Life is about choices. Decisions we make have outcomes that impact our lives, influence our behaviors, our beliefs and our relationships with others. We can choose to continue with business as usual, enjoying success based on the standards defined by our secular culture. Or, we can take an honest look at Jesus of the Bible and dare to ask what the consequences might be if we really believed, trusted and obeyed Him. Would following Jesus really bring life meaning and purpose, joy and peace and eternal life?
The fact is that each and everyday, for over 2000 years, people around the world from every nation choose to follow Jesus who gave His life and was raised from the dead so that all who follow Him can enjoy God’s kingdom, peace with God and everlasting life.
Jesus proved that He was God by signs, miracles, profound wisdom, and overcoming death and the grave. Jesus confirmed (John 14:6) that He is the only way to heaven and eternal life. So the question really is, “Why wouldn’t everyone want to follow Jesus?” Life is a gift from God. It can only be lived to the fullest in a relationship with Jesus. Remember happiness depends on happenings, which are temporary, but real joy and fulfillment, which are eternal, are only found in Jesus. That is why untold millions have chosen to follow Him.
Yes, but often we’re not listening. God created man and woman in his image, that is he gave them the capacity to communicate in a way that is different from all the other creatures in the world. He gave them the capacity to interact with the creator of not just the world, but the universe as well. He wanted these beings to enjoy a pain-free, stress-free eternal life in communion with him.
When the first man and woman decided that they could be the equal of the creator, they separated themselves from God and set mankind on a death spiral.
But God never abandoned his most precious creation and instituted a plan to restore his relationship with them.
That plan began with the setting apart a group of people through whom the world would be blessed. The plan culminated with the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ who sacrificed himself to atone for all the wrongdoings of everyone whoever lived and who will ever live on earth.
We read the story of God and his people in the Bible and learn of his personal interaction with him. Today we can still hear his voice. Sometimes it is through the Bible, the holy scriptures inspired by God. Sure, the various books in the Bible were written at different times, with specific purposes to specific audiences. However, the truths contained there can speak to those who open their hearts and mind to hear God speaking to them.
The apostle Paul, who wrote many of the letters that are included in the Bible, reminds us that:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
God speaks through the written word (logos), as well as through the Holy Spirit (rhema), which as believers, we receive when we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. God made us each individual and He speaks to us in the way that we receive information; a visual learner versus an audible learner. God confirms Himself through others, though it’s best to check with scripture and confirm that what you believe God is saying to you is true to His character.
First, it is best to consider the definition of redemption. It is the action of regaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or the clearing of debt. It is also deliverance from sin unto salvation. It means pardoned from the penalty of sin which is death and eternal separation from God and God’s love forever; that’s the ‘what from’ answer. Redemption, you see, must be a gift of Grace by the Creator, God, because sin is the rejection of God and His Authority and only He can provide the remedy.
Grace is the undeserved gift God has provided to overcome mankind’s sin condition. That gift is Jesus Christ who took upon himself on the cross the penalty of sin, death, and paid the debt each person owes but cannot pay himself.
Romans 6:23 reads, “The wages of sin is death (judgment).” That is why Jesus is referred to as Savior as He alone has offered redemption or salvation to all who put their trust in Him. It is Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven that confirms He is the Redeemer of men’s souls.
Sin seeks to keep mankind in bondage to the slavery of sin. Its goal is to deny him the freedom that God wants for every person which is found in a personal life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Mankind was created to be in relationship with its Creator and to experience a meaningful and purposeful life and enjoy being in God’s presence in the present and in the eternal future. The redeeming work of Jesus Christ brings abundant blessings and spiritual awareness to all who follow Him. Remember, Wise men and women still seek Him, how about you?
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.
The popular Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are” is most likely inaccurate for two reasons: the visitors probably weren’t rulers of nations, nor are they likely to have come from what we think of as the Orient, western Asia.
The Kings or “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) 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 would 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 short answer is he probably wasn’t. The more important answer is that there was a reason for the humble birth of God’s son–a reason that predates time itself.
First, let’s address the place of Christ’s birth. Joseph and his betrothed wife, Mary most likely walked the 100 miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem 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 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 “stable”) 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 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 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 the relationship and rebelled and in the process 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 I live my life to the best of my ability, when I die, I’ll be going to heaven, right? Unfortunately, that’s not right.
None of us can live perfect lives. We can never be good enough to enter heaven. We read in the Bible that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) So while good works are important, “Works, through faith, are good and profitable for all people” (Titus 3:8), it is only through faith in Christ Jesus (John 14:16) and His sacrifice for us that we are saved, not by our works, otherwise we might think too highly of ourselves and devalue Jesus and His life.
Getting to heaven demands atonement for our sins–a sacrifice that is great and costly. That sacrifice is beyond anything that we can do, that’s why God did it for us. He sent his son, Jesus to earth to become that sacrifice. In John 3:16 we read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Does that mean that good works are worthless? Absolutely not. Faith in Jesus Christ is what saves us, but faith without works is dead (James 2:20-24). Works are the fruit of our faith and obediently done for the glory of God (Matthew 5:16). God wants us to good. Within the Bible we read, “…what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
The question is sort of an enigma or even an oxymoron. We wonder how this could be true, but it is sadly to say frequently true. Too often it is difficult to distinguish Christian believers from non-Christians. Why? Values and behaviors seem similar. Church groups are plagued with the same problems as secular groups. Christians are promised a new life in Christ but sometimes this new life is not much different from the old life of the world.
The apostle Paul confronts this condition in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 3:1. “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ.” Two thousand years later this same condition exists. Paul identifies some believers as “worldly Christians” who are like infants in spiritual development. Their guide for living is the ways of the world rather than the way of Christ. They are friends of Jesus but not true followers. Jesus is their Savior but not yet their Lord. The Bible is not their instruction book for life. They stay tuned to the message of the culture not the Word of God. They do not renew their minds with the Scriptures.
When we come by faith to know Jesus as our Savior, we are led by the Holy Spirit into a new life. The Bible calls it being ‘born again’. We have a new purpose, serving God and building His kingdom. We have a new joy, forgiveness of sin. We have a new power, the Holy Spirit. We have a new life, one that is good, pleasing, and eternal. It is a transformation that is as real as a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. Worldly Christians are intended to be transformed into the spiritual Christians, new creations in Christ, His ambassadors.
If this question stumps you, maybe you haven’t stopped to think about the many blessings you enjoy. 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 does want for us to be happy and blesses 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!
In this era of political correctness and so-called religious tolerance we are led to believe that all religions lead to God and we often hear it said, “we are all children of God.” Unfortunately, this is not true.
It is completely correct to say “we are all loved by God”. God “created us in His Image from before time began”, formed us “fearfully and wonderfully” in our mothers’ womb, knew us “before one of our days came to be”, and loves us with an unconditional, everlasting love. It is quite humbling to realize that we can do absolutely nothing to make God love us more than He does now, and also there is absolutely nothing we do that will make Him love us LESS.
However, the Bible is very clear on this: “that whoever believes and receives Jesus has the right to be called a child of God.” (1 John 5:1) They are actually “born again” into God’s family, with God as their father. Trusting in Jesus is the only way for this to happen. Now we are loved as a precious child by the most loving and perfect Father who created us and knows us completely and will provide, protect and guide us. Not only this, but since you are God’s child, a member of the Royal household, you are also an heir to God’s eternal kingdom with all its rights and privileges. You are a child of the King – known, loved, gifted and cared for – now and forever.
Isn’t it wonderful to be able to relax and trust that all is well, regardless of what you see, because you know your Father is taking care of you? If you do not have that peace, you can have it today…surrender your life to Jesus, and become a child of God.