Dec 24, 2009
BACC Christmas Eve Service Element / Performed live
Dec 24, 2009
BACC Christmas Eve Service Element / Performed live
Christmas is in the air.
But what’s the big deal?
Even unbelievers know a little about the theological background to Christmas. The word is not known but the idea is there, hovering in the background: Incarnation.
Songs are sung about it this time of year. Christmas cartoons and musicals allude to it. The nativity, showing Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, implies such a condescending act by God.
Yet it is not unreasonable that many unbelievers would know little of the significance of the Incarnation given that Christmas is not a Biblical holy day. It is a time of fun and family that naturally overcomes any supposed religious imperative.
But even if unbelievers could mouth the word or explain it, the implications of the Incarnation completely elude them. Like watching a play without a background and underlying plot, many unbelievers observe the nativity with a vague sense of something missing.
“What’s the big deal?” they ask.
Unfortunately, this question is asked because the message of Christmas is disappearing—not only due to the obvious chaos of narcissistic materialism, but also because of the increasing silence of the Church herself.
She is not always quiet about the Incarnation . Often the average American Christian affirms that Jesus is God. But that is not the same thing as affirming He existed from eternity past. Nor is it the same as affirming that in the fullness of time the Second Person of the Trinity “became flesh.”
To the extent that the proper background of the Incarnation is poorly explained, grasped or believed by the American Evangelical church, to that extent she is silent and unhelpful. She becomes a mime, acting out a story without a context.
And what is that context? Sin.
Not only was the Coming of the God-man a marvelous act of a Sovereign King dwelling among infinitely lesser beings, it was more. It was the merciful and forgiving act of a maligned Judge. A Judge and Ruler having no reason to save any soul on their own merits. A Judge, Ruler and Avenger who did, would and will cast the final sentence against unbelieving rebellion: eternal damnation.
This is not a popular message. Unbelief would rather watch the miming of the church than hear the thundering of the Law. It would prefer to embrace the psuedo-gospel of God-loves-everyone-and-is-sending-them-all-to-heaven instead of hearing that God’s law demands justice by sending rebels to their rightful place.
Yet this other side of Christmas is crucial. And it makes sense. Human judges will dispense justice according to the rule of law. How much more will the Great All-Seeing Judge of the Universe dispense justice? And so, Adam was judged, as was all mankind, you and me included. But that is not what unbelievers want to hear during this season of joy.
But it is exactly what they need to hear. And it is what we need to hear as well. The Incarnation is intelligible only in a Christian framework that takes sin seriously and rebellion as deserving of death. There was nothing in mankind to bring amnesty from God the Judge. There was everything in mankind to repel Him. This is the reason why the coming of the Son of God is amazing: He came to save sinners in spite of their sins.
Equipped with the full truth, the Church can stop miming and start singing aloud with joy the clear message of why the Messiah became a man. And do so every Sunday. Then the world will know what the “big deal” is all about.
Jesus spent time developing His disciples’ faith because He knew it was essential for the tasks ahead of them. For over three years, they attended a school of faith, with Jesus as their instructor and the Scripture as the textbook. Sometimes Christ used verbal instructions, but many of the lessons were taught through demonstrations. He healed the sick, cast out demons, fed thousands, and calmed the sea. Their training even included tests revealing if they truly believed Jesus was the Messiah.
At times, the disciples’ understanding was slow or faltering, but Christ never gave up on them. He reproved them when they exhibited a lack of trust (Mark 4:40) but also commended signs of progress (Matt. 16:15-17). His objective was to firmly establish their faith so He could accomplish His work in and through them. Right before His ascension, He commanded His men to spread the gospel of salvation to the remotest parts of the earth. Without faith, they would have failed.
The Lord has the same goal for us—increase our faith so we can do the work He’s planned for us. If our faith is great, He’ll entrust us with challenges and achieve amazing things through us. But small faith limits God’s activity in a believer’s life. He uses us only to the degree that we trust Him.
Faith building is essential in a believer’s life, and God has two primary means of doing this. Scripture tells us what to believe about Him, and tests place us in difficult situations that stretch us to believe and rely on God instead of our own understanding.
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” (Ephesians 4:17-18)
A question that troubles many Christians is why most highly educated leaders in science and other fields—even theologians—seem to find it so difficult to believe the Bible and the gospel of Christ. The answer is in the words of our text: They are “alienated from the life of God” because of self-induced ignorance. It is not that they can’t understand, but that they won’t understand! They “walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened . . . because of the blindness of their heart.” They don’t want to believe in their hearts, therefore they seek an excuse not to believe in their minds. They are “men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (2 Timothy 3:8).
The sad truth is that Satan himself controls their minds. They may be ever so intelligent in secular matters, but the gospel, with all its comprehensive and beautiful simplicity, remains hidden to them. “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
Is there a remedy? Yes. “(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). In this verse, the word “thought” is the same as “mind.” The weapons of truth, of prayer, of love, and of the Spirit can capture even such minds as these! HMM
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. —James 1:2-4
From the trials and triumphs of Paul, we gather, too, that happiness is really not indispensable to a Christian. There are many ills worse than heartaches. It is scarcely too much to say that prolonged happiness may actually weaken us, especially if we insist upon being happy as the Jews insisted upon flesh in the wilderness. In so doing, we may try to avoid those spiritual responsibilities which would in the nature of them bring a certain measure of heaviness and affliction to the soul.
The best thing is neither to seek nor seek to avoid troubles but to follow Christ and take the bitter with the sweet as it may come. Whether we are happy or unhappy at any given time is not important. That we be in the will of God is all that matters. We may safely leave with Him the incident of heartache or happiness. He will know how much we need of either or both.
Lord, may I indeed be “in the will of God” today. I’ll “leave with [You] the incident of heartache or happiness.” I can trust You to decide wisely. Amen.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:35
Sometimes an earnest Christian will, after some remarkable spiritual encounter, withdraw himself from his fellow believers and develop a spirit of faultfinding.
This is a dangerous state of mind, and the more dangerous because it can justify itself by the facts—it may easily be true that the professed Christians with whom he is acquainted are worldly and dull and without spiritual enthusiasm. It is not that he is mistaken in his facts that proves him to be in error, but that his reaction to the facts is of the flesh! His new spirituality has made him less charitable, and we must be cautioned that any religious experience that fails to deepen our love for our fellow Christians may be safely written off as spurious.
The Apostle John makes love for our fellow Christians to be a test of true faith, insisting that as we grow in grace we grow in love toward all of God’s people: “Every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” (1 John 5:1). This means simply that if we love God we will love His children. All true Christian experience will deepen our love for other Christians!
Therefore we conclude that whatever tends to separate us in person or in heart from our fellow Christians is not of God, but is of the flesh or of the devil. Conversely, whatever causes us to love the children of God is likely to be of God!
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. MATTHEW 3:17
I have given much thought and contemplation to the sweetest and tenderest of all of the mysteries in God’s revelation to man—the Incarnation! Jesus, the Christ, is the Eternal One, for in the fullness of time He humbles Himself. John’s description is plain: The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
I confess that I would have liked to have seen the baby Jesus. But the glorified Jesus yonder at the right hand of the Majesty on high was the baby Jesus once cradled in the manger straw. Taking a body of humiliation, He was still the Creator who made the wood of that manger, made the straw, and was Creator of all the beasts that were there.
In truth, He made the little town of Bethlehem and all that it was. He also made the star that lingered over the scene that night. He had come into His own world, His Father’s world. Everything we touch and handle belongs to Him. So we have come to love Him and adore Him and honor Him!
Lord, You became so vulnerable for us by becoming a helpless baby. Thank You for Your intentional humility. Even in Your birth You showed us how to sacrifice what is rightly ours for the benefit of others. Help me to apply this lesson in my own life so that I will become more like You.