The Mother of My Savior

There’s something wonderful about being a mother.

When I held my son for the very first time, everything about my precious boy amazed me.  His fuzzy head, his tiny nose, his grey-blue eyes, his fingers and toes. I kissed every part of him and prayed that his hands would be lifted in praise to God and his feet would walk in the way of Jesus.

I imagine Mary also marveled at her baby boy as she kissed His downy head.  I am sure she gazed at His face as He slept and her heart was awash with Mother-love.  But when she pondered where those feet would go and what those hands would do, surely the words of the angel echoed in her heart: “You will give birth to a son . . . He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33). 

Her son was destined for greatness – but she could never imagine the path He would take to get there.  Rejection, persecution, suffering, and death would mark Jesus’ earthly life.  He would wear a crown of thorns rather than a crown of gold and His hands and feet would be nailed to a cross rather than kissed in adoration.

But there, in the smelly stable, she kissed that sweet face and caressed those tiny fingers, knowing in her heart that her life would never be the same.  He would one day “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), but this little one needed her now.  The helpless future King was depending on His mother to feed and nurture Him until He fulfilled God’s purpose.

Babies bring out the tenderness in a mother’s heart and no doubt Mary felt the sweetness of her newborn son even as she wondered about the angelic announcement.  His life held the greatest purpose imaginable.  He was destined to be a King, but not tonight – tonight He was her baby boy with tiny fingers and tiny toes.

Christmas is . . .

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Despite what my family and friends claim, I love Christmas.  I just don’t like what Christmas has become, especially in the West. Christmas hymns give way to the sweet sound of the ka-ching of the cash register as the stores stock up long before Thanksgiving. There’s no space left for the manger and the baby under our festively decorated trees. “Merry Christmas” is for sale on blankets, dishes, doormats, toilet seat covers, and ugly sweaters. Every celebrity offers their version of “songs of the season” delivered in over-produced T.V specials. And do not get me started on cheesy “Christmas” movies – I would rather walk through shards of broken glass in my bare feet than watch one. In fact, the entertainment industry has done a good job of redefining Christmas for us. Ask most people what Christmas means and the answers are usually:

“Christmas is about caring.”

“Christmas is about sharing.”

“Christmas is about family.”

Christmas, according to the secular world, is about very different things than the church sees.

Or is it? Maybe that’s good common ground for telling the true Christmas story.

Christmas is about a God who cared enough about His lost creation to offer a rescue plan that would cost His One and Only Son His very life (John 3:16).

Christmas is about Jesus Christ who was obedient to the Father’s will to share His glory with once-sinful men (John 17:22).

Christmas is about the Father in heaven lavishing His love on us and adopting us into His family “that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).

For all the ways that we identify Christmas, it always comes back to God’s great gift of salvation offered through a Baby in a manger with a cross on his back.

Why Christmas Belongs to Shepherds – and to You.

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I remember an evangelist who told the story of being in the Miami, Florida area to do a revival.  He and the local pastor were driving around inviting people to the revival and witnessing to anyone who would listen.  They found themselves in a very affluent neighborhood with massive houses and expensive cars.  They spied a man out in his front yard and stopped to visit.  After speaking to him of the need for salvation, the man spread his arms in a grand gesture of all that he owned and said, “Saved from what?”  Then he dismissed them with a laugh. That man was Jackie Gleason – famed radio, television, and movie star. 

Perhaps that is why the angels came to lowly shepherds rather than the kings and religious leaders of the day.  People who think they have everything also think they have no need of a Savior. They have so much wealth or power or acclaim that they have no room for faith. Shepherds, especially at the time of Jesus’ birth, were the lowest of the low.  Scholars tell us that these shepherds were likely watching over sheep that would be used in the Passover sacrifice.  Their job was nasty, smelly, grueling, and demeaning.  But they were humble because of their lowly position.  These shepherds were just the kind of people God was looking for – people who would receive the Good News with faith. 

The Bible tells us that when the shepherds heard the angel’s announcement, they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15).  They believed the message and set out to find the baby – not because they wanted proof of what the angels said, but because they had faith that it was true.  And when their eyes saw what their hearts believed, they couldn’t help but “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (v. 17)

Do you have faith Beloved?  Do you believe that what God said about the Baby in the manger is true?  Then you can also have faith that this Child is your Savior, your Redeemer, your Hope and Peace, and Joy.  Have faith in what God has done and you will see what your heart believes.

Yeah, Right, a “Virgin Birth”

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Wrap your head around this: the baby in the manger was the son of a virgin and the Son of God. The Scriptures say “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son . . . “ Matthew 1:23/Isaiah 7:14.  I know – you’ve heard this scripture a hundred times at least. But have you stopped to consider what it really means? The Protestant Church refers to it as “the virgin birth.” The Roman Catholic church calls it “The Immaculate Conception.” We tend to fly over it but we need to give it some time and attention because it is important.

The word “immaculate” means spotless, without flaw or error, stain or blemish – perfectly pure. That could never happen with two human parents. Joseph was a righteous man, but he had a sin nature like every other human being. Mary was a virgin and she was“highly favored” by God, but she had the same sin nature. Joseph would be Jesus’ earthly father, but not his “biological father.” Mary, however, would be His biological mother – therefore she had to be a virgin – sexually pure. The Scripture said that Mary was “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit as the “male party” to conception. More importantly, He provided spiritual purity so that the child would be the only human born without a sin nature. Now I am a Bible teacher. I like to make difficult things understandable. But I cannot explain how this occurred. It was a divine action that we must accept with wonder.

Why does this matter? Because you and I are unholy people in need of a holy Savior. Only holy blood  – divine blood – could save the human race. There’s just one problem: God cannot die. That is why Jesus had to be both divine and human. It was the only way to provide the perfect blood sacrifice required to redeem mankind from their sin nature. It is the only hope you and I have.

Beloved, I encourage you to slow down through the familiar Christmas account. Take in every scene and ponder every word. This is not just a warm, fuzzy story to tell around the tree. This story is life. Eternal life. It is wonder and awe. It is Jesus – the God-man who came to save you. Indeed it is good news.

Christmas in Heaven’s Eyes

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I’ve often wondered about heaven’s reaction when Jesus was born on earth. What was the Father thinking? Were the angels rejoicing? Or were they silent with wonder? The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically, but I expect the Father looked on the scene with love for His Son now cradled in a young woman’s arms. And the angels? Some were tasked with delivering the good news in message and song. But I also believe there was wonder and astonishment and worship in haven.

Peter said, “Even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12). The word Peter used for “look” means “to bend over to look intently.” Can you picture it with me – tens of thousands of angels bending over the edge of heaven to gaze upon the Son of God in human flesh? The One who, with the Father and the Spirit, created the first human being had now become one of them. The omnipotent was now a helpless infant, subject to cold and hunger and pain. The One who provided all men with all things now needed a young woman to provide for Him. He who called the light forth now squinted His eyes at the brightness of Joseph’s lantern. He had spoken the animals into being; now they were His only companions at His birth.

No doubt they marveled at the sight before them, but they were in absolute awe pondering the purpose of it all. The context in which Peter used the word “look” means to have knowledge of. The Sovereign Lord God Almighty had sent His One and Only Son to pay the penalty for humanity’s sin. They had always known that God is complete love, they had experienced that love for themselves. But grace. Grace was something foreign to them. These earthly creatures had rejected and abandoned their Creator; they deserved destruction. But God offered forgiveness and was willing to accept these rebellious humans. To the angels it was extraordinary – they recognized the greatness of God’s offer. But it is a gift only human beings can receive.

This Christmas Beloved, I pray you will consider with fresh eyes the gift of God’s favor.  In heaven – where all is wonderous, this thing called “grace” is truly a wonder. It is, in fact, the very heart of Christmas.

True Seekers

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You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12

Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell, was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on judgment day and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” He replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’”

On the night of Jesus’ birth, God announced the way for those who would accept it and seek this blessed Child. Luke’s account includes the angel who told them exactly where to find this Baby – “in the town of David” (Luke 2:11) and how they would recognize Him – “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12).  They responded to God’s revelation – “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see . . .” (v. 15). They were determined to follow the evidence that God has given to them.

Matthew records literal heavenly proof of Jesus’ birth as the Magi declared “We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). “The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v. 9). God not only gave directions, He led the way with a star in the sky. They were overjoyed – they sought the King and their search was rewarded.

There is another path that God has provided for man to find his Creator. That path leads up a hill in Jerusalem, to Calvary, and the Cross. God made this way clear and unmistakable when He covered that path with the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus. He has declared that this is the way to find Him – the only way. To all who will accept it, God has promised not only to reveal Himself but to claim the seeking soul as His own.

The difference between Bertrand Russell and the shepherds and wise men and those who believe is that they want to find God. He receives all who seek Him with a heart to believe. Remember what He said – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”. (Jeremiah 29:13). Beloved, what – or Whom – are you seeking this Christmas?

Mary’s Little Baby Boy

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To watch a child sleeping is to see the sweet face of innocence. Their eyes are closed to the world; mouth in soft repose as a tranquil, near-holy hush settles over their whole being. They say that when a baby smiles in his sleep, he has been kissed by an angel. If that is true—and why would we doubt it—the Infant Jesus must have smiled the whole night through. This Child was loved and adored on earth and in heaven.

Every baby brings a sense of promise to his family. Mother and father have dreams in their hearts of who this child will be—a doctor, a teacher, a missionary, or a dancer, perhaps even a leader who will one day change the world. One mother knew that her baby indeed would. One mother held the true Child of Promise for all mankind, the Messiah who would bring peace on earth.

Oh, He looked like any other baby lying there in her arms, small, helpless, and beautiful. He cried like other babies. He needed to be fed and changed like other babies. But she had heard the angel say that her child would be the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Joseph said that the angel had come to him too, and told him that this Child “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Her cousin Elizabeth had declared “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:43). And what about the shepherds that came from the fields with a wild and glorious story of singing angels (Luke 2:8-18)? It is any wonder that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19)?

To the rest of the world, it was just another night. To anyone who might have come upon the stable, he was just another baby. But a young mother—and all of heaven knew—peace had come to the earth, wrapped in rough cloths, sleeping in a manger.

Do You Believe?

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But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Micah 7:7

Little children become lookouts on Christmas Eve. Their ears strain for the slightest whisper of sleigh bells and they stand attentive at the window, watching and waiting for Santa Claus. They have written their letters and made their pleas for toys and dolls and bikes. The cookies and milk are ready for him. Now they watch with confident hope and expectation that Santa will come. Oh sure, they heard the big kids laughing and saying that there is no Santa, but for them, the magic is real and they still believe. But we are grown-ups and we know that Santa is just a myth. We know who actually bought the dolls and the Legos and who has to put the bike together if the kids will ever go to sleep.

We live in a world that tries to tell us that God is not real, that he is a myth, a fool’s wishful thinking, an imaginary friend. They have lost their ability to believe in the Almighty God who created the heavens and the earth and you and me – and them. They tell us we are praying to the winds, there is no one there to hear us.

 But as for me . . . I will continue to believe. I will watch in hope for God to fulfill His promises – just as He did with a Baby in a manger. I will trust in Jesus as my Savior and Lord. I will wait for Him because I know with all my heart that He is real and He is coming. I will proclaim His great name in every place and in every way. I will stand under the banner of Christ, even if no one else stands with me. And I will continue to bow my head in prayer because my God hears me. I know He is true.

Friend, won’t you come and stand watch with me at the window—I believe I hear the sounds of angels in the distance.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men (Luke 2:14).

Gifts Fit For a King

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“They opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh,” (Matthew 2:11)

What kind of gift do you bring to a newborn King? When royals or celebrities have babies, gifts pour in from all around the world. Lavish, expensive presents like giant stuffed animals, beautiful baby clothes, and the very latest in baby transportation. Only the best will do for these little ones of such high standing. When the wise men came to visit Jesus, they brought gifts worthy of a first-century king – gold, incense, and myrrh. Many scholars believe there is significance in each of these gifts: “Gold might represent His deity and purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death” (myrrh was used as an embalming spice) (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament).

I love the story of the little boy who, during the offering at church, set the plate on the floor and stood in it. His embarrassed mother pulled him back to his seat and  whispered “What are you doing?” He replied in a very loud voice, “But Mommy, I don’t gots no money, so I wanted to give Jesus myself!” Image the sermon that might have followed that! But our little friend is right on target. Just as the magi presented Jesus with gifts, the Bible tells us that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,” (Romans 12:1). In the first two verses of Romans 12, Paul tells us that our gifts to God are our bodies (v. 1) and our minds (v. 2) – what we do and how we think. In other words, we are to give every bit of ourselves to the Lord. Remember Jesus’ words about the great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This covers your affections, your emotions, your convictions, and your life-focus.  It’s total surrender. We love God by giving Him ourselves, inside and out. Beloved, let all of you be your gift to Jesus this Christmas.

What Does it Mean to Be Righteous?

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“Joseph took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24)

In the telling of the Christmas story, Joseph, the earthly “step-father’ of Jesus doesn’t get much attention.  Little is recorded about him other than he was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:55) and a descendant of David (John 2:4).  But I learned something recently about him that had previously escaped my attention in the rush to get to the birth story.

“This his how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19).

In the eyes of the Jewish community, Mary had committed a grievous sin – conceiving a child as an unmarried woman with someone other than her betrothed. According to the religious law, the “righteous” thing to do was to “bring her to the door of her father’s house and there the men of the town shall stone her to death” (Deuteronomy 22:21).  Instead, Joseph chose to handle the situation quietly to spare her from disgrace and punishment.  And because he acted mercifully, God, through the pen of Matthew, declared Joseph “a righteous man.”

Jesus esteemed mercy; He said the merciful will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7) and declared that God “desires mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:8).  His brother James proclaimed, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).  I think, sometimes the church has it backward.  Much like the Jewish religious leaders, we think that righteousness means always doing the right thing; Joseph shows us that righteousness is doing the Jesus thing – showing mercy.  After all, that is the heart of the Christmas story: God’s love poured out in mercy to sinners like you and me through Jesus Christ. 

This Christmas season, is there someone in your life that needs mercy – someone who needs love?  I know this theme is playing itself out in my own family right now.  It will be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, but it is the Jesus thing. Let’s commit to being righteous people – let’s be people of mercy.