Advent 2022: Jesus Came for You

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)

Why would the God of Glory send His Son to be born of impoverished parents, in a mean stable among filthy animals? He is the Son of God, should He not be born in a palace befitting His supreme identity? Should His birth not be hailed by princes and royal guests and feasts and celebrations in the grandest style? Should His mother not be cared for by the best physicians in the land? Perhaps that is the way we would have written the Christmas story, but that’s not how the original Author presented it.

He was born in a stable, on loan for the night. His mother had only her frightened husband, Joseph to aid her in delivery. He was greeted by cattle and sheep and all the filth that comes with them. And rather than a soft bed of luxurious silk, He was laid in the animal’s feeding trough, on a bed of scratchy, rough hay. Is this any way to bring a King into the world?

Maybe God sent His Son in this way so the child born in a tiny tin hut in Haiti or on the filthy floor of a crack house in New York would identify in the most basic way with Jesus. Maybe it was so those who have nothing can find a connection with the God who wants to give them everything. Jesus’ birth is God coming to the forgotten, the lonely, the impoverished, and the lost on common ground. He wanted to reach the “poor in spirit, the meek, the hungry and thirsty” (Matthew 5:3-10). I don’t know if you are rich or poor, living a life of advantage or hardship, sleeping in a mansion or a homeless shelter. I do know that Jesus was born for you. And He died for you. The Christmas story is your story too. Yes, Beloved even – especially – you.

Advent 2022: The Ancient Story of Christmas

When we tell the Christmas story we tend to tell it as if God send Jesus as a reaction to the state of humanity. But look at the words of the Old Testament prophet: “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). This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah – the Son of God and King over Israel. Did you catch the last line: “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times”? The word “ancient” in Hebrew means eternal. It speaks of the eternal nature of God the Son and the plan that has been in place from before the creation of the world.

God was not taken aback when Eve grabbed for the forbidden fruit. He did not look upon the mess humans had made and concluded that this was the only solution. He did not send His Son in reaction to man’s sin. The Bible says that Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Jesus said that the kingdom was “prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). The plan for redemption – the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ – was established before God ever said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).

When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are celebrating the plan of the ages. We are celebrating – not just the reason for the season – but the reason for creation. When we celebrate Christmas we are celebrating God’s eternal purpose – to reveal His love. Do you understand what that means for you? Long before your affair, the abortion, that little white lie that exploded on you, the time you shook your fist at heaven, the decisions you made that kept you awake at night  – it was all foreseen before you were born. The Baby in the manger was not in reaction to your sin but was out of His great heart. God was not shocked by your sinful actions. He made the way, Beloved before you needed the way. Because He has loved you from ancient times.

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: Pondering Christmas

Image: “Mary and Baby Jesus” by Jean Keaton
 https://www.jeankeatonart.com/…/pro…/mary-and-baby-jesus

I posted a meme earlier in the week of Jesus saying, “Listen carefully. I don’t want to end up with four different versions of this.” It’s funny, but there is a reason for the four gospels. Each author, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to a different “target audience.”  Matthew wrote to assure the Jews that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Mark wrote to the Romans while Luke’s intended audience was the Greeks. John, some scholars say, wrote “Heaven’s perspective” revealing Jesus as the divine Son of God. When you read all four gospels in harmony, it is like turning a diamond to see all the different facets that make up the whole. Only Matthew and Luke covered the birth narrative.

Luke’s purpose in writing his Gospel account was to “carefully investigate everything from the beginning,” using the testimonies of “those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:3, 2). Tradition holds that one of those eyewitnesses was Jesus’ mother Mary. That is why we find such a rich account of our Savior’s birth. Who would be better to retell that wonderful story?

Luke added:  “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). That always touches my heart as a mother. I have my own “treasures” of my son’s birth and early years that I often pull out and remember. Every mother has a treasure trove of memories from the birth of her children. Mary had much to ponder and no doubt wonder what it all meant. Gabriel’s announcement to her – “You will be with child and give birth to . . . the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31, 32). Her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting – “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:42). Joseph’s loyalty – “Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24). The long, difficult journey while she was heavy with Child (Luke 2:4-5). The mean and lowly stable and the animals who witnessed the birth (Luke 2:6-7). A group of stunned shepherds talking excitedly about a chorus of angels and the brightness of God’s glory (Luke 2:8-18).

No doubt she remembers counting His fingers and toes and smoothing the curl on the top of His head as He slept contently in her arms. For the moment He was Mary’s sweet little baby boy, but he also held the hope and promise of God’s redemption for the whole world.

For the remaining days before Christmas, let’s spend some time pondering who this Baby in the manger truly was. Let’s look for the details of the Christmas story. Then let’s join Mary and treasure them up in our hearts and remember them all year long.

You Can Say It Now, or Say It Later: Jesus Is Lord

“I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Mark 1:24

Do you know (without looking it up) who spoke those words? No, it wasn’t Peter or John. Not the wise and righteous spiritual leaders of Israel. It wasn’t even one of the angels. Those words were spoken by a man possessed by an evil spirit, a demon of hell. Someone who certainly had no affection for Jesus, but recognized His divine nature as God in human flesh.

The world is filled with people who refuse to acknowledge Jesus for who He is. They may regard Him as nothing more than a great teacher or prophet. Many consider Him an extraordinary humanitarian. And more than a few claim He is a charlatan who has deceived people for more than two thousand years. Some dismiss Him altogether as a man-made hoax designed to ‘fleece the sheep.”

In my undergrad studies, I had to interview several non-believers and I asked them to just speak three words: “Jesus is Lord” and every one of them refused. One said he “couldn’t” say it, the words wouldn’t form in his mouth. How can two people know of Jesus and one believe and one not? Because “the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Heb 4:2). Demons don’t have faith and neither do people who hear the gospel and walk away from it. But one day they will see what they refused to see in this life.

Paul declared in Philippians 2:10-11 that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The evil spirit in our key verse is proof of Paul’s words. The day will come – very soon I believe – when every human from Adam to the last man standing will kneel and profess Jesus as Lord – the Son of God – the Holy One. It will be an involuntary response to His holiness and majesty. Just as the demon declared it, the words will fall from every person’s lips as all of mankind acknowledges Him. For those who believe today, it will be a shout of celebration. But for those who spurned the Son of God during their lifetime, that confession will be made with deep anguish and terror as they realize that in rejecting Jesus Christ they rejected their only hope for salvation.

You and I have a choice to make today that will determine how we respond in that glorious moment. We can reject Jesus now and make that confession by force, or bow our knees and our hearts and acknowledge Jesus as Lord today, so that great confession will be spoken with Joy. Don’t wait to proclaim the Name of Jesus, Beloved – He is Lord!

More Than Words

The more tired she is the more Joy fights sleep. I suppose she doesn’t want to miss a thing around her. When she was just a baby I would snuggle her close in the rocking chair and give her her bottle. She would drink just a little, pull away, then immediately complain because she didn’t have her bottle. I’d plug it back in and say, “You’re the one who turned away from it sweetie.” We would repeat this cycle several times until she finally gave up and drifted off.

This little ritual reminds me of people who complain, “I don’t feel God anymore. I don’t think God cares about me. Why does God not love me?” The first thing I ask them is, “What is God saying to you in His Word?” And they answer, “Oh, I haven’t read the Bible in a while – I know I should, I just haven’t felt like it.” DING-DING-DING! They just answered their own question. They don’t “feel” God or think he cares about nor loves them because they have turned away from the very place they find Him.

God gave the Israelites His commandments and His Law so that they would obey Him. But it was about more than just compliance, it was about knowing Him. The closer they lived to the commands of God, the more He revealed Himself to them. They came to know God by knowing and obeying His Words. Moses declared to them, “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” (Deut 30:14).

The Word of God has never been more readily available than it is today. The Scriptures are literally at our fingertips, in printed form, electronic media, by audio and video – and in almost every language on earth. You can have it any way you want it. But you have to want it. You have to pick up the book or open the app or pull up the podcast. You have to make God’s Word a priority in your life. The less you read, the less you want to read.  And the converse is true: the more you read, the more you want to read.

The Bible is not just a bunch of stories and rules and words on paper. It is the true and living Word of God (Heb 4:12), inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God (2 Pet 1:20-21) and embodied in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 1:14). Have you turned away from the very thing your spirit is craving? Come back to the Bible, Beloved. “These are not just idle words for you, they are your life” (Deut 32:47).

Seeking Jesus

“Why are you here?” I asked my class asked one Sunday morning. After a minute someone said, “Because it’s Sunday morning and I’ve gone to church every Sunday for my whole life.” Another answered, “I am here for the fellowship of my church family.” Others chimed in: “I’m here because the Bible said ‘Forsake not the assembling of your selves together.’” “I am here to be fed in my spirit.”

I recalled this conversation while reading John 6. Jesus confronted the crowd that followed Him after He had fed more than five thousand people the day before (John 6:1-13). When they came looking for Him Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (v. 26).

Now verse 2 said that the people “saw” the miraculous signs He had performed.” So what did Jesus mean? Here’s where the Spirit stirred up the word nerd in me and said, “Saw?” The word used in verse 2 is to see as a spectator, to view with the eyes. But the word that John used in verse 26 means to discern clearly, to behold – to experience. It’s like the difference between watching a football game from the stands and playing it on the field. You can be a fan, but until you put the pads on and take the hits and cross the goalline with the ball in your hand you haven’t experienced the game. The crowd has seen with their eyes the miracles of Jesus – healing the sick and feeding the multitudes – but they did not understand what the signs were pointing to because they did not see them with their hearts. They were fans, but they hadn’t experienced Jesus.

The Lord said they were back because He fed their bellies and they expected more of the same, but if they had looked with faith – if they had experienced Him – they would know Him. They would follow Him because He is the very Son of God and the only means to eternal life.

You and I need to seek Christ for who He is, not just for what he can do for us – to know Him for the Joy of His presence, and not only for His presents. I can find nowhere in Scripture that God says, “I want You to know all I can do for you.” But I lost count after 200 times that I read “That you may know Me…” In knowing God, we discover what He can do, but if we are only seeking Him for what we can gain we have missed the whole point of the relationship.

Beloved, why are you seeking Jesus?

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?

Hebrews: Are You Listening?

Several years ago I turned down an invitation to an event. Afterward, I discovered that one of my favorite authors was a surprise guest speaker that day and I missed it. I was so disappointed. A few years later this speaker passed away and I realized that I had missed my one opportunity to hear her in person.

The writer of Hebrews offers a warning that you and I need to heed. “See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned those on earth, how much less will we if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven.” (Heb 12:25a). The writer started this sermon by saying “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb 1:1-2).

The history of Israel had been a sad story of God’s people rejecting God’s word through His prophets. The Lord said, “They have not listened to my words, words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets” (Jer 29:19). Their stopped-up ears and stubborn hearts put them in exile in Babylon for seventy years. But now, the writer said, His people have rejected the very Son of God, whom John called “The Word [made] flesh” (Jn 1:14). God was speaking to His people face to face and they didn’t want to hear what He had to say. It’s not just that they couldn’t hear and comprehend – they refused to hear. It’s like the little kid with his fingers in his ears saying, “Lalala – I can’t hear you.” The writer said if the Lord didn’t excuse those who rejected the prophets, what makes you think He will excuse us for rejecting His own Son?

Here is something important I want you to notice. What were the prophets speaking? What was the Son speaking? Not “you can decide for yourself what is right and wrong.” Not “I just want you to be happy.” Not even “unconditional love.” Their messages were words of warning. It was always, “Repent.” Turn away from your sin and turn back to God.

Here’s another thought: If God did not excuse those who rejected the words of the prophets and the word of His Son, will He excuse you and me who have the luxury of His Word in written form? I have at least fifteen Bibles on the shelves in my office. I expect most of us have a Bible app on our phones – and every one of them says the same thing: “Repent.” It’s not that we don’t have His Word. It’s that we’re refusing to listen. Beloved, we have no excuse.

The Father’s Love

“But his father saw him . . . and he ran to his son (Luke 15:17)

I recently read again the parable of the Lost Son from Luke 15.  You know this kid; he took his Daddy’s money and ran to the big city to waste it on wine, women, and song. When the money ran out, he decided to head back home. You could probably name all the sermon points. But there are some details in this story that often get missed. Let me put this in its bigger context. In the culture of the middle-eastern, first-century world, the son’s request was shocking and rebellious and revealed a lack of love for the father. When the son asked for his share of the inheritance, he was, in essence, telling his father, “I wish you were dead.” He wanted his money and the old man was standing in his way. The father gave the son what he wanted and allowed him to go on his merry way – no doubt brokenhearted as he envisioned the life his son was running toward.

Fast-forward to a hungry, humbled young man shuffling his way back on the road that led home. Here is the beautiful part of this story. When the father saw the boy, “a long way off,” he ran to him. In order to run, the father would have had to lift the skirt of his tunic and robe and tuck them into his belt, exposing his legs. This was just as shocking as the son’s request. Elderly middle-eastern men did not undignify themselves in this way unless it was of the greatest urgency – a matter of life and death. And it was. The son’s return would also be noticed by the townspeople and they would follow the Levitical law which commanded that a rebellious son be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). The father humiliated himself to save his son’s life.

Now, do you see the heart of your heavenly Father? Knowing the punishment due you for your sins, He sent His own Son to be humiliated, stripped, beaten, and killed to save you. Beloved, if you’ve turned away from God and run after the world your story isn’t done. Your Father is scanning the horizon for you, to bring you back to Himself. He loves you, no matter what you’ve done. Won’t you come home to God?