On Sunday, January 1, 2023 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on John 14-16. This message was part 7 in the “God with us” 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 of the message to listen to/watch, download, or share.
As you end this Christmas season, what are you sad to “pack up”?Is there anything God taught you this season that you want to “keep out” the rest of the year?
The Holy Spirit inside us is a wonderful promise that Jesus makes to His followers as He ascends to heaven.Have you ever felt like an “orphan” or alone in this world?How does this promise encourage you today?
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God is in you and with you as you enter your home, school, work, neighborhood, etc.How might God want to use you in those environments this year?
In the year ahead, make a commitment to begin your bible study with a simple prayer asking the Spirit of Truth to guide you into a correct understanding of what you are reading.What role has prayer played in your Bible study in the past?
How does knowing the Spirit is in you encourage you to faithfully share witness of Jesus to those around you who do not know Him?
The Spirit empowers us toward obedience.What area of your spiritual life/moral life would you like to grow in obedience to Jesus more in the year ahead?
What is one particular application you took away from this passage/message?
To access these questions in pdf format, click here.
Christmas 2022 has come and gone.A festive season of special decorations, holiday lights, and gift giving has all been unwrapped.So what do we do in the days between Christmas and New Year’s?
Many of us spend (at least part of) the week taking ornaments down, unstringing lights, and storing away the wrapping paper.Has anyone else’s week looked similar?
If you are like me, there is a sadness that comes when the decorations come down — knowing it is 11 months before you see them again.While it is a bit sad to see a Christmas tree still up in February, it is also sad that these overt expressions of our faith, hope, and love remain in boxes for extended periods of time.Is there anything of Christmas we can leave up all year?
This past Advent season at Wildwood Community Church we have been studying the phrase “God with us.”Looking to prophecy from the book of Isaiah, and Gospel truth from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we have celebrated that Jesus Christ is (in fact) our Immanuel (a Hebrew word meaning “God with us”).Jesus, being fully God (the second member of the Trinity), came to the earth to reveal God to us, to rescue us from our sin and its consequences, and to inaugurate a new operating system (new covenant) to govern the relationship between God and man.It has been great to explore these amazing Scriptures together as a church family in daily devotionals, songs, and sermons.Now that the season is over though, I want to encourage you to not box your spiritual life up for another 11 months.After all, “God with us” does not stop with Jesus’ birth!
At the end of Jesus earthly life, knowing he was just a day or two away from going to the cross to die, Jesus began talking with His disciples about what would happen next.Though Jesus would be ascending to heaven, He would not leave them … He would not leave US … as orphans in this world.But, He would send the Holy Spirit to be with us … to be IN US.
This Sunday at Wildwood, we will have two Sunday services – one at 9:45AM and one at 11:00AM.We will be “all in” the worship services on this day as our children, student, and adult classes will not be meeting.As we gather to start the new year as a church family we will be looking at what it means that “God STILL with us.”Hope to see you there in the new year … and bring friends!
On Sunday, December 25, 2022 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Isaiah 9:1-7. This message was part 6 of the “God with us” series. Below you will find questions related to the sermon for group discussion or personal reflection. You will also find audio and video of the message to listen to/watch, download, or share.
NOTE: The “God with us” Daily devotional book ends today … but the entire devotional is available for download at this link.
Read Isaiah 9:1-7
Make a list of everything you have done to celebrate Christmas this year?Anything new that you added this Christmas season?Anything missing?
In Isaiah 9:1-3, we see God replace “gloom” with “glory.”What are some reasons for “gloom” in your world this year?What would it look like for God to trade those gloomy things for glory?If you KNEW God would replace your gloom with glory, what kind of celebration would you want to throw?
In Jesus, God has done SO MUCH for us!And, when Jesus comes again, EVEN MORE blessing will flow in the direction of those who are trusting in Him.Because of these reasons, it is absolutely appropriate for us to celebrate Jesus and MAKE MUCH OF HIM this Christmas season and always.Make a Christmas list … this one a list of things that Jesus has done or will do for you.How does looking at THAT LIST inspire you to worship Him more this year?
What is one particular application you took away from this passage/message?
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.
On Saturday, December 24, 2022 at Wildwood Community Church, we had 3 identical worship services – one at 4PM, 5PM, and 6PM. These services were filled with Scripture reading, short reflections, Christmas carols and candlelight. The stream of the service can be found here:
Also, on Christmas Day, December 25, 2022 at 9:45AM, we will have one worship service. This service will be filled with Christmas carols and a sermon I will preach from Isaiah 9:1-7 (“Unto us a child is born! Unto us a Son is Given! The government will be upon His shoulders, and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!”) Make plans to join us both Saturday night AND Sunday morning at Wildwood Community Church. As always, our 9:45 service will also be livestreamed.
Imagine that you were the shepherds that first Christmas night. You were gathered out on the hillsides surrounding Bethlehem watching your livestock. You were bundled up to keep warm. Having never been a rancher or taken care of any animal larger than a Beagle, I have a hard time imagining what they were doing. My best guess is that they were sitting by the fire . . . maybe singing a song.
As the they sat there, these shepherds saw an impressive sight. It is hard for me to imagine what shepherds were doing on that Christmas night, but it was even harder for the shepherds to imagine the sight they were getting ready to behold. Out of no where angels appeared in the sky singing a new song. They were singing “Gloria in Excelies Deo!” For me today, it is easy to imagine the shepherds seeing the angels . . . this is a story I have heard since I was born . . . but for the shepherds, this was a very “out of the ordinary” situation. It was not normal for them to see angels on the hillside. This was a unique event! The angels told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem and see a baby which was the Savior of the world.
The shepherds quickly took off for Bethlehem. Can you imagine the conversation they may have had with each other all the way to the stable? “I wonder what He looks like? What could this all mean? I wonder if everyone got this same announcement . . . if so, I wonder how long we will have to wait in line?!?” The questions would have no doubt fired back and forth throughout their walk/run to the manger.
Upon arriving on the scene, however, I am sure the shepherds were probably scratching their heads a bit. There was no line outside the stable filled with government and religious dignitaries and local celebrities. Upon entering the stable, the place smelled more like a barn full of animals than the temple incense. As they approached the baby in the manger, no halo circled His head, and the child was probably crying for His mother to give Him more milk. While the text does not say it, I am guessing that the shepherds were probably wondering (either aloud or to each other) if they had heard the angels correctly. Given the disparity between what they saw and what they had heard, these old school cowboys were placed in a spot that is very familiar to us . . . they were being asked to take God at His Word.
I walk through this story today because many times as I read the Christmas story I think, if only all people could see what the shepherds saw then all people would believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world. To my old way of thinking, the shepherds, based on what they had seen, would not have needed a lot of faith to believe in Jesus as their Savior. The reality, though, is that I still think it took LOTS OF FAITH for the shepherds to believe. In fact, they did not have some of the benefits that we have.
When the shepherds saw Jesus in Bethlehem, they had never heard Jesus preach; they had never seen Him work miracles; they had never imagined the cross; they had never conceived the empty tomb. While they had an angel declaration, there were many facts of the story that they did not have. Based on what they knew, they were asked to take God at His Word (through the angels) and trust Him with the rest. As people today, we have record of His preaching, miracles, death and resurrection. We have the testimony of 2,000 years of Church History, and the corroborating evidence of ancient historians. Given that, however, we have never seen Jesus face to face, and angels have not visited us on hillsides. Based on what we know, however, we are asked to take God at His Word (through the Bible) and trust Him with the rest. When we do this, great blessings come our way.
The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to the first generation of Christians who were growing up in our present reality . . . people who had the testimony of eye-witnesses and the Scripture, but had not physically seen Jesus. To this group (to us) Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Peter celebrates the faith of those who have not seen Jesus, but still love and believe in Him. This verse of Scripture is talking to you and me!
1 Peter 1:8-9 further indicates that when we believe in Jesus based on what we know (but have not seen), we reap the same benefits that His first followers experienced, “an inexpressible joy” (“Good news of Great Joy”) and “the salvation of our souls” (“a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord”).
At first glance, it appears that we have very little in common with the shepherds that first Christmas night, but in the end, we have something big in common . . . we are both being asked to embrace by faith that the child born in Bethlehem is our Savior, Christ the Lord. Upon hearing this announcement this Christmas will you run to the manger as the shepherds did? Will you believe in Him based on what you know and trust Him for the things that are harder for you to understand? If you will, then joy and salvation await. Those are two Christmas gifts that are on everyone’s list.
A “manger” is an animal’s feeding trough. After Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph placed Him in one such trough. This reality is sung about in the song “Away in a Manger.” This fact is so commonplace to us since the Christmas story is so familiar. However, have you ever stopped to wonder exactly WHY God had Jesus placed in a manger that first Christmas day?
While certainly the repurposed manger helped symbolize the humility of Jesus, Luke 2:12 gives us the specific reason for the trough. “And this will be a sign for you, you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloth and lying in the manger.” These words (spoken by the Angels to the shepherds, inviting them to visit Jesus after His birth) indicate that the manger crib was the sign to let the shepherds know which baby Jesus was. In others words, there were other babies in Bethlehem that night, but only one was wrapped in cloth and lying in an animal’s feeding trough. That One was Jesus.
Since every Jewish mom would wrap their child in cloths, it was the manger that highlighted Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The Angels basically used the manger as a spotlight. The shepherds would go house to house until they found the baby in the feeding trough. When they found THAT child, they would worship Him.
I think it is important to reflect on the BED Jesus lay in being the distinguishing factor as to His identity. This lets us know that He otherwise LOOKED like a normal child. He was not glowing in holiness . . . He looked normal. He was not talking in perfect language . . . He sounded like a normal baby (meaning He probably was crying, despite what the lyrics of the Christmas Carol might suggest). Everything about Jesus looked normal, so the Angels could not identify Jesus to the shepherds through His physical appearance. So they described the bed He lay in.
Friends, this simple point helps remind us that the Son of God really did become the Son of Man. Jesus really did become fully human, identifying down to all the sights and sounds of “normal.” This reminds us that, “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)” Jesus knows what it means to live a normal human life. He lived a “normal” human life in every way . . . except that He did not sin. Therefore, He can help us and forgive us as we deal with the sin in our own life as well!
As you sing “Away in a Manger” this Christmas season, be reminded that Jesus’ bed (not His body) revealed His uniqueness that first Christmas night. He knows normal, and so He can help normal people – like you and me.
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.
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.
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.