Lesson 1 - Jesus-God's Greatest Gift
A Byzantine mosaic inside Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.
Prophecy. The odds of Jesus Christ fulfilling only 8 of the many prophecies made about Him is equal to covering the entire state of Texas with silver dollar coins 2 feet deep, marking only one of them and having a blind-folded person select the marked one at random the first time.
- From The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel.
The Best Gift
If you could have anything in the world that you wanted, what would you choose? Many people would ask to be rich. Others would wish for health, happiness, or friendship: things that money can not buy. You might ask for happiness that would never end. But who could make you live forever? Only the Person who made you and gave you life could give you eternal happiness. This Person is God who made the heavens and earth and everything in them.
Everlasting happiness is not just something to wish for. God loves you so much that He sent His Son, Jesus to be your friend. Those who receive Him will have eternal happiness. So Jesus is the best gift you could have.
How can you receive this greatest of gifts? God addresses this question in His wonderful book, the Bible. We call it the "Word of God" because God guided the men who wrote it with what to say.
Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, God told the prophets what was going to happen. They wrote these messages from God, or prophecies, in the first part of the Bible. God promised to send His Son to be the Savior of the world.
The prophets wrote that:
* The Savior would be born in Bethlehem.
* The Savior would be born of a virgin.
* The Savior would be from the family of the Hebrew king, David.
The Angel and Mary
About 675 years before Jesus was born, a prophet named Isaiah had written about his birth:
For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.(Isaiah 7:14)
Emmanuel literally means "God with us." Finally the time came for this promise of God to come true. About 2,000 years ago, God sent an angel from heaven to talk with a young woman named Mary. Luke, a medical doctor and follower of Christ, recorded this experience in the Bible:
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting. So the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great,and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.
“And look, your relative Elizabeth has also become pregnant with a son in her old age – although she was called barren, she is now in her sixth month! For nothing will be impossible with God.” So Mary said, “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
Mary and Elizabeth
Soon after the angel's message, Mary found that a miracle had taken place in her body. She was going to have a baby who had no earthly father. God had chosen her to be the mother of His Son, the Savior! But Mary faced a great problem. Who would believe what had happened to her? She was engaged to a good man, a carpenter named Joseph. What would he think when he found out she was pregnant? If he accused her of sexual misconduct, she could face the death penalty! What should she do?
The angel had spoken of a miracle that God had done for Mary's cousin Elizabeth. Maybe SHE would understand. So Mary went to the home of Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah and stayed there three months.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She exclaimed with a loud voice,“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me?
And Mary said,
“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has begun to rejoice in God my Savior, because he has looked upon the humble state of his servant. For from now on all generations will call me blessed, because he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name; (Luke 1:41-43, 46-49)
Mary was a lovely young woman who worshipped God and knew what the prophets had written. She was intelligent, courteous, faithful, obedient, humble, and good. We are grateful to her for her part in bringing the Savior into the world. The angel and Elizabeth both recognized that God had chosen Mary to be the mother of the Savior, but they did not worship her. Mary herself acknowledged her need of the Savior when she said, "my spirit has begun to rejoice in God my Savior" in Luke 1:46-49.
The Angel and Joseph
What did Joseph do when he learned that Mary was pregnant?
Joseph was a man who always tried to do the right thing, and he did not want to embarrass Mary publicly. He made plans to break the engagement privately. While he was planning what to do, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream Matthew 1:20-25:
When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means“God with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.
When Joseph woke up, he married Mary just as the angel had told him to, but he had no sexual relations with her until after she gave birth to her son. Joseph named him Jesus.
Born in Bethlehem
Augustus Caesar made a law that everyone had to be registered in a census. Mary and Joseph were of the family of David, so they had to go to Bethlehem, David's hometown, to be registered. That is where the prophet Micah had said that the Savior would be born. There was no room in the hotel for Mary and Joseph. They found shelter in a stable. Jesus was born there. An angel gave the good news to some shepherds nearby:
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. 2:12 This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” 2:13 Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” ( Luke 2:10-12)
The shepherds found Jesus Christ lying in a manger, just as the angel had said. They praised God for His great gift. Some wise men also came from other countries to worship Jesus. Afterwards, wicked King Herod tried to kill Jesus but Mary and Joseph escaped with Him to Egypt. Later they went back to Nazareth and Jesus grew up there.