God’s Other Gift to the World

There’s a reason we’re still waiting for peace on earth.

It was a warm July day, and the windows on my Hyundai were rolled all the way down. I was stuck in morning traffic, and as we crawled along, I noticed a serious-looking man with a goatee glancing at me and smiling. Yes, it was July, but I had Christmas music on, apparently loud enough for other drivers to notice.

I may have been breaking some unspoken social contract, but I love Christmas—and I’m always looking forward to it. So the music begins early, reminding me of Jesus’ birth, reviving memories of holidays past, and creating within me a growing expectation that because of the incarnation, life on earth will never be the same.

Christmas and expectation seem to fit together. It has been this way from the first. Even before anyone knew quite what to expect—that God Himself would come in the flesh and be born of a teenage virgin—there was an expectation that God would act in history to put things right.

The early music of Christmas began in the Garden of Eden as whispered notes. Amid the pronouncement of curses for treason against the King, a soft song of promise could be detected: “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15 NIV). Though this world in its infancy had been marred by sin, God had plans to set things right. He would provide a Deliverer by shaping world events and family lines to accomplish His will.

The song continued as God made promises to Abraham (Gen. 12:2-3). It was there four centuries later in Egypt, when God commanded each family from among His people to sacrifice a spotless lamb and mark their homes with its blood (Ex. 12:1-13). In the wilderness and in the land of promise, God pointed to Christ in every animal sacrifice the people made, each a picture of their coming salvation.

With King David, the song grew louder as God promised him a forever-kingdom for which one of his descendants would always sit upon the throne (2 Sam. 7:12-17). And when God raised up prophets to speak to Israel and Judah, they foretold of a Messiah—One who would redeem the people from their sins, suffer in order to heal, and bring justice and peace to our world (Ps. 130:8; Isa. 11:1-10; 53:5). The history of Israel in the Old Testament is the history of a people looking forward to Christmas.

And so, as the New Testament opens, expectation lingers in its pages. It has been more than 400 years since Judah’s last writing prophet put down his pen. But where is the deliverance God promised? Where are David’s throne and the Messiah who was to sit upon it forever? And where, oh where, is justice?

In Matthew and Luke, that anticipation turns to joy. Mary proclaims, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed” (Luke 1:52-53). While the baby is still in her womb, she welcomes the kingdom that He will usher in. In similar fashion, Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people” (v. 68). For Zacharias, God’s salvation is certain—so certain, in fact, that he can already speak of it in the past tense.

As I read the Christmas story, it is with a divided heart. I am excited by what Jesus’ birth will bring—everything that will come from His life, death, and resurrection. But I struggle, too, because this world has not changed all that much. Injustice is at home among the nations of the earth, the hungry are still turned away, and the suffering of God’s people goes on unabated. What happened to all that peace on earth and good will toward men?

Or maybe there is something more to look forward to—a Christmas gift that makes all the others matter. There is a hint of this gift tucked away in Matthew’s Gospel, in one of Scripture’s most disturbing passages:

[Herod] was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi (Matt. 2:16 NIV).

An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, and the holy family escaped (vv. 13-15). But have you ever considered how odd a thing that is—that the Son of God came to earth only to run? I suppose He didn’t have to run. His Father could have rained down fire from heaven at the first bloodthirsty thought that entered Herod’s brain, or He could have challenged the soldiers’ swords with a legion of angels. But God didn’t do that. He allowed evil to continue, even as His Son came to put an end to it once and for all.

God’s response to Herod (or what seems like His failure to respond) is a measure of grace. For the time being, God would rather make sons and daughters of His enemies than destroy them. Instead of pouring out His judgment on sinful humanity, He poured it out on Christ on Good Friday. And while we wait for God to renew this world, He is waiting, too—waiting to bring His children home.

God has promised that a day of judgment is coming, and it’s a promise we can count on. As we look around our planet, we see new variations of Herod’s atrocities committed on a daily basis. But God does not rain down fire. Instead, He grieves with those who mourn and offers new life through the sacrifice of His Son. With each Christmas that passes, we receive a gift: a tangible reminder of God’s patience.

For those of us who look up into the night sky and ask God, “How long?” we have this answer: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Though we live on the other side of Christmas, we stand, like our Old Testament counterparts, waiting for God to fulfill His promises. God is still longsuffering, and He is still working through history—through you and me—to bring many sons and daughters to glory. But because Jesus has come, we can join in the song Mary and Zacharias are singing, knowing that a new day has dawned, even if some of its events have yet to unfold.

Our Christmas celebrations are a reminder of the hope we have in Christ, declarations of grace and commemorations of the day when Light first broke through the darkness. Someday, the Light will destroy the darkness, but for our sakes and—thanks be to God—for the sakes of those who have not yet heard the good news, that day has not yet come.

by John Greco

Our Testimony

Acts 6:1-6

In spiritual terms, a testimony is a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Yet our declaration of belief encompasses far more than simply the story we tell. Philip’s example underscores that a good witness for the Lord consists of character, conduct, and conversation.

As Christians, we rightly place great emphasis on crafting a solid personal account of the Lord’s work in our life. We also talk about the ways that we can “be Jesus Christ” to our friends, family, and co-workers through our actions. But character is the part of every believer’s testimony that underlies both Christlike behavior and a good life story.

In general, the things we do and say represent the kind of person that we are on the inside. One can tell a lot about Philip’s character by noticing his actions and words. From among many believers, Philip was chosen as a man who was wise and full of the Spirit. But he wasn’t selected for a great ministry position—he was sent to serve food. Philip willingly went to do this menial work and every other job the Lord gave him, which shows his obedient spirit (Acts 6:5; 8:5, 26-27). We can be certain that he was a sincere and trustworthy person, because when he spoke, people listened (Acts 8:6). Philip’s testimony shines forth in every way.

You can’t trick God into thinking your character is righteous if it isn’t. Nor can you fake moral conduct or conversation with people for very long. Sooner or later, a proud, bitter, or unkind spirit yields behavior and speech contrary to the Christian message. But godly character produces real spiritual fruit.

Zechariah’s Visions: One Candlestick, Seven Lamps, Two Olive Trees

“I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.” (Zechariah 4:2-3)

This vision has three main messages. It represents “the word of the LORD” given to Zerubbabel which is “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). It also foretells the finishing of the temple by Zerubbabel wherein the “mountain” will become a “plain” and the “small things” will become the “plummet” in the hand of Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:7-10). Finally, the vision presents “the two anointed ones that stand by the LORD of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:14).

The golden candlestick symbol was used in the tabernacle with seven lamps on each branch (Exodus 25). Ten duplicate candlesticks were in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7:49). Seven individual candlesticks are revealed in Revelation 1 that represent “the seven churches.” The similarities and differences suggest something about the “mystery” that God kept from the Old Testament saints (Ephesians 3:9).

The two olive trees are unique to Zechariah. God called Judah a “green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit” (Jeremiah 11:16). God called the New Testament church “the olive tree which is wild by nature” (Romans 11:24). Some have suggested that Revelation 11:3-4 speaks of these “two witnesses” as the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. HMM III

The Master is come, and calleth for thee

The Master is come, and calleth for thee.—John 11:28.

STIR in us the might of faith,
Light in us the fire of love!
Then will smile Thine angel Death,
Opener of the gate above,
Sweet Thy summons then will come,
Gladsome then shall we go home.

BEYOND all secondary causes, deeper than disease or accident, lies the loving will of Him who is the Lord of life and death. Death is Christ’s minister, “mighty and beauteous, though his face be dark,” and he, too, stands amidst the ranks of the “ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them that shall be heirs of salvation.” ALEXANDER MACLAREN.

Until our Master summons us, not a hair of our head can perish, not a moment of our life be snatched from us. When He sends for us, it should seem but the message that the child is wanted at home. ANTHONY W. THUROLD

Death to a good man is but passing through a dark entry out of one little dusky room of his father’s house into another that is fair and large, lightsome and glorious. ANONYMOUS.

Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them

Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. Ephesians 5:11

Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.

Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators. Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolators; for then must we needs go out of the world. I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. — That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.

In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.

1 Corinthians 15:33. 1 Corinthians 5:6, 7, 9-11. Philippians 2:15. 2 Timothy 2:20.

Quicken us, and we will call upon thy name

Quicken us, and we will call upon thy name. Psalm 80:18

It is the Spirit that quickeneth. — The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we= know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. — Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance.

I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. — The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. —The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. — If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. — This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.

No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

John 6:63. Romans 8:26,27. Ephesians 6:18. Psalm 119:93. John 6:63. 2 Corinthians 3:6. John 15:7. 1 John 5:14. 1 Corinthians 12:3.