Tag Archives: Christmas

The Fascination of the Shepherds

19 Dec

angel-and-shepherdsCheck out the podcast here.

Last week we focused on the shepherds and the angels for good reason that we will see this morning. The familiarity of this Christmas story shouldn’t prevent us from learning something new each time we look at it. The shepherds were scared out of their minds when the angel of the Lord appeared, but the angel told them something incredible: a Savior had been born. The angel even gave them a sign on how to find the One. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. This morning, we’ll see how the shepherds went from frightened to fascinated.

Read Luke 2:11-20 to get a feel for the context as we take a final look this year at the Christmas story.

How did the shepherds respond? They heard the message from the angel of the Lord. “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” It was a message of hope, a message of peace, a message of salvation, a message of deliverance. Maybe you’ve shared the same message except you change it around and say 2000 years ago, a Savior was born. The shepherds could have responded in a number of ways. We’ve heard the message before. We’re too busy with our jobs to listen. Apathy, indifference, disdain. All the same things you hear today. Maybe there’s something lacking in our lives that was present with the angels that had them convincing the shepherds to find out more. Maybe we lack the glory of the Lord in our lives. Maybe we use words to speak about His power, but it seems to be lacking in our own lives. Maybe we don’t confidently share what God has done in our lives because we fail to see what He has done. Maybe the message of the manger is ignored because we’ve lost or never had God’s glory. The glory of God should be evident in our lives. It’s an acknowledgement of who He is, of His power, of His compassion, of His mercy, and His grace. It doesn’t mean everything is going great, will be great, or that we’ve figured it all out; it’s just that we recognize that God is God. When presented with the incredible message of the good news of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds responded in an incredible way. They went to Bethlehem. An angel appears and tells them a Savior has been born, the multitudes break out in shouts of praise and the shepherds move from fright to fascination. “When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” The angels left and they immediately began to talk among themselves. The talking wasn’t a debate. They said let’s check it out. Let’s, “See this thing that has happened.”

What did the shepherds do? I love how Luke portrays what happens next. “So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph.” We have no idea how they found Mary and Joseph. Maybe they asked around about a pregnant girl, maybe they knew all the inns that were in Bethlehem, maybe they knew all the places where a traveling couple could stay; who knows? One thing is for sure – they were in a hurry. Hurry means move or act quickly. They were obedient and they were quick about it. I could spend a whole lot of time here. We don’t see the shepherds praying about what to do. We don’t see them getting advice from their friends. We don’t see them making excuses about why they can’t go check it out. We don’t see them saying I’ve seen a fresh born baby before. They left the fields and went to Bethlehem to see this thing that had happened. They wanted to be a part of something that had never happened before. If I could take a side trip here. God is doing incredible things all around us if we’ll just take the time to recognize it. The shepherds were told to go and they wanted to check it out themselves so they went.

There is an indication that they were told to go because the angel tells them, “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.” They found Mary and Joseph, “And the baby as He lay in the manger.” Not only did they find Mary, and Joseph, and the baby . . . they found Him exactly as they were told. It was specific. I’m laying odds that there weren’t any other babies born that night in Bethlehem. Don’t underestimate the significance of this. The shepherds found the baby exactly as they were told. Since they found the baby exactly as they were told, it stands to reason that the identity of the baby would be exactly as they were told. A Savior has been born and there will not be another one. Messiah is here! Col. 1:19 says, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” This is the way God designed it. Full access, full grace, full mercy, full redemption, full restoration, and full peace. Can you imagine being there? Did the shepherds fully understand what they were seeing? Did they understand they were seeing the face of God? Could they possibly comprehend that they were looking at the salvation of mankind?

The shepherds visited with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and, “They made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.” This is fantastically brilliant. The shepherds met the Savior and what did they do? They became evangelists telling anyone and everyone who would listen. They shared the message from the angels, they shared about meeting with Mary and Joseph, and they shared about the baby that God had given for mankind’s redemption. It was a story that was absolutely incredible. They heard the announcement of the angel and they responded. I can imagine them seeing someone in Bethlehem and beginning a conversation, “You are not going to believe this, but let me tell you what has just happened.” “And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.” There is one word that really gets to me. It’s the pronoun all. Everyone that heard the message about Jesus from the shepherds wondered. Wondered is also translated amazed. Without exception, people were amazed at the story of Jesus’ birth. Do we find that today? Today, even in the church, we have lost the incredibleness of the birth of our Savior. We’ve heard it so often, that it’s just another Bible story. Believers get caught up in the same things that draw other people away from Jesus. We’re inundated with events that fill up our December. We think about presents that need to be bought and the bills that are going to come in. We have believers that make a jolly old fella with a white beard the center of a season that must be reserved for the Savior of the world.

How did Mary respond after the shepherds left? “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The things she treasured is everything concerning Jesus. How He was conceived, His birth, and His life. Was she thinking of Gen. 3:15 when Jesus birth was first prophesied? Since you’re already in Luke, take a quick look at Lu. 2:25-35. At this point, there’s no indication that Mary understood the implication of being the Savior. She pondered these things. She wondered, she thought, she tried to wrap her brain around the things she was told and the things she saw with her own eyes, but it is really hard to understand and remember, she was likely a teenager. When we consider Is. 9:6-7, she was probably asking herself what it meant to have the government rest upon His shoulders. She probably didn’t understand that there, “Will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.” You think about what you know and how hard it is to understand this precious gift that God has given to us. Mary pondered these things, she thought about it and I’m sure it perplexed her.

What did the shepherds do? “The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” Matthew doesn’t mention the shepherds, Mark and John start off their gospels with John the baptizer. We don’t see the shepherds again. They drift off into scriptural oblivion not to be mentioned again. I find it curious because the shepherds played such an important role in this event. No matter the incredible and great things the Lord calls us to do and we accomplish through Him, it’s still all about Jesus. The shepherds told Bethlehem about Jesus and they went back into the fields praising God – present tense. When we see and hear things about God, do we praise Him? This is what I’m talking about. We are so underwhelmed with the things of God. The shepherds had a personal encounter with God and they responded by telling anyone who would listen about the Messiah. As a professing believer, you’ve said you’ve had a personal encounter with God and how do you respond? Do you immediately tell others about what has happened? You cannot acknowledge the gift that was given by God without acknowledging the reason the gift was given.

After Jesus is circumcised on the eighth day, He continued according to Lu. 2:40, “to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” We don’t see or hear anything about Jesus until he’s 12 years old when His parents make their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. After the Passover, Mary and Joseph leave to head home and don’t realize Jesus isn’t with them until they had traveled a day’s journey. One final passage I’d like you to read for yourself. Look at Lu. 2:45-51. We find the same phrase when Mary is treasuring these things in her heart. Jesus must be about His father’s business. You cannot have Christmas without recognizing the reason it had to happen. Jesus was born of a virgin to enable Him to be our Passover lamb. He lived a sinless life so that He could affect the redemption of mankind. He is a gift. Maybe you have never received and accepted the gift of God. Maybe this year is the year you will.

What’s the Harm with Santa Claus?

7 Dec

This is a reposting of an article I wrote in December 2010 concerning Santa Claus and believers. This is my perspective as a child of the King, a father, a grand-father, and a pastor.

He’s fat and jolly. He loves kids. As Christians, is there a problem including Santa in your Christmas festivities and if so, what’s the big deal? I get asked that question fairly often during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

We see it all too frequently. Parents drag their kids all over town to get their picture made with Santa. Many children are placed on Santa’s lap kicking and screaming. I mean, really kicking and screaming. Think about it, some children don’t want to sit on the lap of someone they know let alone a complete stranger, but Santa dutifully endures the children, no matter what kind of mood they’re in.

By most reports, the origin of Santa Claus can be traced back to the 4th century and a man named Saint Nicholas. He was the Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors supposedly stole his remains and moved them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout Europe. St. Nick’s reputation for generosity gave rise to the idea he could perform miracles. It wasn’t until 1822 when Clement C. Moore wrote the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for his family on Christmas Eve that the idea of Santa Claus grew to legendary proportions. The story became known as, “The Night before Christmas” and was first published on December 23, 1823. The rest I suppose, is history.

Santa Claus continued to live on in the hearts and minds of children and adults as well. He is on TV every December in the classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” as well as others. Santa has appeared in a myriad of movies including, “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Polar Express,”  The Santa Clause 1, 2, 3,” “Santa Claus, the Movie,” and “Ernest Saves Christmas.” And who can forget the popular 1964 movie, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

Santa is so fun, who could find fault with such a popular, lovable, jolly, old guy in a red suit?

I’m not going to tell you what to do, mostly because my experience has shown me that people will do what they want to do anyway. I would however, like to offer up some ideas why bringing jolly old St. Nick into our lives might not be the best thing to do as an authentic Christ follower.

Can we be authentic Christians if we include Santa in our Christmas activities? There are people that I love and respect that include Santa in their family Christmas traditions so I don’t want you to think I live with some lofty, high, and mighty, holier than you people attitude because I don’t. I love the Santa Clause movies (all three of them) and I love Elf. But what’s the difference in enjoying a good Santa Claus movie and telling our children that Santa Claus brings them presents? I would say there’s a huge difference.

 

SPOILER ALERT!       SPOILER ALERT!

 

Santa Claus is not real. At all. He’s totally fake. Really.

Look at the characteristics of Santa.

  • He knows when you’ve been good or bad, so you need to be good, for goodness sake, right? The idea is that Santa brings gifts to those children that are good. Often forgotten now a days, is that he gives a lump of coal to those naughty children. Have you ever known any child that got a lump of coal in his stocking? Can you name just one kid? Have you ever known someone that knew someone that knew someone else that heard of a kid getting coal at Christmas? Me neither. The idea here is that a child needs to earn the gifts that Santa brings. I’ve never met a kid that didn’t think they were “good” enough to receive presents.
    • Santa’s reward system is contrary to that of God. God’s gift is unconditional. John 3:16 tells us that God gave His son to us simply because He loved us. We didn’t have to earn God’s love.
    • So God’s gift is not dependent upon our behavior. Can I get a Hallelujah?!?!? In fact Romans 5:8 tells us God’s criteria is the exact opposite of Santa’s. Even though we are currently bad (sinners), Christ  died for us. It’s not whether or not we are good or bad, it’s simply because we are here.
    • Only God is omniscient.
  • Santa has the supernatural ability to deliver presents to children all over the world beginning on Christmas Eve by flying around in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Think about the logistics of that. Does he go back and forth to the North Pole to restock, or does he carry all the gifts at once? Is the sleigh equipped for landing on any type of terrain? I mean does it work on sand so Santa can go to places in Saudi Arabia? Does he have a conversion package that adapts the sleigh to concrete landings? I know these are silly questions, but you see how far you have to go to continue the myth of Santa. He has to be everywhere at once in order to carry out this feat.
    • Jeremiah 23:25 tells us that God fills the heavens and the earth.
    • Proverbs 15:3 says the eyes of the Lord are everywhere.
    • Psalm 139:7-10 tells us there is no place where He is not.
    • Only God is omnipresent.

So Santa takes on a God-like character. Is that a problem? I think so. I’m pretty sure that God said there shouldn’t be any gods before Him. Now I’m not saying anyone out there is worshiping Santa, but come on, when did it become okay to lie to your children? I don’t know a parent out there that would be okay with their children lying to them. After all, isn’t that what you are doing by perpetuating the myth that Santa is real? Do you tell your kids that there really is a talking sponge that wears square pants?

What about selfishness? Acts 20:35 says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Doesn’t the idea of Santa bringing presents contradict that? When a child sits on Santa’s lap, the conversation typically goes like this: Santa: “Have you been a good boy (girl) this year?” As a side note, why does Santa ask this? I thought he knew if you’ve been good or bad. Well perhaps it’s to give the kid an opportunity to fess up for wrongdoings. Anyway, back to Santa. After that question, he generally asks, “What do you want for Christmas?”  The child then recites a list of acceptable gift ideas for Santa. Now it’s about getting gifts, not giving which is consistent with Scripture.

In light of this, when do you talk to your kids about Jesus? Isn’t He the reason we celebrate Christmas? What about the manger? What about His miraculous birth? What about His purpose for coming? What about God’s incredible, unconditional gift to us? I cannot reconcile Santa with the Bible.

As Christian parents, our primary mission regarding our children is to introduce them to Jesus Christ at the earliest age possible teaching them who He is and why He came.

I am certain there are people that completely disagree with me including pastors and people a whole lot smarter than me. That’s fine. It is my choice to exclude Santa from our celebration. It is your choice to include him. I don’t love you less, I don’t think bad thoughts about you. When I present my case, some people get down right angry with me. Yes, it’s true. They’ll say, “Pastor Ian is just an old-fashioned fuddy duddy that wants to take the joy out of Christmas for my child.” On the contrary, I want to introduce you to Jesus Christ, the only person we can truly find joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. Jesus Christ is the reason for Christmas, not Santa Claus. What are you missing out by excluding something that is not in the Christmas story found in the Word of God? Remember, I’m talking to people who profess to be followers of Christ. Why would you want to take any of the focus off of the One that made our salvation possible?

One more thought. When your kids find out that you have been perpetuating a myth about Santa (okay, when they find out you have lied to them), how will they feel about what you have told them about Jesus. Will He be viewed as a myth or make believe too? Hmmm.

Christmas – The Characters

5 Dec

Check out the podcast here.

mangerWe are all familiar with the Christmas story, maybe too familiar. In our over saturation of Christmas, the meaning of the message sometimes gets lost because of the season. It doesn’t make sense, but we see it over and over again. Sometimes when we’ve heard a story over and over through the years we get a little distracted because we think of it as a review. We don’t really listen because we know where it’s going because we’ve heard it before. In a Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown exclaims, “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?” We then hear Linus reciting Lu. 2:8-14 and he concludes by saying, “That’s what Christmas is all about.” Every year we hear preachers preach Christmas sermons, but do we really know the Christmas story? This Christmas, we’re going to take the time to walk through Luke’s telling of the birth of Christ. I encourage you to take the time to read it at home too.

I really encourage you to take the time to read Luke 2:1-20 for yourself.

Here’s the overview. When you study the Bible, you need to take a view from above. Too often, people want to get right into it and find all the answers they seek, but are not willing to do the work necessary to get it. Shortcuts may be awesome for computers or other electronic devices, but there are no shortcuts in understanding the Bible. When people take shortcuts in life, it rarely results in good things. Sarai tried a shortcut in Gen. 16 when she helped God make Abram a great nation. It didn’t work. Satan tempted Jesus in Matt. 4 to take three shortcuts. Satan came to Him when He was tired and hungry. He offered Jesus immediate satisfaction: fresh bread, a miraculous delivery by jumping from the Temple’s pinnacle, and then promised to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world. That was at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Satan was trying to get Jesus to bypass the heartache, pain, and suffering that He was destined to endure. You can’t watch A Charlie Brown Christmas to get an understanding of Christmas.

There are several characters introduced to us by Luke. Many of us can name the players. Mary and Joseph and the inn keeper. Of course, there is baby Jesus.    There is the angel of the Lord and the shepherds. There is the multitude of the heavenly host.  So let’s look at these people. Mary is a very holy figure to some people, but what do we learn about her from this passage? Mary was with Joseph. They were traveling from Galilee to the City of David which is called Bethlehem. They were traveling because of the decree sent out from Caesar Augustus that said a census was to be taken. The census applied to men so they could be taxed by the Roman government. The number of people to be counted included, “all that inhabited the earth.”  In order to do that, everyone had to go to their hometown to register. The phrase City of David is used 45 times in the Old Testament and it refers to Jerusalem. It’s used twice in the New Testament and it refers to Bethlehem. Joseph was of the house of David and David was born in Bethlehem. Mary has a very unique condition that never occurred before or after. It wasn’t just that she was with child. We find out how Mary finds herself pregnant in Luke 1:26-35. That’s pretty exciting stuff. And then in Matt. 1:25 says Joseph, “Kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” By any account, the journey from Galilee to Bethlehem would have been very difficult even in ideal conditions. The conditions that Mary and Joseph found themselves in was anything but ideal. Given Mary’s condition, they likely would have walked the easier of the routes. It was about 90 miles from Galilee to Bethlehem. Think about how fast you can walk. Now think about walking on unpaved paths, carrying your gear, with a pregnant woman. They could have walked about 20 miles a day so the journey would take them four or five days. Have you ever thought about where they stayed each night? Did they camp or stay at inns along the way? When they finally arrived at their destination, imagine how they felt. Tired, hungry, dirty, smelly. All they wanted to do was find a room, get a bite to eat, and go to bed. Although the text doesn’t say anything about how they were feeling, think about how you feel after a long trip.

After they arrive in Bethlehem, “The days were completed for her to give birth.” We don’t know how long they were in Bethlehem before she went into labor. That’s one of the nice tidbits we put in the story. They got there just in time for Mary to start the delivery process. Perhaps all the walking helped Mary go into labor. Wait Pastor Ian, God orchestrated all of this to ensure the prophecy of Micah 5:2 was met. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” No one can choose to be born and certainly cannot choose where they are to be born. Luke very casually says, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lu. 2:7) Did you know that the first gender reveal party ever held was for Jesus? Gen. 3:15 tells us, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” We quickly gloss over the first part of that verse in Luke and focus on the second part. Before He was laid in the manger, have you thought about the actual birth? With our modern medicine and technology, you really don’t even have to wait until it’s time. When the doctor feels as though the baby is ready or a certain number of weeks has passed, a woman can be induced into labor. No more inconvenient middle of the night births. Babies can now be born to fit into a more convenient time. For many women, gone are the days of waiting until the baby determines it’s time to make an entry.

This must have been a challenging birth. Notice Jesus was Mary’s firstborn giving insight that there would be other children. This birth was free from the numerous choices available today that can sometimes complicate the process. There was no talk of medication for Mary. There were no birthing suites and no swimming pool births. Luke doesn’t go into any details of the birth. How long was she in labor? Today when women choose natural child birth, it’s nowhere in the same ball park as what Mary endured. There’s typically someone close by that can help. A mid-wife, a doula, or mom. If something goes wrong today for someone that chooses natural child, EMTs and paramedics are only a phone call away. Not in our story. One minute Mary was pregnant, and the next minute she was wrapping Jesus in those swaddling cloths. I think this is interesting given that Luke, a doctor who desired to write with significant detail, left this part of the story out.

The picture portrayed in our modern day nativities do not accurately portray the scene. The beautiful pictures of the little manger is nothing close to reality. The manger or feeding trough is nothing more than a box or platform that was used to feed animals. I want you to picture this because it’s important to understand what God was willing to do to offer us redemption through this little human. If you have pets, think about what their food dishes look like. Hair, slobber, nose juice, bugs, and all sorts of unseen germs, and bacteria are around the dish. Into that environment was laid our Savior. I’m sure Joseph did the best he could with what he had. He probably scraped together the cleanest hay he could find. If he had a coat or covering, he probably laid it down. And Jesus was placed in the manger where we assume he gently drifted off to sleep without making a single noise.

I’m going to leave Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph watching over Him. Next week we’ll see how the other characters in the story responded to the birth of Jesus. Stay tuned as we continue to take a different look at this very familiar story.

A Savior is Born

21 Dec

shepherds-11You can listen to the podcast here.

God is amazing. Two weeks ago I preached about there being no room at the inn. I wanted to remind you of the incredibleness of one verse about the birth of Christ. Nothing happened by accident. It was all part of God’s plan even though it’s hard for us to understand. If Joseph and Mary had waited a month or if Caesar made that decree just a few weeks later or earlier, things would have been different. God is the God in all circumstances and His timing is always best.

Luke 2:11 says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

This was a huge announcement. Notice the first phrase of the verse, “For today in the city of David.”       There can be some confusion about the city of David. In the Old Testament this phrase is used about 45 times and refers to Jerusalem. In 2 Sam. 5, David leads his men to Jerusalem which was under the control of the Jebusites. David defeated the Jebusites and 2 Sam. 5:9-10 says, “So David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built all around from the Millo and inward. David became greater and greater, for the Lord God of hosts was with him.” In the New Testament the City of David is only referred to twice and it means Bethlehem. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Bethlehem is controlled by the Palestinians – Arabs. Tourism is the main industry of Bethlehem and all the holy sites are very commercialized. At the center of Bethlehem sits the Church of the Holy Nativity. Inside this church you walk a long corridor that lead to a room where there is a very tight stairway leading down to the bowels of the church where it opens up into a larger room. In that room you find a silver star with a hole in the middle that leads down to the earth marking the place where Jesus is believed to have been born. During a trip to Bethlehem in 1865, Boston pastor Phillips Brooks looked over the hills of the little town and penned the now famous words, “O little of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.” Back in 1865, all was still quiet in Bethlehem. Remember King David and his family lived there and David most likely tended his sheep on the hills just outside the little town.

This announcement was no surprise to anyone familiar with the prophecy. Micah the prophet told everyone this would happen in 5:2, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” That prophecy happened about 700 years before Christ was born. Bethlehem was, “too little to be among the clans of Judah.” Back when Bethlehem was no more than a little, inconsequential place, the Lord decided it would be this way. It wasn’t even big enough to have a flashing yellow light. The Jews of the day would certainly have known this, but listen to this exchange found in Matt. 2:1-6. Jews should have been well versed in this prophecy. It kind of reminds me about things that as believers, we ought to know, but don’t. Something else to think about is the magi came from the east and show up in Jerusalem and ask about the King of the Jews that had been born. The magi knew and went looking for the King. The chief priests and scribes certainly should have been looking for this. Bethlehem is such a short distance away so wouldn’t you think they’d have been watching and waiting for years? Even though they should have had the knowledge and the wherewithal to investigate, they didn’t. It’s not enough just to know, knowing should lead to action.

Here’s the reality of His coming. In Lu. 2:11 the angel says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you.” “Born for you.” Focus on those three words. The Son of God has been born for you. Oddly enough, for something so miraculous, the pregnancy and birth of Christ really was ordinary. The miracle occurred nine months earlier. Joseph had nothing to do with Mary becoming pregnant. When she asked how, the angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Lu. 1:35) In Matt. 1:20 an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “The child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” That’s when the miracle took place. I’m sure Mary battled all the things pregnant women face. Morning sickness, fatigue, swollen feet, intense hunger that occurs without warning. The virgin birth is incredibly significant because it comes after the virgin conception. He was born of Mary so He was human. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit so He was deity. God enters humanity just like us taking on all the issues we face and yet with one distinct difference. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” He was fully God and fully man. Somehow this overshadowing by the Holy Spirit created life in Mary that was totally divine and totally human. How can it be? I have no idea. He was and remains totally unique. The totally unique became completely common for the following nine months.

This is a story of faith. Some people read Luke 2 and call it theological fiction. It’s a great story, but it’s simply a fairy tale with religious significance. It’s like Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Luke said, “for today” in his writing. It’s widely recognized that Luke’s purpose for writing was to provide a detailed account unlike any other biblical writers. That’s what he says in Luke 1:1-4. When you read the words of Luke, you need to read it like you are reading history. It is truth, not fiction and we believe it by faith. Look at the result of the coming of Jesus. Luke says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Those three titles should jump out at you. Savior, Christ, Lord. Each word is significant. Savior is actually an Old Testament word that means one who delivers his people. Christ is the Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah which means the anointed One. Lord is a term for Deity. It’s a synonym for God. When the angel appeared in Joseph’s dream, he said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21). No sin is too great; no one is too far gone. No one is beyond His grace and His mercy. That’s the message of Christ’s birth. Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” This is the essence of Christmas. God loved you so much that He was willing to give up His one and only Son so you could have life.

So what you ask, you’ve heard it all before. What’s the purpose of His coming? Look at our verse one more time. “For today in the city of David there has been born for you.” Don’t gloss over those two little words, “For you.” Remember what’s going on here. There were unnamed and unnumbered shepherds in the fields. The angel is speaking to them collectively, but gives an individual declaration. Being a shepherd took little skill and was often fulfilled by young people. Remember David was just a boy when he tended sheep. Did you ever ask yourself, why did the angel appear to a bunch of shepherds. Why didn’t the angel appear to those Jewish scholars that were hanging out in the temple less than ten miles away? Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Ma. 2:17) Jesus came for you. It is the simplicity of the Gospel that gets so many people wrapped up. Why would He do that? It doesn’t make sense. Many people believe in the birth of Christ, but it’s not enough to believe that it happened. We must come to the conclusion that Christ came for me. The gift of God is available when you receive it as your own.

In five short days, Christmas will be here. Across the globe, people will celebrate in much the same way. They’ll gather around the tree that has presents piled high and often all around it. There are kids that wake up their parents literally in the middle of the night because they are so excited to open the presents. There are kids that know that Christmas is exactly 108 hours away. Do you ever leave presents under the tree that remain unopened? Of course not, yet we have been given a gift that came with incredible cost. As I reflected on this principle, I am more convinced than ever that we profess that we have received the incredible gift of God’s Son, but like that ugly Christmas sweater or tie, we simply don’t use it after it’s been opened. We put it in a closet and we’ll only wear it, or bring it out when the gift giver is present. Isn’t that like our relationship with Christ? Do we just wear it when the pastor or our church friends come over? Do we keep it in the closet until we need it. Over the years, Kari has given me some really great gifts. A shotgun. Reloading equipment. A basketball goal. I still have the shotgun, but haven’t used it in a number of years. Same for the reloading equipment. The basketball goal was sold on a yard sale.

As I get older, I need less and less things and want even less. As believers, the biggest, most incredible gift we’ve ever received is the gift of Christ. It’s a gift that is useful regardless of the season. It doesn’t wear out and it never gets old. It ever goes out of style. The gift of Christ is a gift that should keep on giving. It’s a gift that has immeasurable value. It’s a gift we should be grateful to use and show others how to use it too. What have you done and what are you doing with the most incredible gift ever given?

Can You Hear the Angels Singing?

14 Dec

AngelsYou can listen to the podcast here.

Take a look at the familiar Christmas story found in Luke 2:8-14.

Apparently angels are scary beings. The angel told Joseph, “Do not be afraid.” Gabriel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” And the angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.” Put yourself in the shepherd’s place. All of a sudden, an angel appears and tells them that Jesus has been born. “And there appeared a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” The sky was filled with more angels than you could count. They were singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

This is the way it typically happens. The key word in that text is the word suddenly. God always works in His own time and I think we wish there were more of these types of moments. Suddenly means without warning, it means quickly and unexpectedly. The angels weren’t there and all of a sudden, they were and they filled the sky. The shepherds were out in the field taking care of their flocks by night, but could the angels be seen in Bethlehem? What about in Jerusalem eight miles away? Did the angel’s praise reach across the miles? These are questions to get you to think. Of course, we don’t know the answers, but I can tell you one thing for sure: the angels filled the sky and the shepherds saw them.

Are angels real? Of course they are. 2 Ki. 6 tells the story of Elisha and his servant when the Aramean army surrounded them in the city of Dothan. Seeing the enemy on every side, the servant cried out, “What shall we do?”  Elisha responded by declaring, Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Ki. 6:16-17) The angels were always there, but the servant simply could not see them. When his eyes were opened, he saw what had been there all along. There are skeptics all around us so how should we respond to someone like that? It is a matter of faith. Just because you cannot prove something does not automatically disprove it. That was part of my journey to recognizing that God is real. There are things all around us that people take by faith, or I think a more applicable term is take for granted. How can you see the beauty of nature or the beauty of humanity and not see God? You cannot ignore the supernatural element of Jesus’ birth. Angels are a huge part of the story. An angel tells Mary she will give birth to Jesus. An angel tells Joseph not to dump Mary. That angel would then tell Joseph what was going on and that the baby would be called Jesus. An angel warns Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt. An angel tells them when it’s safe to return to Israel. And in Lu. 2:11, an angel tells the shepherds that the Savior has been born and then the sky is filled with angels. Later, we have the mysterious star that led those far away Magi all the way to the very house where they found Jesus. And the Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod but to go home another way. Angels and stars and dreams. Crazy supernatural stuff throughout this story. I think these are some things we know, but really have forgotten how incredible they are. When you reduce Christmas to good feelings and family time, you miss out on this incredibleness. This story helps us solidify that there is a heavenly realm. This world is not eternal. We look forward to the day when we join God in our eternal home. This world is not our home – that’s why we’re strangers and aliens here. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are pilgrims on a journey from this world that is passing away to a world that will last forever. We are looking for a city with eternal foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

The end is coming. What we know today will be gone soon. Those things that many feel are so important will pass away. 1 Jo. 2:17 reminds us that, The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” We are here today and gone tomorrow. Jesus said, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:35) Rev. 16:18 says, “There was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.” That earthquake destroys all that we know. All the incredible architecture gone. The great masterpieces of the ages gone. All the earthly treasures held so dearly are gone. There is nothing we can do to save any of it including ourselves. Our salvation comes from another source. That’s why Christmas is so important. Miracles surround Christmas: the angels, the star, the dreams, the prophecies, and most of all, the virgin birth. But those miracles are just signs pointing to the greatest miracle of all. Since we get a play by play of events from Scripture, it’s only fitting that we look to the Bible to see why. Jo. 3:16 tells us that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Tit. 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” Gal. 4:4 says, But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.  Phil. 2:6-7, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.” One of my favorites is found in Jo. 1:14, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The birth of Christ is the incarnation of God. It is the unity of deity and humanity. The infinite became finite. The immortal became mortal. The Creator became the created. The omnipotent lived inside a young girl’s womb. The Almighty became helpless. The Deity was wrapped in rags. The King was born in a stable. The incarnation is essential in our faith. Without the incarnation, there can be no birth. Without a birth, there can be no sinless life. Without a sinless life, there can be no atonement for sin. Without atonement, there is no need for the crucifixion. Without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection. Without the resurrection, there is no hope. Without hope, there is nothing.

I don’t want you to miss the main point. Having a biblical worldview is supernatural. When you take the supernatural out of Christmas, you’re left without the miraculous. You’re left without hope. You’re left in your sin. As Christians, why would we want to do that? The central point, the main thing, the primary focus, the theme, the moral of the story is all summed up in two words: “I am.” Christmas without Jesus is like a computer with no operating system. It’s like an iPod with no music. It’s like a phone that doesn’t make calls. It’s like cooking without food. It’s like Face Time with no face. Those things just don’t make sense.

Anytime we see angels in Scripture, I think they appear suddenly. Even though we might say we want God to work suddenly, I don’t think we really do. Especially when you consider how long you’ve prayed for lost family members and friends. Or when you consider that loved one that is dying. I think we often pray for more time. Right now we have some time, but who knows how long.

We have the time this moment to share the truths that the angels sang about that first Christmas. Today, we sing those same songs. Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King! If you listen with all your heart, you can still hear them singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased!” “Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled. Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies with the angelic host proclaim: Christ is born in Bethlehem. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

No Crib for a Bed

7 Dec

CribYou can check out the podcast here.

Lu. 2:7 says, And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

As you may know, my wife Kari loves nativity scenes. We have them in almost every room in the house and some remain out year round. Those scenes are generally the same give or take some animals, wise men, or shepherds. They show Mary holding baby Jesus with Joseph lovingly looking down on her. Maybe Mary and Joseph are standing looking adoringly at Jesus as He lies in the manger. Nativities have Jesus wrapped tightly in white linen swaddling clothes lying in a pristine manger on fresh hay. Put that same manger in front of a City Hall or public park and watch a few very vocal people have a conniption fit screaming separation of church and state. There’s always going to be someone offended by this peaceful, wonderful depiction of the birth of the Messiah, but I wonder why people aren’t offended at the liberties taken with the scene.

Gal. 4:4 says, But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.”

There was no room at the inn. This is a something we hear all the time and probably don’t give it much thought. What’s wrong with this picture? When I was growing up, I liked to look at those cartoons that show two seemingly identical scenes and you have you figure out what’s different about the two. In the manger scenes of today, what’s different about the scene portrayed in Scripture? If you’re God, why would you make it happen like this? Think about it, if Joseph and Mary had hurried along, maybe they would have gotten that last room. Can you picture Joseph, “Come on Mary, hurry up, it’s late and we want to get a room.” God could have ensured there was room at the inn. He could have spoken it into existence. It’s like He planned for it to happen. Bethlehem is located about eight miles south of Jerusalem. Today, it could be classified as a tourist trap. It’s very commercialized and very anti-Israeli as it is controlled by the Palestinians. Back in the first century, it was a no nothing town, hardly a blip on the map.   The only thing of note was that it was the hometown of King David. The whole reason Joseph and Mary were there was because of Caesar Augustus and his decree. He ordered a census be taken so that taxes could be collected throughout the Roman Empire. In order to do that, you had to go back to the place of your birth and be counted. Joseph was a descendant of David. It just happened that Mary was in the final days of her pregnancy. I’m sure you women can imagine what a fun journey that must have been. So they end up in Bethlehem at just the right time for Mary to deliver. But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” (Mic. 5:2)

This was not your typical inn. No room at the inn brings up all sorts of connotations. We have a hard time separating ourselves from our modern conveniences. Maybe we picture a quaint bed and breakfast. Nobody was leaving the light on for you in the Roman Empire. There were no global leaders in hospitality. There was no choice of pillows or free breakfast. The best the Empire had to offer pales in comparison to even our mediocre hotels. The only thing travelers wanted back then was a place to lie down and not be attacked by bandits. The inn was a building without the creature comforts we would expect. Luke uses two different words for inn in his writings. One word refers to a small building dedicated to serving travelers. At one end of the building, you tied up your transportation. For an additional fee, the innkeeper allowed you to sleep on a rough mattress on the floor. He also kept the fire going and provided food for the animals. This is the kind of inn mentioned in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Lu. 10: 34.

When Luke told the story of Jesus’ birth, he used a different word for inn in 2:7 that basically means a guest room. This inn would be smaller and simpler than the one in Lu. 10. The animals would be kept in a stable that was often nothing more than a cave in a hillside with low rock walls to keep the animals from getting out during the night. This was the kind of inn where there was no room. Why was the place full that night? Why were they told there was no room? There were lots of people traveling due to the census. Maybe they didn’t have any money. We really don’t know. From our perspective, there’s something wrong with the picture. Jesus deserved better and God could have done better. If you want to play the sovereignty of God card; that was the way it was meant to be. There was no room at the inn because that was part of God’s plan.

Why was it that way? Let’s back up the story a bit. Mary and Joseph had to return to Bethlehem as part of the census. Mary was pregnant and they arrived in the little town of Bethlehem in the very last stage of pregnancy. It was a difficult journey because of the route they took. They would have avoided Samaria because it was Samaria and they would travel about 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It would have taken about a week because Mary was pregnant. Have you ever traveled with a pregnant woman? Even today, traveling by the quickest mode of transportation is made impossible by pregnancy. Several major airlines refuse travel to women in the last days of pregnancy. The most restrictive is American; you can’t fly within 30 days of your due date unless you have a note from your doctor signed within 48 hours of traveling. All the airlines require you to consult with your doctor prior to flying. So Mary and Joseph would be taking the slow route – driving today. They arrive in Bethlehem tired and most likely hungry to find a place to stay, yet there was no room at the inn.

In writing about this text, Charles Spurgeon answers the question “Why would God allow it like this?” in three ways. He asks, “Would it have been fitting that the man who was to die naked on the cross should be robed in purple at his birth?” He says that Christ would be a peasant His whole life. Nothing is more fitting since He laid aside His glory to take on flesh. Second, He was born like this because he was the King of the Poor. The poor and the outcasts knew Jesus was one of them because of the way he came into the world. Spurgeon goes on to say, “In the eyes of the poor, imperial robes excite no affection, a man in their own garb attracts their confidence.”  The poor of the earth know that in Jesus they have a friend who cares about them. Third, He was born like this in order that the humble might feel invited to come to him. The whole scenario of there being no room at the inn, born in a stable to relatively poor and unmarried parents is an invitation to those that are rejected by society, the abused, mistreated, overlooked and forgotten people of the world that desperately need a savior. In His flesh, Jesus was like us. Jesus had to be born like this. If you look into Jesus’ future, you can even see why. Is there a hint here of his upcoming death? Sir Francis of Assisi said, “For our sakes he was born a stranger in an open stable; He lived without a place of his own wherein to lay his head, subsisting by the charity of good people; and he died naked on a cross in the close embrace of holy poverty.” This baby lying forgotten in an exposed stable, resting in a feeding trough is God’s sign to humanity. God has come to the world in a most unlikely way. Phil. 2:7 says, “But emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” On the surface, there was no glow around baby Jesus. There was nothing about Him that seemed super natural or God like. At the time of His birth, there were no choirs singing the Hallelujah chorus. He was just a little baby born to ordinary parents. And this was exactly the way God wanted it.

What do we learn from this? When we stand back at look at this aspect of the Christmas story, some really incredible truths emerge. We learn that God uses adverse circumstances to accomplish His purposes that make no sense to us. No room at the inn is really an insignificant detail that few people take time to evaluate, but since it’s part of the story, we have to ask ourselves why. Put yourself in Mary and Joseph’s place. It wasn’t some minor detail, but a huge obstacle. Even though an angel had spoken to Mary and to Joseph, there still must have been doubt. I think of all we have available to us, and we still doubt. Sometimes we don’t see things clearly until years later. We also learn that the world really has no room for Jesus. Jo. 1:11 says, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” He came to the people who should have known him best. He came to the people who knew He was coming. Even those wise men, the Magi from the east recognized the sign that God gave them. But His own people rejected the Christ Child. We also learn that His humiliation started early and continued to the very end. He was born outside because they wouldn’t let Mary and Joseph come inside. In Matt. 8:20 Jesus told a scribe, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” When He went to the cross, He had nothing except what He was wearing and the soldiers gambled for His coat. When He died, He was buried in a borrowed tomb. Jesus was an outsider. He was born outside and He died outside. Finally, we learn that as His followers, we share His fate. We live with Him, we suffer with Him, we die with Him, and we will reign with Him. What happens to Jesus happens to His followers sooner or later.

One verse has so much packed into it. There was no room at the inn is more than a minor detail – it was there for us. Every detail of the Christmas story is there for us. The sequence of events, the timing, the census, the journey, no room at the inn, no crib for a babe are all details for us to recognize Emmanuel – God with us. Will you make room for Jesus in your life?

Faded Glory: Why Jesus had to Come

30 Nov

Baby Jesus

You can listen to the podcast here.

We kick off a Christmas series this morning at C4 called Everything I need to know, I learned at Christmas. I’ve adapted these messages from Dr. Ray Pritchard, President of Keep Believing Ministries out of Elmhurst, IL. You can find them in their original form at keepbelieving.com. Pulitzer Prize winning columnist George Will wrote a column called “The Happiest Holiday” on Dec. 24, 1998. His opening paragraph states: “A sardonic British skeptic of the late 19th century suggested that three words should be carved in stone over all church doors: “Important if true.” On Christmas Eve, at the end of the rarely stately and always arduous march that Americans make each year to the happiest holiday, it sometimes seems that they are supposed to celebrate Christmas as though they have agreed to forget what supposedly it means.”

Have we forgotten? Growing up I can honestly say I did not know the meaning of Christmas. I was not raised in church and had no knowledge of the Savior that was born in the little town of Bethlehem. I didn’t know there shepherds guarding their flocks by night. The three kings of orient were non-existent in my mind. Now we can’t even say oriental – it would be we three kings of Asia are. Some people really have forgotten. Some never knew or don’t care about the eternal importance of this holiday.   This doesn’t change the fact that they can still enjoy Christmas and all the non-Jesus activities, festivities, good will, and time off that occur. Some are so bent on making Jesus the reason for the season that they get hung up on clerks that aren’t allowed to say, “Merry Christmas” and are outraged that Starbucks only offers a plain red cup at Christmas. Does Jesus need us to come to His defense this year? The evidence that the American church is conforming to the secular society is all around us. As long as you keep your faith to yourself and don’t bother anyone or talk to anyone about it, as long as it makes you feel happy and connected, then it’s all good. But the moment your faith steps out of your brain and into society and you start expressing those beliefs then you become enemy #1.

The words of that unnamed British skeptic that said, “Important if true” should be bouncing around in your mind especially at this time of year. Are we going to approach Christmas with a biblical worldview? We tend to fall into the same holiday routines and traditions as unbelievers. Our hearts get soft as we think of Christmas memories rather than the most important event in human history. Christmas is more than nostalgic songs from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The coming of the Messiah, the Savior of the world, establishes the foundation for all we believe. In its proper context, the birth of Christ is incredibly relevant to 21st century people who say that Christmas is nothing more than eggnog, gingerbread, and candy canes. I want to show you over these four Sundays, that the Christmas story is the foundation for all that we believe.

Here are some Christmas story facts according to the Bible. An angel visited a virgin who became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. The baby in her womb was the Son of God from heaven. God caused a heathen emperor to call for a taxation that sent Mary and Joseph back to Bethlehem at the very moment Jesus was born. Prophets foretold the virgin birth and that it would occur in Bethlehem hundreds of years before it happened. A star led the Magi from the East directly to the house in Bethlehem where Jesus was. Angels spoke to shepherds. An angel spoke to Joseph on three separate occasions. An angel spoke to the Magi, warning them not to return to Herod. The slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem fulfilled ancient prophecy. When the elderly Simeon held baby Jesus in his arms, he prophesied of His death on the cross. We also see the incredible names of Christ. Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. Jesus – Savior. Immanuel – God with us. Son of the Most High. Christ the Lord. There are also the things He would accomplish. He will save his people from their sins. He will reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem. His kingdom will never end. These are incredible truths when you stop and actually think about them. How often do we mindlessly sing Christmas hymns without listening to what we are actually singing? I encourage you to stop and think about what the Bible claims happened that first Christmas.  Charles Wesley wrote the words we sing often at this time of year, but do we stop to consider their meaning? “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity. Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the newborn King!” How about, “True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal, Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb; Son of the Father, begotten, not created. O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.” Begotten, not created ties in with John 3:16.

We were created to be much more than we are. Ps. 8:4-6 says, What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” In that passage we see the glory and tragedy of humanity. We are crowned with glory and honor. We were created to rule over the earth. We were made in the image of God; that is our glory. We’ve twisted this up in our society. In sports we have the MVP and the award means what it says. In the movies there are the Oscars, and the Grammys are for singing. We have all these worldly accolades, but who was it that won the Oscar for best actor last year or who won the Super Bowl last year? Eddie Redmayne and the New England Patriots. Those worldly accolades are just for a moment. All our heroes are just people that fade into history. Robert Frost wrote a poem called “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. It goes like this:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

I hope you caught those five little words that capture humanity. “So Eden sank to grief.” That’s what happened when Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate the fruit of the tree. Sin entered and death became our destiny. Sadness became a reality. We were made for greatness. That’s what David meant in the Psalm. The plan was for us to be a little lower than the angels for a time, but the angels fell, and so did we. We see the evidence all around us and it invades us every day. Sometimes we see it in a very personal way. That’s what Frost meant when he said, “So Eden sank in grief.” Nothing gold can stay. We were made for greatness – for something so much better than we see in this world cursed by sin. But having been made a little lower than the angels, it sometimes seems that we have sunk so low that we are more like the demons than the angels. Even our righteousness is like filthy rags in the presence of God.

Why would God visit us? God made us for greatness and we blew it. There is a but. God is not finished with us yet. David asks a question in Ps. 8:4, “What is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” I think that’s a valid question. We blew it in the garden. God gave us another chance and the wickedness was so great on the earth, that He told the only righteous guy left to build a boat. Have you ever thought why God didn’t just give up? Listen to David’s question again, “What is man that you take thought of him?” Why would God care so much to send His one and only Son; that He would actually come to us? The writer of Hebrews tells us, “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” (Heb. 2:9) Jesus wasn’t born into human royalty – He was born into poverty delivered by a man that wasn’t his father in a stable in a little known village, ignored by most people. Jesus came to undo the curse on humanity and one day we will see Him just as He is. (1 Jo. 3:2) The writer of Hebrews quotes David when he said, You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to Him.” But that has yet to happen. We weep over the pain and suffering of this world, but there are better days ahead. G. K. Chesterton said, “Whatever else is or is not true, this one thing is certain – man is not what he was meant to be.” We were made for glory, but our glory faded a long time ago. We disobeyed in the garden causing us to die spiritually and die physically. And then inexplicably, we tried to do things on our own. We wonder why the world is the way it is and we question God’s love, but for many people, we need look only in the mirror. Our spiritual state is reminiscent of the famous Pogo comic strip quote that states, “We have met the enemy, and he is us. As is often the case with God, there is a but. There are at least 10 direct references in the Bible where God says, “I will not leave you or forsake you.” God sent prophets to tell us how to get to Him, but the people killed them. He gave us Scripture that we ignore. He tells us how to live and we tell Him He’s old fashioned and out of date. Jo. 3:16 says He loved us too much to leave us to our own devices.

That is the Christmas story. Most people didn’t pay attention. It didn’t make sense how a young woman could become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t make sense why it would happen in such a way. A King born as a baby in the little town of Bethlehem where there was no room at an inn. He was Immanuel, God with us that would save us from our sin. He grew up the son of a carpenter, lived a sinless life and then we killed him on a cross. But death could not hold Him and He rose again just as He said He would. The general population is wrong about God and is wrong about Jesus. C.S. Lewis said, “The son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of God.” The good news of Christmas is that God has done it all. The only thing left to you and me is to believe. God wrapped up his Son in swaddling clothes and proclaimed to humanity, “This is my Christmas gift to you.”

Do you believe it? Will you receive it? Remember that columnist George Will that I started with? His column was called, “The happiest holiday,” and he’s right. I made the decision that Jesus is the Christ, the strong Son of the living God. Christmas is happiest for those that know Jesus. Important if true. You must decide.

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Wordless Wednesday

17 Dec

cool-christmas-trees-112

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Wordless Wednesday

10 Dec

Weird Christmas Phots

The Savior’s Character

8 Dec

Savior's NamesYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we were introduced to a man named Ahaz, king of the southern kingdom of Judah. He was on the receiving end of an Assyrian army bent on advancing their country while destroying all that stood in their path. Not only was Judah threatened by this massive Assyrian army, they were threatened by the continuing moral degradation led by their king. They were a nation of God’s people, yet the people were far from God. In Isaiah 7, we saw that Isaiah was sent to remind Ahaz to rest in God with the words, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” (Is. 7:9) God even said there would be a virgin that would conceive a child. That was the sign of the Savior.  This morning we’ll look at the character of the Savior.

Take a look at Isaiah 9:1-7.

 You would think that Ahaz, who by all accounts was raised in a godly home, would seek refuge in the One that can help. Ahaz discarded wise counsel from Isaiah and had to face the music resulting from his disobedience. He went ahead with his alliance with Assyria. Rom. 1:18 describes it this way: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in  unrighteousness.” Ahaz and those that followed him suppressed the truth. Isaiah 8 details how this happened. Despair and gloom descended on Judah.  Ahaz and the majority of the people of Judah had departed from God; so God handed them over to their sin and to their enemies. The northern-most part of Israel was feeling the Assyrian army coming down on them. As it became increasingly apparent that the godless plans of Ahaz were failing, the people began turning to superstition and the occult to find guidance. According to 2 Kings 16:3, king Ahaz even burned his son as an offering to the false gods of the Canaanites. It was a time of moral darkness, frustration, anger, and hopelessness under the judgment of God. Is this to be expected for those who depart from the Lord? Is judgment God’s only response to the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men? As the anti-Christian sentiment grows here and abroad, you might conclude that God is judging us and we ask ourselves as David did in Ps. 94:3, “How long shall the wicked, O LORD, How long shall the wicked exult?”

We are not in an age of despair, but an age of hope. We are warned with judgment to flee from wickedness and immorality. And we are also drawn by the Holy Spirit with love and kindness to turn to God. God has a glorious plan that sufficiently and completely deals with wickedness and sin. It is the good news of grace. Between Chapters 8 and 9, something happens to Isaiah. Isaiah is describing what’s going to happen to the people of Judah because of their rebellion and all of a sudden, he’s talking about things to come for mankind. Instead of war, Isaiah sees the boots of soldiers burned in the fire. Right in the middle of the war, there is something critical for us. V. 2 tells us, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” Light will come to those that are in the dark. There is hope. There is still an opportunity to turn to God. That opportunity is available to you as well. In 1741, it was this section of Scripture that moved a man to compose an oratorio with perhaps the greatest chorus of all time.

In Handel’s Messiah, we see God’s character. Look at how Isaiah describes God’s character in vs. 6-7. He says. “A child will be born to us. A son will be given to us.” It is a real, physical birth. The child is human. That child is given to us. Remember who Isaiah is talking to. He is a gift to us.

Jo. 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
2 Cor. 9:15: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”
Eph. 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” “And the government will rest on His shoulders.”
In Matt. 28:18 Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
Eph. 1:22 tells us that, “He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”

He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Then Isaiah gives some names to this One that would be born. Call Him wonderful Counselor.  This literally means wonder of a counselor. Wonderful means marvelous, extraordinary, beyond the normal capacity to perform. The counsel of God in the flesh transcends human wisdom. Rom. 11:34 asks the question, “For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?” His ways are unfathomably deep. He is in a category by Himself. He is the supernatural counselor. No matter the situation, no matter the circumstances, no matter the person, He is able to provide perfect counsel and guidance.  He knows exactly what needs to be done. His course of action is perfect. When you are in need, look to the wonderful Counselor. Call Him the mighty God. Literally the heroic, strong God. This child is God’s Son, the second person of the Trinity and possessor of all the power of God. He is omnipotent. When you connect this name with wonderful Counselor, you get the idea that God in the flesh possesses the ability to carry out to completion all that His plans call for. He is able to say, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” (Is. 46:10) We tend to grow weak and weary, God does not. He does not sleep.

Call Him everlasting Father.  He is eternal. This child would be father to you and to me. He is always loving; always planning the best for us. Ps. 103:13-14: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” God knows our limitations and strengths, He knows our time frames, He knows what must be accomplished and what time is available to us. Call Him the Prince of peace.  He is the Prince of peace and according to v. 7, “There will be no end to the increase of His government.”  He will conquer the hearts of His people, He will start something as a child that v. 7 says will never stop growing and He will not do it by force, but with gentleness and with peace. The Lord has all it takes to accomplish His plans and will always do what is right and best for us. He draws us with kindness and unending faithfulness and goodness. Our desire should be to do God’s will.

Isaiah saw Him coming; the One that is God’s answer for sinners like you and me. He saw Jesus, the wonderful Counselor; He came with wisdom and purpose, with a perfect plan. Follow Him. As the mighty God, He will accomplish all His plans. Satan tried everything he could to thwart God’s plan through the baby Immanuel. Trust in Him. Rest in Him. He loves us endlessly. Enter into His presence. He reconciles us while we are still his enemies. Trust Him and welcome His guidance in your life. Rom. 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus is the greatest King; the King of all kings whose kingdom and peace will never stop expanding. He is the Rescuer and the Redeemer. He is Jesus, God with us.