If we didn’t need a cross, we wouldn’t need a manger. This fresh, engaging look at the beginning of Jesus’s life and ministry will change the way you comprehend Christ’s early years. With unique, thought-provoking insights and commentaries from many of Christianity’s leading theologians interspersed throughout, Epperson unwraps, layer by layer, a new understanding of the young boy who was the Son of Man.
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Stu Epperson, Jr. is founder and president of The Truth Network, with radio stations across North Carolina, central Iowa, and Salt Lake City. Truth Network also develops and syndicates programs on more than 300 affiliates nationwide. Stu hosts Truth Talk Live, his own nationally syndicated show. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching and playing basketball. His passion is that all people everywhere will experience truth. Stu lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with his wife, Julie, and their four daughters.
Read an Excerpt
First Words of Jesus
From the Cradle to the Cross
By Stu Epperson Jr.
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2016 Stu Epperson Jr.
All rights reserved.
THE POWER OF FIRST WORDS
The night was dark. The times were desperate. An oppressive government had called for a universal tax. A young teenage girl found herself in a "crisis" pregnancy. Under these dire conditions, just over two thousand years ago, the thought of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" was the furthest thing from the minds of Joseph and Mary as they journeyed to Bethlehem.
Well-advanced into pregnancy, Mary held tightly to the beast of burden as it nimbly stepped some eighty miles across all types of rugged terrain. Joseph no doubt contemplated many things on this perilous journey. Did he feel contempt toward Rome for its burdensome census? Was he replaying the angelic vision of his role in the Messiah's arrival?
Would they be attacked and robbed along the way? Where would they lodge once they arrived in the little town of Bethlehem? Were there rumors circulating about Mary's pregnancy and the true identity of the child's father? People could be so ruthless. Joseph easily could have put her away privately and moved on. Life would have been so much simpler for him without all of this drama.
Then, after all the exhausting travel, the young couple heard the discouraging words: No room here. Imagine this reception — or more accurately — rejection of the family about to usher in the King of kings. The innkeeper had no idea whom he was turning away. "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:10–11).
"No occupancy" for the One who occupied heaven. No space for the eternal One who invaded our time and space, only to be left cribless. As the sacred hymn so aptly states,
Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me;
but in Bethlehem's home there was found no room
for Thy holy nativity.
But there was room in the stable. Surely at this point the weary travelers longed for any place with a roof over it. And who in that little sleepy town knew that "the hinge of history is on the door of a Bethlehem stable."
"Born in a Barn"
"What's the matter with you — were you born in a barn?" I still remember this expression, sarcastically hurled my way as a youth, for leaving the door open on a cold day. Yet there was no sarcasm surrounding the Lord's birthplace. We may glamorize the biblical account of His birth, but whether it was a cave or a barn, He was born in a place full of animals, feed, insects, straw, and other things that accompany livestock.
When God came down to earth, He came down in the humblest fashion. He came down in the roughest manner. And He came into a place of conflict, certainly not becoming of a king. Divinity invaded poverty. He traded His kingly robes for rough swaddling clothes. He traded His divine prerogatives for a humble feeding trough, the fragrance of royalty for the rough smells of livestock and manure. He spent His first night resting with the very animals He'd created. The Savior of the world was born in a place where many parents wouldn't even let their kids play out of fear of infection or injury.
Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing Christ the babe is Lord of all.
Next time you're corrected for leaving the door open, you might want to winsomely reply, "Jesus was born in a barn. I'm following Him." Let's follow Him truly and hear from Him and His first powerful words.
First Words of Jesus
From the moment a child begins to mumble, many parents playfully dispute the child's first words. Did he say "daddy" or "mommy"? "Mimi" or "papa"? No doubt the debate ends at the 3 a.m. cry for food or a diaper change. There is power in the first words of a child, for words begin to unveil their personality, their likes and dislikes, and their passions. Parents long to hear the first words, because it begins a journey where their relationship with the child is deepened.
In the case of Jesus, Mary and Joseph would more likely have heard His first words in their small home in Egypt. Because of His divine nature, we know His first words were not "mine!" or "no!" We also know that it wasn't until Jesus was twelve that we would hear His first "recorded" words. In these words, as in all the words of the Bible, there is life-changing power.
The first recorded words of Jesus Christ, as God incarnated in human flesh, were, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" (Luke 2:49). These two questions are the cornerstone of this book. In each chapter we'll journey through the Christmas narrative, tethering every event and character of Christmas to Jesus and His foundational first words. He is, after all, the essence of Christmas and life.
Naturally you may wonder, I thought this was a Christmas book. What do the words of a twelve-year-old have to do with Christmas? The answer: absolutely everything! Because these words encapsulate the very reason He was born in a manger that night divine. These first words unveil why Jesus Christ is the essence of Christmas and why He is so much more than just the nativity baby. They tell us volumes about the little stranger in the manger "whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2). Though the world traditionally celebrates His physical arrival into time and space on December 25th, these first recorded words reveal to us that this is God incarnate, the One who has no beginning and no end. (In fact, according to Colossians 1:16, the actual first recorded words of Jesus were "Let there be light" [Genesis 1:3].)
The power of His first recorded words as a young man reveal the passion and heart of the God-Man Jesus Christ. How appropriate that for Jesus, even at twelve years old, His words were all Daddy — all the time. Though He would love and respect Joseph, this was not about His earthly adopted father. This was all about God, His heavenly eternal Father. In the four Gospels, the "heaven-born Prince of Peace" addresses God as Father more than 160 times, including twice in His seven last words from the cross.
From these first words, Jesus taught us that His relationship with His Father was the most important part of His existence, and thus it is the same for ours. He taught the disciples that because of Him, God was now their Father in heaven (Matthew 23:9). He taught them to serve their Father and even pray to their Father (Matthew 6:9). Although these are the only recorded words of Jesus in the three decades before He began His earthly ministry, He speaks from the beginning as a young man fully absorbed with the matters of His heavenly Father.
The Setting for His First Words
No one likes backtracking from a long journey — especially when you've forgotten something, or worse yet, someone! Most parents can identify with the horror of not knowing where their child is. Many a tear has been shed in the trauma and search for a missing little one. Wouldn't the worst-imaginable scenario be to lose Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Mary and Joseph were leaving Jerusalem after their pilgrimage there for Passover. The Passover feast was an annual celebration, during which Jews from all over the world would come to Jerusalem to celebrate their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:1–14). Jesus was now older and truly the perfect son. They never had to worry about Him, until there was no sign of Him after the first day's journey home. In hurried desperation, Joseph and Mary frantically returned to the city and sought out their eldest son for three days. It wasn't inconceivable for a child, amid all the clamor and commotion of caravan travel, to get lost or left behind. Any parent would be driven crazy by the unanswered questions: "Where could He be?" "Didn't He hear the many calls to pack up and head out?" "Is He in some sort of trouble?" "Has He been hurt by robbers?"
Could this be the first time in His life that He had ever been disobedient?
Just twelve years earlier this same young couple had journeyed to the little town of Bethlehem, only five miles outside of Jerusalem. There they brought this child into the world. Now they had "lost" the very child born to "save the lost" — how ironic!
And Mary and Joseph probably asked themselves questions no other parent would even consider. These deeper questions most likely consumed their thoughts and conversation: "What about the angel and the prophecies?"; "Why are we on a search-and-rescue mission to find the One sent to rescue the world?"; "This doesn't seem to fit into the plan." Like the shepherds and the wise men, they were seeking Jesus, but in this case, to be reunited with Him. When they found Him, He was not in a store, a playground, or a game room, but in the temple of Almighty God.
Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously."
Joseph and Mary found their son engaging some of the sharpest theological minds of the day and leaving them in awe. But still she would ask, "Son, why have You done this to us?" For a moment, Mary thought there was injustice and had taken Jesus's act as an affront. His response, however, would leave her breathless. "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" (Luke 2:49).
With just two questions, Jesus redirected his parents and called them to remember the purpose of His coming that night in the manger. He was here for His Father's business. In these words they hear the One who said, "Follow Me" ask them, "Why are you looking for Me?" What a curious question from the One sent to save a lost world. He wasn't disrupting their life; on the contrary, they were disrupting His. Quite a scene this must have been in the crowded temple. One could describe the setting as "when God came to church."
Though His parents were calling their son to leave Jerusalem with them, Jesus was summoned by another voice calling to Him, one of eternal familiarity. After all, He was in His Father's house hearing His Father's Word, surrounded by the sights and sounds of eternity. By now He well knew the fifth commandment and its adjoining blessing, "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12).
The first recorded tension between His divine and human nature is seen in this incident. "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel." Yet here we see Him honor His heavenly Father and His earthly mother and stepfather perfectly. But in His Father's house, everything else was just background noise, meaningless chatter. At the feast of Passover, this young Passover Lamb was feasting on the all-satisfying sights and sounds of His Father. All other matters grew strangely dim in the light of God's domain. He was definitely in His element — enough to linger there for three days. All the older teachers of Israel around Him were moved to amazement. "And all who heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers" (Luke 2:47 KJV).
Mary's First Words to Jesus
In Mary's very first recorded words spoken to Jesus, she said, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously" (Luke 2:48).
The anxiety of His being missed was real. Real enough to bring a rare word of frustration aimed at the perfect child. This was the child who was never wrong. Mary and Joseph had divinely learned from the angel of their son's mission before He was born. Yet, in all the chaos of life, their mission had eclipsed His, and hence the conflict. The young family had already endured a lot of difficulty. The birth had been inconvenient. They had braved dangerous roads and trails in their long journey to Bethlehem only to find no room in the inn. Fleeing to Egypt, as refugees, to escape a murderous monarch had been difficult. Now they were back in Jerusalem, and He was twelve years old going on eternity. Their well-choreographed family trip to worship God at Passover had come completely unhinged. Surely, like all pious Hebrew families, they submitted their plans to God's will. His will, they would discover, was something far greater than anything they had conceived.
Try to savor the gravity and irony of this situation. At Passover, in the house of God, they found the perfect Lamb of God, the Word made flesh. They were too embroiled in their earthly prerogatives to understand His divine aspirations. Their mood was now different. The Christmas spirit from Bethlehem had dissipated. Like many throughout the ministry of Jesus and throughout the ages, they sought Him for the wrong reasons. They looked for Him in order to accomplish their mission. Simply put, they needed to get home. Jesus's mission was inconvenient to their itinerary. This wasn't supposed to happen! So, how did the Chosen One respond?
Two Life-Changing Questions
The answers to the two questions of Jesus is this book's driving force. His answers provide a divine link between the cradle and the cross that may forever change how you view Christmas, life, and eternity. Jesus Christ was purpose-driven. From all eternity He was on task, on mission, on point, and on purpose. What was this mission?
Jesus's response to His parents was divinely revealing in the following ways:
He asked them questions and listened, just as He did a few verses earlier with the religious teachers (Luke 2:46).
He answered their question with questions, just as He would do throughout His public ministry.
He defined His mission in His questions.
He answered perfectly and respectfully.
He asked questions that struck awe in the religious teachers, His parents, and all those around Him.
He uttered words that perfectly connected His birth to His ministry, to His death on the cross, and to His resurrection.
The Cradle and the Cross
Jesus's first words tie it all together. He tells us why He came and why we should seek Him. He declares in these words why we celebrate Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. He discloses to us the essence of His nature and purpose. We have in His first words the grand revelation of a person who transcends any season or holiday. His words tie together all aspects of His life in perfect symmetry. Watch how His mission, as set forth in these first words, connect and contrast the cradle with the cross in the chart on the next page.
1. Roman law led to His traumatic birth in a cattle trough.
2. Born in Bethlehem, the city of bread.
3. The good news of the Gospel first came to the lowly shepherds.
4. Mary's pain in childbirth.
5. Marked by the brightness of a star at birth.
6. Blessed by the giving of gifts from wise men.
7. The first cry of birth.
8. Accepted and embraced in love and care.
9. Blessed and worshiped.
10. Born inside a stable and clothed.
1. Roman law sentenced Him to His traumatic death on a wooden cross.
2. The bread of life was broken at Golgotha.
3. The good news of the Gospel was last given to the lowly thief.
4. Mary's pain in her child's death.
5. The morning star was covered in oppressive darkness at death.
6. Cursed by the taking of His clothes for gambling by fools.
7. The last cry of death.
8. Rejected and forsaken in judgment and wrath.
9. Cursed and mocked.
10. Died outside in the open air and stripped of clothing.
Question One: Why Do You Seek Him?
Church attendance always skyrockets at Christmastime. Tragically, we all too often seek Christmas more than we seek Christ. Even those interested in the Christ of Christmas rarely want anything to do with the cross of the Christ of Christmas. "Give me the cuddly little baby on the golden bed of straw. Not the bloodied man dying on the tree of death." When the season is in full swing, multitudes gladly proclaim, "We love Christmas!" It's as though the holiday itself has become an idol to many. Very few hasten to proclaim, "We love Christ!"
So He simply asks: "Why are you seeking Me?" Madly rushing here and there, we can relate at some level to the anxiety of Mary and Joseph in their "seeking." We hustle, argue, fight, and "jingle a lot of bells." We plan and desperately strive for that "perfect" Christmas Day. Yet how often does the Lord Jesus Christ get preempted by our stress and busyness.
But Christmas, just like every day, is about seeking Jesus. It is not just about bending our knee to take a present from under the tree. It's about "Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the newborn King." In the following chapters, we'll meet the others who sought Jesus in the Christmas narrative: the shepherds, Mary and Joseph, Herod, Anna, Simeon, and the wise men. We'll discover why each of them looked for Him. We'll see how they all were uniquely connected to His mission.
Excerpted from First Words of Jesus by Stu Epperson Jr.. Copyright © 2016 Stu Epperson Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Dr. David Jeremiah,
1. The Power of First Words,
2. The Greatest Message to the Lowliest of Messengers,
3. Have a Merry, Mary Christmas,
4. The Dark Side of Christmas,
5. The Wisest Christmas Shoppers,
6. Purpose-Driven Jesus,
7. 'Twas the Day After Christmas,
For Further Study on Christ's First Words,