Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “Christmas

Why Jesus was sent

Jesus as ambassador, lifesaver and gift

At this time of the year we remember the incarnation when Jesus Christ was born into the world. Scripture teaches that He was sent into the world by God the Father. Let’s look at why Jesus was sent. What was His mission and purpose?

God sent His Son

In the Old Testament times God spoke to mankind through people such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, the judges and the prophets. They were divinely inspired spokesmen for God. We read in Hebrews, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2NIV).

It reminds me of the parable of the wicked tenants where a landowner rented his vineyard to some farmers. When he sent his servants to collect the harvest, they were killed. Then he sent his son to them, but they killed him as well (Mt. 21:33-46). In this parable, the landowner is like God, the servants are like the prophets and the son is like Jesus. First God sent the prophets and then He sent His Son.

Paul wrote, “When the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4). Who set the time? God the Father. He is the one who did the sending. It was His idea. At Christmas we remember how, “God sent His son”. Although Mary was His earthly mother, God was His Father. This means that Jesus is the Son of God, which shows that He is divine; a part of the trinity. Jesus is unique in this aspect. Jesus was “born of a woman”, which is the usual way that people enter the world. It shows that Jesus was also a man. What an amazing way for God’s Son to enter the world!

The New Testament gives three reasons why Jesus was sent: to be an ambassador, a lifesaver, and a gift from God.

To be an ambassador

Jesus was sent to be an ambassador. What does an ambassador do? They represent whoever sent them. They are authorised representatives that are usually sent to a foreign country. The prophets were God’s ambassadors, although they represented Him in their own countries. However, their message came from a different country; it was from heaven.

Jesus was God’s ambassador. But He was a different kind of ambassador. How was Jesus’ ambassadorship different? He was sent to be born in a foreign country (earth) as a baby and not as a mature adult. This means that He wasn’t a foreigner. He grew up on earth and didn’t just arrive as an adult. So God sent an ambassador who wasn’t a foreigner. To all appearances He was a normal person like you or I. He lived in Palestine and was not seen as a foreigner. He spoke the same language, wore the same clothes, and had a similar appearance to his fellow countrymen. In this regard, He was like the prophets.

What does the Bible say about Jesus as an ambassador?

Jesus spoke for God

We have already seen in Hebrews that God “has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:2). John wrote, “the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God” (Jn. 3:34). Jesus said, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me” (Jn. 7:16; 8:26) and “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken …  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (Jn. 12:49-50).

So Jesus was an ambassador whose message came from God the Father. He spoke on God’s behalf.

Jesus acted for God

But Jesus not only spoke for God, He lived for God. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me” (Jn. 6:38-39). Also, “my food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34) and “I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me” (Jn. 5:30).

The Lord Jesus is the most complete revelation of God to humanity. He has made God known and said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 1:18; 14:9). Jesus reveals God’s character. He said, “the one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me” (Jn. 12:45). After all, one of His names was Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Mt. 1:23).

So Jesus was an ambassador who acted in accordance with God’s will.

Jesus showed God’s kindness and love

In living for God, Jesus showed God’s kindness and love in a new way. After describing one’s sinfulness before salvation, Paul wrote “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Ti. 3:4-7). When did “the kindness and love of God our Savior” appear? It was when Christ arrived on earth. At Christmas we remember this event.

John wrote, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world” (1 Jn. 4:9). And the well known verse, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

So Jesus was an ambassador who showed God’s kindness and love. We learn more about this in the next illustration.

To be a lifesaver

Jesus was also sent to be a lifesaver. What does a lifesaver do? They rescue those who are drowning. At the beach they watch the surfers and give warnings when there is danger such as sharks, rips or rough waves.

Jesus was God’s lifesaver. God sent Jesus on a rescue mission to save us from the lake of fire. Like a lifesaver rescues those who are drowning, Jesus can rescue us from God’s eternal judgment. His name reflects the fact that He is the most important part of God’s rescue plan. The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua” which means “God saves”. Joseph was told that Mary “will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).

But He was a different kind of lifesaver. How was Jesus’ lifesaving different? First, His was a rescue of our spirit, soul and body; not just a physical one. Second, He took the place of the victim and died in the process. Third, when it is accepted, Christ’s lifesaving is effective forever. We have heard of people who died when saving someone else, but the person who was rescued could drown later. In fact they will eventually die later unless the Lord comes in the meantime and they are believers.

What does the Bible say about Jesus as a lifesaver?

Jesus paid the penalty for our sin

All the world’s problems come from the sinful nature we inherited from Adam and Eve. Humanity’s sinfulness was the target of God’s rescue plan. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8). What is the devil’s work? Sin, because “the devil has been sinning from the beginning”. Satan specialises in sinning.

The Bible says that Jesus “appeared so that He might take away our sins” (1 Jn. 3:5). “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). “The Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14). “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:17; 12:47).

God did this by sending Jesus to the earth to die on the cross (Jn. 12:27). God “loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10). Then He was buried and rose from the grave and ascended back to heaven. So the baby born in Bethlehem died at Calvary for our sins.

By confessing our sinfulness and accepting that Jesus died as our substitute there is  liberation from sin and its consequences: Jesus was sent to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free (Lk. 4:18-21). Jesus is the answer to the world’s problems. He is the greatest lifesaver.

Jesus enables eternal life in heaven

Not only can we be rescued from eternal punishment, but we can be eternally in God’s presence. “God sent His Son … that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4). The change described in this passage is from being slaves to being sons. The Jews were under the bondage of the law and the Gentiles were under the bondage of idolatry. Through Christ’s sacrifice, both can be changed from slaves to heirs as sons of God.

To be a gift

Jesus was also sent to be a gift. God’s salvation is like a gift: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Besides being God’s ambassador and lifesaver, Jesus is God’s gift to us: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Jn. 4:10; Rom. 6:23; 2 Cor. 9:15). Paul wrote, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Cor. 9:15). So God is the greatest giver and Jesus is the greatest gift.

Have you accepted His gift of salvation or has it been discarded or forgotten? This is important because the next time Jesus is sent to earth it will not be as an ambassador or a lifesaver or a gift but as a judge.

Here’s how to accept God’s gift. We can’t escape hell and get to heaven by good works. When people asked Jesus “What must we do to do the works God requires?” He answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”’ (Jn. 6:28-29). Instead of good works we need to confess our sins and trust in Christ’s work of salvation on our behalf.

Here’s the result of accepting God’s gift: those who accept God’s rescue plan have a new life in Christ which is a spiritual life. “He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9). Without Jesus in our life we are spiritually dead, with Him in our lives we are spiritually alive. He said, “whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” and “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 5:24; 10:10). Anyone alive has physical life, But Jesus is talking about spiritual life here. Believers have been born into a spiritual life; they have changed from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. Paul calls it a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

The disciples were an example of those who accepted God’s gift. Jesus prayed, “I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them (they accepted that He was God’s ambassador). They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent me (they accepted that He was God’s lifesaver)” (v.8, 25). He also prayed for unity between Christians so “that the world may believe that You have sent me” (Jn. 17:21, 23). Let’s display the character of God and Christ so that others will see Christ in us as the Father is seen in Christ.

God sends us

Jesus continued to pray for the disciples “As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” and “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn. 17:18; 20:21). As God sent His Son to earth, Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the gospel message. Those of us who trust in Christ are also His disciples and are also sent to be God’s ambassadors to proclaim the gospel message in our part of the world. As Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). In this case the message was to be reconciled to God.

Conclusion

As we give gifts to each other at Christmas let’s remember that God the Father sent His Son as an ambassador so we can learn more about God, as a lifesaver who we can trust in for eternal life and as a gift for us to accept and share with others.

Written, December 2011


Jesus, what a beautiful name

A special Christmas message

Every December 25, Christians all over the world celebrate an event that occurred about 2,000 years ago – the birth of Jesus Christ. Unlike most boys of that time, Jesus was not named after a human father or given a family name (Lk. 1:59-60). Instead, He was given special names to signify His special mission.

Although born in a Jewish community in a town near Jerusalem, Jesus was to affect the lives of all humanity – past, present and future. This is evident from the names associated with the birth of this unique child.

God with us

It was prophesied centuries before that He would be called “Immanuel”, which means “God with us” (Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:22-23NIV).  This shows that Jesus was God living on earth as a human being and is consistent with Joseph being told that Jesus was conceived “from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). How remarkable that the Creator of the universe should be born on earth as a baby boy.

The Bible states that Jesus “shared in our humanity” (Heb. 2:14) and “became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:14). As a result, He is the clearest revelation of God to mankind. The fact that Jesus was both human and divine is fundamental to the Christian faith (1 Jn. 4:2; 2 Jn. 7). His followers recognised that He was “the man from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

It seems as though God was also physically present on earth at the beginning of history as  Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). So why did the Divine return to earth as Jesus?

Savior

Joseph was told to give Mary’s son the name Jesus, “because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21NIV). This was His mission.

The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua”, which means “the Lord saves”. Joshua helped to spy out the promised land of Canaan (Num. 13). Most of the spies were afraid of the fortified cities, and the people who were strong and powerful and seemed like giants. Despite this Joshua and Caleb believed they could take possession of the land (Num. 13:30).

God used Joshua to destroy the walled city of Jericho and many other kingdoms and cities in Canaan.  Under his leadership the Israelites had many victories and were saved from their enemies.

Today we live in a world of sin, suffering and death. As Joshua was used by God to save Israel, Jesus was used by God to save humanity. He came to have victory over sin, death and Satan and to rescue us from eternal judgement (Heb. 2:14-15; Rom. 5:18-21). In fact, “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Christ the Lord

The shepherds were told that the baby was “Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11). The name “Christ” is the Greek form of “Messiah”, which means “the Anointed One”. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were typically anointed with oil. When this name is applied to Jesus it means that He was divinely appointed – appointed by God.

Peter testified “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

John said of the Scriptures “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31).

The word “Lord” signifies power and authority and is frequently used of God and Jesus in the Bible. Jesus taught “as one who had authority” (Mk. 1:22) and He demonstrated great power by His miracles, such as healing the sick, driving out demons and multiplying the loaves and fishes.

The wise men used a title of power and authority when they called the baby “the King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). Although King Herod was disturbed about this, Jesus was not recognised as such (Jn. 1:11), and this characteristic was not evident during His life on earth. Although this was the charge at His crucifixion, He said that His kingdom was not of this world (Jn. 18:36).

Jesus is supreme, His name “is above every name”. In the future His awesome power will be evident to everyone and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11).

Our response

At Christmas we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, whose birth was to be “good news of great joy … for all the people” (Lk. 2:10). Responses to His birth included: obedience to God (Mt. 1:25), gifts and worship (Mt. 2:11), amazement (Lk. 2:18), meditation (Lk. 2:19), praise and thanks to God (Lk. 2:20,38) and worry (Mt. 2:3).

In the incarnation God took on human form to reveal Himself to people in a way they could grasp (Jn. 1:18), to become their Savior by ransoming their sins (Mk. 10:45), and to deal sympathetically with their needs (Heb. 2:17-18).  But many rejected this offer of help: “though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him” (Jn. 1:10).

As the birth of Jesus Christ divides history into B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, meaning, in the year of our Lord), so people are divided into those who accept and those who reject Christ’s offer to rescue them from eternal judgement.

I trust that you can say “Jesus, what a beautiful name” and that His name is well known to you as Savior, Christ and Lord (Mk. 6:14).

Published, December 1998


Putting Christmas In Context

Preparing for the holiday

Christmas is coming! It’s a great time of festivity, celebration, exchanging gifts and expressing love and goodwill toward one another. It’s when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Everyone is friendly at this time of year.

The Christmas story is in the context of a bigger story. We learn about it from the Bible, which is God’s historical message to humanity. Some would ask, “Why bring God into Christmas?” Because He was behind the special Babe born in Bethlehem about 2,000 years ago.

But hasn’t science explained everything without the need to bring God into it? No! It can’t explain the complexity of life. We live in a world of many living things, so complex that science is unable to create it from non-living matter. Scientists can’t even manufacture a single living cell, like an amoeba. Furthermore, living organisms have the unique ability to continually repair and maintain and reproduce themselves – an ability that cannot be replicated by science and technology. Also, the origin of the “software” of the DNA molecule can’t be explained by science. The origin of life is beyond the realm of science, as is the origin of matter, energy and time. Why is there anything at all? These “why” and “origin” questions are beyond the realm of science.

The Big Picture
In the beginning of time God created life on earth. The first people, Adam and Eve, lived in the Garden of Eden. It was utopia, but it didn’t last long. God tested their obedience by telling them not to eat from one of the trees in the garden. But they were tempted to eat from this tree and when they did, they disobeyed God. This brought evil and rebellion into the world, and we have all inherited this sinful nature. The world changed completely when God cursed it; He introduced death and put a barrier between people and God. That’s why we live in a tough, disappointing and decaying world – a world of disease, suffering and injustice. That’s why life is a struggle and our relationships are fractured – with each other, with the physical environment and with God. No one can have utopia today. If that was the end of the story, then there would be nothing lasting to live for and we would be disillusioned, depressed and pessimistic.

Fortunately that’s not the end of the story. God had a rescue plan for mankind; it’s recorded in the Bible by eyewitnesses. Here’s a summary of that plan. God would send His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to fix the relationship between us and God. He entered our world in a personal way. He’s on our side and did everything possible to rescue us. Jesus lived like a human being, except without being sinful since He was the divine Son of God. He lived a perfect, sinless life in obedience to God; something that Adam and Eve didn’t do. Then He was killed to rescue us – to take the punishment for sin that we deserve. Only a perfect person could do that. This plan took about 33 years – from Jesus’ birth until His death. We remember His birth at Christmas and His death at Easter.

These occasions remind us that Jesus had a unique birth and a unique death. To show that He was not an ordinary person, after He was buried He came back to life and then went back to be with God. Only the God who created life has such power. People are given the opportunity to accept or reject God’s rescue plan. This has been happening for almost 2,000 years. Finally, God will return to judge the world and restore it to be like paradise. All who accept the rescue plan will enjoy God’s new creation. When God personally steps into His creation, big things happen. He has done this once and will do it again. The rescue plan gives us Someone and something to live for with purpose, confidence and optimism.

The big picture is visualized in the diagram. God created a perfect world. This world was changed and spoiled when humanity sinned. God sent His Son to take the punishment by dying for us so that those who accept the rescue plan can enter into God’s new creation. That’s the background to the Christmas story.

The First Christmas
All these things are real historical events; we acknowledge Christ’s existence whenever we write the date. The current year is 2008 AD, which means 2008 years since His birth. The word “Jesus” is not just a swear word, but the name given to this baby before He was born. “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua” which means “God saves” – because “He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21 NIV). God sent Him to be the Savior of the world (1 Jn. 4:14). Like a lifesaver rescues those who are drowning, Jesus can rescue us from God’s eternal judgment. His name reflects the fact that He is the most important part of God’s rescue plan.

After His birth, an angel told the shepherds, “I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody. The Savior, who is Messiah and Master has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David” (Lk. 2:10-11 MSG). Christ’s birth was announced as good news of great joy for everyone because this baby was the Savior and the promised Messiah. He was God in human form – “God with us” – the Messiah that the Jews were looking for (Mt. 1:23). That’s why His birth, life and death were unique. He’s also called Master and King because He is the leader of God’s new creation.

Angels sang the first Christmas carol: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Lk. 2:14). They praised God for this Baby who would enable people to have peace with God and be rescued from the coming judgment (Jn. 3:17; Eph. 2:14-17). The most important thing we can do is make peace with God by admitting that we’re less than perfect, deciding to turn away from our sins, asking God to forgive our sins and control our life. When we accept His gift of pardon, forgiveness and reconciliation with God, we gain inner peace and can look forward to the paradise of God’s new creation (Rom. 5:1). It’s like being reborn into a new life. Then we have a real reason to celebrate Christ’s coming to the world.

Your choice
God doesn’t force any of this on us. It’s like a gift that can be accepted or rejected – Jesus is God’s gift to us (Jn. 4:10-14). We have a choice. God lets us manage our own lives, but we receive the consequences of our choices. We will all face God one day. Will you face a lifesaver, or a judge?

Published, November 2008


Why do Christians celebrate Christmas, when everybody knows it is pagan in origin, tradition and most of its practices?

Christmas is a time when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Most historians agree that the celebration of Christmas did not begin until the fourth century, although they are not certain exactly how or why it began as a Christian festival. The most accepted explanation is that it began in Roman culture that held a pagan celebration for the winter solstice on December 25. As Christians were reluctant to take part, they replaced it with Christmas.

Local customs, culture, traditions and history influence Christmas practices around the world. Some, such as giving gifts or using a star, were derived from the biblical nativity stories. Some, such as the legend of Saint Nicholas, have their origin in Church history. Others, such as the use of evergreens and a yule log, have pagan origins. Still others, such as reindeer, elves, and the North Pole, are secular in origin and used as commercial marketing techniques.

The word “pagan” means one who worships a false god – an idolater, an unbeliever. Many things have a pagan origin. For example, the names of the days of the week in English were named after Anglo-Saxon gods and goddesses (except for Saturday, which was named after the Roman god Saturn). These in turn were based on Roman gods. However, the meaning of these names has changed from that of a deity to that of a particular day. Previously they had a pagan connection, but now they do not. So, it’s not the source long ago that’s important, but whether there is a connection today to idolatry (1 Cor. 10:20). The same applies to tradition: it’s the situation today that counts.

Many customs cannot be linked directly to Scripture. For example, families remember birthdays and weddings, but in the Bible the former are only mentioned with respect to Pharaoh and Herod (Gen. 40:20; Mt. 14:6). This custom is not wrong. We have freedom in many areas of life. New Testament passages that apply to the Church are much less prescriptive than those applied to the Jews in the Old Testament. Customs can be morally good (Lk. 4:16), evil or neutral. Two tests that can be applied to customs and practices are: Will God be glorified, and will anyone be stumbled (1 Cor. 10:31-32)?

There is no mention in Scripture of celebrating Christ’s birth, although believers are to remember His death. On the other hand, there is no prohibition against it. The incarnation is part of the gospel message: Christ was born and lived as a human before He was crucified. The celebration of Christmas could be considered a debatable matter (Rom. 14:1). Christians shouldn’t quarrel over debatable matters, but follow their conscience and honor God in whatever they do (Rom. 14:1-15:7; 1 Cor. 8:4-13; 10:14-33). They shouldn’t impose their convictions on others but respect each other’s conscience on these matters.

In a secular society, Christmas provides a great opportunity for evangelism. The birth of Christ is the theme of many Christmas carols. Believers can use this time to explain that Christ came into the world to address the problem of our separation from God and enable us to be reconciled with God and to have the promise of eternal life with Him in heaven.

The main dangers at Christmas are the idols of selfishness, materialism and the gospel of good works. Are we focused on what we receive or on what we give? Do we get caught up in the frenzy of shopping and celebrating? Do we tell children that if they are good enough they will receive presents from Santa Claus?

Beware of the false gods of Christmas. Remember that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and that the gospel teaches that we are not saved by what we do, but by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8).

Published, December 2007


God Has A Gift For You!

A Christmas Message

At Christmas we give gifts to one another. When selecting a gift we consider what the person would like. Of course, we expect the receiver to open the gift we’ve given them. At this time of the year we also enjoy receiving gifts.

When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, He referred to Himself as “the gift of God” which leads to eternal life (Jn. 4:10-14 NIV). This reminds us that Jesus was God’s gift to humanity. Through Jesus’ birth, God became man. This gift satisfied our greatest need – being separated from God by our sins. Paul said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 3:23). What a contrast! Our sin leads to death, but God offers us eternal life – to be with Him forever (2 Cor. 5:1-4).

Here’s how God offers His gift to us: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). It depends on faith; confessing our sinful condition and recognizing that Jesus paid our penalty when He died, enabling us to be reconciled with God (1 Jn. 1:9). This faith comes from God.

After Paul exhorted believers to be generous givers, he said, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15). No words can express the extent of God’s love. The best description was: “God loved the people of this world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him will have eternal life and never really die” (Jn. 3:16 cev).

The Greek word for “gift” conveys the loving-kindness of the giver and the lack of cost to the receiver. Surely, God is the greatest giver and Jesus Christ is His greatest gift. Have you accepted His gift? How sad to give and receive gifts at Christmas and never to receive Christ, the greatest gift of all.

Published, December 2006


El Niño: How Will It Affect You?

A different kind of Christmas message

A Climate Extreme
Eastern Australia experiences periodic droughts usually associated with El Niño, an extreme of the Southern Oscillation climate phenomenon, which was named by fishermen in Peru, South America. Usually they catch plenty of anchovy fish, because cold water from deeper in the ocean brings nutrients to the surface. These nutrients support lots of plankton – small animals and plants that are food for the fish.

But sometimes a warmer ocean current arrives near Christmas, devastating the fishing industry. It is like a famine in the ocean with few nutrients, few plankton and few fish. The Peruvian fishermen called it El Niño, – Spanish for “the boy child” – because it came at Christmas, the time they remembered “the Christ child.” The name El Niño is now used to describe this extreme in the climatic cycle across the whole Pacific region.

El Niño events occur every four to seven years and typically last for 12-18 months. A measure of this climatic event is the Southern Oscillation Index, which is calculated from the difference between the monthly average atmospheric pressure at Darwin in Australia and Tahiti in the mid-Pacific. The 1982-83 El Niño was the strongest in the last 100 years.

El Niño can have a dramatic influence on the weather and the economy in different parts of our world. It can lead to heavy rain, flooding, landslides and mosquito plagues, and can ruin the fishing industry in the west coast of Central and South America. On the opposite side of the Pacific it results in drought, water shortages, wildfires and poor crops in eastern Australia. The other extreme in the Pacific climatic cycle, a cooling of the eastern Pacific ocean, is known as La Niña, which is Spanish for “the girl child.” La Niña can lead to droughts in South America and floods in eastern Australia. So the same climatic event can lead to different types of weather in different parts of the world.

The Christ Child
The real Christ child came to earth about 2,000 years ago and there were also different responses to this event. Some welcomed it and some hated it. The shepherds were joyful at the birth of the promised Messiah, and they praised God (Lk. 2:8-20). Simeon and Anna also praised God as they had waited a lifetime to see the Messiah (Lk. 2:25-38). Wise men came a long distance to worship the king of the Jews (Mt. 2:1-2). But king Herod was so disturbed when he heard of the Christ child’s birth that he gave orders to kill all boys under two years old (Mt. 2:3,16). The Christ child was protected from this tragedy when His family fled to Egypt (Mt. 2:13).

The Christ Man
Of course, a boy child grows up to be a man. There were also different responses when the Christ child grew up to be a man and revealed that He was the Messiah. Some welcomed it and some hated it. Large crowds followed to listen to His words and to see His miracles (Mt. 5:25). When He healed people they praised God because they had never seen anything like this before (Mt. 9:8; Lk. 17:15). They thought He taught with much more authority than their religious teachers, and were delighted when He criticized them (Mt. 7:29; Mk. 2:12; Lk. 13:17). He was welcomed into Jerusalem as the Messiah, riding on a donkey (Mt. 21:1-11). A woman even poured expensive perfume over Him in an act of adoration (Mt. 26:7).

To some He was a prophet, while His followers thought He was going to free their nation from Roman dominion (Mt. 16:13-14, Lk. 24:21). The disciples considered Him to be the Son of God, as did the soldiers who were terrified at His death (Mt. 14:33; 16:16; 27:54).

However, those of His home town took offense at Him and tried to throw Him over a cliff (Mt. 13:57; Lk. 4:29). The religious leaders opposed Him fiercely and said He was satanic and demon-possessed, and plotted how to kill Him (Mt. 9:34; 12:14, 24; 26:4; Lk. 11:53). They asked questions to trap Him (Mt. 22:15). He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot (Mt. 26:48-49). Finally, He was falsely accused, mocked, spit on, struck repeatedly and executed by the religious leaders (Mt. 27:30-31; Mk. 14:58; Acts 7:52).

Different Responses
There were also different responses when the good news of forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ was preached. Some welcomed it and some hated it. When Paul preached in Athens that Jesus was raised from the dead, some sneered, some accepted it, others were apathetic (Acts 17:32-34).

Jesus recognized this when He said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Mt. 10:34-36 NIV). He also said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Lk. 12:51-53).

This is figurative language; the results of His coming are stated as the apparent purpose of His coming. Jesus really came to bring peace and to rescue people from the coming judgment (Jn. 3:17; Eph. 2:14-17). But there are different responses to this – some accept it, while others ridicule and oppose it or are apathetic.

So families can be divided; some members being Christians while others are not. Jesus warned that when people became Christians, their families might persecute them. If family members oppose us, remember that faithfulness to Christ with a submissive spirit is what’s important. Our testimony can lead to their salvation (1 Pet. 3:1; 1 Cor. 7:14).

What is your response to the Christ child who grew up to be the man Christ? The Bible says that He came to give us an abundant new life (Jn. 10:10; 2 Cor. 5:17). I hope El Niño (the boy child) reminds you of the Christ child and the reason He came.

Published: December 2004


From The Cradle To The Cross

The incarnation leads to God’s presence

On December 25 we remember the birth of Jesus Christ. This central event in history divided the calendar into BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”). He was born to die, His name meaning “He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21 NIV). In this article we will look at four similarities between Christ’s birth and His death.

Foretold
Approximately 700 BC Isaiah wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And “the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel” (Isa. 9:6; 7:14). In the same time period, Micah predicted, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Mic. 5:2).

In about 530 BC Daniel wrote, “After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing” (Dan. 9:26). This is a reference to the sudden death of the Messiah. Christ’s suffering was described beforehand by Isaiah: “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness … He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteem Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed … He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open his mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away. And who can speak of His descendants? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken” (Isa. 52:13-53:12). So the Old Testament prophets foretold the circumstances of the Messiah’s birth and death.

Where No One Had Ever Been Laid
When Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for the census, the only accommodation they could find was in the stable of an inn: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:6-7). So the cattle trough became the cradle for the Messiah! What an unusual place for a baby – the manger would not have been used for this purpose before! This was God’s plan as it was announced to the shepherds. It also shows that He was born a pauper (2 Cor. 8:9).

After the Lord’s death, Joseph of Arimathea placed the body “in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock” (Mt. 27:60). It was a place where “no one had ever been laid” (Lk. 23:53; Jn. 19:41). This was the fulfillment of the prediction that “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death” (Isa. 53:9). Although the Lord was crucified as a criminal, He was buried in a rich man’s tomb, Joseph being a prominent member of the Jewish Council (Mk. 15:43). As H. A. Berg’s hymn says:

None had been laid in that manger
And none had been laid in that grave
But Jesus the heavenly stranger
Who came wayward sinners to save

Opposition
After King Herod heard about the birth of the King of the Jews “he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Mt. 2:3). So he asked the wise men to search for the child and report back to him. When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the astrologers, “he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (Mt. 2:8,16). What a drastic measure to take against a potential rival! In the meantime, Jesus and His family escaped to Egypt until Herod died.

 

The authorities felt threatened and responded with hatred and opposition that continued during the Lord’s ministry until He was condemned to death by the Chief Priests, the Jewish elders, Pilate and Herod. They even persuaded the crowd to ask for the release of the murderer Barabbas and Christ’s crucifixion even though He was innocent (Mt. 27:16-23; Mk. 15:6-14). The title on His cross was “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” but the Chief Priests protested that the sign should read, “this man claimed to be king of the Jews” (Jn. 19:21).

Signs In The Sky
The astrologers (or Magi, a sacred caste of the religion of the Medes and Persians) traveled to Jerusalem in search of the Christ-child, because they “saw His star in the East.” When they saw the star, they were overjoyed because it stopped over the place where the child was (Mt. 2:2,10). God used a special star to guide these men to a particular house.

We can learn much from their behavior recorded in Matthew 2:2-12. They came to worship Him. This was a genuine desire, not a selfish one like Herod’s. They came with joy and “bowed down and worshiped Him.” They brought gifts of gold (symbolic of a king), incense (a perfume symbolizing the Lord’s sinless life) and myrrh (a bitter herb symbolizing the Lord’s suffering). Do we bring gifts to the Lord for Him to use for His purposes?

When the Lord was on the cross there was darkness “over all the land” for three hours after noon (Mt. 27:45). This would have been incredible – like an extended total solar eclipse. During this time He bore God’s judgment of the sins of mankind. After this, He chose to die by dismissing His spirit. “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split” (Mt. 27:50-51). So there was an earthquake, and the heavy curtain inside the temple – the door to the Holiest place where God dwelt – was torn in two. This would have been a catastrophe for the Jewish religious leaders because it exposed the most sacred place where only the High Priest was allowed to enter once each year on the Day of Atonement. This was God’s doing, as it was torn from top to bottom, not bottom to top.

The symbolism of this event is explained in Hebrews 10:19-22 this way: “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” The curtain represented Christ’s body and through His death all believers can enter God’s presence in prayer and praise at any time. It was God’s way of opening the door to a relationship with Him (Rev. 3:20).

Hymn writer Gerrit Gustafson put it this way:
Only by grace can we enter
Only by grace can we stand
Not by our human endeavor
But by the blood of the Lamb

Into Your presence You call us

You call us to come
Into Your presence You draw us
And now by Your grace we come

Now by Your grace we come.

May we avail ourselves of this privilege of entering the open door of God’s presence as we celebrate His birth during this Christmas season.

Published: December 2002

See the other article in this series:
From the Cross to the Crown


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