Archive for the ‘Christmas/Advent’ Category
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 Lenning
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 It’s a bit of an outdated term, and today we would probably do well to substitute it with sunrise.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 Lenning
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 Lenning
“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!
Posted on December 13th, 2012 by Cory Varden
Pastor David talks about the most important question we can ask this Christmas season.
Posted on December 13th, 2012 by Jonathan Lenning
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:14
Many of us are familiar with the angels’ words in Luke 2:14, but have you stopped to consider who these people “with whom He is pleased” actually are? If Jesus came to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21), how can He be pleased with anyone? When we consider what the Bible says about man’s sin, this question becomes especially pressing.
We know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rm 3:23), and that sin is a grievous thing in the eyes of a holy God, its wages death (Rm 6:23). In fact, in the Old Testament, when people were unclean in His presence, they were struck down dead (Ex 28:35, Ex 28:43). So shouldn’t God’s coming to earth to dwell among us in the flesh be deeply disturbing to us? How could God ever be pleased with us sinners? How could Jesus’ birth bring any of us peace?
This is where the glory of God’s salvation shines all the more brightly. Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin” to “[condemn] sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Rm 8:3-4). No amount of sacrifices and rule-following would suffice. Our sin prevented us from going to God, so Jesus came to us. And while all of us deserve His punishment, God “pours His favor” on His people through His Son, God with us, and thus He is pleased with them. To put it another way, we are only pleasing to God on the basis of His grace to us in Jesus Christ. This is both glory to God in heaven and peace to men on earth (p 220).
What about the just judgment of God on guilty sinners? That still happens, but for those with whom God is pleased, His judgment has been poured out on Jesus instead (Rm 3:24-26).
These are the ones who experience God’s peace: those with whom He is pleased to make pleasing through Christ.
Posted on December 12th, 2012 by David Burnette
Martin Luther on the “hardest point” of Christmas:
“This is for us the hardest point, not so much to believe that He is the son of the Virgin and God himself, as to believe that this Son of God is ours. That is where we wilt, but he who does feel it has become another man. Truly it is marvelous in our eyes that God should place a little child in the lap of a virgin and that all our blessedness should lie in him.”
Martin Luther’s Christmas Book, ed. by Roland H. Bainton, 16
You may not typically associate Martin Luther with Christmas, but the great Reformer was fascinated with the nativity story. For Luther, it was not only the grand truths of the incarnation and the virgin birth that captured his attention (as vital as those are), but also the incredible truth that God is for us in these things.
Accepting this gracious reality takes faith, and as Luther would be quick to remind us, faith itself is God’s miraculous work.
Posted on December 7th, 2012 by David Burnette
If you’re gathering the family around to read about Jesus’ birth this Christmas season, Luke’s Gospel is probably your top choice. It’s certainly the most detailed account of these amazing events; even Linus recognized this in his explanation of the meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown.
Matthew’s Gospel is another good option, offering a concise version of these events with an emphasis on their Old Testament fulfillment. But that’s pretty much it. Unless, well…have you considered what John’s Gospel has to say about the Christmas story?
“I don’t see any wise men, shepherds, or hosts of angels in John” you might say. “And there’s not a camel in sight.” For starters, none of the Gospels mention camels. Beyond that, John may have more to add to your Christmas gathering than you realize.
While Matthew traces Jesus’ family tree all the way back to King David and Abraham (Matt 1:1), and Luke traces it all the way back to Adam (Lk 3:38), the first man, John goes even further back. His opening words, “In the beginning,” remind us of the Bible’s opening words in Genesis 1:1. And John most certainly intends for them to.
John 1 begins by telling us that this “Word” was with God and that He was God. This Word was even active in creation (3). So John has taken us back prior to the creation of man, all the way to eternity past. He is describing Jesus as the Word who was with God before there was…anything. That’s quite a genealogy!
“But how is this a Christmas story?” you might be wondering. Consider what John says in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” Certainly more could be said about this meaning-packed verse, but we should at least be able to see Christmas in those words “became flesh.” John is telling us that this eternal Word took on flesh. His name was Jesus.
The One who was with the Father from eternity past, the One who created all things, the One who manifested God’s glory as the only begotten of the Father, this One came in the flesh. This is the mystery we call the incarnation. This is what we celebrate at Christmas.
And it’s all in John’s Gospel.
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