The history of the Jews was full of oppression and difficulty. Since the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile in Babylon about five centuries earlier, the Jews had faced serious turmoil under many different rules and governments. It’s no wonder the Jews believed their Messiah would be a ruling king who would overthrow the oppressive Roman government. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jews in Jerusalem and in the region of Israel lived under the rule of Herod the Great.

Herod was a wicked man, one obsessed with power and fame. Today, you can visit the ruins of Herod’s palace in Israel. He built a fortress that looked much like a mountain. He built his palace on top of a massive structure from which he could look out over the region and see all those under his control. He murdered his own family, afraid they would take his throne from him, a throne that he had been given by the Roman authorities over him.

If you’ve read the Christmas story in the Bible, you’ve heard of one of the most wicked acts of Herod the Great. Matthew 2 records Herod’s massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem under two-years-old. Nearing the end of his life, Herod still refused to acknowledge the reality that someone would sit on the throne after him. The massacre of the Bethlehem boys was one of the reckless acts of violence Herod committed in order to maintain the temporary power that had been given to him.

This was the world of the first century: Rulers did whatever they pleased with little consequences. People in Jerusalem lived in fear, not knowing what horrific event would possibly occur next. When the Jews read the words of prophecy from Isaiah 35, they expected their Messiah to come with might and power and overthrow the oppressive governments around them.

Instead, the Messiah came as a baby.

The Messiah did not come to save the people from their current political situation; He came to save them from their spiritual situation. He did exactly what the prophet said: He came with a vengeance, and He came to save His people. But His salvation looked different than they expected.

Coming with a vengeance meant He was ruthless with sin, destroying its power by sacrificing Himself on the cross and conquering death by rising on the third day. Saving His people meant saving all who would believe in Him from the power of sin. He rescued them from spiritual darkness by providing a sacrifice that would eternally atone for their sins. Not only that, He provided them a way to live in freedom from sin and shame and gain an eternal inheritance. He may not have worked in the way they expected, but He accomplished what He promised.

The bridge of one of my favorite songs says: “You could’ve saved us in a second, instead you sent a child.” God could have saved the world in an instant. Instead, Jesus came into the earth as a baby. He took His time, and His timing was perfect.

As we conclude our study of the Beatitudes and look toward the Christmas holiday, let’s remember the truth and reliability of God’s promise. He promised to save, and He did. What other promises has He given you today that you can cling to?

Friends, our God is faithful. This Christmas, let’s remember His promises with great expectation. He is always working, and He is always faithful. As we seek to love God greatly, let’s seek to trust His promises and His heart for us, even if our circumstances seem unchanged.

 

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