THE WEAKNESS OF CHRISTMAS

John 3:13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.

Can you imagine the thoughts Mary and Joseph had looking at their newborn Son in the manger in Bethlehem? Joseph knew he wasn’t the biological father, Mary knew the father was the Father in heaven. What were they thinking? Did they know that their baby was God? I think they came to that conclusion from their Jewish upbringing. To be called God’s Son would be to make Him equal to God. That was the very reasoning the Jewish leaders would use thirty three years later to crucify Him. They came to the conclusion that if He claimed to be God’s Son then Jesus was making a claim to deity. Deity and humanity in a man, that is past our ability to comprehend. Jesus shared some of this mystery in today’s verse talking to one of the Jewish leaders. Here are Augustine’s comments on today’s verse.

“And He goes on: “And no man hath ascended into heaven, but He that came down from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.” Behold, He was here, and was also in heaven; was here in His flesh, in heaven by His divinity; yea, everywhere by His divinity. Born of a mother, not quitting the Father. Two nativities of Christ are understood: one divine, the other human: one, that by which we were to be made; the other, that by which we were to be made anew: both marvelous; that without mother, this without father. But because He had taken a body of Adam, — for Mary was of Adam, — and was about to raise that same body again, it was an earthly thing He had said in saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” But this was a heavenly thing, when He said, “Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he shall not see the kingdom of God.”

The mystery that is Christmas has the fragrance of this miracle enmeshed within it. The humanity and deity wrapped in swaddling clothes in an animal stable. Deity cloaked in a human baby, sovereignty concealed in submission, omnipotence shrouded with the weakness of an infant, and omniscience hidden by the crying of a baby. Don’t let the noise of the age crowd out the miracle of Christmas, its more amazing than any of us can begin to know.

AT THE MENTION OF HIS NAME

gift-habeshaw-453482.jpgMatt. 1:21-23 – She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

The prophecies of the birth of Jesus are astounding. Those Christmas prophecies were mightily used by the Lord to build my faith as a young Christian. I was stunned by the revelation of His humanity and deity to the prophets hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. In today’s verse we have a word from an angel to call His Name Jesus. Then we have a commentary from Matthew on Isaiah’s prophesy. Matthew said that Isaiah’s prophesy about Immanuel was actually declaring the deity of this one born of a virgin. The name of Jesus was a fulfillment of that prophesy, Jesus would actually be God with us. Jesus is our Immanuel. Here are the words to a song from Bethel called AT THE MENTION OF YOUR NAME. From the first time His Name was uttered by the angel up until the present day when we call His Name, God is with us. Enjoy the song.

You’re here with the grace of the Savior

With the heart of the Father

You’re all we need

You’re here with the hands of the Healer

With the power of Your Spirit

You’re all we need

At the mention of Your name

Every chain will break

I know everything will change

Jesus, just the whisper of Your name

Will silence wind and waves

At the mention of Your name

You’re here, You’re the Provider

All I’ve ever needed

Jesus, You supply

You’re here, with wonder-working power

Everything You breathe on

Coming back to life

You are my strength

You are my anchor

And You never fail

You are my hope

You will deliver

Emmanuel

At the mention of Your name

Every chain will break

I know everything will change

Jesus, just the whisper of Your name

Will silence wind and waves

At the mention of Your name

Just the mention, Oh

Just the whisper, Oh

You’re just a breath away

You’re just a breath away

So whatever you are facing today just call out His Name. Everything changes at the mention of His Name.

I SAW HIS GLORY

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John 1:14 ¶ And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

This passage touches on the very nature of man’s basic problem; we were all born in a state of absolute spiritual blindness. Now spiritual blindness is far worse than natural blindness. A man born physically blind or who becomes blind in this life knows that something is wrong. He knows seeing is possible, he just can’t see. The spiritually blind have a double curse, they are blind and don’t know it. This passage shows the cure, the only cure for this horrible malady. Look closely at this verse and you will see it, the first time we can see is when we see Jesus as the Eternal Word Who became a man. The Word became flesh, seeing that, seeing His glory, is where our seeing really begins. Here are some thoughts from Augustine on this amazing miracle.

“But because “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” by His very nativity he made an eye-salve to cleanse the eyes of our heart, and to enable us to see His majesty by means of His humility. Therefore “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us:” He healed our eyes; and what follows? “And we beheld His glory.” His glory can no one see unless healed by the humility of His flesh. Wherefore were we not able to see? Consider, then, dearly beloved, and see what I say. There had dashed into man’s eye, as it were, dust, earth; it had wounded the eye, and it could not see the light: that wounded eye is anointed; by earth it was wounded, and earth is applied to it for healing. For all eye-salves and medicines are derived from the earth alone. By dust thou wert blinded, and by dust thou art healed: flesh, then, had wounded thee, flesh heals thee.”

This verse can change your view of Christmas. John doesn’t tell the story of the nativity, he is struck with eternity. The angels singing, the shepherds, and the wise men are all a beautiful part of this story, but this is the very heart of the Christmas miracle. The Eternal Word took on a human body, entered into the very creation that He had formed, and lived among us. Maybe this Christmas you too can say like John, “I saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

Call His Name

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He shall save his people from their sins.

Matt.1:21

 

Joseph stood in stunned silence as he heard these words, “You shall call His Name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins”. The angel had delivered the message that would change everything. He wasn’t going to have to put his promised wife Mary away in shame. This child that she carried was not only holy, He was the Savior of the world. Joseph hid these words away in his heart and some sixty years later they were recorded by Matthew in his gospel. What did the angel mean? How could we be saved from our sins? Matthew was opening his gospel with a message of hope for all of us. We had all been slaves of our own sins. A Savior was born to break the power of sin that we could live a holy life. Here is how Charles Spurgeon describes it.

 

 

“No man is a true Christian if sin reigns in his mortal body. Sin will be in us-it will never be utterly expelled till the spirit enters glory; but it will never have dominion. There will be a striving for dominion-a lusting against the new law and the new spirit which God has implanted-but sin will never get the upper hand so as to be absolute monarch of our nature. Christ will be Master of the heart, and sin must be mortified. The Lion of the tribe of Judah shall prevail, and the dragon shall be cast out. Professor! is sin subdued in you? If your life is unholy your heart is unchanged, and if your heart is unchanged you are an unsaved person. If the Saviour has not sanctified you, renewed you, given you a hatred of sin and a love of holiness, he has done nothing in you of a saving character. The grace which does not make a man better than others is a worthless counterfeit. Christ saves his people, not in their sins, but from them.”

 

This gospel promise destroys the modern day distortion of grace. The grace of God that is clearly seen in the life and death of Jesus frees us. We are freed not so we can continue a life of compromise, bending our knee to the temptations of this life. We are free from our sins. We are forgiven and changed to live a new kind of life.

NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES

Thou shalt call his name Jesus.

Matt.1:21

 

The angel’s message to Joseph so many years ago has brought hope to every generation and to every tribe and tongue. ‘Call His Name Jesus’. This Name has become the Name above all names. His Name is like a song or like oiled poured out. This Name brings peace, healing, courage, purity, and power. In His Name we are freed from sin, filled with a love for the hurting, and empowered to reach the nations with the power of the gospel.

Whatever state you find yourself in this Christmas season The Name of the Lord is your place of protection. Jesus promised to be with us until the end and will be with us even in the darkest of times. Here are Spurgeon’s thoughts on today’s verse.

 

 

 

 

“Whether he be called the Husband of the Church, her Bridegroom, her Friend; whether he be styled the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world-the King, the Prophet, or the Priest-every title of our Master-Shiloh, Emmanuel, Wonderful, the Mighty Counsellor-every name is like the honeycomb dropping with honey, and luscious are the drops that distill from it. But if there be one name sweeter than another in the believer’s ear, it is the name of Jesus. Jesus! it is the name which moves the harps of heaven to melody. Jesus! the life of all our joys. If there be one name more charming, more precious than another, it is this name. It is woven into the very warp and woof of our psalmody. Many of our hymns begin with it, and scarcely any, that are good for anything, end without it. It is the sum total of all delights. It is the music with which the bells of heaven ring; a song in a word; an ocean for comprehension, although a drop for brevity; a matchless oratorio in two syllables; a gathering up of the hallelujahs of eternity in five letters.”

When the Lord gave this word to Joseph he experienced a life change. There is something about that Name that always changes lives. Joseph went from depressed and fearful to a man of courage, purpose, and joy. He took Mary for his wife, defied Herod and his soldiers, and provided a family and provision for the Son of God. Maybe you are facing discouragement or depression this Christmas, call His Name Jesus and you can be brought out into a place of joy.

HE BECAME FLESH

Related imageJohn 1:14 ¶ And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

To me, Christmas is a celebration of the greatest of all miracles. The Creator Himself entered

creation as a creature. The One who has existed before time and created time entered into this realm of time. The One who is all powerful and all knowing humbled and limited Himself with human limitations. God became a man; absolutely unthinkable. No matter how many times I’ve read about it, heard it preached, and sang about it; the story of the virgin birth of the One who created virgins is shocking. The humanity of God humbles me. How could One so unlimited identify with me? His love is measureless and is the very heartbeat of our Christmas celebration. Here are some thoughts from Matthew Henry on the humanity of Jesus from today’s verse.

“This expresses Christ’s incarnation more clearly than what went before. By his divine presence he always was in the world, and by his prophets he came to his own. But now that the fulness of time was come he was sent forth after another manner, made of a woman… He was made flesh, the meanest part of man. Flesh bespeaks man weak, and he was crucified through weakness. Flesh bespeaks man mortal and dying, and Christ was put to death in the flesh. Nay, flesh bespeaks man tainted with sin, and Christ, though he was perfectly holy and harmless, yet appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh, and was made sin for us…Wonder at this, that the eternal Word should be made flesh, when flesh was come into such an ill name; that he who made all things should himself be made flesh, one of the meanest things, and submit to that from which he was at the greatest distance.”

Power cloaked in weakness, sovereignty clothed in resignation, wisdom cloaked in the limited knowledge of an infant; the humanity of Christ is quite impossible to fathom. He held Mary in His arms as she nursed Him, He provided for Joseph as Joseph provided for Him, He protected Joseph as Joseph protected Him, He taught his parents as they taught Him. He was here in His humanity ruling the universe in His deity. Great is the mystery of God, Grant is the mystery of Christmas.

Groaning and Waiting

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Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

Rom.8:23

 

If you stop for a moment and stay real quiet you may hear it. ‘You may hear what?’ You ask. The groaning; can you hear it now? Creation is groaning. It’s not a miserable, painful groan. It is kind of a groan of expectancy. It’s the kind of groan that mixes pain with joyful anticipation. Something really amazing is about to happen and creation is at a heightened state of expectancy. Many of us experienced something like this as children. Don’t you remember the painful, yet joyful, countdown as Christmas drew near? It’s coming was certain, the wait was part of the joy. That’s how it is today as we wait for the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. Just as we are waiting for Christmas we are really waiting for the real “Joy to the World’, that joy will burst on us suddenly just as His first appearance did. Here are some thoughts from Spurgeon on the groan that is all around us.

 

 

“Our sighs are sacred things, too hallowed for us to tell abroad. We keep our longings to our Lord alone. Then the apostle says we are waiting, by which we learn that we are not to be petulant, like Jonah or Elijah, when they said, Let me die; nor are we to whimper and sigh for the end of life because we are tired of work, nor wish to escape from our present sufferings till the will of the Lord is done. We are to groan for glorification, but we are to wait patiently for it, knowing that what the Lord appoints is best. Waiting implies being ready. We are to stand at the door expecting the Beloved to open it and take us away to himself. This groaning is a test. You may judge of a man by what he groans after. Some men groan after wealth-they worship Mammon; some groan continually under the troubles of life-they are merely impatient; but the man who sighs after God, who is uneasy till he is made like Christ, that is the blessed man.”

 

So we are waiting, we are waiting for Christmas but really waiting for something more. This time Jesus will not appear like a lamb, born in a manger. This time He will roll back the sky like a lion. His appearance is imminent, let the groan continue.

CHRISTMAS FULNESS

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John 1:16,17 ¶ And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

One of the things I am reflecting on this Christmas is fulness. John spoke about the fulness of God that we receive by grace through faith. This is more than just I believe I am filled with fulness, this is actually experiencing fulness itself. John is describing a profound spiritual experience in his opening comments in his gospel. He is giving us more than information, John is describing the reason Jesus came. He came that we could experience, or taste for ourselves, the fulness of God. John said that he had not only received fulness, he is describing fulness overflowing; that’s exactly what grace upon grace is. Matthew Henry describes ‘grace upon grace’ like this.

“The fulness of this grace. Grace for grace is abundance of grace, grace upon grace, one grace heaped upon another; as skin for skin is skin after skin, even all that a man has. It is a blessing poured out, that there shall not be room to receive it, plenteous redemption: one grace a pledge of more grace….It is such a fulness as is called the fulness of God which we are filled with.”

So have you tasted this fulness that John proclaimed and Henry relished? Taste and see for yourself and delight yourself in Christmas cheer. Here are some thoughts from John Piper on this fulness of God.

“Paul prays that we would experience Christ’s fullness—not just know about it, but be filled with it. Here is the way I hear him praying for me: he prays that I “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [I] may be filled with all the fullness of God”. “The “fullness of God” is experienced, he says, as we are given the “strength to comprehend” the love of Christ in its height and depth and length and breadth. That is, in its fullness. This is remarkable: the fullness of God is the spiritual comprehension (experience) of the fullness of the love of Christ. It fills the Son of God and pours out on us.”

So Merry Christmas, or be filled with the fulness of God. That’s what makes Christmas so merry, we can delight ourselves in His grace upon grace.

God centered anticipation – the dawning of a new dispensation

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Merry Advent Season

And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

Luke 2:12 ASV

December always catches us by surprise. Sometimes one can get irritated if you allow it to catch you on the wrong side of life. Having a God centered anticipation corrects the attitude. Most didn’t catch the birth of Christ, it was a uneventful moment in the chaos of life. Others were rudely interrupted so much that it altered their course in life. Heaven long ago prepared for an Incarnation, but Earth was not quite ready. (Interpreters Bible) It was the dawning of a new dispensation for when it’s midnight all around the daystar comes silently.

When God does a marvelous work, such as may amaze all heaven and earth, He commands silence all around, sends forth the still small voice, and then sets some feeble instrument to work—and straightway it is done! Man toils and pants, and after all effects but little; the Creator, in the silent majesty of power, noiseless yet resistless, achieves by a word the infinite wonders of omnipotence! Horace Bonar

I pray you will allow yourself to be caught up in anticipation! Come beggar, bag lady, tramp mendicant and allow your crud to be washed; washed into blood red. To look again at the simple things of life, to pause at the manger and be part of its birth. Standing there in the muck and the smell of the stall centers me back to it all. Christ can come anytime anywhere anyplace-he is not set off by the unexpected. He isn’t in the crowded inn full of the “other” noises. He bleeds out to the simple; the ones under the loads of life. God comes quiet and comes small. Small enough to understand us, small enough to bend and listen to our sorrow. Love comes anticipating a reception – in the room all quiet. Meet him in this Advent season.

Anticipating His Second Advent

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Hag. 2:6 ¶ “For thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.

Parris and I are finishing up a ministry trip in Manila, Philippines as I write today’s devotion. Christmas is a big deal in Manila, Christmas trees and decorations are everywhere. Just like we sense in America, there is a conflict in the air as we anticipate the celebration of the Lord’s birth. We see the conflict in the irony of affluence and poverty, sickness and health, joy and sadness as the celebration draws near. This waiting for Christmas pictures what is really going on inside of all of us. Actually the conflict is in creation itself. Creation is groaning in joyful anticipation of the coming kingdom, even in the midst of the conflict and heartbreak all around us in our world. Here is how the Apostle Paul describes this irony all around us from the Message Bible;

Rom. 8:19-21 – “The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens”.

That is exactly what I see in the streets of America and I feel groaning in the hearts of the people in the Philippines. Darkness is increasing as our anticipation deepens.

This is the feeling we get when we think about what it was like in Israel before the birth of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Matthew described the spiritual climate like this,

Matt. 4:15 ¶ “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,

the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

Matt. 4:16 the people dwelling in darkness

have seen a great light,

and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,

on them a light has dawned.”

There was an unusual darkness settling in on the world when suddenly the darkness gave way to the light in the birth of Christ. That’s how it feels today, we are grieved by the darkness of our world but the joyful expectancy of something about to happen is growing inside of our hearts. As we welcome another Christmas we are really preparing for the Second Advent of our Lord.