What 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.
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 is hell?
Both 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
I 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
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.
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
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?
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).
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
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.
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
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.