Awakened to the Message of Christmas

Christmas is a family holiday. People travel long distances to be with one another. Important family traditions are established, and children provide a lot of excitement as they find their way into the traditions that live on.

Let me tell you about one family. They had two sons: Bob and Tom. As a family, they lived in a personal relationship with Christ and were faithful to their church. But soon the children grew up and moved away. Bob went to college, found employment in another city hundreds of miles from home, married Jane, and began to raise his own family. They seldom came home for Christmas. However, they made an exception one year and decided to go to Bob’s family and share the traditions once again.

While they were with the family, it became evident that their lifestyle was different from what Bob once had, for he had walked away from the Christian faith. This was no surprise to the family, but they had never discussed the matter and certainly Christmas was not the time to cause any heated discussions. However, on Christmas Day, Bob’s brother Tom asked a very loaded question: “Bob, what did you think of our pastor’s sermon last night?”

Bob answered his brother kindly, “You know, Tom, while I was in college I rebelled against the Christian faith. When Jane and I were married, we joined her church, and it was much more liberal than the church in which we had been raised. The pastor’s sermon last night was quite different from those we hear in our church when we attend, which is not more than once a month. So to answer your question, I appreciated the sermon when he talked about Jesus as a man more than when he stressed that Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, and that Jesus was both God and man. But I have to admit that your pastor presented the text very well. I’m struggling with the mystical part of faith. I ask that you pray for both Jane and me, that our faith may be strengthened. We know that if we take the mystery out of the Christian faith there is not very much left.” And so the discussion went on.

I think of that story when I see the masses of people who go to our churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It is good that they come. Perhaps now we can see where they stand as far as the message of the birth of Christ is concerned.

We find information on his birth in the second chapter of Luke, and it can be read with great joy by both believers and unbelievers. It depicts the crude circumstances of life in those days. Jesus was born in the days of Herold the king; Quirinius was governor of Syria. When his parents arrived in Bethlehem, they could not get a room, but were invited to stay in the stable. That is where Jesus was born. Consequently, we have all kinds of pictures at Christmastime of the babe being born in the manger with Mary and Joseph and others standing around. As far as Jesus’ life is concerned, a person could say this was the story of a great religious leader who started his life in a very humble way.

Now when we turn to John, we find a different type of narrative. I believe that John wrote his Gospel in order to stress the divinity of Jesus Christ Ð the other part of the story. Jesus is God. He was the Word and came to live with us. “Through him, all things were made.”

The difference here is that he was not just a babe born in Bethlehem’s manger in very difficult circumstances, he is also the God Man. Looking at that babe in retrospect, Christians realize that he is God incarnate. In other portions of the Christmas gospel, we learn that he was born of the Virgin Mary, conceived of the Holy Spirit.

A lot of people today who believe they are Christian Ð like Bob in our introductory story Ð can grasp hold of the story of Jesus’ birth. Yet, that does not make them Christian in the biblical sense of the word.

Jesus’ family had to flee to Egypt for a little while, because Herod wanted to kill him. Then they returned to Nazareth where Joseph and Mary and Jesus lived. Jesus worked in Joseph’s carpenter shop, and on every Lord’s day they found their way into the synagogue.

During part of the synagogue’s service, people were permitted to stand up, read a prophecy, and then expound on it. On the day when the prophecy was read that the Messiah was coming and he would be the Savior of the world, the people listened as Jesus expounded until finally he said, “Today this has been fulfilled in your presence.” In other words, he was saying, “I am the Messiah.” I am the one who has come. I am not only the babe of Bethlehem’s manger, I am the God Man. The people became very angry and tried to kill him. They chased him out and were going to throw him down the cliff. Then Jesus left.

There is a picture of Jesus’ divinity, and it shows our rebellion that is also found in our world today. The true message of Christmas is not just the story of the birth of a baby. It is also the story of the God Man. How many of the millions of people around the world have heard the true message of Christmas and believe it in their heart? I’m afraid that the percentage is very small.

Large crowds fill our churches on Christmas Eve, and many of these people go to church every Sunday. They receive the message and can concretely see what the Lord Jesus has done. They hear what a great prophet he was and learn of his great moral teachings that we enjoy in the Christian faith today. It is a refreshing time to learn that there was one who walked among us as a great example. Bob had not in any way tried to discard that. He could understand the message, and it enlivened his whole understanding of the Christian faith. However, when it came to wrestling with what the scriptures said regarding Christmas, it was another thing.

There are those, then, who know about him, but do not really know him. They wrestle with the biblical message. He does not yet live in their heart as he would like to live. So Christmas is something far less. But oh that day when people begin to understand who Jesus really is. Then Christmas will become a time to sing about adoring him, for the God Man has come to be with us. I pray that you are among that group of people.

There are also those who go to Christmas services, but are not wrestling with the message. Perhaps they go just because of tradition and to make their relatives happy. We pray for those people, that they might know the real meaning of Christmas.

But then there are those who have come to the place, like Bob in the story, where they would love to return to the faith of their childhood. Before doubts began to creep into their soul. Listen once again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That is a specific reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Skip down to the portion of scripture where it says, “He came to his own.” He came to them with the message: “I am the Christ.” Some threw him out, some led him to a cross, and some did an about-face, thinking it foolishness.

So it is today. People are still wrestling. What a blessed Christmas it could be in your family if one who had been led off, or perhaps has no understanding of the Christmas message, could see that the Lord Jesus wants us and loves us. It would be a Christmas you would never forget, when you could really say, “My great Christmas; my first Christmas. How thankful I am be for you, Lord!”

So our prayer today is that whether you are just again reliving the Savior or are completely out of the faith and want nothing to do with it, think about it again. Man needs a Savior, and that Savior alone is the Christ of Bethlehem’s manger and the Christ of the cross at Calvary.

I Will Return

In 1942 the Japanese army forced Douglas MacArthur and his troops to leave the Philippines. When he left, MacArthur gave the people his promise, “I will return.” His promise was met. In 1945 he presented himself to the Filipinos as the victor. The war was won.

I have often wondered if MacArthur got those words from Jesus who at the time of his ascension said, “I will return.”

We are only one week from Christmas, and we think of that night when God came into this world in the person of the Christ child. But our minds go beyond Bethlehem’s manger to recall the suffering that Jesus went through, climaxing at the cross of Calvary when he said, “It is finished.” Three days later Jesus rose, not only as the crucified Savior, but as the risen Lord. Then he left his disciples a promise, “I will return.”

Today we celebrate his first coming as we await the second coming of our Lord, which is one of the texts for the Advent season.

The Old Testament had spoken of Jesus’ first coming. Isaiah wrote, “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” (Isaiah 7:14), which means, “God with us.”

Micah, the prophet, wrote, “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).

These were signs of the times. Something great was going to happen.

The time came. Jesus was born, and it is that birth we celebrate at Christmas. At that time we also look forward to his second coming.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36). Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matt. 24:42 & 44).

Time moves on and Jesus has not come. The disciples expected his return while they lived, but the Lord doesn’t seem to be in any hurry. We know that God wants all people to be saved Ð but they can refuse to trust Him.

But the Bible says that He will come as the Victor. He is the Victor over sin, death and the devil, and every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God, the Father.

Then comes the judgment. Heaven or hell is before us. The day of grace has ended.

This is a part of the mystery of the word of our Lord. Yet His ways are higher than our ways. This is still the day of grace, where all who will repent of their sins and trust Christ as the Savior and Lord will be saved.

Take the Mystery Out of Christmas and What Do You Have?

We celebrate national holidays honoring people who have brought great blessings in the United States Ð George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King to mention a few.

Christmas is another holiday where the business world, in most places, shuts down in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. But many people, Christians and non-Christians, would respond to my list and say, “No, you can’t include Jesus with Washington, Lincoln and King. They were great leaders, but Jesus is much more.”

If you ask, “What is the difference between Jesus and all other great leaders?” some would say, “I can’t explain the difference. I am not a Christian but even for many of us who are not Christians there is a mystery that surrounds Him. He is a spiritual leader who continues to influence the whole world.”

Jesus is surrounded with mystery. Let’s look at the biblical account of His birth.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, knew the mystery of Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:26-34). Although she did not know what was happening, in faith she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Joseph likewise was wrestling with the mystery of Mary’s pregnancy (Matthew 1:18-25). He decided the best thing he could do was divorce Mary quietly to save her much embarrassment. But after the angel’s words to Joseph in a dream, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him to do. But you can be sure he could not solve the mystery.

For the Christians there is also mystery. How did it happen? It is God’s divine work and my poor human mind cannot understand the mystery, yet I can believe it because God has spoken. The Holy Spirit takes these mysteries and makes them divine truths that live in me and shape my life.

Enjoy the mystery. Don’t try to take the mystery out of the Christmas message, which tells us that God came to earth and walked among us.

Take the mystery away and you will celebrate the birth of a great man only. Rejoice in the mystery as you worship the God man born in Bethlehem’s manger and dying at Calvary’s cross for all who will receive Him.

Advent Is a Great Time to Share the Gospel

Does it bother you as a Christian when someone you deeply care about does not confess Christ Jesus as their Savior? Have you talked seriously with this person about Jesus?

Ezekiel gives us some help. He was one of God’s prophets to the people of Judah who had been carried away to exile by the Babylonians. While they were in captivity, God spoke to Ezekiel: “When I say to a wicked man, ÔYou will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself. . . . But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself.”

Notice, our text contains both Law and Gospel. The law points out that the person has sinned, which separates him from God. The gospel is that, if he will repent of his sin, he will be forgiven and will live. The prophet is responsible for proclaiming this message, for the person’s forgiveness is dependent on his repentance. However, the prophet’s responsibility is then fulfilled.

It is good for the Christian witness to remember that he is not empowered to make the person repent and turn to God for forgiveness. After being a faithful proclaimer of God’s truth, the Holy Spirit empowers the sinner to act. He is responsible to God.

Jesus came to minister to the people. The tax collector, Zacchaeus, is our example. He was a legalized thief. He collected the people’s tax and was responsible for collecting the amount of tax money the government demanded. Any amount of money collected in excess of Rome’s demand belonged to the tax collector. Zacchaeus’ demands were too great, and the people hated him. In the ethical sense of the word, he was stealing from them. Jesus went to Zacchaeus’s house and talked to him about his sin. Zacchaeus repented and said, ” . . . I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).

Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house, . . . For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

The Advent theme is that the Law and Gospel must be proclaimed, and the hearer of the Word should repent. Advent is a season when repentance is emphasized.

How do we apply this message to our own lives and those we hold dearly? Let me draw a verbal picture.

Lucy was brought up in a church home, and she was a product of her home. However, when she went to college, she had a spiritual awakening. She became a part of a group of girls who were committed to Jesus Christ. At first she thought that this was not the group for her, but they would not let her go. They presented the Gospel to her and emphasized that Christ wanted to be a part of her life in a personal relationship with Lucy. The day came when Lucy asked Christ into her life, and she was a new person.

A few years later she met Bob, who was also a committed Christian, and they were married. Christ was the center of their home. The church meant a great deal to them, and they were faithful to read the Word of God and pray. When their children were baptized, they took seriously the admonition given to them that, as the little ones grew up, they were to introduce them to Christ.

All of this was wonderful. However, Lucy felt a heaviness in her heart that her parents did not have this kind of relationship with Christ and much was missing in their lives. One day she decided she alone was going to visit her parents and have a loving visit with them about her concern.

As they sat one evening in her parent’s lovely home, Lucy began the conversation. “I love you, dad and mom. You have provided for me well and have shown your love to me throughout my years at home. I pray you will understand my reason for this visit and not be offended.

“I wonder if you have a personal relationship with Christ. You go to church when it fits into your schedule. There is a Bible in your home but seldom is it used. The language can at times be profane. You don’t know what will happen to you when you die. Sometimes people irritate you when they talk about being assured of their salvation because Christ has prepared a place in heaven for them and has atoned for their sins.

“I know your feelings, because they were my thoughts too. Then Christ became a big part of my life, and I became a new person in him. Life is so much richer. There is a new sense of values and confidence as I face life with all of its joys and sorrows, because Christ walks with me.

“We have not taken time, just the three of us, to really discuss what kind of relationship we have with Jesus. This has bothered me. But now I feel better because the subject has been opened and we can talk freely about what God is doing in our lives.”

The daughter had taken the Bible seriously. Now her parents could deal with the Holy Spirit as he empowers them to receive Christ and be his forever.

It is Advent. What a great time to share the gospel!