“And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins. Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying; BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL, which translated means, God with us.” Matthew 1:21-23
We don’t think of that verse as offensive, but more than likely it would have offended the religious leaders of the day. They were being oppressed by Rome. Their country was overrun by foreigners. They were being abused and mistreated at every turn. They wanted a Savior who could save them from the trouble around them. Shockingly Matthew points to the real problem. It wasn’t their circumstances it was their own hearts.
“…He will save His people from their sins.”
How dare he talk to persecuted people like that. How dare he not enter into their pain and ask them how they feel. How dare he accuse them of being sinners.
And so it is. The gospel is offensive. We think our life would be better if we just had different circumstances. If I just had a different wife, husband or different children. Maybe a different church or friends or job. Maybe if my past hurts weren’t so great. The list is endless.
Trouble is everywhere. You can find atrocities sprinkled throughout history. Your circumstances, however horrifying, are nothing new. The sooner we see the problem is within us instead of without us the sooner we are ready to hear the wonderful story of the gospel.
God became man. (Amazing)
God is with us (Incredible)
His purpose? …to save us from our sins. (Freedom at last)
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! II Corinthians 9:15
“I can’t wait for Christmas!!!” My six-year-old granddaughter blurted out to the clerk restocking the shelves at the grocery store. The clerk responded with, “Have you been good this year so Santa will come?”
Arianna looked a little confused and then answered, “Santa’s not real, God’s real.” Now it was the clerk’s turn to be confused. Not knowing just what to say, I smiled, and we moved on down the aisle.
I thought about the conversation all the way home. I don’t think of Santa as evil, but Jesus is so much better.
Santa keeps a list of who is naughty or nice. The theory is he only visits those who have been good. We use it to motivate kids to cooperate with us those last weeks before Christmas, or those gifts aren’t going to show up.
Jesus, on the other hand, came knowing we weren’t nice. We needed a Savior who could save us from our sin. (Matthew 1:21) His coming depended on God’s goodness, not our goodness.
Santa supposedly leaves a lump of coal to those who don’t measure up. Jesus offers complete forgiveness and has taken the punishment we deserve by dying in our place.
Santa lives forever to keep track. Jesus now lives forever to intercede for us before God. (Romans 8:34)
Santa shows up one day a year. Jesus has promised to never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5b-6)
But the most important difference between Santa and Jesus is the one Arianna pointed out so simply. “Santa isn’t real …God is real!” It is fun to pretend, but my belief in God isn’t a fantasy. It is something I have staked my life on. So as you celebrate Christmas this year remember it is about a Savior, not a Santa.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
My son loved marbles. There is something fascinating about them, the color, the design… The thrill of sending them down the hall in quick succession.
My husband collects glass paperweights, which he keeps in a display case. Most of them were his grandmother’s. He has added a few to the collection over the years. Most of them are round.
One day, to my horror, I found our son rolling the beloved paperweights down the hall in quick succession. I yelled, “That’s not what those are for! Those are paperweights!”
He knew they were paperweights. He had looked at them several times under our watchful eye with our explanations of what they were for. But he had a passion for marbles so he didn’t care what their intended purpose was. He wanted to use them as marbles. His wants outweighed what was best for the paperweights. His wants outweighed what the certain punishment for damaging them would be.
Sad to say, they didn’t roll well. They weren’t made for rolling. After being hurled down the hallway most of them had nicks and chips.
When something isn’t used for its intended purpose it doesn’t end well.
A hand painted silk scarf used to mop up the floor.
A Monet used as a dartboard.
An ancient tapestry used as a doormat.
A priceless violin used as a cricket bat.
A crystal vase used as a garbage can.
Each thing is demeaned as it is misused. The creator of each would be saddened to see the intended purpose being ignored for a baser one.
Our society is good at renaming or redefining things. I think of the phrase, “love is all you need”. Love is defined by the feelings of the people experiencing it.
Our bodies can be misused in the same way. God created each of us with a design and purpose. To use our bodies as he designed them is to honor Him. He has made it plain from creation. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, so He created a helper for him. This helper was made from his own rib. He was to love and care for her as his own body. God made them to fit perfectly together.
The laws that followed were very specific as to what was not allowed. It was because God knew what would bring the most happiness. What would be best for the people He had created. God created love (or sex) to be between one man and one woman in a committed marital relationship. It was a good gift.
We have corrupted that gift to include: Sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage, sex with multiple partners, sex with prostitutes, sex with same sex partners, sex with children, sex with animals, sex with ourselves. The list is endless.
Now we even rename what gender we are to suit our own feelings. Men claim to be women. Women claim to be men. Some claim they are fluid, unwilling to pick a gender. Our very DNA tells us what gender we are, but in this case we are not willing to follow the science. We would rather turn our back on the creator God and follow our own passions.
None of us are sinless. We all need forgiveness and grace. But that comes at a cost. The cost is repentance of known sin and a turning back to God. Our society tells us to “follow our heart”. “Be your own person.” But our worth is not found in our deceitful heart or in our sinful person, but in belonging to God, to be used by Him. Our only fulfillment and joy can be found in following Him.
And so begins a poem by George MacDonald, “That Holy Thing”.
This year we are missing the Christmas we were expecting…the Christmas we remember…
Over 2,000 years ago a baby was born. His purpose…to save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21) The focus wasn’t on the corrupt government or the invading armies. He didn’t come to change society, He came to transform hearts. Repentance, not easy living, was His goal.
33 years after he was born He died an awful death at the hands of those He had come to save.
3 days later He rose from the grave in spite of Satan’s best efforts to do away with God’s redemption plan.
40 days later, He ascended into heaven. (Acts 1:9-11)
Now might be a good time to remember some of the promises He made before He left.
John 14:3 …If I go and prepare a place for you I will come again that where I am, there you may be also.
John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.”
John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
We need to remember that…
He is with us,
He died for us,
He has overcome the world,
He is preparing a place for us,
He is coming back to take us home.
There is nothing I would like more than to sit down with each of you and have a cup of tea. I can picture each of you hurrying around getting ready for Christmas with many or few people this year. Most of all I pray that each of you finds the peace that only Jesus can give.
For further study:
..in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. I Corinthians 15:52
Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me in the shadow of Your wings… As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake. Psalm 17: 8 & 15
Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, That the mountains might quake at Your presence – Isaiah 64:1
And rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil. Joel 2:13
I have lived through periods of being overwhelmed. My details aren’t important. Insert your own circumstances into the story I am about to tell you.
One particularly difficult period went on for a few years. I would often talk to God about “this mess that is my life.” I could see no way forward. It was impossible to go back. The circumstances I found myself in were beyond my control and way beyond my ability. It wasn’t a matter of trying harder, it was a matter of being completely undone.
My life was like a train wreck. Twisted metal blocking any clear path.
Sitting crumpled on my living room floor I cried out to God. “This is too hard. I am too weak. I can’t go on.” It was as if He whispered…”Can you get through this hour? I will be with you this hour.” “Take my hand. Moment by moment we will get through this.”
I wanted no part of this train wreck. I wanted a smooth easy existence with blessings floating down to my outstretched hands. God wanted my outstretched hands to be reaching for Him not His blessings.
Severe trouble shifted my focus from things He provides to God Himself. When everything else lay in ruins, God was the only thing left. He was offering to take my hand as I stumbled through the train wreck. The train wreck took years to get through. I still encounter remnants of it. When I do I am reminded of how far God has brought me. From constant, hopeless despair to a moment by moment existence holding tightly to my Father’s hand.
What have I learned? My utter sinfulness. My need, not for new circumstances, but to be right with God. My hope could not be found within myself, but within God’s redemption.
Whatever your circumstances there is hope. Not in yourself, but in God.
We are eternal beings. We will live forever. This life isn’t all there is. You have a choice to make. Living moment by moment with God now and for eternity, or turning away from His outstretched hand to live a miserable existence in this life and the next.
“For God so loved the world, (that means you) that He gave His only Son, (Jesus died for your sins) That whoever (that includes you) believes in Him should not perish (separation from God for eternity) but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV – (notes by me.)
“Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me.” John 14:1
Those are familiar words to all of us. Jesus was talking to his disciples. In a few short hours he would be arrested.
The current situation was alarming. Most of them had no idea how alarming it was. They must have sensed Jesus was on edge, but even though he had tried to tell them of the trouble that was coming they couldn’t comprehend it.
He tried shifting their gaze from earthly trouble to heavenly peace. (John 14:2-3) It is a good place to rest our eyes. These days of sickness, unrest and trouble have been taking it’s toll on our children, our families, our countries, and our world. I can’t remember another time like this in my life. There have been wars, and local trouble, but this trouble is world wide.
What kind of power could make this such a world wide event? I can think of only one. Satan, himself. He is determined to destroy men and turn them against each other and more importantly against God.
We are reminded in Ephesians 6:12
“for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
My granddaughter, Arianna asked me the other day why God didn’t come and make the new heaven and the new earth now. (II Peter 3:13) Why was He waiting?
I paused, because I long for that too. My answer was simple.
God is very patient. He is waiting for those that might yet decide to come to Him.
II Peter 3:8-9 “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Are you one of those He is waiting for? Have you turned to Him in repentance and accepted His forgiveness?
We each have a great need. Our sin has separated us from a holy God. Because He loves us He has made a way for us to come back to Him. Jesus took our punishment on the cross. Paid for our sin. He rose three days later and conquered death. He asks us to repent and believe.
Repentance involves a change of direction. Turning away from selfish and worldly pursuits and a turning to God.
There is trouble now.
I don’t know if it will be temporary or if this is the beginning of the end.
Wouldn’t now be a good time to make things right with God?
Ezekiel 18:32 puts it simply. “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, declares the Lord, so repent and live.”
For further study:
I Peter 5:8
“Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:28b
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.” II Corinthians 6:2
Here it is the start of another year. There is hope for a fresh start, a new beginning. To do better at life than I did last year. But there are old doubts. Can I really begin again? Can God possibly love and forgive me after what I’ve done?
The simple truth is…”If God doesn’t speak to me in my darkest sin, He doesn’t speak to me at all.” Either he is a God who loves even the most vile sinner and longs for them to turn to him or he doesn’t care for any sinner and will condemn us all to hell.
His love is way beyond anything we can imagine and so we imagine his love is like ours. “Fragile, weak and conditional.”
We love those who are kind to us. God loves those who hate him.
We love those who are worthy of our love. None of us are worthy of God’s love.
We love those who we have the energy to love. God loves with a passion that takes our breath away. It is an unending wellspring of love for the people he has created for one purpose only…to love and serve Him.
And yet we put limits on the limitless God. We say, “I have gone too far. He can’t possibly forgive this offense. I have sinned too often. He will not forgive me yet again.”
But we forget that he is the good shepherd who leaves the 99 righteous persons to seek and save the lost one. (Luke 15:4-7)
We forget that he loved people like David who were guilty of sexual immorality, betrayal and murder.
We forget he loved the extremely wicked city of Ninevah enough to send a reluctant prophet to preach them the gospel. Jonah tried to get out of the assignment, but God insisted, and the entire city from least to greatest had the nerve to repent. (Jonah 3:1-10)
Such a heart of forgiveness this God has. So at the beginning of this year I bring my past failures to him. I seek His power in changing who I am. I determine to set my eyes on my only hope. The grace and forgiveness of a God who loves me in spite of who I am.