At the end of this calendar year, I pause this week to thank God for all of His gifts in 2013. My list is quite long! Here’s a sample:
- Salvation–A gift I could not earn and can never lose
- A faithful, loving, productive wife who remains my best friend
- Four relatively happy and healthy children
- Full-time employment at a job I enjoy with a boss I respect
- The opportunity to teach God’s Word on several college campuses
- Results that my heart is healthy
- The opportunity to see one of my mentors suffer with authenticity and great trust
- The news that another baby is on the way
- Perhaps the best vacation of my life
- Reconnecting with “old friends” and a “new” church
I’ll stop at ten. As you can easily see, God has not treated me as my sins deserve. He has been exceedingly gracious to me. In so many ways, it has been a great year. But it hasn’t been a year void of difficulties. My health issues were–at times–a bit scary. My mom passed away. We’ve struggled to make ends meet each month. Parenting continued to have its challenges. Yet through it all God has been present and dispensing His “amazing grace.” I bet many of you can relate. Let’s ensure that we actually thank God for all He has done for His glory and our good. Perhaps taking Him for granted is one of the greatest sins we can commit.
I hope you have an incredible 2014. I look forward with great anticipation to holding my fifth child in less than four months! I am excited to see what else my Lord has planned for me and for my family. My hope is that He will be exalted through it all!
Blessings to you all!
Doesn’t that sound sacrilegious at this time of the year?
We want to know all of the events surrounding the birth of our Savior. And every year we labor to learn something new or ponder a fact we have not previously considered.
“When–exactly–did the Magi appear?”
Three mysterious individuals appear out of the East, presenting gifts to Jesus. We would all love to find out more about these men. Thankfully, we have the Bible to teach us.
Wait. Hold that thought.
Only Matthew records the account. Luke, with all of his thoroughness, does not mention the visit. But that isn’t the most shocking admission.
Mark and John don’t even mention the birth of Jesus Christ!
John’s omission makes sense. Matthew and Luke had been written. Enough details had been published. The Church had sufficient content regarding all of the events related to the Incarnation. John’s mission was clear. His endeavor was to present Jesus as God so that we might believe (John 20:31).
However, Mark’s decision not to discuss Jesus’ birth is remarkable. Remember–his gospel was the first. Up to that point, there wasn’t a biography of Jesus being circulated. Surely Mark considered communicating some of the pertinent details.
But why didn’t he?
Here’s my theory. Mark wanted to explain why Jesus came rather than how Jesus came. Consider how he begins his account.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1).
“Here’s how the good news begins!”
But before he actually begins, he mentions the subject of the good news. The main character of the gospel is named, and three important facts are given. First, His name is Jesus. Second, Jesus is the Christ. Third, Jesus is the Son of God.
Mind if I unpack each of those for a moment and we prepare to celebrate another Christmas?
His name is Jesus. That is truly significant. It has tremendous meaning. “An angel of the Lord appeared to him [Joseph] in a dream, saying…’She shall bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins'” (Mt. 1:20,21). I have always loved the certainty expressed in the angel’s announcement. Jesus would not fail in His mission. He did not come to make salvation possible. He came to save. And save He did! His sufferings and death were more than sufficient for all of His people, for all of their sins!
Jesus is the Christ. He is the Messiah that was promised throughout the Old Testament. The Gospels clearly make that connection. I love what the Apostle John includes in his rendering of the crucifixion. He is the only writer to include this awesome comment: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill Scripture, said, ‘I am thirsty'” (John 19:28). Was Jesus actually thirsty? You know that He was. However, another passion was dominating His existence. He was consumed by the zeal of the Lord of hosts (Is. 9:7). In other words, He knew what needed to be accomplished and He succeeded in doing just that. He understood which prophecies needed to be fulfilled and He fulfilled them. He proved that He was indeed the Christ.
Jesus is the Son of God. If anything causes us to marvel at this time of year, it is the profundity of the Incarnation. God took up residence within human skin. The Mighty God (Is. 9:6) dwelt among us (John 1:14)! The firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15) put on sandals and walked the dusty roads of the Galilee. Surely this union of God and man cannot be fully grasped with minds ravaged by the effects of sin. But we know enough to wonder; to worship.
Should we read the story of Jesus’ birth each year at Christmas? Sure. It is filled with amazed individuals as well as miraculous and providential workings by an amazing God. But let us also join Mark in remembering why Jesus came, not simply how He came.
I hope you have a wonderful celebration of the advent of our Lord. It is truly an event to be celebrated because He is worth celebrating.
What a verse to muse upon during the Christmas season! Romans 8:32
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? – KJV
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? – NASB
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? – NIV
Why do we give gifts to one another at Christmas? Shouldn’t our celebration of the birth of our Savior be limited to religious activities such as advent calendars and candlelight services on Christmas Eve?
What can be more “religious” than mimicking God? And what has God done? What does God continue to do? Bless us with gifts!
His greatest gift, of course, was delivering up His Son. The context Romans 8:32 deals with our salvation. It was necessary for God the Son to condescend and dress Himself in human flesh, live a perfect life in an imperfect world and be delivered up so that He would be the successful Savior of all who would believe in His name. Praise God! And we would praise God for all eternity had that been His only gift to us. But that is not the reality we experience!
We have been given saving grace (Eph. 1:7; 2:8,9). We have been given sanctifying grace (Rom. 5:2; 2 Cor. 9:8). We have been given serving grace (Eph. 4:8, 28 [See also 1 Pet. 4:10]). God continues to grace us with grace! He continues to give us gifts that we might glorify Him and give to others. And that makes our celebration of Christmas all the more meaningful. Yes, it should be Christ-centered, but that does not mean it will look nothing like the celebrations of our unbelieving family and friends. Many of them have a wonderful time as they gather together and give gifts to one another. It is typically wholesome. Grace is given. Grace is received. That’s the context in which I grew up. My parents were not Christians. But they loved all over us each year and made Christmas an event worth anticipating. Should I make it less exciting? No! It is more so now that I know “the reason for the season”!
Those who know us well, know that we do not lavish our children with gifts at Christmas. Each child receives a full stocking and a decent gift. Some years they get two gifts. But they are thankful. We do the advent calendar in some form each year. We attend a Christmas Eve service, if possible. We don’t lose the significance. Ask any of them and they will tell you that the reason we celebrate Christmas is because it is Jesus’ birthday. But they also understand that we give gifts as a way to celebrate God’s grace in sending Jesus into the world. Because God gave, we give. It’s that simple.
So–are you going to be religious this Christmas? Great! Mimic God!
Let me know if you want to know what is on my list! You still have time!
For further study on this topic, check out this sermon by Doug Wilson:
Have you ever felt as though God was actively destroying your life?
Be honest. Have you ever thought that God was purposefully taking you down a notch or two? I have. In fact, I am convinced that God instructs and humbles us by sending trials perfectly suited for our sanctification. He blesses us with difficulties so that we might love Him more and this world less. But we must not think that He is absent in the challenges. We must reject a Christian version of deism. God is always with us.
Consider these words by one of my favorite authors, Thomas Watson:
“God is infinite in all places, so let us not limit Him as our forefathers did: they ‘limited the Holy One of Israel’ (Psalm 78:41). We limit God when we confine Him within the narrow compass of our reason. Reason thinks God must go such a way to do His work; or the business will never be effected. This action does limit God to our reasoning, whereas He is infinite, and His ways are past finding out (Romans 11:33). In the deliverance of the church, it is limiting God wither to set Him a time or to prescribe Him a method for deliverance. God will deliver Zion, but He will be left to His own liberty. He will not be tied to a place, to a time, or to an instrument, which were to limit Him, and then He should not be infinite. God will go His own way. He will baffle those who do not accept His omnipresence, and He will nonplus reason. He orchestrates our lives for good even when we thing He is destroying them. He acts like Himself, like an infinite, wonder-working God” (Glorifying God: A Yearlong Collection of Classic Devotional Writings, Thomas Nelson, 2009, Paul M. Hummel, ed.).
Watson’s words were inspired by one of the sweetest texts in the Bible: Psalm 139:7-10.
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me” (NASB).
“Even there Your hand will lead me.”
Even where? Even if I attempt to go as far as I can from the Lord, He will be present. And–follow David’s thought-process in this context–even if I run away from God, He will still be near. He will still lead me.
Does that encourage you today? I do not know what your current situation looks like. Right now God may look like a master artist putting beautiful brushstrokes on a colorful campus. Or, He may resemble the supervisor on a demolition crew. You may sense His presence. You may sense an uncomfortable distance. Honestly, this season finds me vacillating between the two extremes. My comfort on this rainy day is the truth of Emmanuel. God is with me.
Watson is correct. “God will go His way.” However, it is good to know that when I go my way, I find Him with me every step of the way.