More Than A Christmas Story

Last week, we began a series on the life of Jesus Christ. We talked about how important it is how we answer the question, “who do you say Jesus is?”. This week, we talk about Jesus is God in flesh.

I’m sure most of us know the story of Jesus’ birth. This is the story we tell every year at Christmas time. But, God descending to earth in the form of Jesus Christ is more than a story to listen to one day a year. This is a reality that has huge implications for how we live our lives and how we realize God is working in our world.

What are some aspects of the Christmas story we like? Well, we like to see children dressed as angels, sheep, Mary, Joseph, and the whole realm of characters we read about. We like the cuteness and quietness the story provides. We like to hear God became flesh and that gives us a warm heart. We’ll even end by singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

But, on the night Jesus was born, I bet it was not a silent night. There would have been creatures calling in the middle of the night, the animals moving around, stirrings within the city, strangers coming to pay homage to the newborn baby. I bet Mary and Joseph did not get much sleep that night because of all that was going on, especially after giving birth.

Jesus’ birth is much more than a Christmas story. It is much more than the cute things we like to have portrayed so we have a warm, fuzzy feeling within our hearts. The noisy world Jesus entered is still as rough, dark, dangerous, as it was back then. The only difference is that Jesus is God in flesh, Emmanuel, “God with us.” This. Changes. Everything. Now, the world has glimpses of the true light, hope, peace, and joy of the world. All because God walked among us.

READ LUKE 1:26-33 and JOHN 1:1-5,14

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Because God came down to earth to live as humans, one of the important things we need to hear is the same thing the angel told Mary:

BE NOT AFRAID.

This is something that is easier said than done. We live in a world that says to be afraid of many things. All we have to do is pay attention to what the media is telling us and we become afraid. We end up listening to the voice of fear more than the Voice of God who is speaking life, love, joy, grace into our lives, into our world.

What is something you’re afraid of? Me? I have a few fears. (I really don’t want to tell you because someone would make them happen, especially when I walk into my office one day J). But, we all have fears, things that make us anxious. Because of the falling, sinful, broken state of humanity we live in, fear drives us and fills our minds.

We are fearful of terrorism. We are fearful of child abductions. We are fearful of job security. There are so many things we are afraid of. On some level, fear helps us to live safely. If we allow the fear to consume us, we will find we will isolate ourselves so we can try to keep everything safe. But this doesn’t help because we lose the relational aspect of community we all crave.

365 times in scripture, God’s messengers, and God Himself say, “don’t be afraid.” We can think about this as one for every day of the year. Now, this is not saying to blow off concerns and live recklessly. Instead, “don’t be afraid” means to not allow the concern to stop us from hearing what God has to say or do what God would have us do.

We can live as courageous people because we worship and follow God, who knows what we go through in this life. God not only came down to be with His people, He lived the life we humans live. He knows, through Jesus Christ, exactly what it is like to be human. So, we do not need to be fearful to live our lives. Instead, we can live with courage, still be concerned, and offer the light of Christ into the dark places of the world. How? God is already working where we go.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ was not a one and done event. His presence, his life on earth continues and is with us today. This is why the promise of Jesus as he ascended is so important for us to remember:  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[1] Because of this, we can live in hope!

Christianity is the only religion where God comes to dwell with His people. There are stories of gods who visit people, but not other world religion has their god live as a human and experience life as a human. No other religion can claim their god knows what humans experience.

Through the incarnation

GOD SHOWS HE’S WILLING TO DO WHAT IT TAKES

to bring people into salvation. Even if that means personally entering into this world…our world.

Through Jesus Christ, God came into a world that is His already. He came to reclaim, redeem, and repurpose humanity. “He came and lived in this world, our world, which was evil and dangerous then as it is now.”[2]

I think this is something we all, no matter where we are in our walk of faith, need to be continually reminded of. God came down to this earth. God came down and lived in a dangerous place. He knows the kinds of things humans do to themselves, each other, and the environment. Why would God descend from his place in heaven to come to earth? Scripture says, “Heaven is [God’s] throne, and the earth is [his] footstool.”[3]

But this is what God did. He came to earth to be among the people and bring salvation with him. God could have come as a full-grown adult. He could have come as a member of a ruling, or rich, family to make change happen at the governmental level. He could have come as any person who has the credibility to make a change in the world. But he chose to experience the fullness of life we experience. God came to earth and started out as a human baby from a poor, unknown family.

J.I. Packer explains, “It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word was made flesh’; God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child…The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.”[4]

Every time I think about this truth, I am amazed at the love God has for people who do everything they can to turn away from him. God’s love never fails. To me, this shows us what is really important in this life. It is not being the best at everything, earning the most money, achieving all of our goals. The most important thing in this life is relationships because without relationships everything else is wasted.

Jesus Christ, God in flesh, desires to be in a relationship with all people. His presence is, now, within grasp of all people; but many do not know, or even try to hear his voice and know him. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” It is about the relationship with God. This is how the world changes. When heaven enters in and fills the heart and life of a person, their world is changed forever. Then, the changed, heaven-filled, person goes out to share the love of God with another person and their world is changed. This creates a rippled effect and we can begin to slowing, yet fully, see the world being transformed to look and act more like the Kingdom of Heaven. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, this is what we’re praying for, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God is so into being in relationship with his people and being known and glorified throughout the world that he has done something incredible. Through Jesus Christ,

GOD HAS BROUGHT HEAVEN TO EARTH.

The Book of Revelation even paints the picture of the City of New Jerusalem coming down to earth so God can dwell with his people in life everlasting. C.S. Lewis describes it as the “lower reality being drawn into the higher reality and becomes part of it.”[5]The whole point of life is to witness the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven all around us so we can see and experience what really matters, what really changes people’s lives.

Jesus walking on the earth changes everything. Now, we can experience the awesomeness that is heaven and seek to live into the light of the world. We also get to share and shine the light of Christ wherever we go and in whatever we do. Remember where we go, God is already working there.

For a few years, I was able to go with the University of Texas campus ministries to South Padre Island during Spring Break. If you ever want to see what 100,000 people on an island looks like, this is your chance. Traffic. Drinking. Drugs. Injuries. One-night stands. You name it. It seems as if there is nothing but darkness prevailing, especially at night.

But among the 100,000 people (mainly college-age people) on the island, there are around 500-1,200 other college students to present to share Christ. How do they do this? By giving free van rides to anywhere the people want to go so they don’t have to walk or get into a car drunk. By giving free pancakes for breakfast and free pancakes at midnight so the stomach has something to soak up whatever is in their system.

This is done, not to condone or say the behavior is okay. This is a time when people seeking to share Christ enter into the world of the life of partying and seek a relationship with people to help them see and experience the Kingdom of Heaven. Many conversations, prayers, lives transformed. All because the light was brought into the darkness and people had the opportunity to hear something other than, “drink this…buy this…do this…and THEN you’ll be somebody special.”

One day, Brendan, a young but rising DJ in New York, was coming home to his Brooklyn apartment when a homeless woman asked him for money. He said, honestly, that he had no money. By the end of the week, she asked two more times, and each no he answered “no.” Finally she frankly replied, “you better not, because every day you say no.” Inserting some rational thinking into an otherwise awkward conversation, he proposed, “I am on my way to a job interview. If I get the job, I will take you out for Chinese food.” This promise yielded a friendship that neither were prepared for — that changed the trajectory of their lives, both forwards toward each other.

Brendan got the job. But their friendship didn’t just end with Chinese food. They built a friendship of mutual support, spending their birthdays, holidays and tough times together, over a period of eight years. When Brendan’s heater broke, she made him a blanket. Two days later when he told her that he had lost his job, she disappeared, returning minutes later, bringing him groceries, and which continued to do throughout the winter. Even with so little, she never hesitated to give back. 

Over these years, Jackie moved from the streets and subway stations, into a halfway house, YMCA, and is now moving into an apartment. To celebrate this occasion, Brendan wanted to do something special for Jackie. He went with her to Target, and helped her to pick out everything she’d need for an apartment, starting a registry. Then, he set up a campaign to raise the money to pay for the registry (now closed), along with an awesome video telling their story. While their original goal was to raise $500, the campaign went viral and they’ve raised more than $6,000, and are now looking to use the extra funding to support other women in need.[6]

We can easily think that we have to be the light of Christ to those on lower social scales than we are. But, how many times have we missed someone being the light of Christ to us and still looked down on the person because they were not in our class, not our race, not from our same country, not our gender?

Christ did not come into the world just so we can choose who we want to help or be in relationship with. Christ came into the world to “seek and to save the lost.”[7] Jesus gives his followers this same command to go into the world and make disciples and teach everything he taught.[8]

God in flesh, Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, is still with us today. He is in the lives of those who seek to help. He is in the lives of those who need the help. He is working in and through medical personnel and caregivers. He is working in and through the lives of missionaries and truck drivers.

Every time we have an opportunity to share and show the love of God through our actions and words, we show people that Christ is still alive and working in this world. His promise is true! He has never left us nor forsaken us.

Because of the incarnation, we can know what God is like. We can know God on a personal level. And, we have many opportunities to walk with others, live life with the “lost” and show a God who is real, who is alive, who is still speaking and working in the world today.

This is much bigger than a simple story we hear at Christmas time.

 

Works Cited

[1]Matthew 28:20 NASB

[2]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[3]Isaiah 66:1 CEB

[4]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[5]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 53

[6]https://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-fredericks/love-your-neighbor-inspiring-story-of-two-friends_b_2127070.html

[7]Luke 19:10

[8]Matthew 28:19-20

Not For Sale

Click here to read Acts 8:5-25.

When you go to a garage sale, one of the first questions asked is “how much is _______?” We want to know how much it is going to cost us to get what we want.

There is a sweet couple who grow produce in their garden. The husband refuses to sell it. Instead, he wants to give it away.

Many people hear about God, the good news of Jesus Christ and the new life he offers, and think, “How can I earn this?” “What do I have to pay?”

We have this mindset to wonder how much something is going to cost us and we begin to figure out if it is worth the asking price.

Here’s the underlying truth about God’s grace. It cost him everything. It costs us nothing. God’s grace is FREE and undeserved. “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed.” (Ephesians 2:8)

In the passage in Acts today, we look at the story of Simon the sorcerer. He sees all of the incredible acts (done by the Holy Spirit) Philip, and then the apostles Peter and John. He was so enamored at the attention they were receiving and realized he could not do what they could. He wanted what they have. So, he offered money to them to try and buy the “power” they possessed.

Think about how this can translate to us in our society today. There is a person who is peaceful and joyful in every situation. This person is one of the most respectful and respectable people in the community. They are in a position of authority and influence and their generosity is unmatched because business has been good. Then we find out this person is a follower of Jesus Christ.

This person can easily be admired, even to the point of others wanting what they have just to be recognized as a good person. So, this person tries to find a church and begins attending. The motives for joining the church (or really any organization) are impure because the underlying thought is “this will make be a better person so I can get the same respect and attention.”

God’s grace does not work this way. The power of the Holy Spirit is not given because we try to purchase it. The price was paid by God on the cross of Jesus Christ. He paid the price so we don’t have to. When we take the time to follow Jesus Christ, learn about who he is in the scriptures, and see how the whole revelation of God changes the world (read Genesis – Revelation), we can see the gift of grace is all because of God’s great love for us and his desire for us to be in good relationship with him and with other people.

I invite you to carefully consider motivations for being part of a group, organization, even church, to see if you are part of it because you want recognition, prestige, praise, etc. If this is you, take time to repent and turn you mind and heart to the things of God. When our heart is open to live into the grace that God freely gives, our lives are transformed from the inside out and we begin to experience life in an incredible way.

Or are you part of it because you sense a great desire to be truly molded into the image of our Creator and follow Jesus Christ with every step of our lives. If this is you, allow God to continue to keep your focus on him and his direction for your life. It will not always be easy; but true and full life is always ready to be lived in and through you.

This is something my wife and I consider daily. Some days are different than others. I’m sure yours are too.

REDEEMED: A Strange Love

We have begun the season of Lent, a time of reflection, repentance, and turning our lives back toward the gospel. Whether you practice the season of Lent or not (the 40 days before Easter not including Sundays), I invite you to begin this practice this year.

Ash Wednesday is the day that begins the Lenten season. In the Methodist Church, there is an invitation to the observance of Lent. This observance to Lent invites us to observe a holy lent. It puts it this way, “the early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty–day season of spiritual preparation…the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith…in the name of the Church…observe a holy Lent: by self–examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self–denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.”

Today, we begin a six week series called “Redeemed” where we focus on what it means to be redeemed by God through Jesus Christ and empowers us with the Holy Spirit.

Our passage today comes from the minor prophet book of Hosea. Take some time to read this passage. (Click link to read Hosea 3:1-5.)

So, reading this passage may seem a little strange. But, what did you notice, what stood out? Why do you think we begin with this passage?

To begin with, let’s think about the characters. The prophet Hosea was sent to be with an adulterous woman. Why would God send Hosea to her? As it says in the passage, it was to show that the people of Israel had lost their way.

Think of it this way. The people of Israel had gone astray from their love for God and chose to live for themselves and worship other idols, and gods. But God did not give up on them. God does not remove any of the consequences for their actions and lifestyle; but He does go to prove He desires for them to be redeemed.

We see this action of redemption through the actions of Hosea. He had to “buy” the woman so she could go with him. Why did he have to buy her? Does this mean she was choosing that lifestyle? Not necessarily. It does mean that she was in a place, a situation, that she needed to leave and be redeemed from.

This is the same with God. We find ourselves in many circumstances and situations in our life. Some of which we put ourselves into and some we are in this state by choice. God does not turn his eye from us. How do we know this?

Look toward the cross. Jesus Christ, God in flesh, lived on this earth. Get that? God came down to redeem, to save, to bring to restoration those who are lost. The good news is that this is us. Jesus Christ offers us new life and chances to turn our life back to God.

Will you take this opportunity? No matter what is going on in your life, or in what situation you find yourself in, God has already paid the price for you and I to be free from our slavery to sin. Get that? You and I are free because of Jesus Christ.

Lent is so much more than just thinking about how good this truth is. Lent is about turning our lives back to God. Always remember the core of the Gospel:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16)

May this Lent be meaningful and bring you closer to the throne of grace. Jesus Christ has done so much. Repent and believe the gospel!

NOTE: This is a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

Posture of Humility

Mark 10:23-26 “Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?”

After the encounter Jesus had with the rich man, the disciples have questions. I think we all would have questions too. I would also guess that we would be just as shocked when Jesus says it’s difficult for the wealthy to enter God’s Kingdom. What does it take?

Jesus told the rich man his possessions we basically his god and was holding on to them too tightly. Now we see Him saying it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven.

This is an interesting remark. The camel and needle was also an ancient saying that many people at that time probably would have known. But, what is Jesus saying? I have a hard enough time trying to thread sewing thread through the eye of a sewing needle. This is our terminology today. There is also a gate that is referred to as the “eye of a needle” that a camel certainly would not have been able to pass through. This was a gate that a person would have to bow in order to enter.

Jesus is saying that someone going through that gate standing tall (prideful, arrogance, etc) would not be able to enter because they wouldn’t humble themselves to bow down to enter the gate.

This is, I believe, what Jesus is talking about here; making sure we are humble enough to acknowledge the One God in humility and place no other Gods before Him.

Our challenge is to see how we can be humble each day and enter into God’s Kingdom, God’s grace, God’s Light today and each day following. Doing this does not make us weak, or even less people. Instead we get to live in the Light of Christ and reflect His light to others to move them into the Kingdom. Humility is a great thing!

What does Jesus say next? That’s tomorrow 🙂