Four days ago Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to six years in prison for sexual misconduct involving two boys in the 1990s. After terms as the Archbishop of Melbourne and the Archbishop of Sydney, he held senior positions at the Vatican. Pell was the treasurer of the Vatican and the Holy See in Rome, a high-ranking position that makes him among the world’s most powerful Catholics. He is the Roman Catholic Church’s most senior official to be convicted of child sexual abuse.
The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was dominated by abuses perpetrated in the Roman Catholic Church. The scale and nature of abuse uncovered in Catholic institutions was staggering. Between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people reported allegations of child sexual abuse to Catholic authorities. There were 1,880 Catholic leaders subject to allegations of abuse in over 1,000 separate institutions. In total, 7% of Catholic priests in Australia between 1950 and 2010 were accused of child sexual abuse. (more…)
At 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.
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
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
According to the Bible, an inheritance awaits God’s people in heaven. Are you looking forward to it?
Our physical world has four dimensions, three in space and one in time. As a scientist, I sometimes visualize the spiritual world as having extra dimensions that are not visible to us. Scientists use such techniques to describe the properties of fundamental particles such as atoms.
The Bible provides glimpses of the spiritual world, including the eternal destiny of the believer. But our language and experience mainly relate to the physical world, so these glimpses appear in figures of speech, such as metaphors, to help us visualize our eternal destiny.
Christ told His followers that He was going to His Father’s house to prepare a place for them. This promise was given so that they would not worry about the future (Jn. 14:1-3).
Paul says he was “taken up to paradise,” but was unable to express more specifically what was revealed to him (2 Cor. 12:4 NIV). The word “paradise” conveys an image of the Garden of Eden – a perfect, sinless place that is better than anything that we could ever imagine. Utopia!
God’s people are destined to be with Him in heaven and they are described as having their “citizenship in heaven” in Philippians 3:20. This same verse also tells us that heaven is where Christ lives.
Believers have the prospect of living together with Christ (Jn. 14:3; 1 Th. 5:10). They will go to be with Him at death or at the rapture. After death they are said to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). So heaven is where Christ lives and it is also the believer’s home.
When Christ returns for His followers, the Christians who have already died will rise from the dead first and then those who “are still alive” will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” in order to be “with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:16-18).
At this time it is said that believers “will all be changed” as their bodies will be transformed to be like Christ’s resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:49-51; Phil. 3:21). As a result of this radical change they receive new bodies fit for heaven, that do not decay or die (Rom. 8:18-23; 1 Cor. 15:49-54).
Some of the most widely celebrated events on earth are the Olympic games and the World Cup football (soccer) series. But Christians can participate in a much greater celebration in heaven. It will be a great wedding feast, with all God’s people, millions and millions, honoring Him and Christ with gladness and rejoicing. Those present are referred to as “blessed” (Rev. 19:6-9). In heaven there will be continual worship and praise of God for His great acts of creation and salvation (Rev. 4:1-5:14).
Although the opportunity is available to all, Christ taught that, relatively speaking, “few” will accept the invitation to share in this great celebration (Mt. 22:1-14). The names of those who do are recorded in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15).
According to the Bible, an inheritance awaits God’s people in heaven that is both glorious and eternal (Eph. 1:18; Heb. 9:15). It “can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Pet. 1:4). Three aspects of this inheritance are: receiving rewards, seeing God glorified, and reigning with Christ.
1. Receiving rewards: Jesus told many parables about the kingdom of heaven, including how His servants will be rewarded according to their faithfulness (Mt. 25:14-28; Lk. 19:12-24). As His servants today, Christians are accountable to God. When they appear before the judgment seat of Christ, their performance will be assessed and rewards given for what they have done for the Lord (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10).
His promise is this: “I am coming soon! My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). In his first letter, Peter states that when Christ returns, believers “will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Pet. 5:4).
2. Seeing God glorified: Before he was martyred for his faith, Stephen “looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). We don’t know what he saw, but when John saw a vision of Jesus on the island of Patmos, it was so awesome that he fell down like a dead person (Rev. 1:17).
Christians who are suffering are encouraged to rejoice in spite of it, because this will prepare them for even greater happiness when He makes His glorious return (1 Pet. 4:13). Also, they will see Christ “as He is” when He appears in power and glory (1 Jn. 3:2).
Believers will not only see God’s glory, but they will also share in it! Paul was confident of sharing in Christ’s glory when it is revealed (1 Pet. 5:1) and looked forward to sharing in the glory of God (Rom. 5:2; Col. 1:27). An aspect of this is shown in the third example of the Christian’s inheritance – the reign.
3. Reigning with Christ: According to the Bible, believers will “reign on the earth” with Jesus Christ “for a thousand years” (Rev. 5:10; 20:6). They are described as being given a place beside Christ in heaven (Eph. 2:6), and when He returns to earth in great power. This is the believer’s “blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Ti. 2:13).
We all have a place on earth that we refer to as our home. But God wants us all to be able to call heaven our home as well. That’s why He gives us these glimpses of the place He’s preparing for us.
Have you accepted His invitation to be with Him there forever? When Jesus was asked about the way to get to this place He said that He is “the way” (Jn. 14:6). Are you following Him?
Visualizing heaven can help us endure the disappointments of life. Those who are faithful look ahead to their destiny with hope (Heb. 11:10,16). Are you looking forward to the place God is preparing for you?
Published, April 2000