The First Christmas And God's House
Christmas In God’s House
The First Christmas And God’s House
In my study for the sermon series “The Houses of God,” it dawned on me, or The Holy Spirit revealed to me, the thought that Christmas actually began at The House of the Lord, i.e. Herod’s Temple. Since we are suspending the series on “The Houses of God” to do four Christmas messages, it seemed expedient to me to continue to talk about Christmas as it relates to the House of God.
Now you are probably asking yourself, “In what way did Christmas begin at The House of the Lord?” I believe that you will be able to get your question answered by looking with me at Luke 1:5-17. Will you turn there with me please? Let me read this aloud for you, as you follow along.
Instead of moving at the Christmas story from a traditional, more American perspective, let’s move at the Christmas story from the Hebrew perspective, which is the culture in which it originally occurred. We often forget, and some of us have never known, that although the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, the common language of the people of that time, there is a distinctly Hebrew mindset and culture behind it. When telling the story of Christmas, we usually miss the Hebrew context that the Bible sets. Today, we are going to look at the details of these events through the lenses of the Jewish culture.
Our historian is Luke. Luke, the noted physician and historian, is writing a detailed history concerning the oral truths that had been passed down concerning the beginning of all that Jesus both did and said. The Holy Spirit moved on Luke to write, for the generations to come, a spiritually accurate account of the history of Christianity. Therefore, he begins with those events leading up to the birth of Christ!!!
Now I want to point out something that you may have never seen and that God has impressed upon me. Luke begins his history at Herod’s Temple. Herod’s Temple, almost totally unnoticed by us, comes up or is referred to in numerous passages of Scripture, in the New Testament. A lot of the action surrounding the life of Jesus took place in one of the courts or in the vicinity of Herod’s Temple. One of the most fabled actions of Christ, the turning over of the tables of the moneychangers, took place in one of the courts of Herod’s Temple. Yet, this is almost never mentioned!
Herod’s Temple was called such, because Herod led the rebuilding of the Zerrubbabel’s Temple. The construction began about 20-19 B.C. and it took 46 years to build. It wasn’t entirely completed until about A.D. 64. This was about 6 years, before it was destroyed by Rome.
Zerrubbabel’s Temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity, at the decree of Cyrus. It was patterned after Solomon’s Temple. It probably needed some restoration when Herod came into power. Herod undertook the task of rebuilding this temple to show off the style of his kingship. To do this he rebuilt the Temple bigger and better than it had ever been. Herod’s most notable contribution was the magnificent stonework of the Temple platform, which was greatly enlarged. Herod also surrounded the whole enclosure with magnificent porches.
The Temple courts were arranged in terrace form, one court being higher than another, and the Temple highest of all, so as to be easily seen from any part of the city or vicinity, thus presenting an imposing appearance (Mark 13:2-3). (Unger’s Bible Dictionary) From virtually anywhere in the area and in Jerusalem, one could look up and see the Temple in all of its splendor.
Now, remember that for all of its impressive appearance, neither Zerrubabel’s Temple nor Herod’s Temple had the Ark of the Covenant, The Shekinah Glory, The Sacred Fire, The Urim and Thummim, i.e. the mysterious stones that the High Priest used to discern the mind of God, or Spirit-inspired prophets. It had none of the spiritual phenomena of the Tent of David or the Tabernacle Moses, but Jesus still considered it His Father’s house!!!
This is the backdrop of all that Luke is about to report on. So, Luke begins his history with the words “In the days of Herod;” in the days of the empire of Rome and her imperial forces; in the days of petty dictatorships and rulers under the strangle hold of Caesar; in the days of Caesar worship, where Caesar was worshipped as God and those who refused were punished. The writer is setting the stage for the coming of another king, the King of kings, Lord of lords, and Prince of princes, but that will have to await another sermon.
Luke then reveals the protagonist or hero of this story. The protagonist or hero is Zacharias. Zacharias was a priest of the division of Abijah and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, by the name of Elizabeth. You may remember from our study of Solomon’s Temple that there were twenty-four courses of twelve priests. David, at the Tent of David, had originally established these courses of priests. They were brought over to the Temple of Solomon and became a part of these subsequent temples.
Abijah’s course was the eighth course. Even though only four such courses returned from the Babylonian captivity, they were divided into twenty-four and ascribed the old names. Each of these courses did duty for eight days, Sabbath to Sabbath, twice a year. On the Sabbaths, the whole course of twelve priests did duty and at the Feast of Tabernacles all twenty-four courses or 288 priests were present. The fact that Abijah was married to a daughter of Aaron was a double honor. It is like the preacher being married to the daughter of a preacher (A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures In The Greek New Testament).
Luke, being the excellent historian that he was, not only records the lineage of Zacharias and Elizabeth, but their character. He records that they are both righteous in the sight of God and walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. These were devout people of God!
But there was one problem: Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years!!! Barrenness was considered a curse to Jewish women for hundreds of years. This hearkens back to Abraham and Sarah, Elkanah and Hannah, and others. To be a Jewish woman and barren was a fate worse than death. Barren Jewish women pined and prayed to God for the blessing of conception and birth.
· Sarah would not wait for God, but talked Abraham into going along with her plan to gain a child through her concubine.
· Hannah prayed, wept and made a vow at the Tabernacle, when it was stationed at Shiloh.
This is far different from the times that we presently live in, where pregnancy seems to be a fate worse than death.
Elizabeth’s barrenness is another piece of scenery on the stage that Luke is setting. Remember that this was the end of 400 years of silence between the last words of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, and the preparation for a whole new era and dispensation of God.
The barrenness of Elizabeth corresponds to the barrenness of God’s people, at that time. There was a famine in the land, not only for food, but also for hearing the Word of the Lord. This was shortly after the beginning of a new century and a new millennium; both of which corresponded to a new move of God and a coming new covenant of God, through Jesus Christ.
If we had time, we could explore the prophetic implications of Elizabeth’s barrenness. Are we not at a similar point in history? Hasn’t there been a barrenness of the Church? Are we not seeing at the turn of the century and the dawn of a new millennium a new move of God? It has been said that history repeats itself! This saying may have come from some of the speeches of Mark Twain. Be that as it may, the saying seems to be true and isn’t the stage set for this kind of repetition? Isn’t there about to be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
· The first time He came against the backdrop of Herod’s Temple.
· The next time He comes He will come against the backdrop of the Spiritual Temple, i.e. the Church of Jesus Christ.
· The first time He came as a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
· The next time He will come as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
· The first time He came as the Servant of God.
· The next time He will come as the King of kings.
· The first time He came, He voluntarily gave up the use of His divine attributes.
· The next time He will come with all power in heaven and in earth.
· The first time He came to initiate His kingdom.
· The next time He comes, He will bring the final manifestation of His kingdom.
But Luke is still setting the stage for Christ’s coming. Remember?
I like the next word in the text, “Now!” In the Greek, this is a connective or adversative particle. This is a coordinating conjunction. It is translated by the words, “also, and, but, moreover, now.” This word is the pivotal point in this narrative. “Now,” as opposed to “then.” There is something about to happen here. God is about to respond to Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s barrenness. This is a situation for Jehovah God!!!
This word “now” leads into the spiritual conditions that were present, when God decided to do something about Elizabeth’s barrenness.
(And what were those spiritual conditions?)
Zacharias was performing his priestly service before God, in the appointed order of his division.
He had been chosen by lot to enter into the Temple and burn incense. This was apparently the time of the ascent of incense, which took place at the right side of the golden altar of incense, in the Holy Place, in the Temple, i.e. the house of God. “It was only once in a lifetime that a priest obtained the lot of going into the sanctuary, i.e. the Temple building, and burning incense on the golden altar. ‘It was the great moment of Zacharias’ life, and his heart was no doubt alert for the supernatural’ (Ragg). The fortunate lot was ‘a white stone’ to which Rev. 2:17 may refer (A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures In The Greek New Testament). That lot afforded him the divinely providential opportunity to burn incense on the golden altar, before the presence of Jehovah God. The Bible says in
Revelation 2:17, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.”
In the future, Jesus will give to those of us who overcome the right to offer up the incense of prayer before the presence of Jehovah God.
(All right, back to Zacharias and the ministry to which he had been chosen for, in Herod’s Temple.)
“Ascending the steps to the Holy Place, the priests spread the coals on the golden altar, and arranged the incense, and the chief operating priest was then left alone within the Holy Place to await the signal of the president (of the priests) to burn the incense.” (Vincent). And it seems that the whole multitude of people was in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.
(Do you have the picture?)
Zacharias is offering the incense offering of prayer upon the Golden Altar of Incense or Prayer, and as the smoke of the incense of prayer wafted upward, in the Holy place, prayer was being made by the other priests and people outside of the building, in the court of priests and the court of Israel. It is very probable that this was upon the Sabbath day, because there was a multitude of people attending (v. 10), which ordinarily was not so on a weekday; and thus God usually puts honor upon His own day. The incense for which Zacharias was responsible symbolized the prayers of the entire nation. At that particular moment Zechariah was thus the focal point of the entire Jewish nation.
Are these not the spiritual conditions that we need to meet to prepare for a manifestation of God, i.e. me in the Holy Place of fellowship offering the holy incense of prayer, while you, the people surround me, with your own incense of prayer.
(“Now!” “Now, something happens!”)
An angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, in the Temple, in the Holy Place, to the right of the altar of incense. (That would be to the left side of the altar of incense, when looking into the Holy Place from the door. The description is written from God’s perspective looking from the Holy of holies outward.) This was between the altar of incense and the candlestick. Zacharias was troubled and fearful, but the angel of the Lord said to him, “Do not fear. I have heard your prayer and your wife will bear a son and you will call his name John.” The angel doesn’t stop there, but gives some additional prophecy. The angel went on to say, “You will have joy and gladness and many shall rejoice at this birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and he will drink no wine or liquor. And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go as a forerunner before Jesus Christ, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the children back to the Father and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord!!!”
Are you getting the import of all of this? This is the first New Testament Christmas prophecy or announcement! And where did it take place? The encounter and the prophecy took place in Herod’s Temple, in the Holy place, between the altar of incense and the candlestick or candelabra. The first prophecy of Christmas took place in God’s house!!! God spoke to Zacharias while he was on duty in the House of God!!! He spoke about the coming of John the Baptizer, who was the forerunner of Jesus Christ, the Christ of Christmas!!! So, this is all about Christmas!!! Shortly after the birth of John would be the birth of Jesus. They are not only connected, they are a part of the same prophecy and sequence of events.
Now I can hear some of you thinking, “So what does this have to do with us and Christmas?” I’m glad you asked that question! Let me give you a prophetic application.
· It has been said that information without application leads to stagnation.
· One of our Logos students coined his own saying, when he said that information without application leads to constipation.
· It has also been said that exhortation without application leads to desperation.
So, here is the prophetic application.
· We need an angel of God or some type of encounter to move into the real spirit of Christmas.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to move into the real spirit of Christmas in the light of the tremendous secularization of the holiday in America. In our country, Christ is being left out of Christmas. It is now Xmas! It is about lights, trees, reindeer, Santa Claus, mistletoe, materialism, etc. In addition, it is against the laws of the land for government buildings to adorn nativity scenes. Where is the Christ child? And without the Christ child do we still have Christmas?
· We need to have the assurance that our prayers have been heard, especially those prayers that are prayed in conjunction to Christmas, at Christmas time.
Our spirits are barren and we have prayed for a spiritual impartation, conception, and birthing. We need an assurance, in our spirits, that God has heard our prayers, especially during this season. Our assurance is in the promise of Christmas, i.e. the promise of the Messiah who came 2,000 years ago and who still comes today to impart, conceive, or birth the possibility of a new King in our spirits. A King who answers our prayers!
· We need God to birth, in our spirits, the promise and hope of Christmas.
Christmas is about the promise and hope of the coming Messiah. Christmas should birth, in our spirits, the promise and hope of Christmas. Christmas reminds us of the promise of Jesus to come again!!! He came on the first Christmas and He is coming again in a far greater Christmas. Christmas is about hope. The Messiah, the hope of Israel, i.e. the certain expectation of a better future, came the first Christmas. Christmas should engender the blessed hope, a certain spiritual expectation that Jesus is coming again bringing a better future.
· We need God to birth, in our spirits, the sense of expectation about the forerunner and the Messiah.
Jesus is soon to come and each Christmas is a forerunner or reminder of that fact. Therefore, Christmas should bring a sense of expectation concerning the Second Coming. There should be a childlike sense of wonder, excitement, and expectation concerning Christ’s soon return. When He comes again, His ornaments will be the stars of heaven, a king’s crown, and the brightness of the saints.
· We need to know that God is preparing us to receive the Christ of Christmas.
Just as the stage was set for the first coming of Jesus Christ, He is also preparing the stage of our hearts to receive the Christ of Christmas. We need a spiritual preparation to receive the Christ of Christmas. We need the baptism/filling of the Holy Spirit. I believe that the words “baptism” and “filling” are used as synonyms for the same experience.
· We need to know that God is preparing the hearts of children to be turned back to their fathers.
It is Christmas time, as much as any other time, that the hearts of the children are turned back to their fathers and the hearts of fathers are turned to their children. Now is the time, when we need God to supernaturally turn the hearts of children towards their fathers and the hearts of their fathers towards them; when children look to their fathers for physical, emotional, and spiritual gifts; when fathers look to tenderly provide for their children’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
· We need to know that God is preparing us for the coming of the Messiah and the hope of the ages rests in Him.
He’s coming again! He’s coming again! He’s coming again! And Christmas should be a part of the preparation for His coming.
· We need to know that the Christ of Christmas is coming to fulfill and fill full all the promises of the Old Testament.
And all of this, the first Christmas announcement and all that is enfolded therein, took place in the House of God, in the place of fellowship, while Zacharias was on duty in Herod’s Temple offering worship through prayer!!!
May I submit to you, that during this Christmas season, we need to come to the House of God, the place of fellowship, and attend to our duty of worshipping God in prayer? It is the worship of prayer that puts us in the place or condition to receive a divine conception or impartation from the Holy Spirit. David captured this relationship of prayer to worship in
Psalm 141:2, “May my prayer be counted as incense before Thee; the lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.”
David asked Jehovah God to count his prayer as incense before Him in the Tabernacle, in Shiloh, or the Tent of David, on Mount Zion. Prayer can be more than asking and supplicating God for personal or corporate needs. Prayer can be the sweet smelling incense of worship that is set on fire on the Golden Altar and wafts upward before the waiting nose of Jehovah God.
Our worship of prayer will invoke God to encounter us and answer our barrenness by imparting or implanting the seed of something in our spirits that will pave the way to the birthing of the Christ of Christmas in our hearts and spirits.
(Now is the Day of Salvation. Come to Jesus, Now!)
Call to Discipleship
 Kevin J. Conner, The Temple Of Solomon, City Bible Publishing, Portland, Oregon, 1988, p. 214.
 Holman Bible Dictionary, Holman Bible Publishers, 1991.
 Kevin J. Conner, The Temple Of Solomon, City Bible Publishing, Portland, Oregon, 1988, p. 211.
 Kevin J. Conner, The Temple Of Solomon, City Bible Publishing, Portland, Oregon, 1988, p. 217.
 Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.