Christmas Reading: December 10

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2 CSB)

Jesus was born in fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. He was the Jewish King, the Son of David.

And yet, wise men from the east showed up to worship Him. People who were not Jewish wanted to embrace Him as King.

This is a powerful picture of the gospel.  

Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. The gospel is for the Jew first. But Jesus also came to be the King of all peoples. His Kingdom transcends cultural, national, and ethnic boundaries. It’s a home and family for all the peoples of the earth.

Jesus’ Kingdom is a place where unity and diversity are both true and important. 

Intuitively, this is what our hearts want.

We want to stand out. We want to be known for something. We want to be recognized as an individual. (Diversity)

Yet, we also want to fit in. We want to be included. We want a band of brothers. We want a crew. (Unity)

In Jesus, we get both. 

At the cross, there is no distinction. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. All are justified freely by His grace. All individuals who are saved become part of the universal, collective household of God.

At the same time, the cross does not erase our differences. God still knows our name. He still relates to us individually. The glory and honor of the nations is still remembered. The Spirit gifts us each uniquely.

These two realities empower us to respect each other’s differences. They free us to pursue our unique passions. They protect us from thinking too highly of ourselves. They prevent us from elevating ourselves above others. They make us look more like our wonderfully mysterious Triune God.

Jesus is the King for wise men from the east. He’s also the King for wise men from the north, south, and west. Every truly wise man and woman makes the same journey… to worship at Jesus’ feet.

Christmas Reading: December 9

An account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham— (Matthew 1:1 CSB) 

The entire Bible revolves around Jesus. All roads lead to Him. And when Matthew sat down to write his account of Jesus’ life, the Holy Spirit brilliantly inspired him to connect some dots for us.

In Genesis 12, God miraculously appeared to a man named Abraham and began making him a series of promises. One of the promises was this— I will do something great for all the peoples of the earth through your son. 

Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were old and didn’t have any sons, but God is a God of impossible odds— so they believed him. Eventually, Abraham and Sarah had a son named Isaac, just as God promised. Isaac had a son named Jacob, and Jacob had twelve sons. These twelve sons would grow into twelve tribes and become a united nation called Israel.

But as you read their stories, you realize that none of these sons seems to be the promised son. God fulfilled other promises He made to Abraham, but the promised son seemed to be missing. Where was he? When would he come? The rest of the Old Testament is the story of Abraham’s family and the hopeful anticipation of his promised son.

Then, the story takes an interesting turn. In Genesis 49, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, gathers his twelve sons together and gives a prophetic blessing to each of them. To his son, Judah, he says (paraphrasing)— “Kings will come from your tribe, and one of the kings will be a king over all peoples of the earth.”

Hundreds of years later, a young boy named David is born into Abraham’s family, specifically the tribe of Judah, and he’s anointed king. He proves to be a great king who follows God, and a monarchy is started through his line. In 2 Samuel 7, God makes a promise to David — “You will have a son whose kingdom will last forever.” 

As we piece these mini-stories together, it becomes clear that all these promises fit together into a bigger story.

What great thing will God do for all the peoples of the earth? He will establish a great kingdom, with a great king, who will be the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Enter Jesus.

The Bible is not a collection of random, unrelated stories. It’s a collection of Spirit-inspired, unified stories telling one big, true story about Jesus.

Christmas Reading: December 8

Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have. (Luke 24:39 CSB)

When Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb, God was eternally declaring his love for the physical world. God was not joining himself with humanity temporarily, but eternally. In other words, when Jesus became a man, He became one forever. For the rest of eternity He will be fully God and fully man.

As Christians, we can have a tendency to pit the spiritual and material against each other. 

Once I was in a small group when a guy said— My body is just a shell for my soul. My soul is what God really cares about.

People nodded. One girl said— Oh! I love the way you put that! — then wrote it in her journal.

The problem is, that’s not what the Bible actually teaches. God made the material world and called it “good”. He promised the Israelites a land with milk and honey. He entered a womb. He grew in stature. He fed people. He rose from the dead physically, with a glorious body. He promises His followers a glorious body like His. He will return someday to make a new earth.

See, for the Christian, we don’t believe that the spiritual is good and the material is unimportant. As Christians, things like temperature, lighting, music, flavor, smell, soft and hard… they matter! They’re real and important!

God loves and cares for the spiritual and material. 

And this has huge implications.

  • We ought to think carefully about how we relate to the environment. How should we treat plants and animals? How should we care for the sky, oceans, lakes, and rivers?
  • We ought to think carefully about how we construct our churches. What should the architecture be like? What should the space be like? What about the lighting? What about the music?
  • We ought to think carefully about how we treat our bodies. Are we caring for ourselves physically? Are we abstaining from sexual immorality?
  • We ought to think carefully about consumerism. How should we use our money? What kinds of homes should we build/buy? How many “toys” and how much “stuff” should we have?
  • We ought to think carefully about how we care for others’ material and spiritual needs. How can we effectively show people the gospel with our actions? How can we effectively tell people the gospel with our words? Both are important.

Christianity is a wonderfully wise, complex way of seeing the world. 

We can’t totally reject the material world and call it evil or unimportant, because God made it and entered it, permanently validating it. And yet we can’t only embrace the material world because it’s not all there is. There’s an unseen spiritual world that’s eternal and important.

In Jesus, both the spiritual and material come together marvelously. Heaven and earth, perfectly unified.

Christmas Reading: December 7

Although my spirit is weak within me, you know my way. (Psalm 142:3 CSB)

As David wrote this Psalm, he was hiding in a cave, running for his life. His feelings were hurt. He was exhausted. He felt misunderstood and alone. The hero who had killed Goliath, the sexy, young, songwriting-warrior was crying in a cave. He was weak inside.

Our lives are a lot like David’s too, aren’t they? We have moments of triumph… moments where we come out on top. And yet, our lives are also full of sorrow, pain, and tears. We have broken families, lost loved ones, sickness and disease. We’ve had people wound us with their empty promises and hurtful words.

We all know what it’s like to be weak inside.

And the glory of Christianity is that God knows, too. He knows our way.

The Christian God is not a god so highly exalted above our world that he’s apathetic or aloof to our pain and suffering. He’s not an ignorant god sitting in his ivory tower, out of touch with the common man.

No. The Christian God knows our way. He’s on the streets. He gets you. He understands. He’s been there. He’s able to sympathize with your weakness. He’s strong, yet gentle. He’s otherworldly, yet close. He’s Immanuel— God with us.

In The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis illustrates this best. Digory, the main character, is worried about his mother who’s sick. He comes to Aslan, the Lion, with his concern. Here’s what happens—

“But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’ Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.”

When you find yourself with a weak spirit, do you look into the eyes of the God who knows your way?

At Christmas, God demonstrates that his tears over our pain are bigger than ours. But you don’t have to look up to see them. You can look down into the manger.

Christmas Reading: December 6

Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:20b-21 CSB)

Joseph was a righteous man. He was engaged to a great girl. He had a great reputation in his community. People looked up to him, admired him, respected him.

Then Jesus showed up.

For Joseph, life with Jesus meant giving up his reputation. People would never believe his story. They’d either believe he had slept with Mary before they were married, or that he was too much of a pushover to cut things off with an unfaithful fiancé. Either way, he’d lost their respect. His reputation was damaged in the eyes of men even though he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

I think many times as American Evangelicals, we think this is our experience, too. We think that we are innocent of any wrongdoing and yet hated by the world because of our faith in Jesus.

This is not always true.

We have much to repent of. We have historically marginalized minorities. We have opposed political candidates for their sexual immorality if they were Democrats, yet defended them if they were Republicans. We have been arrogant and judgmental while supposedly heralding a message of grace and forgiveness. We’ve been quick to speak and slow to listen. And to make it worse, we’ve been afraid to admit that we’ve done these things.

The truth is, Jesus is the only truly innocent sufferer. Jesus was guilty of no wrongdoing, and yet He identified with us by becoming a man. He stepped into the waters of repentance at His baptism, associated with sinners enough to gain the nickname “friend of sinners”, and was unjustly condemned to death on a cross.

Jesus gave up his reputation in the eyes of men in order to please His Father in Heaven.

 

And why? Because he came to save his people from their sins.

Jesus made it possible in His life, death, and resurrection for us to be forgiven.

The church is at her best when we are humbly confessing our sins, pursuing holiness and justice, and gripping tightly to Jesus and His glorious grace.

That takes courage. And if that costs us our reputation, then so be it.