Summary: The first Christmas gave us the greatest gift we could ever hope for, Jesus
The Greatest Gift
December 9, 2007
Pastor Clifford S. Stewart of Louisville, Kentucky, sent his parents a microwave oven one Christmas. Here’s how he recalls the experience: "They were excited that now they, too, could be a part of the instant generation. When Dad unpacked the microwave and plugged it in, literally within seconds, the microwave transformed two smiles into frown! Even after reading the directions, they couldn’t make it work. "Two days later, my mother was playing bridge with a friend and confessed her inability to get that microwave oven even to boil water. ’To get this darn thing to work,’ she exclaimed, ’I really don’t need better directions; I just needed my son to come along with the gift!’" When God gave the gift of salvation, he didn’t send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out; he sent his Son.
Our need was so great that first Christmas that God sent us an incredible gift, the gift of salvation. We needed not only the gift of salvation but we also needed Jesus to come with the promise of that gift. God sent His Son with the greatest gift of all time.
The apostle Paul tells us a great deal about the nature of God’s greatest gift in his letter to the Galatian churches. If you have your bibles with you please open them to Galatians 4:4-5.
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Galatians 4:4-5
Jesus had the greatest arrival
But when time had fully come
History gives us an incredible account of all the things that needed to be in place before the birth of Jesus could happen. God was preparing the time for His Son to arrive in a variety of ways.
The spread of Judaism across the world
When the Roman Empire conquered the world, they began to disperse people from their homeland to various locations throughout the reaches of the empire. The result was that every major city in the Roman Empire now had some form of Jewish presence. This presence usually gave each area a synagogue.
These existing Jewish communities were one of the key sources for early Christian evangelism. During his missionary journeys Paul usually began his work at the local synagogues, spreading the message of Jesus Christ. Remember that the Jews would have been expecting the Messiah and news of Jesus would have been of great interest to them.
If this dispersion had not taken place, the prospect of worldwide evangelism would have been extremely limited. For all practical purposes the church would have been limited to Israel. God had made the Roman government a tool in the spread of the gospel.
The favorable legal situation
The Romans had conquered many different nations with a variety of different religions. Rome did not force their religious practices on Israel but there was one condition that was given to every conquered nation. All people must proclaim that Caesar is Lord. The Jews believed that there was only one Lord over all creation and that was God. The Jews refused to call Caesar lord and resisted the condition.
The Romans killed thousands of Jews trying to force them to submit to the law but they would not give in. After much senseless slaughter the Romans saw that they were not going to be able to force the Jews to submit. The Romans granted their only exemption to the law with Israel. Once the exemption takes place God sends Jesus as the Messiah and prepares for the early church.
The favor for the Jews extends to the early church. For many years the Romans believed that there was no real difference between the Jews and the Christians. The Romans has classified the Christians as a sect of the Jewish religion, much like the Pharisees were seen as a sect. This allows the church to begin without persecution from the Romans. The Christians were not required to call Caesar lord and when the distinction was discovered the church already had a presence in most of the world.
The favorable political situation
The ancient world was well known for its political infighting and civil wars. The Romans were not exempt from this. In fact, the empire had suffered from a lengthy period civil war that involved Julius Caesar. Augustus comes to power about 25 years before Jesus is born and brings not only lasting peace but new stability to the empire. It was this peace that allowed the Romans to shift their efforts toward innovation rather than war.
The Roman legions were used primarily as a peace keeping force throughout the empire. This made it possible for the empire to build a system of roads and then used the legions to patrol the empire. The element of safety rose and crime plummeted to an all time low in the empire. With the new system of roads and the patrolling legions, travelers were well protected. This made it possible for the church to travel and thus spread the gospel.