Apprising Ministries has the details concerning Warren creating division in this new piece.
I’m no Scrooge. I don’t object to draping tinsel, jetting off Christmas e-cards, or singing inane jingles about jingling bells. I trust that my family understands that–pagan roots aside–the plastic conifer in our living room is not a subtle mark of our allegiance to the forces of darkness. It’s just a (model of a) tree.
We do, however, prefer singing “Hark the Herald Angel Sings” over the misdirected praise of “Oh Christmas Tree,” though I’m not even fanatic about enforcing that.
We tolerate the poetic inaccuracy of “We three kings of Orient are” because it rolls off the tongue better than “We indeterminable number of Gentile scholars of Persia are.”
But… I am nervous about the potential confusion which may cloud a four-year-old’s faith in my honesty.
Angels on high, a pregnant virgin, God in a manger, a guiding star… are impossibilities. Yet, “all things are possible with God.” [Yes, you need to believe in the virgin birth to be a Christian] We ask our children to trust us on these claims, with their lives. Then we add a fictitious, omniscient fat guy with a red-nosed reindeer to the mix. At a certain age we matter-of-factly disclose that we were just kidding about the chimney intrusion, the Elven workshop, and the works-based naughty-or-nice judgment. “Those parts are make-believe, the rest is gospel truth. Trust me, son.”
Misinformation has a way of taking root in our memories. Do you picture the stable with oxen lowing on a silent night? Were the angels actually singing? Was there a villainous curmudgeon inn keeper? These details are not found in Scripture.
Depending on whom you believe, there are perhaps thousands or even tens of thousands of apostles living and serving in the church today. Never mind that these modern apostles bear little resemblance to the men we read about in the New Testament. In fact, their teaching and their ministries are often radical departures from the apostolic work we see in Scripture.
To help make sense of these claims of modern apostleship, we’ve been examining the biblical characteristics of the New Testament apostles. And when it comes to understanding the office of apostle, we need to consider not just the one called to that office, but the work they were called to do. The New Testament apostles served specific functions in the early church and fulfilled unique ministry duties the Lord had chosen them for.
The gospels indicate that those duties began during the ministry of Christ. Mark 3:14-15 says, “And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons.” As we saw last time, the apostles enjoyed unique relationships with Christ—relationships that would later serve as ministry credentials. But there was also an aspect of basic companionship for Jesus—these men were appointed “so that they would be with Him.” They were Christ’s friends, sharing with Him in all the issues of life.
In addition to friendship with Jesus, they were also appointed to preach. In His final words to them, Christ commanded His apostles to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). In reference to his own apostolic ministry, Paul says he “received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake” (Romans 1:5). The apostles were selected by God to faithfully carry the gospel to the world. And in doing so, they would help lay the theological foundation for the church—we’ll look more intently at that next time.
Christ also bestowed on His apostles the ability to perform miracles. Specifically, “He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing” (Luke 9:1-2).
And in the working of those miraculous signs, the New Testament apostles clearly stand apart from modern apostles and faith healers. To begin with, New Testament miracles did not depend on the faith of the recipients (cf. Acts 3:6-8; Acts 16:18). Nor were New Testament healings performed for money or fame (cf. Acts 8:20). By contrast, healings in the New Testament were always completely successful (cf. Matthew 14:36), undeniable (cf. Acts 4:16; Acts 16:19), immediate (cf. Mark 1:42; Mark 10:52; Acts 3:8), and spontaneous (cf. Matthew 8:14-15; Matthew 9:20-22; Acts 3:1-7). Furthermore, New Testament healings weren’t the main event—they were performed to authenticate the true gospel of God (cf. John 10:38; Acts 2:22; Romans 15:18-19; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4).
Through the power of God, the apostles had comprehensive authority over the natural and supernatural realms. But their miracles weren’t some dramatic sideshow. They performed those miracles not for their own glory, but as verification that they truly represented God and His Word.
The work of the apostles was unique and isolated to the first-century church. No modern apostle can accurately claim to carry on that same work today. Both in their gifts and their duties, the apostles served a specific function in God’s plan for His church—one that simply does not extend into the modern age.
Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B131216 COPYRIGHT ©2013 Grace to You
We really do not know the exact day of Jesus’ birth. However, on December 25th millions of people celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is an annual holiday and one of the most important on the modern Christian calendar. The birth of Jesus is a worthy subject to occupy our minds during any season of the year. Therefore, let us consider the significance of the birth of Christ and what it means to us.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14ESV) The name Immanuel signified that God would live among men and set up His kingdom. (Isaiah 9:6-7) Micah tells us that a ruler would be born in Bethlehem who would bless Israel and the ends of the earth. (Micah 5:2-5)
Jesus’ name signifies salvation from sin…
View original post 189 more words
In his book, Hitler’s Cross, Erwin W. Lutzer analyzes the Nazi agenda for Germany and how the German church responded. Here is a paragraph from the book:
Since Germans had for centuries celebrated Christmas and Easter, Hitler had to reinterpret their meaning. Christmas was turned into a totally pagan festival; in fact, at least for the SS troops, its date was changed to December 21, the date of the winter solstice. Carols and Nativity plays were banned from the schools in 1938, and even the name Christmas was changed to “Yuletide.” Crucifixes were eliminated from the classrooms, and Easter was turned into a holiday that heralded the arrival of spring.
You will recognize the same changes taking place in America today.
 Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson’s complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed., p. 108). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
In this lesson we contemplate the significance of the isolation, humility, and solitary silence of the Messiah’s birth.
In our world today there is never a time of total silence. Never does the world come to a complete stop—with one exception: Christmas Day. Nobody goes anywhere on Christmas Day. Everybody stays at home. Nobody is on the highways. Nobody is out and about. The whole day is a quiet day, unlike any other day we celebrate throughout the year.
I. A Silent Night at the Inn of Bethlehem
II. A Silent Night on the Hillsides Outside of Bethlehem
Frederick Buechner has written a book entitled A Room Called Remember. In this book he tells the story of a snowstorm that took place in New York City in 1947. He said it was an incredible thing. Flakes just kept coming down, and before long, all of the streets were covered. There was no wind, so the snow didn’t blow. It just stayed. Pretty soon, all the traffic in the city was stopped. The subways shut down. Nobody could go anywhere. Everything came to a complete, total stop. Buechner said the thing that overwhelmed him was the silence of it all. He said there was nothing going on in the city. When people stopped to listen to the noise of the city to which they had become so accustomed, there wasn’t any. It was total silence.
A Silent Night at the Inn of Bethlehem
That must have been the way it was on the first Christmas. Luke 2:1–7 tells us it happened like this:
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
This story—so familiar to us—is nevertheless amazing. Hundreds of years before this event, Micah the prophet told everybody it was going to happen. And not only did he reveal that it was going to happen, but he told where it was going to happen! Not only did he single out the town of Bethlehem, but because there were two Bethlehems, he told which of the two it would be. We read in Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” It is incredible that this prophecy was fulfilled as it was in the Christmas story. Think for a moment how—if the Roman census edict had gone out in a different way at a different time, everything would have been changed.
If the conception of the Virgin Mary had taken place six months earlier, Jesus would have been born in Nazareth of Galilee and carried to Bethlehem in Mary’s arms. If the conception had taken place six months later Mary would have already returned to Nazareth, and the Babe would have been born in Nazareth of Galilee. But the edict went out, the conception took place, at exactly the right moment Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem Ephrathah, and in that moment of time—as Micah the Prophet foretold—Jesus Christ was born and became one of us.
I don’t understand all of this, but Luke 2:7 tells us that Mary brought forth her own child. She delivered her own baby. Where were the midwives? Where was the innkeeper and his wife? Where was anyone to help? No one was there. Mary, alone in a quiet place, in a moment of silence, brought forth her child. And into that silent night burst a tiny baby’s cry.
It was that cry that gave hope to a lost world. Someone had come to fix things. Many misunderstood it at the time. Many thought He was going to take away Roman bondage. Little did they know that He had in mind a bondage greater and more eternal than Roman bondage. When that little One cried, it meant that the Messiah had come to earth. In that quiet moment, God had become human, so that as the God-man He could wrap His arms around a lost humanity, and bring that lost humanity to the Father.
A Silent Night on the Hillsides Outside Bethlehem
On the hillside outside of Bethlehem, it was in the cooler season of the year. Shepherds were out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. Nothing special was supposed to happen that night. It was like all the other winter nights when they cared for their sheep and watched over their flocks.
All of a sudden, in that quiet night on the hillside outside Bethlehem there was an interruption. Just as the Baby had broken the silence at His birth, the heavenly choirs came to break the silence of that hillside. In Luke 2:8–14 we read:
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
If we had orchestrated this, if we had written the script, if we were the ones doing this pageant, would we have introduced the Lord Jesus Christ for the very first time to a group of shepherds? We’ve seen so many Christmas programs that most of us are conditioned to think, “Who else?” But in that day it would have been the last thought in your mind, because shepherds were considered ceremonially unclean. They were not allowed to worship in the temple. They were not allowed to go to court and bear witness, because they were the least of all. So God, who chose Bethlehem, the least of all the cities, also chose shepherds, who were the least of all men.
And in the quietness of a silent night, He broke in upon the countryside with an angelic host, praising God, and giving the first gospel message ever preached about the coming of Jesus Christ. What an incredible event!
What was that message? It was the message we need to listen to today: “Fear not.” The circumstances into which Jesus was born are very much the circumstances in which we find our Christmas being celebrated today.
A lot of people “celebrate” Christmas with fear. Yet that first Christmas message was, “Don’t be afraid.” The answer to our fears comes in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Word of God says the ultimate fear is our fear of death. What do we do with death? We need someone who has overcome it, and that’s who Jesus was. He came to overcome death and take away fear.
The angels also proclaimed peace and good will toward men. In fact, in that first gospel message, the angels proclaimed to the shepherds every message we need for our lives today. But don’t get caught up in the song, for the real message was in the Son. It was in the person of Jesus Christ himself.
It was a silent night near the inn at Bethlehem. A Baby cried, and nothing has been the same since. It was a silent night outside of Bethlehem where the shepherds watched their flocks, and the angels came and proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and nothing has been the same since. And for many of us, it was a silent night, a quiet moment, when, in the deepest recesses of our hearts, we knew something was wrong, something was missing. Someone had told us that Jesus Christ came to fix all of that. And in that quiet moment, in that silent night, we invited the Savior of the world to be the Savior of our life. We accepted the one who came to be our Savior and Lord.
Many years ago, my wife and I visited Bethlehem, where there is a church called the Church of the Nativity. Though it is 100 feet by 70 feet in size, you can get into the church only one way. The door into the church is not much higher than a child, and it is only a couple of feet wide. To go into the church, people must—one at a time bend down, stoop, and walk through the door.
I remember thinking, “What an interesting reminder to all of us that entering the kingdom of God is not something that happens in a group. It is an individual experience. Knowing Jesus Christ is like getting into that church. You have to stoop down.”
Too often, that’s the last thing we are willing to do. We are too caught up in ourselves. We are going it alone, thinking we’ve got it all together.
Then, suddenly or gradually, the load of life’s problems on our shoulders finally makes us stoop down. Sometimes it is a moment of reality when we realize that the Word of God says, “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but that way ends in death.” The world would have us believe that we can come to Christ and embrace the Savior through our own efforts, but the Word of God says we must come to Him bowed down in humility, one at a time.
Would it not be a good thing for all of us in the midst of all the frenzied activity of Christmas, to get away for a short time and mediate on what this story really means and how it touches our lives?
Sometimes the most important voices we ever hear are the voices that interrupt the quietness. If you are not sure where you are with that One who came, you need to let Him speak to your heart.
1. Read Luke 2:4.
a. Why did Joseph and Mary have to be in Bethlehem?
b. Why was that significant, in light of:
2 Samuel 7:16–17?
2. If you were watching for Messiah at the time of His birth, what would you have expected?
How does that differ from what actually happened?
3. Read 1 Chronicles 11:2; 17:6; and Psalm 78:70–72.
a. What groups of people were the “shepherds” of Israel in the Old Testament?
b. What group of people would have been the designated “shepherds” of Israel at the time of Christ?
c. To whom did that group of people probably expect God to announce the arrival of Messiah?
d. To whom did the angels announce Messiah’s arrival?
e. Why do you think He did it this way? (See Jeremiah 10:21; 23:1; 25:34.)
4. Read Ezekiel 34:2–16.
a. What parallels can you see between the bad shepherds in Ezekiel and the religious leaders at the time of Christ’s birth?
b. What parallels can you see between God as the Shepherd of His people, and statements Christ made during His earthly ministry?
c. What events spoken of in this passage apparently took place at the birth of Christ?
d. What events spoken of in this passage have not yet taken place?
e. How might the angelic announcement to real shepherds have reminded Jews of this passage?
5. Read Psalm 78:49; 2 Kings 6:7; 19:35; Zechariah 10:3.
a. Why might the shepherds have been frightened at the appearance of an angelic being (Luke 2:9)?
b. What might they have been expecting to follow such an appearance?
c. What, instead, is proclaimed to them?
d. What, then, is the theme of the angelic proclamation in Luke 2:14?
e. What is the shepherds’ response?
Did You Know?
Although most “nativity scenes” picture the Baby Jesus lying in a manger constructed of wood, nearly all mangers found in the archeological digs of Israel were quite different. Used for water or for fodder, they consisted of a rectangular trough carved out of a single piece of limestone or basalt—making them look something like a miniature stone tomb. What this means, of course, is that when at His birth Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, it was a picture of precisely what would be done with His body following His crucifixion.
Light Up Your World
Watch for candles on sale tables throughout the year and gather an assortment of sizes and colors that fit your color scheme. All sizes and shapes can be combined to create a unique centerpiece or focal point. Decorate pillar candles by gluing leaves, glitter, stars, or anything you find interesting. Tie candles together with raffia for a unified grouping.
Clay pots make attractive candleholders and the children can personalize them with paint. For the table, try hollowed-out oranges, apples, lemons, or grapefruits as votive candle holders.
Turn the lights off and sit by candlelight and sing or talk as a family. You may be surprised how the quiet calm of candlelight can bring sweet sanity to a very busy season.
 Jeremiah, D. (1999). Celebrate his love: Study guide (pp. 28–39). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
JESUS WAS PROBABLY NOT BORN ON DECEMBER 25.
The early church did not celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25. In fact, that date was a pagan celebration of the birth of the unconquered sun until early in the fourth century, when Christians vested the date with Christian meaning. Not only that, many of the traditional ways we celebrate (Christmas trees, holly, mistletoe) have their origin in Northern European pagan rites.
Therefore “real” Christians will at minimum feel uncomfortable with the pagan nature of the present date and practices surrounding Christmas, and those who are really committed will renounce the date altogether as a part of their faithful witness to Christ in an increasingly pagan culture.
As a matter of fact, just the opposite. Every time we celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25 with the traditional symbols of Christmas, we are giving testimony to the power and reign of King Jesus. Sometimes, in our effort to offer acceptable sacrifices of praise to God, we miss wonderful opportunities to point to Christ and His work in the world and in our lives.
The celebration of Christmas on December 25 is a testimony to the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in and through the faithfulness of God’s people in the early church.
It started with the birth, life, and death of Christ on a cross. By all human measurements, the movement founded by Christ should have died when He died. The disciples were broken and beaten. Their hopes and their dreams had ended up on a cross. When Peter told the others that he was going fishing, he was facing the fact that his dreams had turned to nightmares. There was nothing left to do but go back to the old ways and the meaninglessness of catching fish. He had been challenged by Christ to catch men—now it was back to the fish.
And then something happened. The dead Man they had followed got up and walked, and He told them they could do it too. Pentecost came with a new power—the spiritual power of a crucified and risen Christ. The world would never be the same.
Those brothers and sisters out-thought, out-lived and out-died all other competitors. The pagan festivals lost their meaning, the pagan beliefs fell apart, and the pagan realities were unmasked for what they were—a mirror of mankind’s desire for God. The old platitudes didn’t work anymore because some men and women had seen the truth. They worshiped a King nobody ever elected and nobody would ever depose.
The story is an exciting one. The road from Bethlehem to Rome was a road bloodied by the death of men and women who refused to bend, break, or compromise. They spit in the face of Caesar and bowed before no human being—except the One who had become human at Christmas.
Will Durant, in the third volume of his monumental The Story of Civilization, wrote:
“Accounts of the loyalty of martyrs who had died, or of ‘confessors’ who had suffered, for the faith were circulated from community to community. ‘The blood of martyrs,’ said Tertullian, ‘is seed.’ There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won” (p. 652).
And so, this Christmas when you are a part of a pagan festival turned Christian, remember those men and women who, by God’s grace, made it so. That was a time when giants walked in the land. As you decorate the Christmas tree, thank the Father for those who have gone before and who, by their faithfulness, made Christmas possible. Then offer a prayer of supplication: “God, do it again. Do it again!”
For instance, the celebration of Christmas on December 25 is a testimony to the God who works in history.
Were history merely the record of mankind’s efforts to climb out of the primordial slime or the register of the dead who were accidental victims of a mindless and uncaring universe, there is a good chance that you and I would still be, assuming we would have even reached the state of paganism, celebrating the winter solstice with the pagan rites from which Christmas emerged. Our protests against those rituals would have nothing to do with their pagan nature. Rather, our protests would surround their superficiality and their powerlessness.
However, history is not mindless. History is the record of a sovereign God’s way with His creation. Hundreds of years before Bethlehem, a group of “nobodies” in the middle of the desert held to an unbelievable proposition. They said that there was one God and that He, and only He, was worthy of worship. Those nomads in the wilderness developed the highest form of ethical monotheism known to man, and no anthropologist has ever adequately explained how they did it. Nevertheless, those old covenant believers maintained their belief for hundreds of years before the events of Bethlehem.
Meanwhile there was another theme of history. It started with the Greeks, Alexander the Great, the Peloponnesian wars, exciting philosophical surmise, and magnificent art and architecture. As the Romans, the greatest military machine the world had ever known, came on the stage of history absorbing the Greeks and their culture, there came with them a common coinage, a road system covering the Western world, a common language and, for the first time in the history of Western civilization, the conditions of peace (the Pax Romana) whereby an idea could reach the whole of that civilization.
From the Jews, Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem. His birth was the affirmation of the beliefs of His people and the answer to the questions of the Greeks and the Romans. For the first time in history, two great themes of history came together and crossed. At that very moment, Jesus was born. If He had been born 70 years earlier, you would never have heard His name. If He had been born 70 years later, the pagan festivals would have remained pagan.
Against the greatest odds, by the end of the third century, the Christian community numbered some 100,000 in Rome. By 300 a.d., a fourth of the population in the East was Christian, and a 20th in the West. Tertullian wrote: “Men proclaim that the state is beset with us. Every age, condition, and rank is coming over to us. We are only of yesterday, but already we fill the world.” Paganism, with all its festivals and all its celebrations, would never again have a hold on mankind.
So, when you celebrate Christmas on December 25 with its former pagan symbolism, think of history. And then think of the sovereign God who smashed the demons of paganism and substituted, through His control of history, the exciting reality of the Word become flesh. Christmas is a symbolic representation of a sovereign God’s victorious purpose in history.
What God has done in history is His promise of what He will do in the future. The principle is this: What God begins, He will complete, and the very fact of its beginning is the promise of its successful completion. Thus Advent is not just a time when we remember what happened. It is a time when we rejoice in what is going to happen.
The wonderful substitution of pagan dates and symbols with the reality and joy of the incarnation of God in Christ is a promise that, in the end, everything that is not of Him will be substituted with that which is of Him. It is the promise and the beginning of a universal recognition of the fact that “of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to Whom be glory forever. Amen.”
So, on December 25, rejoice in the coming of King Jesus. Decorate your tree, deck the halls with boughs of holly, and kiss someone you love under the mistletoe. It is an affirmation not only of the past—it is a celebration of God’s faithfulness, His sovereignty, and His promises.
And when someone looks down an arrogant nose at your celebration of Christmas, tell them that they will probably still go to heaven, but, when they get there, they will find out that they missed a glorious opportunity to point to the One who got them there. ▲
Steve Brown is president of the Key Life Network and professor of practical theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.
 Brown, S. (1993). The Spirit of Christmas past. (R. C. Sproul Jr., Ed.)Tabletalk Magazine, December 1993: Marley’s Message to Scrooge, 7–52.