Category Archives: Christmas

Why the Resurrection Matters

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, (Luke 24:6)

Christmas and Easter (I prefer “Resurrection Day”) are the two most important days on the Christian calendar with Resurrection Day being, arguably, the most important of the two. One might argue that we could not have the Resurrection without the Birth, but the Birth without the Resurrection would render both insignificant.

Jesus’ birth came like the birth of any other baby. The Gospel writer Luke records the event taking place in a humble animal shelter visited only by lowly shepherds. However, Luke points out an important fact that is summarily overlooked by most readers. Luke says that, “while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered” (Luke 2:6, emphasis mine). So, apparently, Joseph and Mary had been in Bethlehem a few days before the time of her delivery. Luke does not say, but it seems reasonable that in Bethlehem there were ladies who, seeing a young woman ready to give birth, would have offered their services as midwives. That is the way they did it in those days. Regardless, the birth was no different than any other. The conception nine months prior was the “miracle.” At that time, God planted His seed in Mary’s womb without human aid.

So Jesus came into the world and “dwelt among us”[1] and “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). He grew up like any other Jewish boy and probably learned carpentry from His earthly father, Joseph. At the age of 30,[2] the age at which priests enter service,[3] Jesus started His three-year earthly ministry. We know from the four Gospel accounts that His ministry ended with His death on the cross. He was buried in a borrowed tomb and rose on the third day.

But what if the resurrection never happened? Paul put it quite succinctly when he said, “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). If Jesus did not rise from the grave, His death for our sins is of no avail. We have no hope of eternal life, and, worse, our destiny is in hell. That explains why unbelievers live for this life alone because, for them, this life is all there is. They reject the concept of hell and prefer the idea that death ends it all, or that it begins a new cycle through reincarnation.

Many arguments against the resurrection of Jesus exist that have a long history from the very beginning. Some say that Jesus did not die on the cross but only “swooned” and revived in the cool dampness of the tomb, rolled the two-ton stone away and walked out. That is a silly theory when one considers the beating, torture, and flogging Jesus received before being nailed to the cross. Also the Roman soldiers who crucified Him were expert executioners and were familiar with death. Had they suspected that He “swooned,” they would have broken His legs like they did with the other two victims.[4] These were professionals; they knew death. Then, to ensure His death, one of the soldiers ran his spear into his side and punctured the pericardium.[5]  

Let us say, for argument’s sake, that this one they failed to recognize and Jesus did indeed pass out. Even if He did revive in the cool tomb, the loss of blood from the beatings and flogging, not to mention the puncturing of his heart sac, would have left Him too weak roll away the heavy stone – one that took several men to move – by Himself.

Another argument suggests that Jesus’ disciples overpowered the Roman guard posted at the tomb.[6] This too is a silly argument. All four Gospels record how the disciples went into hiding at Jesus’ arrest. They feared for their lives. It seems unlikely that these frightened men, most of them fishermen and at least one un-calloused tax collector, would dare to take on battle-hardened professional Roman soldiers. However, this fabrication spread from the very beginning. Matthew records that an angel came to roll back the stone and the soldiers on watch were scared stiff.[7] The soldiers, knowing the consequence (death) for failing in their responsibility to keep the tomb secure, went to the chief priests, rather than their leaders, hoping to get a sympathetic hearing about the empty tomb. They made a good choice as the Jewish religious leaders paid them off and covered for them as long as they would spread the lie that the disciples had stolen the body.[8]

Still another argument insists that the women that went to the tomb on Sunday morning were so grief-stricken that they failed to recognize Jesus’ tomb and went to the wrong sepulcher which was empty. This argument simply rejects what Scripture clearly reports. Three of the four Gospels record that the women witnessed the tomb where Jesus was laid.[9] John, who was present at the crucifixion along with Jesus’ mother and the other women, does not say, but it stands to reason that he would have accompanied them to the tomb.

Jesus rose from the dead. If that were not true, the Jews, because of their hatred for Him, only needed to exhume the body and present it to the world, but they had no body. Men have tried and failed to show Jesus’ remains, but they cannot.

Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered death, and because He conquered death, we have the assurance that our sins are covered and we have eternal life with him. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept [died]. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:19-22, emphasis mine). “For if by one man’s [Adam] offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [Jesus] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s [Adam] disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one [Jesus] shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:17-19, emphasis mine).

Because Jesus conquered death, we can have the assurance of eternal life with Him. That is why the resurrection matters. If you are not sure where you stand before Jesus, please read my page on “Securing Eternal Life.”

Notes:


[1]  John 1:14

[2]  Luke 3:23

[3]  Numbers 4:3

[4]  John 19:32-33

[5]  John 19:34

[6]  Matthew 27:65-66

[7]  Matthew 28:2-4

[8]  Matthew 28:11-15

[9]  Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55

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Strange Christmas

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, (Galatians 4:4)

The year 2020 has been a historic year to say the least. It started with my retirement at the end of December 2019 and quickly followed by minor knee surgery on my left knee just three days after. Being new to retirement, I found it challenging to find what to do with all my spare time. I filled some of my time with volunteering opportunities at church and at the ICR Discovery Center for Science and Earth History. Of course, that occupied only part of my time. I also spent many hours, three to six hours a day, studying Scripture, something I enjoy the more I do it.

It was nice to have control of my own time and spend it at my own discretion. Then COVID-19 hit and everything changed, not just for me, but for everyone on Earth. I will spare all the details. I am certain that anyone reading this had similar experiences with masks, social distancing, restrictions on large gatherings, church shut-downs, etc. The year 2020 has been, in many respects, the worst year in the threescore and ten years of my life. Personally, I believe that what we experienced this year, especially with the draconian governmental intrusion into our lives, portends to the seven-year Tribulation prophesied in Scripture and the soon coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. That, in turn, gives me hope that the Rapture of the Church can happen at any moment now. That gives me joy and hope in spite of all this stink going on in our nation and the world.

The year 2020 quickly comes to a close, and we now come to Christmas. But like the rest of 2020, Christmas this year is very strange. My church just opened back up at the beginning of December, but with so many restrictions that it does not even “feel” like church. Attendees must wait to be ushered into a socially distanced place, wear masks during the worship portion of the service, and then wait to be ushered out at the end of the service. Any “fellowshipping” must be done outside of the building and hugs and handshakes are strongly discouraged. We normally put on a Christmas program at this season with choir and orchestra, which usually packs out the sanctuary. This year, we had a socially-distanced ensemble and a guest singer. The music was nice, but it lacked the pizzazz of past Christmas programs. Of course, the audience was at one-third of normal due to all the restrictions, and I missed the “feeling” of the event. I normally sing in the choir, but we could not do that because of COVID-19.

Christmas Eve service will be even stranger. This year it will be “virtual.” Our pastor will bring a Christmas message and we will observe the Lord’s Supper “online.” I do not mean to criticize. I am only stating reality. I know our church staff is trying to make the best of a stinky situation, but for all their effort, it is still a very strange Christmas.

For many years I have bemoaned the inflated sentimentality attached to the season. (You can read my past articles on the topic.) In the first place, it is highly unlikely that Jesus was born in December. In the second place, the overt commercialization of the season detracts from any significance of its true meaning. And in third place, the sentimentality attached to it makes it more about us, and it does about Him.

Our tree is up, the nativity is on the mantle, and Christmas lights illuminate our front yard, and it still feels like a very strange Christmas. What is not strange or unchanged is God’s love and gift to us in taking “upon him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7) “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). When you think about it, that in itself is strange. However, it is God’s plan, and it is in effect regardless of circumstances. Maybe it’s good that this is such a strange Christmas after all.

Merry Christmas!

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A Star

I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. (Numbers 24:17)

As 2020 winds down to a close, we can look back and say, “It was a terrible year!” For me, it started with a drastic change in life called retirement. And before I could really adjust to my new lifestyle, COVID-19 hit and changed life for all of us. Do I need to recount the chaotic events? In November, we voted in the 2020 Presidential Election, and the candidate who campaigned the least and attracted the smallest following miraculously won the election – supposedly. Now we face the real possibility of having a Socialist government for the first time in our nation’s history. President Trump alleges that the election was stolen, and much evidence exists indicating that he has reason to protest and contest the results. He has a great team of lawyers that are fighting to get the election overturned (I pray that they do), but time is running out. However, there is still hope.

I have said this before, and I am still convinced that whether Biden becomes our next President or President Trump wins his second term, we face troubled times ahead. But there is hope. At least, for the Christian there is hope. We only need to remember that our primary citizenship is in heaven with our Lord, and the intensity of the trouble we experience today should alert us that He will soon return to take us home to be with Him. The intensity of the trouble will increase, and the more it increases, the closer we are to His calling us home. There is always hope.

Long ago, as the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness hoping for their Promised Land, their enemies rose up to thwart their plans. One such enemy was Balak, the king of Moab, who hired the prophet Balaam to curse Israel.[1] Balaam was not a “prophet of God,” but he knew God well enough to know that God would not allow him to speak against His people. No matter how Balaam tried, he could only speak the words God directed him to speak. In the end, Balaam pronounced a blessing on Israel, rather than a curse.

In that blessing, Balaam prophesied, “there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17, emphasis mine). On the face of it, the prophecy refers to a coming king of Israel that “shall smite the corners of Moab.” If we stop there, the prophecy leaves us in a lurch, but the Holy Spirit keeps no secrets from those who have “ears to hear.”

In his Gospel, Matthew tells us that “there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2, emphasis mine). Yes, the baby born in Bethlehem was the Star, but a real star – a celestial object – appeared out of Jacob (Israel) to announce His birth. It is because of that Star that we have our Blessed Hope.

Notes:


[1]  Numbers 22-24

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O Holy Night

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2:8)

“The stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.” It was a “holy” night – sacred, pure, consecrated. There was no night like it before, and there has been no night like it since.

It was a holy night because Jesus entered the world on that night. The birth itself was nothing special. Surely He was not the only baby born on that night. According to Luke’s account, Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem some time before the birth. “While they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered” (Luke 2:6). Surely in the small village of Bethlehem word of a young expectant mother got around quickly. Surely the town had at least one midwife to help with the birth, and the ladies of the town would be more than eager to help a young mother, “great with child,”[1] deliver her firstborn. Just because there was no room for them in the inn, does not mean the couple was totally on their own. So, the birth was itself was unremarkable.

The miraculous conception nine months earlier is another matter. The Creator[2] took the form of the “created” when the angel told Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The “Son of God” was God Himself growing inside the virgin’s womb for the normal human gestation time.[3] At conception, He became Emmanuel, God with us.[4]

But now, on this holy night, the incarnate God, entered the world He created. It was a very holy night indeed.

Notes:


[1]  Luke 2:5

[2]  John 1:1-3

[3]  John 1:14

[4]  Matthew 1:23

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Christmas Excitement

Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them. (Isaiah 42:9)

It’s that time of year once more. The places I work and worship sparkle with bright red, green, and gold decorations consistent with the colors of the Christmas season. Long before Thanksgiving Day, merchants displayed all their Christmas wares enticing shoppers to covet without first giving thanks. Television commercials attempt to instill a sense of privation so the viewer feels the need for what they are selling.

GMC™ produces two commercials that really stand out to me. They show a young couple, probably in their late twenties or early thirties, with no children, and a big fancy house. In one of the commercials, the husband buys GMC ™ vehicles for both of them. In the other, the husband gets the wife a puppy, and the wife gets him a big crew-cab pickup. Seriously, how many young people, on the average, have that kind of cash? Most young people that age, if they graduated from a college or university, are saddled with enormous school debt and are doing well to afford payments on a Honda Civic™ much less a $60,000 fully decked out pickup truck!

Regardless of how we feel about the materialism associated with the Christmas season, we cannot get away from the sense of expectation. At church, our choir and orchestra are working hard a polishing up the music for our Christmas concert. It will be wonderful, and we are excited about presenting it. Our church looks forward to our Christmas Eve services and our sharing of the Lord’s Supper, aka communion.

We celebrate the birth of our Savior. Think about what that means. The same God that created heaven and earth and all things, the same God that created human beings in His very image, is the same God that implanted Himself in the womb of a virgin girl to be born like any other human baby, live a sinless life among His creation, and give Himself as a sacrifice for humanity’s sin. That is awesome! That boggles the mind!

We anticipate with excitement the celebration of Christmas, the First Advent, but our celebration should look forward to the Second Advent yet to come. The prophets of old foretold of Jesus’ first coming. Beginning in Genesis, the Bible promises that the “seed of the woman” would crush the head of the serpent, i.e., Satan.[1] Isaiah tells us that the woman would be a virgin.[2] In Genesis, we also learn that He would come from the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah.[3] Isaiah foretold that Jesus would be in the line of King David[4] and the psalmist concurred.[5] The conniving Balaam unwittingly predicted that a star would announce His coming.[6] Micah pointed to Bethlehem as the place of His birth,[7] and Hosea said He would come up from Egypt.[8] These are just some of the prophecies of His First Advent. Many more prophecies foretold of His life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection – all with 100% accuracy.

Christmastime should cause excitement as we anticipate His Second Advent. There are more prophecies concerning His second coming than there are for His first coming. Since all prophecies of His first coming came true as predicted, should we not expect the same accuracy of the prophecies predicting His second coming? Celebrating Christmas should excite us knowing that the Baby Jesus is the soon-coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

One of the carols we sing at Christmastime is not really a Christmas carol. In fact, “Joy to the World”[9] reminds us that Christ will return to rule the world as king.

Joy to the world the Savior reigns; let men their songs employ; while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat their sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.

We know historically that did not happen at His first coming. We might spiritualize those sentiments. Certainly, the Savior reigns within the hearts of all believers, albeit not perfectly. Sin and sorrow continue as always and “the curse” goes on unabated. He does not rule the world, and “the nations” care nothing about His glories or righteousness. All of these are attributes of His yet-to-come millennial reign.[10] The prophet Isaiah provides some insight into Jesus’ millennial reign on earth. That will be a time when even the animal kingdom will be at peace.[11] Knowing what is coming should make Christmas even more exciting than all the GMC™ pickups the world can afford!

Notes:


[1]  Genesis 3:15

[2]  Isaiah 7:14

[3]  Genesis 12:3; 26:4; 28:14; 49:10-11

[4]  Isaiah 11:1

[5]  Psalm 132:11

[6]  Numbers 24:17

[7]  Micah 5:2

[8]  Hosea 11:1

[9]  Carol by Isaac Watts, 1718

[10]  Revelation 20:1-7

[11]  Isaiah 11

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