December 22: Joy to the World! Rejoice! We are a Part of a Team Game

This devotional is a part of the 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 22

Rejoice!  We are a part of a Team Game!

Scripture Reading:  Luke 2:3-5, Micah 5:2

Football is the ultimate team game.  It takes 11 men on each down to make a play work.  This sounds like coach-speak, but it is actually gospel truth.  For instance, if the quarterback drops back to throw a deep pass to the wide receiver, everyone must do their part for the play to work.  If any member of the offensive line does not make their block, the quarterback does not have time to throw the pass.  If the running back does not pick up the blitzing linebacker, the quarterback will be sacked.  If the other wide receivers (the ones not being thrown the ball) do not run their routes, the intended receiver will be double-covered.  If the quarterback does not throw the ball on target the receiver does not have a chance to catch it.  If the receiver does not catch the ball, the play is a failure.  Everyone must do his job for a single play to work.  This makes football the ultimate team game.

Even when a play is not “about them” everyone must do their part in order for the play to work.  This is different than other sports.  On a baseball team, the right fielder does nothing on a routine ground ball to the short stop.  On a basketball team (while a very good team game), a great player can score lots of points playing a “one-on-one” kind of game.  Only in football must everyone participate in order for the play to work.

I was thinking about this today as I was reflecting on the Christmas story . . . particularly the part of Jesus being born in Bethlehem.  The fact that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem was promised by God through the prophet Micah in Micah 5:2, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah.  From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.  His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”  In light of our analogy here, Micah 5:2 is like a play that God was calling in the “huddle” with Israel 700 years before the birth of Christ.  As Israel broke the huddle though, and prepared for the play, it would take millions of people in motion to pull off this “play” for the team.

Mary and Joseph did not live in Bethlehem.  They lived in Nazareth.  Nazareth was a small town about 70 miles from Bethlehem.  In a world without planes, trains, or automobiles, it was certainly not likely that Mary would give birth in Bethlehem.  So, in order for God’s play to unfold, everyone had to do his or her part to get Mary to Bethlehem.  Luke 2:1 tells us that Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census to be taken.  In order for all the people who lived in the Roman Empire to be counted, Caesar wanted everyone to travel to their ancestral home.  While Caesar did not do this intending to see the Messiah born in the proper town, God used Caesar’s decree to properly execute His play.  Imagine the scene . . . in order to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem (their ancestral home) at the time of Jesus birth (as Luke 2:3-5 indicates), the decree for the census had to be issued at just the right time and would mandate that 4.2 million people would travel to their home towns to be counted.  (4.2 million is the count Caesar took from this census).

Think about that for a moment.  4.2 million people probably wondered why they were traveling . . . why they needed to be counted.  Even though the “ball” was not coming to them, they were playing an important part in the unfolding of God’s play.

As I ponder the significance of the 4.2 million people moving around the Mediterranean in response to Caesar’s decree, I am reminded that at times the events of my life will unfold in ways that have me playing a significant part in God’s plan, but will not feature me “getting the ball.”  We sometimes ask questions like “Why do I have this job?”  “What was that all about?”  “What was the point of that relationship/conversation/etc.?”  Usually when we ask these questions we ask them because we assume that we will be featured in the “play.”  In reality, we are always playing a part in God’s purposes, though sometimes we are not the ones getting the “ball.”  From Bethlehem we see that the unfolding of God’s will is ultimately a team experience.

Suggested song for today:  O Little Town of Bethlehem

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 21: Joy to the World! Rejoice! We are part of His-story

This devotional is a part of the 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 21

Rejoice!  We are a part of His story!

Scripture Reading:  Luke 2:1-2

Growing up I was very optimistic about my future. Let me give you an example. Back in 1984 when the Olympics were in Los Angeles, I remember dreaming that one day I would be a part of the U.S. Olympic basketball team. I loved playing basketball, and thought I had a “realistic” shot at making the team one day. I actually did the math and thought that I would only have two chances to make the team – 1992 and 1996. I thought I would only have the chance for those two Olympics because I would be in the NBA in 1997, thus making me ineligible for an amateur competition (the Olympics at that time were only open to amateurs). Best I can tell, I wanted to be an Olympian for two reasons:

  • A love of America. Putting on the stars and bars and taking on the world was an incredibly motivating idea.
  • A love of Basketball. I thought I had the skills to compete.

By the time 1992 rolled around, I no longer lived in Bartlesville . . . and I no longer thought I could be an Olympian. Though the inclusion of the professionals did not help me (thanks a lot Dream Team), the reason I did not make it to the Olympics in 1992 was that I was not good enough to make the team. Time has an incredible ability to kill our dreams, doesn’t it? The longer we live, the more we are in tune with our own abilities and liabilities. The more basketball I played against better and better competition, the more I realized that I was not going to be the next Mark Price or even the next Tim Legler. My talent ceiling was 6A sports in Oklahoma. Getting a realistic picture of what I could accomplish caused me to alter my idealistic notion of being an Olympic champion.

What about you? What did you used to think you were going to grow up to be? How has time changed your hopes and dreams?

While it is fun and nostalgic to look back on our dreams of fame, it is tragic when we let the passing of time ebb away at the confidence we have in our spiritual lives. For far too many of us, we trust God with less each passing year. This happens because over time we become more and more acquainted with our lack of ability to accomplish things we genuinely desire. Year after year, an illness remains, a relationship deteriorates, a sin struggle lingers, depression clings on. Because of the persistent nature of some of our struggles, and our lack of ability to change them, we begin to trust God with less. As we become aware of our liabilities, we begin to limit our expectations. When we limit our expectations, we shrink our dreams. When we shrink our dreams, we have a tendency to shrink our God as well.

The flaw in all this is that we are attaching our hopes and dreams in the areas that matter most to us only to our own ability. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have a God we can trust for things way larger than that! Think about it: if you are a believer in Jesus, you are trusting God for forgiveness of all your sins. Your ability to be forgiven has nothing to do with your ability to accomplish something yourself, but it has to do with God’s ability to do more to you and through you than you could ever do alone! God forgives by sending His Son to die on the cross for us. That is how we are forgiven. However, as believers live out their spiritual lives, we can allow time to cause us to focus more on what we can do and less on what God can do. When we do that, our vision for tomorrow deflates.

This year, this Christmas, I want to encourage you to inflate your vision again. Trust God more this coming year for things bigger than what you can accomplish on your own. I want to encourage you in this direction by looking at the first few words in Luke 2. At the beginning of the story of Jesus’ birth, Luke says this, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus. . .” If you have been a Christian for a long time (or if you have recently watched the “Charlie Brown Christmas” special), no doubt these words are very familiar to you. In fact, the name Caesar Augustus is one of the most famous names of any Caesar in the history of the Roman Empire. But who was Caesar Augustus and why do we know his name today? Answering that question is a very interesting story.

In 63 BC, a young man named Gaius Octavius was born. Octavius was in the Roman army. At that time, a man named Julius Caesar was the dictator of Rome. Julius noticed the great skill and leadership ability that Octavius had. Octavius was Julius’s nephew. Julius had no children of his own. Unknown to Octavius, Julius had written into his will to adopt Octavius upon his death, and make him the heir to his fortune and political successor. On the Ides of March, in 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated by political adversaries in the Roman Senate. Octavius was summoned to Rome to hear a reading of his late Uncle’s will. In the will, Octavius found out his future would be changed forever. He had been post-humously adopted by his uncle Julius and at the age of 19, Octavius had become the leader of Rome. As a tribute, Octavius took on Julius’s name “Caesar,” making him Octavius Caesar. In 42 BC, the Roman Senate deified Julius Caesar, making him the “Divine Julius” and Octavius, “The Son of the Divine” or as we might say, he became known as the “Son of God.” Then, in a twist that changed the course of Rome, Octavius changed the Roman constitution making himself an Emperor and Rome an Empire. At that time, they changed his name to Augustus . . . which means “Sacred one” . . . Thus Augustus Caesar became known as the Sacred One, the Son of God. He was the apparent leader of the world at the time of Jesus birth.

Caesar Augustus was such a powerful man that he was able to speak a word and make the entire Roman Empire move. When you are an emperor and people think you are a god, you have lots of power. That is why when Caesar developed a new tax code and said that people needed to go to their ancestral homes to register, people started walking – among them Mary and Joseph.

Now imagine that you were alive in the Roman Empire on the night that Jesus was born, and imagine that you were walking with a set of travelers to the town of Bethlehem to register for the census. Imagine that someone were to say to you that alive in the world at that time was one known as the Son of God, the Sacred one, who would be known for 2,000 years and counting into the future. Imagine that someone were to tell you on the way to Bethlehem that 2,000 years later all of human history would hinge around this Son of God and what He would accomplish with His life. Imagine that someone were to tell you that 2,000 years later, people would look at pictures and symbols of this Sacred One and think of how the Son of God had changed their lives. Imagine that. I would imagine that if someone would have told you all that on that night, you would have thought they were talking about Caesar Augustus. In reality, however, they were talking about a child that would be born later that night in a cave and placed in an animals feeding bin.

Despite the drastic differences between Jesus and Augustus on the first Christmas night (one in a manger, the other on a throne), the world has come to remember the one, only because of His association with the other. Think about it, the man who was responsible for starting the Roman Empire . . . the man who was known as a god by the most advanced civilization in the world at that time, would be known to us only because he was the ruler at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. As Andy Stanley has correctly said, Augustus Caesar is merely a footnote in the history of God’s Story in Christ. Men and women, we serve a God who can make a baby born in a manger infinitely more powerful than the leader of the “free world.”

This Christmas, as you ponder anew what the Almighty can do, I want you to stop limiting what God can do. I want you to renew your belief that God can do big things. As the Christmas story is read and you hear of Caesar Augustus, I want you to remember the power of God. Caesar thought he was a god and tried to make himself famous, but in the end, he was a footnote in history. Time has taught us of the limitations of human power. However, time has also taught us of the enduring nature of God’s story. When we are attached to Christ, He can do infinitely abundantly beyond all we ask or think. I want you to trust God again for big things this year, because we serve a big God.

Now, I want to ask you this question. Who are you trusting tonight? For the problem of our sin. For the problem of our uncertainty. For the problem of our mortality. For the things you truly long for. Who are you trusting? Yourself? The best a person could do is what Augustus did . . . and he is rotting in a tomb. Trust instead in the One who has gone from the manger to a throne that will never be unseated. He can offer us forgiveness, and hope. He is the One we orient our history around. His story gives meaning to ours. My dreams are bigger because I am a part of His team.

Suggested Song for Today:  The First Noel

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 20: Joy to the World! Rejoice! He is Worth it All

This devotional is a part of the 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 20

Rejoice!  He is worth it all!

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 2:9-12, 13:44

What is the price that makes something “expensive”?  Well, it probably depends on (at least) a couple of things:  what you are buying, and who you are.  

As it pertains to what you are buying, if you are purchasing a candy bar, $5 is really expensive … but not if you are purchasing a home.  The content of your purchase is one metric that dictates whether it is expensive or not.

As it pertains to who you are, your access to resources plays a role in your estimation of the cost of an item.  If you are a billionaire, then a $30,000 car is sensible play.  But if you have no money, then a $30,000 car is super expensive!  Who we are and what we are buying impact our estimation of whether something is expensive or not.

Now I want to transition from these dollars to make a sensible point about our spiritual life.  How we respond to Jesus depends a lot on who we think He is and what we have been made a steward over.

In Matthew 13:44, Jesus tells a parable about a man who finds a hidden treasure in a field.  Knowing that treasure is there, he thinks that the asking price for the field (which is worth basically ALL he has) is suddenly a bargain.  So He liquidates his savings and checking accounts to buy the field, knowing the treasure it contains.  The paralell is obvious.

When we realize who Jesus is, we understand that He is the most valuable person in all the universe.  Knowing Jesus and being connected to Him is worth ANYTHING … nothing is too expensive if knowing Him is the result.  This would include reprioritizing everything in our lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  When we see Him for who He truly is, we will be willing to give all we have to honor and follow Him.

In today’s verses, we saw the wise men visit Bethlehem and go see Jesus.  They embarked on this long trip and dealt with many challenges along their journey (while incurring big expense) to worship the King of Kings.  Why?  Because they thought Jesus was worth it.  Not only that, but they give expensive gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  How nice were these gifts?  Pretty nice.  Most biblical scholars assume that Joseph and Mary (a poor young couple) would sell these items to fund their two year journey to Egypt that is described in the later sections of Matthew 2.  In today’s dollars, we might think of a $50,000 annual income.  By that standard, the Magi gave Jesus a $100,000 gift!

When they Magi saw Jesus, they understood that it was RIGHT for them to give to Him whatever they had.  Money, time, honor, respect … all were not too expensive to pay in light of who Jesus really was.

Today, as you head toward the Christmas holiday season and you see all the bills coming due (and begin to lament over the expensive things on your bank statement), remember who Jesus really is, and what He has done for you.  In light of that, it is worth it for us to reorganize our lives to honor and follow Him.  What steps do you need to make as you honor Him this year?  Like the wise men before us, “rejoice exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10) as you lay down your life before Him this year.

Suggested song for today:  O Come All Ye Faithful

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

Joy to the World (part 4) Sermon Questions, Audio, & Video

On Sunday, December 19, 2021 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 2:1-11 and 13:44.  This message was part 4 in the “Joy to the World” sermon series.  Below you will find questions related to the message for personal reflection or group discussion.  You will also find the audio and video from the sermon to listen to/watch, download, or share.

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 2:1-11; 13:44
  3. What was the last Christmas gift you wanted to buy, but did not purchase because the cost was too high?
  4. Though our salvation is FREE in Christ, following Jesus does carry a cost.  What has been your “cost” of following Christ?
  5. The Magi “spent” their time, treasure, relationships, and security in an effort to see Jesus.  Using this grid, do any fresh “costs” come to your mind about following Jesus?
  6. What are some ways we tend to “lower the cost” in following Jesus through our reluctance, hesitancy, or disobedience?  What has been the result of that hesitation in your life?
  7. Matthew 13:44 reminds us that it is always worth it to follow Jesus!  What are some ways you can really “go for it” in following Jesus in the new year?
  8. What is one particular application you took away from this passage/message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

 

To listen offline, click the link below to download:

Joy To The World #4 12.19.21

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

To watch the stream, use YouTube online:

 

The 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World” –  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

 

Wildwood Christmas playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 19: Joy to the World! Rejoice! The Far Off are Included

This devotional is a part of the 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 19

Rejoice!  The Far off are included!

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 2:3-8, 12

Each nativity set in our house is arranged similarly.  All the pieces are crowded together around the baby Jesus . . . as they should be.  After all, Jesus was at the center of it all that first Christmas night.  However, what is sometimes lost in nativity sets is how those pieces ARRIVED at the manger scene.  Unlike the pieces that adorn our mantles, the participants at the first Advent did not all come out of the same box.

Most nativity scenes include 3 “wise men” or “magi.”  Sometimes they are riding on camels and most every time they are carrying three neatly wrapped gifts.  They are often painted the same color as the other pieces in the set.  In our nativity scenes, they look like they totally belong.  However, those familiar with first century Jewish culture would have been quite surprised at their inclusion in the story.

By the first century, the Magi were considered to be more “wise guys” than truly wise.  The Magi were an ancient order of star-gazers from Babylon who made a living interpreting dreams and foretelling the future.  While there were certainly some honest men among them, their reputation had deteriorated toward “snake oil salesmen” – people who would tell you what you wanted to hear just as long as they could make a buck.  Most people did not view them as honorable, and certainly, no one viewed them as godly.  Metaphorically, these Gentile heathens were about as far away from the birth of the Jewish Savior as you could possibly be.  The Christmas song, “We Three Kings” talks about them traveling far to see Jesus, but their distance was even further spiritually than physically.  For the wise men to look the part in our nativity sets, we should paint them contrasting colors and place them at the beginning of December in the garage while the rest of the pieces nestle together in the living room.

Yet in God’s mercy, those who were far off are brought near by the birth of Jesus.  Further, they were brought near INTENTIONALLY.  The Magi made it to the manger at the end of a very long and well thought out plan:

  • 1400 years before the birth of Jesus, Balaam issued a prophecy about a star rising for the Messiah.  This led Jews to a belief that a real star would one day be a sign that Messiah had arrived.
  • 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Micah prophesied that the Messiah would be born in the little town of Bethlehem.
  • 600 years before the birth of Jesus, the Jews were taken captive by the Babylonians.  The Babylonian foreign policy of the time was to take the best and brightest people of the lands they conquered back to Babylon to work for the improvement of their culture.
  • One of the Jews exported to Babylon in this captivity was Daniel.  After demonstrating his ability to interpret dreams, Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to become the overseer of (you guessed it) the Magi – see Daniel 2:48.  Daniel would have been in a position to influence this group with his understanding of Jewish prophecy, which would have included the idea that one day the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and a star would mark his arrival.  This story was passed on from generation to generation of Magi until the birth of Jesus.
  • At the time of Jesus’ birth, God sends a special star in the sky to guide the Magi from Babylon/Persia to Israel to see the newborn king (see Matthew 2:1-12).

For 1,400 years, God had prepared a plan to invite those who were far off to come near and into a relationship with Himself.  The night Jesus was born, the star rising in the sky made sense to the Magi because of years of divine planning.  The pieces that began in the garage were brought into the living room by God’s grace.

Contrast the response of the Gentile Magi with the response of the Jewish religious elite.  In Matthew 2:1-12, we see the chief priests and scribes correctly answer the question, “where will the Messiah be born?” BUT, they do not do anything with that knowledge.  Though the Savior of the world was right down the road from them, they were too busy or preoccupied to go check Him out!  The absurdity of the Jewish leaders’ actions might be best reconstructed in script form:

  • HEROD:  Hey Jewish religious leaders . . . there are some Magi out here who have traveled hundreds of miles over hard terrain following a special brand new star that they believe is leading them to see where the Savior of the world was born.  Do you know where the Savior of the world is supposed to be born?
  • RELIGIOUS LEADERS:  Yeah, the Savior will be born in Bethlehem.  The town directly underneath that brand new and bright shining star.
  • HEROD:  Oh really?  Should we go check it out?
  • RELIGIOUS LEADERS:  Nope. Can you pass the pretzels?  We are busy watching some paint dry.

The religious leaders of Israel WERE in the same box as Jesus.  They were painted with the same colors.  They did look like they belonged in the same room . . . however, the story of Matthew 2 shows us that sometimes those who look near are really VERY FAR away spiritually.

The contrast between the Magi and the Scribes and Priests is shocking.  Those who were far are brought near while those who looked near are revealed to be very far away.  The implications of this are extremely important to us at Christmas time.

Are you someone who is currently very far away from the Savior?  Someone who is painted a totally different color than most church people?  Maybe your life is marked by addiction, abuse, or sensuality.  Maybe you are known by your peers for your marginalized business ethics or immoral lifestyle.  Maybe you even follow another religion and do not own a Bible.  Because of the sin in your life, you appear to be in another zip code compared to Jesus, much less in the same room.  This Christmas, are you someone who is far from Him?

Or, are you someone who has grown up inside the church.  You were dedicated at First Baptist Church, confirmed in the Catholic Church, and attend a non-denominational church . . . you just want to make sure your bases are covered!  Do you have multiple bibles in your house, never miss a History channel documentary about the historical Jesus, and have a set of Jimmy Stewart “It’s a Wonderful Life” morals.  Do you realize that it is possible to have all these things . . . to look like you belong . . . yet to never really have begun a real relationship with God?

The beauty of the Christmas story is that there is hope . . . for people who are both FAR AND NEAR.  If you feel very far away from the Savior today, know that God has been working since the foundation of the world to get the message of salvation to you.  The combination of the life of Christ, the preservation of God’s Word, the sending of the Holy Spirit, and your network of friends, family, and opportunities have served as a “star” to invite you to the manger this Christmas.  The same set of signs have also been shared with those who are “near” the church.  The big question is: will you (like the Magi) follow the signs God has given and worship the Savior this year, or will you simply enjoy some pretzels and ignore the real reason for this season (like the Jewish religious leaders)?

To those who are far or near, Jesus is the “good news of great joy for all the people.”  He is our Savior, so come let us adore Him.

Suggested song for today:  We Three Kings

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 18: Joy to the World! Rejoice! You are Invited to the Celebration

This devotional is a part of the 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 18

Rejoice!  You are invited to the celebration!

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 2:1-2

From a secular, United States culture perspective, Christmas is a marketers dreamland.  Beginning sometime in mid-October or early November, marketers begin their work to convince us what we “need” this holiday season.  Our desire to be festive, drives us to ask the question, “What trinket, toy, bling, or do-dad really says ‘I love you’ most effectively?”  Marketers representing virtually every product begin a targeted blitz to get the word out for their product.  After two months of being worn down by the marketing machine, we all realize NEEDS, we never knew we had, so we go out to purchase the product.

Most people have negative views of marketing because they have had a bad experience with it.  Virtually all of us have bought (at some point) what marketers have been selling.  Many times, we thought we were buying happiness, but instead we were just buying a bill of goods.  In the end, it is amazing how few of the “needs” marketers sell that we actually have.

The very first Christmas gift ever given was given by our Heavenly Father to mankind.  The gift was the baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem.  When God gave this gift to men and women, He also launched a “marketing campaign” to announce His arrival.  Angels appeared in the sky to speak to “certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay,” advertising the birth of Jesus and telling them why it was Good News for them.  God also placed a marquee in the sky, illuminating the way to the Savior for those in the East.  This star would be a cosmic press release announcing His coming to a set of gift-bearing star gazers.  On the night of Christ’s birth, God launched a media blitz to remind the people of their need and illustrate how Jesus was the One who could bring them joy.

Now, because of our past experience with marketers, the language I used above might have made you furrow your brow.  It seems rather crude and insincere to think of God’s announcements in this way.  In some respects, I agree with you, and it certainly is not my intention to dumb down Advent as a result.  However, I think it is important for us to think through the illustration provided above, because marketing a product that is actually necessary is not self-serving, but loving.

Since the needs Christ addresses are not imagined but actual, and since Jesus provision delivers all it promises and does not disappoint . . . the marketing of the coming of Christ is a blessed thing!  Can you imagine if someone came up with the cure for cancer but never told anyone about it?  That would be crazy.  You would want them to market that cure because its provision is so important and its need is so real.  In the same way, the arrival of the Savior of the world is not a truth to keep quiet, but something that should be shouted from the mountaintops.  God did that through the media blitz on the night Christ was born.

The marketing did not stop with the star and the angels, though … but (in His grace) God involved the shepherds in the proclamation.  After seeing Jesus, the shepherds left and told of what they had seen and experienced to all they encountered.  

Think about that this year as you consider what God wants you to do with the good news that the baby in Bethlehem is the One who saves you from your sins.  God does not want you to conceal that information . . . like the shepherds before you, God wants you to be a part of His marketing campaign, spreading the good news to all who you interact with.  He began this campaign on the first Christmas, and is continuing it through us today.  

Suggested song for today:  Hark the Herald Angels Sing!

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 17: Joy to the World! Rejoice! Jesus Came at Just the Right Time

This devotional is a part of the 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 17

Rejoice!  Jesus came at just the right time

Scripture Reading:  Galatians 4:4-5

When I arrived at the University of Oklahoma in the summer of 1992 to begin my college education, I was excited to take every class on my schedule . . . except one.  Attending college meant the end of the 8:30 AM – 3:00 PM school day and the advent of the three day a week lecture rotation.  As an aspiring procrastinator, committed intramural athlete, and John Madden football playing (on the Sega Genesis mind you) enthusiast, I was looking forward to all that free time!  All of my classes had that three day-a-week rhythm except one . . . Spanish 1.  The required five day-a-week mandate of this class cramped my style.   No me gusto.

Now, truth be told, I did not have to take Spanish 1 at OU.  My degree program only required me to take one 3 hour (read 3 day a week) foreign language course in the “2000” level.  The reason I did not simply sign up to take that Spanish reading course first semester my freshman year was simple . . . I did not speak Spanish.  I needed to learn the basics before I could read poetry and short stories.  My five day-a-week year long Spanish marathon was a prerequisite necessary for me to understand the material I would read in the one required reading course my sophomore year.

I was thinking about this experience today as I reflected further on the Law that God gave to His people in the Old Testament through His servant Moses.  Moses went up on the mountainside and God gave him 10 commandments that would form a contract (we know it now as the Old Covenant) for how people in that era would relate to God.  This Law was given to the Jewish people and governed humanity’s relationship with God for roughly 1500 years until God would establish a New Covenant with His Church through the saving work of Jesus Christ.  When Christ came, God tells us through the book of Hebrews that salvation had always been through the person and work of Christ for all people.  In a sense, the required course for salvation for people has always been about what Jesus has done and become effective as people take Christ into our hearts by faith.

If Jesus Christ had always been humanity’s required course, then why did God establish a 1,500 year period governed by the Law?  The answer from Galatians 3:24 is clear, the Law was the prerequisite to people understanding Christ.  Galatians 3:24 says, “So then, the Law was our pedagogue to Christ, in order that we might be justified by faith.”  The idea of a pedagogue is one of a teacher who would come alongside a parent and help train a child, maturing them for adulthood.  God gave the Law for 1,500 years to teach His people something in preparation for Christ.  What does the world learn through the Law that prepares it for Christ?

In the Law we learn that God is holy and we are not.  The Law shows us that the standards of God are lofty and perfect.  Humanity’s problem is that we cannot perfectly live out God’s perfect standard.  In a sense, the 10 Commandments are a document that condemns all of humanity.  The Law says do not lie, yet even Abraham Lincoln told a lie at some point in his life.  The Law says honor your father and mother, yet all parents (and children) know how impossible this is every moment of every day.  Jesus goes so far as to apply the 10 commandments to our thought lives, effectively making virtually all of us murderers and adulterers!  The Law shows us what Romans 3:23 famously states, “All have sinned and continue to fall short of God’s perfect standards.”

The Law also informs us that the result of sin is death.  Think of all the bloody animal sacrifices the Old Testament demands as temporary coverings for the guilt of sin.  Every lamb sacrificed on Passover, every sacrifice offered in the Temple was a reminder of what Romans 6:23 tells us, “The wages of sin is death.”

The period of the Law also shows us the power and character of God.  For 1500 years God poured out miracles and messages on the earth through supernatural means and the pen of the prophets.  These prophecies, signs, and wonders helped people understand just how powerful the God of the Bible really is.

All these works of the Law helped prepare people for the truth of Christ.  Jesus came into the world to seek and save the lost . . . the people who understood that they were not self-righteous enough to perfectly adhere to the Law and save themselves.  The Law prepared people for their NEED for a Savior.  Further, the Law prepared people for the understanding that death was the result of sin, so when Jesus died on the cross to take the payment for humanity’s sins, we would know why that needed to happen.  Finally, the supernatural demonstrations of God in the Old Testament help us to recognize the presence of God in the miracles of Jesus in the New Testament.  The Law was given as a prerequisite to teach humanity so that they would understand Christ!

This Christmas, as you worship with your family, probably reading a lot from the first chapter or two of the first four books of the New Testament, allow yourself to skim back over the 39 books of the Old Testament.  This prerequisite will help you understand the meaning of Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law.”  The fullness of time came when the world had gone through the necessary prerequisite training under the Law to receive the new-born King.  

Suggested song for today:  It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 16: Joy to the World! Rejoice! God is not Confined by our Sensibilities

This devotional is a part of the 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 16

Rejoice! God is not confined by our sensibilities 

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 1:20-25

Common sense is a form of the common grace God has given to humanity.  When we see a burner on the stove that is glowing red, we don’t touch it – assuming it is hot.  When we see a thunderstorm brewing on the horizon, we don’t start a round of golf – knowing that the metal clubs in our hands would be all too attractive for a stray bolt of lightning.  Patterns in nature and our experience in practice help us form expectations from which we interact with the world around us.  It is a blessing that we have instincts that guide and protect.

This phenomena is not new to us in the 21st century, it has been around since the beginning of time.  2,000 years ago, Joseph (Jesus’ earthly father) also had common sense, informed by the patterns he had experienced in the world.  That is why when Joseph hears that Mary is pregnant he assumes she has slept with another man.  Being a noble man whose relationship with Mary was pure, Joseph knew he could not be the father, but common sense told him that some other dude must be responsible.  This made all the sense in the world to Joseph.

Only thing is … Joseph was wrong.  Mary had not been sleeping around.  The child was from a supernatural origin – a virgin conception.

The way God lets Joseph know about this is through an angelic visitation.  In Matthew 1:20-25, an angel meets with Joseph and reveals that Joseph’s instincts (in this instance) are wrong, because God had intervened.  The child was not a cause for shame, but was the Savior of the world!  Thankfully Joseph listened to God’s proclamation, even when it went against his first instincts.

As we reflect on this principle today, I know that we will not be visited by angels with similar announcements in our lives.  That said, all us will encounter things that don’t jive with our instincts.  We think that salvation has to be about us being “good enough.”  We assume that certain behaviors the Bible calls sin can never be overcome in our lives.  We imagine that there is no way for certain people to really experience life change.  We just assume that is the case, because in our lives, we have seen patterns confirming the rationale of these opinions.  If you are thinking along these lines today, may you be visited by the revelation of Scripture today to remind you what God can really do.

“For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith.  It is a gift of God.  Not as a result of works that no one should boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9).  It is not about being good enough, salvation is about God’s goodness and grace saving us in spite of us … simply as we respond in faith.

“… the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” (Romans 6:6)  “walk by the Spirit and you will in no way carry out the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).  Because of what Jesus has done for us, we HAVE BEEN liberated from sin’s necessary rule in our lives, and by faith, we can depend on the Spirit’s power to guide us away from even the strongest of temptations.

Paul was a persecutor of the church.  But Jesus changed Him.  This lets us know that He can change us as well!

Thankfully God gives us common sense … but sometimes things don’t fit the pattern.  In these cases God gives us special revelation in the Scriptures (just like the special revelation God gave to Joseph through the angel) to recalibrate our thinking and let us know of a greater reality.  

Like Joseph, have the courage to take God at His Word this holiday season.  Rejoice!  God expands our understanding of what is possible.

Suggested song for today:  Angels We Have Heard on High

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 15: Joy to the World! Rejoice! Even When it Doesn’t Make Sense

This devotional is a part of the 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 15

Rejoice!  Even when it doesn’t make sense

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 1:18-19

For good reason, Mary (the mother of Jesus) gets a lot of attention in the Christmas story.  After all, the Gospel of Luke gives us a number of details (throughout Luke 1-2) about Mary’s experiences while Jesus was in the womb and at His birth.  Further, it seems as though Joseph died by the time Jesus’ public ministry took off, while Mary lived on.  Therefore, there are more biblical records of Mary’s experience than Joseph’s.

All that said, it is important for us to think through Joseph’s experience in the story of Jesus’ birth – as it is a remarkable story of faith and faithfulness.

Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story of Joseph’s experience during the time Jesus was inside Mary’s womb.  Joseph and Mary were betrothed, but not yet married.  This meant that they had made the commitment to spend the rest of their lives together, but they had not yet begun to live together and sleep together.  This month, we have already looked at Mary’s experience from Luke 1 as God announced (through an Angel) that Mary would be pregnant (even though she was a virgin) and have a Son who would be the Messiah.  This was HUGE news, and certainly would have been hard to believe for anyone who was not talking to Angels!  And at first, Joseph was NOT talking to Angels.  God first brought the news to Mary before He brought the news to Joseph.  So, with Mary pregnant, and Joseph looking only to natural explanations for this situation, Joseph decides to divorce Mary quietly – probably so that she could then marry whoever was the father of the child.

But it was not God’s will that Joseph would leave Mary.  So, an Angel intervened and visited Joseph to tell him that Mary’s child was indeed supernatural, and that Mary was telling the truth that the Baby was the Messiah.

Can you imagine being a fly on the wall of Joseph’s room as he prays out loud, processing the news of Mary’s pregnancy and the Angel’s visit.  What must Joseph have been thinking in that moment?  Ultimately, Joseph chooses to trust the Lord (and not his emotion, reason, or logic) and stay with Mary.  As a result, generations of people all over the world have named their kids “Joe” and put statues of him out each Christmas season.  What a great choice Joseph made!

Take a moment and ponder the things about God that don’t make sense to you.  Things you might wish to “dismiss quietly” instead of receiving them as true.  Let this song remind you that though God’s ways are sometime “strange” to us, there is salvation and blessing in God’s plans in this world.

Suggested song for today:  Strange Way to Save the World

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 14: Joy to the World! Rejoice! Grace Runs in the Family

This devotional is a part of the 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 14

Rejoice!  Grace runs in the family!

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 1:1-17

I am the son of Dick and Beverly Robinson . . . the grandson of Don and Boonetta Davis and Glen and Alice Robinson . . . and so on, and so on.  These facts are personally very meaningful.  They describe my earthly heritage and contain the names of people who have shaped my life in profound ways.  

Every person reading this ALSO is a part of a family tree.  Though my experience as a descendant of the “Robinson” and “Davis” families is very positive, your experience may have been rocky.  For good or for bad, we are still connected to and marked by our lineage.  Personally, it bears great meaning to each of us.

However, there are some people whose family trees are not just PERSONALLY interesting, but have implications that impact the world.  Think about members of the British Royal Family.  Their blood lines bring with them responsibility and authority that impacts the society around them.

In Matthew 1:1-17, we see the family tree of Jesus Christ.  This family tree lets us know a few things:

  1. It shows us that Jesus (the Son of God) became fully human at His earthly birth.  He did not just become “human-like,” He PERSONALLY took on flesh and dwelt among us.  Therefore, we do not have a Savior who cannot relate to us, but we have One who knows what it means to live in this world.  His lineage is a reminder of that.
  2. It shows us that Jesus genealogy sets Him up for a WORLD-WIDE impact.  He is a descendant of Abraham, reminding us that He is ethnically a Jew, thus continuing the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people long ago.  Also, we see that Jesus’ great, great, great, great, great Grandpa was David – a reminder that Jesus would be the promised descendant of David to sit on the throne of God and reign forever.  His family tree supports and qualifies Him for not just personal influence.
  3. It shows us that God’s grace in Jesus is for all who believe in Him.  Inside of this genealogy are foreigners (Ruth and Rehab), the publicly disgraced (wife of Uriah), and those who have committed very consequential sins (David – among others).  Yet all these show up in the royal lineage of Jesus.  They are there NOT because they are great people, but because our God is gracious. … and He wants us to know His grace runs in the family.

At Christmastime, we sometimes skip the beginning verses of Matthew 1:1-17 and begin our Scripture reading when the Angels show up in 1:18ff.  When we do that, we miss the blessing of generations . . . reminding us of the PERSONAL and WORLD shaping reality of Jesus life. Scan over the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 and see how many names you recognize.

Suggested song for today:  Matthew’s Begats

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links: