Devotional # 169. (New Year’s Eve 2015 Devotional)

Devotional 169. 12/31/15. New Year’s Eve 2015 (Reflection).

Headlines:
-1/14/15: “Charlie Hebdo attack: Three days of terror” (Source 1).
-5/5/15: “ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack outside a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Texas” (Source 2).
-“Syria Refugee Crisis” (Source 3).
-7/20/15: “U.S. and Cuba Reopen Long-Closed Embassies” (Source 4).
-11/20/15. “Paris terror attacks: Elite police squad members tell of final deadly minutes of Bataclan massacre” (Source 5).

Most people want New Year’s Eve to be a celebration, a time when we don’t talk about bad stuff and only look forward to good things. It’s great to look towards the positive situations coming up and we’ll do that in the Devotional I will post tomorrow. But we’ve still got some hours in 2015 and we should consider the things that have happened this year.

When we see bad stuff on the news we listen to eye-witnesses, when we hear how the economy is failing we watch financial analysts, when our military is failing we see generals interviewed. But “there is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the LORD” (Proverbs 21:30).

A lot of time our mind jumps to the question, ‘God if You’re good, why did you let this bad thing happen?’ I just found this quote: “God judged it better to bring good out of evil, than to suffer no evil to exist (Augustine)” (Source 6). I had to think about that. For “good” to be known as “good” there must be an opposite, and in our case we call that “evil.” Augustine is saying that God made the decision that it was better for Him to bring good out of every evil situation, than to not have evil exist at all and therefore good not to exist either.

We can rest in the Lord and share that peace with others since we’re not to “…be afraid of sudden terror, Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; For the Lord will be your confidence, And will keep your foot from being caught” (Proverbs 3:25-26).

We recognize that all of the bad events in the world are just symptoms and the root of the problem is sin. Now we deal with sin and we work on it in our own lives but we need to recognize that Satan and his demons never sleep, they just manipulate and offer temptations and evil thoughts all the time. When we take our eyes off ourselves and look at the world around us our main concern, to put it bluntly, is that people are going to hell. When we’re told, “Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die” (Proverbs 31:8) it’s in reference to the un-represented here on earth, but it also applies to eternity. We have a message to friends, family and strangers that “are appointed to die” about their Attorney, who also took full responsibility for their crime and paid the price. Will you “open your mouth” for them?

There is progress every day. On November 13, 2015 we only knew that Paris had been attacked but by the 14th we knew the Islamic State was claiming responsibility for the attacks. We see attacks going on in the world, sometimes we see the devil take responsibility, and other times we don’t. But with the Lord, we know how it will end. He always takes responsibility for what He has done, is doing and will do. We have Christian organizations like World Vision that are helping the 4.39 million Syrian refugees and you can help World Vision with that here: http://www.worldvision.org/news-stories-videos/syria-war-refugee-crisis . You may have noticed that each of the verses used in today’s Devotional are from Proverbs. There is a lot of godly wisdom in the book of Proverbs and there are 31 chapters. This works out great because you can read one chapter a day each month and start over again the next month. Keep this up all year, even if you miss a day here and there, and I guarantee you, you will have a better year and have a different outlook on life and the year, next year at this time!

References:
Source 1: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30708237
Source 2: http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/05/us/garland-texas-prophet-mohammed-contest-shooting
Source 3: http://www.cnbc.com/2015/12/31/major-global-events-that-shook-2015.html
Source 4: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/world/americas/cuba-us-embassy-diplomatic-relations.html?_r=0
Source 5: http://www.news.com.au/world/europe/paris-terror-attacks-elite-police-squad-members-tell-of-final-deadly-minutes-of-bataclan-massacre/news-story/c1c34c40f2e2a3dbeb426eef971818e0
Source 6: http://www.abideinchrist.com/selah/jan24.html

 

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Christmas Day, 2015

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Merry Christmas! I was thinking about how the two groups of outsiders in most nativities (and indeed in the Gospels) actually represent us. The Shepherds and the Wise Men (or Magi) give us two things to think on this Christmas.

First, we learn about the Wise Men who said, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). Granted, the Wise Men didn’t visit Jesus when He was a baby (probably two years old) but they were outsiders given the sign of the star and went out of their way to follow what God had led them to do. What had God purposed in their hearts? That they “worship Him”!

Next we read in Luke 2:16-17 that the Shepherds “came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.” The Shepherds are the first outsiders on the scene and after they see baby Jesus what do they do? What had God purposed in their hearts? That they “make widely known” about Jesus!

We are outsiders, we have been separated from God by the bad stuff we have done. But we find that God wants us to be “insiders”, He wants us to be part of His family and that started with the birth of Jesus 2,000 years ago. If you’re looking for the meaning of life and purpose in your life I can tell you without hesitation that you were created to “worship” Jesus and tell others about Him. So what has God purposed in your heart? How is God leading you to worship Him and tell others this Christmas Day?

Have a Merry Christmas worshiping Him and telling others!

Devotional # 168. John 1:1-14 (Special Christmas Devotional)

Devotional 168. 12/21/15. Christmas, Part 4: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

This week’s Reading: John 1:1-14.

Introduction: We rarely hear a Christmas sermon from the books of Mark and John. Why is that? Because Matthew and Luke are the two Gospels with all the historical facts of Jesus’ birth. The book of Mark just starts off with John the Baptist paving the way for Jesus, no explanation of Jesus’s birth. However, Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic Gospel’s which means that they are “same” in that many of their stories and explanations are similar. The book of John stands by itself when compared to the synoptic Gospel’s. The apostle John had a different goal in mind when he was used by the Holy Spirit to write his gospel. As we’ve seen before, the beginning of John actually parallels the beginning of Genesis quite closely. Have you ever thought about why Jesus came at the specific time that He did? Some people say Jesus was born a human and then became a god. Is that true? Why did Jesus have to come to earth in the first place?

Let’s read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with GodAll things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of menAnd the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

vv. 1-5. In this section of 5 verses there is a special importance to someone called “the Word.” This is before we’re emphatically told that this is someone who “became” human and lived with us in verse 14. Then in verse 15 we’re told that John the Baptist testified of Him and finally we have to wait until verse 17 before “the Word” is named as “Jesus Christ.” Here, in verse 1 we’re told that Jesus (“the Word”) was somehow “in the beginning” and “with God” and actually “was God.” We can understand “in the beginning” to mean “at the creation” which shows us that Jesus existed before anything that was created was created and therefore has always existed. And the fact that Jesus was both “with God” and “was God” can be confusing if we both don’t read on or read what’s already been given us. We see that Jesus was with God (v. 2) and actually was the One actively creating (v. 3). But in Genesis 1:1 we’re specifically told that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

So at this point we can either dismiss this as a bunch of contradictory foolishness or we can see if there’s a way this can be explained. I’m always amazed at the people that walk out of the theater on movies like “The Matrix” or “Memento” after only 15 minutes saying, ‘I don’t get it.’ Any person with common sense would say you have to give it time to see if it’s any good and explains itself. So often people don’t apply the same common sense to the Bible. There is a good explanation for everything we’ve read here. Jesus was considered God and yet not the entirety of God. We begin to see how the Trinity makes sense. The doctrine of the Trinity says that God is One Being and yet there are Three Persons of God that make up that One Being. We shouldn’t be so worried about whether we completely understand this, since a Being who can create our entire world is probably greater than our intellect, instead we can agree that at least there is a good theory for how this is possible and also wonder at what kind of God would be interested in telling us all of this.

Did you notice that verses 1–4 are all in the past tense using words like “was” and “were” and “made” but in verse 5 it is present tense and therefore applies to us today? So that “Light” has always shown and yet there was a spiritual “darkness” that existed with sin and still exists today. I love that it’s in the present tense because it shows that the “darkness” has never, and will never beat out the “Light.” Later, in verse 10 it tells us that Jesus created all life and here, in verse 4, that He was also ‘life that was light’, this means eternal life. And this happened when Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead. That happened at a very specific time 2,000 years ago. And that “life was the light of men” which shown in the darkness and depravity of humanity and was unknown by it (v. 5). Let’s look at why Jesus came when He did in the next verses.

Next are verses 6-13:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

vv. 6-13. John the Baptist (not the disciple John who wrote this gospel) was sent by God to testify of Jesus. Jesus again is called “the Light” and that He came to His own (those He created) but that they didn’t know Him. Didn’t we just hear something about that? Yes! In verse 5 it said, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehendit” so here we build on that because they were in “darkness” and therefore “did not receive Him.” One commentator says, “The distorted world could not continue to exist for a moment apart from the light imparted to it by its Creator, but fallen man, in spite of the light that is in Him, fails to recognize the worlds Creator and Preserver (see Romans 1:20)” (Source 1). 

Why did Jesus have to come exactly when He did?

A. The Pax Romana, or Roman peace, which was characterized by an epoch of relative calm made possible by the sheer power, not to mention the administrative expertise, of the dominant world power of the day, imperial Rome.

B. The [global] presence of the Greek language, attributable to the tremendous admiration the Romans had for all things Greek. The dissemination of the message of the Christian Gospel was aided in no small measure by the existence of Greek as a significant medium of communication.

C. The improvement of transportation throughout the Roman Empire, thanks to the wealth of Rome, not to mention, again, its administrative ability, its military might, and ready access to slave labor to do the dirty work in creating roads, some of which are still in existence today (e.g., the Applian Way, an ancient Roman highway extending from Rome to Brundisium–now Brindisi, which was constructed beginning in 312 BC by Appius Claudius Caecus, and was about 350 miles long). The better the infrastructure of transportation, the more readily the good news could spread to the far corners of the empire.

D. The spiritual state of Judaism at the time Jesus burst on the scene. If ever there was a time for a nationwide revival within the geographical heart of Judaism in Israel, it was the first century of the common era. That is why the forerunner of Jesus, His cousin (John the Baptizer), preached a message of repentance to prepare the way of the Lord. John bore witness to that light which was coming into the world as a testimony not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles (see Luke 2:32, 38). We must remember that God’s covenant with Abraham was a far-reaching covenant which would touch with blessing all the nations of the earth, starting of course with Israel.

E. The receptivity of the people to the message of Jesus, due in part to the [split] within the Roman Empire between the “haves” and “have nots”. If ever there was a time for a Redeemer who would bring a message of hope to the underdogs of society, it was in the first century (see Luke 4:14-21 in this regard).

F. The need for God to fulfill not only His prophecies, but also His promises (Source 2).

Why did Jesus have to come to earth in the first place?

A. Jesus had to be born because of mankind’s sin.

B. Jesus had to be born because God wanted to reveal His own character to humanity.

C. Jesus had to be born to remove the sins of humankind through a perfect sacrifice.

D. Jesus had to be born for mankind to have a Mediator.

E. Jesus had to be born to provide the promised Seed of Abraham.

F. Jesus had to be born for God to make His Spirit available to all humankind.

G. Jesus had to be born for God to redeem mankind. (Source 3).

Let’s finish this section with the last verse:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

v. 14. This is the crux of our Christmas message! “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is awesome because it embodies both word and deed! Jesus, “the Word” spoke to us through the Bible telling us what we need and then “became flesh” in an action of love giving us what we need. The “Word” was not invisible but a physical, tangible Human (“flesh”) who lived (“dwelt”) with us. The people of the first century, including John writing this, were eyewitnesses that God became Man. They “beheld His glory” and this wasn’t His complete “glory” since that would annihilate a person but it was “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The “glory” that was shown to us was shown in “grace and truth.” We’ve talked about the “grace” of God in several of these Devotionals recently. The “mercy” of God is not making us go to hell, the “grace” of God is allowing us to go to heaven. You notice that this is different than any sort of grace that a human can give to another human. Only God can make a way for humans to go to heaven and that’s exactly what Jesus did. We saw part of God’s “glory” in Jesus giving us salvation in heaven through the cross. And we also see Jesus’ “glory” in His “truth“. Later in this Gospel, John quotes Jesus when He said, “‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6). So Jesus is “truth” in that He will never lie to us and will always be honest with us (even when it’s hard for us to hear). But He is also “truth” as unique and perfect. Jesus is one way, one truth and one life, He is the only way to a personal relationship with God and the only way into heaven. We notice “truth” is shown primarily through the words of Jesus, so it is no surprise that we are back to where we started, in that Jesus is “the Word”!

Conclusion: Christmas approaches at the end of this week. But this is the celebration of the event of God coming down in human flesh for very specific reasons, at a very specific time. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Oh, what beautiful words, to have “the Word” come to us, to save us from our sins!

Lord Jesus, we praise you today as we prepare to celebrate your birth at the end of this week. We rejoice in Your willingness to put on the body of humanity to bring your “glory” of “grace and truth” to our world. Our world, which is Your world since You created it. Your world since You, and only You, redeemed it. We kneel in awe of You, the Word, that became flesh at a very specific time, knowing our depravity, and loving us in spite of ourselves. Lord, this year we exalt You with ‘Merry Christmas’ since You alone have given us the “merry” and the “Christmas”!!

Merry Christmas!!

 

References:

Source 1: R.V.G Tasker, John, p. 47.

Source 2: These are from: http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/23819/according-to-the-lds-church-why-was-jesus-christ-born-when-he-was-born, answered by “rhetorician” about mid-way down the page.

Source 3: Donald Ward, “Seven Reasons Why Jesus Was Born”, http://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/seven-reasons-why-jesus-was-born .

Christmas: “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”

Christmas: A Look at “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” 12/17/15.

Last week at our church’s Wednesday Night Bible Study the worship leader sang a few songs, one of which was “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” When my wife heard it she said it was one of her favorites and, like any good husband, I immediately took note! But it really made me look at the lyrics a little more closely then I have in the past. Last night I lead our Wednesday Night Study and I based it around this famous Christmas carol. Why is there so much controversy about it? How does it match up to the Bible? What are the origins of the song?

We’re going to look at the two verses that we sang at church, although there are more, which I’ve put at the bottom of this blog. It actually makes sense that there are so many verses and variations (Wikipedia gives three: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Rest_You_Merry,_Gentlemen) considering it’s older than the United States! There are people who claim it’s been around since the 1600’s but there isn’t any physical proof of that so it’s best to stick with the earliest printed edition date of 1760 (ibid).

Let’s look at the First Verse:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour, Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power, When we were gone astray

The first line probably needs the most explanation: “God rest ye merry, gentlemen.” There is an theory passed around, mostly through those awful unfounded email forwards, every year that we misunderstand this line and we’re not living to our full potential unless we truly understand it. The theory goes like this: when the carol was written “rest” meant “make” or “continue to be” as in “rest assured” and that’s what it means here. Also “merry” in the Middle Ages did mean “happy” as we use it today, as in “Merry Christmas”, but that it also meant “mighty” like Robin Hood’s Merry Men. With that wealth of knowledge we’re told to translate this as: “God make you mighty, gentlemen.” Even if it were true I’m not sure how much that would help us, maybe that some dead writer commanded God to make some people strong…? Anyway, Snopes debunked it (here: http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/music/godrestye.asp) and also it doesn’t fit with the context of the next line.

So my next question is, who are the “gentlemen” here? Oddly enough with all the different theories and web pages and news articles no one really definitively states who they think the “gentlemen” are here. Maybe it’s just clear to everyone but me. My best shot at it is that it’s the writer’s (who is unknown) contemporaries. Maybe she or he had a specific group of male friends who were going through depression. Or maybe the use of “gentlemen” was just to grab attention since it kind of makes your ears perk up. Or maybe it was to the everyday people who were going to hear the song but living in fear and without rest. I think it shows the mentality of 16th century England. Looking at the complete lyrics the writer seems to have aimed the song at everyone: church-going or not and just gave them the benefit of the doubt that they were respectable (“gentlemen” and ladies). We’ll talk more about that in a bit but either way the song was sung in the streets and loved especially because at this time the church only had somber music, nothing up-beat was allowed.

Interestingly, the punctuation is often wrong and gives a different spin: it’s usually written and therefore thought of as: “God Rest Ye…Merry Gentlemen” as if the gentlemen have been partying so hard that God just needs to give them a little rest. Instead it is: “God Rest Ye Merry…Gentlemen” as in “God will give you rest and make you merry….gentlemen.” So after all that the first line pretty much says what it means: “May God give you rest and peace with happiness and merriment.” But what do we need “rest” from?

The answer is in the next line: anything that would dismay us. Any of the weight of the bad stuff we’ve done or the hard stuff we have to go through. We’re told to let “nothing…dismay” us, in other words “don’t be sad and panicked.” Why? What hope do these “gentlemen” (and ladies!) have? It’s to “Remember, Christ, our Saviour, Was born on Christmas day”! Yes! That’s it, the most important thing in the whole song and in the whole world. To be mindful that Jesus the Savior came and we are saved! We are saved from whatever temporary problem we’re going through. Someone might say, “How can you tell me not to be sad and panicked? You don’t even know what I’m going through.” You’re right I don’t know what you’re going through but Jesus does and this is the only message that can speak a blanket statement to millions of people and actually offer hope and restoration! Jesus came to earth with the goal of giving love and hope to every human ever. And He had to do that from the cross, where He died for all the bad stuff we’ve done. That’s why we call Him “Christ” translated “our Saviour”! And yet, although He had no beginning being fully God, Jesus had to have an earthly beginning for His Human body. And that brings us to the next line.

It says, “Was born on Christmas day”. We must acknowledge that it is very unlikely that Jesus was born in our month of December. It is probable Jesus was born somewhere in our September/October (the Hebrew month of Tishri). Now to be fair the writer of this carol doesn’t say December 25th here. And that’s important: remember that we are thankful of the birth of Christ even if we don’t know what day exactly. So why do we celebrate it on December 25th? Well, in 336AD Constantine wanted to unite his people. He took the date of the pagan celebration of Saturnalia and said that the celebration of Jesus would be celebrated on that day also. Who knows Constantine’s motivations but personally I don’t think it was good to crunch the one true Lord’s birth into a pagan celebration. That said, I don’t know anyone celebrating Saturnalia and there is a lot of documentation that, that was church leaderships goal at that time…to overcome pagan celebrations and give glory to Jesus. (As I mentioned in one of my blogs prior, I did a series on Early Church History that’s available on sermonaudio, if you want to listen see below under “References: sermonaudio”).

So…we don’t throw baby Jesus out with the bathwater (bad joke?). There are plenty of people who don’t know or maybe don’t acknowledge the great things that have happened over the past 1700 years of celebrating Jesus’ birth.

The following line is “To save us all from Satan’s power, When we were gone astray.” Have you ever gone “astray”? That simply means “off course” and everyone has been “off course” before. What’s interesting is to be “off course” insinuates that there is a course and that there is only one way to be on course. If you didn’t catch my symbolism, Jesus is the course and He is the only way to the destination of heaven. If Jesus “saved us all from Satan’s power” then what can we do about staying “on course”? Psalm 119:1-6 gives us great insight:

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him. That’s right – you don’t go off on your own; you walk straight along the road he set. You, God, prescribed the right way to live; now you expect us to live it. Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; Then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel” (The Message Version).

Second Verse:

From God our Heavenly Father, A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain Shepherds, Brought tidings of the same:
How that in Bethlehem was born, The Son of God by Name.

Do you know which of the gospels the story of the shepherds is in? What about the Magi (wise men)? Actually only Matthew and Luke have the story of Christ’s birth. Why do I bring this up? Because I’ve found that reading a little bit from the Bible on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day reminds every one of the true meaning of Christmas. I’ve also had friends who are religious and want to argue about Christmas and friends who are adamantly opposed to God who have questions about Jesus’ birth and it’s helpful to know where to find the story you’re looking for. Where is your conversation headed? Talking about giving gifts? The story of the Magi bringing the gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11) fits! Or talking about celebrating the birth of Jesus or sharing it with others? The story of the angels celebrating His birth and the shepherds sharing it with anyone who would hear, works for that! And speaking of that…

This whole second verse in the carol comes from Luke 2:8-15, which says,

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’ 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us’” (NKJV).

See how spiritually sound this song verse is? Indeed it was God the Father that had sent the angel, since they are messengers of His and do nothing unless He has told them to, to bring this message to the shepherds. But why to the shepherds? The truth is that the Hebrew culture at this time looked down upon shepherds. They were below even the working class. God choses to use the simple things to confuse the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). God can go to those looked down upon because He’s not interested in earthly riches or power or any of the things that we would think would be important for effectively communicating a message. I think this would resonate with the working class of England at the time this carol was being sung in the streets. Which got me thinking about the use of “gentlemen” above. You know, if a person heard the story of the birth of Jesus from the Bible when this song was written they would affiliate with either the shepherds (probably the working class) or the Magi (maybe the upper class of “gentlemen” and ladies). But the reality is that whoever you are, if you come to Jesus, God has made you into His heirs as “gentlemen” and ladies of royalty. Romans 8:15-17 tells us, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (NKJV). When the book of Romans was written the Roman culture wasn’t like the Hebrew culture or most others when it came to adoption. When a kid was adopted into a family that child received an equal share of inheritance just like the kids born into the family. Paul knows this and uses that understanding here. We’re told that we get to be “sons and daughters of God”, in status the same as Jesus. What an amazing thing to receive the full inheritance of God’s family!

The next line is “Brought tidings of the same”, but the same what? We would think it was something already mentioned and yet in a beautiful inspiration of poetry it is actually what follows: “How that in Bethlehem was born, The Son of God by Name.” Notice that He was born in Bethlehem. Did you know that the Old Testament prophesied the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem? In Micah 5:2 it says, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” Beyond that in Matthew 2:4-6 we see that the Hebrew scribes knew that Bethlehem was the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah.

Then comes the lyric, “Son of God by name.” In my last sermon on John 20:1-31 (listen here: tinysa.com/sermon/126151353454) I talked briefly about the titles of Jesus and also His name. So this line isn’t saying that “Son of God” is His name but it is a title of Him…and it rhymes! However, it does draw attention to the Name that is above all names (Philippians 2:9) and certainly to the nature of Jesus’ deity. John 20:31 says that we have life in His name. Not His titles but in His name. Whether you call Him Yehowshuwa  in Hebrew or Iesous in Greek or Jesus in English or Jesús in Spanish, His name is the only name that saves us from hell (Romans 10:9-10). Interestingly the Bible is primarily written in Hebrew and Greek and when we look at what Jesus’ name means in both languages it is: “Yahweh is salvation”. Yahweh was the personal name God gave us in the Old Testament so that we could know Him and have a relationship with Him. Who better to save us than “Yahweh” who “is salvation”…Jesus!!?

I think it’s good to conclude with the chorus: “O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy O tidings of comfort and joy.” That sounds familiar doesn’t it? We just read it in Luke 2:10 where the angel said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy…” These tidings (or “news”) were for the shepherds but also for us now! Isn’t this “comforting”?! Isn’t it “joyful”?! I know in the busyness of the holidays I can “dismay” but the good news is that “Christ, our Saviour, Was born on Christmas day” and that really does comfort and bring joy! Merry Christmas and God rest you merry, ladies and gentlemen!!

References.

Sermonaudio: Here is the link to all six studies on Early Church History. Covering from the disciples to roughly present day:http://www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakerWithinSource=&subsetCat=&subsetItem=&mediatype=&includekeywords=&exactverse=&keyword=houseofgracehemet&keyworddesc=houseofgracehemet&currsection=sermonssource&AudioOnly=false&SourceOnly=true&keywordwithin=Early+Church+History&x=4&y=5

 

“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” (Full Lyrics)

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

In Bethlehem, in Israel,
This blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn
The which His Mother Mary
Did nothing take in scorn
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain Shepherds
Brought tidings of the same:
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

“Fear not then,” said the Angel,
“Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might.”
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind:
And went to Bethlehem straightway
The Son of God to find.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

And when they came to Bethlehem
Where our dear Saviour lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay;
His Mother Mary kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Devotional # 167. Luke 2 & Isaiah 53 (Special Christmas Devotional)

Devotional 167. 12/14/15. Christmas, Part 3: Origins of Christmas (as we know it).

This week’s Reading: Luke 2 and Isaiah 53.

Introduction: If you were getting this Devotional last year than you may remember this one. I decided to use it again because it really matters. It was important that we start these Christmas studies with prophesies about Jesus but while we’re looking at origins we should consider the Christmas celebration as we know it. So, as promised last week, we’re going to look at some interesting origins of Christmas traditions.

The Christmas Tree.

  1. The Tree: People talk about many traditions over thousands of years involving trees in winter celebrations and even quote Jeremiah 10:1-4 (about trees cut down and pagan decorations of silver and gold) saying this is where we get the Christmas tree. Personally I don’t believe this is where our current tradition started, and many Christians and even secular historians agree with me. According to the History Channel, “Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes” (Source 1).
  2. Ornaments: In the Middle Ages plays depicting Bible stories were popular. “The plays celebrating the Nativity were linked to the story of creation—in part because Christmas Eve was also considered the feast day of Adam and Eve. Thus, as part of the play for that day, the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a ‘paradise tree’ hung with fruit” (Source 2). See Genesis 2:8-9 for more.
  3. Lights: We now have electric lights which are attributed to Martin Luther who, while “walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon…was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles” (Source 1).

 

Santa Claus & Giving Gifts.

Even secular websites acknowledge that gift giving was modeled after the wise men (Magi) who gave baby Jesus gifts (Source 3) but not many talk about the real man, Nicolas. “St. Nicholas was born in 280 AD, in Patara, a city of Lycia, in Asia Minor. He became the gift giver of Myra. His gifts were given late at night, so that the gift giver’s identity would remain a secret” (Source 4). This was taught by Jesus in Matthew 6:3-4, “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” Over time Catholics named him a Saint and by the 1500’s the Dutch pronounced “Saint Nicholas” as “Sinter Klass” which evolved into Santa Klass and eventually Santa Claus. In time the “old bishop’s cloak with mitre [like the big hat the Pope wears], jewelled gloves and crozier [a fancy staff] were soon replaced with his red suit and clothing seen in other modern images” (Source 4).

Stockings.

A story about St. Nicholas claims that there was a poor man with three daughters. Nicholas brought some bags of gold and put them in their socks that had been hung by the fire to dry (Source 4).

Christmas Songs (Carols).

Again, imitating the Scriptures (specifically Luke 2:13-14, where the angels sing to herald the Messiah’s birth), there are records of Christians creating music exclusively for Christmas in 129 AD! In 1223 St. Francis of Assisi started presenting Christmas plays with songs for commoners which were spread by traveling minstrels (Source 5). Early on they were called hymns but by the 1300’s the French word “carole” was used meaning “joyful sound” and “dance in a ring” (Source 6). Because they weren’t in Latin and were usually not directly from the Bible the church ignored or outlawed them over the years (Source 5). But by 1350 and until the 1550’s the Christmas carol enjoyed it’s “golden age” following “the verse-refrain pattern.” Over time carols went in and out of popularity but they became big again in the 1800’s and most of the ones we sing nowadays are from that time period (Source 7).

Considering Traditions.

Many people have taken Christmas very seriously. People that I respect throughout history like William Bradford and Oliver Cromwell wanted to keep Christmas sacred. Cromwell is noted as punishing people who participated in things with pagan roots like “Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression” (Source 1). This makes me think that had I been born a couple hundred years ago I probably would have sided with them. Often we don’t know how the age in which we live molds us and influences us.

Conclusion: I know some Christians who are outraged at those who don’t celebrate Christmas. There have been heated discussions on whether it’s OK to have a Christmas tree or not. People will go to war over singing a song or opening a gift. Most of the time people aren’t being purposefully blasphemous, it may be how they grew up or what they’ve been taught. Now armed with origins of the early church concerning Christmas hopefully you can intelligently and lovingly educate others in the rich history of Christmas.

But the truth is that Christmas is one point in the year where people who never go to church actually go to church. Jesus doesn’t care what the seekers motivation is, just that they come (Matthew 7:7, Deuteronomy 4:29). This year why don’t we put aside those petty differences and remember the true meaning of Christmas? Who cares about traditions when we have the opportunity to show people love and talk about the Savior who came to earth to ultimately die for our sins? We can get wrapped up in “we’ve always done it this way” and “it’s not Christmas without _(blank)__” because we want to emotionally enjoy this time. It can be the one time a year you get to see certain family or meet new people at your spouse’s awkward work party or have to do “Secret Santa” with a stranger. But all of these are opportunities to share the Christmas story with a desperate and lonely world. I encourage you to read the story of Christ’s birth with your family (use Luke 2 or Matthew 1) and even some Old Testament prophesies of His birth. I especially like Isaiah 53 because we hear about His birth but also His sacrifice on the cross. Isaiah 7:13-16 is also great. This is important because we lead our family by example (Joshua 24:15) and this instills the true meaning of Christmas! Merry Christmas!!

 

References:

Source 1: http://www.history.com/topics/history-of-christmas-trees

Source 2: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/thepastinthepresent/storybehind/whychristmastrees.html

Source 3: http://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/holidays/christmas2.htm

Source 4: http://www.thehistoryofchristmas.com/sc/saint_nicholas.htm

Source 5: http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/Christian-Holidays/holiday-songs/christmas-carols-the-history-and-origin.html

Source 6: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=carol

Source 7: http://musiced.about.com/od/christmasnewyeararticles/a/carols.htm

Devotional # 166. Luke 2:8-15 (Special Christmas Devotional)

Devotional # 166. 12/7/15. Christmas, Part 2: Is it OK to celebrate Christmas on December 25th?

This week’s Reading: Luke 2:8-15.

Introduction: This week I was thinking about why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th . I’ve had conversations for years with friends who are of other religions that consider themselves Christians and are adamantly opposed to celebrating Christmas. Why is that? They say that nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to celebrate the birth of Jesus and therefore we shouldn’t. Beyond that they say that Jesus was not born on December 25th so we shouldn’t celebrate then. They are right on both points: I can’t find anywhere that we are commanded to celebrate Christmas or that Jesus was born on December 25th. I’ll save the origin of Christmas for another time but it does bring up a good point: is it a sin to celebrate Christmas, and is it a sin to do so on December 25th ?
Let’s look at Luke 2:8-15. I love how excited the angel is when he finally gets to first proclaim that the Messiah has been born! You see when God first created Adam and Eve He didn’t make them robots He allowed them to make a choice whether to obey Him or not. But He is all knowing and so He knew that they would disobey Him, it didn’t take Him by surprise. He had the plan of humanity’s redemption before even time began. The first prophecy I see about the Savior is in Genesis 3:15. That’s telling of a time 6,000 years ago! And 4,000 years prior to Jesus being born. Humanity had been aching for a savior, so I believe there was very good reason for the angels to celebrate God’s long-awaited plan! We see this when the angel says it is “good tidings of great joy.” It’s OK to be excited that Jesus was born and that God’s will was done, that His plan had finally come to fruition in His perfect timing. And it doesn’t seem that this celebration was for the angels alone considering they imply (“you will find”) that the shepherds should go find Jesus and tell others about Him also, which they do (Luke 2:12,17-18). It’s starting to seem like less of a sin and more of a freedom! (By the way we see the Genesis 3:5 prophecy fulfilled in Luke 22:53).

If we certainly have the freedom to celebrate Jesus, now the question is, is there a specific time that we should celebrate his birth? Well, it’s true Jesus was probably born somewhere in our September/October (the Hebrew month of Tishri) and on top of that the first Christmas celebration on December 25, 336AD was when Constantine wanted to unite his people and took the pagan celebration of Saturnalia and the Christians celebrating Christ’s birth and put them together (Source 1). (I did a series on Early Church History that’s available on sermonaudio, if you want to listen see below under “References: sermonaudio”). So on the one hand 1700 years ago it was not a good thing to assimilate Christ’s birth into a pagan holiday. I’ve seen a lot of research stating that Christian leaders would squash whatever pagan religion was out there by taking over their celebrations and then informing people about Jesus. Granted this doesn’t sound much like the way Jesus told us to tell others about Him and there have certainly been abuses of what was called the Christian church over time but on the other hand I don’t personally know anyone who celebrates Saturnalia at this time. So I don’t know that the ends justified the means but I also don’t think we should just throw the baby out with the bathwater either (no that wasn’t a lame “baby Jesus out with the bathwater” joke).

Our current culture tells us that we’re all supposed to “co-exist” – that we can have our beliefs but that we can’t tell people their beliefs are wrong. Interestingly that’s exactly what Jesus did and told us to do. In Mark 16:15-16 Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Jesus clearly gives humanity one path to salvation and that path is through Him and Him alone. Yes, throughout the Bible we see that people retained who they were: their personalities, their cultures, their families, but they also were told when they were wrong and heading towards disaster. In this case we know people are heading for hell but are we just supposed to shut our mouths, are we going to stop sending missionaries, are we going to stop taking opportunities like Christmas to talk to people about the love of Jesus? I really appreciate the candor of famous atheist Penn Jillette, of the magician duo, Penn & Teller when he said, “If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize [share Jesus]? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” (Source 2). That’s so true!

So if in a sense Christianity has triumphed over a pagan celebration and taken it for itself than that pagan celebration no longer applies. And I would say if your motives are pure and you are celebrating Jesus’ birth then it doesn’t matter if you do it in July. But I think the bigger problem nowadays is the commercialization of Christmas. That’s what we really struggle against.

What are some opportunities that we can take advantage of during this Christmas season to proclaim Jesus and let people know about why He came to earth and how much He loves them and wants to have a relationship with them? Is it about getting a few gifts that will break? Is it about putting up some lights that will burn out? Or is it about something so much more than Black Friday and Cyber Monday and eating too much and getting a few days off work? One example I came across this week was a list of topics for the various parties we’re bound to attend during the Christmas season:

  1. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since last Christmas?
  2. What was your best Christmas ever? Why?
  3. What’s the most meaningful Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
  4. What was the most appreciated Christmas gift you’ve ever given?
  5. What was your favorite Christmas tradition as a child?
  6. What is your favorite Christmas tradition now?
  7. What do you do to try to keep Christ in Christmas?
  8. Why do you think people started celebrating the birth of Jesus?
  9. Do you think the birth of Jesus deserves such a nearly worldwide celebration?
  10. Why do you think Jesus came to earth?
  11. Do you think Christmas is over-rated?
  12. What’s your favourite Christmas song? Why that one? Would you put a carol in your top 10?

(From: http://www.afaithtoliveby.com/2010/12/18/12-christmas-conversation-starters ).

What are some other ideas? Is there a way for you to share Jesus with others? Do you really hold the key to bringing people out of the rush and let-down of Christmas and give them the eternal gift Jesus gave so many years ago? The answer is yes!

If you have ideas on how to use Christmas time to share the good news with other go ahead and post them below in the comments!

Next week we’ll talk about where we got Christmas traditions like Christmas trees, Santa Claus and caroling. It may surprise you!

 

References:

Sermonaudio: Here is the link to all six studies on Early Church History. Covering from the disciples to roughly present day: http://www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakerWithinSource=&subsetCat=&subsetItem=&mediatype=&includekeywords=&exactverse=&keyword=houseofgracehemet&keyworddesc=houseofgracehemet&currsection=sermonssource&AudioOnly=false&SourceOnly=true&keywordwithin=Early+Church+History&x=4&y=5

Source 1: http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/25th.shtml

Source 2: http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2009/11/17/how-much-do-you-have-to-hate-somebody-to-not-proselytize