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.

But that’s all Luke wrote, we don’t hear anymore about the shepherds, no aged shepherd 33 years later, are recorded making their way to the cross to worship at the feet of Christ, as they saw the promise told them by angels fulfilled. None of the disciples of Jesus were shepherds, there were no shepherd witnesses at the trial of Jesus. No, they stayed in Bethlehem, for them it was too far to travel that 2 hours to get to Calvary. When the thrills, and angel singing stopped they just melted back into the hills. They had a historical experience, it was something that happened long ago, but never maintained and kept current. 

The reason the Christian faith and the Christian Church has survived and flourished over the past 2000 years is because there are some who after the angels have gone, the visions and thrills have subsided, and the heavens are still, and life is life again, they still believe and stick fast.

Then there are the words “No room in the inn” that are part of the Christmas story…. When the gospel of Luke records the arrival of Mary and Joseph and the unborn Jesus in Bethlehem, as they come to the inn, it doesn’t say that there was no room in the inn….. It says that there was no room for THEM in the inn. How would you like history to record that YOU were the one that rejected Jesus. And yet this guy has lots of company, for he is just one of multitudes who could never get their heads around the amazing mystery of the incarnation!                                                      But just two hours away at Calvary, it will never say that there was no room for anyone…. There is always room for more, at the foot of the cross, for as many as will come….For all who are willing to make the journey!

You see the truth is, the Bethlehem inn keeper just didn’t care…. He was busy, he was distracted, he didn’t understand the importance of the moment he was in….But no one can ever be able to say, that there is no compassion at calvary. The sacrifice made there is self explanatory! 

We know that Joseph died at some point after Jesus was 12 years old, because that’s the last mention of him….but out of all of the people that were there that first Christmas, there is only one that we know for sure followed Christ from Bethlehem to Calvary and that was the young virgin who was his mother. Her life was changed forever by the child that she gave birth to that day. For her, every moment of every day would be changed from that point on. It’s the difference in just knowing something and having it birthed in you.                                                                                     You see Mary’s experience was not just a Bethlehem Christmas experience, or a commitment of someone caught up in the celebration. She was 100% committed to the child she called Jesus. And that is what He is looking for today. He wants us to come to the manager with the same attitude as Mary, who was in it for the long haul. Because it’s only when we are completely convinced of who Jesus is and what He offers all of us, that we will be able to make the trip from Bethlehem to salvation’s birthplace at Calvary.

Bethlehem was the birthplace of the Savior, but Calvary was the birthplace of salvation!

Satan will try every way possible to keep us from going from Bethlehem to Calvary. He will use people who disappointed you and let you down, he will use religions that said one thing but did another, he will use circumstances and life itself to seduce your perspective. Listen, Stop remembering what God has already forgotten. Just because the past keeps tapping you on the shoulder doesn't mean you have to turn around and stop moving forward.   

It was at Calvary, that He bore our offences, it was there that the power of sin was defeated, and a person without sin puts Satan out of business. It was there that the power of death was broken. And if we no longer fear death, then what else is there to fear!                                                              Christmas is beginning of the journey, and Calvary sets us free, so that what was done in Jerusalem gives us confidence, courage, boldness and assurance in Key West, Florida!!!

If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed!!!                                            Let’s stand together and sing that beautiful Christmas song we sang earlier…. “Oh come let us adore Him, Oh come let us adore Him, Oh come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord….

For He alone is worthy, For He alone is worthy, For He alone is worthy, Christ the Lord”…..

Posted by: AT 08:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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