Uncomfortable Obedience (2020) by Dr. Shah

UNCOMFORTABLE OBEDIENCE (2020) by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

(A Christmas Eve Message, Christmas 2020)

Introduction: Once again, we want to welcome you to our Christmas Eve Service. For the past 2 Christmas Eves, we have been talking about “Uncomfortable Obedience.” There are many things that God commands us to do that we can do with a joyful and a willing heart. For example: studying his word, loving our family and children, and using our gifts in his service. But then, there are things that He commands us to do that are not as fun and exciting. They are uncomfortable. They push us past our limits. Sometimes, they are downright unbearable. How do we obey God even when it is uncomfortable? In 2018, we focused on how Joseph had to practice uncomfortable obedience in taking Mary to be his wife even though she was with a child that wasn’t his own. In 2019, we focused on how Mary had to practice uncomfortable obedience in being willing to carry a baby that she had no part in bringing into the world. Today, we will focus on how the magi had to practice uncomfortable obedience in following the star in the east and seek the king of the Jews.

Matthew 2       1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

Background: Let me quickly give you a CliffsNotes on the magi:

  • The magi were nothing like what we have made them out to be. For starters, they were not the “three wise men” or “the three kings.” The actual words are “magi from the east.”
  • The magi were one of the 6 tribes of Media or Ancient Persia (modern day Iran).
  • They were referred to as the “fire priests of Median.”
  • They were stargazers, astronomers, astrologers, dream interpreters and sorcerers. Our English word “magic” actually comes from the word magi.
  • They did not have the best reputation. Jewish people looked down on them with suspicion and disdain. Even the Romans did not like them and many times they were kicked out of Rome and Italy.
  • According to tradition, they came from the city of Saveh in modern day Iran, which was 430 miles northeast of Bethlehem. That’s as far as from here to Atlanta. To make this journey, they had to cross the boundary of the Parthian kingdom and enter into the Roman territory, which was very dangerous. Not only that but they had to come into Palestine where the Jewish people didn’t like them much. But these magi were relentless. They were not going to stop until they found the King of the Jews – the Messiah!
  • As the fire priests and king makers, they also brought some very special gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The big question is how did they find out about the coming of Jesus? We don’t know for sure but it could have been through Daniel. In Daniel we hear about the “magi” several times. Listen to Daniel 2     1 “Now in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was so troubled that his sleep left him. 2 Then the king gave the command to call the magicians (magous in the LXX), the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams…” Again, Daniel 5:15 “Now the wise men (magoi in the LXX), the astrologers, have been brought in before me (Belshazzar), that they should read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not give the interpretation of the thing.” Daniel not only distinguished himself under both the Babylonian empire but also in the Medo-Persian Empire. In fact, he was appointed the head of all the wise men of Babylon and later the Chaldeans.

In Daniel 9, the prophet Daniel actually gave a prophecy regarding the time of the coming of the Messiah. Daniel 9     24 “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. 25 ‘Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. 26 “And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself…”

Where am I going with this? More than likely the magis had converted the information in Daniel 9 to correspond with the movements of the stars. Generation after generation since Daniel they were waiting for the star to appear that would signal the birth of Jesus. At the right time when the star appeared, they left their homes in the east and set out to locate the king of the Jews!

This week everyone was talking about the Christmas Star in the planetary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the Southwestern horizon. The last time these two planets were this close was about 400 years ago and the last time this happened at night, when people could actually see it, was about 800 years ago! Next time it will be in 2080.

Here’s the point:

  1. The magi had to faithfully study the prophecy of Daniel.
  2. Generation after generation they had to pass down the knowledge of the prophecy to their descendants
  3. When God added the “star in the east,” they had to set out from their comfortable homes across 400 miles of rugged and dangerous lands to look for the promised one.
  4. They had to be willing to face the ridicule and threat of Herod and Jerusalem in asking where the Savior of the world was born.
  5. Once they saw him with Mary and Joseph, they had to be willing to humble themselves and worship him with their gifts.

So also, when it comes to following Christ, it’s not easy. There will be uncomfortable obedience. Even coming here this evening may not have been easy for some of you. You were willing to obey God than to fear human beings or anything else.

Not everything God tells us to do will be pleasant. Sometimes, it will be uncomfortable. But if we claim to love him unconditionally, we have to obey him joyfully.

What is God calling you to do? Maybe to make things right with someone. Maybe to give towards his work. Maybe to share the gospel with someone. Maybe to surrender to some calling he has for you. You will have to set aside your comfort, others’ opinions, and personal fears.

Has he called you to be saved? Have you responded?

Uncomfortable Obedience (2019) by Dr. Shah

UNCOMFORTABLE OBEDIENCE (2019) by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

(A Christmas Eve Message, Christmas 2019)

Introduction: Once again, we want to welcome you to our Christmas Eve Service. For the next few minutes, I want to talk to you about “Uncomfortable Obedience.” There are many things that God commands us to do that we can do with a joyful and a willing heart. For example: studying his word, loving our family and children, and using our gifts in his service. But then, there are things that He commands us to do that are not as fun and exciting. They are uncomfortable. They push us past our limits. Sometimes, they are downright unbearable. How do we obey God even when it is uncomfortable?

Luke 1    26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” 29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Background: Let me quickly give you a CliffsNotes on how Jewish weddings took place in first century Palestine:

  • A Jewish girl in that time was usually married somewhere between 13-16 years of age. Based on how Mary wrote her song of praise in Luke 1, I would say that she was closer to the 16-year mark, maybe even 18 years old. Also, based on the depth with which she wrote her song (Magnificat), she must have grown up in a spiritually strong home. A Jewish young man at that time would marry at the age of 18 or 20. Both Mary and Joseph were teenagers or close enough.
  • A marriage was a 2-step process: Betrothal and the wedding ceremony. Betrothal (kiddushin) was more than just an engagement. It was a formal exchange of consent before witnesses. A year later would be the actual wedding. The betrothal was legally binding and could be broken only by death or divorce. The girl was that man’s wife even though they would have to live separately for a year. According to the custom, Joseph and Mary must have seen each other at the betrothal but Mary still had to live with her parents and Joseph would use that time to get his house together. He could not get near her, especially under Galilean customs.
  • Mary’s father must have had to give a dowry to Joseph’s family. This would have included personal items such as jewelry and clothing. Sometimes, it may also include property.
  • A year later, the wedding would begin with the taking of the bride from her father’s home to the groom’s home on a carriage or a litter (stretcher). This was usually accompanied with a lot of music, singing, and dancing. The feasting would last a week, sometimes even two weeks. Then, under a huppa, the bride was blessed with a benediction that she will have many children.
  • At the marriage ceremony, the marriage contract was made which listed the husband’s obligations to his wife to provide, protect, and take care of her.
  • If the contract was broken, the groom had to pay a sum of money to the wife. But, not so, if it was because of adultery. By the way, he didn’t even have to return the dowry in that case. He was expected to divorce her.

Although, both Joseph and Mary were in a difficult predicament, I want to focus only on Mary today (last Christmas Eve, if you remember, we focused on Joseph). Just like Joseph, Mary was in a very difficult predicament for 2 reasons:

  1. Mary had a choice. Keep in mind that everything that the angel said was in the future tense. She was going to be pregnant and it was not going to be Joseph’s child. In fact, she would be a virgin when she became pregnant through the Holy Spirit. I can imagine Mary wondering how people would laugh at her. I can imagine Mary thinking how her friends and family would treat her. What a scandal! What a shame…Mary must have gone through a range of emotions: shock, unbelief, anxiety, helplessness, isolation, frustration, and even anger.

By the way, God sends his people in our path to help us during such difficult moments in our life. Mary went to the home of her cousin Elizabeth. Through her, the Holy Spirit encouraged Mary and confirmed to her that this was from God. This is when Mary sang her famous song starting in Luke 1    46 “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed…54 He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.” This song is traditionally known as the “Magnificat.” It comes from “Magnificat anima mea Dominum,” which is the Latin translation of “my soul magnifies the Lord,” the first line of Mary’s hymn.

  1. Mary had to carry the child for the next 9 months. This was not some one point in time decision. Can you imagine the trauma she had to go through every single day of those 9 months! Keep in mind that she would not be claiming that she had made a mistake or she was raped. She would be claiming to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. I can imagine people telling her to fess up. I can imagine friends and family telling her to admit that she messed up or was raped. She couldn’t do that. Again, imagine the emotions she must have felt: anger, helplessness, embarrassment, and unbelief. Nonetheless, she stayed the course.

How could she do all this? If you read the Magnificat carefully, its Mary’s love prayer to God. She loved God unconditionally. God would not have sent his Son to her if she wasn’t a loving person. Would you!

The only way we can obey his commandment is if we love him unconditionally. I John 5:3 “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” Mary loved God.

Not everything God tells us to do will be pleasant. Sometimes, it will be uncomfortable. But if we claim to love him unconditionally, we have to obey him joyfully.

What is God calling you to do? Maybe to make things right with someone. Maybe to give towards his work. Maybe to share the gospel with someone. Maybe to surrender to some calling he has for you. You will have to set aside your comfort, others’ opinions, and even common sense.

Has he called you to be saved? Have you responded?

Greater than Religion by Dr. Abidan Shah

GREATER THAN RELIGION by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  Throughout the world, people have all kinds of traditions when it comes to Christmas. In Norway, they hide their brooms on Christmas Eve, because, according to tradition, witches are out on Christmas eve. In South Africa, children look forward to fried caterpillars or Christmas caterpillars on Christmas day. In India, where I grew up, we sang Christmas carols all night from door to door of every church member. To miss someone’s home was a big insult. They would wait for us with food, sweets, coffee, and tea. By the way, the same morning was Christmas day and we had church service at 9 am. It was tough because some of us were half asleep. All these traditions are good but sometimes traditions can overshadow the truth and we end up with religion and religious leaders. In our Christmas series titled GREATER, we’ve seen how Jesus was greater than all the rulers and power brokers of the world in which he was born. In this message, we will see that Jesus was even greater than all the religious power brokers of the world. Find John 1:19. Main point: Jesus did not come to fit into our religious traditions. He came to bring us into a relationship with God. Jesus came to tear down the curtain in the Holy of Holies from top to bottom and make a way for us to come boldly to the throne of grace.

Matthew 2      1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Context: If you remember, last week, this was the same passage we used for the message, but our focus was on King Herod. We are using it again because it gives us the third power broker of the ancient world – the Religious Authorities. Next to Rome and Herod, they were in charge. Just like Herod was connected and subjected to Rome and Augustus Caesar, the Religious Authorities were also connected and subjected to Herod. In fact, they were also connected and subjected to Rome, as we will see later on.

In the passage, the Religious Authorities appear to be at Herod’s beck and call4“And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” They knew better than to reject his summons. After all, he was the king. He controlled the appointment of the high priests. He expanded and built the temple in Jerusalem. He maintained peace in the region. He kept a buffer between them and the Romans. Of course, they lined up on the double. Were they aware of the answer? 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Amazingly, they even gave the right answer. What was Herod’s response? 7 “Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.” Why didn’t Herod order the chief priests and scribes to go with the wise men? Why didn’t they go on their own initiative? One of 2 reasons:

  • They didn’t believe this was going to happen. It was just a myth to them.
  • They didn’t want it to happen. It was too costly and risky for them.

By their refusal to act, they were going to cancel the first Christmas! They would rather stay with their traditions and rituals than to go after the real thing.

Application: I find it very interesting how people are willing to shut down Christmas or redefine Christmas or see Christmas differently this year. What annoys me the most is when people try to use spiritual lingo to cover up their fear. How many of you have heard of the term “cancel culture”? It is when a person does or says something controversial and they are immediately cancelled. This happens on social media a lot. People turn against someone and they cancel them. 2000 years ago, people tried to cancel Christmas. They failed. They are trying it again and, unfortunately, believers are going along.

Who were these Religious authorities? In the passage it says “chief priests and the scribes of the people,” but altogether there were 4 major groups with some subgroups: Priests and Levites, Sadducees, Pharisees, and Scribes:

  1. Who were the Priests and Levites? As you know from the Old Testament, priests belonged to the tribe of Levi and had to be descendants of Aaron. Along with the Levites, they were the “ritual specialists and mediators between God and people” (Kugler). While the priests were responsible for running the temple and carrying out the sacrifices, the Levites handled the music and the supervision and management of the temple activities. Under Moses’ supervision and Aaron’s leadership, the standards were extremely high regarding holiness. Exodus 28 36 “You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE Lord. 37 And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. 38 So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.” Unfortunately, through the centuries, the priesthood in Israel had continued a downward spiral. In 174 BC, a man by the name of Jason had bribed Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid king, to become the high priest. Three years later, a man by the name of Menelaus, who was not even a Levite, also bribed his way to the position. After that, the Hasmoneans family of priests controlled the position. The Levites were no different. Does this mean that every priest and Levite was corrupt? There were a few like Zechariah and Elizabeth who were truly righteous, but, it seems that those from Jerusalem proper were corrupt. Remember, the parable of the Good Samaritan. The antagonists in the story were the priests and the Levites.
  2. Who were the Sadducees? The first time we hear about the Sadducees is under John Hyrcanus (135-104 BC). The Sadducees claimed to be the “righteous ones,” going all the way back to Zadok, the righteous high priest. In reality, the Sadducees were mostly from the aristocracy and despised by the common people. Under Alexander Jannaeus (103-76BC), 800 Pharisees were crucified by the Sadducees. Then in 37 BC, with the coming of Herod the great, the high priesthood became a political appointment under Rome’s supervision with the Sadducees in charge of all the temple activities. They were not necessarily all priests or attached to the temple. The chief priests and the high priests came from the Sadducees. This was the reason why some Jewish people actually built a temple in Leontopolis, Egypt and some left to form the Dead Sea community at Qumran. In short, the people went to the temple but inside they knew it was in corrupt hands. What did the Sadducees believe?No resurrection, angel, or spirit. They did not accept the oral law or the law of the sages, as the Pharisees. They had their own traditions regarding the Torah. They placed more emphasis on the books that focused on the temple. The came testing him with the question about the resurrection of the 7 brothers married to the same woman. Matthew 32:22 “…God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” They didn’t want Jesus. He was a threat to the establishment.
  3. Who were the Pharisees? They were mostly a lay movement of people who were trying to live a pious life. They believed in the right doctrines. They advocated a simple lifestyle. They were popular with the common people because they would help them keep the law. They focused on “Table Fellowship” – they called on all Jewish people to live according to the priestly laws, especially with regards to everyday meals. They treated their tables at home as the altar in the temple. Every household was held responsible. Hence, the meals had to be tithed, prepared, and served in a certain way. This does not mean that they rejected the priesthood or the temple. Their meals were exclusive and hierarchical because they believed that what you put inside of you matters and who you have around matters. They couldn’t get over Jesus’ eating habits and association with sinners.

Unfortunately, they constantly butted heads with Jesus. They were frustrated that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. They were frustrated that Jesus did not keep all their trivial Sabbath laws. They wanted Jesus to give them a sign. They accused him of being demon possessed. Jesus did not let up on them. He told his disciples in Matthew 5:20 “…unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” He called them “Blind Guides,” “Hypocrites,” and “White-washed tombs.”

Attached to the Pharisees was a subgroup known as the scribes. Jesus often addressed them together.

  1. Who were the Scribes? They interpreted and taught the Law to the people. They were closely connected to the temple in Jerusalem and, in the smaller villages, they held positions of authority. They were envious of Jesus’ knowledge of the bible and popularity with the people. They considered themselves to be experts in the law/Old Testament. Listen to how Jesus dealt with them in Mark 12 38 Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, 39 the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.” He pronounced woes upon them along with the Pharisees – Matthew 23:29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”

Here’s a quick summary:

  1. The Priests and the Levites were corrupt.
  2. The Sadducees were protecting the status quo.
  3. The Pharisees were about self-righteousness.
  4. The Scribes were busy showing off their knowledge.

In this world Jesus came not to fit into the religious categories and traditions but to tear down the curtain from top to bottom and make a way for us to come boldly to the throne of grace.

1 Peter 1     18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Invitation: Do you have religion or do you have a relationship with Christ? He came not to fit into our traditions. He came to clean it up. Are you saved?

Greater Than Rome

GREATER – THAN ROME by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: How many of you have ever played “King of the Hill” as kids? The objective is to stay on top of the hill or pile and keep others from pushing you off. Unfortunately, people don’t stop playing that game when they grow up. They become rulers, kings, queens, and emperors. With Christmas upon us, we will be going through a 3-week series titled “GREATER.” We will learn how Jesus was greater than all the rulers and power brokers of the world in which he was born. In this first message, we will see that Jesus was “GREATER THAN ROME.” Please find Luke 2. Here’s the main point: Our world has seen rulers rise and fall, and empires come and go. But, there is only one who stands greater than all, and whose kingdom has no end. It is Jesus Christ. Many have tried to overshadow him, but, as someone said, “When small men cast long shadows, it is a sign that their sun is about to set.” Jesus stands greater than all, and the sun cannot set on him because he made the sun and the moon and the stars.

Luke 2:1 “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

Context: The passage I just read is very familiar, especially during Christmas time. We usually rush past this to Joseph going to his hometown of Bethlehem and Mary giving birth to the baby Jesus and wrapping him in swaddling clothes because there was no room for them in the inn. Then, there were shepherds in the fields watching over their flocks by night and the angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were greatly afraid, and on and on. We miss something very important in the opening verses of Luke 2. The gospel writer Luke has given us some very important information about the world in which Jesus came. Listen again to verse 1 “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” The Greek word for “decree” is dogma, an imperial declaration. With just one decree, your entire world could be turned upside down.

Application: Do ya’ll understand what that means? This is why it is vital that we speak out and we know our rights. Having our voices heard and be strong in politics is not optional.

Who was Caesar Augustus? Caesar Augustus was the emperor of Rome when Jesus was born. His birth name was actually Octavius. He was the great nephew and the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who was the dictator of Rome until he was assassinated. Octavius ascended the throne after him, but he wasn’t much of a soldier so he linked up with 2 Roman generals and politicians – Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus – and began avenging the death of Julius Caesar. He was brutal and did not spare any who stood up to him. He even had coins minted with Julius Caesar’s image on one side with the words “the God Julius” and his image on the other side with the words “Caesar, Son of a God.” But, he was not satisfied with being one of three and so he first got rid of Lepidus. Then, he defeated Mark Anthony at the battle of Actium, who committed suicide along with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. They knew what would happen if they fell into the hands of Octavius. Now, Octavius was the only man standing. He was powerful and cruel, to say the least. He established the Pretorian Guard – private bodyguards of 5000 soldiers. The Senate was afraid of him and gave him power over the proconsuls and the armies. They even made him “Pontifex Maximus” or the chief priest of the state religion. Their own position was reduced to being just advisors.

But there’s more – there were provinces in Asia that had supported Mark Antony. Now Octavius was in power and they were going to pay for that. Very quickly delegations came from city of Pergamum and the city of Nicaea informing him that they were going to make him a god and needed his permission to build temples in his name. Of course, Octavius said, “That’s okay. You don’t have to. But, if you insist….” Two years later, the senate even gave him the title we find in Luke 2:1 – “Augustus,” which means “great” as in god. He became Caesar Augustus, not only the Emperor of Rome but also a god who had been appointed by the will of the other gods. It was in his hands to bring the “pax deorum” or the peace of the gods to the mortals on the earth. He was the incarnation of all the gods. He was the savior. The people loved him. He expanded the Roman Empire, rebuilt temples and public buildings, reorganized the Senate, and brought opportunities to the people. He was so popular that Roman men even adopted his hairstyle. For the first time there was peace in the world, as long as you didn’t oppose Octavius. One scholar noted that never before in the history of the world was a man worshipped like Octavius – Caesar Augustus.

Some of you are thinking – how come we’ve never heard of him? Have you ever looked at the calendar? The sixth month is named after the god Julius Caesar and the seventh month is named after Caesar Augustus – August. None of this was by accident. The Romans had a “complex and vibrant ideological matrix” (David Nystrom) on how to leave a Roman legacy. One scholar (Nystrom) said it this way – “He (Augustus) did not fundamentally alter it by assuming the trappings of personal supremacy, but rather magnified it by directing Roman tradition through the prism of his own story.” In other words, what did it mean to worship Augustus or to call an emperor “king”? (Nystrom)

  1. The Romans claimed that they were ordained by the gods to conquer and civilize.
  2. The Romans believed in the conviction that their rule was just.
  3. The Romans believed that their domination was not fixed by the “limits of the earth but by the limits of the sky” (Cicero).
  4. The Romans had a steep social pyramid based on wealth, class, ancestry, and location.
  5. The Roman empire was an urban phenomenon, with Rome as the ideal and the goal was to spread “Romanitas” – Roman values or Romanness.
  6. The Romans expected and practiced self-promotion, with ultimate power being in the hands of a select few.
  7. The Roman religion was not about faith. In fact, it was looked down upon as being weak. Religion was about gods, sacrifices, and duty.

Why did Augustus want the world to be registered? Taxes. More money was needed to fund the growing army – 28 legions, each legion had over 5000 soldiers. But, there’s something more – Herod the king of Judea had made Octavius mad and this was his way of proving a point to Herod that he was the boss. Amazing isn’t it? Everybody’s life is turned upside just so he can prove a point. Verse 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. In short, Augustus had turned everybody’s life upside down with one decree.

How about Jesus? 4 “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.” Augustus thinks that he has really told Herod. What he doesn’t realize is that he was just a pawn in God’s eternal plan. Eight hundred years earlier a prophet by the name of Micah had prophesied the location of the Messiah’s birth. Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”

Greatness is found when you are faithful and obedient, and God writes your legacy.

6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. The word for inn is “kataluma,” which is guestroom. Joseph and Mary were probably staying with some friends and couldn’t find any privacy and had to deliver Jesus in the family room. Unlike Caesar Augustus who was living in the lap of luxury, the King of Kings had to spend his first night where the animals were tied.

Greatness is not in turning other peoples’ lives upside down. It is in laying our lives down for others.

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”  16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.  17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.  18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Greatness is when God comes to you and you know that you don’t deserve it.

Augustus had his “Res Gestae” (things done) left with the Vestal Virgins (Priestess to the goddess Vesta) to be read in the senate after his death. Only 3 copies have been found. Series of inscriptions were also written in the Forum Augusti with statutes of great men all round and Augustus in the middle riding in a chariot with the title “Father of his country.

What is the legacy of Jesus Christ? Eternity is not enough to list it!

Invitation: The world has an idea of greatness that fades away. God’s greatness never fades. Are you faithful and obedient? Are you laying your life down for others? Do you realize that you don’t deserve anything but hell? Are you saved?

Royal – Our Shepherd King by Pastor Abidan Shah

OUR SHEPHERD KING by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Our Shepherd KingIntroduction: Any Jungle Book fans here? It had 2 kings: First was King Louie. He was the self-proclaimed king of all the monkeys whose greatest wish was to be a man and stroll right into town. He needed the secret to man’s red fire to do that. Did he ever get it? No. Second was Sher Khan. He was the king of the jungle. He feared man’s gun and man’s fire and wanted to kill Mowgli because he was afraid that once he grew up, he’d kill him. Neither cared about their subjects. Earthly kings are also either like King Louie, wanting something they can’t have, or like Sher Khan, always living in fear and hate. King Jesus is neither blindly ambitious nor is he a fearful murderer. Instead, he is the good shepherd who loves his sheep and is willing to lay down his life for them. He is Our Shepherd King.

Luke 2      8Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And thiswill bethe sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Question: The angels came to the shepherds proclaiming the gospel. Have you heard the good news? The shepherds went immediately. Have you seen Jesus? Are you saved?

Pray: Holy Spirit – Open our eyes that we may see Jesus for who he is? Save the lost.

Context: This is our final message in our series called ROYAL. Many of you have shared with me how much you have loved this series. Repeatedly, the Bible refers to Jesus as our King, especially at his birth. One reason we miss this fact so easily is because we did not grow up in a monarchy. So far, we looked at Jesus as Our Creator King, Our Good King, Our Humble King, and Our Universal King. This morning, we will focus on Jesus as Our Shepherd King. There are 2 things we need to understand:

I. THE POSITIVE IMAGE OF THE SHEPHERD

8Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Background:Typically, the reason given for the shepherds to be included in the Christmas narrative is either “They represented untrustworthy sinners that Jesus came to save” or “They represented poor common folk that Jesus came to lift up.” (See Sarah Harris’s dissertation) When we study ancient history carefully, we find that neither are totally true. In fact, the shepherd imagery was commonly used as a designation for gods and kings. Here are some examples from ancient cultures:

  • Sumerian gods like Enlil were known as faithful shepherds. So also, Marduk, the Babylonian god, was known as a shepherd to his people.
  • In Mesopotamia, Enmerkar, the King of Uruk, is called a shepherd (over 2000 BC). So also, Hammurabi of Babylon was called a shepherd.
  • Similarly, in Egypt, the Pharaohs are usually depicted with a flail and a shepherd’s crook.
  • Also, in Greece, we again find the shepherd metaphor in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

When we come to the Bible, the Old Testament, this is especially prominent. God is repeatedly described as a shepherd to his people Israel:

  • In Genesis 49:24, listen to how Jacob blesses Joseph – “. . . the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the MightyGodof Jacob (From there isthe Shepherd, the Stone of Israel).”
  • In Exodus 15:13, Moses describes God as a shepherd setting his people free from Egypt – “You in Your mercy have led forth the people whom You have redeemed; You have guidedthemin Your strength to Your holy habitation.”
  • In Isaiah 40:11, listen to Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s future care of his people –“He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carrythemin His bosom, andgently lead those who are with young.
  • In Jeremiah 13:17, listen to Jeremiah’s sorrow over the sins of his people – . . . My eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, Because the LORD’S flock has been taken captive.”
  • InMicah 7:14, listen to Micah’s prayer to God – “Shepherd Your people with Your staff, the flock of Your heritage, who dwell solitarilyina woodland, in the midst of Carmel; Let them feedinBashan and Gilead, as in days of old.”
  • Then the psalms are full of the shepherd imageries – Psalm 78:52“But He made His own people go forth like sheep, And guided them in the wilderness like a flock.”Psalm 80:1“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock. . .”

By the way, God’s greatest leaders have also been shepherds: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. Here’s the famous psalm of David – Psalm 23    1“The LORDismy shepherd; I shall not want. 2He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.3He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You arewith me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Isn’t that beautiful!

The point is that contrary to what we have assumed, shepherds were not always looked upon as the worst and the lowest of society. Instead, many times, God was depicted as a shepherd who guided, provided, and protected his people.

Application:How do you see God? As a dictator to be feared, as a weak old man to be ignored, or as a shepherd who provides, protects, and patiently guides his people? What a comfort!

II. THE PROPHECY OF THE SHEPHERD KING

Background:800 years before the coming of Jesus, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was facing an attack from all sides: from the South from Edom, from the West from Philistia, and from the North and the Northeast from the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Syria. Instead of turning to God, the king decided to reach out to the Assyrians who were to the north of Syria. A prophet by the name of Micah who lived about the same time as Isaiah warned the people in the Southern Kingdom that it was foolish to look to the Assyrians for help because once they were done destroying Syria and the Northern Kingdom, they would destroy the Southern Kingdom as well. Wait for your help. It’s not going to come from some earthly king but from the Shepherd King. Of course, they didn’t listen. The Assyrians came and destroyed the north and sent them into exile, never to return. Next, they marched to the South and it was God’s grace that he intervened and the angel of the Lord went through the Assyrian camp and destroyed 185,000 of them in one night. Listen to Micah’s prophecy to wait for their Shepherd King who would come to rescue them –Micah 5    2“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, thoughyou are little among the thousands of Judah, yetout of you shall come forth to me the One to be Ruler in Israel, (Meaning: A King is coming from the City of the great king David. He is the rightful King.) whose goings fortharefrom of old, from everlasting.”(A better translation is “whose origins are from of old.” In other words, “although he will be born yet he has no beginning.” He is no ordinary King.) 4And He shall stand and feedHis flockin the strength of the LORD, (Meaning: He will be a Shepherd King to his people unlike the unfaithful King Ahaz of Judah. He will be like his earthly ancestor David, who was the good shepherd king. Wait on Him!) In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God;And they shall abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth;5And this Oneshall be peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land. . .” I know what you are thinking. Why would God send someone 800 years later to save them from a problem they are facing right now? The time to put a band aid on their wound was over, it was time to schedule a major surgery.

Why were the local shepherds invited? Listen again to verse 8“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Some people have claimed that they were temple shepherds. That may be but we don’t have any solid evidence for it. I believe that they were symbolic of the faithful, brave, and good shepherds who were simply under shepherds waiting on the Chief Shepherd to come and take over his flock.Luke tell us that they came with haste and found the baby Jesus. What was their response?17“Now when they had seenHim,they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18And all those who hearditmarveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. . . 20Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” They got the message of Christmas.

Application:Is Jesus your Shepherd King? He came to provide, protect, and patiently guide you. Are you following him? Are you saved?

 

Royal – Our Universal King by Pastor Shah

OUR UNIVERSAL KING by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Our Universal KingIntroduction: One of my favorite Disney movies is Robinhood, the animated version. Of course, you have familiar characters like Robinhood, Little John, and the Sheriff of Nottingham but one of the funniest characters is “Prince John.” He is the “Phony King of England” who hates Robinhood for looting his royal coach. So, he puts a bounty on his head and tries to catch him. Of course, he can’t. In the end, King Richard, the good and rightful king comes to claim his rightful throne. So also, 2000 years ago, a phony king was ruling God’s people until King Jesus came to claim his rightful throne. In fact, his own failed to recognize him but magi from the east came looking for him. Jesus was not just the king of the Jewish nation but of all peoples. He is the true Universal King.

Matthew 2      1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heardthis,he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

Question: Herod thought that he was the king of the Jews but he was a false king. Who is the false king ruling your life? Jesus is the Universal King. He wants not just a part of you but the whole of you. Have you given your whole life to him?

Pray: Holy Spirit – Let the true King Jesus rule our hearts. Those who are lost, open their eyes and their hearts that they may receive him today and be saved.

Context:We’re in our Christmas series called “ROYAL.” Repeatedly, the Bible portrays Jesus as our king. As I’ve mentioned before, this is hard for us to understand because we’ve never lived under the rule of a king but most of history has been ruled by kings. That’s why the Bible uses regal language in referring to God. We’ve already looked at Jesus as “Our Creator King,” “Our Good King,” and “Our Humble King.” Today, we will see him as “Our Universal King.” 3 questions we need to answer in this passage:

I. WHO WERE THE STRANGERS? 

1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.”

Background:The word is not “wise men” but “magi.” Who were the magi? The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the magi were one of the 6 tribes of the ancient Medes. They were a priestly caste of people who were experts in divination (interpretation of dreams) and star-gazers, astronomers, astrologers, dream interpreters and sorcerers in Persia. That’s where we get our English word “magic” and “magicians.” They were also known for their wisdom and counsel. Some of them must have made their way in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. First time we hear about them in the Bible is in the Book of Daniel:

  • Daniel 2 1 “Now in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was sotroubled that his sleep left him. 2 Then the king gave the command to call the magi, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams.”
  • Daniel 2:9“if you do not make known the dream to me, there is onlyone decree for you! For you have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the time has changed. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation.”

When the Persian King, Cyrus, captured Babylon, many more of these magi must have come into Babylon. As before, they didn’t always have a good reputation. Sometimes they got involved in political power and got into a lot of trouble for it. Jewish people looked down on them with suspicion and disdain. Even the Romans did not like them and kicked them out of Rome and Italy several times.

What’s the point? Somehow, they got on God’s mailing list. No one is too far from the grace of God. It doesn’t matter who you are and what family you belong to or don’t. God’s grace is available to you.What is interesting is that the wise men in Jerusalem failed to recognize the king but these magi saw him. Matthew 20:16“So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”

By the way, how do you think they got on God’s mailing list? Maybe Daniel told them.Daniel 5:11There is a man in your kingdom in whom isthe Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magi, astrologers, Chaldeans, andsoothsayers.

Application:Are you on God’s mailing list? Are you telling the least of them?

II. WHAT WAS THE STAR?

2saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

Background:There have been a lot of speculations about the star: A supernova, a new star, a comet, alignment of the planets, etc. We don’t know for sure. There are no records about this star in any historical document. Maybe God created the star just the way he created the big fish to swallow Jonah. God has power over the celestial bodies:

  • Joshua 10 12Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon; And Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” 13. . . So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to godownfor about a whole day. 14And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the LORD heeded the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.
  • 2 Kings 20 10And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees; no, but let the shadow go backward ten degrees.”11So Isaiah the prophet cried out to the LORD, and He brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down on the sundial of Ahaz.

What’s the point? The entire universe belongs to King Jesus. If he wants to create a star to point to his coming, then he has the power to do so. Listen again to Daniel 12:3“Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel could have been the star from centuries ago who pointed the magi to Jesus from 700 miles away. The Jewish leaders around Herod had the Word and they missed him 6 miles away. They didn’t even take the time to investigate.Matthew 2      3When Herod the king heardthis,he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;For out of you shall come a RulerWho will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”7Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have foundHim,bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

Application: Whom are you pointing to Jesus? Whom are you sending in the wrong direction?

III. WHY THE GIFTS?

Matthew 2     9When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Background: Again, there are a lot of suggestions as to the meaning of the gifts. Bottom line: They represent gifts for a king. Maybe it was a fulfilment of the prophecy in Psalm 72     10The kings of Tarshish and of the isles will bring presents; The kings of Sheba and Seba will offer gifts. 11Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him; All nations shall serve Him.” Isaiah 60:6“The multitude of camels shall cover your land,the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; All those from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense, and they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD.”

Application:What are you offering him today? What are you holding back from him? Is he your Savior and King? Are you pointing others to him?

MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR! (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR! (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on December 9, 2017)

Most Wonderful Time of the YearOne of my pet peeves is reading or listening to claims that many of our Christmas traditions are just pagan rituals that should be abandoned. Here are some facts on a few of them:

Are Christmas trees just some pagan ritual borrowed from the Scandinavians? While it is true that many cultures have worshipped certain trees, this was not the case for Christians. For them, trees were never sacred, just symbolic: Adam and Eve took the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; Abraham lived by the Oaks of Mamre where He built an altar to the Lord; The people of Israel were promised to become “Trees of Righteousness”; Jesus hung on a tree for our sins; and in Revelation we see the tree of life in the middle of the street of the Heavenly City. So, next time you see “O Tannenbaum” with lights, ornaments, and gifts, think of the many wonderful promises of God, especially the coming of Jesus to die on the wooden cross for us!

What does kissing under a mistletoe have to do with Christmas? In ancient times, mistletoe was considered a miracle plant. When everything was dead in the harsh winter, this rootless parasitic plant would still be flourishing. It symbolized life, hope, and fertility. Ancient Druids and Vikings thought this plant was so sacred that they would marry under it. When they became Christians, the mistletoe took on a deeper meaning. It reminded them of God’s power to bring life where there was death. Later on, in England, when a couple passed under the plant, they had to stop and kiss. If they did, God would bless them with an everlasting love. So, next time someone says, “Hey! You’re under a mistletoe!” Think about the undying love of God in Jesus Christ and oh yes, pucker up!

Do you know that house during Christmas that has everything lit up, even the doghouse! If you’re like me, you wonder how they pay their electric bill! Where did we get this tradition? Legend has it that Martin Luther, the German Reformer, was taking a walk through the woods one late December night when he saw the moonlight sparkling on the snow-covered branches of the evergreen trees. He was so struck by their beauty that he tried to recreate the sparkle by attaching candles to his Christmas tree. It reminded him of Jesus the light of the world. With the coming of electricity, people began to decorate even their homes and yards with light. So, when you drive by that over lit house, ask yourself, “Is Jesus shining brightly in my life?”

Every Christmas you hear complaints about how we have commercialized the birth of Jesus and how we’ve lost the true reason for the season. Ever wonder where the tradition of gift giving at Christmas comes from? Contrary to what you may think, it was not inspired by the magi. In fact, the Christian practice of giving gifts began with St. Nicholas, the pastor of Myra, who rode across Asia Minor distributing gifts to poor children. December 6th in the Western Church and December 19th in the Eastern Church became St. Nicholas’ Day – a day to give gifts to children – and in time this practice merged with December 25th. So, next time you go shopping, enjoy buying gifts for your loved ones but don’t forget to be generous to the less fortunate. After all, we were all undeserving but God graciously gave us the gift of Jesus.

Some people have a problem with Santa Claus. After all, how does some overweight old guy who lives at the North Pole with reindeers and elves fit into the Christmas story! Well, Santa Claus was actually St. Nicholas of Bari who lived in the fourth century. His parents died when he was young and Nicholas distributed all his wealth to the poor and became the pastor of Myra in modern day Turkey, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. He was known for his prayer life and his strong convictions regarding the deity of Jesus. But more than anything else, he became known for his generosity to the less fortunate, especially children. Stories about his kindness travelled everywhere and Nicholas became known as the giver of gifts in the name of Jesus. So, next time you see someone in a Santa costume, don’t frown but smile and remember to be generous like Ole’ St. Nick. Merry Christmas!

Fulfilled: Location of Jesus’ Birth by Pastor Abidan Shah

FULFILLED: LOCATION OF JESUS’ BIRTH by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Fulfilled 4

Introduction: There are towns in our United States with some really funny names! For e.g. Accident, Maryland; Chicken, Alaska; Cut and Shoot, Texas; Embarrass, Minnesota; Experiment, Georgia; Frankenstein, Missouri; Imalone, Wisconsin; Nothing; Arizona; Pie Town, New Mexico; Santa Claus, Arizona; Tightwad, Missouri; Two Egg, Florida; Uncertain, Texas; and Why Not, North Carolina. I actually looked this one up. It’s in Randolph County, South of Asheboro, where the NC Zoo is located. Story goes that when the first settlers were trying to decide on the name, they kept debating “Why not this” and “why not that,” until one man who had enough of it suggested, “Why not name the town Why Not and let’s go home?” This actually pleased everyone! In this message, we will be looking at another small town which compared to Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, and Babylon was nothing but it was the place God chose for the birth of his son. Because, God loves to work through insignificant people and insignificant places. This is our 4th and final message in our series “FULFILLED: THE LOCATION OF JESUS’ BIRTH.”

Matthew 2    1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Question: Do you ever feel insignificant? Do you ever feel unworthy? Do you ever feel that you are too little or unsuitable to be used by God? I have and I still do. Here’s the good news! God loves using the insignificant and the unworthy, the little and the unsuitable. Why? He specializes in using those through whom he can get the most glory. But, whether significant or not, you have to be saved? Are you saved?

Context: The passage we just read has so many things that we can focus on: the identity of the magi or the wise men (Who were these strange visitors from the East); the meaning of the star (Was it a comet? Was it a supernova?); the significance of the gifts (Gold, frankincense, and myrrh). For time’s sake, I would like to focus just on the significance of the little town of Bethlehem in Judea in the coming of Jesus. Listen again to Matthew 2:1 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea…” The reason Matthew specifies Bethlehem of Judea is because there was another Bethlehem in the North about 7 miles Northwest of Nazareth. For e.g. If I were to write something like “Wilbur Hardee, the founder of Hardees, was born in Greenville, North Carolina.” Why did I specify “North Carolina?” Because there’s a Greenville, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, California, and about 26 more in the United States! Why do I bring this up? When people claim that the Bible is just a fictitious book made up by the church to control the masses, they haven’t taken the time to carefully examine the historic details in it. Let me say it again: The Bible is unlike any book in the history of the world. It was written by men who “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” You can trust it!

What happens next? Wise men (magi) from the East come to Jerusalem and their question is “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” That title “King of the Jews” is very important. It implies “Where is the descendant of King David?” The magi may not have understood what they said but the people of Jerusalem surely did. Listen to their reaction – 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” It was no secret at the time of Jesus’ birth that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. In fact, listen to John 7   40 Therefore many from the crowd…said, “Truly this is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” The reason they knew this is because 800 years earlier a prophet by the name of Micah had prophesied the location of the Messiah’s birth. Who was Micah? He was a younger contemporary of Isaiah the prophet who primarily preached to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Just like Isaiah he also warned the people of Judah that it was foolish for turning to the Assyrians for help because after they were done destroying Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel, they would come for them in the South. Just as he had warned, it happened. The Assyrians destroyed the North and sent them into exile, never to return. Then they marched into the South. Listen to his words in Micah 3   9 Now hear this, You heads of the house of Jacob And rulers of the house of Israel, Who abhor justice and pervert all equity, 10 Who build up Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with iniquity…12 Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, And the mountain of the temple Like the bare hills of the forest.” Micah pronounces 3 sets of judgments against them but in the midst of declaring God’s wrath and discipline, he gives them some rays of hope. Listen to Micah 5    2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah (An ancient name for Bethlehem), Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” A better translation would be “whose origins are from of old.” In other words, although this ruler would be a descendant of King David, he will be unique in that he is eternal. He doesn’t have a descent. 3 Therefore He shall give them up, Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; Then the remnant of His brethren Shall return to the children of Israel.” In the midst of sure judgment under the Assyrians, God promises his people that he will not abandon them. Just the way God promised, he miraculously saved his people from Sennacherib’s armies. Read 2 Kings 19 of how when the Assyrian army lay siege to Jerusalem that the angel of the Lord went through the Assyrian camp that night and killed 185,000 of them. God delivered.

Listen carefully: Even when we mess up, He is still merciful.

But that was just a down payment on a much bigger prophecy. One day the true deliverer would come to set his people free from the bondage of sin. He will actually come from the but from Bethlehem of Judea. Where were Joseph and Mary living when she conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit? In Nazareth of Galilee in the North. I preached on this couple of years ago. Until the 1800s, people denied that there was any such place called Nazareth in history but then through archaeology scholars found inscriptions about Nazareth. It was a tiny village of maybe 250-300 people who claimed to be descendants of King David. Some of them had priestly lineage. Where did they come up with the name “Nazareth?” It comes from the Hebrew word “Netzer” which means “a shoot.” It’s a reference to Isaiah 11:1 “There shall come forth a shoot from the stem of Jesse…” These people were probably from Bethlehem, the city of David, in Galilee in the South. Why did they move to the North? Maybe because of employment. Maybe because of the Herodians who were crazy to say the least. They had moved up and began this settlement of Nazareth, trying to preserve themselves for the coming of the Son of David, the King of the Jews, the Messiah.

Now we have a problem. It’s time for the Messiah to be born but he’s in the wrong location! I can imagine Mary and Joseph wondering something is not right. We should be in Bethlehem if all that angel has said is true. I can also imagine Gabriel going to God and saying – “Everything is ready for God the Son to land but he’s in the wrong location! Would you like me to take a couple of angels with me and just airdrop them into Bethlehem? We could do it so fast that they won’t even know what happened. Or maybe a strong wind could just blow the city of Nazareth to Bethlehem.” God the Father says, “Nope. I already put my plan into motion about 50 years ago. There’s a megalomaniac who goes by the name of Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome. He thinks he is a god and the savior of the world. He is building up his empire, rebuilding the temples and the public buildings. He is really popular with the masses. But, he’s running out of money because of his 28 legions, each with 5000 soldiers. So, he’s about to do something that will transport Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Listen to Luke 2   1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David. Don’t you love the way God solves problems. Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” How frustrating and uncomfortable for Joseph and Mary but there was no better way.

Don’t forget: “Man’s interruption is God’s providence; human disruption is divine arrangement.” There’s no reason to be frustrated and bitter in the Christian life. Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Application: Are you struggling with some situation or some decision someone has made? Have you been handed a bad deal? Do you feel insignificant? Don’t lose heart. Don’t quit. God is still in charge.

God is a God of Mercy. He’s always been merciful to his people. Mercy has a name. JESUS. Have you received him?

Fulfilled: Manner of Jesus’ Birth by Pastor Abidan Shah

FULFILLED: MANNER OF JESUS’ BIRTH by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Fulfilled 3Introduction:  Every Christmas time the major news magazines carry some article or cover story about Christianity. It’s all about selling copies. This year, the December edition of the National Geographic has on its cover page “The Real Jesus: What Archaeology Reveals About His Life.” Listen to what it asks, “Might it be possible that Jesus Christ never even existed, that the whole stained glass story is invention?” This is nothing new. People have forever tried to deny the existence or the deity of Christ. Our series titled “Fulfilled” will hopefully strengthen our faith in Christ that he did come and he is the one who fulfilled all the promises and prophecies of God.

Matthew 1    18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Question: People have asked me “Does a person have to believe in the virgin birth in order to be saved?” I answer them, “No. The thief on the cross didn’t know a thing about the virgin birth when he got saved.” But, let’s suppose that thief on the cross were given a second chance, taken off that cross, and then someone told him about the virgin birth. What should he do? He better believe. Do you believe? I’m not just asking just about the virgin birth. Do you believe that Jesus is God’s only hope for you?

Context: In the passage we just read Matthew gives us the very unusual circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ. He tells us that Mary became pregnant without having any physical interaction with Joseph. He attributes Jesus’ birth to the Holy Spirit. Of course, Joseph does not believe her and wants to divorce her but the angel of the Lord warns him in a dream that the child is indeed of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Mary is pregnant but she’s still a virgin. By the way, we need to clarify something here – “Virgin birth” is actually a misnomer. It implies that Mary was still a virgin when she had Jesus. Although this could be true and, I believe, is true, the real implication here is that Jesus was conceived without Joseph and Mary coming together. In the early church, some actually believed that Mary had a painless birth in which her hymen was not ruptured. So, the actual title should be “virginal conception.” While I’m on the subject, let me also clarify that the “Virginal Conception” is not the Immaculate Conception or the Perpetual Virginity or the Assumption:

  • Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary herself was conceived in her mother’s womb as a sinless being. This idea was an invention of the medieval church and even the Catholic Church did not recognize it until 1854, when Pope Pius IX declared it. It is not a biblical doctrine.
  • Perpetual Virginity or “aieparthenos” teaches that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after giving birth to Jesus for the rest of her life. This idea has been held by the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church since the seventh century. It is not a biblical doctrine either.
  • Assumption of Mary teaches that Mary was taken up into heaven before she died. It is also not a biblical doctrine. Neither is the Dormition of Mary that teaches that Mary died and after three days she rose again.

Let’s return to verse where Matthew writes 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” In verse 23 Matthew is quoting Isaiah 7:14“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” This is one of the most debated Messianic prophecies in the Bible. One scholar remarked, “Probably no single passage of the Old Testament has been so variously interpreted or has given rise to so much controversy as the prophecy contained in these verses.” (Walter Kaiser) Why is there so much debate?

  1. Historical context of the prophecy is complicated: This prophecy was given by the prophet Isaiah to Ahaz, King of Judah, the Southern Kingdom. They were facing an attack from all sides: from the South from Edom; from the West from Philistia; from the North and the Northeast from Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom, also known as Israel) and Syria. Keep in mind it was already determined and prophesied that Jesus would come through the tribe of Judah, through the line of King David. God was going to protect his promise. So, he sent Isaiah to Ahaz to comfort him and give him a sign but Ahaz had other ideas. He had already sent off his ambassadors to King Pul (Tiglath-Pileser) of Assyria, the kingdom north of Syria to get help. Doesn’t that sound familiar? We also look here and there instead of the Lord. Instead of asking for a sign as God had instructed, Ahaz acts condescendingly towards Isaiah. Listen to Isaiah 7:13 Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also?” This is very important how Isaiah addresses Ahaz. He calls him “O house of David.” Meaning: This prophecy is not going to be limited to just the immediate context but has far important significance. First, what is the immediate significance? Isaiah 7:14“…Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Meaning: Maybe King Ahaz’s wife or one of his harems was pregnant. This was a sign that the kings to the north will not be successful and that the line of David will continue through Ahaz’s son. I believe that it was probably his son who became King Hezekiah. Second, what is the far important significance? One day in the future another young woman would bear a son who would be the Ultimate Son of David. There’s a difference between the first woman and the second. The first was virgin until conception and the second was a virgin even in conception. And what would be his name? Immanuel. In Isaiah 8:10 it gives us the meaning, “For God is with us.”

Either way, whether to Ahaz (the faithless king) or to sinful us, God’s promise is that God is with us. He is here to save us. Jesus has come to save us.

  1. Liberal scholarship has claimed that the virginal conception is nothing more than a pagan myth and the word for “virgin” could be variously interpreted. First one about the pagan myth, it is claimed that it is only another example of a “hieros gamos” like Zeus and Semele or Isis and Osiris. In all these instances, there are gods and goddesses mating with each other or somehow impregnating human beings. There is no such thing when it comes to the “Virginal Conception” of Mary.

Second, some claim that the word for virgin in the Hebrew text at Isaiah is “almah” which doesn’t have to mean a virgin and that the true word for virgin is “betullah.” Again, this is not true. To start with, there are 5 different words in this debate: 3 Hebrew and 2 Greek. The first Hebrew word is “issha.” It simply means woman or wife. Then the word, “almah.” When you examine every use of the word “almah” in the Old Testament, it actually means “virgin.” Then there is the word “betullah” which does mean “virgin.” But when you compare their uses, “almah” is found in those passages where there is “something other than a normal child birth” (R.T. France) is involved. In fact, when the LXX translators came to this verse, they could have easily translated this “neanis” if it was just a young woman. But, they knew that there was more involved and hence they made it “Parthenos,” which is explicitly virgin. Words change meanings over time. For example: Bachelor – young knight, then lowest rank in university, and unmarried men. Bachelors are not “College educated Knights.” Or Hussy – housewife, then mistress of a household, then disreputable woman today. Don’t call your wife that!

I wish I could say “this is how people outside the spectrum of Christianity believe” but unfortunately, there are people in the ranks who don’t believe in the fundamental doctrines of the faith. They practice what is known as “double-speak” where they use the common terminology but when pressed, they reveal a very different understanding.

Why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin? To prove that He was sinless, to prove that He was both fully God and fully man, to prove that He came through the Holy Spirit, to be a sign as prophesied by Isaiah.

Are you saved? Only through Christ you can be.

Why didn’t God make it clear, why all these other stories other meanings and fulfillments? Why did God allow such discrepancies and tough issues? Why do we do Easter Egg Hunts? God gets joy out of seeing us discover. All of life is like a drama just like what Shakespeare said. What part of the story are you in?

Fulfilled: Time of Jesus’ Birth by Pastor Abidan Shah

FULFILLED: TIME OF JESUS’ BIRTH by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Fulfilled 2

Introduction:  Sometimes pastors get some funny letters! Here are just a couple written by kids – “Dear Pastor, I would like to go to heaven someday because I know my brother won’t be there,” “Dear Pastor, I know God loves everybody but He never met my sister,” “Dear Pastor, Are there any devils on earth? I think there may be one in my class.” I get some funny letters too but sometimes I get some really thought-provoking ones, like the one I’m about to read from a young man in our church. I’ve asked for his permission. He wrote — “Hi Pastor Shah! …I greatly appreciated your message today. I’ve been working on several questions lately that I can’t seem to find an easy way to answer. Questions of faith, I have found, can’t necessarily be resolved by scientific journal databases! Your sermon today, on the other hand, helped me in getting one of those questions to an articulate state. Would you mind either helping me with one of these, or pointing me towards some reputable resources where I can research the topic? Thank you.” I answered, “Of course. I’ll do my best.” “Awesome, thank you! Alright, here’s my main question at the moment: What evidence is there for the supernatural?” Meaning: How do we know that there is a world beyond what we can see and touch? Tough question but a great reminder that our young people have not given up on Christianity. It’s just that they have questions that we need to answer. It’s not enough to say “We believe it and that settles it.” We also have to explain “why we believe it.” I’m preaching our Christmas series “FULFILLED” in the hopes that it will answer some of those questions about the supernatural birth of Christ. Our ultimate goal is to capture our young generation.

Matthew 1:17 “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.”

Question: That’s probably the oddest opening scripture I’ve ever read. Now, you may not know it but that verse is considered the John 3:16 of the Gospel of Matthew. One scholar called it “the gospel in miniature.” We’ll look at it in detail in just a minute but it gives us the timing of the gospel. If you notice, it begins with Abraham with whom God made his covenant promise to bless all the families of the earth. Then, it proceeds to David through whom God blessed the people of Israel. Then, it falls into the Babylonian exile because the people rejected God. Finally, in God’s timing, Christ came to save his people from their sins. Promise – Blessing – Rejection – Salvation. This is the story of God’s people in a nutshell. Is that your story? Is Christ your Savior?

Context: The passage we just read has been a thorn in the side for many evangelical scholars. In fact, many who are against Christianity have pointed to this verse to prove that the Bible has errors. Some of ya’ll are wondering what exactly is the problem in that verse. Listen to it again – Matthew 1:17 “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.” There are several issues here:

  1. To start with, the time between the three sections is not equal. Between Abraham and David, there was at least 1000 years. Now, from David to the Babylonian exile, the there was only 400 years, less than half the time between Abraham and David. Then, from the Babylonian exile to Christ, there was 600 years. So, the sections are 1000 – 400 – 600. If there were 14 generations in between each section, that would make the average generation in the first section about 70 years, the average generation in the second section 28 years, and the average generation in the third section 42 years. It’s all over the place. By the way, the average generation is typically only 25 years.
  2. In the first two sections (from Abraham to David and from David to the Babylonian Exile) there are 14 names but in the last section (from Exile to Christ) only 13 names. One seems to be missing unless you count the last one from the second list again in the third list, then it’s 14 again. It appears so subjective and contrived.
  3. When you compare Matthew’s genealogy with the genealogies in I Chronicles 1:28, 34; 2:1-15, and Ruth 4:18-22 and the list of the kings in I and II Kings, Matthew skips over certain names in his genealogy. In fact, he omits as many as 5 kings between David and the Exile. Plus, you can also compare with the genealogy in Luke 3 and notice several more names there than in Matthew.

What exactly is going on? Does Matthew not know how to count? Did he not have an accurate list from which to copy? Is he manipulating the list to fit his purpose? Does the Bible have errors? Of course not. We believe that the Bible is the Word of God. It is given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is God-breathed. If God is perfect, then whatever he breathes out is also perfect. Plus, we have plenty of other places that stand true so we can say “Let’s look for reasons that prove that this one will stand true as well.” For e.g. What happens when a traffic light goes out? Do you reject the entire signal system everywhere? Of course not. They send someone to figure out what’s wrong and repair.

There are 2 possible solutions:

  1. The number 7 is a very important number in the Bible. Many many times it is mentioned: Genesis 2:3 “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” Genesis 8:4 “Then the ark rested in the seventh month, the seventeenth day of the month, on the mountains of Ararat.” Exodus 13:6Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord.” (Passover) Leviticus 4:6 “The priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the Lord, in front of the veil of the sanctuary.” Numbers 28:19 “And you shall present an offering made by fire as a burnt offering to the Lord: two young bulls, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year. Be sure they are without blemish.” I don’t have time to look at every mention of 7, here’s just a couple more. Psalm 12:6 “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times.” Revelation 2:1 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.”

Seven is the number of completion. So, 7 + 7 = 14 means double completion. In the first section, there are 1st 7 and 2nd 7. In the second section, there are 3rd 7 and 4th 7. In the third section 5th 7 and 6th 7. With the coming of Jesus we now have 7th 7 which is total completion. He is it! There’s no one else.

  1. The number 14 is also a very important number in the Bible. Many time it is also mentioned: Numbers 28:16 “On the fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of the Lord.” Numbers 29:13 “You shall present a burnt offering, an offering made by fire as a sweet aroma to the Lord: thirteen young bulls, two rams, and fourteen lambs in their first year. They shall be without blemish.” 1Kings 8:65 “At that time Solomon held a feast, and all Israel with him, a great assembly from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt, before the Lord our God, seven days and seven more days—fourteen days.” There is a reason why I focus so much on the Old Testament. Because, the New Testament is grounded in the soil of the Old Testament. Without a proper understanding of the OT, we will misunderstand the NT.

Something else under 14, David’s name, according to a system called Gematria (where each Hebrew letter has a numeric value – A = 1, B = 2, G = 3, D = 4, H = 5, V = 6; An example is 666 in Revelation 13:18 – “Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.” Probably, Nero Caesar) had the numeric value of 14 where D = 4, V = 6, and D = 4. If you remember from last week, David is very important in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew begins his gospel by saying Matthew 1:1 “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” Even though Abraham was chronologically first, David was as Jewish as they get. Remember the illustration of John Smith and George Washington. The second is far more American. Also, in the list of the genealogies, David is number 14. Bottom line: Matthew is not trying to give us the biological genealogy of Jesus. You can go and find that out like Joseph did when he went to register in Bethlehem. He is far more interested in giving us the dynastic genealogy of Jesus. Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus came from the line of David to claim his rightful throne. He is the true fulfillment of the promise that God had made to David. Jesus is the true king of Israel, the true king of the Jews. Where David messed up, Jesus won’t and didn’t. By the way, we need to remember that those kings who were omitted were all cursed. Read the rest of Matthew and you will realize how much emphasis there is on the title “Son of David” for Jesus!

Ultimately, what Matthew is trying to tell us is that Jesus is the completion of God’s plan of redemption. The true king has come in God’s appointed time. Is he your king or are you still living as if you are your own king? Is he your Savior?

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