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This Same Jesus

December 16th, 2016

This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11b)

Jesus is the indispensable person of Christianity. Christianity is not so much an ethic, philosophy, or morality as it is an encounter with Jesus Christ Himself.

It is especially important at Christmas time for us to consider this truth and to align our lives and our hearts to love Christ. Christmas as the world celebrates it seems determined to demean Christ to merely a babe, and to place more emphases on shepherds and wise men, even reindeer and snowmen, than on Christ.

What does the Bible say about Christ?

He is the indispensable element of creation: John said plainly, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). Paul wrote, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16).

He is the One toward whom all the streams of history run: Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forever more. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1:18). Paul wrote, “That in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth - In Him” (Eph. 1:10 NKJV).

He was the essential element of Apostolic preaching: The apostles in their evangelizing and preaching never ventured away from Christ. He was essential for the Christian message. As Peter preached at Pentecost:

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. (Acts 2:32-33)

Paul also as he gave testimony before Festus and Agrippa placed Christ front and center in his message saying, “That the Christ would suffer, and that He would be the first to rise from the dead” (Acts 26:23). In every sermon and in every element of the Christian faith, the apostles presented Christ as the solution for the problems of the world and the indispensable Person for the salvation and new life of the individual.

He is the living center of the Christian faith and of the Christian life: Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21), and:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

It is through Christ that we are saved, and it is in Christ that we live victoriously. He is it that has all authority in heaven and on earth (Mat. 28:19-20), so He is the One to whom and through whom we pray, and He is the One in whose power we preach and witness and resist temptation in our lives. It is His Spirit who indwells us (Rom. 8:9) and in Him we may live victoriously.

All the affection of our hearts should be directed toward Him. All the strength to live the Christian life should be derived from Him. All the good ambition of our soul should be intended to please Him. And all the hope and anticipation for eternity should be invested in Him. We trust in Christ because we know Him.

When we speak of trust, we speak of something more of the heart than faith or belief. We must know God to trust Him. We can believe based on a rational argument. We may have faith by an act of the will. But trust is of the heart and implies experience, knowledge, and encounter. So trust is especially meaningful for us when we come to Christmas. Unless God starts the encounter and reveals a personal aspect of Himself we cannot truly trust Him. We may have intellectual belief and choose of our wills to obey and have faith, but trust, that is based on God’s revelation of Himself, was not possible for most of us until Bethlehem.

There were some in the Old Testament, like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and Daniel, who learned to trust God, but the process was long and gained through many different experiences and personal revelations. But in the simple gospel accounts, even children can come face to face with Jesus. As we read:

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:5-6)

At Christmas time, do not leave Jesus in the manger, but embrace Him as the living Lord of scripture and the One in whom and through whom your life consists.

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Great Joy!

December 8th, 2016

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11 ESV)

The angel spoke to the shepherds of “great joy.” Christmas is about joy, true spiritual joy.

Yet in today’s world there are many joy killers – some do so even in the name of Christianity. Joy takes time. In addition the stress of getting everything done for Christmas – the presents, the cooking, the travel plans, the social engagements – we can sometimes leave Christ out of it all together. I heard one person complain, “I wish Christ had been born at a different time – we’re too busy at Christmas to celebrate His birthday.” Perhaps you feel the same. You’re too busy to enjoy, truly enjoy the meaning of the coming of Christ.

And there are those types of Christianity that practically leave joy out all together, that, despite their sincerity in teaching about Christian discipline, they create the impression that to be joyous is some sort of selfish sin. No true form of Christian faith can ignore the clear teachings of scripture about joy, but sometimes they make the route you must take to get there so tortuous, unnecessarily so, that joy is lost in the process, or seen to be some sort of “guilty Christian pleasure,” that surely, the disciple may feel, we should not have.

And, in today’s world there are real dangers. Many in the military are in harm’s way this time of year, or separated from their loved ones. Others are dealing with real tragedies and problems in their personal lives. Our whole world is in need of God’s incredible joy. So for us the angel’s announcement is particularly meaningful.

Where is the joy of Christmas? How can we experience true joy and peace in our lives? Why did the angel speak about this great joy that all can experience? Have you discovered the joy of the Lord?

There are three main types of joy: (1) circumstantial joy, when things are going well, or we hear some good news, etc.; (2) moral joy, which is the sense of satisfaction and inner peace when we do a good act - a serenity of conscience; and (3) spiritual joy which is part of the work of God in our lives. Spiritual joy is what we call a Christian grace that God gives. It is separate from and not dependent on the first two types of joy, circumstantial and moral.

By saying this is a “Christian grace” means that it is a gift of the Spirit of God to the Christian’s heart based upon His gracious love. We read in scripture: “For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16). The character of Christ is a grace gift to the Christian’s heart – and that character brings into our hearts the peace that Christ had (John 14:27) and the joy that Christ had (John 16:22). Jesus said about the Spirit of God, “He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14). What God declares to us is His will for us, and we must receive it freely but by faith. No person in all of history was as joyous as Christ, or at as much peace as Christ. Though He was also called the “Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), He also had unparalleled joy. When the Spirit gives the character of Jesus to us, He does so out of compassion and grace. So, though undeserved, joy is ministered to our hearts by His Spirit and is claimed by faith. Christ said, in the context of John 16, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).

Paul wrote of the Christian’s “progress and joy in the faith” (Phil. 1:25) and it is the normal Christian experience that we we mature in the faith we become more and more joyful. Faith must have an object - we cannot believe in a general sense, we must believe in something or in some one, or in a specific truth about God. So we believe in God himself and in His promises: “Though you do not see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible” (1 Peter 1:8). We rejoice that we are forgiven and promised a new life in Christ (Rom 5:1-5). And not only that we are forgiven and are provided with a blessed life, but that our Savior is exalted, that the one who saved us will also be glorified in full, so “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). We believe in the future prosperity of Christ’s eternal kingdom (Rev. 11:15-17) and the happiness of that future condition (Psalm 16:9-11).

These objects of our faith are not only reasons for rejoicing, but they also serve as “faith triggers,” specific things we believe that release into our lives the serendipitous reality of God’s grace. We receive from Jesus Christ the grace gifts that are far more than we could have imagined. As we read, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).

The faith decision that triggers joy, or any of these grace gifts of Christ, may not even seem to be very closely related to joy. We may have believed that Christ has saved us from sin, but that faith in His mercy triggered the release by God of unforeseen blessings in our life. So not only do we receive forgiveness, but joy, gratitude, patience, peace, etc.

So at Christmas, do not miss the joy of the message of the season. Christ came that we might have “great joy”!

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