The following devotional was written by my high school Bible teacher this year for Christmas. Bob Welch built a house for his wife and four children about an hour away from where I lived, out of timbers reclaimed from an old railroad station, and since his two oldest sons were the ages of me and my brother, we would occasionally go over to the Welch farm to play with our friends and spend the night. I remember the first time we piled into Mr. Welch’s ’57 Chevy pickup in the cold pre-dawn to make the hour-long drive back from his house to our Christian school. Mr. Welch said, “Let’s quote Isaiah 53.” And he and his boys quoted the whole chapter. Then he said, “All right, how about Psalm 2?” And they quoted it word for word. “All right. Second Peter 2.” So they quoted that. It went on and on for almost the whole hour. I was blown away! When I was old enough to attend his high school Bible class, he made us memorize a chapter a month, and that would be our Bible test – how perfectly we could write out each chapter he had assigned for us to memorize. Bible Bob is also the one who introduced me to Francis Schaeffer’s philosophy, one of the most formative influences in my thinking.
Well, here it is 30 years later, and I got a letter out of the blue from Mr. Welch a week or so ago. All it contained was this little devotional. We read it as a family, and, as we did so, I found myself thinking y’all would enjoy it too, so here it is:
When I was a little boy I had a full contingent of grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. We would all get together at Christmas time. There would be a cacophony of sounds generated by an increased level of hustle and bustle in the house — pots and pans clanging in the kitchen, someone playing Christmas songs on the piano, others singing, the high-pitched voices of little children as they peeked under the Christmas tree, and the telephone ringing with someone calling from the church for my dad to come repair the pipe organ or get something ready for the Christmas program. It was a grand time. And when it was all over my mother would describe it to a friend over the phone by saying, “Oh, yes, we really had a good time. It was bedlam around here.”
Bedlam. You don’t hear that word used much anymore, unless maybe in a reference to the Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State football rivalry. It’s called the Bedlam Series probably due to the behavior of raucous crowds attending the games. The ﬁrst game in the series was played on a ﬁeld in Guthrie, Oklahoma, in 1904. It was cold and windy with temperatures well below freezing. Oklahoma A&M (as they were known back then) lined up in punt formation on a fourth down and when the punter kicked, the wind was blowing so hard that the ball was blown back behind the punter toward his own end zone. If the Sooners recovered, it would be a touchdown. If the Cowboys recovered, it would be a safety and their opponents would only get 2 points instead of 6. Both teams scrambled after the ball which kept rolling backward aided by the wind. It rolled down a hill behind the goal post and into a half-frozen creek. Players from both teams dove into the icy water to recover the ball. The Sooners came up with it and won the game 75 to 0. Rules for the ball going out of the ﬁeld of play were not very well reﬁned back in those days.
I am not so concerned with football or family reunions but I would like to consider for a moment the derivation of this interesting word bedlam. In the 1500’s there was a monastery in London known as the Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem. In 1547, when the priory was dissolved, Henry VIII granted a charter for the facility to function as a hospital for the mentally ill. It became a city-run insane asylum. For a small admission price, people could actually go there to heckle the inmates. Amazingly, the Madhouse was one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city. St. Mary of Bethlehem was shortened to Bethlehem, pronounced “Bethlem” by some and “Bedlam” by others. Bedlam is a corruption of the word Bethlehem. In time, the word bedlam came to refer to the clamor and confusion that characterized an insane asylum a long time ago.
Bedlam. That is precisely what life has become for many people who don’t know the reason for this season — that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of a Savior who is the Prince of Peace, Christ the Lord. In the world, unfortunately, the holiday has become a time of increased crime (including domestic violence), anxiety, fatigue, unhappiness, alcoholism, substance abuse, increased psychiatric visits and suicide. There is not much new among people struggling with sin. In the world into which the Savior was born, there was political bedlam. Things were relatively stable in Rome, but the Romans were plagued by a sore spot in the empire — Palestine. Back in the second century B.C., when the Seleucid ruler Antiochus III, took control of Palestine, he unleashed the terrors of religious persecution against the Jews. The Scriptures were burned, the temple desecrated and many were put to death. The scene was set for the rise to power of the great Jewish hero, Judas Maccabeus, or Judas the “Hammer.” He and a small band of guerilla ﬁghters liberated Jerusalem for a time. In spite of some periods of prosperity, Rome conquered Palestine in 63 B.C. The Jews who didn’t proﬁt from being governed by Rome like Zaccheus did, hated the Romans, and fully expected their promised Messiah to establish a Jewish theocratic political kingdom that would blast the Romans into oblivion.
The worst assignment for a Roman soldier was Palestine. They knew that the Sacarii (Latin plural of Sicarius — Dagger-men) were waiting for them. The Sacarrii made up the more treacherous branch of the Zealots. Two ordinary looking fellows wearing robes like everyone else would be walking one behind the other past a couple of Roman soldiers. Suddenly one would draw a dagger from his robe, and attack the nearest soldier. While the other soldier was distracted by the ﬁrst assailant and drawing his sword, the second terrorist from behind would quickly deal with his adversary and immediately melt away into the crowd. Most Jewish citizens loathed the fact of servitude to Rome and the prospect of being called on to carry the pack of a Roman soldier for one mile by law.
When there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the entire Empire should be taxed in the days of Cyrenius, governor of Syria, the Jews were angry. Not only did they detest having to pay taxes to Rome, they were very skeptical of a census in general. 1,000 years before, King David had ordered a census in the land against God’s will and the advice of Joab, the commander of his army. 70,000 citizens perished as a result David’s foolish decision that had displeased the Lord (I Chronicles 21:14). Besides the problem of the census, the rules were that everyone had to return to his ancestral home to register. That “executive order” produced economic bedlam for families throughout the land as men had to leave their work and pay for travel expenses, food and lodging, if you could ﬁnd it. You can bet there was bedlam in Bethlehem on that ﬁrst Christmas Eve. Not even a pregnant lady could ﬁnd a place to stay.
On top of that there was religious bedlam in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth. The Jewish High Priest presided over The Great Sanhedrin, the ruling council which was comprised of Sadducees and Pharisees. The Sadducees were the chief priests and elders, and the Pharisees were the scribes. These two groups couldn’t even agree on whether there was a resurrection of the dead. In addition, through the years, thousands of laws and minutia had been added to God’s Law so that religious observance had become a confusing and cumbersome burden to the common man. The chief priests and scribes knew exactly where the Messiah was to be born, but they weren’t interested in even checking it out when King Herod asked them about it. They kept the law (they thought). They worked the system. They had everything they needed. But, according to Christ, they were self-righteous, white-washed sepulchers, looking pretty good on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones on the inside. No wonder the common people rejoiced to hear Jesus put the religious leaders in their place. They were forever distorting the Word of God and emphasizing outward appearance instead of peace with God in the heart.
Perhaps you know someone experiencing doubt and discouragement this Christmas Season. Maybe your own stress levels have been elevated by expectations unmet, too much excitement, overexertion or extreme emotional erosion. The peace that Christ promised is sometimes challenged by circumstances, people or things beyond our control. It is easy to become anxious and forget about the grace that is available to us from a sovereign God when we apply the means of grace He has provided. When Jesus was on earth during His incarnation He lived the Christian life in the same power of the Holy Spirit that is accessible to us. During stressful times what means of grace did Jesus continually engage that fortiﬁed Him to face His life purpose, bearing the sins of the world on a Roman cross? (NKJV quoted below)
Luke 3:21-4:15 When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened…Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness… And during those days He ate nothing… Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee... And He taught in their synagogues…
Mark 1:32-35 At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him. Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.
Luke 6:12-13 Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13 And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:
Luke 5:15-16 However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.
Matthew 14:21-23 Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children… And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.
Luke 22:39-44 …He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed... And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
A standard pattern in Jesus’ life was the habit of often investing in lengthy times of prayer with His Heavenly Father. Why did He have to do that if He was “one with the Father?” I believe He did it to set an example for us. This is the way to stand ﬁrm when “bedlam” may be breaking out all around. Another essential means of grace is to get to know the God of the Bible. If you want to hear God speak, go to a quiet place, sit down and read the Bible out loud. Knowing who God is and how he works can eliminate a lot of confusion in the lives of His people.
Consider the following quote from Carolyn James’ Book, When Life & Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference.
“Those who believe that God has a plan for them sometimes encounter another problem — the conviction that they have lost God’s best plan for them. They believe that they have missed or fallen off the plan, or that something has happened to destroy it. We know the feeling. Somewhere along the line, we zigged when we should have zagged, and now we are hopelessly stuck with plan B. It only takes a foolish youthful decision, a missed opportunity, the interference of someone else in our lives, or our sinfulness, and plan A is gone forever. But if God is sovereign, then plan B is a myth. No matter how dark things look to us, or how big the mess we’re in, we’re in plan A. God’s plan for us is intact, proceeding exactly as He intended, neither behind nor ahead but right on schedule. Nothing — not our sins, failures, disappointments, bad decisions, nor the sins of others against us — can deter a sovereign God from accomplishing His purposes.”
It is comforting to know that we serve a loving and all wise God who works all things according the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11) and that We, through the power of His Spirit, may cooperate with Him in what He is doing as we follow the dictates of His revealed will in Scripture (Deuteronomy 29:29, Philippians 2:12-13).
May the Lord richly bless your Christmas Season,
Bible Teaching Ministries, Fredericksburg, TX - email@example.com