Category Archives: Christmas Topic/Theme

Schoolgirl, 10, with autism and ADHD stuns the internet with rendition of Hallelujah which has been watched 3 million times around the world

Kayleigh Rogers, 10, performed Leonard’s Cohen’s classic hit for her Christmas concert at Killard House School in Donaghadee, Northern Ireland

Her headteacher Colin Millar told Newsbeat: ‘She’d be a very quiet little girl, but when she sings, she just opens up.

‘She gets so much confidence from the singing. All my kids have talents, as well as barriers, and this is hers.’

Thousands have praised Kayleigh, who normally sings at her Presbyterian church, on social media.

She has autism and ADHD, which results in learning delays with literacy and numeracy

Her performance with her school choir has been enjoyed by stunned viewers from the UK, Australia, America and Japan

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A Christmas Devotion from Charles Spurgeon

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” — Isaiah 7:14

Let us today go down to Bethlehem, and in company with wondering shepherds and adoring Magi, let us see him who was born King of the Jews, for we by faith can claim an interest in him, and can sing, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” Jesus is Jehovah incarnate, our Lord and our God, and yet our brother and friend; let us adore and admire. Let us notice at the very first glance his miraculous conception.

It was a thing unheard of before, and unparalleled since, that a virgin should conceive and bear a Son. The first promise ran thus, “The seed of the woman,” not the offspring of the man. Since venturous woman led the way in the sin which brought forth Paradise lost, she, and she alone, ushers in the Regainer of Paradise.

Our Saviour, although truly man, was as to his human nature the Holy One of God. Let us reverently bow before the holy Child whose innocence restores to manhood its ancient glory; and let us pray that he may be formed in us, the hope of glory. Fail not to note his humble parentage.

His mother has been described simply as “a virgin,” not a princess, or prophetess, nor a matron of large estate. True the blood of kings ran in her veins; nor was her mind a weak and untaught one, for she could sing most sweetly a song of praise; but yet how humble her position, how poor the man to whom she stood affianced, and how miserable the accommodation afforded to the new-born King!

Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendour.

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Five Reasons You Can Trust the Story of Christmas Is True (Free Bible Insert)

Story of Christmas Is TrueDetectives create lists. As a cold-case detective, I’m no different. When investigating an event in the distant past (in my case, an unsolved murder), I collect evidence, make lists and do my best to reach the most reasonable inference. When I began to investigate Christianity at the age of thirty-five, I approached the gospels the same way I approached my cold-case files. Lists were an important part of the process. One New Testament claim was particularly interesting to me: the conception and birth of Jesus. When I first read through the gospels, the birth narratives seemed incredible and unreasonable. I’m not the only person to express such a concern. In an article posted in the Herald Scotland, Reverend Andrew Frater called the Nativity story a “fanciful, fairy tale” and called on Christians to “disentangle the truth from the tinsel”. Frater is a minister and a believer, and even he doesn’t believe in the virgin conception of Jesus. As an atheist, I was even more skeptical. I rejected supernatural claims altogether, and the first Biblical claim about Jesus was a supernatural one. But as I collected the evidence and formed my lists, I found there were many good reasons to trust the story of Christmas. I’ve assembled them here with links to longer treatments of each topic:

Reason 1:
The Supernatural Nature of the Virgin Conception Shouldn’t Disqualify It
When I began to investigate the virgin conception, I was actually investigating my own philosophical naturalism. I was, in essence, asking the following questions: “Is the natural world all that exists?” “Is there anything beyond the physical, material world we measure with our five senses?” “Are supernatural events possible or even reasonable?” In asking these questions, I was putting naturalism to the test. It would have been unfair, therefore, to begin by presupposing nothing supernatural could ever exist or occur. If we want to be fair about assessing the virgin conception or any other supernatural aspect of the nativity story, we cannot exclude the very possibility of the supernatural in the first place. Our presupposition against the supernatural would unfairly taint our examination of the claim.

Reason 2:
The Claim of the Virgin Conception Appears Incredibly Early in Christian History
It’s always easier to tell a lie once everyone who was alive to know the difference has already died. But if you’re going to make a claim early in an area where people are still available to debunk your claim, be prepared to have a difficult time getting away with misrepresentations. The virgin conception of Jesus is one of the earliest claims in Christian history. The students of the gospel authors cited the virgin conception as a true claim about Jesus. Ignatius, the student of John (an Apostle who chose not to write about the birth of Jesus in his own gospel), included it in his early writings to local churches. Other Church leaders repeated the claim through the earliest years of the Church, and the doctrine also appears in the most ancient Church creeds. Even early non-canonicaldocuments include the virgin conception of Jesus.

Reason 3:
The Birth Narratives in Luke and Matthew Are Not Late Additions
Critics, in an effort to argue the birth narratives in Luke and Matthew are not reliable, point to stylistic differences and “content shifting” within the gospels. Critics claim that the Greek language used in the birth narrative section of Luke’s gospel is far more Semitic than other sections. But the fact that this section of the gospel is stylistically or linguistically different than other sections does not mean it was a late addition. Luke told us he compiled the information for his gospel from a number of divergent sources (Luke 1:1-4). As a result, we should expect stylistic and linguistic differences within the gospel of Luke. In addition, any claim related to the late addition of the birth narratives defies all the manuscript evidence available to us; there is absolutely no evidence that the gospel of Matthew and Luke ever existed without the birth narratives. All manuscripts, translations, early Church documents and references to the gospels, along with every historic, reliable witness testifies to the fact that the birth narratives are ancient and part of the original record.

Reason 4:
The Virgin Conception Was Not An Invention of Early Christians
Some critics of the virgin conception argue that the earliest Christian authors inserted it in an effort to give Jesus a “heroic” birth consistent with other Old Testament heroes. But, not every Jewish hero from the Old Testament had an unusual birth story. Joshua, King David and King Solomon are just three of the more obvious examples of powerful Old Testament heroes whose birth stories were less than surprising or unusual. In addition, there is no other character from the Old Testament who was born of a virgin through the miraculous conception of the Holy Spirit. This characteristic of Jesus’ conception is unique to Jesus and follows no pre-existing Old Testament pattern.

Reason 5:
The Virgin Conception Wasn’t Borrowed from Another Source
Skeptics also attempt to discredit the virgin conception of Jesus by claiming it was borrowed from prior pagan mythologies such as those of Mithras or Horus. But any fair examination of pagan mythological birth narratives revels the dramatic differences between the virgin conception of Jesus and stories about the supernatural emergence of mythological gods. While “borrowing” may have occurred between belief systems, the weak resemblances between the Biblical account and pagan mythologies are far more likely the result of the Judeo-Christian influence rather than contamination from a pagan source. It’s irrational to believe the early Jewish readers of the gospels would embrace any part of paganism in the story of Jesus’ conception as continuous with the Jewish narrative from the Old Testament. In addition, early Christian converts were repeatedly called to a new life in Christ, told they were merely travelers passing through this mortal (and pagan) world, called to live a life that was free of worldly influences, and told to reject the foolish philosophies and stories of men. This group, in particular, would be the last to turn to pre-existing pagan stories and superstitions.

If there exists a supernatural Being capable of bringing all space, time and matter into existence from nothing, such a Being could certainly accomplish the virgin conception of Jesus, the Resurrection of Christ, or any of the other “lesser” miracles described on the pages of the New Testament. In addition, there is no historically, textually or philosophically necessary reason to reject the claims of the New Testament authors. If you’re a Christian this Christmas season, celebrate the birth of Jesus with confidence and certainty. The virgin conception is not a fanciful, fairy tale. It is a true story. In fact, there are five good reasons to trust the story of Christmas is factual, reliable and true.

To download a FREE, printable, Bible-sized insert summarizing these five reasons, visit the homepage at http://www.ColdCaseChristianity.com and click the link in the right column.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

Source: Five Reasons You Can Trust the Story of Christmas Is True (Free Bible Insert)

The Grief of Christmas

The grief of Christmas is real. For some, Christmas is a reminder of hurt, deeply-felt pain, and personal sufferings, even as it’s a joyful time of year to celebrate the coming of Jesus as the light of the world with the church, family, and friends.

Maybe this is the way you feel about Christmas. Maybe Christmas invokes a sort of grief that is reminiscent of the weeping of Rachel (Jeremiah 31). Such feelings diminish Christmas celebrations and church services and can cause you to feel distant from the Lord.


At Christmastime, grief becomes a teacher that God uses to direct our hearts back to him.
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The holidays remind us of the past, the death of a loved one, an argument or conflict that goes unresolved. For others, Christmas reminds them of a childhood riddled in poverty, and for others, a gift that was never received. Still there are those who relish in Christmas as a joyous season filled with cookies, parties, movies, and celebrations—so what do we do with grief?

We start with the Christmas story.

Grief in Bethlehem

The story unfolds with Jesus being born. Herod grows upset that the Christ child would take his place on the throne. He didn’t want Jesus to reign. He didn’t believe in Christ. Nor did he recognize his internal darkness.

Overcome by rage, Herod announces an edict that male children, 2-years-old and under, be put to death. Fury comes to the region of Ramah. Christmastime in Bethlehem begins with children dying, mothers and fathers crying, homes shattered with loss.

There is little time to prepare for the grief to come; it comes quickly! There’s utter chaos in Bethlehem. Homes broken into, doors torn down, children ripped from their mothers, little toddlers on the laps of their fathers snatched away to be put to death. Soldiers grimace as they kill innocent children. No one is immune to the horrific scene.

Rachel’s Grief Fulfilled

Matthew’s testimony of Jesus’ birth is a direct fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15. He reminds the reader that grief struck Israel several times in its history through slavery and exile, and here, grief is personified through Rachel’s weeping. Rachel’s children are led into exile, and the weeping she feels is connected with the incarnation:

Thus says the Lord:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.”

So how does Ramah connect with Bethlehem, where Jesus is born? Ramah and Bethlehem are not far from each other. Ramah is north of Jerusalem and Bethlehem is south, with about 11 miles between both places. Rachel’s weeping at Ramah connects the reader to the grief of Bethlehem.

Rachel grieves because she will no longer see her children. Rachel also grieves for the children in Jesus’ day who will never be seen again in this life. Rachel weeps because grief is real, and so do we.

How to Respond to Grief

At Christmastime, grief becomes a teacher that God uses to direct our hearts back to him. We look at Rachel’s grief, and how it points to Bethlehem’s grief, and we wonder: How should we respond at Christmas when grief is melded together with such a time of joy?

1. We comfort the depressed of heart with words of counsel (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Counsel the depressed with the scriptures. Offer biblical passages that grant hope, sustain life, and refresh the weary and burdened heart. Couch your words with grace and mercy, never accusing, but blessing and listening to the broken. Comforting words are needed in times of grief. Our weeping with grieving people might be the very tool that God uses to help those burdened with sin, doubt, and pain.

2. We preach to ourselves that true hope is found in the Lord (Psalm 42:11).

Maybe you’re the one grieving. Preach the gospel to your grief to reaffirm the sufficiency of God’s Word, which brings life to the soul. What do we preach? We preach that our sins have been removed (Psalm 103:12). We search out those areas where our hearts are prone to wander from the Lord (Isaiah 53:6). Then we read, meditate on, and quote aloud the promises of God that sin has been covered by Christ (Romans 4:7-8).

3. We remember that earthly griefs are temporary moments to prepare us for eternal joy (1 Peter 4:12-13).

The birth of Christ on that evening in Bethlehem ushered in a profound grief during the first Christmas in Bethlehem. God delivers Joseph, Mary, and Jesus from Herod’s hand. But those left in Bethlehem experience grief unimaginable that shows how this present life is preparing us for an eternal joy. For we hope in Christ. God’s promise is sure. We will arrive out of grief, and our faith will become more genuine than precious gold, causing us to rejoice with inexpressible joy.

May you see Rachel’s grief and the real hardship surrounding Jesus’ birth at Christmas as windows into other peoples’ grief, and may the hope of Christ encourage you both to grieve and help the grieving during the holiday season.

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The post The Grief of Christmas appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

10 Things You Should Know about the Incarnation

This is a guest post by Stephen J. Wellum, author of God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ.


1. The person or active subject of the incarnation is the eternal Son.

John 1:14 is clear: “The Word became flesh.” In other words, it was the Son from eternity who became incarnate, not the divine nature. The Son, who is in eternal relation to the Father and Spirit, willingly humbled himself and chose to assume a human nature in obedience to his Father and for our salvation (Phil. 2:6-8).

2. As the eternal Son, the second person of the triune Godhead, he is the full image and expression of the Father and is thus fully God.

Along with the Father and Spirit, the Son fully and equally shares the divine nature. As the image and exact correspondence of the Father (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3), the Son is fully God. All of God’s perfections and attributes are his since Christ is God the Son (Col. 2:9). As the Son, he participates in the divine rule, receives divine worship, and does all divine works as the Son (Ps. 110:1; Eph. 1:22; Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:2-3; Rev. 5:11-12).

3. As God the Son, he has always existed in an eternally-ordered relation to the Father and Spirit, which now is gloriously displayed in the incarnation.

It was fitting that the Son alone, who is from the Father by the Spirit, became incarnate and not the other divine persons (John 1:1-2, 14, 18). In the incarnation, the Son displayed his divine-filial dependence on the Father and always acted in relation to the Father by the Spirit (John 5:19-30; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1-21). From eternity and in the incarnation, the Son never acted on his own or independently but always in relation to and inseparably from his Father and the Spirit.

4. The incarnation is an act of addition, not subtraction.

In the incarnation, the eternal Son who has always possessed the divine nature has not changed or set aside his deity. Instead, he has added to himself a second nature, namely a human nature consisting of a human body and soul (Phil. 2:6-8). As a result, the individual Jesus is one person—the Son—who now subsists in two natures, and thus is fully God and fully man.

5. The human nature assumed by the divine Son is fully human and completely sinless.

Christ’s human nature was unfallen and untainted by the effects of sin. Our inborn inclination to anti-God rebellion was not part of Jesus’s human makeup. Jesus fully experienced the effects of living in a fallen world, but he did not share the guilt or disposition of Adam’s sin passed on to the human race. In fact, Jesus never committed a sin, nor could he (Matt. 3:15; John. 8:46; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 1:19). Although he was tempted like us, he perfectly obeyed his Father, even unto death, as our covenant mediator, thus accomplishing our salvation as the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 5:5-10).

6. The virgin conception was the glorious means by which the incarnation took place.

The incarnation was thoroughly supernatural and a demonstration of our triune God’s sovereign and gracious initiative to redeem his people (Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38). The virgin conception was the time and means by which the divine Son added to himself a human nature. By the virgin conception, the triune God created a new human nature for the Son, and as a result of this action, in Jesus, we truly meet God face-to-face, not indwelling or overshadowing human flesh but in full undiminished glory. Although we behold Jesus as a man, he is much more; he is the Lord, the divine Son who humbles himself and veils his glory by becoming one with us.

7. From conception, the Son limited his divine life in such a way that he did not override the limitations of his human nature.

As a result of the incarnation, the divine Son lives as a true man with the normal physical, mental, volitional, and psychological attributes and capacities of original humanity. As the incarnate Son, he experienced the wonder and weaknesses of a completely human life. He grew in wisdom and physical stature (Luke 2:52), experienced tears and joy, and suffered death and a glorious resurrection for his people and their salvation (John 11:33, 35; 19:30; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).

8. But the Son was not limited to his human nature alone since he continued to act in and through his divine nature.

This truth is best demonstrated in the incarnate Son’s continuing to sustain the universe (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3), alongside Christ’s other divine actions during his life and ministry. In Christ, there are two natures which remain distinct and retain their own attributes and integrity, yet the Son is able to act through both natures. For this reason, the Son is not completely circumscribed by his human nature; he is also able to act outside of it in his divine nature.

When and how the Son acts through both natures is best explained in terms of Trinitarian relations worked out in redemptive history for the sake of our salvation. The Son, who has always inseparably acted from the Father and by the Spirit, continues to do so but now as the obedient Son acting as our covenant representative and substitute. In the incarnation, neither the Son’s deity nor his humanity is diminished.

9. By taking on our human nature, the Son became the first man of the new creation, our great mediator and new covenant head.

As the Son incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ in his life, death, and resurrection, reverses the work of the first Adam and forges ahead as the last Adam, our great trailblazer and champion (Heb. 2:10). As a result of the incarnation, God the Son becomes perfectly qualified to meet our every need, especially our need for the forgiveness of our sin (Heb. 2:5-18; 7:22-28; 9:15-10:18).

10. God the Son incarnate is utterly unique and alone Lord and Savior.

Jesus is in a category all by himself. Given who God is in all of his glory and moral perfection, and what sin is before God, apart from the Son’s incarnation and his entire work for us, there is no salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:11). As the divine Son, he alone satisfies God’s own judgment against us and the demand for perfect obedience (Rom. 5:12-21). As the incarnate Son, he alone can identify with us as our representative and substitute (Heb. 5:1). Our salvation hope for the payment of our sin and our full restoration as God’s image-bearers is only accomplished in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 3:21-26; Heb. 2:5-18).


Stephen J. Wellum (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Stephen lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife, Karen, and their five children.

Source: 10 Things You Should Know about the Incarnation

What We Celebrate at Christmas

In this excerpt from What Did Jesus Do?, R.C. Sproul reminds us that what we really celebrate at Christmas is the incarnation of God Himself.

Transcript

What we celebrate at Christmas is not so much the birth of a baby, as important as that is, but what’s so significant about the birth of that particular baby is that in this birth we have the incarnation of God Himself. An incarnation means a coming in the flesh. We know how John begins His gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So in that very complicated introductory statement, he distinguishes between the Word and God, and then in the next breath identifies the two, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then at the end of the prologue, he says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Now in this “infleshment,” if you will, of Christ appearing on this planet, it’s not that God suddenly changes through a metamorphosis into a man, so that the divine nature sort of passes out of existence or comes into a new form of fleshiness. No, the incarnation is not so much a subtraction as it is an addition, where the eternal second person of the Trinity takes upon Himself a human nature and joins His divine nature to that human nature for the purpose of redemption.

In the 19th century, liberal scholars propounded a doctrine called the kenotic theory of the incarnation, and you may have heard it, the idea being that when Jesus came to this earth, He laid aside His divine attributes so that the God-man at least touching His deity no longer had the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and all the rest. But of course, that would totally deny the very nature of God, who is immutable. Even in the incarnation, the divine nature does not lose His divine attributes. He doesn’t communicate them to the human side. He doesn’t deify the human nature, but in the mystery of the union between the divine and the human natures of Jesus, the human nature is truly human. It’s not omniscient. It’s not omnipotent. It’s none of those things. But at the same time, the divine nature remains fully and completely divine. B. B. Warfield, the great scholar at Princeton, in remarking on the kenotic theory of his day said, “The only kenosis that that theory proves is the kenosis of the brains of the theologians who are propagating it.”—that they’ve emptied themselves of their common sense.

But in any case, what is emptied is glory, privilege, exaltation. Jesus in the incarnation makes Himself of no reputation. He allows His own divine exalted standing to be subjected to human hostility and human criticism and denial. “He took the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men.” This is an amazing thing that He doesn’t just come as a man, He comes as a slave. He comes in a station that carries with it no exaltation, no dignity, only indignity. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient even to the point of death,” the shameful death of the cross.

Source: What We Celebrate at Christmas

10 Things You Should Know about Christmas

Herod tried to kill Jesus (Matt. 2:16). There was no place for Jesus in the inn (Luke 2:7). Even though the world was made through Jesus, the world didn’t recognize him (John 1:11). Many didn’t welcome the birth of the Christ child. The reason for this was primarily that Jesus threatened people’s self-interest. Sinful people love sin more than God and refuse to come to the light lest their sin be exposed (John 3:19–21).

  1. Jesus is the reason for the season.

The primary purpose for observing Christmas is remembering Jesus’s birth. At Christmas, we celebrate Jesus’s birthday, not the little drummer boy or Santa Claus!

  1. Jesus preexisted with God in the beginning before the world began.

Jesus’s birth as a baby in a Bethlehem manger doesn’t mark the beginning of his existence. Rather, as John’s Gospel teaches explicitly (John 1:1, 14) and the other Gospels imply, Jesus took on human flesh in addition to existing eternally as part of the Godhead.

  1. Jesus’s birth was the culmination of centuries of messianic expectations.

Jesus’s coming occurred in fulfillment of messianic expectations including his birthplace, virgin birth, and other details surrounding his advent. Later, during his earthly ministry and particularly in his death on the cross, Jesus fulfilled many more messianic patterns and predictions.

  1. We should distinguish between cultural and biblical Christmas.

We must separate fact from fiction, and historic, biblical truths from mere Christmas traditions. This includes Santa Claus, presents, reindeer, Christmas trees, and other paraphernalia. Not that these customs are necessarily harmful or unhelpful but they are unhistorical. Jesus’s birth, however, isn’t a legend; it’s historical fact.

  1. Jesus’s birth is part of a larger cluster of events that culminates in Jesus’s death for our sins as God’s suffering servant.

Jesus wasn’t only born as a baby, he grew up as a young man who knew the Scriptures. Then, when he was about thirty years old, he began his public ministry, healing many, exorcising demons, raising the dead, and commanding the forces of nature. In keeping with his own predictions, he died, was buried, and after three days rose from the dead. While at Christmas we celebrate Jesus’s birth, we should remember that it is part of a life unlike any other that brought us salvation and forgiveness from sins.

  1. Jesus, the Son of God, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in his mother Mary’s womb.
  2. There is no incarnation without the virgin birth.
  3. Jesus’s birth was accompanied by rejection.
  4. Jesus came to make a second, spiritual birth possible for those who believe in him.
  5. Jesus’s coming marks the ultimate sacrifice.

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The Forever-Exalted Christ

The Forever-Exalted Christ

Hebrews 1:3

Code: B161222
by John MacArthur

We shouldn’t be deceived by the size and seeming vulnerability of the baby in the manger. Jesus Christ is the creator and ruler of the entire universe—and His incarnation didn’t alter that. Even in His infancy, He was supreme to everything else, in every possible way.

That’s the central thesis of the book of Hebrews. In the opening verses of that epistle, the writer outlines seven facets of Christ’s preeminence in his opening statement:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:1–3, emphasis added)

We examined the first four of those aspects—Christ’s role as God’s heir, Creator, radiance, and image—in the previous post. Today we’ll take a look at the last three.

Christ Has Ultimate Authority

Jesus Christ has always been upholding “all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). Last time we considered His role as the Creator of the entire universe, material and nonmaterial. But Christ’s authority goes far beyond that: He upholds and sustains all that He has created.

No scientist, mathematician, astronomer, or nuclear physicist could do anything or discover anything apart from the sustaining power and authority of Christ. The whole universe hangs on His powerful arm, His infinite wisdom, and His ability to control every element and orchestrate the movements of every molecule, atom, and subatomic particle.

For example, if the size of the earth’s orbit around the sun increased or decreased even the slightest amount, we would soon fatally freeze or fry. If the earth’s angle of tilt went beyond its present range even slightly, that would drastically disrupt the familiar four-season cycle and threaten to end life on the planet. Similarly, if the moon’s orbit around the earth diminished, the ocean tides would greatly increase and cause unimaginable havoc. And if our atmosphere thinned just a little, many of the thousands of meteors that now enter it and harmlessly incinerate before striking the ground would crash to the surface with potentially catastrophic results.

Jesus Christ prevents such disasters by perfectly maintaining the universe’s intricate balance. The most astronomical distances and largest objects are not beyond His control. The most delicate and microscopic processes do not escape His attention. He is the preeminent power and authority who nevertheless came to earth in human form, assuming a servant’s role.

Christ Removes Our Sins

The sixth aspect of Christ’s preeminence deals directly with our salvation. Hebrews 1:3 expresses it this way, “He had made purification of sins.” Jesus, by His atoning death, brought about the purification or cleansing of our sins.

The Old Testament priests offered animal sacrifices over and over, but none of those could ultimately remove the people’s sins. Those repeated sacrifices instead merely pointed to the desperate need for a once-for-all sacrifice that could finally take away sins. And God provided such a sacrifice in the person of Jesus. As the writer of Hebrews later wrote, “So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28); “for by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).

In keeping with the Old Testament Law that the sacrificial lamb had to be spotless, the final New Covenant sacrifice had to be a perfect, sinless substitute. To pay the price of sin for others, He had to be perfect or He would have had to pay the price for His own sin. And since no one in the world is without sin, the substitute had to be someone from outside the world. Yet He still needed to be a man to die in the place of men and women.

Of course, the only person who could meet those requirements was Jesus Christ. He was the sinless man who could be the perfect substitute for sinners. By offering Himself to die on the cross, He took the full wrath of God for sinners like you and me. That wrath, which was originally directed toward us, was then satisfied. Thus God can forgive you because Christ paid the penalty for your sin.

So one of the preeminent glories of Christ is that, as the God-Man, He came to die for sinners. And He died on the cross to accomplish redemption. Immediately prior to His death, Jesus uttered these profound words, “It is finished!” (John 19:30); once and for all He paid the price for sins for everyone who would ever believe in Him.

Christ Is Exalted in Heaven

The author concludes his marvelous outline of the preeminence of Christ by affirming His exaltation: “[He] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).

Christ’s ministry on earth ended forty days after His resurrection when He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9–11). And when He returned there, God seated Him at His right hand (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2), which always symbolized Christ’s power, authority, prominence, and preeminence (Romans 8:34; 1 Peter 3:22). Paul says that at that point God gave Him a name above all names—“Lord,” which is the New Testament synonym for Old Testament descriptions of God as sovereign ruler (Philippians 2:9–11).

When Jesus went into heaven, He did what no Old Testament priest ever did—He sat down. They never sat down while ministering because their work was never done. But Christ’s work was done; He had accomplished the work of redemption on the cross, and therefore it was appropriate for Him to sit down. He remains on the right hand of the throne of God as the believer’s great High Priest and Intercessor (Hebrews 7:25; 9:24).

When you read and study Hebrews 1, the wonderful truth of Jesus Christ’s preeminence and superiority shines forth from every verse. You can’t miss it, whether it’s in His inheritance of all things, His agency in creation, His essential nature as God, His atoning death for sinners, or the various ways in which He is superior to the angels. The entire chapter effectively proclaims the Messiah’s true identity and rightful position.

It ensures that when you consider the baby in the Bethlehem shelter, you don’t merely see an adorable child who grew up to be a good teacher and compassionate healer. The passage points you beyond that and to an accurate understanding of the person and work of Christ. The writer, through careful, Spirit-inspired argumentation, declares irrefutably that the Child born to Mary was indeed God in the manger. He truly was the Son of God, miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit yet born naturally to a woman in Israel. And without doubt He was the Lord and Savior who lived a perfect life and died as a perfect sacrifice so that all who believe in Him might have eternal life.

(Adapted from God in the Manger.)


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B161222
COPYRIGHT ©2016 Grace to You

The Incarnate Image of God

The Incarnate Image of God

Hebrews 1:1-3

Code: B161220
by John MacArthur

At Christmas most of the world sees Jesus as a baby in a manger—nothing more. But considering its innate love for sin and hatred for God, we should not be surprised by that shallow perspective.

What ought to concern us is that many believers fall into the same myopic trap around this time of year. Caught up in the trappings and traditions of the season, they quickly lose sight of why we’re celebrating Christ’s birth in the first place. In simple terms, their emphasis on Christ’s infancy blinds them to His supremacy.

The writer of Hebrews opens his epistle with a vivid reminder of the One who took on flesh for our sake.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:1–3)

The writer of Hebrews begins His epistle by describing the incarnation as the supreme revelation of God. And although the writer may have personally known the Lord as a man who walked this earth, he was also acutely aware of Christ’s eternal superiority over all things. The preeminence of Christ forms the central theme of his letter and he begins by pointing out seven key aspects. We’ll examine four of them today.

Christ Is the Heir of All Things

The first aspect of Jesus Christ’s preeminence concerns His inheritance: “whom He appointed heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). That is an unqualified statement asserting that God has planned for Jesus ultimately to inherit absolutely everything. It adheres to Jewish inheritance laws that said the firstborn child received the wealth of the family’s estate.

Because Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, He is logically the firstborn Son as well. Therefore, Christ is the heir of all that God has. The psalmist predicted this very reality, “I [God] will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession” (Psalm 2:8). Everything in the created order, whether the material or spiritual world—everything God has ever created—belongs to Jesus Christ.

It’s amazing to think that a Galilean carpenter, crucified on a cross outside Jerusalem, is actually the heir to the universe. Admittedly, when Jesus was on earth He owned little or nothing. One thing He did own was His cloak, and the Roman soldiers gambled for ownership of that while He was on the cross. He was even buried in a borrowed grave. But some day, all that exists will belong to Christ, and everyone—people, angels, and all powers in the universe—will bow before Him. “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10).

It’s also incredible to realize that believers will be joint heirs with Christ: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16–17). If you know Christ, you are a part of His bride, the church, and He, the Bridegroom, allows you to share His inheritance. And someday you will see Him return as King of kings and Lord of lords to make final claim of His inheritance and exercise sovereign, everlasting rule over all that exists. Therefore, once you say Jesus is Lord, you also say He is the heir of all things.

Christ Is the Creator of All Things

The second aspect of Christ’s preeminence listed in Hebrews 1 is His power in creation: “through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:2). That statement is perfectly consistent with John 1:3, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (cf. Colossians 1:16). Jesus created everything, both the material and nonmaterial parts of the universe. And His creatorship is a characteristic of our Lord—second only to His sinlessness—that really sets Him apart from us.

The Greek word rendered “world” in Hebrews 1:2 does not mean the material world but “the ages,” as it is usually translated elsewhere. Christ created not only the physical earth, but also time, space, energy, and every variety of matter. He effortlessly created the entire universe and finished it as something good. For that reason, the creation, which was marred by humanity’s sin, longs to be restored to what it was originally (Romans 8:22)—and one day Christ will create a new and perfect heaven and earth.

Christ Is the Radiance of God’s Glory

The writer of Hebrews further establishes the preeminence of Christ by citing that “He is the radiance of His [God’s] glory.” “Radiance” literally means “to send forth light.” It indicates that Jesus is the manifestation of God to us. Just as the sun’s rays illuminate and warm the earth, Christ is God’s glorious light that shines into the hearts of people. And as the sun cannot be separated from its brightness, so God cannot be separated from the glory of Christ.

Jesus Christ is the radiance of who God is, and He affirmed that fact during His earthly ministry: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). Christ can transmit that light into our lives so that we can radiate the glory of God to others. God sent His glorious light, in the person of Jesus Christ, into a morally dark world to call sinners to Himself. No one would ever be able to see or enjoy God’s true radiance if it weren’t for His Son and those who know Him.

It is truly a blessing to know that Jesus Christ can come into your life and give you the spiritual light to see and believe God. Jesus’ brightness points you to salvation, which in turn results in purpose, peace, joy, and genuine fellowship for all eternity.

Christ Is the Essence of God

Hebrews 1:3 goes on to declare a fourth element of the preeminence of Christ, namely, that He is “the exact representation of His nature.” Jesus possesses the essential nature or being of God the Father. That is, He has all the attributes that are indispensable to who and what God is, such as immutability (unchangeableness), omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. He is the exact stamp or replication of God. In the words of the Nicene Creed, Jesus Christ is “very God of very God.”

The apostle Paul teaches us basically the same truth in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Here, unlike Hebrews 1:3, the Greek word translated “image” is eikon, from which we get the English term icon, meaning a precise copy or reproduction. But both verses communicate the same truth. Christ possesses the essential nature of God and manifests the attributes of God. In His being, Jesus is what God is, and in His person He displays that essence to everyone who sees Him.

This season you may find yourself standing with others to admire a manger scene. Perhaps you can ask the person next to you, “Do you know who that baby is—who He really is?”

(Adapted from God in the Manger.)


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B161220
COPYRIGHT ©2016 Grace to You

What To Do With Your Unsaved Relatives This Christmas

The whole goal is to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). Perhaps God will give you the opportunity to share the gospel with them. If not this Christmas, maybe next. Keep praying for their salvation. Who knows, God may do something in the future that will make them open to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Many of us have unsaved relatives we see infrequently, or only once a year at Christmas. What if they’re not open to the gospel? Maybe they’re downright opposed to Christ. What if God has yet to open a door to share the good news with them? What’s a believer to do? Here are some suggestions.

1. Pray

Before they come, pray that the Lord would open doors for the gospel and give you an opportunity to share it with them. Ask the Lord for a sincere love for them, the grace serve them and that they would see Christ in you.

2. Serve

I can easily sink into a selfish malaise at family gatherings, especially after meals. I can find myself lying on the couch drifting into oblivion or staring comatose-like at the television. But by God’s grace, I want to look for opportunities to serve. It may be something as simple as clearing the table or doing dishes. Unbelievers are watching us. Let our goal be to show them Christ, who did not come to be served but to serve and give his life for others.

3. Serve their Children

Before family get-togethers I have often told my kids that our goal for the evening is to try to make sure our relatives have the best time they possibly can, especially their children. Serve your relatives’ children, and encourage your children to serve their children. For many years after our Thanksgiving meal with relatives, I would do a Christmas craft with all the kids. We’d make Christmas ornaments with Play Dough or 3-d Christmas trees out of construction paper, glitter and beads.

Remember, Jesus welcomed children, blessed them, and said that when we receive a child in his name we receive him.

4. Take an Interest in Them

Seek to take a sincere interest in your relatives. Ask them about their jobs, hobbies and interests. Ask them what kind of Christmas traditions they had as kids. Ask them about their favorite childhood Christmas presents or memories. Ask them about their health if you are aware of any problems. You could offer to pray for them if it seems appropriate.

Look to the interests of others as Christ looked to our interests.

5. Let your light shine

The whole goal is to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). Perhaps God will give you the opportunity to share the gospel with them. If not this Christmas, maybe next. Keep praying for their salvation. Who knows, God may do something in the future that will make them open to the good news of Jesus Christ.

And remember, God longs to save your relatives, even more than you desire to see them saved. As he says in 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God wishes no one to perish, but all to be saved. As you love and serve your relatives, it will be Christ loving and serving them through you.

Mark Altrogge has been the senior pastor of Saving Grace Church of Indiana, PA for over 25 years, and is the author of many well-known worship songs such as “I Stand In Awe”, and “In The Presence”. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.

The post What To Do With Your Unsaved Relatives This Christmas appeared first on The Aquila Report.

Do You Share the Complete Christmas Message?

Suppose you arrive home from work one day and find a white envelope, addressed to you, taped to the front door. You slide your finger under the back flap to open the envelope, which contains a single white piece of paper. On it a simple message is typed: Lunch at Calhoun’s Café.

The meaning is clear. You know what is being offered and where it will be offered, but the message is incomplete. You don’t know who has invited you, who will be paying for the lunch, when you should go to the café, or why you should go there.

A clear message is worthless unless it’s also a complete message.

An Incomplete Christmas Message

This time of year, we often receive incomplete messages about Christmas. For example, everyone from celebrities to congressmen to clergy emphasizes the need for peace among nations, ethnicities, and families. And whether we’re sitting in a church pew or shopping at a mall, we hear songs about peace on earth. The what is clear: peace on earth. The how, when, and who, however, is frequently omitted.

One peace-on-earth song that may be familiar to you is “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” written by Edmund Sears. Reflect on the words of the first stanza:

It came upon the midnight clear,

That glorious song of old,

From angels bending near the earth,

To touch their harps of gold;

“Peace on the earth, good will to men,

From Heaven’s all gracious King.”

The world in solemn stillness lay,

To hear the angels sing.

The angels’ message is clear: “Peace on earth, good will to men.” In this case, we also know who sent the message: “Heaven’s all gracious King.”

But does the song convey a complete message?

Missing the Point

When Sears wrote the lyrics of this Christmas carol in 1849, the nation was churning with conflict—not over election results but over national policy. Would states entering the union be Free States or Slave States? The horrific details about slavery revealed in Frederick Douglass’s 1845 autobiography, as well as the escape of Harriet Tubman and the formation of the Underground Railroad, divided both families and states. Sears, a Massachusetts’ clergyman, and hundreds of other abolitionists grieved the horrors of slavery and fought for the dignity of every person, regardless of race.

Note Sears’s longing for peace in this stanza:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife

The world has suffered long;

Beneath the angel strain have rolled

Two thousand years of wrong;

And man, at war with man, hears not

The love-song which they bring;

O hush the noise, ye men of strife

And hear the angels sing.

But, as he observed in another stanza, “the Babel sounds” of human conflict have drowned out the angels’ “heavenly music”:

Still through the cloven skies they come

With peaceful wings unfurled,

And still their heavenly music floats

O’er all the weary world;

Above its sad and lowly plains,

They bend on hovering wing,

And ever over its Babel sounds

The blessèd angels sing.

So Sears urges those “beneath life’s crushing load” to look away from the painful, weary, conflict-filled world in which they live and be encouraged by the angels’ message:

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,

Whose forms are bending low,

Who toil along the climbing way

With painful steps and slow,

Look now! for glad and golden hours

Come swiftly on the wing.

O rest beside the weary road,

And hear the angels sing!

Ironically, though, Sears fails to mention—even once in the carol—the one person who can “hush the noise” of human strife and bring peace. And that’s an omission thousands of other people have made and continue to make.

Our Only True Peace

The peace equation will never be solved apart from Jesus. Any heartfelt plea or suggested solution that omits his name will ultimately result in discord, not peace.

Yes, the angels began with a promise of “good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10 ESV). But before they mentioned “peace on earth” in verse 14, they proclaimed the only way peace on earth would ever be possible: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11 NIV).

The sequence cannot be disregarded: The Savior, Christ the Lord, has been born, and therefore peace will be possible.

Note too the wording of Luke 2:14. The angels said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Again, the sequence is crucial to the complete meaning of their message. Yes, there will come a day when Jesus will be given “the throne of his father David,” and “his kingdom will never end” as Gabriel told Mary (Luke 1:32-33 NIV). But in Luke 2, the angels are proclaiming peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.

The Complete Christmas Message

Colossians 1:19-20 clarifies that part of the angels’ message: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross” (NIV). Until Jesus returns to earth, the only peace possible is the personal peace of a life reconciled to God. That’s the current fulfillment of the angels’ proclamation of peace on earth.

So let’s avoid Sears’s mistake this Christmas. Let’s not communicate an incomplete Christmas message by suggesting the possibility of peace apart from Jesus. When others speak of peace, let’s bring the Prince of Peace into the conversation. When others focus on conflict, let’s offer the hope of unity in Christ. When someone asks why there’s so much hatred, let’s highlight the love of God for every individual.

Peace on earth is a message our world needs to hear, but it needs to hear the complete message: peace on earth through the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ the Lord.

With whom can you share that message today?

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The post Do You Share the Complete Christmas Message? appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

Christ’s Supremacy Before the Manger

Christ’s Supremacy Before the Manger

Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:1-3

Code: B161219
by John MacArthur

What do you think about when you see a nativity scene? We might recognize the baby in the manger as God in flesh. But seeing Christ as a helpless and vulnerable infant can delude us into thinking that the humility of the incarnation was not isolated to His physical form—that somehow, His deity was also diminished.

And it’s easy to read the birth narratives in the gospel accounts without gaining a full sense of Christ’s eternal glory and supremacy. Those attributes figure more prominently at the end of His earthly sojourn rather than the beginning.

The birth narratives in the gospel accounts place Christ at the center of the story, but all the action happens around Him. There’s the amazing appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce that she would bear God’s Son. There’s the unprecedented account of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds. And there are the profound human responses to His birth such as the wise men’s worship and Herod’s murderous rampage.

But it is in the New Testament epistles that we gain real insight into the person of Christ and His eternal character—insight that can be easily obscured by the birth scene in Bethlehem.

For instance, Romans 1 asserts that Jesus was both the Son of David and the Son of God. Galatians 4:4 says that in the fullness of time God brought forth His Son, born of a woman and subject to the Law. Ephesians 3 introduces the concept of the mystery of Christ, that God has now revealed the truth of His Son in human flesh to the Jews and the Gentiles. Colossians 2 makes the sweeping and profound statement that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily in Jesus Christ. And then there’s the crowning passage in Hebrews:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:1­–3)

Here in a few short verses is an insightful, divine description of who the baby born in Bethlehem really is. It is probably the most concise and comprehensive New Testament summary statement of the superiority of Christ. And the writer includes three key features in composing his classic statement: the preparation for Christ, the presentation of Christ, and the preeminence of Christ.

The Preparation for Christ

Hebrews 1:1 refers to the Old Testament as it focuses on the preparation for Christ: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways.” The Old Testament was simply God speaking to the Jewish people (“the fathers”) through the prophets in many different ways and at a number of different times.

In other words, God’s Spirit spoke through the Old Testament writers in thirty-nine different books. And these books come to us in various literary forms: Much of the literature is narrative prose and history, much is prophecy, some is poetry, and a little appears as the Law.

Furthermore, God’s servants received His words “in many ways,” or by different methods. Sometimes He spoke to them directly in audible words. At other times He spoke to them indirectly and prompted their minds with the thoughts He wanted conveyed. Then there were other methods by which God communicated His truth—parables, types, symbols, ceremonies, and even stone tablets (the Ten Commandments). But all of it was inspired, inerrant, and truly what God wanted written, the way He wanted it written.

By affirming its features and character, the writer of Hebrews shows that the Old Testament is the preparation for Christ, because he also knew that its theme was Jesus Christ. From Genesis 3:15 (the first allusion to Christ and the gospel) to Malachi 4:1–3 (a reference to Christ’s returning in judgment against the ungodly), the Lord Jesus is the subject all the way through the Old Testament. He’s the One pictured in the sacrifices and ceremonies detailed in the five books of Moses. He’s the great Prophet and King who’s promised time and again (Numbers 24:17; Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; Psalm 2:6; 24:7–10; 45:6; 89:27; Isaiah 9:7; 32:1; 42:1–2; 52:7; 61:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Daniel 7:14; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 9:9).

However, the Old Testament preparation for Christ is incomplete and fragmentary. Not one of its books or writers presents the entire picture of the Savior. As the apostle Peter says:

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. (1 Peter 1:10–11)

The prophets couldn’t sort everything out; they wondered exactly whom they were writing about and precisely when everything would occur. No one saw a complete picture of the Messiah until He actually came in the New Testament.

The Presentation of Christ

The writer of Hebrews affirms that Christ is the full revelation of God when he says that God “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:2). When Jesus came, God presented the entire picture. Christ revealed God fully by being fully God. “For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).

We can see in Christ everything we need to know about God. That includes the full array of God’s attributes—such characteristics as omniscience, miracle-working power, the ability to heal the sick and raise the dead, compassion for sinners, and the desire for justice and holiness.

And all of that was evident “in these last days,” a familiar phrase the Jews would have understood as meaning the messianic age. Thus, in the time of Messiah, God ceased speaking in fragments and instead presented His complete revelation in the person of His Son. That, of course, established Jesus as superior to previous revelation. The complete and final New Testament came forth in the person of the sinless Son of God. Jesus Christ, as the full expression of His Father, could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

The Preeminence of Christ

Once the writer of Hebrews presents Jesus as God’s Son, he immediately gives us a sevenfold summary of the preeminence of Jesus Christ:

Whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:2–3)

That grand summation defines the identity and preeminence of the Child who entered the world at Bethlehem. They are glorious truths often left lingering in the shadows of nativity scenes and Christmas pageants. Yet Christ’s supremacy over all things is what His incarnation ultimately put on display.

We’ll explore those aspects of His superiority in the days ahead.

(Adapted from God in the Manger.)


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B161219
COPYRIGHT ©2016 Grace to You

The Cripplegate: Sorrow, Depression, & the Holidays

depressionDepression and discouragement are not respecters of the holidays. For many reasons, the normal sorrow of life can reach a highpoint this time of year for some.

It may be a reminder that we are without a loved one. It may be financial stress, or loss, in a time where the pressure is to purchase. It might be emotional pressure of getting together with broken family. We just may not have a clue why we are discouraged, which can be discouraging itself. We can, even unintentionally, place big demands on this time of year to deliver and fulfill us in impossible ways, apart from God.

And Christmas time or not, many of us experience the normal, heavy weight of discouragement and depression as a regular thing; dejection, confusion, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, anxiousness, anger, darkness, despair.

But God has answers and real hope from his word for the battle.

Here are 11 truths for strength in sorrow:

  1. Especially during depression, our souls are thirsty for God.

Places like Psalm 42 picture this well: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps 42:1-2).

The idea here is of a parched soul that feels like the cracked, barren mud, having gone months without a drop of rain.

thirstyEvery soul is born with a deep thirst. The psalmist wisely knows that the only thing that can quench his soul is not a thing. Perhaps he’s tried quenching his soul-thirst with things of the world. Perhaps like the unwise deer which attempts to quench his thirst by licking mud, we have looked to spiritual and moral mud to deal with our soul-thirst. It doesn’t work.

The psalmist knows something in his depression: feelings are no guide for the urgency to drink from God. In fact, the severity of soul-drought can be discerned by the fact that we may not feel like going to God. It’s at those times that we often need him most.

The thirst my soul feels is a God-thirst, not a gold or glitter-thirst. For that reason, we have to be careful about making big life decisions in our sorrow. We may be seeking to distract the thirst. We need to go to God.

  1. God does not promise happy feelings for his people this side of heaven.

Right expectations position us well for stability, even in the instability.

Even if the Bible ended after Genesis 3, humanity would be sufficiently furnished to expect the realistic scarcity of happy feelings. Phrases like, “pain” (v. 16), “cursed” and “toil” (v. 17), “thorns and thistles” (v. 18), “sweat” (v. 19), and last but not least, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (v. 19); they set the stage. Happy feelings will be scarce.

  1. It is normal for everyone, even strong believers, to feel depressed and discouraged.

Often the writers of Scripture pull back the layers to expose their deep sorrow.

“O my God, my soul is in despair within me” (Ps 42:6).

“I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears” (Ps 6:6).

Regarding unregenerate Jews, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I am telling the truth in Christ…that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” (Rom 9:1-2).

These are men who have walked with God; men of strong faith.

It’s possible for strong, sincere faith and depression to be bound up in one person. Saving faith and deep discouragement are sometimes found in the same soul. Ed Welch writes, “It is a myth that faith is always smiling. The truth is that faith often feels like the very ordinary process of dragging one foot in front of the other because we are conscious of God” (Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, 31).

curseIt’s not abnormal to feel depressed at times. A bout with depression is less a clinical thing, and more a normal thing. That is not to say that everyone experiences the same level of depression, but everyone experiences some level of it.

For the most part, depression is somewhat normal because we all live somewhere between Genesis 3 and Revelation 20. Since we are all fallen human beings living in fallen bodies on a fallen earth, then the presence of sorrow means that things are probably pretty normal. It just means that you’re alive.

And a bout with depression does not automatically mean you are sinning. Charles Spurgeon, having experienced many bouts with depression, wrote, “No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of heart, for Jesus Christ our Lord once said, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.’ There was no sin in him, and consequently none in his deep depression” (Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, 32).

Sorrow is going to be normal in a place that is not heaven, around people who are not heavenly (like us).

  1. There is not usually a pixie-dust answer to sorrow.

If such a thing as the, “Just trust God,” formula worked, then we would have far fewer cases of sorrow and people like Paul and David and the sons of Korah would have not likely written what they did. But there is not usually a quick-fix, one-size-fits-all answer. That necessitates a compassion and patience towards those around us battling through this darkness.

noFurther, the experience of deep sorrow itself is often perplexing. We might ask ourselves, like the psalmist, “Why are you in despair, O my soul?” (Ps 42:5). And that perplexity can become a catalyst to greater pain.

In our day, we are conditioned to have immediate answers. We are entitled to know and to get to the bottom of things. But in deep discouragement, it can seem like there is no answer and no bottom. Spurgeon commented along these lines, “I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for” (21).

  1. Preaching biblical truth to ourselves helps stabilize the soul.

The psalmist takes action by preaching to himself: “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise him” (Ps 42:11). He’s fighting his own thoughts by exhorting himself with truth. He’s refusing to allow himself to become a captive audience to his own feelings.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, commented on Psalm 42 in his book, Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?…So he stands up and says, ‘Self, listen for a moment, and I will speak to you’” (in Steve Lawson, Psalms 1-75, 228).

And it’s not mere positive talk, but the power of God’s presence through his word.

Scripture is a stabilizer amidst instability.

“If I should say, ‘My foot has slipped,’ Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul” (Ps 94:18-19).

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isa 26:3).

“Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble” (Ps 119:165).

  1. Corporate worship with God’s people is essential to our stability and joy.

The psalmist says something fascinating: “These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, with the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival” (Ps 42:4).

BCF congregation 4-07His pain is heightened because corporate worship has become a thing of the past.

And this further evidences his strong faith. He is not thinking, for example, “If I could only be walking on the boardwalk along a warm Israeli beach with some Galilean figs, then all would be better.” His longings go to a higher place for strength. His knows that what’s really going to help does not pertain to physical comfort, but spiritual, and particularly, corporate worship.

He knows that the corporate gathering, on earth, done God’s way, is intended to be heaven’s weekly preview. It’s the thing we do on earth that will be most like what we do in heaven.

And there is no soul-substitute for it. No activity we do sufficiently substitutes for corporate worship any more than a vitamin does for dinner.

ChristianAndHopefulAt one point in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and Hopeful take a shortcut and lose their way. Night arrives, rain falls, they seek shelter, and in the morning, they wake up to an ogre named, “Giant Despair.” He then tosses them into a dungeon inside of “Doubting Castle.” They have no food or light. Giant Despair beats them with a stick and then offers them multiple means by which they might commit suicide. But by using the key of promise they escape. And Bunyan points out that they were in there from Wednesday until about Sunday morning.

Corporate worship can serve as God’s gift to open the otherwise locked door on our dungeon of discouragement.

  1. Discouragement can be God’s means of shaping greater soul stability and holiness.

It’s often the perplexity and the longevity of discouragement in which stable saints and fortified faith is forged. How so?

Discouragement can strengthen us because we are learning that no earthly thing can really satisfy, fulfill, and stabilize the soul.

Sorrow subsequently drives us to God. God is our Shepherd. He always has our good in mind. He is driving us towards good, green pastures, which is himself. And if it feels like we’re being nudged a bit, perhaps we are. It might be what we need.

Discouragement can be good because it forces us to prayer. Prayer is a safe place to be because it’s taking refuge in God and not poor substitutes.

Discouragement can be used by God for our good because it can drive us to the word of God and biblical truth.

Deep sorrow can also produce endurance. We are forced to fight the good fight, taking up all the aforementioned means. And the fight itself is a sign that God is strengthening us. The consequence is a measure of endurance, which stabilizes the soul.

  1. More valuable than having happy feelings is having God.

We can, and do, lose so many things in life. Much of life consists of spectating and experiencing loss. But the good news is that the most valuable thing in life is neither a thing or lose-able.

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Even amidst a famine of fun feelings, we still have God. And the reality of having God in the darkness is not that we feel that we have a hold of him, but that he really has a hold of us.

“I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).

  1. Though we may not know the why, we know Who.

So often we cannot give a detailed explanation behind sorrow. In those times, many writers of Scripture take an exemplary, yet almost counter-intuitive approach. They affirm the sovereignty of God.

“Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me” (Ps 42:7).

“Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?” (Lam 3:37-38)

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

This all showcases a critically stabilizing truth in sorrow: the sovereignty of God is not detrimental, but essential, to strength in sorrow. Things are not chaotically careening by some impersonal force towards evil, but being sovereignly orchestrated by a good and perfect God towards heaven.

  10.  Things are often not going to end on a high note until heaven.

We like happy endings. But, for example, many of the psalms do not end on a high note. This illustrates something helpful in times of sorrow: for those in Christ, the happy ending is not at the end of a psalm or a work day or a week or a year. The happy ending is heaven.

It’s been said that, “God promises a safe landing but not a calm passage.”

  11.  Sorrow serves as a clearly-marked door.

Well-lit exit signs and clearly-marked doors are essential in large buildings. They point the way to safety during those times when the lights are out, cannot be found, or when the electricity is off.

Take itSorrow can serve as a well-lit exit sign and clearly-marked door when it seems that the light of the soul is out. It says, “Ok, all is not right. Go this way. Take this door.” What door?

“So Jesus said to them again, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture…I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’” (John 10:7, 9-10).

Depression can be God’s kindness pointing to the door, Jesus Christ. He is the answer. He is life and abundant life. Depression and its wretched associates drain life. But Christ is life giving because he is Life.

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15).

Though depression is often normal, painful, and perplexing, our God and Savior is with us, leading and sustaining us by faith, not sight, and will not abandon us despite contrary feelings.

Recommended resources for depression: “If I Am A Christian, Why Am I Depressed?” by Robert Somerville and “Depression: A Stubborn Darkness,” by Ed Welch.

Source: Sorrow, Depression, & the Holidays

Christmas Carols and the Gospel

It’s that time of year. Turn on the radio, take a trip to the mall, or simply stroll down the aisles of the local grocery store, and you’re likely to hear songs about Jesus’ birth playing in the background.

We call them “Christmas carols,” but they are really Christian hymns celebrating the incarnation of our Lord and Savior. For a few weeks each December, these profound songs of worship become a ubiquitous part of the holiday atmosphere. Our society’s pervasive interest in them provides us with a unique opportunity to share the gospel. It is the perfect time to explain the meaning of these songs to those who don’t know Christ.

Today’s post is just one example of how the content of Christmas carols can be used to share the good news of the gospel. It is adapted from an evangelistic message I put together a couple holiday seasons ago. Whether you follow a format like this or not, be sure to make the most of this Christmas season—sharing the truth of God’s grace with unbelieving friends and family.

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The carols that we sing each year do such a magnificent job of underscoring who Jesus is and why He came. It makes me sad, really, when I hear secular musicians singing Christmas carols; the irony strikes me about how these musicians, who make no claim to believe in Jesus, sing these beautiful songs about His birth. Yet, the reality is that they have no idea what they are singing about.

Perhaps you are in a similar place, familiar with the tunes of the great Christmas carols because you’ve heard them every winter season. But you’ve never stopped to consider their lyrics. Let’s consider some of these great songs and the profound truths they proclaim.

1. In O Holy Night, we are reminded that the world was “in sin and error pining,”  wasting away until our dear Savior “appeared and the soul felt [the] worth” of His salvation.

2. In God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, tidings of comfort and joy come from knowing that “Jesus Christ our Savior” was born “to save us all from Satan’s power, when we were gone astray.”

Human beings, guilty of disobedience and rebellion against God, are enslaved to sin. They face God’s wrath against them. The Bible says that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and that “the wages of sin is death” including eternal separation from God. But, “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

3. In Hark the Herald Angels Sing, we learn that only through “the new born King” can “God and sinners [be] reconciled.” We are also reminded that Jesus, being God, took on human flesh. “Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ the everlasting Lord; . . . Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity.”

These words echo the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote that “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men,” the Lord Jesus Christ. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”—providing a way of salvation for those who deserve nothing more than God’s condemnation.

4. There are many Christmas carols, of course, that speak of Christ’s birth: Away in a Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and others emphasize the very heart of Christmas – the birth of the Messiah.

But Jesus did not stay a baby in the manger. The reason we celebrate His birth is (1) because of who He is – the Son of God – and (2) because of what He came to do – to save His people from their sins.

Because God is holy, He must punish sin. If sin is to be forgiven, it must be covered by an adequate sacrifice. The carols we sing at Christmas remind us that Jesus Christ was born to be that perfect sacrifice. In other words, He came to die.

5. The words of What Child Is This? underscore this truth beautifully. In the second verse, we find these lyrics: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the Cross be borne for me [and] for you.” When Christ died on the Cross, He paid the penalty for sin for all those who would believe in Him.

Quoting Paul again, in his letter to the Colossians, we read this about those who have trusted Jesus Christ. “When you were dead in your transgressions and [sins], [God] made you alive together with [Christ], having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us . . . ; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

6. The last verse of The First Noel reiterates this point: “Then let us all with one accord, sing praises to our heavenly Lord, [who] hath made heaven and earth of nought, And with His blood mankind hath bought.”

The very God who created the world out of nothing, is the same God who makes salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life possible through Jesus Christ.

Of course, Jesus Christ did not stay in the tomb; He rose again on the third day, demonstrating that He had truly defeated sin and death. Forty days after His resurrection, He ascended to heaven where He now sits at His Father’s right hand. By paying sin’s penalty and defeating its power, Christ alone makes salvation available to all who believe in Him as their Lord and Savior.

7. The fact that sinful men and women can experience peace with God (and subsequently peace on earth) when they really deserve death is the essence of grace. That’s why the author of Silent Night could pen these words, “Radiant beams from Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace.”

Redeeming grace is why Jesus came. It is why He died; so that through Him, sinful men and women might be reconciled and restored to God. The message of Christmas brings sinners to a crossroads, where they must deal with the Person of Jesus Christ. Will you embrace Him as Lord  and Savior? Or will you dismiss His claim on your life and reject the salvation He offers?

He is the only way of salvation. As the apostle Peter proclaimed about Jesus: “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

8. The well-known carol Joy to the World exhorts its listeners with these words: “Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room,” meaning that each person is called to embrace Jesus Christ, as both Savior and King.

9. The very title of O Come Let Us Adore Him underscores the worshipful attitude that characterizes all those who truly trust in Him. And Angels We Have Heard on High exhorts one and all to “come, adore on bended knee, Christ, the Lord, the new-born King.” The Word of God calls every person to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ – believing in Him, trusting in His sacrifice, and submitting to His authority in life.

10.  So what will you do with Jesus Christ this Christmas season? Will you ignore Him? Will you dismiss Him? Will you sing the songs of Christmas without thinking about the very words you are singing?

Or will you submit to Him for who He truly is—no longer a little baby born in a stable in Bethlehem—but the risen and exalted Son of God who died for sin and rose again and now sits at the right hand of His Father in heaven. He Himself said, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

If you have not come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, having never been reconciled to God, let me extend to you the Bible’s invitation to embrace the true gift of Christmas. It is the gift God gave to the world — namely, His Son.

The Lord Jesus promises forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life to all who will come to Him: “All whom the Father gives Me will come to Me. And the one who comes to Me, I will certainly not cast out.” The gospel of John reiterates that promise, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

The Apostle Paul summed up the good news of salvation with these words: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

With these truths in mind, I love the words of the second verse of Angels from the Realms of Glory. They serve as a fitting conclusion:

Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.
Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King.

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