Advent 2022: In Heaven’s Eyes

I’ve always wondered about heaven’s reaction when Jesus was born.  What was the Father thinking?  Did He look over at Jesus’ empty throne?  Were the angels rejoicing?  Or were they silent with wonder?  The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically, but we do have a small clue.

“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 the celestial beings marveled at the sight before them, but they were particularly in awe for the purpose of it all.   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 even more – was willing to accept these rebellious humans as His own beloved children.  How could it be that the Sovereign Lord God Almighty sent His One and Only Son to pay the penalty for humanity’s sin?  To the heavenly beings, it was extraordinary. They recognized the greatness of God’s offer – even if the recipients of it did not.  Peter said the angels “eagerly desired” to know this amazing grace.  But it is a gift only human beings can receive.

This Christmas Day, Beloved, as you unwrap presents and embrace loved ones, consider with fresh eyes the gift of God’s grace.  From heaven brought down to earth, it is, in fact, the true heart of Christmas.

Advent 2022: How to Save the World

“For to us a child is born . . .”

Ask a general how to save the world and he will tell you to use military force and control.  Ask a humanitarian and she’ll probably suggest programs to eradicate poverty and hunger.  Pose the same question to politicians and they’ll tell you they need money, money, and more money to appoint a committee with sub-committees to study the matter.  Teachers will tell us that education is the answer and The Beatles said that “All You Need is Love.” If I were going to save the world I would round up the criminals and terrorists and rioters and child abusers and abortionists and drug lords and put them all on a one-way trip to the moon.  But God had a different plan – He determined to save the world through a baby. But not just any baby.

It seems strange to me that a helpless infant would be the answer to the woes of the world.  He couldn’t feed himself or change himself or get from place to place by himself.  He slept all the time like any other baby.  But He wasn’t any other baby.  He who could not feed Himself would feed multitudes. The little one that couldn’t change Himself would change the fate of the human race on a cross.  The babe who had to be carried from place to place will carry all who believe to heaven.  This sleeping child would rise from the sleep of death to awaken the souls of men.

This baby left the glory of heaven to save the entire human race.  He brought peace between God and man.  He broke the chains of sin.  He erased the curse of death.  This baby took on your sin and mine; He bore the punishment that you and I rightly deserved.  He surrendered His body to the cross and the grave. And He did it all out of love. “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” (John 3:16).

Yes, God used a Baby to do what generals, humanitarians, politicians, teachers, and pop stars could never do.  Jesus brought peace with God to all who will believe on Him. And that, Beloved, is how to save the world.

Advent 2022: Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

Try to wrap your head around this: the baby in the manger was the son of a virgin woman 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. In researching the word this means that He filled Mary with creative energy, much the same way He worked in the creation of the universe. 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. Under the old covenant, sacrifices had to be made every year to atone for the people’s sins.   Only a divine sacrifice could guarantee salvation. Only holy blood  – divine blood – could atone for the human race. There’s just one problem: God cannot die. That is why Jesus had to be both divine and human. Thus Jesus came from the union of God and humanity. It was the only way to provide the perfect blood sacrifice required to redeem mankind from their sinful 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.

Advent 2022: There’s a Place for You

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).

Several years ago, while living in a Florida university town, my family was blessed to serve in college ministry. We helped prepare Thanksgiving dinner at the Baptist Student Center. We brought them with us into Shoebox ministry and I taught the College Sunday School class for a season. But the best part of that time was just having them all around my house. We came to love so many of those precious students, their feet were often under my kitchen table and it was not uncommon for them to crash on my couch for the night. One night we hosted a bonfire and had 45 young men and women in our backyard, from 9 different countries! It is one of my sweetest memories. These kids were—and are—dear to us and many still call us “Mom and Dad.” Through that time, I came to understand Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (2:8). Like Paul, we made room for others out of love.

Love opens doors to the lonely. Love puts one more plate on the table. Love slides over to share the seat with a weary soul. Love pours a cup of coffee. Love labors in prayer. Love sleeps on the couch so the visitor can have the bed. Love opens the circle of friendship to add one more person. Love doesn’t shut others out; love welcomes people in.

In the town of Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago, a baby was born in a dark, damp, smelly stable—little more than a cave hewn out of a hillside—because there was no room for His little family in the inn. His father and very pregnant mother were turned away because there was no love there. Now—think about what Jesus told His disciples just before His death: “In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Why?

Because love makes room.

Advent 2022: Joseph – A Man of Mercy

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 is 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 – becoming pregnant as an unmarried woman was bad enough but to conceive a child with someone other than her betrothed was unforgivable. 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). It was a sin that merited public execution. 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? No, they probably don’t deserve it – but neither did you. It will be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, Beloved, but it is the Jesus thing. Let’s commit to being righteous people – let’s be people of mercy.

Advent 2022: Sweet Little Baby Boy

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son” (Luke 2:6).

They say that having a baby will change your life completely, and every parent knows that’s true. Everything changes when a baby comes. Your time is no longer your own – your days are filled with feedings and diaper changes, and more of the same through the night. Your money is not yours anymore – whoever imagined someone so tiny would need so much stuff? Your priorities are different, your goals are reshaped, and your entire identity is redefined. And you wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is a Baby who will change your life in far greater ways. This Baby will give your life direction and purpose. This Baby will bring you peace in the midst of a storm. He will comfort you when you are weary and broken. He will lift you up when you fall. This Baby will bring you immeasurable Joy. He can wash away the stain of guilt and shame and make you new. This Baby brings hope where all hope is faded. He brings light into the darkest night. This Baby brings healing to body and mind and heart. This Baby will change the way you think and the way you live. He will transform your heart and cause you to love in ways you never expected. And if all that wasn’t enough, this Baby will change your life beyond this life.

This Baby left the glory of heaven to save the entire human race. He brought peace between God and man. He broke the chains of sin. He erased the curse of death. This Baby took on your sin and mine; He bore the punishment that you and I rightly deserved. He surrendered His body to the cross and the grave. He did it all so that you and I could have life – full and abundant and eternal. He gave Himself away so that you could get yourself back. This Baby – the Lord Jesus Christ – changes everything.

I pray you know this Baby, not just know about Him. I pray that His birth is more than a familiar story to you – that it is truth that is firmly rooted in your heart. I pray that His name is sweet on your lips and even sweeter to your soul. I pray that this Baby is your Savior, Beloved, and the Lord of your life.

Advent 2022: The King is Coming

Joy to the world!

The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room

And heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n and nature sing,

And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.[1]

“Joy to the World” is one of our most beloved Christmas songs, but it isn’t about Christmas at all.  Isaac Watts originally penned these words in anticipation of the return of Jesus.  Notice that verse 1 above calls Him the King, if you read the full hymn, you will see that verse 2 celebrates His reign, verse 3 tells of the end of the curse and verse 4 proclaims Him as the righteous Ruler of the world.

In Jacob’s blessings over his sons (Gen 49), he said of Judah, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is His” (v. 10). Jacob was declaring the coming of the Eternal King – Jesus. He is the one to whom the royal scepter belongs and all the kingdoms of the earth will bow at His feet.

We love the Baby in the manger; He is the embodiment of God’s holy love for mankind and the fulfillment of His promise to free us from bondage to sin.  But we must let Jesus grow out of the swaddling clothes and into the crown of thorns to understand the full impact of Christmas on the world.  We must see Him as the risen Lord standing in the Garden and look to the skies as He ascends back to heaven to grasp the fullness of His promised resurrection.

And we must see Him as the coming King in Watts’ song.  Zechariah 14:4-9 describes His glorious return: “On that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west” (v. 4).   The world missed His first advent, but there will be no missing His second.  “Every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7).  Christmas brings us Joy as we remember Jesus’ birth, but the greatest rejoicing will come when the King of kings returns to earth.

Jesus promises “Behold, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7).  And so we say with the Bride and the Spirit: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (v.20).

[1] Words: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748; Music: George Frederick Handel, 1658-1759; Arr.: Lowell Mason, 1792-1872

Grow Up With Jesus

Mary. Mother of Jesus. Most honored of women. Most humble of women. And most associated with the Christmas season. But did you know that Mary was there for more than just His birth? Once they got out of the smelly stable, they took Jesus – now forty days old – to the Temple to fulfill the rites of consecration according to Jewish law. There Simeon and Anna spoke of the salvation of the Lord and the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:25-38). When He was twelve years old, they took Him again to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover – and they lost Him. After a three-day search, they found Him in the Temple deep in conversation with learned men who were astonished at His depth of understanding (vs. 41-52). Mary was there, storing up treasures in her heart (v. 51).

Jesus and His disciples would accompany Mary to a wedding where she would see yet another unexpected side of her son as He turned water into wine. And she would worry over Him like any other mother. Mark 3 records Mary and her other sons going to check on Jesus out of concern for His sanity. When told that His mother and brothers were outside, He said that His family – His mother and brothers – were those who did the will of God (vs 20-35). That was not a dismissal of Mary, but she understood that He was becoming less her son and more His heavenly Father’s Son.

And then there was the day that Mary watched Him from the foot of a wooden cross. I imagine she took out all of those precious treasured memories she had stored up – of angels and shepherds and wonder and awe – and hugged them to her breast as His life ebbed away. For a moment, Jesus was just her son again as He appointed John to care for her in His absence (John 19:25-27).

There’s one more time we see her. After His resurrection and ascension, the disciples gathered in a room in Jerusalem, and Mary – and Jesus’ brothers – were there (Acts 1:12-14).

Mary grew in her relationship with Jesus, and so must we. Every stage of Jesus’ life and every step he took toward fulfilling His purpose changed Mary’s experience with her son.

She was a woman of faith and surrender – Jesus was the Promised Son

She was a brand new mother – Jesus was her firstborn son.

She was a seeking mother – Jesus was her surprising son.

She was a mother in need – Jesus was the One who met her need

She was a worried mother – Jesus was the Son of His heavenly Father

She was a grieving mother – Jesus was her lost son

But

She was also a sinner and Jesus was her Savior

She became a disciple and Jesus was her Lord.

Beloved, have you grown in your relationship with Jesus?

The (Complete) Nativity Creche

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When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star above the stable, and we add the animals – cows and sheep (but no pigs, this is a good Jewish family) – and an angel or two (which the Bible doesn’t mention in the birth scene) and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.

The truth is, Satan is also part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.

As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

The Gift

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“The Gift of the Magi” was published in 1905 and is a sweet tale of love and sacrifice at Christmas focused on a young couple who wanted to give their beloved a gift. But money was scarce and so, unbeknownst to the other, the gift-givers sold their prized possessions to buy something special for their spouse. Della sold her long, beautiful hair to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. Jim sold his heirloom pocket watch to buy Della a set of bejeweled hair combs. O. Henry finished his story with a nod to the Magi – the Eastern wise men who traveled long to bring gifts to the Christ Child. He wrote: “The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

While I appreciate this lovely story, I think O Henry got one thing wrong – Christmas presents didn’t originate with the Magi – the first Christmas present was given by God. The story of the Young’s Christmas is a shadow of the real story of Christmas. The young lovers sacrificed their most treasured possessions to give to their beloved, God’s sacrifice was far greater. He gave His One and Only Son to redeem men from their sin. The gifts they gave one another were costly – the gift God has given is priceless. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). Jim and Della’s gifts – and the sacrifice that enabled them – were given from love, but their love pales in comparison to the great love of God. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” (John 3:16). In O. Henry’s story, the sacrifice is part of the gift. In the Gospel story, the sacrifice is the gift.

Have you received this gift? Watch chains and hair combs can never express love like the cross can. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior Beloved? He is the greatest gift of all.