Christmas isnumber one among the Christian festivals. All the good characters of the Christmas story have exemplified obedience in some way or the other. We will study seven of them here: Elizabeth & Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Wise men, Angels and Jesus.
As John the Baptist played the role of a forerunner for the ministry of Christ, the parents of John, especially his mother, served as mentors for Mary as she was growing the baby Jesus in her womb. They were actually relatives. The angel quoted the case of Elizabeth to encourage Mary to believe God for the impossible (Lk 1:36,37). The being together of these two miracle mothers for about three months strengthened each other.
Luke introduces Elizabeth and Zacharias as "righteous before God, walking in ALL the COMMANDMENTS and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (1:6). What a testimony! It was not a temporary obedience born out of the initial enthusiasm of an encounter with God. Rather they were walking in obedience consistently for a long time, until they were "well advanced in years." The denial of the fruit of the womb did in no way deter them in their walk with God. Their obedience was not "because of " some blessing or "in order to" receive it. It was "in spite of" the absence of a blessing and the hope of it totally gone. This was pure obedience. Obeying God for who He was!
Though understandably Zacharias questioned angel Gabriel, "How shall I know this?" at the first instance, he settled down to quiet trust quickly. We wonder why such a severe judgment was passed on a godly man for asking a sign for the difficult promise. God is more strict with the obedient than the disobedient. A school teacher may not mind if a borderline student fails, but she will be terribly upset when a rank student gets poor grades. There are no degrees in death, but in life there are! An old priest who had been walking with God for many decades ought to have known His power better. We cannot compare him with a teenage girl who asked a similar question (v 34). Was he not soon to father a son whose ministry would be to turn "the disobedient to the wisdom of the just"? (v 17).
Elizabeth called Mary as "the mother of my LORD" (v 43). The Lordship of Christ was a prophetic revelation to her and she responded to it with submission and obedience. Knowledge without obedience is empty. True wisdom is born out of reverential fear for God.
The obedience of this godly couple is further illustrated in the naming of their son. The neighbours and relatives, who had gathered to celebrate the birth of the special child, wanted to name him as Zacharias after his father. But the parents sternly answered, No! In order to obey God they even broke the tradition of naming the child after any one of his relatives. They gave him the name, John, as commanded by God (vv 58-63,13). What a rebuke for us who so easily disobey Godís guidance just in order to please the family folks! John means "God is gracious!" That was an apt name for the child which broke Godís prophetic silence of nearly 400 years. God was visiting His people again ó graciously! The dispensation of grace was dawning!
Maryís was an obedience par excellence. She would face overwhelming social pressures because she would be pregnant with Jesus before marrying Joseph. But her humble willingness is a model of trust and obedience for all of us.
The virginal conception was not easy for Mary to understand. But she accepted it. How could she do it? First, she realised her position before the Lord. She said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord!" (Lk 1:38). The word "maidservant" actually meant a "slave." A slave who remembers he is a slave knows that he cannot be questioning or discussing the orders or instructions of his master. Obedience is not an option for him but an obligation. If he obeys willingly itís a delight; otherwise itís still a duty. There can be no place for "no" or "why" if Christ is accepted as Lord in our lives.
Next, Mary reckoned the power of Godís Word. She declared, "Let it be to me according to Your Word" (v 38). Her knowledge of the Scriptures is astounding. There are fifteen discernible quotations from the Old Testament in her song (vv 46-55). The stories of how God created the world, delivered His people from Egypt, saved them from their enemies, performed signs and wonders, dethroned kings, established kingdoms, preserved His people in captivity, etc, etc, had had a profound impact in the heart and mind of this village girl. Now she was called to an experiential knowledge of what she had read. The moment the angel said, "For with God nothing will be impossible," she confessed her wholehearted surrender to Him. The message of the Old Testament Scriptures came alive before her. Here is a lesson of practical importance. Saturating ourselves with the Word of God is a prerequisite for a life of consistent obedience. "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly... And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus" (Col 3:16,17).
Mary and her husband meticulously followed the Law of God. Her purification was "according to" the Law of Moses; their offering was "according to" what is said in the Law of the Lord; and the presentation of the Baby was "as it is written" in the Law of the Lord and "according to" the custom of the Law (Lk 2:22,23,24,27).
These days we purchase too many Study Bibles but study too few of them. We spend too much time with audio and video tapes, but too little time with the reading and personal meditation of the Bible. We go to meetings for excitement, enjoyment and sometimes entertainment. We do not closet ourselves with an open Bible and bent knees. We have become Biblical illiterates. We are ignorant of Godís ways and how to please Him.
God honours faith and rewards obedience. The angel greeted Mary saying, "Blessed are you among women!" (Lk 1:28). Rejoicing over the privilege of becoming the mother of the Saviour of the world, Mary herself said, "Henceforth all generations will call me blessed!" (v 48b). Because of faith and obedience a poor unknown Hebrew girl became the most honoured woman in the history of the world. She became a pioneering example of giving oneís body to God as a living sacrifice.
Letís move on to study Joseph.
Engagement in Palestine was a legally binding contract, usually arranged by parents. Sexual relations were forbidden until after marriage. Josephís character is shown by his decision to take private legal action to break the engagement instead of publicly humiliating Mary. His obedience to the Lord in taking Mary as his wife is the crown of his character. Matthew records, "Joseph did as the angel of the Lord COMMANDED him and took to him his wife" (Mt 1:24). For a sexually immoral man it may not be shocking though surprising to find his fiancee already pregnant. But being "a just man" as Joseph was, with obviously a respectable standing in the society, it would have been a great embarrassment whatever be the explanation. But as per the gospel record, he didnít speak a word when the angel defended Maryís pregnancy and attributed it to the work of the Holy Spirit. He just obeyed the Lord though the communication came only in a dream, least dramatically. Whatever be the mode of communication, once we have the inner conviction that the Lord has spoken to us, we must not delay obedience in the guise of seeking further confirmation.
Joseph also teaches us that civil laws must be obeyed not as a matter of convenience but for the sake of conscience. Bethlehem was 90 miles from Nazareth. It was atleast a three day trip. In obedience to the decree of Augustus Caesar, to get their names registered, Joseph undertook this strenuous journey with Mary who was in her late pregnancy. Joseph had known that obeying the government meant obeying God (Lk 2:1-6; Rom 13:1-5).
God spoke to Joseph thrice in dreams after the birth of Jesus for the protection of the Baby from the hand of the enemies who sought to kill Him (Mt 2:13,20,22). From Bethlehem he fled to Egypt. Then when he came into the land of Israel, he had to turn aside into the region of Galilee. Such frequent shifts with a little child and the nursing mother would not have been pleasant. "Cannot God who so miraculously brought forth His Son into the world protect Him also miraculously in the world? Why should the angels be simply appearing to me to urge me flee from the enemies instead of encamping round about me and my family to deliver us from Herods? Is the Baby really the Son of God and the Saviour?" Such questions would have definitely haunted Josephís mind. But being a habitually obedient man to God, he did not succumb to natural reasoning but walked by faith.
Because natural reasoning is subject to our limited knowlege, we cannot fly with the wind of the Spirit unless we break open the cage of our intellect. Joseph might not have realised that fleeing to Egypt or moving to Nazareth had prophetic significance (Mt 2:15,23). God knows the end from the beginning (Isa 46:10). "We are but of yesterday, and know nothing" (Job 8:9). The Lord is the Alpha and the Omega. He is absolutely trustworthy. We will go wherever He sends. We will do whatever He says. Obedience first, questions next. To put it in the words of Jesus, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand" (Jn 13:7).
The players in the Christmas drama are of diverse backgroundóyoung and old, rich and poor, wise and simple. Luke introduces Simeon simply as "a man in Jerusalem" (Lk 2:25). He was righteous, devout and Spirit-filled, awaiting the arrival of Messiah. The Holy Spirit is mentioned thrice in the three verses which tell us about him. The Holy Spirit was on him... The Holy Spirit had revealed to him... The Holy Spirit led him (vv 25,26,27).
Simeon had come to the temple so often. But this was an unique moment. The timing was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. That was exactly when Mary and Joseph had brought the Child Jesus into the temple. If Simeon had belittled the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit, he would have missed what he had been waiting for all those years.
We normally divide our affairs as major and minor. This of course is legitimate. But we should not think that obedience to God in major issues of life is more important than following His guidance in simple matters. What we may consider a trivial matter today may ultimately affect our life as a crucial factor. As children of God we must constantly be led by the Spirit in order that we may please our heavenly Father in everything. A rocket that is deviated by a fraction of a degree at the launching point will miss the target by million miles. For the Kingdom people nothing is too small a matter to trifle with.
Simeonís life had been characterised by genial guidance not only from the Holy Spirit but also from the Holy Scriptures. With the Baby Jesus in his arms he blessed God and said, "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word" (Lk 2:28,29). The inscribed word of the Scriptures and the inspired voice of the Spirit are like the two eyes of God or His two lips with which He directs our path. One complements the other and never contradicts. Forgetting this, many have fancied themselves into awry guidance and spurious experiences.
The wise men from the East are the next in the line of those who acted in obedience to God in the first Christmas.
The wise men came from the East to Jerusalem asking, "Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews?" (Mt 2:2). This indicates that they were Gentiles. They were probably astrologers. They were quite fascinated by the appearance of an unusual star and they named it as "His Star!" They must have been discouraged when they found that the King had not been born in Jerusalem and the leaders in Israel had not had sufficient knowledge concerning the birth of the Messiah. The journey had been long and weary. But God rewarded their earnestness. He made "His star" reappear! "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy" (v 10). Here is an encouraging truth for us. If we are sincere to know Godís will and obey it, He will certainly reveal it to us eventhough there may be temporary delays and we may deviate mistakenly in between. Godís voice of correction from behind is assured if we happen to deviate from the straight path (Isa 30:21).
The wise men became "wiser" when they had to return to their country. "Being divinely warned" in a dream they took a different route back home (Mt 2:12). "Warned of God" in the original means "oracularly answered," implying a preceding question. The Amplified Bible renders it as, "Receiving an answer to their asking, they were divinely instructed and warned in a dream not to go back to Herod..." Having made a mistake once, because they solely depended on their common sense and went to Jerusalem, they now sought a definite divine guidance. God does allow us make mistakes, but with an educative purpose. The wise men had to return another way to bypass Jerusalem. They probably ventured far south to Hebron, then followed the rugged road to Gaza on the coast, where another road could lead them northward. This route would have carried them through Nazareth, then Capernaum and on to Damascus. This was obviously a much longer and more tedious journey. Obedience costs!
We will next look at the angels who played vital roles in the Christmas story.
It was Angel Gabriel who told Zacharias and then Mary that they would respectively bring forth John and Jesus (Lk 1:19,26,27). But the angel who appeared to Joseph and the shepherds is not named, but introduced as "an angel of the Lord" (Mt 1:20; 2:13,19; Lk 2:9). It could well be Gabriel. Only two angels are named in the Bible. The other one is Michael (Dan 10:13,21; Jude 9; Rev 12:7). Gabriel was often a messenger who communicated Godís plan (Dan 8:16; 9:21). Including the heavenly host, the angels we meet in the Christmas narrative came specifically to earth on assignment. After their job was over they went away "into heaven" (Lk 2:15). Even today they are "sent forth" by God to minister to His people (Heb 1:14). But with the completion of the canon of Scriptures, Godís guidance comes to us for all general matters and most of the personal and specific issues through the written Word. Leaving this primary and fundamental source of guidance is sure to lead us into deception in the spirit world. Satan is not foolish to come to us in black with horns and a tail. He usually appears in bright white (2 Cor 11:14).
Psalmist Davidís description of the angels is a challenging call for obedience: "His angels, who excel in strength, who do His Word, heeding the voice of His Word... His hosts... His servants, who do His pleasure" (Psa 103:20,21). By reading the Christmas story in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke we can quickly observe the briskness and promptness with which the angels flew between Heaven and earth as Godís communicators. The disobedient and the rebellious angels are the ones who joined Lucifer. While referring to head-covering of women as a symbol of "authority" on her, Apostle Paul refers to the presence of watching angels in the Church meetings (1 Cor 11:10). Apostle Peter contrasts the spirits of the "disobedient" people of the days of Noah against the angels who are "subject" to God (1 Pet 3:20,22). He adds that since angels are so desirous to look into the glorious gospel blessings we enjoy, we must walk as "obedient children" with all sobriety (1 Pet 1:12-14). We can constantly enjoy the joy of angelic presence around us when we walk in submission and obedience before God. Angels teach us that obedience is celebration!
We finally come to the Hero of the Christmas storyóJesus!
The Father God did not push His Son into the world. Rather the Son Himself volunteered to come down from Heaven. Perhaps in a dateless past, God the Father presented the dire need of the world in the Heavenly court saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" What we read in Hebrews 10:5,7 is probably the Sonís response. "When He came into the world, He said: Behold, I have come... to do Your will, O God!" The Sonís initial act of obedience gave us a Christmas and it culminated at Calvary. Apostle Paul combined both the incarnation and crucifixion, and wrote, "Coming in the likeness of men and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Phil 2:7,8). Obedience from the Cradle to the Cross! A life lived out 100% to please God!
Jesus is the "Word become flesh" (Jn 1:14). The spoken and written Word of God became incarnate in Jesus. Besides incarnation, all that had been written in the "volume of the book" got fulfilled in the life of Jesus because He lived in obedience to fulfil every minute detail of the Law (Heb 10:7; Acts 24:27; Mt 5:17,18).
We earlier referred to the rich knowledge Mary had had in the Old Testament. How much of Scriptural teaching and training the Boy Jesus must have received in the carpenterís home at Nazareth is for anyone to guess. He thrilled the teachers at the Jerusalem temple with his understanding of the Scriptures. He asked His parents whether they had not known that He must be about His Fatherís business. But He did not allow His wisdom and knowledge to puff Him up and make Him unaccountable to His earthly parents. In obedience to the fifth of the Ten Commandments which was "the first commandment with promise," He was "obedient" to Mary and Joseph (Lk 2:47-51; Eph 6:1,2).
The gospel records are silent about the eighteen years of Jesus from His twelfth year. But that He walked in obedience before God is obvious from what His Father testified at Jordon when He turned thirty. "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Mt 3:17). This must be our aim in life: To walk in obedience before God to please Him in everything.
By being obedient, Jesus became...
"Salvation" for "all peoples" (Lk 2:30,31),
"Light" to bring revelation to the "Gentiles" (v 32),
"Dayspring" for "those who sit in darkness" (1:78,79), and
"Joy" to "all people" (2:10,17).
Because of His simple obedience and that of the other characters studied here we have a Christmas.
Blessed are the obedient; for they shall be a blessing!