According to the Bible, marriage was given as a gift of God at the time of creation. (Genesis 1-3) The Creator made humans in His own image, both male and female. God’s stated intention still is that the two shall become one in a blessed partnership, to give birth and nurture children.
Marriage is the institution that ensures that future generations have a pattern for living that reflects the design of the creator. That design is for all people to know God’s love for them. It is also the institution through which God wants to create successive generations of people who will form and maintain a just and moral society.
Marriage and family life are central themes of the Bible beginning with the first family, continuing through Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon, and on into the family of Jesus.
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib[b] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
God’s gift of intimate sexual relations symbolizes and sustains this divine union. The sexual act for humans is intended only within the boundaries of marriage. Marriage is intended to be a life-long relationship, “Until death do us part,” based on mutual trust, fidelity, and chastity.
Unfortunately, God’s beautiful dream of what marriage was meant to be has been tainted by sin. Throughout history men and women have rejected God-ordained marriage engaging in divorce, adultery, sexual slavery, spousal abuse, open marriages, same-sex unions and broken homes with single parents.
The gift of marriage as God intends yields a loving, healthy family life in stark contrast to our broken world. It is the fundamental nurturing institution of any nation.
Unfortunately, they will be forever cut off from the presence of God. Christ himself make this abundantly clear when he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John. 14:6]
The Apostle, Peter, clearly explained this to the religious leaders in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
But, you may ask, what about the people who are never told of Jesus? How about those who have no access to the Bible and have never read John or Acts, or letters written by Paul to churches in various cities? Fortuntely, the Bible is clear:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Paul also explains that God has instilled His law within people’s consciences so there is no excuse.
They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
Since no one can live up to God’s standards, we all stand condemned to an eternity in what the New Testament describes as hell. What exactly that place is may not be fully understood by men, but it is a place where no one wants to end up. If God is absent, there will be no restraints on evil. It will be never-ending punishment in what John in Revelation describes as a lake of fire.
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
In Mark 9:43 we read about an eternity of ‘unquenchable fire’. As with eternity with God for those who know Jesus and have accepted his substitutionary death for our sins, hell is an eternity in a never-ending misery, unlike anything one knows on earth.
Bible scholars like R. S. Sproul explain that people are not sentenced to Hell for rejecting Jesus but for rejecting the light they do have. Because people everywhere reject that light, Jesus, before leaving this earth, commanded his followers to go into all the world and tell them the Good News of God’s plan of redemption–the sacrifice of his own son so that the penalty for sin is paid for.
If you are not yet sure of where your future lies, we encourage you to read our post, How does one become a Christian?
Of course Christians should judge others, but there is a big difference in assessing another’s character or behavior and being judgmental about them. The scripture that people often cite is from Matthew chapter 7:
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
Matthew 7:1 (KJV)
This verse is used by Christians and non-Christians alike to shut off conversation particulary when one who is sinning is confronted by another who points out their sin. Think about a husband who abuses his wife being “found out” and told he must stop the abuse. His response might be “don’t judge me, you’re not exactly perfect.”
Or think about a woman discussing her abortion with a coworker and being told that what she had done was akin to murder. The response is apt to be. “Don’t judge me. You don’t know what’s going on in my life.”
Everyday we encounter people who we believe are engaging in activities that run counter to what God expects of us. We have friends and family members who not only do bad things, but actively thumb their noses at God. Some go as far as rejecting the way God made them and seek to change their gender or participate in sexual practices that are an abomination to God. Turning a blind eye to deviant behavior is just as wrong as confronting it in a judgmental fashion.
Jesus didn’t stop in verse one, he was very specific in his explanation of his admonition to “judge not.”
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:1-5 (NIV)
Jesus wanted to be sure that before you voice your criticism of others, you should be very sure that you are not sinning in the same way. He wants to restore relationships with both parties and that begins with your repentance of sin before going to someone else and pointing out their sinful ways.
Jesus even laid out a very specific procedure for judging others within the church.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
What to do with those outside the church? The focus should be on helping others find Jesus, not just on trying to change their behavior. The best possible way to get a non-believer to give up lifestyles or activities that God hates is to allow the Holy Spirit to change that individual from within. That will only happen once the non-believer recognizes that he or she is a sinner, repents and accepts what Jesus did on the cross to pay for his or her sins.
When you judge others and see something that is out of step with God’s will, get yourself straight and then let God guide you as you share the Gospel message with others.
Since the 4th-century Christian churches have been celebrating Epiphany. Derived from the Greek word, epiphaneia which means “manifestation”, the holy day remembers the first revealing of Jesus to the Gentiles–the Magi or wise men from the East. (see last week’s post, Who were the “Wise Men” who visited baby Jesus?Epiphany is commemorated 12 days after Christmas. Epiphany eve is called Twelfth Night in some traditions and culminates what is universally known as the 12 days of Christmas.
This day of remembrance is most notably celebrated in Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and Orthodox churches, but sometimes in other protestant denominations. This year Epiphany is January 6 for those who celebrate Christmas on December 25. Orthodox Christians and other Christian churches in lands where the Orthodox tradition is dominant, celebrate Epiphany on January 19–12 days after Christmas which falls on January 7.
Epiphany is celebrated in a myriad of ways, from gift-giving to feasts and from burning herbs to sprinkling holy water. These later practices along with prayers to the Magi are among the non-biblical practices that have led many evangelical churches to deemphasize Epi[hany.
In addition to celebrating the visit by the Magi, some churches include a celebration of Jesus’ baptism and the first recorded miracle, turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
One of the board members of Living Dialog Ministries uses Epiphany as a time to write his annual reflection on the past year and his prayer for the year ahead.
However you choose to commemorate Epiphany keep your focus on the object of the Magi’s adoration–Jesus, the anointed one sent by God to die for your sins and for the sins of everyone else who has ever lived or who will ever live. If you want to learn more about Jesus, who came to save a lost world, check out our post: How does one become a Christian?
In Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus we read the familiar account of wise men or magi visiting Jesus and his parents in a home in Bethlehem.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The Magi were most probably Zoroastrian astrologers who were advisers to the rulers of the Parthian Empire (Iran and Iraq), Rome’s rival to the east at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. These highly educated men believed in a cosmic struggle of good and evil and that a savior would eventually come to restore the world by getting rid of the evil one. Their founder, Zoroaster, may have been a contemporary of Daniel and the other Jewish scholars who were held in captivity in Babylon, almost 600 years earlier. Zoroaster, and his followers in succeeding centuries, would have known about Judaism and would have studied its sacred texts.
Therefore, when an alignment of stars led them to believe that they were seeing a sign that indicated the birth of a Jewish King, some (we don’t know how many but probably many more than three) traveled to Jerusalem to pay tribute to the newborn royalty. Since Herod, the current King, didn’t have a baby and was very worried that a usurper was in his land, he asked his own priests about a future King of the Jews and learned that the scriptures said he was to be been born in Bethlehem, a town six miles from the palace in Jerusalem.
Rather than stir up trouble with his Iranian guests, Herod sent them to Bethlehem to find the “baby king” and report back to him, ostensibly to go and worship this child. When the Magi didn’t return, Herod, who had nearly lost his life and family to Parthians 30 years earlier, did not pursue the Magi and demand the information he wanted. He didn’t order their capture and punishment for their disobedience despite his proclivity for killing anyone who challenged his authority. He took it upon himself to handle the “problem” of having a new king in his land.
Herod ordered the murder of all the baby boys under two years of age, who lived in and around Bethlehem. Since Jesus and his parents must have still been in Bethlehem when the decree was announced because they were warned by an angel to immediately leave for Egypt. There they remained refugees for months or maybe years before returning to Joseph’s home town of Nazareth, almost 100 miles north of Bethlehem.
We read nothing more of the “kings” from Parthia, but will never forget their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the King of Kings.
The Bible describes a place where animals were kept as the birthplace of Jesus, God’s son, who was the long-awaited messiah. Though a stable seems like a strange place for the birth of a king, this humble beginning marks a turning point in human history.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
In this short passage from the gospel of Luke we don’t get the complete picture of the events leading up to Jesus’ birth. Think about the trek from Bethlehem to Nazareth. Mary most likely walked the 100 miles from the tiny village in the northern part of Israel to another small town near the capital city of Jerusalem. She and Joseph most likely traveled in a caravan of others heading to their ancestral homes in the south to register for a census decreed by Caesar Augustus. Since Jews avoided contact with Samaritans, (those who lived between Nazareth and Bethlehem) they would have traveled on a route that followed the Jordan River east of Samaria. The one-to two-week, 100-mile journey, brought them to the small village of Bethlehem six miles south of the temple in Jerusalem.
There, like most of their fellow travelers, they would have sought lodging with relatives. The Bible tells us there was no room for them in the guest room, (mistranslated “inn”) that would have been on the upper level of the house where people slept, so they likely bedded down in the general living area on the first floor. A common practice then (and in some parts of the world today) was to bring animals inside at night to protect them from cold, thieves and other dangers. That may be why Mary, after delivering her baby, lay him in a feeding trough (manager), that then served as Jesus’ bassinet.
Of greater importance than the location of the stable is understanding why Jesus would be born in such lowly circumstances. Jesus was with God when the universe was created. He was the instrument of creation of everything, including mankind, with whom he wanted to have a relationship, and on whom he could bestow his love and affection. However, man abused that relationship and rebelled. In the process, all mankind became lost to God’s companionship and His love. God never stopped loving man, and prescribed a system of sacrifice by which man could atone for his rebellion, generally known as sin. The blood of an unblemished lamb was let each year for the forgiveness of sin, but it was a temporary measure that had to be performed annually, forever.
Jesus, the creator of the universe, came to earth to take the place of the lamb, shedding his blood once for all time. How better for Him to become the perfect sacrifice than to be born in the lowliest of conditions taking the place of the unblemished lamb. God loved us so much that he sent Jesus in total humility to provide a pathway for the restoration of our relationship with Him.
If you have not yet entered into a restored relationship with your creator, we encourage you to consider what it means to become a follower of Christ and read our post, How does one become a Christian?
The winter celebration of the birth of Christ dates first appears on a Roman calendar in 336 AD, centuries after the event took place. Scholars believe that there may have been an attempt to co-opt an existing pagan festival that marked the coming of the light after the shortest day of the year. Clues in the Bible suggest another time of year because shepherds would not likely be in the fields with sheep during the cold winter. Some scholars suggest a spring birth when lambs would have been in the fields with their mothers. Others identify fall, perhaps September as the likely month of birth. If the latter, the celebration on December 25th could mark the moment that light entered the world when God entered Mary’s womb.
When we celebrate is not nearly as important as why we celebrate. Since the beginning of time, God created mankind in his image so that he could commune with them, to let them enjoy a perfect world communicating with the creator of everything. When man and woman broke the covenant with God, the perfect world fell apart as evil reared its head and brought death and destruction to all that had been right.
A penalty had to be paid for the violation of God, and He knew that only a perfect sacrifice could atone for the great injustice of all men and women–past, present and future. God knew that the only perfect sacrifice would be himself, in the form of his son, Jesus, who was born to die. We celebrate the coming of God to be our savior and redeemer.
The baby in the manger grew up to be the sacrificial lamb for all of humankind. He died in our place that we may be pardoned and be returned to a right relationship with God. Therefore, while we celebrate the arrival of a baby born of a virgin, the true celebration is that of the birth of a savior who would provide the gateway for us to be restored to a right relationship with the almighty God of the universe.
If you would like to learn more about how you can enter into a relationship with the eternal God, we encourage you to read our blog post: How does one become a Christian?
The Bible explains what is known as the “virgin birth”. Mary, the mother of Jesus, became pregnant not through a man, but through a supernatural act of God. The story is related in the account of the life of Jesus written by Matthew, one of his disciples. Matthew’s book is written specifically to tell the Jewish people how Jesus was the Messiah promised in their scriptures.
“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Matthew 1:18-19
As a follower of the law, Joseph could divorce his wife for any cause, but he couldn’t divorce someone to whom he was not married. Therefore we have to look more closely at the customs of the times and the meaning of the words used to describe this situation. Betrothal, translated here as “pledged to be married”, describes a legal agreement joining two people. This is quite different from what we today call an engagement because once betrothed, neither of the two could back out. A betrothal could only be broken by death or divorce. That they had “not come together” reflected a custom of the time that a pledged couple would remain apart for a period of time–often until a room is added to the home of the groom’s family to which the groom would ultimately bring his bride. That they did “not come together” also suggests that they were not intimate up until this time, that’s why the birth of Jesus is described as a virgin birth or a conception without the seed of a man.
Would Mary’s pregnancy cause her to be marginalized or even result in her being stoned for adultery? No. Not unless Joseph were to publicly proclaim that he was not the father of the child in her womb.
“But as he considered these things (Mary’s pregnancy), behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”Matthew 1:20-21
This miraculous virgin birth of a savior would prove to be a pivotal turning point in the history of mankind. Joseph, would forever be known as a man who listened to God and was faithful to both his wife and the law.
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”Matthew 1:22-25
Are you prepared to have an encounter with God that will help you discover the truth of His existence? Click on our post: How does one become a Christian?
Jonah’s story has been debated for millennia. Being swallowed by and praying in the belly of a fish sure seems like fiction. However, evidence for the veracity of the story is powerful. Consider the following:
- Jonah is described in the Bible as a true historical figure identified as a prophet. (2 Kings 14:25) Yet, The book portrays Jonah in a bad light. Why would an author write a derogatory fictionalized account of a person who otherwise is presented as a real person serving God in a positive manner?
- The book of Jonah is included in a collection of writings of God’s prophets who are genuine, historical figures. Why would the compilers of these books include a fictitious account of one of these prophets?
- The supernatural occurrences in the book–from the storm being stilled when Jonah was thrown from the boat to the plant that spontaneously arose to provide shade and just as quickly withered–are all within the realm of possibility. Don’t they look like many other miracles we read about in the Bible?
- Jesus, the son of God, affirmed the historical accuracy of Jonah and referenced Jonah being in the fish. (Matthew 12:39-41 and Luke 11:29-32). Jesus also noted that the men of Nineveh repented which wouldn’t make sense if Jonah hadn’t preached to them. Are we to assume that Jesus was wrong when he said that Jonah was a real prophet and his story as recorded in the book bearing his name was true?
- Scholars point out that Nineveh, the Assyrian city that stood near the modern city of Mosul in Iraq, was not so large that it would take three days to walk across it (Jonah 3:3). They point to this seeming discrepancy to suggest that the Jonah account is fiction. Could Jonah be referring to the entire region around the capital city, including “suburban” towns nearby? Or, might he have been describing the size of the city from the perspective of a person who was stopping on every corner to preach and prophecy about the calamity that was to befall the city?
Getting past the question of whether or not Jonah is a true account of God’s call and Jonah’s response to go to Nineveh, one should look at what the story says about God and his relation to mankind. Here it is most interesting that God is showing a positive attitude to Gentiles, even ones who will eventually conquer Israel.
God’s grace is on display in this story as He is described as being “merciful and compassionate” (Jonah 4:2) towards Nineveh.
Also on display is the sovereignty of God over the natural world. He sends a storm, stops it, allows an individual to be swallowed by a great fish and survive for three days, and he raises a plant overnight to provide shade for His prophet.
Most importantly, Jonah’s story shows the futility of running from God, and the difficulties that befall those who try. If you would like to know the God that Jonah served and learn the proper way to respond to His call on your life, we encourage you to read our post, How does one become a Christian?
For many, Thanksgiving is a day for overeating and football followed by a mad dash for Black Friday specials. Stores are decorated for Christmas moments after the Halloween stuff comes down and Thanksgiving is mostly “celebrated” by on-air personalities who talk about the rising cost of Thanksgiving dinner and the number of people who will be traveling for the long holiday weekend. So, it may seem that Thanksgiving has lost its original meaning–a day set aside to thank God for America’s abundance and freedom.
The traditional First Thanksgiving was an acknowledgment by Pilgrims, who arrived on the Mayflower, that through God’s grace some of those travelers survived the first terrible winter of freezing and starvation. Those survivors were able to plant and harvest grains and vegetables that allowed the community to flourish. After their first harvest, they expressed thanks to God for His sustaining grace and for the help they received from nearby native communities.
Through the years, more and more English settlers arrived in the New World and harvest celebrations, like the ones they celebrated in the old country, became part of their annual rituals. Throughout New England, especially, an annual Thanksgiving was proclaimed. One hundred sixty-eight years after that first Thanksgiving feast along the shore of Cape Cod Bay, President George Washington, at the request of Congress called for Thursday, November 26th to be set aside as a day for prayer and giving thanks to God. Subsequent presidents, except for Thomas Jefferson, continued the tradition. Almost 75 years later, President Lincoln proclaimed Thursday, Nov. 26, 1863 as a National Thanksgiving Day. The 4th Thursday in November became the official date of Thanksgiving during the Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.
So where does that leave Christians? Pagan harvest festivals predated and seem to form the basis for our Thanksgiving holiday. Christians don’t need a special day to thank God for his provisions, that is an everyday occurrence. They also shouldn’t give the day any more spiritual significance than any other day. But Thanksgiving does offer Christians an opportunity to reflect on God’s goodness to them in the death and resurrection of Jesus, their lord and savior. Likewise, it provides Christian moms and dads a time to retell the story of the First Thanksgiving and how God spared the Pilgrims and allowed them to enter a long period of friendship with natives who lived nearby. It also provides an opportunity to invite international students and recent immigrants into Christian homes to learn about this unique holiday.
So what are you thankful for? You don’t need to have a great job, or perfect family, or new car, or a big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving to realize that you probably have many reasons to be thankful. You might start by being thankful for what you have, instead of dwelling on what you don’t have.
Millions of people walk this earth with much less than you have, yet many of them enjoy contentment and are thankful for what they do have. Think about this. If you live in America, you are already among the most blessed people on earth. And those blessings come directly or indirectly from God–the God who created everything, even you. So take stock of your blessings and thank the God who has made them possible. Objects of your desire may fail you. People may let you down. But even if some things are not going your way right now, God still loves you, and He wants you to know contentment even in your suffering.
All that is required for true joy is a relationship with our Creator (Ps. 37:14), who wants us to be happy and to bless us with everything we need (Phil. 4:19), even though we may not think so. When we have a good relationship with God (Prov. 10:3), like Paul, an apostle of Jesus, we will learn in whatever situation to be content (Phil. 4:11-12). We will find that the most important thing that God can give us is Himself (Eph. 2:8-9). Once we have our eyes set on God, everything else falls into place (Matt. 6:33). Thank God with your whole heart this week!
If you would like to learn more about how you can enter into a relationship with the eternal God to whom we give thanks, we encourage you to read our blog post: How does one become a Christian?