Don’t Cover Up the Manger

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My wife and I had the joy of teaching Children’s Church on Sunday, and I loved the opening illustration.  As the children came into the room they took turns writing what they do to get ready for Christmas on the whiteboard.  As could be expected 10 days before Christmas, most of it had to do with presents.

Then Melanie read a list of some of the things we often do to prepare for Christmas and a prop was placed into a manger on top of a doll for each activity.  There was a cookie sheet, a little Christmas tree, a camera to represent the family photo, stationery, and of course several presents.

The point was not that doing activities to celebrate Christmas is bad, but rather that we can get so busy getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birthday that we forget about Jesus.  He can get covered up by all of the details or traditions and be completely missed.

Isn’t this what the chief priests and scribes did in Matthew chapter 2?  They were so concerned with their traditions that even though they knew a lot about Christ’s birth, they didn’t go to see Him or worship Him.

All of those things in the manger in that Children’s Church room should have been outside the manger.  They should have pointed to Jesus rather than take His place!

This Christmas, don’t cover up the manger, but point to it. Because pointing to the manger points us to the cross. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)

It is too much!

As followers of Christ, we often forget all that God has planned for us–we have a hopeful future so glorious that we cannot take it all in now.  “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” (1 Corinthians 1sunrise with tree3:12)  This is one reason that we need God’s Word to not only inform our minds, but also to warm our hearts.  We need God’s truth to not only instruct us now, but also to point us forward through our present to what God is preparing us for.  This is what 1 John 3:2 has done for me recently:  “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”

Today, fellow believer in our resurrected King Jesus, you are God’s child.  If you are in Christ you will never more be God’s child than you already are now.

But God went even further, even beyond bringing us into an intimate family relationship as His child.  He wants us to be near Him.  He has completely reconciled us to Himself through what Christ did on the cross, and that includes our future hope of glorification!  When people see the resurrected Christ in the Bible, they fall down out of fear because they are overwhelmed at His majesty, and at His holiness and their sinfulness (Revelation 1:17).  We may fall before Jesus’ feet when He appears at His Second Coming just out of sheer worship and praise and adoration and love and awe–but it will not be out of fear–because He will change us.

The Apostle John lovingly reminds us that although we cannot fully comprehend what we will be when Christ comes back at His Second Coming, we can know this: “we shall be like Him.”  We will finally be sinless, and we will have transformed, glorified resurrection bodies!

A missionary was working with a tribe that had received the gospel fairly recently, and as he was translating 1 John a scribe was making a copy.  When the missionary told him to write, “…we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is,” the scribe threw down his pen and exclaimed, “No!  It is too much!  Let us write, ‘when He appears we shall kiss His feet.'”  He was right.  It is too much.  Our God lavishes His grace on us in Christ.  Are you overwhelmed with praise at these precious promises?

A Wonderful Tension: The Importance of Fathers and the Supremacy of Christ

As I think about Father’s Day approaching, I can easily think of areas in my parenting that I need refocus in.  Voddie Baucham Jr. helped me put my fatherhood in perspective this morning:

The role of men in their families is so important that God picture21honored it by conferring upon us his own title, Father.  We’re the governors and guides of our families, and the way we lead has far-reaching implications…I’ve watched families crumble under the weight of paternal neglect…I’ve watched households transform quickly as fathers take the helm and begin to lead and disciple their wives and children.  I’ve seen marriages healed as husbands begin to take seriously their duty to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25) and to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

The role of fathers in the family can hardly be overstated.  However, the supremacy of Christ is our fuel, our goal, and our comfort in this great duty.  Because of the power of the gospel and the past and present work of Christ, we can have strength to lead our families today, the vision for where we need to be leading our families, and the reality of forgiveness and help for where we have failed and when we will fail.  I need Jesus.  My family needs Jesus.  Baucham continues:

…The family is not the gospel; nor is the family as important as the gospel.  The family is a delivery mechanism for the gospel.

In Ephesians 5 and 6 the role of fathers loving their wives and discipling their children, the responsibility of wives to submit to their husbands, and the duties of parents to their children are all couched in terms that are unmistakable in their gospel-centeredness.  This is all about “Christ and the church” (5:32)…

…In the end, I want you to see Jesus.  I want you to see him in a way that drives you to pursue him personally and to keep him before your wife and children in a way that causes them to seek him as well.  In short, I want you to shepherd your family in the direction of the Good Shepherd.
(From Family Shepherds, pp. 11-14)

What Does the Resurrection Have to Do With Ministry?

picture 18I have a friend in Juarez, Mexico who is a native Mexican pastor of a small, poor church in the outskirts of the city.  He and his beautiful family have gone where most would fear to live and have planted a thriving church that loves the Lord and that loves to share the Gospel.  I had the privilege of visiting him often when I lived in Albuquerque, and there was one verse that we would often remind each other of as an encouragement when ministry was hard.  First Corinthians 15:58 declares, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  Even now I can hear him responding, “Amen!  Amen!”

There is a great truth that drives Josue and all of us as we seek to serve the Lord day in and day out.  It is the simple but earth-shaking truth of the Gospel.  One of the first principles of Bible study when you read a verse that says, “therefore…” is to see what the “therefore” is there for.  In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul has just finished an extensive chapter all about the resurrection.  He begins by reminding us “…of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you…” (1 Cor. 15:1-2)  This includes the death of Christ on the cross for our sins, but also His burial, resurrection, and appearances before His ascension which proved and confirmed that He was truly risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-8).  Later the apostle defends the bodily resurrection of believers, based on the fact that Christ has risen.  He points out that if we don’t have the hope of the resurrection, then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17), and that there is no real hope in Christ if we only have hope in this life (1 Cor. 15:18-19).  Then Paul brings us back to this glorious, life-changing reality:  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” (1 Cor. 15:20)!

Because Christ has been raised from the dead, we are to live our lives in light of eternity (1 Cor. 15:32-34), knowing that we serve a risen King who has all authority in Heaven and on earth.  Because Christ has risen, we have the sure hope of the glory of Heaven (1 Cor. 15:42-49) and the confidence that in Christ even “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  The truth of the Gospel–that in Christ my sins are forgiven and I am reconciled to God–and the reality of the resurrection, are all the motivation we need to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord!  What does the resurrection have to do with ministry?  Everything.

Jesus Lives!

It is amazing how our hope is tied into the fact of Christ’s resurrection.  As Christ Himself taught, “…I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (John 11:25b-26)  He could actually call Himself THE resurrection before He had died or been raised.

He had just been discussing resurrection with Martha, because her brother Lazarus had died, and she had pointed to the Old Testament hope of resurrection.  He lovingly pointed out that there is no resurrection outside of the Son of God, Himself.  Then He proved it by raising Lazarus from the dead.  Martha got it right when he asked her if she believed this: “She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (John 11:27)  Have you made this confession (see my earlier post, “What is the Gospel?”)?  If you have, then you can be abounding in hope because of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:19-20).

This Resurrection Sunday may you rejoice in Christ and in our hope that is in Christ, because He is risen!  I have recently been moved by the words of a song called “Jesus Lives” from Risen, a Sovereign Grace Music CD that is completely about the Resurrection.

Here is the music, but if you don’t listen then check out the words below:

I no longer fear the grave

Christ has come

Took the sting of death away

Through His saving blood

Though my body fails and my flesh grows weak

Till my final breath, to this hope I’ll cling

Jesus lives and so shall I

I’ll be raised from the dust with Christ on high

Jesus lives no more to die

And when He returns, with Him I’ll rise

Jesus lives

In this fallen world I cry

For the day

When Your glory splits the sky

And you come to reign

All creation waits for that promised hour

When the saints of God are revealed in power

Not death nor any power of hell can separate me from

The love, the love of my Savior

(Words by George Romanacce and Bob Kauflin, Copyright 2011 Sovereign Grace Worship)

How Do I Live Out Radical Discipleship with a Wife and 3 Kids?

radical pictureOur Pastor has been preaching on Mark 8:34-38 over the last two Sundays, and it sounds so radical to our comfortable American Christian ears.  I have had plenty of time to think through what the implications of Jesus’ words are for my life, and to realize that Jesus’ “radical” call to discipleship may not be so radical after all, but rather simply counter-cultural.  So, how do I live out radical discipleship with a wife and 3 kids?

Listen to what Christ calls us all to:  “And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Christ bids me come and die.  This is not new.  “I am crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)  It won’t always be flashy.  It might be putting my 19 month old daughter to bed and singing “Jesus Loves Me” with her.  It might be talking with my 5 year old about Jesus and why He died for us as we read a Bible bed time story.  It might be letting my 5 month old boy know that He is a blessing and loved by changing his diaper with joy.  It might be putting on a towel and pulling out a basin and serving my wife when I get home from a long day at work instead of serving myself, however that looks at any point in our marriage.  This is impossible in my flesh, but easy in the Spirit.

I may not be a foreign missionary.  I may not be a martyr.  I may or may not ever be put in jail for preaching the Gospel.  I may even own a home someday.  But I can still be a radical disciple for Jesus Christ.  If my life is poured out for Christ, if my family knows that I love God, love them, and love our neighbors and the nations more than I love myself, that is radical discipleship.  I do this so imperfectly, but  I am clothed in Christ’s righteousness.

Jesus, draw me nearer to the cross.  Help me to pour out myself and my family in losing our lives for Your sake and the Gospel’s.

Do You Care About Propitiation?

picture 16If you are a software programmer, then you have quickly and eagerly learned words like “gigabytes” and “linux.”  If you are a cook, then you will want to understand words like “al dente” and “broil.”  If you are a Christian, you should care about words like “propitiation.”

Propitiation is the word that God chose to communicate “appeasement” or “satisfaction” of God’s holy wrath against sin because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice of Himself on the cross.  Listen to these life-giving descriptions of propitiation:  “He is the propitiation for our sins…” (1 John 2:2)  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Jesus Himself is the sacrifice that satisfies God’s righteous wrath against our sins.  Jesus Himself took our punishment for sin on the cross, where the great exchange happened:  Jesus took our sins, and gave us His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).  If you are in Christ, you no longer have to fear the wrath of God, because Jesus already bore it.  Jesus is your propitiation (notice the present tense in 1 John 2:2).

This idea of turning somebody favorably towards God because of a worthy sacrifice is beautifully illustrated in the Old Testament.  A form of the word “propitiation” was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to talk about the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant.  God’s presence, the Shekinah Glory, was above the Mercy Seat, and underneath the Mercy Seat–inside the Ark–was God’s Law.  The sprinkled blood on the Mercy Seat on the Day of Atonement went between God and His broken law.  It appeased or satisfied God’s righteous wrath against sin and a sinful people.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, was the fulfillment of this picture, the final atoning sacrifice for our sins.

So, do you care about propitiation?  You should, because you and I need it.  We need “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 575).  When you sin today, ask Christ to forgive your sin (1 John 1:9), and then praise Him that He is the atoning sacrifice that satisfies God’s wrath against your sin.

[image credit: www.zazzle.com]

The Big Picture of the Bible in Four Movements

Just as in a great symphony there are different movements that make up the entire masterpiece, in the Bible there are four great movements or stories that make up the whole.  Creation.  Fall.  Cross.  New Creation.  Put together, these four themes can give us the big picture of the entire Bible.  Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, and we simply need to step back and take in what God has done and is doing.  I hope that this will help you rejoice in His amazing and sovereign plan that is for our salvation and His glory!

Creation.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1) are such familiar words as almost every English version of the Bible translates this first verse the exact same way.  God created all things, showing both ownership and care for what He had made.  His great plan had begun!

Fall.  The Bible wastes no time in presenting the great predicament that mankind has found himself in since the beginning.  At the start of Genesis chapter 3 Adam and Eve are already presented with an opportunity to sin, and they turn from God to sin and death.  So do we: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12).

Cross.  God’s solution to His creation turning from Him and the fact of their spiritual and physical death is effected in His Son, through His death on the cross.  The One promised from the moment of the Fall (Gen. 3:15) came as the God-man who alone could atone for our sin.  “And you, who were dead in your trespasses…God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14)  Christ and His work on the cross is looked forward to throughout the Old Testament and looked back upon throughout the New Testament.

New Creation.  The last “event” in all of history as we know it will be the New Creation, when God will consummate all things by abolishing sin, evil, and death.  Those who are in Christ will enjoy a New Heaven and New Earth in new bodies that will never be tainted by sin or its’ effects.  God will be worshiped and we will enjoy Him and His creation forever with joy that we can only imagine now.  God’s plan for our salvation and His glory will have been realized as He exclaims at the end of the Bible: “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:6b)

May we respond to the big picture of the Bible as John did at the end of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)

God Crushed His Son for Our Good & His Glory

A few weeks ago my wife and I were in the kitchen when we heard a terrifying sound: a huge crash coming from our son’s room and then screams of fear and pain.  I ran into his room to see the most frightening scene I have witnessed in my life yet: my 4 year old son was crushed under his dresser that had completely fallen on top of him.  He had pulled all of the drawers out as he was putting something away and it toppled onto him.  All I remember in the seconds between seeing what happened and lifting it off of him was his body crushed, and his head sticking out from underneath the top of the dresser with a look of terror and “help” in his eyes as he screamed.  We are so thankful that he was fine. The Doctor said he just needed to take it easy for a few days, and as I write this he is happily playing energetically as he normally does.

Maybe because our pastor is preaching through Isaiah 53, the next day I thought of the verse speaking of Christ that says, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him…” (Is. 53:10). It is no wonder that Christ cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46b). When Christ was bearing sin on the cross and taking the full brunt of God’s wrath against sin, it is not just as if God saw His Son crushed “under the dresser” (sin) and turned away, but rather that it was actually His will for Him to be crushed. This is why some “Christian theologians” have so mistakingly called substitutionary atonement “divine child abuse.” They have a completely unbiblical view of the fact that Christ was both man and God and came into the world for this plan of salvation that had been in the works since before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). In His humanity Christ cried out as He was crushed by sin and His very Father’s wrath as He bore our sins: “But He was wounded for our trangressions; He was crushed for our iniquities…” (Is. 53:5). In His deity, Christ was resolute: “…And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:27b-28a).

When we think of Christ’s sin-bearing from the perspective of God pouring out His wrath on His beloved Son, it can be shocking and seem “scandalous.” But when we think of it from the perspective of Christ bearing our sin, we praise the One who did this for our good and His glory. Thank you Lord for this truth: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

Thursday Night of “Passion Week”

It is Thursday night of “Passion Week.”  We all know that Christ died on Friday and rose on Sunday, but what happened on Thursday night?  He washed His disciples’ feet.  He taught His disciples in the Upper Room.  He transformed the Passover meal into “The Lord’s Supper” commemorating His death.  He cried out to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane until He sweat drops of blood.  He was betrayed with a kiss.  He was arrested.  And He knocked a large detachment of Roman soldiers to the ground with His word.

The beloved Apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, remembered that night: “So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.  Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’  They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’  Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.  When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:3-6)

Judas, along with the religious leaders, had organized a detachment of soldiers to come and arrest Jesus in the garden.  The word translated “band” of soldiers in the ESV is a “cohort” of Roman soldiers that would normally number 600 men.  However, depending on the circumstances it could be up to 1,000 or as little as 200.  Given that there were extra Roman soldiers on duty for the Passover Feast, as well as the fact that the other Gospels indicate that there were others besides the soldiers in the crowd who carried clubs, it is no exaggeration to say that there was a minimum of 300 men there that night if not the full 1,000 given Jesus’ popularity just a few days before on “Palm Sunday.”  This would be at least 15 times more armed men than are in the picture at the top of this post.

Jesus decimated them by simply answering “I am” to their question.  These trained killers fell to the ground at the word of our Savior!

It is mind-boggling how some commentators will try to explain away this profound moment before Jesus was arrested.  It is another display of His authority before He would let them arrest Him, and we are reminded once again that He is the incarnate God before He humbles Himself to the point of death on a cross.  Before His greatest humility, He once again displayed His power.  Yet some will say things such as that they fell down because they expected to find a meek peasant and instead were met in the dim light by a majestic person.  Ludicrous.  Others say that those in the front were startled when Jesus appeared out of the shadows, which in turn knocked down those behind them like dominoes.  Nonsense.  Roman soldiers were highly trained and had taken over much of the world.  They battled against the most powerful armies on earth and often won.  They did not easily spook and fall down like children when somebody emerged from a dark garden that was now lit up with their torches.  But, they did fall down when Jesus said “I am.”  As John MacArthur explains, “All Jesus had to do was speak His name–the name of God–and His enemies were rendered helpless.” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, John 12-21, p. 308)

It is no wonder Peter was emboldened to cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest!  Christ quickly reminded Peter right in front of the soldiers that if He wanted to, He could ask the Father to send 72,000 angels that He could then command (Matt. 26:53).  What was a detachment of Roman soldiers compared to His power?     

This was a foretaste of Christ as sovereign LORD even though the cross was looming on the horizon.  The same Apostle John who wrote the Gospel of John later saw Christ exalted and described Him: “…from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.  When I saw him, I fell at His feet as though dead.  But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.‘” (John 18:16-18)

Just as He laid His hand on John to show His grace, how He loves you and me!  That He would place Himself into the hands of these soldiers to obey the will of the Father, to be crushed on the cross as He paid the awful and incomprehensible price of sin when He could have stopped it all in an instant, with a word, needs to move us!

Even when they fell down at His word, the soldiers in the garden that night didn’t recognize Him as God.  But it may have contributed to God’s work in some of their hearts as later some soldiers would believe in Christ as the Son of God and Savior even at the foot of the cross the next day.  As you celebrate Good Friday and then Resurrection Sunday, remember that our King was not a victim of an evil plan (although it was evil, Acts 2:23), but rather the triumphant Victor of the Plan that had been made before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23).  Thank You Jesus for Your power, and thank You for Your grace!

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