Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Christmas

3 explanations of the origin of the date of Christmas

bruegel-bethlehem 900px 400pxWhy is the birth of Jesus Christ celebrated on 25th December? According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, December 25 was first identified as the date of Jesus’ birth by Sextus Julius Africanus (AD 160-240) in AD 221. Africanus wrote Chronographiai, a history of the world in five volumes.

As “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Lk. 2:8NIV) when Christ was born, it’s usually assumed that it wasn’t winter because it would be too cold to be living in the fields overnight. So people often assume that the date of Christmas is not connected to the date of Christ’s birth. (more…)


God’s gift

december-18_god'sgift_jpg 400pxWalmart in the United States stays open 24 hours of every day of every year … except for Christmas day. It’s an example of how, all over the world, Christmas is so much bigger than Easter. It’s estimated, this year, Australians will spend $11 billion on Christmas presents – and that’s just the presents – not the food or travel. So, why is Christmas so much bigger than Easter? Surely part of the answer has to do with whether we prefer a beautiful little baby or the horrible murder of an itinerant preacher. Where’s the contest? Babies are cute and cuddly! Fresh and innocent… full of promise and potential. While Easter is all about the awful thing that happened to that little baby when he grew up and became a man.

So, can’t we just focus on the Christmas story? Can we not marvel and dwell on the miracle of childbirth and especially… especially the wonder of God coming amongst us in human form?

No. Jesus didn’t come to be a perpetual baby. His mission was not to be the cutest or the most cuddly. When He grew up Jesus spoke most clearly about His mission to His disciples. This is what He told them. He “…came not to be served but to serve others, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

What happened at the cross was an intervention by God on behalf of the human race. The shedding of Jesus’s innocent blood was a payment or ‘ransom’ to satisfy God’s requirement that blood be shed for sin. Jesus’s death on the cross allows us to escape that payment. And it’s the reason why people everywhere can have peace with God. Is it any wonder the cross is the universal Christian symbol.

Back when Jesus was born, an angel said to shepherds at night nearby,
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10-11).

When those shepherds went to gaze on the baby held in the arms of Mary, His mother, they knew He was their ‘savior’. What they couldn’t have known is how His death on a cross would be the solution and how generations to come would find there, comfort and joy.

Bible Verse: Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Prayer: Dear God, I praise you for sending Jesus my savior.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2018

Posted December 2018


Santa with us

Santa 4 400pxSome of the houses in our city are decorated for Christmas. Many more feature Santa than Jesus. There are more jolly Santas than baby Jesuses. And more Santas on chimneys than Jesuses in nativity scenes. Christmas is when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Matthew wrote that one of His names is Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Mt. 1:22). But is seems that people think that “Santa with us” is more important than “God with us”.

IMG_2913 400pxHere’s the words of a song by Bob Bennett titled “God with us”.

Make wide the way and straight the path
God with us
He comes in mercy, not in wrath
God with us

Behold an ancient mystery
God stepping into history
Hail the incarnate deity
God with us

Santa 3 400pxGood will to men and peace on earth
God with us
He comes to us by humble birth
God with us

Clothed alike in flesh and bone
He comes to make His Father known
His Spirit says we’re not alone
God with us

God with us
Because we fell
Yeshua Hamashiach
[Hebrew for “Jesus the Messiah”]
Emmanuel
[Hebrew for “God with us”]
God with us
It was always meant to be
God with us
With you, with me

Innocent as a newborn child
God with us
The souls of sinners reconciled
God with us

From Bethlehem to Calvary
Come to set the captives free
That every grave might empty be
God with us

God with us
What a story to tell
Jesus Christ
Our Emmanuel
The lame will dance
The blind will see
God with us
With you, with me

Not by merit do we proclaim
He is fully God and fully man
Blessed be His Name
For the Eternal One
Has surely kept His vow
To be God with us
Here and now

So light the lights and trim the tree
God with us
A holiday with a mongrel pedigree
God with us

But at the heart of why we’re here
The morning after midnight clear
Reverence replaces fear
God with us

God with us
Our hearts compel
Our worship of the Living God
Emmanuel
May His Spirit give
Open eyes to see
God with us
With you, with me

God with us!

Although “Santa with us” is prevalent, let’s remember that since the birth of Jesus Christ God has been with us. But are we with Him? His constant presence is available to all who accept His gift of eternal (spiritual) life available through Jesus.

IMG_2819 1200px

Acknowledgement

The song, “God with us“, was written by Bob Bennett
© 2009 Bright Avenue Songs (ASCAP)

Written, December 2018


The strange sign

Wedding car 400pxAt a recent wedding the bridal party arrived at the church in a Lamborghini and stretch limousine. And they arrived at the Reception to fireworks and frenetic music and drumming. It was a grand entry. In contrast, although Jesus was announced by angels, His was a humble entry.

At Christmas we remember the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. This was announced when an angel told some shepherds that the Jewish Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. That’s amazing because shepherds were near the bottom of the social ladder. And Bethlehem was only a small town. But how would the shepherds find him? And how would they recognize him? So they were given a sign from God to help them.

What’s a sign?

The Greek word semeion (Strongs #4592) means a “sign”. In this context it’s the means by which a person is distinguished from someone else. For example, Judas Iscariot identified Jesus by kissing him (Mt. 26:48). And circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and the Israelites (Rom. 4:11). Miracles signified an apostle (2 Cor. 12:12). And Paul’s handwriting showed that his letters were authentic (2 Th. 3:17).

The sign

They were given an unusual sign to identify the Messiah. Important people like royalty, and a President or Prime Minister are usually characterized by pomp, ceremony, security and publicity. That’s the kind of sign we would expect for the Messiah.

But the angel said, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:12NIV). So the sign was a baby lying in a cattle feeding-trough! What a humble birth.

So the shepherds were to look for a baby lying in a cattle feeding-trough. Although there would have been other babies in Bethlehem, it would be unusual for one to be lying in a cattle feeding-trough. It was a strange sign.

A baby

Jesus was born into the world just like all of us. It was a normal birth (following a supernatural conception). He was a tiny helpless baby. Nothing would have seemed supernatural. Why did God choose to enter the human race like this? So that He could provide for our salvation. Jesus had to be fully human so He could die for our sins (Heb. 2:14-17). He had to become like us in order to save us.

Jesus manger 400pxA baby lying in a cattle feed trough

The reason that baby Jesus was lying in a manger was “because there was no guest room available for them” (Lk. 2:7). The last supper was held in the guest room of a house in Jerusalem (Mk. 14:14; Lk. 22:11). According to scholars, the most likely place for a manger in Bethlehem was in a one-roomed peasant house with two levels. People occupied the upper level (Arab. mastaba) and animals the lower one (ka’ al-bet). The animals are housed overnight and fed from mangers built into the floor of the upper terrace or mounted to the walls near the lower level. Presumably there was no cradle in the house, but a manger could perform the same function.

The shepherds were told that they would find the baby in a manger. Shepherds were near the bottom of the social ladder and in many homes they would feel their poverty and be ashamed of their low position in society. But in this case, they faced no humiliation because it was probably a simple peasant house like their own with mangers for the animals. That’s why they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (Lk. 2:15). And they hurried off to find Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus.

What a strange way for a Messiah and Savior to enter the world. Even the poorest child would not be found in a manger.

Lessons for us

The Bible says that Jesus gave up His divine glory when He came to earth “by taking the very nature of a servant (slave), being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7). And “that though He was rich (in heaven), yet for your sake He became poor (on earth)” (2 Cor. 8:9). He did this (was born, lived, died and rose again) in order to die the death that we deserve. Through what Jesus has done, we “might become rich”. The promise is not for physical earthly riches, but spiritual heavenly riches. It’s forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God, and eternal life. What Jesus did was like an “indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15). As a gift, it has not benefit to us unless we accept it. That’s why the Bible says. “might become rich”, not “will become rich”. Have you accepted God’s gift? Not many Jews recognized that Jesus was the Messiah. Why not recognize Him as your Savior?

Those who follow Jesus are to imitate His humility (Phil. 2:1-8). Our attitude is to be one of unity. mutual love, harmony, humility, sacrifice, and service, rather than being self-centered. Saul was recognized for being tall, Zacchaeus for being short and Jesus for being humble (1 Sam. 9:2; Lk. 19:1-4). But what is our characteristic attitude?


When Santa learned the gospel

santa gospel 3 400pxA poem by Simon Camilleri

When Santa learned the gospel, he first heard it from an elf.
This tiny Santa’s helper had just learnt of it himself.

A child had asked for Christmas to receive a Bible book.
This elf had made one in the shop, then paused to have a look.

He read all about Jesus and the call to follow Him.
He learned how Jesus lived and taught and died to pay for sin.

He learned how Jesus rose again and how He will return
And then this elf read how he should respond to all he’d learned.

He shut the book, put down his tools, then closed his eyes and prayed.
Right there and then this little elf trusted in Christ that day.

The next day he told Santa. It was awkward, unprepared.
He knew he didn’t know that much, but what he knew he shared.

He told Santa the gospel. It was simple. It was short.
But a seed was sown in Santa’s heart, which grew into a thought.

Santa reflected on his life and the message he supported,
Then compared it to the gospel that the elf had just reported.

He’d always thought that everyone was naughty or was nice.
He had them all on two big lists. He even checked it twice.

He’d always thought that you got gifts only if you’d been good.
The naughty kids got lumps of coal. That’s what he understood.

They’d all line up in shopping malls and sit upon his knee
And claim that they were always nice. As nice as nice can be.

Of course, he saw them when they slept and knew when they awoke.
He also knew their nice attempts were pretty much a joke.

Their heads were filled not with nice thoughts of kindness, peace and joy,
But with the never-ending list of their desired toys.

He knew their hearts, but he had thought, “They’re trying to be good.
That’s good enough to make the list. Otherwise no one would!”

So every year their “good enough” with toys would be rewarded.
And every year (he realized) this message he supported:

THE “GOOD” WILL GET THE PRESENTS.
THE “BAD” WILL GET THE COAL.
AND TRYING TO BE GOOD ENOUGH
IS GOOD ENOUGH A GOAL.

That was the message that he knew, but now he knew another.
He had just heard the gospel. So he compared them to each other.

The message of the gospel turned his message upside down.
The good, the bad, naughty and nice, it switched it all around.

“There’s no one good but God alone” he’d heard Jesus concluded.
And those who claim they’re “good enough” are simply just deluded.

If there’s a list of who is “good”, the standard we’ve all missed.
And Santa saw that even he was on the naughty list.

That shook his world. That rocked his boat. That gripped him in his soul.
To think that even Santa Claus deserved a lump of coal.

But that was only half of what the gospel message said.
It also flipped what happened to the naughty on its head.

Instead of being written off as just not good enough.
The message to the naughty list was one of grace and love.

The gospel offered mercy to all those deserving coal.
The gospel offered forgiveness and cleansing of your soul.

The gospel told how Jesus died our death to pay the price
To reconcile us all to God – both naughty and the nice.

This offer was a real gift, unlike presents ‘neath the tree.
It was not earned by being good. It was offered for free.

For all his life Santa had claimed that if you had been bad
Then you would not get presents and your Christmas would be sad.

Santa compared his message with this new one he had learned.
His message said you get the presents your good deeds had earned.

The message of the gospel offered something so much greater…
Jesus had come to reconcile the world to their Creator.

When Santa grasped the gospel, he did not know what to do
And so the elf said nervously, “How ’bout I pray with you?”

Then that night at the North Pole, by the fire in his den,
With a simple prayer led by an elf, Santa was born again.

And now, in Christ, forgiven, free – his new life had begun
and Santa had a new message to share with everyone.

© Simon Camelleri

Posted, December 2017


What Jesus wants for Christmas

December-17_AllJesusWantsForChristmas 400pxWhat a precious thing is a baby! The news that a little tiny human has safely made its way into the world is such a miracle, such a cause for celebration. Even when there is mourning or hardship, a new baby can bring hope.

On the first Christmas when baby Jesus arrived there was the usual joy and celebration. But there was so much more than that. Angels sang in the sky, shepherds dropped everything and came, wise men followed a star… all to honor and worship this new baby.

When God sent His Son into the world, in the form of a baby boy, He did it for us. In John’s gospel it says,
For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life“.

This is one of the most famous verses in the Bible, perhaps because it states so simply the most important things. God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to help us. This is why Christmas is special! It’s a time to celebrate the gift God gave to us long ago that shows how much He wants us to join His family. What we need to do is believe in Him.

There is a beautiful Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti that was put to music and became the carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter”. It tells of the unlikely and difficult place where the baby Jesus was born, of angels singing praises to welcome the new King, and of shepherds visiting and bowing down and of wise men who traveled a great distance to honor Him.

The author wonders what she could give to Him as a tribute.
“What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,
Yet what can I give Him,
Give my heart.”

The Wise Men brought gifts fit for a King to honor the newborn Jesus, but there is nothing that we can give that is enough. All Jesus wants for Christmas is YOU!

Bible Verse: John 3:16 For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for loving me so much. Thank you for the precious gift of your Son. Please forgive me and help me to worship and honor you all year long. Amen.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

 


Joy to the world

st-marys-christmas-2016-img_1352-cropped-400pxJoy to the world
All the boys and girls
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
Joy to you and me

“Joy to the world” was a silly singalong song with a catchy melody released by Three Dog Night in 1971. It’s silly because some of the words are nonsensical. In her 1994 Christmas album Mariah Carey changed the third line of the chorus to “Joy to the people everywhere you see”. Although this song sounds joyful, the only sources of joy and happiness it mentions are drinking and sex, which are fleeting. But at Christmas we remember a source of “great joy”, which is enduring. A hymn writer expressed it as: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” According to the Bible, the joy of Christmas is Jesus.

True joy

On the first Christmas night, an angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11NIV). The Greek word translated “joy” chara (Strongs #5479) means joy, gladness, delight, and a source of joy. So the baby Jesus would bring great joy to humanity as the Jewish Messiah who would enable people to have their sins forgiven so that they could be reconciled with God.

This feeling of joy is conveyed in the Christmas carol that’s not a Christmas carol! The words of “Joy to the World” were written in 1719 by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). And the melody was derived from portions of Handel’s (1685-1759) Messiah. It’s based on the Psalm 98:4-9, which celebrates Christ’s triumphant second coming, not His humble first coming. Watts published it under the heading “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom”.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

In verses 1 and 2 Watts writes of heaven and earth rejoicing at the coming of the King. In Psalm 98 and Psalm 96:11-13, all of creation is called upon to make a joyful noise before God, for the Lord has come to “judge the earth,” and restore His creation. Verse 3 of the song speaks of Christ’s blessings extending victoriously over the realm of sin. In Genesis 3, a great tragedy occurs when Adam and Eve sin against God, and are banished from the garden as God puts a curse upon the ground (Gen. 3:17-18). Verse 4 of the song celebrates Christ’s rule over the nations.

Psalm 98:4-9 says:
4Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the Lord,
for He comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.

Psalm 96:11-13 is similar:
11Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for He comes,
He comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in His faithfulness.

So the Bible associates true joy with both the first and second advents of Christ. True joy comes from God, and not from our circumstances. That’s why the joy of Christmas is Jesus.

Two advents

The distinction between the two advents of Christ was unknown until the New Testament era. For example, Isaiah 9:6a described the first advent, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” and it’s followed by a description of the second advent, “and the government will be on his shoulders …” (Is. 9: 6b-7). And when Jesus read in the synagogue from Isaiah 61 (Lk. 4:16-21), He only read about His first advent (v.1-2a) and not the second advent (v.2b-3). That’s why many Jews failed to recognize their Messiah when He came as a humble servant instead of a powerful king. It’s interesting that the Magi (Wise men) recognized that Jesus was a king (Mt. 2:2). And Matthew, Mark, Luke and John record that the notice on His cross was “The king of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37; Mk. 15:25; Lk. 23:38; Jn. 19:19).

The first advent is when the Savior came to die sacrificially, and the second one is when He comes to reign on earth. The first is the precursor (predecessor; something that happens before something else) of the second. And the second is the consequence of the first. We live in the period in between the two advents when people have the opportunity to have their sins forgiven.

We can have true joy by looking back at the first advent and looking ahead to the second one. Jesus is the joy of Christmas and the joy of the future peace on earth during Christ’s reign.

st-marys-christmas-lights-2016-img_1347-cropped-400pxChristmas lights

I have just seen The “Lights of Christmas 2016” screened on St Mary’s cathedral in Sydney. This was a spectacular lightshow to “Celebrate the magic of Christmas”.  It was advertised as follows:
“The theme we have chosen this year is Joy to the World and it is revealed through nature. The audience will be taken on a dream-like journey of enchantment and imagined worlds. Fireflies lead us on our expedition through underground caverns, then rising up to the skies and returning to the ocean. Along the way we meet a family of animals, all bringing colour and joy to the world!”

So this show, screened on a gothic church, depicts animals and nature as bringing “joy to the world”! What a comparison! The temporary joy from animals compared to the eternal joy available through Jesus! Secular joy compared to true joy. A person’s idea of joy, compared to God’s idea of joy. But the true joy of Christmas is Jesus, not animals or any other part of the celebration.

God’s Christmas gift

Jesus is God’s gift to humanity. God sacrificed His own Son so that we could have eternal life and be spared from judgment. The coming of the Savior, which we remember at Christmas, brings “great joy” because:
– It’s “good news” for sinners like us – He came to save people from their sins through His death and resurrection. That’s why He was named Jesus (Mt. 1:21).
– It’s true news – fact not fiction, legend, myth or a fairy tale. It was a normal birth in an unusual location.
– It’s about the unique Lord Jesus Christ who reconciled sinful people to God. He was Savior, Messiah and Lord (Lk. 2:11). Messiah (or Christ) means “chosen one” and “Lord” is a synonym for God.
– It was for everyone – “a Savior has been born to you” was initially addressed to the poor uneducated shepherds.
– It has eternal value.

But a gift only brings joy if it is received. Have you received God’s Christmas gift? Do you believe that Jesus came for you?

Summary

We can seek happiness in many ways. But the Bible reveals the source of true lasting joy. At the first Christmas an angel announced that Jesus would bring “Joy to the world”. And the song by Isaac Watts describes the joy associated with Christ’s second advent. The joy of Christmas is Jesus. He came so that we could experience joy. Not always happiness, but an inner contentment of joy. The true joy of Christmas lasts all year long and for a lifetime. Do you know the joy that only Jesus can bring? May you have a joyful Christmas.

Written, December 2016


True Christmas: Sacrifice and Celebration

birthday-jesus-4-400pxAt a birthday party we celebrate a person’s life. But what if a person isn’t mentioned at their birthday party? That would be embarrassing! Christmas can be like that, because Christmas is when our culture chooses to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, but not everyone does this.

We usually celebrate Christmas with family and friends. But I was reminded recently that Christmas is not only a time of celebration. It also involves a lot of sacrifice; because it took sacrifices to get Christ here into this world. A sacrifice is something that’s given up (forfeited or surrendered) for the sake of a better cause. This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on this topic by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan.

Christmas is not just holidays, or food, or drinks, or decorations, or Santa Claus or gifts, or greetings. That’s the celebrative part of Christmas, which is an outcome of the real Christmas. But celebrating without recognizing the birthday person (Jesus Christ) is embarrassing and tragic.

The first Christmas

There was a great celebration that first Christmas. When the shepherds were told the good news about the baby Jesus, the angels praised God, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Lk. 2:14-18NIV). And the shepherds were very excited when they saw the baby Jesus.

But what about Mary’s family? Because of their shame, they probably weren’t celebrating. Her pregnancy would have been known in their local community. But no-one would have believed that she was carrying a holy baby. Like everyone else, her family would have thought she was carrying an illegitimate child, which brought shame and disgrace on the family and into the community. Even her fiancé (Joseph) planned to divorce her quietly (Mt. 1:18-25). But he changed his mind when an angel told him that Jesus was indeed a holy baby.

Did God celebrate at the first Christmas? Probably not. That was when God lost His Son, giving Him to the world as a human being to stand forever with people who were sinners. So behind the scenes there is a sacrificial aspect to the first Christmas.

Christmas was God’s idea

Jesus taught Nicodemus, “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). There are four things in this verse: God’s love, God giving, an invitation to believe, and an invitation to live. The first two and the last two are linked together. God so loved that He gave. For God, to love means to give. And He gave the best He could give. That is Himself. And then He says “whoever believes”. Nicodemus is urged to believe that Jesus is the Son of God in order to have eternal life instead perishing. Giving is always sacrificial, while receiving (in this case, believing to receive eternal life) is a reason to celebrate.

At Christmas we remember that God gave Himself, which is a sacrifice. Sending Jesus to earth was God’s idea. In this sense, God invented Christmas. And when we receive God’s gift (of forgiveness, love, joy, peace, and eternal life through Jesus), that’s a reason for celebration. Let’s look at four things that God sacrificed on the first Christmas so that we can celebrate.

The sacrifice of God’s glory

On the night before He was executed, Jesus prayed to God the Father, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn. 17:5). Before Christ came into the world, He lived in heaven with God the Father. He had the glory and splendor of deity. But on the first Christmas Jesus sacrificed (gave up) His glory. Instead of being visible, it was hidden (or veiled). In John 17 Jesus is praying that His visible glory might be restored in heaven.

Paul explains why Jesus sacrificed His glory, “What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (Rom. 9:23-24). God is preparing some people for glory. Jesus had to sacrifice His glory at the first Christmas so that we can regain our glory (which was lost by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden) by trusting in Jesus Christ.

On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory; He also sacrificed His riches.

The sacrifice of God’s riches

Paul said that Jesus was the greatest example of generosity: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus was enormously rich because He was God. But at the first Christmas, He became poor. So He went from wealth to poverty. Jesus gave up everything so poor sinners like us who were under God’s judgment can become rich in Him. We are rich “in Christ”. This has been expressed in verse as:
Let the weak say “I am strong”,
Let the poor say “I am rich”,
Let the blind say “I can see”,
Because of what the Lord has done in me.

We can’t understand Christmas without reference to the crucifixion and the resurrection, because the incarnation (Christ’s birth) became a saving event through the crucifixion.

On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory and His riches; He also sacrificed His nature.

The sacrifice of God’s nature

Paul said that Jesus was the greatest example of humility: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8)

God is a spirit who is immortal, eternal, and beyond our world of time, space, mass, and energy. But on the first Christmas, God shattered Himself and became a human being. The Creator of the universe transformed into a servant. A dependent baby. In this way, His divinity was hidden (or veiled).

Paul said that Christians had “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). God had to shatter Himself at the first Christmas so that sinners like us can be recreated. When we trust in Christ as Savior, we put on a new self, which is created in the image of God (just like God).

On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory and His riches and His nature; He also sacrificed His life.

The sacrifice of God’s life

Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:15) and “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).

When Jesus came as a baby the first Christmas, He came to sacrifice His life. So Christmas cost God’s life. Why? So that we may have His life. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). The “life” referred to here is spiritual life. This life is given by God upon trust in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5:39-40; 1 Jn. 5:11-12). Because we have spiritual life, we can celebrate at Christmas by celebrating Jesus who is the source of spiritual life. Christmas is a time to encounter this life in Christ Jesus. As we saw in John 3:16, He loved to give, and we believe to live (spiritually). But if we are spiritually dead, our Christmas is meaningless.

Summary

True Christmas is not just a time of celebration. It involves much more than celebration. Christmas is a time to:
– Reflect on God’s sacrifice (what He has done for us),
– Recognize Jesus our Savior,
– Reconnect with Christ (God’s Christmas gift to us), and
– Rejoice.

Let’s celebrate Christmas meaningfully by remembering God’s sacrifices. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s glory. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s riches. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s nature. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s life. And let’s be willing to sacrifice for others just as God sacrificed for us.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on “True Christmas: Sacrifice and Celebration”. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.

Written, December 2016


Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises

Bethlehem 3 400pxWhat do you associate with each place: Gettysburg, New York, Las Vegas, Hiroshima, Hollywood, London, Salt Lake City, Paris, Yosemite, and Bethlehem? For most of us each place name arouses particular connotations, connections and feelings.

You may say that Bethlehem was the birth place of Jesus Christ. But what did the word “Bethlehem” mean to those who lived before Christ was born?

Let’s look at what the Old Testament says about Bethlehem, a town which is about 10 km south of Jerusalem. Both of these towns are on a north-south range of hard limestone hills rising midway between the Mediterranean coast and the Jordan rift valley. Bethlehem is 775 metres above sea level, 30 metres higher than Jerusalem. It was previously known as Ephrath(ah), a name that refers to that area of Judea (Gen. 35:19; 48:7, Ruth 1:2; 4:11; Mic. 5:2).

A family crisis

In about 1300 BC, Elimelek and his wife Naomi lived in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:1). Because of a famine in Israel, Elimelek’s family migrated to Moab, which was south-east of the Dead Sea. In Moab, Naomi’s husband and two sons died. She was left alone and destitute. It was a family crisis. It looked like the end of the family line. So she decided to return to Bethlehem, her husband’s home town. Her daughter-in-law Ruth, went with her. Now we have two destitute women, one of them a foreigner.

God provided a solution to this crisis when Boaz let Ruth glean in the barley fields, by gathering stalks of grain left behind by the harvesters. So they had food to eat. But they were helped even more when Boaz married Ruth. This preserved the family name and the family property through Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer. Also, both women were sustained in the long term. Naomi was cared for in her old age and she had a grandson called Obed whose grandson was David.

So at Bethlehem God provided a solution to a family crisis.

A national crisis

This family lived in Bethlehem for the next few hundred years. Because the Israelites hadn’t driven out all the inhabitants of Canaan, they faced constant opposition from the Philistines who lived on the coastal plain. During the reign of the first king, Saul, a national crisis arose. The Philistine army penetrated into Israelite territory and was gathered in the valley of Elah. And they had a giant called Goliath who terrorised the Israelites. Because the valley of Elah extends from the coastal plain eastwards towards Bethlehem, this threatened Bethlehem and after that Jerusalem (1 Sam. 17).

God provided a solution when David killed Goliath with a stone. David lived in Bethlehem where he was a shepherd. He was sent to the valley of Elah by his father to take provisions for his brothers in the Israelite army. When their hero was killed, the Philistines turned and ran back to Gath. David saved his nation from the enemy and became a national hero. So from Bethlehem, God provided a solution to a national crisis.

Another national crisis arose soon afterwards when Saul changed from being a godly king to an evil tyrant. God provided another solution when he sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint David privately to be the next king (1 Sam. 16:1-13). So at Bethlehem, God once again provided a solution to a national crisis. Later David was publicly anointed as king of the tribe of Judah and king of the whole nation (2 Sam. 2:1-4; 5:1-5). David established the kingdom of Israel. So he was the most famous person to live in Bethlehem.

Next in the 7th century BC, Micah predicted that the Jewish Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). This was known by the Jewish religious leaders after the birth of Christ, because it was in their Scriptures (Mt. 2:4-6). Also some of the Jews thought that the Messiah would be a descendant of David (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4; Isa. 9:7) born at Bethlehem (Jn. 7:42). So it’s not surprising that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which was called the “town of David” (Lk. 2:4, 11NIV) because David lived here before he became the king. Jesus was also a descendant of David (Lk. 4:23, 31; Rom. 1:3).

But although Jesus was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, His mission was to the whole world.

A global crisis

In 2015 terrorist incidents occurred in Cameroon, Philippines, Tunisia, Nigeria, Mali, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, France, Lebanon, China, Ukraine, Israel, Libya, Niger, Denmark, Japan, South Korea, Tunisia, India, Somalia, Kenya, Thailand, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, United States, Chad, Syria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Germany, Australia, and United Kingdom. Today terrorism is an international crisis that threatens peace across the world. Countries and airlines now have anti-terrorism measures. Terrorism is an extreme symptom of humanity’s rebellion against God (also called “sin”) and failure to respect one another.

God provided a solution when Jesus was born in Bethlehem and He later died in Jerusalem for the sin of mankind and then rose again to give new life to all who put their faith and trust in Him. Jesus is the source of peace with God (Lk. 2:14). When Jesus was born at Bethlehem, it was the beginning of His mission on earth to demonstrate God’s love and give up His life to free us from the penalty and power of sin. He came for everyone. His coming was welcomed by lowly shepherds and the wealthy Magi. The shepherds were Jews and the Magi were Gentiles.

So from Bethlehem, God provided a solution to a global crisis.

Our crisis

What about us? You may think, I’m not destitute like Naomi and Ruth, or threatened like the nation of Israel. I’m not a terrorist! But what about ignoring the God who created our universe to whom we owe so much ?

This Christmas, let’s recognize our personal crisis and accept God’s solution that was revealed at Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Let’s celebrate by praising Him like the shepherds (Lk. 2:20), and worshiping Jesus like the Magi (Mt. 2:11).

Written, December 2015

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Where’s Zion?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho
Rebellion and deception at Samaria
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice
Worshipping God and idols at Bethel
Many battles at Megiddo


Jesus is better than Santa

Australia SantaBoth Jesus Christ and Santa Claus feature in many Christmas celebrations. Everyone likes Santa because he is jolly man who brings gifts to children around the world. But why is Jesus better than Santa?

Fact or myth?

Four separate eyewitness biographies are given of Jesus in the Bible by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Three of these were written about 30 years after most of the events they describe. And the first-century Jewish historian Josephus called James “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ”. These historical records confirm that Jesus was a man who lived in Israel between about 5 BC and AD 30. He was an historical character and not a mythical figure.

Santa Claus is based on Saint Nicholas, a fourth century Christian bishop, who was known for his generosity and kindness. Saint Nicholas lived in Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). There are many legends about him, but we don’t know if any of them are true! He is said to have used his inheritance to help the poor and sick, giving secret gifts to people who needed them. In particular there are stories about helping three poor sisters and saving three men from death. Because of his kindness Nicholas was made a saint and he was a popular saint in Europe until the Reformation in the 1550s. After this time, the Dutch continued to celebrate the feast day of St Nicholas on 6th December when children put out their shoes the night before and the next morning they would discover gifts left by St Nicholas. In the 19th century this story was transformed to Santa Claus leaving gifts at Christmas time. He was now described as a jolly, heavy man wearing a red suit with white fur trim who comes down the chimney to leave presents for deserving children and drives a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Santa is only a mythical figure.

So, Jesus Christ is an historical character while Santa Claus is only a legendary character.

The best gift

In the song “Santa Claus is coming to town”, Santa makes a list of those who are naughty and bad (who miss out on presents) and a list of those who are nice and good (who get presents). So Santa only comes for good people. He asks, “Have you been good?”.

On the other hand, Jesus came for sinners, and not for those who thought they were good – He said “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Mt. 9:13; Mk. 2:17; Lk. 5:32NLT). After the conversion of Zacchaeus, a well know sinner, Jesus said that He “came to seek and to save those who are lost” (Lk. 19:10). As the Bible says we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23), this means He came for everyone!

Recently when cleaning out a family home that had been occupied for three generations, we found some things that had been Christmas presents. However, as many of these were no longer useful or significant, they were thrown out as rubbish. Christmas presents eventually finish up in the garbage (trash) dump. Santa’s gifts only have a finite lifetime.

By comparison, Jesus offered the gift of forgiveness and of eternal life, which goes on forever! He asks, “Do you want to be forgiven?”. Also, the gift was Himself, not something that had been made by a person or a machine. Jesus is the best gift! He is God’s greatest gift. Paul called it “indescribable” (2 Cor. 9:15). “This is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Let’s remember this as we give gifts to each other this Christmas.

Jesus gave the best gift – it lasts longer and is for everyone.

Written, December 2014


Good news that brings great joy

Prince GeorgeI went to a funeral yesterday, which had been postponed until after the birth of a baby. The safe arrival of a baby can bring joy amidst despair. It is good news. This was particularly true in the days before modern medicine when some mothers and babies didn’t survive child birth. It’s a significant event that is anticipated by the parents and their family and friends. But the birth we remember at Christmas was unique in bringing joy to both earth and heaven. We see that God changes despair into joy.

Joy on earth

At Christ’s birth the shepherds were told, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11NIV). This was good news for a nation that despaired for at least 500 years when they were ruled by foreign powers and lacked a proper king (Herod was not a Jew). They were looking for the promised Messiah to lead a rebellion against the Romans and bring them lasting peace and prosperity (Is. 9:6-7; Lk. 23:2-5). They also knew that their Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2, 4; Jn. 7:42).

God revealed to two elderly people that baby Jesus was the promised Messiah. Simeon could now die in peace (Lk. 2:29). Anna thanked God and told others who were looking forward to being freed from foreign domination (Lk. 2:38).

But the good news was not restricted to Jews in Israel. Gentile astrologers from east of Israel came to worship “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Mt. 2:1-2).

On 22 July 2013 a son was born to Prince William and Kate Middleton The birth of an heir to the throne, such as Prince George, brings joy to a nation. Because Christ’s was a royal birth, there was joy in Israel. But what made this event different to the birth of Prince George?

Joy in heaven

Prince George was given a family name. Jesus was also given a family name (the same as Joshua: “Jesus” is from Greek, while “Joshua” is from Hebrew), but it was “because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). The Jews wanted to be delivered from Roman rule. But instead they are promised to be saved from their sins!

There was also joy in heaven at Christ’s birth – the angels praised God, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk. 2:14). They also declare that Christ is the source of peace on earth. This peace is available to those who repent of their sins and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That’s how people are saved from their sins. This joy continues today because there is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents and turns to God (Lk. 15:7, 10).

From despair to joy

Through the birth of a baby, God changed the Jewish despair into joy. However, Jesus wasn’t only a Savior for the Jews, but for all the people of the world (Jn. 3:16; 4:42). Through Jesus joy is available to those who accept His gift of salvation and this joy extends to heaven.

Do you realise the significance of Christ’s birth? The significance of His life, death, resurrection and ascension?  Have you caused rejoicing in heaven? Let’s remember these things at Christmas (Lk. 2:19).

Remember God can change despair into joy.

Written, December 2013


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


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 eclipse1. 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


When God Lived On Earth

An illustration of the incarnation

At Christmas, we remember the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Although He was born into an ordinary family in an ordinary town in Israel, He was not an ordinary person – His life and death were unique. It has been said that the opening verses of John’s gospel are the words of an early Christian hymn. Let’s look at the final verse of this so-called hymn as written by the apostle John: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14 NIV).

John was a disciple who spent much time with Jesus Christ; they may have been cousins (Mt. 27:56; Mk. 15:40; Jn. 19:25). He was one of the three apostles closest to Jesus, the other two being Peter and James.

God lived among us
The first sentence of John 1:14 says that God chose to come into the world in a human body and for a while lived among us. John said that He “tabernacled” among us. John witnessed that Jesus was a real human being and not a myth or an illusion, because he saw, touched and listened to Him (1 Jn. 1:1-3).

This illustration reminds us of how God dwelt among His people during the Old Testament period in the tabernacle and the temple. As the tabernacle was a tent, this is the equivalent of saying that Christ “pitched His tent” among us. Of course a tent is the temporary dwelling of a traveller or nomad, which is used in Scripture to illustrate the mortal human body (2 Cor. 5:1,4; 2 Pet. 1:13). Jesus lived in the tent of His body for 33 years, so it was not a short appearance of God on earth.

Pitching a tent in a wilderness can be an adventure, as you may face danger and all types of weather. Some years ago I went on a four-day hike in a National Park and we carried our tent with us. This was easy compared to Christ’s 33 year journey through a sinful world.

Jesus was unique
In the second sentence of John 1:14, John summarizes the key attributes of Jesus Christ. He is described as the “One and Only” or the “only begotten” – which means that He was the sole representative of God. As God’s unique Son, Christ is equal to God. In fact John wrote his account so that we would realize that Jesus is truly God (Jn. 20:30-31).

His glory was evident. During the three years that John followed the Lord he witnessed the perfect life and character of Jesus, the sinless one. Jesus Christ was the only person to have lived on earth who did not sin. Because of His miraculous conception, Jesus did not inherit a sinful nature from Adam (Mt. 1:18-21). His is the only instance of a birth without a father – the pregnancy was a miracle of the Holy Spirit. To sin is to fall short of the glory of God. As everyone else has sinned, no other person has shown this glory (Rom. 3:23).

John also saw the bright shining light, which was seen when God was present, as he watched when Christ’s “face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light” (Mt. 17:1-9; 2 Pet. 1:16-18). This was a visible demonstration of His deity, similar to the glory cloud in the Old Testament which symbolized the presence of God.

He was divine. John wrote that Christ “came from the Father” and he heard God say, “This is my Son, whom I love” – indicating that Christ was the divine Son of God.

The name Jesus Christ indicates His humanity and His deity: “Jesus” was the name given at His birth, and “Christ” means God’s anointed one, the Messiah. He was indeed “God with us” – not only as a baby, but throughout His time on earth (Mt. 1:23).

He was “full of grace and truth.” John also testified of Christ’s kindness to others, His honesty and the absence of any sin or evil in His life. Christ’s greatest act of kindness was His unjust death for our sinfulness. Furthermore, all who believe on the Lord Jesus receive abundant blessings (Jn. 1:16).

Although He loved sinners, He did not love their sin. He realized that the wages of sin is death and so He died to pay the penalty of death that we deserved in order to save our souls and give us a home in heaven.

Why God lived on earth
Jesus was sent to save, for eternal life, all those who believe in Him – He was “the Savior of the world” (Jn. 3:16; 4:42; 6:40). Do you agree with John’s assessment of Jesus Christ? Do you realize that God lived among us for a while so that we in turn can live with Him in future (Jn. 14:3)? But His coming to earth can also help us today.

Many people long for God’s presence at Christmas. They should remember that the God who pitched His tent with us on the very first Christmas promises to take up permanent residence with all those who turn and put their trust in Him (Jn. 14:15-26). This means that if you have already put your trust in God, you need look no further for God’s powerful presence. He lives in you in the person of His Spirit and will remain with you. Nothing can separate you from His love and care.

Published: December 2001


The Christmas Spirit: Peace And Joy

The message of the first Christmas carol

Christmas is a great time of festivity, celebration, exchanging gifts and expressing love and goodwill toward one another. It is one day of the year when conflicts and wars are often suspended and there is a semblance of “peace on earth.” The spirit of Christmas is expressed in the words joy and peace. We sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come” and “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”

The Need For Carols
But life is not always joyful and peaceful. We have uprisings in African nations, strife in the Middle East, guerrilla warfare in South America. These bring fear rather than peace. Even in democracies, governments can act like dictators. And so can people.

My wife and I usually go to a restaurant to celebrate Christmas with our friends. On one occasion after most of us had eaten, we were rudely asked to leave to make room for more customers. The manager acted like a dictator; there was no joy, peace or goodwill in his attitude.

Of course we all face troubles and barriers to peace from time to time – at work, among friends, within marriages and families. How do we react? Do we ignore them and battle on, like an ostrich putting its head in the sand? Do we attack like a dictator, always wanting our own way? Or do we try to resolve the matter by removing the barrier and restoring peace? This is the approach we should use, as we are reminded at Christmas of how God reacted to our troubles.

There is a great need for peace in our world. The main purpose of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security. They have peace-keeping missions in many places around the world including the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, East Timor in Asia, Haiti in the Greater Antilles, Kosovo in Eastern Europe and Iraq in the Middle East. Like the peace at Christmas, these places show us that peace in our world is often very temporary.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa deals with racism, discrimination and the human rights violations that had occurred under the policy of apartheid (strict separation of races). Its aim is threefold: to uncover the truth of what happened in the past, to enable national reconciliation, and to prevent more racial and ethnic strife. They had the right idea – find the truth and seek reconciliation. But they found that reconciliation is difficult: when the guilty refuse to apologize because they say they have done nothing wrong; when there are others who wish they could forgive, but feel too deeply hurt; and when there is little conviction of wrongs and the need for forgiveness when God is left out.

We all need to face the truth and seek reconciliation if there is to be any lasting peace in our lives. At Christmas we remember the coming of the Savior who brought truth and reconciliation to our world (Jn. 14:6; Rom. 5:11; Col. 1:20).

Carols Are Songs Of Peace And Joy
There is much truth in Christmas carols; they are not all about snow, sleigh bells and reindeer. The word “carol” means “a song of joy and peace.” And so we sing, “Come sing a song of joy, for peace shall come my brother” and “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”

But singing about peace will not bring peace. One Christmas carol is titled “The Tradition of Christmas.” Traditions do not bring lasting peace either. We can’t have peace without involving the Peacemaker. Jesus Christ is known as the Prince of Peace and we sing “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.” He came to make peace (Isa. 9:6; Jn. 16:33; Eph. 2:14-17). True and lasting peace only comes when the Prince of Peace is allowed to control our lives.

Christ’s birth was announced as “good news of great joy … for all people” (Lk. 2:10). That’s unusual. How could so many benefit from the birth of a baby? The answer is given in the very next verse of Luke 2 which tells us that this baby was the Savior and the promised Messiah.

Another response expressed in Luke 2:14 was, “Glory to God … and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” Peace and goodwill are part of the “good news.” In a sense Jesus was “Peace on earth,” as He is the Peace-maker; He came to earth to destroy the sin barrier so we may have peace.

Later, Jesus promised His followers the gift of peace, and Christians are said to have “peace with God” (Jn. 14:27; Rom. 5:1 niv). Do you have this peace? Do you know “the way of peace” (Rom. 3:17)? Are you willing to seek this peace? It takes two parties to make peace. God has done His part. What about you?

Many of the Christmas carols contain the secret to true joy, peace and goodwill. They concern historical events that occurred about 2,000 years ago, that are recorded in the Bible as the life of Jesus Christ, whose birth divided all history into B.C. and A.D. These carols speak the truth about our need to be reconciled to God and to one another.

The First Carol
The words of the angels after Christ’s birth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk. 2:14), can be viewed as the very first Christmas carol. The angels told of Christ and the salvation He came to bring to earth. This is a salvation that brings glory to God and peace to mankind. It is the theme of later carols such as “The First Noel,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” and “Angels From The Realms Of Glory.”

The angels announced “peace on earth” – a place where there had been no peace since Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Real peace can only be found in the message of Jesus. It transcends all understanding and will guard our hearts and minds as we live in relationship with Him (Phil. 4:7).

And they announced that peace to “those on whom His favor rests” (Lk. 2:14). They are those who respond to the Good News by repenting of their sins and receiving Christ as Lord and Savior. They have accepted God’s generous gift of salvation.

The angels announced Christ’s birth with gladness and rejoicing, and the shepherds responded by glorifying and praising God. Likewise, Christians should be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation that was achieved through Jesus. Christians should be full of joy and rejoicing at Christmas time and all during the year (Phil. 4:4). Similarly, they should communicate the good news with a joyful confidence.

This first carol of the angels also has a future aspect. Today, very few people praise and honor God, and trouble seems more prevalent than peace. But there is a time coming when God’s kingdom will come and His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and there will be peace on earth (Mt. 6:10). Also, in the future everyone will offer praise, honor and glory to God (Rev. 5:13). Why not praise Him now and be one of His agents for peace and reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-21)?

Your Own Carol
How can you put Christ in your Christmas, making it one of true peace and joy? The first and most important thing you can do is make peace with God. Admit that you’re less than perfect and decide to turn away from your sin. Ask Christ to forgive your sin and control your life. After doing this, make peace in your family and peace with others (Rom. 12:18). Then remember that regular prayer, confession and repentance are needed to maintain inner peace (Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Jn. 1:9). By doing this, you will come to share the joy, peace and goodwill of the Christmas carols, and have a real reason to celebrate Christ’s coming.

Published: December 2000


There are two advents: He’s coming again!

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10NIV)

Don’t worry, He’s returning

News stories on the internet, radio, TV and newspapers often arouse our fears of impending danger, trouble and evil. They seem to feed on the fact that we all experience anxiety and worry. For example, we can be worried or alarmed about: unemployment, money, relationships, loneliness, security, crime, terrorism, illness, aging, climate change, technological change, cultural change, moral change, our circumstances, our choices, the future, or the unknown.

Mary’s Anxiety

About 2,000 years ago, Mary lived in Nazareth, a village about 115 km north of Jerusalem, which was more than two days of travel. She was far from the capital city of Israel. One day God sent an angel to visit her: “The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! God is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be” (Lk. 1:28-29TNIV).

Gabriel and Mary

Mary would have been surprised by the angel Gabriel, because she had never seen an angel before. Six months earlier the priest Zechariah was “startled and gripped with fear” when the same angel appeared in the temple in Jerusalem (Lk. 1:11-13). If an old Jewish priest was terrified by the angel, then it is understandable that a young woman would also be terrified by the appearance of the same angel. Being alone with an angel could be scary.

Mary was worried about what the angel’s message meant. She would have known that God used angels to proclaim important messages. Was it bad news? She would have also known that angels can be God’s agents of judgement. Was she feeling guilty? As this was a circumstance that she had no control over, she may have felt helpless.

Then she was told, “Don’t be afraid”. Why? Because she had found favor with God and would have a son named Jesus.  “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk. 1:30-33). God had chosen her to be the mother of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, who would establish the kingdom of God on earth. This was a radical change in her life, because a baby changes everything, particularly the first-born.  Nevertheless, her fears and anxieties were allayed and replaced with joy which she expressed in a song of praise for all that God had done (Lk. 1:46-55).

The Shepherd’s Anxiety

Nine months later the shepherds at Bethlehem had a similar experience: “they were terrified” when an angel appeared to them and God’s glory blazed around them like a supernatural search light (Lk. 2:9)! An angel appearing in the countryside during the night with a bright light would be scary. This was totally outside their experience. What was going to happen next? Were their lives in danger?

They were given the same reassurance as Mary, when the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Lk. 2:10NIV). Mary’s promised baby had been born and they were told how to find Him. After seeing the baby Jesus for themselves, they also praised God “for all they had heard and seen” (Lk. 2:20).

The Disciples’ Anxiety

According to the Bible, the baby Jesus grew up to be a man who was the unique Son of God who came to take our judgement. After Jesus told His disciples that He was about to die and return to heaven, they were “filled with grief” and wept and mourned and felt abandoned (Jn. 16:6, 20TNIV). After all, they would be without the leader that they had followed for at least three years. But like Mary and the shepherds, they were told, “Do not be afraid” (Jn. 14:1, 27bNIV).

Three reasons were given for not being afraid of their new circumstances. First, they were assured of a home in heaven if they trusted Christ – because Jesus was the only way there. Jesus said, “Trust in God, trust also in Me” and “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to God the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:1b, 6). That’s why the shepherds were told that the baby was a Savior; one who could rescue them. Faith in Christ is necessary for eternal life which is the ultimate cure for our anxieties and worries.Second, Jesus would return and take them to be with Him; He said “I will come back and take you to be with Me” (Jn. 14:3, 28). Although He was going away, they could look forward to a reunion with Him. Third, in the meantime the Holy Spirit would always be within them – the Holy Spirit “will be with you forever” (Jn. 14:16). They would not be like orphans (Jn. 14:15-21, 25-27). This was like having Jesus with them all the time, not just sometime!

So, they had a Savior who was going to take them to heaven and God the Holy Spirit was always going to be with them. Like Mary and the shepherds, Jesus said that their grief would be turned into lasting joy (Jn. 16:20-23). The illustration He used was how a mother’s pain turns to joy after the birth of her baby.

The First Advent

At Christmas we remember the unique birth of the Lord Jesus Christ who was both divine and human. This was His first advent. He was sent to earth by God to die for us in order to enable us to be reconciled with God. The Bible says that God so loved the people of 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). After His death, Jesus was buried and He rose back to life three days later.

Those who accept His free gift have peace with God and an inheritance of eternal life. We must receive what Christ has done for us before God will give us eternal life. However, those who don’t accept the gift face God’s judgment of eternal punishment; that’s what the word “perish” means in John 3:16 above.

The Second Advent

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended back to heaven by disappearing in a cloud. Then the eleven apostles were told, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11NIV). So, Jesus is going to return to the earth. This will be His second advent.

At Christmas we look back to the first coming of Christ and look ahead to the second coming of Christ. In His first coming He suffered and died; in His second coming He will conquer and reign. In His first coming He came as a baby and a suffering servant ((Isa. 52:13-53:12); in His second coming He will be a conquering king ( Rev. 19:16). That’s when He will be the king of the Jews. In His first coming He came to be a Savior; in His second coming He will be a Judge. The first is characterised by a cross and the second by a crown.

Did you know that all of God’s creation looks forward to the Lord’s coming reign over the earth? When the Lord returns to set up His kingdom, the creation will be released from the affects of humanity’s rebellion and re-created to be “very good” like it was in the beginning. The Garden of Eden will be restored (Acts 3:21). There will be harmony between all of God’s creatures. This is when, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat” (Isa. 11:6-9TNIV).

All the wrongs will be made right. All evil will be judged. Satan will be bound and unable to deceive people (Rev. 20:1-3) . All environmental problems will be solved. There will be justice and no wars. That’s when believers will be blessed materially as they rule with the Lord. In the meantime, they are already spiritually part of this new creation. Those who believe that the Savior died for them don’t have to worry, because Jesus is returning.

Between the advents

What can we learn from this as we live between the two advents of Jesus Christ? Mary and the shepherds faced supernatural circumstances and the disciples faced the loss of their Master and closest companion. We may not face supernatural circumstances, but at times we all face difficult circumstances and the loss of those who are near and dear to us. Like them, there are circumstances that we have no control over. Like them, we can experience anxiety, fear and worry, which can lead to panic and depression. But in their case, God’s solution led to joy.

Do not be afraid!

Remember the message, “Do not be afraid”. The reasons given to the disciples also apply to us. If we have trusted Jesus as our Savior our fears can be changed to joy and we can look forward to eternal life instead of eternal judgement. If we have not , then we will face Him as our judge. If we are true believers, the Holy Spirit is in us all the time. This transforms our lives. As believers we can look ahead to the second advent when the Lord Jesus will come and rule over a restored creation.

Another way to remove anxiety and fear is to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those that mourn” (Rom. 12:15). This involves sharing the feelings and the emotions of the good times and the bad times. This means listening to what life is like for others and validating their feelings. This means helping them realise that they are not alone. This means praying with them. This means talking about God and what He has done and what He has promised. These encouraging activities can help us get through all circumstances. He’s always with us and He’s always on our side, no matter how bad it gets. Believers are never alone; they have both spiritual and human resources to draw on.

So, don’t worry, Christ has been here once and He’s coming again to fulfill all of God’s promises.

Published, December 2011