Tag Archives: Luke

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.

The Fright of the Shepherds

12 Dec

shepherdCheck out the audio version here.

Last week we reviewed the journey that Mary and Joseph took to get from Galilee to Bethlehem and why they had to make the trip. We saw what must have been a difficult birth process with only Joseph attending to Mary and what did he know? This was his first child too. We left Jesus in the manger all wrapped up in the swaddling cloths. Let’s keep going and see how the other characters responded to the birth of Christ.

Read over Luke 2:6-20 to get an idea of the context of the birth of Christ.

Luke tells us that there were, “Some shepherd staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.” The shepherds are always part of the story. I want you to put yourself in the place of the shepherds. How would you respond if, “The angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them?” Have you ever suddenly appeared to your spouse? Your kids? They screamed. Do you think the shepherds would have done anything different? Of course not because the text tells us, “They were terribly frightened.” They were scared out of their wits. Frightened is the Greek word phobeo. What’s really interesting is the shepherds of that day were generally not the most well respected, wonderful folks in town. Why the shepherds? Why not merchants? Why not the elders of the city? The shepherds were generally dishonest, dirty, and smelly people. The shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks. It was dark and likely very quiet when all of a sudden, the angel appears.

The angel says, “Do not be afraid.” It’s a little late for that! They’ve just had the fright of their life and they’re already scared, but don’t you do this with your kids? They’re in their dark bedroom and they tell you they’re afraid and you tell them, “Don’t be afraid” and they’re supposed to respond by saying okay. The appearance of the angel is different. Your kids are afraid of what might be in the dark. The shepherds were afraid of what suddenly appeared out of the dark. You’d be scared too. The angel told the shepherds something very specific. “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel speaks directly to the shepherds so make this personal. The angel told the shepherds that the good news was for all people. That phrase good news is from the Greek word euangelizo where we get our English word evangelize. The good news is not only of Christ’s birth, but that there has been born a Savior and He is named. Don’t miss the fact that the Savior has been born for all people. All is an interesting word that means all, not a select number, not a few chosen ones, but all. A Savior has been born. In Matt. 1:21 an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “She will bear a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus is the Savior, the long awaited Messiah, our Deliverer, our Redeemer, He is Lord.

In case the shepherds doubted the message, the angel of the Lord told them there was a sign. Really get this in your mind. An angel appears out of thin air and tells the shepherds that the Savior, the One that had been prophesied from the beginning of humanity, the Savior that has been talked about for thousands of years has been born and then the angel tells them how they can find Jesus. He’s in the City of David – Bethlehem, and He’s wrapped up tightly in swaddling cloths, laying in a manger. This is a very specific description to eliminate any confusion in case there was another new born baby in the town. They were given specific instructions on how to find the One. It’s no mistake that the angel appears to these lowly shepherds. Isn’t that the message of hope that we all need? Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous. After Jesus grew up, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lu. 5:32) The angel delivers the life changing news that had been prophesied about from the beginning of time and they get to be a part of it.

What is the collective response to this incredible announcement? “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” Here’s the same “suddenly” that we saw earlier. Without warning, the angel of the Lord is joined by his heavenly colleagues. Multitude comes from the same word as plethora. It was the hallelujah chorus. Hallelujah means praise Ye Yahweh. Many people think of Handel’s Messiah. Handel was actually inspired by Rev. 19, but it still works here. Imagine for a moment that you are a heavenly being and you’ve also been waiting for the Messiah, not for yourself, but to see the plan they knew of in Gen. 3:15 come to fruition. There was a boat load of heavenly beings and they were, “Saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” I think it’s important to define the words we so casually say and sing this time of year. Glory comes from the word doxa which means splendor which means magnificence. When the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest” they were expressing God’s incredibleness, His awesomeness, His uniqueness, His majesticness, His greatness, and every other accolade you can attribute to a perfect, holy, righteous, all powerful being. In all of eternity there is none like Him and no one will ever be like Him.

“And on earth peace among men.” The only way to have true peace is to embrace Jesus as Savior. With Him, we can know true peace and it passes all understanding. That word peace means completeness or wholeness. Don’t overlook the significance of this message! If you don’t know Jesus, you cannot have peace. What the world defines as peace is not peace. Jesus provides the opportunity to be complete, to be restored to the relationship God designed for humanity, but it can only come through the gift that was found in the manger. Later in 19:38, Luke says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And in Acts 10:36, “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).” When confronted with the reality of who God is and what He has done there is only one response and that is worship!

In this message, we focused on the shepherds and the angels and there’s a reason for that. The familiarity of this Christmas story shouldn’t prevent us from learning something new each time. 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. Stay tuned for the next installment as we’ll see how the shepherds went from frightened to fascinated.

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?

The Miracle of Easter

6 Apr

CrossYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we checked out Solomon’s words regarding wisdom and learned that no matter the path you’re on, there’s always opportunity to get back on the right path. Maybe you’re here and you’re thinking, I don’t know the right path to take. I didn’t even know there was a path. Today is your lucky day! Today, Easter is celebrated all over the world, but do we really understand this day that many people celebrate? Is it just another consumer holiday where we look forward to seeing everyone’s new outfits and enjoy chocolate and jelly beans? Maybe you enjoy Easter because it generally marks the beginning of Spring. I don’t want you to miss the miraculous and eternal significance of Easter. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back in time from the first Easter to a week or so earlier.

Take the time to read our passage for this morning found in Luke 19:28-40.

So who is this Jesus? The name Jesus brings many thoughts to people’s minds. Names are like that; they mean a lot. Sometimes nicknames are commonly associated with people and are instantaneously recognized. Old Blue Eyes – Frank Sinatra. The King of Pop – Michael Jackson. The King – Elvis. Michael Jordan is known as Air Jordan. There are the not so great people like Ivan the terrible , Jack the Ripper, Bloody Mary, and Vlad the Impaler. Biblically we have John – the Baptizer. Lydia – the seller of purple. Few people call him just Thomas without preceding it with doubting. These descriptive names are no different for Jesus.

In Matt. 1:21 an angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, f He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. Jesus most often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He is known as the Messiah. The Light of the world. The Prince of Peace. The bright and morning star. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the redeemer, the advocate, the bread of life. He is the power of God. He is the Lamb of God, the good shepherd, the high priest. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the resurrection and the life. That’s who Jesus is. This Jesus was loved by people of all walks of life. This is the Jesus that the prophet Micah said would come to rule Israel, One whose, “Goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” While loved and adored by the common people, this Jesus was despised by the religious groups of the day – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus upset the apple cart; He rocked the boat; He went against the flow, He said things that were different than what those religious people had been taught and what they believed. They called Jesus a blasphemer, they judged Jesus because He hung out with the less desirables; the tax collectors and sinners. They accused Him of violating the Sabbath because He encouraged His disciples to pick grain when they were hungry. They didn’t like this, in fact, “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.” (Luke 6:7) Jesus taught on the Sabbath, Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

So now we know who Jesus is, but why do we need Jesus? The religious crowd of the day despised Jesus because He threatened their power, their control, their desire to be elevated above others, their desire to be better than anyone else, their desire to control their own destiny, their desire and requirement for everyone to follow the Law. The Law was an interesting thing. Various religions and even denominations attempt to control people by requiring the strict following of a set of rules and regulations. Rom. 3:19-20 tells us, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Even though the Pharisees wanted everyone to keep the Law, they were powerless to keep it – all the Law did was show people they were law breakers. We need Jesus because no matter how good we think we are, the Bible says there is not a single person that is good. The Bible is very clear about our need for redemption. We need redemption because according to Rom. 6:6 we are slaves to sin. Sin owns us, it is our master. Rom. 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” Rom. 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”

What is sin? If we redefine what sin is, it’s easier to deal with. In our culture, we conform to the idea that personal feelings are the barometer of right and wrong, of morality and truth. We seek comfort and the least resistant path. We seek to please ourselves. We listen to so called “Christian teachers” or influential people who make us feel better about following our own path, about living in sin. Instead of calling people to repentance and authentic Christian living, these people refuse to call sin what God calls sin. We have a whole new generation of people that have succumbed to cultural pressure that it’s intolerant, judgmental, and unloving to declare God’s truth as absolute. I love Paul’s description of this found in Gal. 5:19-21 that says, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Evident is from the word that mean plainly recognized. These are the things of the flesh – they are incompatible with a life that follows God. Left to our own devices, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

We know who Jesus is, and we know why we need Jesus, now finally, what should we do with Jesus? In answering this very question to the Jews that gathered in the treasury at the temple in Jo. 8:34-36: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. ‘The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’” There is freedom in Christ. It’s freedom from the penalty of sin, not from the consequences. God will not and cannot allow us to get away with sin, but don’t expect to see someone’s nose grow if they tell a lie. We live in such a hectic, no time for anything world; a world where we seek instant gratification. Our cure then, comes not by redefining sin or by avoiding it. Our cure comes by admitting our sin, turning from it and receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Easter          is about hope, it’s about life; it’s about fulfilled promises; it’s about Jesus. Maybe you’re thinking, “I want to be free, how do I get this freedom?” To answer that question, we need to go again to the standard of truth. Remember that each of us is a sinner, we have all done wrong. Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As with any gift, you must accept it; just because it has your name on it does not make it yours until you receive it. Maybe if we just try harder to be good and righteous. No, the answer to sin is not to try harder to avoid it or change who you are. No matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, it’s not enough. Eph. 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Rom. 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Confess is a great word. It means the same thing as agree. In other words, when you confess to God your failure to meet His standard or admit your wrongdoings, you are agreeing with Him.

Maybe you’re thinking God won’t accept you like you are. Pastor Ian if you only knew about me. Maybe you’re thinking, when I give up ___________, I will be good enough and I’ll trust in Christ. Here’s the good news: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We don’t have to try harder because God knows that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. (Jo. 15:5) Rom. 10:13 says, “For ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” You are that whoever. It is a guarantee. Becoming a Christian is a choice; it is a decision only you can make for yourself. Being a Christian really means being a follower of Christ. God changes your heart, changes your attitude, and you joyfully want to follow Jesus. It’s not something you do begrudgingly. Being a follower of Christ gives you freedom! You are not a Christian because you live in America or because you attend church, or because you pray or read the Bible, or go to a Bible study. You are a Christian because you have made a decision to trust in what Christ did to pay the penalty for sin; you choose to follow Christ. Paul gives us this hope in Rom. 6:10-11, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jo. 1:12) So how did we get to the point of death? What began just five or so days earlier as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving palm branches and expressing their adoration for this man from Galilee, was overwhelmed by the crowds in Jerusalem that demanded His death by crucifixion. They got what they asked for and Jesus was sentenced to die on a cross for being found guilty of nothing. Jesus dies a horrible death on the cross and was buried in a tomb.

The rest of the story is found in Luke 24:1-9. Easter is all about the penalty Jesus Christ paid to cover our sin debt. He shed His blood for you, because of His incredible, unending, unconditional love. He is not here because He is risen. Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life that He can give you.

You have heard about who Jesus is and why we need Jesus. You have heard about what you should do with Jesus now there remains just one question. What will you do about what you know?Risen

Does Conversion Mean Change?

14 Apr

ArrowYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the parable of the minas. We learned that Jesus will hold us accountable for stewardship; He’ll reward faithfulness and judge disobedience. Every one of us, every child of God is to do God’s business until He comes back. This morning we’ll ask the question “When a person genuinely turns to the Lord, should that change their approach to money?” In what ways does a real relationship with God impact our values?

I encourage you to take the time and turn to Luke 3:10-14.

Here’s the back story. John has come on the scene and is preaching in the area of the Jordan River. We need to take a look at John’s view of salvation. To keep it in context, Lu. 3:3 says, “And he [John] came in to all the district around the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” Repentance literally means change of mind. For John, salvation meant change and it should mean change for us too. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17) John preached about turning away from sin and to God. This change is not only possible when you have a relationship with Christ, it is expected.

In v. 7, John calls a group of people vipers. That seems pretty harsh given his message of forgiveness in Christ. Vipers are poisonous. You need to stay away from poisonous  snakes. They are dangerous. John is really asking them, “Who told you that getting baptized will protect you from the coming wrath?” John’s implied answer is, “Not me!” He is addressing insincere converts, people who have a salvation that is in words only. Maybe they’re caught up in emotion.  Maybe they’re friends are doing it. Maybe they’re out to get something. The real reason these vipers are coming is not stated, but John is very clear about why he speaks about a, “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” according to v. 3. Verse 8 tells the story: “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” There are certain things that must happen following true conversion. Baptism and holy living go hand in hand. Baptism is the outward expression of what occurred inside.

It has become far too simple in the church today. People claim to know Jesus Christ, yet there is no change in their lives. Salvation involves a total change of mindset, life, and direction. John says to, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” Lu. 6:43-45 says, “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” Back in Lu. 3:8 John says, “Do not begin to say ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” In Jo. 8:37 Jesus said, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.” In other words, if there is no repentance, it doesn’t matter who your daddy is. John brings this sobering line of reasoning to a close by saying, “Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Lu. 3:9)

John goes on to provide some practical instructions. In v. 10 the crowds ask John, “Then what shall we do?” John told them that real repentance brings forth good fruit that result from a change of heart. Don’t think John is talking about a salvation based on works. To demonstrate that, John says in v. 11, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him that has none, and he who has food is to do likewise.” Clothing and food are consistent with 1 Tim. 6:8 that we saw in part 1 of this series. This instruction is consistent with O.T. teachings found in Job, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Any real faith must have social concern for the poor and unfortunate. Caring for the poor among us is a common theme in Luke’s writings. Lu. 6:30, “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.” Lu. 12:33, “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.” Lu. 18:22, “When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Repentance results in change. According to Luke, this change should involve possessions.

The tax collectors ask John the same question in v. 12, What shall we do?”     This is really interesting. Being a tax collector was synonymous with sin. Regarding church discipline in Matt. 18:17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Jesus compared someone unrepentant with a tax collector. The gospel message is not just for some people. People say God can’t or won’t save me because of  . . . . you fill in the blank. Tax collectors were some of the most despised people in the community. Their testimony in a court of law wouldn’t be accepted. These tax collectors were Jews that worked for the Roman government; they collected more than was owed. We would call them thieves, but even thieves can repent. What are they to do? “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to” (Lu. 3:13) Notice they didn’t have to quit their job, just become honest.

The final group, the soldiers ask John, “And what about us? What shall we do?” These soldiers were likely Jews who signed up for military service or were conscripted by the government. They received little pay, but could force people to give them money. John says, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” Like the tax collectors, the soldiers were charged to become honest.

 

What’s this all mean? According to John, repentance is not confined to religious acts or private life. True repentance impacts your work; it impacts your private and public life.

Therefore, true repentance impacts your stewardship. No matter who you are, you are to share what you have with others. No matter who you are, you’re to be honest in your business and private dealings. That’s the power of Christ’s transformation of the heart.

Real Stewardship

7 Apr

PlantYou can listen to the podcast here.

In the past couple of weeks we’ve looked at the basics of giving. We looked at some examples of giving in Scripture and established some principles of biblical giving and the tithe. Hopefully, things are a bit clearer for you. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.” For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to look at some specific teachings of Jesus that deal with stewardship. In our first example, there’s a dual implication of the teaching.

I hope you’ll look at Luke 19:11-27 with us.

Here’s the background. Luke begins by saying, “While they were listening to these things.” The “things” represent the story of Zaccheus. He was a chief tax collector and he was rich. As Jesus entered Jericho, Zaccheus wanted to see Him, but he was very small. In order to get a better look, he climbed a sycamore tree. Jesus sees him and tells him that He’s going over to stay at his house. Zaccheus recognized that Jesus was, “The way, the truth, and the life.” (Jo. 14:6) Zaccheus gives away half his possessions to the poor as a demonstration of repentance. So often today, we talk about repentance, but don’t really see it demonstrated. We’ll look at Zaccheus again in a couple of weeks.

No other New Testament book is as concerned about possessions as the writings of Luke. Luke writes about selling possessions in 12:33, about giving up everything to be a disciple in 14:33. He writes about the rich young ruler and treasure in heaven in 18:22 and emphasizes generosity and giving. He warned us of the danger of possessions and even said that riches were a primary reason for choking God’s Word in 8:14. The list goes on and on. So the crowds continued to follow Jesus and they approached Jerusalem. Jesus speaks to them in a parable because the people thought, “The Kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” Remember a common theme among the early disciples was the timing for this Kingdom stuff. It seems like they thought once they got to Jerusalem, Jesus would overthrow the Roman government and establish His Kingdom. That’s not the case, so Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach.

Here’s the assignment. Look at vs. 12-14. In addition to the nobleman, there are two other groups of people mentioned. The slaves did business for the nobleman. The citizens hated the nobleman and didn’t want him to rule over them. Notice that the citizens said, “We don’t want this man to reign over us,” – present tense. They were adamant about that so they sent a group of people to protest the appointment. In verse 13, the nobleman, “Called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’” Each slave got a mina – equivalent to about 100 days wages. They are to conduct business with the money, but just until the nobleman returns from the distant country. “When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done.” (Lu. 19:15) The nobleman returned and the first thing he wants to know is what happened to the money the slaves were entrusted with. The first slave turned that 1 mina into ten – a 1000% return and was rewarded with authority over ten cities. The second slave turned that mina into five – 500% return and was given authority over five cities.

Then there is the last slave. He had a different plan and got different results. In v. 20 the last slave said, “Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief.” You’ve got to wonder what this slave was thinking. I don’t know if the slaves talked with each other about what business they were doing with the mina. I don’t know if they checked on each other’s progress. When the nobleman comes back, maybe this is the first opportunity the slaves have to be together. He’s just watched the first two guys and what they did and how they’re rewarded. So the slave goes on to say, “I was afraid of you.” Why is the slave afraid? “Because you are an exacting man,” Exacting means harsh or severe. The slave justified this by saying, “You take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.” In reality, what that slave just saw was contrary to what he thought of the nobleman. He just witnessed the nobleman rewarding the other slaves, and the nobleman was quite generous. This sounds an awful lot like justification for his disobedience.

In v. 13, the nobleman assigned the slaves the task of doing business and in v. 15, he holds them accountable for what was given them. We’ve seen that the first slave got ten cities and the second slave got five cities. The third slave was rebuked in v. 22-23. If the slave really believed the nobleman was so exacting, he could have at least put the mina in the bank and gained some interest. Look at the reward of the third slave in v. 24. What the slave had was taken away and given to the first slave. In v. 25, the people protested for the sake of fairness. That guy already has ten minas. Verse 26 contains a shift and provides a harsh reality. The slave was disobedient and tried to justify it by saying the nobleman was exacting. It’s the reality of obedience versus disobedience. It is stewardship of what we have been given. We’re not asked to be stewards of what we don’t have. It’s the same thing Luke said in 8:18, “So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” The people who have will have more because they’ll continue doing the things that got them there while the people who have not, will continue doing those things that got them there and even what they have will be taken away.

I don’t want you to miss the other aspect of this parable. This is clearly a parable of stewardship, but stewardship is required because the nobleman has left to receive a kingdom and then he will return. When Jesus returns, He will reward the faithful servants (vs. 15-19), deal with the unfaithful servants (vs. 20-26), and judge His enemies (v. 27). The unfaithful servant had no excuse; his unjust fear kept him from doing what was right when it should have driven him to serve. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Lord will give us exactly what we deserve. Until that time we must, as v. 13 says, do business until He comes back.

Christmas Perfection

26 Nov

Check out the podcast here.

Last week we were reminded that Immanuel is God with us. We were challenged to tear down the idolatry of commercialism and consumerism and to expect a miracle. This morning we’ll get a reality check as we seek out perfection at Christmas.

The great gospel of Luke 1:30-31, 34 says, “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’”

In the classic Christmas movie “Jingle all the Way”, Howard Langston attempted to make the season just right for his son. Howard, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a procrastinator and tended to put his job ahead of his family. All his son Jaime wanted for Christmas was the Turbo Man action figure and Howard promised him there would be one under the tree. Turbo Man was the hottest gift of the year and every kid wanted one too. Of course it was Christmas Eve before Howard thought about the gift. Howard was trying to make Christmas perfect for his son. To make things worse, his neighbor Tim played by Phil Hartman looked like he had planned for the perfect Christmas. He had a picturesque house filled with decorations and all the presents neatly wrapped beneath the tree. The search for that perfect gift – that perfect Christmas – led to a frenzied search mission to find Turbo Man that included fights, deception, theft, burglary, racketeering, assault, police obstruction, as well as numerous violations of traffic laws. And of course, what Christmas movie would be complete without the perfect neighbor making a play for our main character’s wife? Howard tried to make Christmas perfect, but the reality is there is no such thing. For many people, Christmas is a reminder of heartache, tragedy, and suffering. Clever marketing and Victorian Christmas traditions have replaced the biblical principle of Immanuel – God with us.

Today we have a sanitized nativity scene. Our nativity scenes often portray the parents lovingly looking down over the holy Child lying in a hay lined cradle, not a manger. In our pursuit of the perfect Christmas, we forget that Mary and Joseph were spending the night in barn – a place where animals live. Where there are animals, there’s poop. Where there’s poop, there’s insects, and smell. There was no medical treatment available and Joseph was the only support Mary had and if he’s like most of us first time dads, he didn’t have a single clue. We want this clean, picture perfect nativity with no complications, no heartache, and no trouble. We have this idea that if we sincerely love God then He will grant us serenity now. No fuss, no muss in our dainty, clean, sanitized, Christian lives.

Luke tells us it was anything but perfect, anything but simple. Lu. 1:26 tells us it was the sixth month of Mary’s pregnancy before any answer to her dilemma was made evident. “Do not be afraid, Mary,” the angel tells her in Lu. 1:30. Easy for the angel to say. Mary faces an unwanted teen pregnancy. This was different from pregnancies today. She had never been with a man. It’s easier for us to understand because we know how it ends. How easy would it have been for her parents? Joseph? The town’s people? Put yourself in Mary’s shoes; she knew the truth that no one else knew. The angel says, “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” This is where it starts for all of us. We are favored because of God’s great love; His unconditional sacrificial love. This is where Christmas begins. Not just that Christ came, but that He is still here.

Mary was favored, not perfect. It’s hard for us to comprehend unconditional love. God wants a relationship with you even if you’ve been naughty or nice. Why? Because you are highly favored. It’s easy to understand when you consider your children. You favor your kids over someone else’s kids simply because they’re yours. It doesn’t have to do with their abilities, or their aptitude, or what they look like. You favor them because they’re yours. It’s the same way with God. The favor He shows you is because of Him, not you. Being favored does not mean bad things won’t happen. Look at Mary again. As far as relationships, she had done right; had kept herself pure and she finds herself with child. Interestingly enough, nothing is mentioned of Mary’s righteousness. Even after the angel’s explanation, Mary is left asking, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lu. 1:34) I’m pretty certain the theological implications of the baby she carried were not fully realized for some time. How many of us have been in similar situations of uncertainty where we are called on to exercise our faith? You have done all you can to remain true and pure and faithful to God and then that suddenly hits.

Think about Mary’s emotional frame of mind. God’s favor would bring a significant measure of pain and suffering to her life. We read about this miracle of life knowing that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was found empty. We look at this event through the sanitized lens of knowledge. Mary didn’t have the luxury of knowing. She shares the story with her fiancé who would obviously put her away certain she is lying after all; he had never seen or heard of any virgin becoming pregnant. She faces death by stoning for the sin of adultery. The walk of faith provides no guarantees for a neat and orderly life free from life’s suddenlies. Nowhere in Scripture does it say everything that happens to us will make sense. As a result of Jesus’ birth, King Herod ordered the execution of all male babies under two. Hebrews 11 is known as the hall of faith. Stories of great faith abound in this chapter.      What are the results of this great faith? Abel was murdered. Noah suffered 120 years of ridicule and the earth was destroyed by a flood. Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his only son. In fact, I encourage you to take the time and read Heb 11:35-12:2. How about Paul? Surely he escaped problems. Look at 2 Cor. 11:24-27 and you’ll see what he endured for the cause of Christ. Paul warned Timothy that even a desire to live godly will bring persecution. (2 Tim. 3:12)

Do any of us really count the cost of an authentic relationship with Christ when we choose Him? In his book The Present Future Reggie McNeal concluded that, “church culture in North America is now a vestige of the original movement, an institutional expression of religion that is in part a civil religion and in part a club where religious people can hang out with other people whose politics, worldview, and lifestyle match theirs.” We have rewritten the original Christmas story of pain, suffering, and loneliness to one of unrealistic perfection with a hint of cinnamon and ginger. Mary asked, “How can this be?” The angel provides the answer in Lu. 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” After that triumphant declaration – silence. No bells and whistles, no warm gooey feeling, just silence. In that silence, I wonder if doubt crept in? We can face the same thing. The Holy Spirit is with you always and particularly in life’s suddenly moments.

When we seek perfection where it does not exist, we’ll be left feeling empty and unfulfilled. We want a “G” rated Christian life in an “R” rated world. Why did God choose Mary? Look at what she said in 1:38, “And Mary said, ‘Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” When faced with this seemingly impossible situation, Mary chose to trust and obey. May it be the same for us.

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Wordless Wednesday

24 Oct

How Bethlehem Missed Christmas

12 Dec

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It’s possible to miss Christmas even as it happens all around you. The stress of finding the right gifts, wrapping them, and paying for them can mask Christmas so well it might just disappear altogether. It happened to a lot of people that very first Christmas and nowhere was it more obvious than in the little town of Bethlehem that slept right through the most important birth in history. Christmas came to Bethlehem, but almost everyone there missed it. Bethlehem, however, had a good excuse. The people there were overwhelmed with life. An unexpected census caused that little village to be packed with people. The town was not prepared for the extra people. The demands for food, water, and lodging must have stretched the townspeople to the max. To make it worse, many of the people there probably had to be somewhere else to be counted for the census. It looked like a golden financial opportunity, but before it was all over, Bethlehem was overwhelmed with grief.

Take a look at Matthew 2:13-18.

The loss of a child is particularly painful.  In America when a child is abducted, an Amber Alert is posted.  Signs across highways light up to let people know that a child is missing. The truth is that a lot of things can keep you from Christmas, a lot of really normal life-things. Just as it did in Bethlehem, grief can steal the joy of Christmas faster than any other enemy.

God is always at work so we worship Him. The angels’ song was worship at its finest. It considered nothing of the circumstances of earth, but only considered the majesty of God. The angels had a view of God that completely blocked their view of anything on earth, and they sang as if God alone was worthy of praise. They sang as if the glory of God was making a difference in the lives of those who lived on earth. But people on earth were so focused on their circumstances; few of them caught so much as a glimpse of what the angels saw on that first Christmas night. In Luke 2:14 the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” In other words, this is the best day the world has ever known. Mary and Joseph probably didn’t get the full impact of the angels’ message. Joseph was more stressed than he’d ever been, and when his young wife needed him the most, the best he could do was find a smelly stable in Bethlehem. Mary had just given birth and was certainly exhausted. The labor and delivery must have been difficult. No meds. No modern child birthing techniques. Loneliness – Mary’s mom wasn’t there to support her.  The shepherds were physically and emotionally tired – they had been watching over their flocks at night. The people of the village were packed into tight quarters, exhausted from a census and all the trouble the census had caused. For everyone involved, life was hard. If their circumstances were the reason they would give glory to God in the highest, then this probably wouldn’t have been the night for a song.

Your circumstances are probably very different from any of those in Bethlehem. Maybe it’s your job that applies the daily pressure. Maybe it’s a relationship challenge that dominates your thoughts. It could be that December’s schedule is packed too tightly with things to do, things to buy, things to wrap, things to cook, things to decorate, things to eat, or things to attend. Maybe your circumstances are more painful. Maybe there is some loss, some illness, some point of grief that has taken away any desire to celebrate Christmas, or even life. Perhaps financial pressures have taken the joy right out of life. When life is difficult, or even too busy, it’s possible to miss the truth of the angels’ song that broke into the night skies over troubled Bethlehem. Regardless of your circumstances, God is worthy of your praise. He never changes even as your circumstances change constantly. God is worthy of your best song, your best love right now. Whether you can see it or not, God is always at work.

Not only is God is always at work and we should worship Him, but God is always in control so we should trust Him. Mary and Joseph were facing some big changes in their lives and probably wondered if they were on the right track. Mary’s instructions had come in a vision. Joseph’s instructions had come in a dream. As time passed after they were given their instructions, it seems that there was silence from God. How many times had Mary wondered if she heard the Lord correctly? How many times had Joseph second-guessed his decision to stay with Mary? It must have surprised Mary and Joseph when the shepherds arrived full of excitement and filled with the wonder of a miraculous message. From the shepherd’s point of view, Mary and Joseph confirmed their own encounter with the Lord. Eight days later, Mary and Joseph met Simeon at the temple. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before seeing the Christ child. In the temple on Jesus’ eighth day, Simeon said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32) “At that very moment [Anna, an 84 year old widow] came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38) Those events solidified what the Lord had told Mary and Joseph. By the time Joseph had a second dream, a few nights later, there was no hesitation in his willingness to believe, or obey. He and Mary took the child and ran toward Egypt, trusting that God was in control at that moment, just as God had been in control in the events leading up to that moment.

Trusting God is probably the greatest challenge in our lives. It is the essence of faith. The Bible is woven around this principle. Moses had to trust that God was in control, even as Pharaoh turned the people against him. Noah had to trust God even though he’d never seen rain let alone a flood. Ruth trusted as she walked toward Bethlehem with bitter Naomi. David had to trust as he waited to become king. Daniel had to trust as he was thrown into the lion’s den. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to trust as they were thrown into the fiery furnace. Jeremiah had to trust as he followed a trail of tears out of Jerusalem. When Mary and Joseph were asked to trust God in Bethlehem, they weren’t the first. They were simply two more people in a long line of God’s people who had been asked to believe that God was in control. Even if they couldn’t see the evidence of that control right at that moment. You’re in that line, too. God will ask you to trust Him, to believe that He is in control. We need to understand a fundamental principle. Not everyone can make the leap of faith that is required here. The shepherds managed to make it to the birthplace, but no one else in Bethlehem did. The old-timers in Bethlehem surely knew that one of the prophets had promised that Messiah would be born there and were probably able to quote Micah’s prophecy. But when the big moment came and went, the meaning of Christmas slipped past them just as it sometimes slips past us. Trusting God is a decision that you must make daily.

God is always at work and we should worship Him, and we know that God is always in control and we should trust Him, but we must also realize that God loves us more than we’ll ever know: this is the gift of Christmas. As we have seen in past weeks, in our culture, Christmas is all about the gifts. We spend billions on the gift exchanges every holiday season. Christmas was God’s ultimate gift. It was God’s love for us that served as the motivation of Christmas Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:16? It was a personal encounter with Christmas. Meeting Jesus impacts everyone in a different way.  Some accept His free gift and some don’t. The shepherds heard the song of Christmas and returned to their fields with a different outlook on life. The magi were impacted with the child they found, literally changing their path home as a result. Mary and Joseph – already convinced that God had led them to Bethlehem – left there with a deeper conviction than ever that God could be trusted and that the child they carried with them was the greatest gift the world had ever known. Through the ages, millions have found the gift, realizing that the God who is so worthy of worship, the God who demands that we trust Him, is also the God who first of all gave us a gift, motivated by unspeakable love, so that we could know Him personally. God is always at work and we should worship Him, God is always in control and we should trust Him, and God loves us more than we’ll ever know and that is the real gift of Christmas.

It turns out the song of Christmas is a beautiful one if people will only hear it. Most in Bethlehem missed the song. Pain and grief and tragedy and busyness got in the way. But for those who were listening, and for those who responded, the gift the received was nothing short of life-changing. Every Christmas, the song plays again, with God’s constant invitation for us to hear, to believe, and to respond.