The Christmas Story: Redemption

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The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “…Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb…a lamb for a house-hold. Your lamb shall be without blemish…and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it…For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 

God called his people out of Egypt, freeing them from the oppression of Pharaoh through a series of miraculous plagues. The seed of the serpent would not thwart God’s plans for Israel…the nation God called his firstborn son. In the last plague upon Egypt–the death of the firstborn sons–God made it clear to all that the wages of sin and rebellion is death… death that can be circumvented only through the blood of a spotless substitute. 

Through Moses, God led Israel safely through the waters of the Red Sea and into the wilderness. There, he gave his children the law and instructions for building the tabernacle, a tent where his presence would dwell among them. The law revealed God’s holy character. It showed Israel how to live in relationship with the God who had redeemed them in his love. Though they promised to obey, God’s children failed miserably. So, year after year, animal sacrifices were offered at the tabernacle for the forgiveness of sins. But the blood of animals was never enough to pay for human sin once and for all. A better sacrifice—a better substitute— was needed. 

God gave his children the land he had promised to Abraham and helped them drive out the seed of the serpent living in Canaan. He then gave Israel human kings–first Saul and then David…the son of Jesse…. the shepherd boy from Bethlehem….the man of God’s choosing. King David wanted to build God a house, a temple where his glory would dwell permanently with Israel. But the timing wasn’t yet right. Instead, God promised to build David a house or an eternal lineage of kings from his seed! God promised that a son of David would sit on the throne forever.

Lots of kings came after Saul and David. Most were wicked, a few were good, but not one was perfect. Many of Israel’s kings led them into apostasy through idol worship. So, God sent prophets to proclaim warnings of his impending judgment. Through the prophets, God repeatedly called his children to repent of their sin and come back to him, but they wouldn’t do it. They couldn’t do it because they were walking in darkness, blinded by their sinful hearts. 

Years passed, and judgment occurred just as the prophets had foretold: The kingdom was divided and conquered by foreign nations. The people were exiled from their land and carried into slavery. Like a tree felled by the ax of judgment, God’s chosen nation was cut down to a stump. But in the midst of this hopelessness, God gave his prophets messages of hope: The holy seed–that seed of the woman promised to Adam and Eve–remained in the stump of King David’s family tree! And one day, a shoot of new life was going to break through the stump and grow into a branch bearing fruit. 

A remnant would return to the promised land, and a great Light would dawn upon those living in darkness through the birth of the promised child–a Son! This child would be a divine King whose future reign on David’s throne would bring worldwide justice and peace. But he would also be a suffering servant, a substitutionary lamb whose shed blood would deal with the problem of sinful human hearts once and for all. 

The promises were foretold, the remnant returned, and then….SILENCE.

The Christmas Story: Fall

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Now the serpent said to the woman, “Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. 

Everything was wonderful until a serpent slithered into the garden and started telling lies. His message planted seeds of doubt in the minds of God’s children: God doesn’t really love you. He doesn’t really know best. Freedom comes by living according to your own rules, not God’s. In a foolish pursuit of autonomy, Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. Then, she shared with her husband, and the darkness of sin entered the world. Sickness, pain, struggle, shame, spiritual death, and later…. physical death. Life would never be the same. When Adam and Eve heard the voice of their Holy Creator coming to pronounce just judgment, they hid.

 But no one can hide from God. He pronounced judgment on his children through curses. The man and woman would be exiled from the garden and God’s presence. Life would be hard, and death would come to all. But coupled with God’s pronouncement of judgment came a glorious promise of his mercy—a thrill of hope! God would not abandon his children or his world to the enemy. Though the seed of the serpent would bruise the seed of the woman, one day, a child of Eve would crush the evil snake’s head once and for all!

Through this child of promise, God was going to fill the earth with his glory, but things would get much worse before they would get better. Sinful hearts were passed down from generation to generation, and wickedness grew like a vicious weed taking over the world. Things got so bad that God wiped away all he had created through a worldwide flood and started over with a man named Noah. Judgment through water. Mercy through an ark. A new creation, a new start. But still….the problem of sinful hearts. 

Noah, his sons, and all their wives were given the same commission given in the beginning: Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth with God’s glory! But, once again, as people multiplied, sin multiplied, and the cycle continued. God’s matchless glory was veiled by selfish human pursuits for vainglory. The seed of the serpent appeared to be winning…but God’s mercy and grace are greater than people’s sin. 

God called a pagan named Abram, and gave him a new name and identity: Abraham, the father of nations! God made a covenant with Abraham. He promised to bless him and give him a special land and descendants that outnumbered the stars. Through Abraham, God would establish a new family—a new nation through which he would bless people from every other nation on earth!

In time, the new family began to grow. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, his twelve sons, and their many children eventually made up the nation of Israel—God’s chosen people. But Israel wasn’t mediating the blessing of God to other peoples. In fact, they found themselves oppressed by the nation of Egypt, and oppressed in a greater way by their own sinful hearts. Would God keep his promises after all? Well…yes! God always keeps his promises. Redemption was coming!

 

Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible

Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible

Click Here to Download Tracing Glory – Advent Devotional

My absolute love for the Christmas season began when I was a very little girl and continues still. The music, lights, decorations, family traditions, gifts and (most of all) the mystery of God made flesh truly make this one of the most wonderful times of my year. As a child, the Christmas season felt just about perfect in every way, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my view of the season itself was somewhat idealized in the naivety of childhood.

As wonderful as December is, the realities of living in a fallen world don’t just go away during this special month. On the contrary, they’re often highlighted. Busyness and stress creep in. The longer to-do lists are exhausting. Relationships are challenging. Grief is more raw than usual. Children still have meltdowns, and there is still laundry! I’ve come to realize that my hope and joy must run deeper than the season itself, or I’ll be let down every year.

The cliche’ “Jesus is the reason for the season,” is almost as overused as it is true. I know well that Jesus is the reason for the season. Of course, he is our hope in December and every month of the year! But just because I know it’s true doesn’t mean I function as if it’s true. In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s all too easy to make very little room for Christ. If Jesus truly is the reason (and hope) for the season, then he must be central in my heart and home the whole month through. How do I make this my reality in the busiest month of the year when so many other things vie for my time and affections?

I have found that if Christ is not central in my life during the first eleven months of the year, he won’t be central in the last month either. If I am not rooted in the Bible’s big story January through November, I will miss the sheer magnitude of what I read in Luke chapter two during December. The centrality of Christ at Christmas is tied to my love for him and commitment to his Word every day of the year. It is also tied to my intentionality to think and plan ahead for a Christ-focused Christmas season.

Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible is a twenty-four day Advent reading I wrote for our family to use this December and for many Decembers to come. It begins looking back at creation and ends looking forward to the new creation, tracing Jesus Christ from start to finish. I wrote this devotional primarily for my boys because I want them to understand that the birth of Christ is the climactic event of a much larger story–a story about God’s mission to redeem sinful people for his glory.  

This advent reading was written with children, teens, and adults in mind. My goal was to communicate big truths in ways a child could grasp. I want to help readers see how every story in the Bible points either forward or backward to the hero of the story.

In each day’s reading, there is a key Scripture given to look up as the basis for that day’s devotional. Next is my written commentary on the key Scripture. At the end of each day’s reading, I have summarized the key Scripture and commentary with one main point and Christ connection, showing how that particular Bible passage points to Jesus Christ.

While preschoolers may not yet be able to grasp all the content given in the key Scripture and commentary, they will benefit from hearing the main point. I would suggest that parents of very young children read the first two sections and then communicate those truths to their children at their particular level of understanding. I think most school-aged children and teens will benefit from listening to or reading the commentary, but families can decide what works best for their particular situation. This is a resource that very young children can grow into through the years.

This Advent resource can be printed and spiral bound or put into a three ring binder for organization and easy access. At the back of the devotional, I have included individual pictures of an ornament suggestion for each day. These are simple ornaments I have made or bought to use with our family. Each day of the Advent season, my children will unwrap the ornament that corresponds to the key Scripture we will be focusing on and hang it on our Advent tree (see picture). These ornaments can be easily replicated, or you can cut out the pictures provided and use those as visuals with your children each day. Having a visual helps children grasp the meaning of the text and makes Advent exciting as they anticipate what ornament they will open each day.

The story you will encounter in this Advent reading is both epic and true, and it isn’t finished yet. We are living within this grand story now, awaiting the final chapter when we will see Christ face-to-face and dwell with him forever. My prayer is that, as we wait, God would use this resource to help us stand in awe of his matchless glory.  As we encounter the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us in Christ, may we move to worship him every day in December and the whole year through.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Sarah Rice

Click Here to Download Tracing Glory – Advent Devotional

 

 

 

Come, Let Us Adore Him

Come, Let Us Adore Him

Merry Christmas! We’ve spent the past twenty-four days tracing God’s glory through the pages of his beautiful story, and I pray our hearts have been stirred to respond. God has revealed himself to us through his Word so that we may experience the joy of knowing and worshipping him! This story is our story.

God created us in his image to live in joyful relationship with him and to spread his glory around the world. But, like Abraham, Jacob, David, and every other biblical figure, we have inherited fundamentally bad hearts from our first parents Adam and Eve. The Bible says we are born spiritually dead and enslaved to sin (Ephesians 2:1-2). Sin has separated us from our good Creator and King, and we have no desire to be restored to him or reflect his glory (Romans 3:10-12).

We live in spiritual darkness, searching for something to fill the mysterious emptiness in our hearts. Sometimes, we ignore God in the world he created and work to build our own towers for personal glory. We believe success, power, or riches will fulfill us. Other times, we work hard to obey God’s rules in our own strength. We build towers of good deeds and try to climb up to him through our own morality.  

But God knows we can’t get back to him on our own. No matter how hard we try, we can never be good enough. And none of our successes, achievements, money, or power can make us eternally happy apart from God himself. Because of our sin, we deserve the just judgment of a holy God and separation from him forever.

But, the good news of Christmas is that God has not given us what we deserve. He sent us a Rescuer to bring us back to him. This Rescuer is the Ark who protects us from God’s wrath. He’s the Lamb whose blood was shed to pay our debt and cover our shame. He’s the Ladder who brings us back into the glorious presence of God. This Rescuer was born as a baby to live a life of perfect obedience to God and die a horribly painful death in the place of sinners. And this Rescuer rose from the dead and is coming back to Earth as Shepherd King who will rule forever by the light of his glory.

What is our response to this holy God who has provided this perfect Rescuer? First, we must agree with him that we are desperately in need of being rescued. We must acknowledge our need of forgiveness for the sins we have committed against a holy God. Then, we must stop running after our sins and turn to the Rescuer. By faith, we must trust that Jesus kept God’s law and took God’s punishment for us. We trust his finished work on our behalf as the only way to be saved from sin and brought back into relationship with God, the one with whom we were made to dwell forever.

And then we worship. We bow in adoration–praising our three-in-one God for all he is and all he has done through the Son. We wait with hopeful expectation for the day when we will together exclaim, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ!” (Revelation 11:15).  Until then and forevermore, come, let us adore him!

Advent Day 24: The Glorious City

Advent Day 24: The Glorious City

Key Scripture: Revelation 21:1-5, 9-11

Forty days after Jesus was resurrected, he rose back into heaven. The kingdom of God was not coming in the way his people probably expected. It was coming in stages. Before Jesus ruled as King on Earth, he was going to rule as King in the hearts of those who trusted him for salvation.

Before he left, Jesus gave his disciples (those who followed him) a mission. He commanded them to spread the good news of his saving work to people from every nation on earth, calling others to turn from their sin and trust him alone for forgiveness. Jesus promised to be with his disciples. He was going to send the Holy Spirit to live inside them. And Jesus promised to come back one day to rule on Earth as King forever.

As the disciples obeyed, the gospel began to spread to people from every tribe and nation in the world! Those who have believed the gospel and have trusted Jesus to save them from sin make up the new people of God, known as the Church. The Church is not a building but a group of people where God’s Spirit lives and where Christ rules in hearts as a perfect King. The Church is now God’s chosen nation— the new Israel of God.

Although Christ rules as King in the hearts of those who make up his Church, things are still not as they should be in the world. The snake is still lying and convincing people God’s Word isn’t true. There is still pain, sadness, sickness, and death. People still sin and don’t reflect God’s glory perfectly, even those who are part of the Church. But it won’t be like this forever. King Jesus is coming back to Earth to get rid of the lying snake and sin for good.

As King, Jesus will make everything new and right on Earth. He will establish a new city made up of all the people who have trusted him alone to be their Savior. This city will be perfectly safe, clean, and beautiful because God will live there. There will be no tears, pain, or death in this city. Here, there will be no sun because God’s glory will be the light. There will be no temple because Jesus is the temple who makes it possible for God to dwell with his people. In this city, the children of God will finally have the glory of God. They will radiate it perfectly, that all may see and worship King Jesus forevermore!

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Main Point: Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth to rule as King and make all things new and good. He will establish a perfect city where God will live with his people, and they will reflect his glory forever.

Christ Connection: Jesus Christ will establish the new and perfect city of God–the city Abraham and all of God’s people look forward to (Hebrews 11:8-10).

Advent Day 23: Glory Through Death

Advent Day 23: Glory Through Death

Key Scripture: Acts 2:22-32

As he grew up, Jesus was a normal boy in many ways. He learned to walk and talk and read. He slept, ate, laughed, and cried like every other child. He had parents, brothers, and sisters. But Jesus was different from other children in many ways too. From a young age, he understood God’s Word in a way that amazed others. And Jesus never sinned—ever. He obeyed his parents and loved others perfectly. Most of all, he loved God perfectly. His one purpose was to please God by doing his will.

When he grew up, Jesus began to announce the good news that God’s kingdom was coming on Earth. The kingdom God had promised–the one where the Shepherd King and Savior from David’s family would rule forever–was finally coming true. Jesus called people to turn away from their sin and believe the good news that he was the promised one from God who would save them! He healed the sick, made the blind see, made the crippled walk, and forgave sins. Jesus was showing the world that he had the power to heal sinful hearts and everything else sin had broken.

But God’s own people, who knew his promises to them, did not believe Jesus. They did not recognize him as the Messiah sent from God. In fact, the religious leaders were filled with hatred  toward Jesus. They felt threatened by him and decided to have him killed. Although he had done nothing wrong, Jesus was arrested like a criminal. He was whipped and beaten until he bled. He was spit on and mocked by those he had created. Then, he was nailed to a cross where he died between two criminals.

How could Jesus save God’s people and rule forever as Shepherd King if he wasn’t alive? Once again, it looked as if God might not keep his promises to Abraham and David. But God was not surprised by Jesus’s death. It was his perfect plan to use this evil for good. Jesus could have saved himself from death if he’d wanted, but he wanted to glorify God by saving others. So, he offered himself to God as the final Lamb– the perfect human sacrifice for sinners. When Jesus died, he took God’s full punishment for sin on himself, so God’s people could be forgiven and live with him again. But Jesus didn’t stay dead! Three days later, God raised him from death to rule forever! Through Jesus Christ, God has kept every promise he’s ever made.

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Main Point: Jesus was born to die a terrible death on a cross. He took God’s punishment for sinners on himself, so sinful people could be forgiven and live with God again. After three days, God raised Jesus from the dead to rule forever.    

Christ Connection: Jesus is the “Yes!” answer to all of God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 9:26b-28).

Advent Day 22: Guiding Star

Advent Day 22: Guiding Star

Key Scripture: Matthew 2:1-11

Just as God announced the arrival of Jesus to the shepherds in an amazing way, he announced his arrival to another group of people in a different amazing way. God used a bright star to tell a group of men called Magi about the birth of the long-awaited Savior and King.

The Magi lived in East Asia, far from Bethlehem. They were priests who offered sacrifices to a fake god. The Magi were very important, powerful people in their government in the east. They chose the kings in their land and gave them advice. The Magi were known as wise men. They were experts in mysteries like magic and dream telling, and they studied space and the stars. When Jesus was born, God made a new star appear in the sky. He used this star to make it known to the Magi that the King of his people had come into the world.

The Magi made a long trip to the city of Jerusalem. They asked people where they could find this new King because they wanted to worship him! Now, at the time, a wicked man named Herod was ruling as a king over God’s people. Herod was not from Abraham and David’s big family. He did not know the one, true God. When Herod heard that the Magi were looking for a new king, he became very jealous and afraid. Herod didn’t want this new king to take his throne, so he told the Magi to find the baby and come back to tell him where he was. Herod pretended he wanted to worship the baby king too, but he really wanted to kill him.

God then made the new star move in the sky, filling the Magi with joy as it guided them to the house where Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were staying. When the Magi entered the house and saw Jesus, they bowed low to worship him. They gave him very nice presents–presents fit for a king called gold, frankincense, and myrrh. God warned the Magi in a dream not to tell wicked Herod they had found Jesus.

How unexpected and amazing that God led a group of priests from far off—a group of priests who once worshipped a fake god–to bow before the one, true God and King! The promises God had made to Abraham were already starting to come true! God was beginning to make King Jesus known to people from other nations so he could bless them by his grace.

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Main Point: The Magi were wise and powerful men from the east who worshiped a fake god. God used a star to guide them to Jesus so they could worship him as the one true King!

Christ connection: The good news of Jesus Christ is not just for the nation of Israel but for people from every tribe and nation on earth–even those who are far away like us (Ephesians 2:12-13, 17-19).

Advent Day 21: Birth Announcement

Advent Day 21: Birth Announcement

Key Scripture: Luke 2:8-18

On the night Mary gave birth to her baby, a group of shepherds were watching over their sheep in a field near Bethlehem. All of a sudden, an angel appeared, and the bright light of God’s glory lit up the dark field! The shepherds were surprised and very scared, but the angel told them not to be afraid because he was bringing good news. This news was going to fill their hearts up with happiness! And this good news wasn’t just for the shepherds. It was for all sinful people in need of a savior.

The angel announced that the long-awaited Savior and King of God’s people had been born in the city of David! The shepherds would recognize him because he was wrapped in swaddling cloths and resting in a manger. Suddenly, an entire army of angels lit up the sky! These angels sang praises to God in heaven, glorifying him for sending the Savior who would restore peace on earth between sinful humans and a holy God.

This was the best and brightest birth announcement you could ever imagine! The angels were announcing the arrival of the one God had promised from the very beginning…the child of Adam and Eve who would bruise the snake’s head…the one from Abraham’s family would bring blessing to all the families of the world… the Shepherd King from David’s family who would become the Lamb and save God’s people! This birth announcement did not come first to the rich, powerful, or really good people. No, shepherds were the ones to first hear about the birth of God’s human Lamb. Lowly, smelly, sinful shepherds were the first to hear the good news of the gospel proclaimed loud and clear!

The shepherds were so excited that they immediately ran to see the baby. They found him lying in the manger, just as the angel had said. After seeing the baby with their own eyes, the shepherds couldn’t keep this good news to themselves. They told everyone, and they praised God for keeping his promises to his people!

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Main Point: An angel announced the good news of baby Jesus’s birth to a group of shepherds watching over their sheep at night. Many angels lit up the sky, singing praises to God for sending the Savior of his people!

Christ Connection: The gospel of Jesus Christ was announced first to Jewish shepherds who couldn’t keep the good new to themselves. Soon, this good news would be announced to people from all nations on earth (Romans 1:16).

Advent Day 20: Glory Revealed

Advent Day 20: Glory Revealed

Key Scripture: Luke 2:1-7

During the time Mary and Joseph lived, God’s people were under the control of the nation of Rome. The leader of Rome made a law that everyone must travel to his hometown to be counted in order to pay taxes. So, Joseph and Mary made a trip to Bethlehem, the town of Joseph’s ancestors. Bethlehem was known as “the city of David” because that was where King David was born and chosen as king.

After Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby! Unfortunately, the inn where travelers could stay was completely full of other visitors. Mary and Joseph found no place to stay except a stable where the animals were kept. Mary gave birth to her firstborn son–the promised King and Savior from David’s family–among animals. The one that God’s people had been waiting and longing for was finally here! Mary wrapped the baby tightly in strips of cloth to keep him warm and laid him in the manger, the box of hay where the animals ate. Eight days after his birth, the baby was called Jesus, just as the angel had said.

Wouldn’t a palace have been a better place for the Son of God and future King of Israel to be born? How strange for him to enter this world in a stable with animals! Then again, it’s not so strange when you remember that this King was also a lamb–The Lamb who would die for human sinners. This baby’s birth place was no surprise to God. God was showing the world that he was coming down–even to the lowest of places– to rescue his people and live with them again. This time, the Creator of the universe wasn’t going to live among his people in a garden or a temple. He was going to live among them in a human body, a body just like theirs.

Like every other human, this baby would get tired and hungry. He would need to sleep and eat. He would eventually feel everything other human beings feel: pain, sadness, anger, joy, and love. But, even as this baby grew up, he would have no sin. He would reflect God’s image perfectly, showing the world exactly what God is like. This baby was both fully human and fully God. He was going to be a walking picture of God’s glory for everyone to see.

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Main Point: Mary gave birth to her baby in a stable in Bethlehem and laid him in a manger. This baby was both fully God and fully human. He was a living picture of God’s glory.

Christ Connection: Jesus Christ reveals the nature and glory of God in a way humans can see (John 1:14,18; Hebrews 1:1-3).

Advent Day 20: Father by Faith

Advent Day 20: Father by Faith

Key Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph when the angel Gabriel told her she would have a baby. The Bible says Joseph was a righteous man. This means he worshipped the one, true God and did his very best to faithfully keep God’s law. Like Mary, Joseph believed God would keep the promises he had made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. Joseph was from King David’s big family, and he knew the promised Messiah would come from his line. Could he have expected, or dared to hope, that the Messiah would be his own son?

When Joseph found out Mary was going to have a baby, he must have been surprised and sad. Joseph knew this baby had not come from him. He naturally assumed Mary had been unfaithful to him, and the baby had come from another man. Joseph decided he would not take Mary as his wife after all. He planned to end their relationship quietly because he loved Mary. Joseph did not want her to experience the shame and punishment that would come from breaking God’s law with unfaithfulness.

But one night as Joseph slept, an angel from God appeared to him in a dream. The angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife because the baby inside her was not from another man. Mary’s baby was from the Holy Spirit of God! The angel told Joseph the baby’s name would be Jesus (which means “God saves”) because he would save God’s people from their sins. This baby was the one they had been waiting for–the promised Shepherd King who would become the Lamb and suffer to rescue God’s people.

Joseph believed the word of God through the angel, and he obeyed. He took Mary as his wife, and after Jesus was born, Joseph legally adopted him as his own son. It could not have been easy for Joseph. Many people probably did not believe the truth that this baby had come from the Holy Spirit. But Joseph cared more about obeying God than what other people thought about him. He believed God’s word to him through the angel even when he couldn’t see what the future would hold. Through Joseph’s faith and obedience to God’s Word, Jesus the Messiah was born into the family of David as a forever son.

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Main Point: An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife because the baby inside her was from the Holy Spirit. Joseph believed God’s Word to him and obeyed. He became Jesus’s earthly father.

Christ Connection: Jesus Christ is a son of David through His earthly father Joseph (Matthew 1:15-17).