JOHN PEARRELL: The most important gift this season is Jesus

We are coming into the Christmas season, and this past Sunday, in the liturgical calendar was Bethlehem Sunday. Six hundred years before the birth of Christ the prophet Micah wrote, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2, NIV84).When Micah penned these words there were two Bethlehems in the nation of Israel. One was in the northern tribe of Zebulun, and the other in the southern tribe of Judah. Archeological digs indicate that Bethlehem Zebulun may have been a town of some importance. Bethlehem Judah, however, was a small obscure village.

Unlike the vague predictions of modern day psychics, whose predictions are purposefully vague and nebulous in nature and can only be claimed true after an event approximates the predictions, the prophecies found in the various manuscripts which make up our modern Bible are specific.

Micah does not leave his audience guessing, "Could this be Bethlehem Zebulun or Bethlehem in Judah. Not only does he name the state, Judah, he names also the county, Ephrathah. Such accuracy demands that any thinking person seriously consider the unique character of the various writings which compile our modern Bible.

Many who question or reject the Bible have never even read it for themselves. If they did, they would have to ask how the predictions of the prophets were so consistently accurate given their unquestionable content. So accurate are these prophecies that critics of the Bible have claimed that the books had to be compiled after the facts since (in their opinion) no one could be that accurate before the events.

Bethlehem's name means "house of bread." In our day, bread is an option that, while nice to have, adds needless calories to our diet conscience minds, but in the ancient world bread was a staple of life. I find it interesting that the One who claimed to be "the bread of life" (See John 6:35) came from "The House of Bread."

Interesting but not coincidental.

The Prophet Isaiah asked a great question, "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare." (Isaiah 55:2, NIV84).

If you look at the passage in John 6, you will discover the setting in which Jesus claimed to be "the bread of life," comes shortly after He had miraculously provided bread for over 5,000 hungry people. They come back to Him and they are interested in His free lunch program, but they are not really interested in the person or claims of this one who had provided that lunch.

So Jesus tries to get them to take their eyes off the immediate and focus them on the important. If you will look at the passage in John chapter 6, you might be challenged to do the same.

Jesus points out to those who had come in search of another free lunch that while physical food is important, in the long run it will spoil. At best, it is temporary.

He had provided for their temporal needs, but now He wanted to challenge them to consider their eternal need. If they wanted to live, they would have to eat. Similarly, if they wanted to live forever, they would have to eat (not literally, but in the idea of accepting) "the bread of life" He was offering.

You will spend a lot of resources and energy this holiday season. The stuff you get will be "fun" and the enjoyment real, but the fun and enjoyment won't last. Eventually the new and the novelty will wear off and you will find yourself again pursuing that which "does not satisfy."

May I suggest that you at least consider that which can satisfy? Will you look at the claims of Jesus in John 6? You might be surprised; maybe He is the one for whom your hungering soul has been looking.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.