The Miracle of Easter

I’ve got big news: April the giraffe has given birth! Not only is the womb empty, the tomb is empty! Today, Easter is observed 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, finding eggs, and eating jelly beans, chocolate, and peeps? 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. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so let’s go back in time from the first Easter to a week or so earlier. As you’re turning to Luke 19:28, earlier in Luke 19, there is the miraculous transformation of Zaccheus; then there is the parable of the talents or minas and we come to what is called the triumphal entry.

Take a look at our passage from Luke 19:28-40.

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. Bruce Springsteen was the Boss. Gordon Sumner is better known as Sting. Michael Jordan is known as Air Jordan. Our Secretary of Defense is James Mad Dog Mattis. 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 and Lydia the seller of purple. Few people call him 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, for 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 from 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 says,  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. “The deeds of the flesh are evident.” 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 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. 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 you’re thinking that you need to 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 me like I am. Pastor Ian if you only knew about me. Are you thinking, when I give up ___________, I will be good enough and then I will follow 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: “For ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” 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, all that adoration 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, and 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?

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The Wickedness of Today

WickedYou can listen and download the podcast here.

Last week, we started by asking the question, what does it cost to be righteous? The answer is that it just might cost everything. Sometimes we find ourselves at odds with the government and it’s just not right to fine people who are doing right. We still live in a society where wrongdoing is punished and there are ways to redress wrongs that have been committed. In a faith based setting, you can’t run down and correct all the nasty things that are said about you. David said in Ps. 54:1, “Save me, O God, by Your name, and vindicate me by Your power.” You must rest on the fact that God is the vindicator of the righteous and if people know you, they’ll know your character. We need to be calm, cool, and collected in our dealings with people and sometimes the best answer is silence. If people part company with you because you have been set apart for the Gospel, that’s one thing, but separating yourself from God’s people and God’s Word is a good sign that there’s spiritual sickness in that person. Ignorance of God’s Word is no excuse to live in the folly of your own mind. This morning, we’ll continue looking at some current events.

Our passage for today is found in Pro. 18:3-8 that says, “When a wicked man comes, contempt also comes, and with dishonor comes scorn. The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook. To show partiality to the wicked is not good, nor to thrust aside the righteous in judgment. A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth calls for blows. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.”

We started last week with something for today and we’ll begin this morning in the same manner. “When a wicked man comes, contempt also comes, and with dishonor comes scorn.” Solomon has often used the adjectives wicked and foolish interchangeably, but that word contempt carries some significance. Contempt carries the idea of having no value, worthless, or beneath consideration. Some have wrongly assigned the contempt to the wicked one, but that’s not what Solomon is saying. When you put it together with all that we have learned in recent verses, Solomon is talking about contempt the wicked have for all things holy and pure. When that wicked guy comes; the guy that says the Bible is outdated, foolish, not relevant, old fashioned, too mean or judgmental, when that person raises his fist and declares that a loving God would not do x, y, or z, he is demonstrating contempt for God’s holy and perfect Word. When the wicked walk into your life, so does their contempt. Ps. 14:1-3 gives us this incredible truth, “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” We see this happening all around us, but what’s even more disturbing is that we’re seeing it in Christian circles too. Fewer and fewer people are standing solidly on the truth found in God’s Word. We can attribute this to a number of reasons, but I think the primary reason just might be that we have people that profess to be followers of Christ that just are not. We have professing believers that don’t read or study God’s Word, that don’t participate in the things of the church and don’t even want to. These same folks are ones that will claim their relationship with God is special or wonderful. They might even say they pray all the time. I want you to really ponder this question: when you sin; when you fall short of the glory of God, when you fail to live up to the standard of perfection, does God say, “It’s okay, it doesn’t matter.” Do you say that when your employee messes up? Your child? Your friend? When we fall into that trap, we minimize the power of God to perform actual transformation in our lives and we cheapen the incredible sacrifice Christ made on the cross. Don’t live under the false premise that God’s love erases His judgment.

The scorn Solomon mentions means contempt or disdain expressed openly. It really doesn’t freak me out when lost people do this regarding God’s Word. In 1 Cor. 2:14 Paul said, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” There is a bridge that is established when you make a decision to follow Christ. There is a connection made when the Holy Spirit enters you. Things that were unexplainable to you now come together. Things you had such difficulty understanding are now received by faith. I have no problem saying, “I can’t explain it, I just believe it.” How can you believe so easily? They might ask. It’s really a dumb question. Some people aren’t willing to take that step of faith with Jesus even though they do it in nearly every facet of life. People that don’t understand the internal combustion engine have no issues driving a car. People that don’t understand how an airplane can fly have no problem stepping onto that plane. People that have no idea how electricity gets distributed from the power plant to the home have no issues flipping that light switch. People that don’t understand how medicine works still follow the prescription. But when it comes to spiritual matters, they want full disclosure and complete understanding. Have you ever tried explaining the inexplicable? Have you ever tried comprehending the incomprehensible? Have you ever tried figuring out a miracle?

It would be really helpful for you to read 1 Cor. 2 to give us the context for Paul’s statement I quoted a moment ago. Our responsibility is not to convince people about Jesus although there is a tremendous need to reason through the Scriptures. Our responsibility is to demonstrate what Jesus has done in our lives. I think that might be the reason why some professing believers want to distance themselves from absolute truth of Scripture. There’s little to no demonstration of God in their lives. And one final, very timely passage found in 2 Tim. 3:1-9: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.” The times in which we are living in did not catch the Holy Spirit of God by surprise.

Solomon provides us with some more word pictures. “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.” Let me help you with this word picture. In our area we have what’s known as shallow wells. While the water drawn may be cool and seem refreshing, it’s not fit for anything except to irrigate your lawn. It contains Sulfur, iron, calcium, magnesium, organic compounds, and bacteria. It stinks; it leaves stains behind, it doesn’t taste good, and the well is affected by drought and overuse. If you want real refreshment that’s suitable for human consumption, you have to dig deep. “The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook” that does not run out. Real wisdom comes from deep within the soul because its source is God. Let me run through these next verses because they’re different ways to say what Solomon has already said. Pro. 18:5-7 says, “To show partiality to the wicked is not good, nor to thrust aside the righteous in judgment. A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth calls for blows. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul.” All familiar stuff.

Solomon addresses something that I think is destroying a lot of people. “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.” Solomon’s talking about gossip. Before we go any further, we need to understand what gossip is. Gossip is generally defined as idle talk or rumor; especially about the personal or private affairs of others. For the most part, we seem to enjoy gossip, unless it’s about us. We have tabloid newspapers like the National Enquirer, the Globe, and the Star. We have gossip columns, celebrity gossip, and TMZ. Gossip is expressly forbidden in Scripture, but we find it’s commonplace in the church. Sometimes it’s veiled as a prayer request and it rarely comes from the one needing prayer. It comes in the form of, “Pray for so and so . . . they’re having a hard time with their husband’s drinking.” “Pray for . . . their children are so disobedient and rebellious.” “Pray for . . . they’re behind in their mortgage.” “Pray for . . . they’re so sick,” and then a long list of details regarding the sickness is shared. Sometimes it’s even shared with a pained look and there seems to be genuine hurt from the teller. Look at the word picture. “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels.” Dainty means delicately small and pretty. I should tell you that the word morsel is also translated wound. Look at the results of taking in that dainty morsel. “They go down into the innermost parts of the body.” Here’s what gossip does. It gets in your system and destroys you from the inside out. It affects the hearer and the one about whom the tale is told. Think about it like this: there are things that are harmless when applied to the skin, but can be deadly if taken internally. Hydrogen peroxide comes to mind. On some medication, you’ll see the warning label: external use only. Gossip gets in you and affects you in ways you cannot overestimate. Gossip hurts people. So what if it’s the truth? Gossip often comes in unsubstantiated claims. I love it when someone tells me, “People are saying . . .” Really, who are those people? Oh, just people. Those people won’t be named because the one passing on the information doesn’t want it to come back to them because they’re gossiping. Now if you hear something, it’s okay to check it out. Remember, even if it’s the truth, it may not need to be shared.

Solomon uses the terms foolish and wicked interchangeably. Someone that says God’s Word is outdated or irrelevant will bring contempt for anything that is holy and pure, and godly. Even though fewer and fewer people are willing to stand in agreement with the unchanging Word of God does not mean you have to. Don’t dismiss the power of God to change your life. He wants to change you if you’ll allow Him to. A decision to follow Christ will bridge the gap in your understanding of things that are inexplicable, but there will always be things about God that cannot be understood. Biblical and godly wisdom provide an inexhaustible fountain of cool, refreshing living water. Don’t be a gossip. It hurts the listener and the one that it’s about.

A Savior is Born

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?

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!”

The Miracle of Easter

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

The Savior’s Sign

Virgin BirthYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

He is considered one of the greatest men of God from the olden days. He was a counselor to kings and a writer whose O.T. book is quoted more often in the New Testament than any other except the book of Psalms. When Jesus preached His first sermon, He preached out of a passage from this man’s writings. His calling from God is one of the most beautiful pictures in Scripture. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” (Is. 6:1-4) This man would be inspired to say things about the Lord so incredible that it boggles our mind. is name is Isaiah and he is a prophet.

Isaiah 7:10-17 is a familiar passage to people in and out of the church and I encourage you to get your Bible and read this incredible passage for yourself.

You’ve heard the saying, desperate times call for desperate measures? This passage comes just after Isaiah answers the call of God in 6:1-4. Isaiah finds himself right in the middle of some pretty intense political action. Isaiah 7:1-2 sets the stage for us. At some point in our lives, every one of us will face desperate times. Circumstances present themselves that may bring us to the edge of despair where there seem to be few options and time is running out. In this passage I want you so see some things that put Judah’s king Ahaz on the edge of despair. Ahaz was an unstable man. He had a godly father and grandfather, but he did not follow in their footsteps. Having godly relatives is no guarantee of godly children. Unless a child personally chooses to enter into a biblical relationship with God through Christ, he will leave that home one day without the tools necessary to face the world.

I don’t know everything about Ahaz, but this much is clear. His life can be summed up as recorded in 2 Kings 16:2, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done.” He is not in a wilderness period and he is not sowing his wild oats. He did not do what is right in God’s eyes. Ahaz is probably in his early twenties and he is confronted with a very serious national crisis, but he doesn’t possess the life experience or spiritual resources necessary to effectively handle it. To make a really long story short, Assyria and the northern kingdom of Israel joined forces to invade the southern kingdom of Judah. Against the guidance of God’s prophets, Israel formed an alliance with Assyria in an effort to defend against what they knew was coming from Assyria. It was a, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em scenario. It was Assyria’s practice to invade and conquer neighboring countries and take the people prisoner. Assyria’s  goal was to invade Judah and get rid of king Ahaz. Verse 2 tells us “His heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.” So what’s a king to do? Godly kings seek wise counsel from God and then there is Ahaz. Ahaz was foolish. 2 Kings 17 indicate that Ahaz is going to try and form his own alliance independent of Assyria and Israel only his alliance won’t be against Assyria, it would be with Assyria. Ahaz is planning to buy off Assyria to save himself. You can feel the desperation in Ahaz’s reasoning. So it is with this information that we find the prophet Isaiah called to go talk to king Ahaz in 7:3. Let’s see how this is set up in 7:3-9.

The actual reality is that God always comes through. How many times has God used seemingly incidental things to remind us that He is right there? He is involved in our lives even if we can’t see exactly what He is doing. Here is Ahaz looking over the water supply lines of Judah. Isaiah and his son Shear-jashub walk up to Ahaz. Hebrew names carried a lot of significance. Isaiah means Jehovah has saved. Shear-jashub means a remnant shall return. Standing right in front of Ahaz are reminders of who God is and that He will preserve His people. Remember that Ahaz’s father and grandfather were godly men. God is always bigger than your problems and your fears. In the face of certain defeat, look at what God says through Isaiah in v. 4, “Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted.” God is saying don’t look for a way out, but look for a way through your difficult situation. 1 Cor. 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” Do you believe that no situation is too hard for God? For Ahaz, God was trying to show him that his trust must be placed in the One that can handle the problem. V. 9 says, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” Faith, that strong conviction in what you cannot see often stands in the way of God accomplishing what He wants to accomplish. If you do not stand firm, you will fall. God was trying to get Ahaz to believe. To walk by faith, not by sight. To be a follower of God first, then a king.

This is a good time for a miracle. It is at this moment that something incredible takes place. Vs. 10-11 says, “Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’” Isaiah was there to speak to the king on behalf of God and Ahaz doesn’t want to listen; all he can think about is the Assyrian army. Ask whatever you want – no limit. “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD.” Now Ahaz gets all spiritual on Isaiah. He is conveniently forgetting what is going on in Judah: idolatry, human sacrifices, asheroth pole worship, Baal worship. The reality is that Ahaz had already made up his mind and nothing Isaiah said or did would convince him to trust God. Are we like that? Do we seek guidance and counsel from the Scriptures, or do we avoid it because we’ve already made up our minds as to what we will do.

Here is the moment set apart for Isaiah. He turns from the king and begins to speak to the crowd that had gathered. The story continues in vs. 13-14, “Then he said, “Listen now O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.” It is God that gives the sign. He doesn’t send an angel or a prophet – God Himself sees to it.

What is the meaning of the sign? This sign is meant to get our attention. V. 13 starts with “Listen now.” Pay attention to what is coming. This sign proves that God can do whatever He wants to do. Sign means a signal or a distinguishing mark. It is something that is obvious, something that will stand out. This sign involves the birth of a son after an impossible pregnancy. A virgin will conceive. Isaiah tells everyone that at some point a woman will conceive a child that simply cannot be explained.  When you see that, that is God’s handiwork. This sign means that God is coming in the flesh. His name is Immanuel meaning God with us. God will be with us in the flesh. He will dwell among us. We will see and experience His glory. 700 hundred years later, that sign was realized. A young woman named Mary was engaged to a guy named Joseph. An angel appeared and told her what to expect. Luke 1:31 records the words of the prophet, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”

If God can cause a woman to conceive in a miraculous manner, why do you doubt that He can take care of you? The birth of Immanuel, God with us, served as a sign for people desperate to see God working. When all seems hopeless to us, God already has a plan in place, has already set the process in motion. Before you even realized you need Him, He is already there. Sometimes it takes being in the pit of despair to see the hope of a Savior. Immanuel means God with us, not God might be here one day if you’re really good.

Expect a Miracle

You can listen to the podcast here.

And so it is Christmas. We begin our Christmas series for this year. Every year seems Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier. American retailers capitalize on our materialism, our over spending, our overeating, and our overwhelming urge for self indulgence. I hope it will be a Christmas like no other for you and your family as we cut through all the distractions of the season.

Is. 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” What does God look like?

We know from Genesis that we are created in His image. We know he has hands and he hears and sees. Would we know God if He walked in or when He showed up? Over the years artists have sculpted God, have painted God, have drawn images of what they think God looks like. Would we recognize God or would be like people in the old west that asked, “Who was that masked man?” Centuries before the Messiah came, prophets proclaimed, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 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. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” (Is. 9:6-7) This soon coming king would suffer, would be rejected by his own people; He would know heartache and pain. This King would hang out with the ones society deemed low class and poor. People had been told about this King and they had different expectations about what he would look like, what he would act like, what he would be like. Some thought this king would be a political leader that would turn the world upside down; someone that would return the world to the time of King David.

When we talk to loved ones or friends on the phone, you have the mental picture of what they look like. When you pray, what mental picture of God do you formulate? Is it the condemning judge that sits on His mighty throne waiting to drop the hammer on you? Is He like that parent that never says no? That never provides guidance or discipline that lets you do whatever you like? Is He a God that rewards obedience with material wealth or physical health? Or is He a God that is present with you regardless of your circumstances? Immanuel – God with us.

When describing God we use adjectives like all-mighty, all powerful, majestic, consuming, liberating, rich, and infinite. And yet, not one of these words would describe Jesus. Jesus was not at all what people expected. His life is a contradiction of worldly values and ideals. He was not born in power in strength, but in weakness. He was born to a poor family in a poor town filled with marginalized people. He spent his early years as a refugee in Africa where He escaped political genocide. He spent his childhood in a blue-collar, working class family. As He grew into a man, he faced opposition from religious leaders. He resisted the world’s obsession with money, power, and recognition. He had compassion and empathy for the weak, the orphans, and the destitute of society. What does God look like? He looks like Jesus – God with us!

Is this today’s Jesus? We often view Jesus as the genie in the bottle. He exists to grant our every wish. We have redefined Jesus into our own image who promises to give us everything we want. He has become an idol of consumption, materialism, and self indulgence. He has become Santa Claus Jesus. We know the familiar song . . . He knows when you are sleeping, he knows if you’d been good or bad. In this same way, we have reduced God to a heavenly watchdog that judges what we do or don’t do and then grants punishment or reward. This is not the God we see in Jesus. He doesn’t come bearing gifts to give to good boys and girls. God’s gift of Jesus cannot be neatly wrapped in a box with a pretty bow on it. If you’re picture of God is distorted, your view of life will be distorted. We have this commercialized idea of Jesus as the magical gift giver sent from above and as a result, we have certain expectations for Christmas, but Jesus doesn’t do magic. Magic is trickery, sleight of hand, it’s an illusion, it’s for our entertainment; our enjoyment not for our transformation. God doesn’t do magic; He does miracles. That magical, wonderful, ideal, storybook Christmas is unattainable. We get all the new and improved decorations, holiday recipes, and latest gifts to create a warm, fuzzy experience and we’re left wanting. The fuzzy feelings pass and we’re left exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed at the shopping, spending, school programs, cooking, entertaining, and wrapping of gifts we don’t need or will never use. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday festivities, we miss Immanuel – the gift of God with us. The idolatry of consumerism is tough to knock down. John Wesley said the wallet is the last thing converted in a person’s life. Jesus said it Himself in Matt. 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Get ready for a miracle. Christmas is the celebration of a miracle. A young girl conceived a child without the participation of a man and yet we push the miracle worker out of the celebration. Merriam Webster defines miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” Every salvation is a miracle of God’s love, of God’s involvement, of God’s desire for an intimate relationship with His ultimate creation. Do you feel like you’re not worth it? In John 7:38 Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” The same Holy Spirit that conceived the Miracle that Mary carried within her lives inside of every ordinary believer. Our Messiah was ordinary too. Is. 53:2-3 says of Jesus, “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Not quite the leader the world was looking for. He would not have been one of the cool kids at school. He was from the wrong side of the tracks of an insignificant little town where one person asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (Jo. 1:46) He was ordinary looking, probably plain, nothing that would draw people to Him. That’s the way most of us are yet God chooses to use us, to work in us and work through us.

Scripture is filled with ordinary people that God used in extraordinary ways. Moses was not eloquent in speech and had anger issues. Jonah was disobedient.    David was an adulterer, a conspirator, and a murderer. Peter spoke without thinking. Thomas was a doubter. Paul was a persecutor of Christians, but God had plans for each of them and He has plans for you. “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11) Are you willing to pay the price? The angel greeted Mary and said, “You have found favor with God.” (Lu. 1:30) Mary faced certain rejection, criticism, and ostracism because of her unwed pregnancy. While grace is free, it’s not cheap. It was not culturally acceptable to be pregnant out of wedlock and Mary had to be thinking, “Wow, if this is God’s favor, I don’t want to be on His wrong side.” What about Joseph? I’m sure life was tough for him too. His wife was pregnant and he wasn’t the father.

Jesus came to this earth not just to die sacrificially on our behalf, but also to demonstrate sacrificial living. How far has our modern Christmas diverted from the original Christmas? We want to be warm and fuzzy surrounded by family and friends with the gentle sound of Christmas carols playing softly in the background. Mary and Joseph were alone in a strange place and of that night we sing, “The cattle are lowing the poor Baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Their Christmas was full of poverty and anxiety, not mulled cider, turkey, ham, and peppermint sticks. And let’s not forget the reason Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt was to escape government sanctioned genocide. I’m not sure how Mary and Joseph would describe their memories of Christmas, but it was probably not a silent night where all was calm and all was bright.

Christmas is about the sacrificial gift of Jesus that we want to leave in the manger. But you cannot separate the child in the manger from the message of Christ on the cross. The meaning of life is not found in material possessions or personal comfort. The meaning of Christmas is not found in endless debt and getting gifts not needed. I agree with Paul is saying the meaning of life in found in, “know[ing] Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Phil 3:10) Expect God to perform the same miracles in your life that He performed in Mary and Joseph’s lives.