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.

You’ve Been With Jesus!

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There’s a verse in Acts 4 that has been on my mind lately. It comes in the narrative of Peter and John before the religious leaders. They had been arrested and were being questioned by the ruling Jewish council. Luke said that these fishermen turned preachers astonished the learned and (self)righteous men and “they took note that these unschooled, ordinary men had been with Jesus” (v. 13). How do people know that you and I have “been with Jesus?”

This story says the council “saw the courage of Peter and John”  who had just boldly declared the name of Jesus of Nazareth before them. Boldness and courage were the tell-tale signs for the Lord’s disciples. You and I are going to need their boldness and courage in the days ahead. We get that when we spend time with Jesus.

Peace is also another way that others can see that we have been with Jesus. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). When you and I can face the challenges of life with peace others will notice. They will want to know how, and we can tell them, “I’ve been with Jesus, the peace-giver.”

Probably the most definite sign that we have been with Jesus is love. He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Love is the hallmark of those who have been with Jesus. You cannot be around divine love without it “rubbing off on you.” Love one another.

Then there is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus prior to His death. She came with her alabaster jar of perfume “which she poured on His head” (Matthew 26:7). As I meditated on this scene, it occurred to me – now Jesus smelled just like her and she smelled just like Him. She brought her love and worship to Him. He welcomed and received her fragrance – and her – and in return He shared with her His grace. She was there to pour out her worship on the Lord and when we worship Him, He joins with us and we share in His sweet fragrance.

That, Beloved, is how the world will know that we have been with Jesus.

The Real Jesus

Matthew is one of only two gospel writers to mention the birth narrative.  He wrote to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah of old.  He included details that were pregnant with Jewish prophecy. Luke wrote his gospel account via careful investigation and eyewitness testimonies (Luke 1:1-4). Church tradition maintains that the story of the nativity in Luke came directly from Mary’s remembrances, which is why his gospel is rich with the details of the event. Mothers remember everything about their children’s birth. It’s interesting to me that Luke, writing from Mary’s perspective wrote about lowly shepherds who visited the holy family in the mean stable, while Matthew wrote about wise men – probably wealthy Persian kings – who followed the star to worship the then-toddler.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew reaches back to Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, and identified David, the chosen king of Israel. Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage back to “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:37). Matthew wanted to show Jesus as the rightful King of the Jews.  Luke wanted to show Him as the God-Man, who lived and died in humility among humanity. So was Jesus a King or a common man? Yes and yes. To have a full understanding of Him, we must see Him as both. And as more.

He is the Baby in the manger. He is the itinerant preacher. He is the dead man on the cross. He is the risen Lord. He is the Son of God, seated at the Father’s right hand. He is the Redeemer of the world. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the one who is, was, and is to come. He is part of the Triune Godhead. He is the soon-coming King. He is the Victor who crushed Satan’s head. And He is my Savior. Is He yours?

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.

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.

Sweet Feet

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I am fascinated by babies’ feet. When I was pregnant with my son, the ultrasound clearly showed his feet – I could see all ten of his little toes. I love my sweet Joygranddaughter’s feet. I always kiss them after her bath (when they are the cleanest!) and rub them when she sleeps in my arms. I love to hear them pat, pat, patting on the floor as she runs into my study first thing in the morning to greet me with an excited “Nana!”. Of course, I love all of her, but next to her sweet face, those little feet are my favorite part of her.

Feet are important in the Scriptures. This morning I read from Isaiah’s prophecy: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation . . .” (52:7).  Just as Joy’s feet bring her sweet chattering into my room, the feet of God’s Servant brought the good news of peace, glad tidings, and salvation. Jesus’ message was good news – freedom, healing, release, and God’s favor (Luke 4:18-19). He proclaimed peace (John 14:27 ), Joy (John 15:11), and abundant, everlasting life (John 10:10, 6:27).

And in washing the dirty, smelly feet of His disciples Jesus “showed the full extent of His love” (John 13:1). With the humility of a servant and the heart of divine love, Jesus performed one of the most degrading tasks in a household and set an example for us to follow.

But the most important time feet show up in the Scriptures is when the nails are driven through those same feet Mary surely kissed with motherly affection. Jesus’ feet bear the scars of His great love for you and me and one day we will gather around the throne and cast our crowns at those nail-scarred feet. The feet that had kicked against the rags that kept him warm in the stable.  The feet that walked the on top of the waves of the sea.  The feet that struggled up the Via Dolorosa.  The feet that bore the condemnation of all mankind. Sweet feet indeed.

You Are Here

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“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” Micah 5:2

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at a map with one red dot that says, “You are here,” and another red dot way on the opposite side of the map that says “God’s purpose for you is here.” I’m so very far away.  Four hundred after Micah’s prophecy, a young woman was startled to learn that she was pregnant with the Promised One – the Messiah.  But wait—she is in Nazareth and the prophecy said the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem, some 80 miles away.  So was the prophecy wrong?  Did God make a mistake?  Not at all.  God had a plan and He would use a pagan ruler to fulfill it. Check it out:

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child” (Luke 2:1-5).

Mary made it to the right place – Bethlehem – at the right time – when her baby was born – through the “whim” of a Roman ruler who had no reverence for the God of Israel.

Beloved, God has a time and place of purpose in His plan for you.  You probably won’t get there via a straight line.  You may feel you are completely off track, or that God has forgotten all about you.  You’re not sure how you wound up where you are or why.  But be assured that God, who created you with a time and place in mind, is still guiding you.  He knows exactly where you are right now and where He wants you to be and when.  He didn’t fail to fulfill the prophecy of old, and He won’t fail to fulfill His purpose for your life.  Wherever you are today is not the end of your journey.  Trust Him, trust His ways, trust His heart.  He knows the where and the when and the way to get you there.

The Wondrous Love of God

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“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46)

Joy. Peace. Hope. Love.  These are the words we most associate with Christmas and for good reason, the birth of Christ ushers in all of these good things.  Joy abounds in this season, especially on the faces of little children.  The angel brought “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10).  And he declared “peace on earth” (v. 14) to the stunned shepherds.  Many a war has called for a “Christmas cease-fire” so that there might be peace, at least for a moment.  The birth of Christ is the promise of the hope of God for all men everywhere.  And Jesus is the embodiment of perfect, holy love.  Those who believe and receive Him are filled with holy love for God and the world.  These are perfect words for the Christmas season.  But one word gets forgotten during this holy time of the year. 

Mary’s song – called The Magnificat – is a beautiful and moving oration inspired by the Holy Spirit in the heart of a humble girl.  Mary’s song doesn’t focus on joy or peace or hope or love.  Mary sings of the mercy of God.  She says “His mercy extends to those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50).   Mercy is as much a part of the Christmas story as the “big four.” 

God’s mercy and His love are interchangeable and intertwined in Scripture.  In the Old Testament, the word ḥesed is often used for both “love” and “mercy.”  You can’t describe the love of God without His mercy and vice-versa. Mercy is love. Love is mercy. Mercy is the outward, active evidence of God’s love.  His love prompted Him to act in mercy.  Love moved the heart of God, mercy built the bridge.  Love saw the suffering of humanity, mercy came down to help.  Love couldn’t bear to be without us, so mercy went to the cross.  And that is where the Christmas story truly becomes a love story.  Because Christmas, with all its joy and celebration, is meaningless without the cross. The story of Christmas is the story of the love – and mercy – of God displayed in the tiny Baby in the manger who would grow up to be the Man on the cross.

What wondrous love is this,

That caused the Lord of bliss

To bear the dreadful curse

Oh, my soul!

Signs of Christmas

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On the day of Pentecost (I know, this is an Advent devotional – bear with me) Peter stood up and said, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs . . .” (Acts 2:22). Signs were important to the Jews, and they are important to the church today. Signs are markers, signals, symbols, or events that communicate the authenticity of God’s message and messenger. Many miracles and wonders were performed by the prophets of the Old Testament to prove the truthfulness of their message. Likewise, Peter said, Jesus’ miracles and the wonderful things He did were to confirm that He was whom He said He was.

The first confirming sign was not even about Jesus directly. Isaiah said, “Therefore 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. 7:14). The first sign was caused a scandal for Mary, a peasant girl from the nothing town of Nazareth. Her highest goal was to marry Joseph and have a family. Suddenly she finds herself an unmarried young woman with a child in her belly that is not her fiancé’s.  Mary’s quiet, well-planned life was suddenly interrupted by God. How does a supposed virgin explain her condition? To say God’s call on her life was an inconvenience would be an understatement. She was put in a most shameful situation, one that could have cost her her beloved Joseph, and possibly even her life. Yet she humbly surrendered herself to the will of God and embraced an unknown future with awe and wonder and faith. Her reply to the angel who brought the incredible news was a simple, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:37). The first sign was a young woman with a God-sized problem and the faith to entrust her life to His plan.

Beloved, has God interrupted your life with something unexpected – something inconvenient, something hard, or perhaps even shocking? It may be a person, a diagnosis, a major change, or great sorrow. How will you respond? With fear and anxiety? Or with faith and humble surrender? Are you willing to be the Lord’s servant?

The Real Joy of Christmas

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Christmas isn’t always a Currier and Ives painting. Some Christmases are hard, saturated in grief, exhaustion, disappointment, loneliness, struggle, and family drama. I’ve had some of those Christmases – no doubt you’ve had them too. I remember Christmases when my Dad was stationed far away from us, the first Christmas after my Mom died, and Christmases with no tree and no presents because there were no funds. Those were sad holidays, but they were not joyless. I know – that sounds like a contradiction, but the joy of Christmas is not in trees and presents. And while they are (usually) a blessing and a delight at Christmas, our family is not the heart of our joy. Christmas Joy is not found in stores – you can’t even order it from Amazon. And I can guarantee you that it isn’t in “Christmas” themed movies or T.V. specials or over-produced “Christmas” songs.

The true joy of Christmas is the assurance of God’s faithfulness to redeem His people from their sins. That’s exactly what Matthew said in his gospel. The angel who appeared to Joseph said, “[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” (Matt. 1:21). This baby wasn’t just born to be a king who would rule on a throne. He was born to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was born to break the power of death. John said He came to bring light into our darkness (John 1:4-9). Joy at Christmas comes from understanding our desperate situation before God and then recognizing what He did for us. The truest expression of Christmas joy is not a party or a present – it’s worship. That’s how Mary saw it. She said “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46). Christmas should be a holy celebration, a time when we put aside the tinsel and trappings and bow low before the Baby in the manger. It may never be as perfect as the picture on your Christmas cards, but Beloved, no matter your circumstances in this season, may your Christmas be full of real joy.