Summary: At the midnight hour, when the darkness seems to overwhelm us, and the light seems so far away, it the time when cry will come from Heaven - and we shall see Lord in all His glory.
APPROACHING THE MIDNIGHT HOUR
By Pastor Jim May
On a lonely hillside outside of a little town of Judah by the name of Bethlehem there sat some shepherds, huddled around a campfire, burning to drive away the cold and the darkness of the night. That darkness was just a symbol of the true darkness that engulfed Israel and all of mankind on that night. 400 years had passed as Israel lay in silence, locked into the dark night of despair, waiting for the Messiah to come. About 4000 years had passed from the fall of man in the Garden of Eden until the time that shepherds sat there.
If you study your Bible you will find that at the close of the book of Malachi in the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is back again in the land of Palestine after the 70 years of Babylonian captivity, but they are under the domination of the great world power of that day, the Medio-Persian empire. In Jerusalem, the temple had been restored, although it was a much smaller building than the one that Solomon had built and decorated with a marvelous glory.
Within the temple the priests under the lineage of Aaron were still worshipping and carrying on the sacred rites as they had been ordered to do by the law of Moses. But the royal line of King David had fallen and there was no king in Israel. The people knew that the rightful heir to David’s throne was Zerubbabel, the royal prince, but their captors would not allow them to have a king. But though they were weak and a formalism had developed in their worship, the people as a nation were still united. There were no political schisms or factions among them, nor were they divided into groups or parties.
But when we look at the New Testament you discover an entirely different atmosphere -- almost a different world. Rome is now the dominant power of the earth. The Roman legions have spread throughout the length and breadth of the civilized world. The center of power has shifted from the East to the West, to the city of Rome.
Palestine is still a puppet state -- the Jews never did regain their own sovereignty -- but now there is a king on the throne, but he was not of David’s lineage, and the high priests who occupy the seat of religious authority in the nation are no longer from the line of Aaron. This is a hired king, willing to bend his judgments in favor of the highest bidder, and these are hired priests willing to sell out truth for power and favor with those who rule over them.
The temple is still the center of Jewish worship, but the building has been partially destroyed and rebuilt about a half-dozen times since the close of the Old Testament. Now the synagogues have been built in nearly every Jewish city and these synagogues have become the center of Jewish life instead of the temple.
Though Israel had entered into this long period of silence as a unified people, they emerge as a nation split many factions that differed greatly upon their interpretation of the Law of Moses and how Israel should observe that Law. There were three dominant religious groups known as the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes. The third group, the Essenes, was small in comparison and didn’t carry much clout in the courts of Israel.
A religious spirit, and a supernatural darkness covered the land. It was a darkness that could not be driven away by a campfire. It was Israel’s midnight hour – the darkest hour it had ever known, and the Jews were ripe for the coming of a Messiah that bring light into their lives once again.
While the rest of Israel slept in darkness that night, there was something wonderful that happened on the hillside where those shepherds lay.
The first part of one of the songs we sing at Christmas goes like this:
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Suddenly, without warning, the angels appeared, with their voices ringing, telling the world that the Light had come, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
The darkness of the midnight hour was pierced and illuminated with the glorious light of Heaven. Darkness was about to be conquered forever because a baby named Jesus was lying in a manger.
This wasn’t the first time that God had delivered Israel in the midnight hour.
Look back in time at Isreal’s history when there was another 400-year span of time when they were locked into a world of darkness and despair. Because they had failed God, time and again, Israel had fallen into slavery in Egypt. They prayed for a Deliverer to come and lead them out, just as they were praying for a Deliverer on the night that Jesus was born.