by Amy Flattery
Recently, I returned from a filming trip to the country of Turkey with some of our Center for Holy Lands Studies team. It was a tremendous success, as we focused on recording more than 90 videos regarding the spread of the Gospel message. We visited the locations of the Seven Churches mentioned in the book of Revelation as well as other sites important to the spread of the Gospel and the beginnings of the New Testament church.
While preparing for the filming project, I felt more than ever before the urgency for all to know the Gospel message of Jesus. The Bible makes it clear that there is no time to linger, just as there was no margin for delay 2,000 years ago!
Traveling home through various airports in Istanbul, Germany, and Chicago, I noticed the prevalence of Christmas lights, reminding me that I was heading home for the beginning of the Christmas season. Christmas! A time when we are meant to recall the incredible nature and gift of the birth of our Savior, Jesus. His birth is assuredly a reminder of hope for all humanity, everywhere. This reminder was unrestrained as I had directly journeyed from a land where the disciples, apostles, and new believers gave even their very lives to establish the early church amid rampant paganism, under threat, and with great adversity both spiritually and physically. Their travels took them tens of thousands of miles by boat and foot, all for the hope of the Gospel, all to spread the message of the birth and redemptive nature of Christ, Jesus.
After time spent on in-depth study of the spread of the Gospel in the land of Turkey, it became apparent that there is a timely connection to this season, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The urgency that grasped the disciples and the early church was also felt by those who first saw Jesus wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger. The spread of the good news of His birth began immediately, that very night of His birth! The Shepherds! The shepherds, out in the fields near Bethlehem, first had the honor to tell others about the birth of the Savior.
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (Luke 2).
Just as the shepherds could not contain their excitement, and as the disciples and the early church diligently spread the Gospel, the command to make disciples is still demanded of the church today (Matthew 28:19-20). Who is to receive the message of the birth of Christ, Jesus? According to the angels who proclaimed His birth to the shepherds, the news is for all people, for all mankind!
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to all mankind’” (Luke 2).
Though today, there is much that comes against the church, we must continue to take heart the message to the church in Laodicea, to be passionate for God at all times. We must not be “lukewarm” in our faith or let pride be our fall (Revelation 2:14-22). We must know, as the church in Sardis received the message, that God knows our hearts. They appeared spiritually alive, but in reality, were spiritually dead. This should remind us, as it did the church of Sardis, to “Wake up! Strengthen what little remains…Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again” (Revelation 3:1-3). And to the church in Thyatira, who had some in their church led astray by a woman referred to as “Jezebel.” If they did not change their ways, they would suffer intensely. But, like the church of Thyatira, we must be reminded that we cannot be led astray by all the distractions in our world! We must focus on the acts of some in the church in Thyatira, to practice love, faith, service, perseverance, and patience (Revelation 2:18-29), the very practices of Jesus while he lived, taught, and sacrificed for our very souls.
As the Shepherds proclaimed the fantastic news of the birth of Jesus, we too must have the same awe, the same wonder, the same excitement as they. Where there is good news to tell, it cannot be contained! The word must spread. It is urgent. After all, we are still the New Testament Church, and we should not rest until all have heard the good news. We, like the shepherds, like the disciples, must have the same overwhelming need to tell all people, everywhere, about the extraordinary child who was born, Christ Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Written by Amy Flattery, Director at the Center for Holy Lands Studies.