If Jesus’ birth was the advent of joy for all people, where is this joy? None of us have to search hard to find life is still riddled with hurt, sickness, resentment, rejection, violence, broken relationships… You could keep the list going I’m sure.
The birth of Jesus doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the suffering of this world. Where is joy to the world? (more…)
The Bible tells us how to overcome the obstacles that prevent us from being reconciled with God. First, we need to recognize God’s purpose for us.
God’s purpose for us is peace and life
God loves you and wants you to experience peace and life – abundant and eternal.
The Bible says:
– “We have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Rom. 5:1NLT).
– “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).
– “My purpose is to give them [people] a rich and satisfying life” (Jn. 10:10).
So we need to recognize that God’s purpose for us is peace and life. Why don’t most people have this peace and abundant life that God planned for us to have? Because there is an obstacle or barrier in the way. In order to remove the obstacle or barrier, we need to realize our greatest problem. (more…)
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.
“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.
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).
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