Volume 48, Number 6
At this season of the year we are approaching the time commonly known as “the holidays.”
The word “holiday” originally was derived from the term “holy day” (a religious feast day). Today, however, the word holiday often speaks of “a day on which custom or law dictates a cessation of general business activity, to celebrate or commemorate a particular event” (Webster’s New Riverside University Dictionary).
Christians look at both Thanksgiving and Christmas as special days observed to commemorate significant events.
–It is a fact of history that Thanksgiving Day originated from a sense of deep gratitude to God, and was meant to be kept to honor His name by remembering His goodness to the human family. It was never intended to become an excuse for gluttony and betting on sports events.
–Also, it is a truth that—when stripped from all its pagan trimmings—even unbelievers will sometimes concede that Christmas Day is to commemorate the entrance into the world by Jesus Christ (the Messiah). The biblical account of the birth of Jesus is an event that is worthy of celebration. Fanny Crosby wrote about the incarnation of Jesus—setting forth beautiful words which we often sing:
“To God be the glory, great things He hath done!
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son;
who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
and opened the Life-gate that all may go in.”
Is there any better news anywhere than that?
Barring the Second Coming of Jesus and the great end-time events taking place on earth, the year 2013 will soon come to an end. The end of the year, like the end of a day, should bring tender thoughts to our hearts. And looking back, to another year of God’s faithfulness, should melt our hearts and dampen our eyes, and lead us to repentance.
But another year past, means a new year to be greeted, and a new chapter of our lives to begin. May Psalm 90:12 be the prayer of each follower of Christ Jesus: “Teach us to number our days,” or as the NLT renders the passage: “Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.”
–Harold S. Martin
NIGHT SCENES FROM THE BIBLE
By Harold S. Martin
How would you like to live in the northern part of the country of Norway during the winter months?
Because of the warm Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean—the temperatures along the west coast of Norway are not really unbearable, but in cities like Tromso, there is total darkness from November 25 on through January 21. For about eight weeks, the people of Tromso live in darkness 24 hours a day.
Tromso lies 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and for two months each winter the 40,000 inhabitants of the city never get to see the sun. They do not see daylight during that entire period of time. Street lights burn 24 hours a day; people tend to become edgy and irritable; some find it very difficult to sleep because their bodies can’t tell the difference between day and night. And then—as the sun makes its first appearance for a brief period about noon on January 22, the people clap and shout, “There she is! There she is!” Early in the New Year, those words are an annual ritual. Norway’s winter darkness is called “the polar night.”
In the Bible acount—many important events happened at night time. We want to listen to some of the voices of the night, as they speak to us from the pages of the Scriptures.
1. THE NIGHT OF DELIVERANCE
Exodus 12 describes the night when Israel was delivered from bondage in Egypt; Exodus 12:29 says, “At midnight… the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt.”
Bible readers remember how God declared that He would destroy the oldest son in every Egyptian household, but that the death-angel would pass over those houses where the blood of a lamb was sprinkled over the doorposts.
That night in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago was an unusual night. When the sun set that evening on the country of Egypt, Israel was a race of slaves—but when the sun rose the next morning, Israel was a nation on the march —moving toward the land of Canaan.
Darkness hovered all over the land of Egypt that night; the April moon shed its light over the desert sands; thousands of villagers were fast asleep. The terrible plagues which had vexed the land of Egypt during the last months were just about completed. There were nine of them. The hailstones, and the frogs, and the blood that poisoned the waters—all those things were now in the past.
Pharaoh had told Moses to see his face no more, and that if he comes into the palace one more time, he will die. But one more plague was still to come!
As the mantle of night brooded over the land of Egypt, and as the hour of midnight approached, suddenly there arose a great cry—a wave of lamentation and weeping swept over the whole land. Pharaoh awoke, only to learn that his oldest son was dead. Young mothers discovered that their oldest male child was a corpse. Even the cattle moaned, mourning over the dead.
That night the Angel of the Lord, according to Exodus 12:29, smote the firstborn of Egypt “from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne, to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock.”
Death was in the palace, and the cottage, and the dungeon, and the river, and the field… everywhere. The moan of anguish went up to Egypt’s skies. But in the houses of Israel— (where the blood of a slain lamb had been sprinkled on the doorposts)—there was no death.
The death-angel had “passed over” those homes.
Pharaoh was frantic! He sensed that the Omnipotent God had acted! He called for Moses and Aaron (even though he had said to them, “I never want to see you again”)—and now said to them, “Rise, go out from among my people…and serve the Lord as you have said” (Exodus 12:31). And that night Israel was delivered from many years of bondage. That nightwas a night of deliverance.
There are many lessons to be found in the early chapters of Exodus.
One lesson is the truth about God’s retribution. Some years earlier, one of the cruel Pharaohs had issued a decree demanding the slaughter of all Jewish baby boys. Every Jewish son had to be cast into the Nile River.
For a number of years, in thousands of Israelite homes, there was deep sorrow and lamentation when their sons were cruelly carried away by Pharaoh’s guard and cast into the River. Imagine how you would feel if your child were a baby boy, and the civil authorities would carry him away. Those were difficult years for the Israelites, but God wasn’t sleeping!
Now—the firstborn in evey Egyptian household lay dead.
God not only punishes, but He often punishes in kind!
The Egyptian kings slew the Jewish baby boys, but now the Egyptian boys were being slain!
We need to think about that the next time we are tempted to do wrong to another person.
Another great truth found in the early chapters of Exodus—is that just as an innocent lamb was slain that evening in Egypt, and the blood was applied on the horizontal bar across the door (and Israel was saved)—so Christ (the Messiah of Israel) is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The whole series of events in Exodus 12 is a beautiful illustration of the redemption which our Lord Jesus accomplished at Calvary. Jesus was an offering without blemish, the Lamb slain; the blood applied.
George Bernard Shaw made fun of the Christian Church by saying,
“The Bible is saturated with the ancient superstition of atonement by blood sacriifice. Christianity must completely get rid of this teaching, if it is to survive among thoughtful people!”
But the fact is, the cross of Christ (and the blood atonement) is the very secret of Christianity’s survival.
This is a great truth that will never disappear among those who are faithful. Christ died for me! Christ died for you! He was our Substitute! That message is the heart of the gospel— and it was illustrated one night in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
2. THE NIGHT OF DESPAIR
Perhaps there is no more tragic chapter in all the Old Testament than 1 Samuel 28. Verse 8 of that chapter says that “Saul disguised himself, and… went, and two men with him, and they came to the [Witch of Endor] by night.”
Saul (at one time) had been a man of humility and a man with many, many opportunities. But as the years went on—his jealousy and anger and cruelty and disobedience—led to a life of despair. At one point near the end of Saul’s career, the enemy Philistines invaded the land of Israel and camped at Mount Gilboa. The Philistines had weapons of iron and seemed sure to crush Israel. Saul was terribly frightened and was frantically seeking for help.
He first “inquired of the Lord” (1 Samuel 28:6), but the Lord didn’t answer—and so he told his servants to find a witch—perhaps she could give some advice!
Saul was in a sorry condition. He had directly disobeyed the Lord when he was told to destroy the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15). He was bitterly jealous when the women of Israel sang praises to Saul, but gave greater praise to David (1 Samuel 18). On two occasions he tried to kill David with his own spear (1 Samuel 19). No wonder Saul was filled with despair!
Now the ghosts of evil were haunting him— and Saul was searching desperately for help! The Bible says that Saul and two of his servants came to the Witch of Endor at night (1 Samuel 28:8)—and Saul asked the witch to bring Samuel back from the dead. God’s Spirit had left Saul—but he felt sure that Samuel could help him. If only he could talk to the old prophet Samuel.
That says something about Samuel.
I hope my life will be of such integrity—that after I’m gone—people will wish that I’d still be around so that they could ask advice! The witch went through her ritual and incantations—and then, to her own amazement and terror—Samuel actually appeared, having come back from the dead!
The witch was a fake, of course—and she knew all too well that her activities as a necromancer did not in fact bring about a genuine contact with the dead. But that night—Samuel was actually brought back from the spirit-world, not by the witch of Endor, but by God himself, for this one special occasion!
Samuel had anointed Saul to be king, and had wept over Saul’s disobedience. The prophet had warned Saul not to continue on in sin. If only Saul had listened to Samuel in his earlier years, and lived in obedience to God—then this last chapter in Saul’s life would never have had to be written.
When Samuel appeared that night—Saul explained his desperate condition to the old prophet, Samuel.
First Samuel 28:15, “I am deeply distressed, for the Philistines (are) making war against me, and God has departed from me… therefore [I am calling on you] that you may reveal to me what I shall do.”
Samuel’s answer is found in 1 Samuel 28: 19, “The Lord will deliver Israel with you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.” In other words, Saul was told that he had less than 24 hours to live!
Tomorrow Saul would be dead; he would be in the spirit world with Samuel. The primary lesson is this: Saul fell so deeply into sin that he got to the place where God no longer answered him!
Saul at one time showed many signs of promise.
He was a man of courage and opportunity and humility—but later, his heart was corrupted—and finally he strayed to the point that he was seeking help from a pagan Canaanite witch. This experience of Saul affirms the truth spoken by Jesus, when He said, “He that endures to the end shall be saved.”
The lesson for us is this: As we grow older, and as we near the end of the old year—let us resolve not to grow weary in well-doing (not to falter by the wayside), but to seek daily to grow in the graces that characterized the life of Jesus —so that we don’t ever have to say with Saul, “God had departed from me” (1 Samuel 28:15). One of my personal goals as I grow older—is to live by a resolution not to become spiritually careless on the home stretch!
We have seen now, the night of deliverance (in Exodus 12), and the night of despair (in 1 Samuel 28).
There are many other Bible events that occurred at nightime:
–the night of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane;
–the night Paul and Silas were locked in jail in Philippi;
–the night Belshazzar had a great feast to which a thousand of his lords were invited;
–the night Daniel spent in the den of lions;
–the night Paul, and 275 others, were shipwrecked on the Mediterranean Sea;
–the night of Peter’s denial of Jesus, after which he went out and wept bitterly;
–the night in the book of Esther, when the king could not sleep;
–the night of Tribulation judgments—when the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon becomes like blood (Joel 2:31);
–and there is the night of darkness forever–when the children of Satan’s kingdom, according to Jesus, shall be “cast into outer darkness.”
3. THE NIGHT OF PROMISE
In this section we look at the night when Jesus was born.
Luke 2:8 says, “Now there were in the same country, shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
The night Jesus was born can very well be called “the night of nights”—or perhaps “the grandest night of all the years.” It was the night when the promise described in John 1:19 became a reality: People who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light.
There was a special night in Bethlehem, about 2,000 years ago. The night came just as every other night before it had come. In the evening, toward the west, the sun began to sink. The sky at first glowed in hues of gold and pink, and then turned gray and dark—and finally the nightfall came. In Bethlehem’s houses, mothers laid their children down to sleep. In the fields, surrounding the village of Bethlehem, shepherds sat by the fires, and the sheep nestled down for the night. In the heavens above, the same stars that shone through the ages— ruled the night once again. In a stable, not far from the Inn at Bethlehem, a virgin mother brought forth her child and laid Him in a manger. A special star marked the spot, and angels announced the birth to shepherds.
The great event that occurred on this unusual night in Bethlehem—was in preparation for a long time. Back in Genesis 3, there was the promise of a Messiah (a Savior). God said that a Redeemer would come. He would be “the seed of a woman,” and he would “bruise the serpent’s head.”
Later—in the Scriptures–Balaam spoke of “a Star out of Jacob.” The Psalmist spoke of “a King who would endure forever.” The Prophet Haggai called Him “the Desire of all nations.” Isaiah said, “His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.” We marvel at the truth—the truth that God (the eternal God) should choose to dwell in the frail body of a little baby.
But that is exactly what happened in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago! The Child in Mary’s arms was God’s answer to sin. The eternal God (God the Son)—became flesh, and dwelt among us.
All this is hard to understand! Even the keen mind of the Apostle Paul, when he pondered the birth of Jesus, said, “Great is the mystery of godliness”—then he added some elements of that mystery—“God was manifested in the flesh (that is, in a human body), justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed upon in the world, [and] received up into glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).
The charm of the Christmas story is not the star leading the wise men—or the Virgin Mary, or the manger, or the cattle, or the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. The charm of the Christmas story lies in the words spoken to Joseph, when the angel said, “His name shall be called Jesus”—for He will “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Jesus came into the world, not so that we could have a merry holiday once a year, but so that we could be saved from the guilt and penalty of sin!
John 3:17 says, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
These have been some night-scenes from the Bible. Some of God’s mightiest acts have occurred at night and some of man’s saddest failures have taken place at night. But the Bible closes with a description of the time when night shall be gone forever—for God’s people.
Revelation 22:5 says, “And there shall be no night there.” They will have no need for a candle, or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. In our eternal home, there won’t be any night! The storms of life will be over. Many readers are familiar with Mosie Lister’s hymn entitled, “Til the Storm Passes By.” One of the stanzas goes like this:
“When the long night is ended
And the storms shall come no more,
Let me stand in Thy presence,
On that bright and peaceful shore.”
Won’t that be something! Pain will be ended; hospital beds will be emptied; death will be unknown. The long night of this age (with all its sorrow, and fear, and sickness, and sin, and iniquity)—all that will be past.
That’s going to be a real Christmas!