Archive for the ‘Christmas/Advent’ Category
Posted on December 11th, 2013 by David Burnette
In a recent article over at the ERLC , Russell Moore writes about what is lacking in our Christmas music. Here’s an excerpt:
The first Christmas carol, after all, was a war hymn. Mary of Nazareth sings of God’s defeat of his enemies, about how in Christ he had demonstrated his power and “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Lk. 1:52). There are some villains in mind there.
Simeon’s song, likewise, speaks of the “fall and rising of many in Israel” and of a sword that would pierce the heart of Mary herself. Even the “light of the Gentiles” he speaks about is in the context of warfare. After all, the light, the Bible tells us, overcomes the darkness (Jn. 1:5), and frees us from the grip of the devil (2 Cor. 4). In a time of obvious tragedy, the unbearable lightness of Christmas seems absurd to the watching world.
But, even in the best of times, we all know that we live in a groaning universe, a world of divorce courts and cancer cells and concentration camps. Just as we sing with joy about the coming of the Promised One, we ought also to sing with groaning that he is not back yet (Rom. 8:23), sometimes with groanings too deep for lyrics.
You can read the entire article here.
Posted on December 10th, 2013 by David Burnette
As you reflect on the significance of Christ’s coming this Christmas, allow me to make one suggestion that may actually add to your holiday cheer: Don’t begin in Bethlehem. That may sound scrooge-like, but hear me out.
Bethlehem looms large in our minds during Christmas, and rightfully so. The prophet Micah had predicted centuries earlier that a ruler would hail from this obscure town (Mic 5:2). As King David’s birthplace, Bethlehem would also be the scene of the Messiah’s birth. In that sense, it’s difficult not to think of Bethlehem this time of year. That’s fine, but don’t forget that the Christmas story was set in motion long before the nativity scene.
Bethlehem wasn’t the beginning.
Jesus spoke of the glory he had with the Father “before the world existed” (Jn 17:5). As the Second Person of the Trinity, He was in communion with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity. We’re even told that the world was created through Him (Jn 1:1; Col 1:16). To be sure, He took on flesh at a point in time, but His role in God’s plan of redemption did not begin in a manger in Bethlehem nearly 2000 years ago. Christ was not thrust on the scene unexpectedly. Out of His own free grace He set His sights on rebellious sinners like you and me before the foundation of the world. The eternal Word became flesh for us and for our salvation (Jn 1:14). This is the infinite grace of the Incarnation. And the nativity scene was our first glimpse.
As you reflect on Christ’s birth this Christmas and as you talk about it with others, be sure to include the little town of Bethlehem. But don’t start there: go back, much further back, and marvel at the One who planned the nativity scene from the beginning in order to rescue us from the judgment we deserve. Marvel at the grace of the Son of God who, as Paul says, “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
Give thanks that in those dark streets of Bethlehem shone the Everlasting Light.
Posted on December 5th, 2013 by Eric Parker
Note: The following excerpt was adapted from a sermon delivered by Pastor David Platt on 12/6/09 entitled “To Destroy the Devil.” Visit the media page in order to access the sermon in it’s entirety.
First John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s works.” “Christmas destruction.” Kind of has a nice, warm holiday ring to it. What’s Christmas about boys and girls? Annihilation and obliteration; demolition and destruction! That’s what Christmas is about!
What I want to pose to you is that until we realize that there is something in us, something in the world that needs to be destroyed, then we will miss the meaning of Christmas. Why Christmas? This is what 1 John 3:8, what Christmas, is all about. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. Let me show you this in 1 John as a whole.
What John does in 1 John 3:4-8 is develop one argument, and he actually does it twice. He does it in verses 4-7, and then he starts all over again in verse 8 using different words. And I want to show you the argument he develops around the reality of sin, the reason Christ came, and the result for Christians.
The Reality of Sin…
So we’ll start with the reality of sin. John is showing us that sin’s scope is universal. He says, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4). Sin’s nature, he says, is lawlessness. Now this is not a term that we necessarily use very commonly today, so what does this mean? What John is basically saying in this definition of sin is that sin is a direct violation of the law of God.
Not only is sin a direct violation of the law of God, but sin has its origin in the devil himself. Verse 8, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:8). This is what Jesus talked about in John’s Gospel. In John 8:44, Jesus is talking to some teachers of the law, who were talking about how their father is Abraham. And Jesus looks at them and says, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The point that John is making here is that whenever we sin, we choose to rebel against the law of God, which is the core of what originated with the devil.
The Reason Christ Came…
Why did Jesus come? Why Christmas? “To destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). What’s the devil’s work? Sin. Jesus came to destroy the lawlessness that originated with the devil, and now characterizes every single one of us. How did Jesus destroy the devil’s work? Look at the beginning of 1 John 2:1-2, where he says, “Jesus Christ, the righteous one.” Christ, in his essence, is without sin. He says in 1 John 2:29 that Jesus is the righteous one – “he is righteous.” In 3:3 he says “he is pure,” and then in 3:5 he says, “…in him is no sin.” That’s not John just saying, “Well, he never sinned,” or “he never committed a sin.” This is John saying that in his very essence, in his very nature, there is absolutely no sin.
Now catch this – the righteous one; the one who had no sin in him; the one whose very essence has nothing to do with sin–the righteous one “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:2). The righteous, infinitely holy Son of God took the guilt of your sin and my sin upon himself. Not only ours, “but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).This is really, really, really good news. It’s the gospel that John’s showing us here, that he came to destroy sin by taking the payment of our sin, and the guilt of our sin, and the shame of our sin upon himself, so that we would not have to bear the wrath of God due our sin.
The Result for Christians…
This is the good news of Christmas, but what does it mean for us as Christians? In 1 John 3:6, John says, “No one who abides in [Christ] keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:6). And you get down to verse 9: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
The first thing John is saying is that our belief in Christ makes persistent sin inconceivable. Now I want to clear up a potential misconception here from the start. When you read this passage, it talks about, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning… No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3:6, 9), you might walk away thinking, “Well, does this mean that a Christian can never sin at all?”
It is important to understand that these words are translated that way because there’s a present tense verb here that conveys an active, continual, persistent walking in sin. What John is saying is that when you believe in Christ the righteous one, it would make absolutely no sense for you to live your life continuing in sin. He’s not saying that a Christian will not fall into sin here or there. But John is saying that when a Christian falls into sin, he does not stay there and live there. He is convicted, and he confesses his sin, and he fights his sin, and he runs from that sin.
The second thing John is saying is that our new birth in Christ makes persistent sin impossible. He said in verse 9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). Did you notice that he said, “…he cannot”? So he’s saying it’s impossible—“he cannot keep on sinning” (1 John 3:9). Why? “because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). And the picture is that once you are born of God, and God puts his seed, his life, his Word, his Spirit inside of you, then it is impossible for you to continue in sin. Being born again is about so much more than getting a ticket out of the line going to hell, and into the line going to heaven.
This is what John has developed here. Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. So why would those who believe in him, who have been born of him, continue in the works of the devil? It’s unthinkable and impossible.
Now matter how many times you refer to Jesus as the “reason for the season,” you’ve probably noticed how difficult it is to actually reflect on his coming during Christmas. Unless you’re intentional, it usually doesn’t happen. That’s one reason we’re recommending an Advent guide for you and your family by Scott James titled The Expected One.
In this devotional guide Scott leads us through Old Testament prophecies and expectations leading up to Christ’s first coming. Discussion questions as well as foundational biblical themes are woven throughout these lessons to make this resource perfectly suited for families with children, though it will apply to everyone. LifeWay is making this resource available in the following formats: Android App ($0.99), iPhone App (Free until Thanksgiving; then $0.99), Ebook with LifeWay Reader ($1.99), Apple iBooks ($1.99).
Scott James is an elder at The Church at Brook Hills, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about this timely resource:
A lot of Christians have heard of Advent, but what exactly is it?
Scott: Advent comes from the Latin word meaning “coming,” and it refers to the weeks leading up to Christmas when we prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Jesus. Various traditions (e.g. wreaths, candles, Jesse Trees, etc…) have been established to help us focus on Christ during this season and, depending on how you use them, these can be very beneficial. The Expected One devotional is not tied to any particular Advent tradition, but it simply uses the weeks leading up to December 25th as a time to call families and friends together to glory in our great Savior.
How do you hope that people will use this resource?
Scott: My hope is that this devotional will be a user-friendly resource for a broad range of people. As a family worship resource, I think that parents who already have an established worship time in their home will find that it fits seamlessly into their routine. Parents not familiar with the practice of family worship (or those just struggling to actually pull it off) can use it as an easily accessible starting point. As a father leading worship in my own home, my biggest struggle is biting off more than I can chew—or more precisely, more than my kids can chew. With that in mind, I purposefully wrote these devotionals in a simple and straightforward fashion. Concise but impactful.
Although the primary audience is intended to be families with young children, the themes and discussion questions in this devotional are edifying for older audiences as well. Each day has a final, open-ended question that is specifically included to engage the adult mind as much as the kids’. I believe that teenagers and adults will benefit from it just as much as young families.
How might these Advent readings help us better understand not only the Christmas narrative, but the entire Bible?
Scott: That really is the goal of the whole devotional—to celebrate the nativity story within the larger context of the story of redemption. Even for those of us seeking to “keep Christ in Christmas,” it is far too easy to focus on the manger scene to the exclusion of all else. By compartmentalizing the amazing truth of the Incarnation, we actually diminish its brilliance. The nativity is best celebrated when it is found in the shadow of the Cross. These devotions use Old Testament Scriptures to highlight the multi-faceted promises that God gave His people concerning the person and work of His Son Jesus. By tracing out the bigger redemptive picture, my hope is that our hearts will be all the more prepared to find deep satisfaction in Jesus during Advent.
Posted on December 27th, 2012 by Cory Varden
Listen to Dr. Bart Box describe an unusual issue that many experience this time of year.
Posted on December 19th, 2012 by Jonathan
Every once in a while, perhaps most commonly during Christmas, we’ll hear the word dayspring. It’s a bit of an outdated term, and today we would probably do well to substitute it with sunrise. This is what is meant when we sing lines like “O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer, our spirits by Thine advent here” from O Come O Come Emmanuel. But as the capital D implies, we are not merely calling for a sunrise. As you can probably guess, it’s a metaphor for the Messiah.
Take a look at the prophecy of John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, shortly after John was born.
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Lk 1:76-78, NKJV)
From the third line on, Zechariah is not referring to John, but to the one for whom John would prepare the way, Jesus Christ. Why liken Jesus to a sunrise?
Maybe this is best answered in the Christmas context of the Luke 1 prophecy above. When Jesus came on the scene as a baby boy in Bethlehem, He was effectively ending one era and beginning another. Like the start of a new day, Jesus was the turning point that ushered in a brand new stage of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. The promises about Him were grand, so His coming was much-anticipated, and rightly so. And after what must have seemed like an eternal night, dawn broke.
Zechariah’s prophecy echoed much older ones like those found in Isaiah 60:1-3, Numbers 24:17, and Malachi 4:2. All of them point to Christ’s coming, and all of them speak of Him as a shining light that would bring salvation.
So where does that put us today? In one sense, we are very much in the same place, looking forward to Christ’s coming. Unlike them though, we are anticipating His Second Coming. And this is where, in another sense, we are in a very different place than the prophets of old. While they saw shadows of Christ in the law and the sacrificial system, we have seen the light of the Law Giver and ultimate Sacrifice (Col 2:17, Heb 8:5, Heb 10:1).
We are not waiting in the dark anymore. We can see. And to those who are fumbling around in the dark, we must proclaim, “The sun has risen!”
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12
“The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” 1 John 2:8
Posted on December 18th, 2012 by David Burnette
We normally highlight a book as a featured resource each week, but Andrew Peterson’s Christmas album, “Behold the Lamb of God,” certainly qualifies as an edifying Christmas resource. If you haven’t heard it yet, you can go here and listen. The album is creative and the lyrics are full of biblical content. Peterson captures not only the very earthy and human elements of the events surrounding the nativity (see “Labor of Love”), but he is also able to place Christ’s coming within God’s overall plan of redemption.
The song below, “Deliver Us,” speaks to the reason Jesus came as it was announced to Joseph by the angel – “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). Israel’s exodus from Egypt and their return from exile were only pointers to a greater redemption, a redemption that was at the heart of Christ’s coming at Christmas:
Our enemy, our captor is no pharaoh on the Nile
Our toil is neither mud nor brick nor sand
Our ankles bear no calluses from chains, yet Lord, we’re bound
Imprisoned here, we dwell in our own land
Deliver us, deliver us
Oh Yahweh, hear our cry
And gather us beneath your wings tonight
Our sins they are more numerous than all the lambs we slay
These shackles they were made with our own hands
Our toil is our atonement and our freedom yours to give
So Yahweh, break your silence if you can
How often I have longed
To gather you beneath my gentle wings’
– Here’s the live version posted by Kevin DeYoung earlier this week:
Posted on December 18th, 2012 by Jonathan
A classic hymn with timeless lyrics, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus encourages us to joyfully hope in Christ. May its lyrics compel us to rejoice in the salvation purchased for us at His first coming while also shamelessly hoping in the glorious consummation of that salvation at His second. Unlike the “hope” we have to pass tests, meet deadlines, and enjoy long expected movies, hope in Christ “does not put to shame” (Rm 5:5) because its object is Jesus – our unchangeable, eternal, all powerful, perfectly good, and faithful God. He is surely the “joy of every longing heart.” May we all long for Jesus with everything we have.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Posted on December 17th, 2012 by Cory Varden
Pastor David explains how extraordinary the incarnation truly is and how it serves as the one of the major stumbling blocks to Christianity. Have you stopped this Christmas season to truly contemplate the astounding miracle of God taking on flesh in the incarnation?
Posted on December 14th, 2012 by Jonathan
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:14
Yesterday, as we thought about the Luke 2:14 phrase, “those with whom He is pleased,” we saw that God is pleased with people, not because they are good, but because of the favor He graciously pours on them in Christ. However, this may leave us wondering – does He pour Christ’s favor on everyone?
In other words, are all men saved because of what happened at Christmas?
We are probably most familiar with the New King James Version of this passage, which says “on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (NKJV). Given the context, this seems to make more sense, right? Just four verses before, the angel declared Jesus’ birth to be “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Lk 2:10), that is, joy to the world. And after all, if Jesus “did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (Jn 12:47), then wouldn’t “goodwill toward men” include every human being?
But we know that in the end, all are not saved. Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt 7:14). So while the particular nature of “those with whom he is pleased” may not seem like good news at first, we must remember that He would be just not to pour favor on anyone. Yet, He does. He now mercifully pours His favor on some people from all nations, not just the Hebrew people, thus extending peace through Christ to “all the people” (Lk 2:10). The good news has gone global. God really does display goodwill toward men.
In Luke’s account of Christ’s birth, those with whom God is pleased are the same people earlier described as God-fearing, humble, and dependent on God’s faithful provision for everything, including salvation (Lk 1:46-55; p 220). These are evidences of grace. And as Luke’s Gospel reminds us with stories like the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32), this grace often comes to the least likely.
In light of these truths, may we all heavily and humbly depend on God and so prove to have his favor on us, and may we glorify Him in heaven for this peace we now have on earth!
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