November 28 – Jesus is God: Sign #2

Every year in elementary school, there was one event that attempted to separate the mental men from the boys … one event that drew the attention of students and parents everywhere.  What was this event?  The Science Fair.  Every year, I would make a project … and I would lose every time.

While some students were discovering the theory of relativity, I was relatively impressed with my project, “Which carpet cleaner works best: Scotch or Resolve?”!  While some students were putting together computer “mother boards” to power robots that could make dinner for you, my mother was impressed by my card board box covered with hand drawn images that represented video games I “designed,” complete with a tape recording of me making the related sounds these games would produce.  

Every year, as the projects would be displayed at the fair, and as all the ribbons would go to my friends, I would begin to rationalize my performance.  “My friends must not have designed their own projects,” I would muse.  “Their fathers who are research scientists must have worked on their projects for them.”  Of course, in my reasoning, the answer could not have been that they were just better at science than me.  There must be some other explanation!

As these friends have gone on in life to become engineers, research scientists, and medical doctors, however, I am forced to realize that my original assessment was not accurate.  Though I had the right information (their projects were better than mine), I was drawing the wrong conclusions (they must have cheated).

I was thinking about this reality as I read John 4:43-5:15 and pondered the reactions people had to the miracles of Christ.  Compared to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, His actions and methodology stood out in their power and authority.  Though people all saw these same awesome acts of Jesus Christ, they all did not respond in the same way.  When the royal official from Capernaum was told by Christ that his son would be healed, the official “took Jesus at His word and departed.”  In the next few verses we find out that the royal official and all his household believed in Jesus Christ.  Later in the passage, though, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, after seeing Jesus heal a lifelong paralytic, assumed that Jesus was cheating the Father’s Sabbath.  The royal official in Capernaum and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem both got right information about Jesus Christ, but they each had different responses.  Though the Jewish leaders had correct information, they made the wrong conclusion.  

Jesus Christ is the Son of God (as these miraculous signs reveal), and His actions are always impressive, and they are always right; however, sometimes, we find ourselves not reacting rightly to the revelation of Jesus that we receive.  Sometimes when things don’t work out the way we had hoped, we might be tempted to draw the incorrect conclusion that Jesus is not in control or that He does not care about us in our time of need.  While it may be true that things are not working out according to our plan, it is wrong to ever conclude that Jesus is anything less than our holy and loving God.  

The spiritual life is not simply a life of observation; it is a life of our response to God’s revelation.  We should follow the example of the royal official and always take Jesus at His word and believe.

The healing of the official’s son is the second “sign” that John records revealing that Jesus is God.

 

This devo is a part of the 2022 Wildwood Christmas Daily Devotional, “God with us.”  You can find the entire Christmas Devotional here.

God with us (part 1) Sermon Audio, Video, & Questions

On Sunday, November 27, 2022 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a message based on Isaiah 7:1-16 and Matthew 1:22-23.  This message was part 1 of 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.

Additionally, you can access the daily devotional “God with us” for use during the Christmas season by clicking here.  Each daily devotion will also be posted to this blog each morning.

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Isaiah 7:1-16 and Matthew 1:22-23
  3. Has there ever been a time when you have observed the celebration of Christmas and felt like “that is too much”?  What contributed to your thought process in making that determination?
  4. We are very familiar with the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.  Have you ever studied this passage to see its Old Testament context?  In what ways does knowing its Old Testament context help us to understand the significance of Jesus’ birth?
  5. The enemy armies caused the nation of Judah to have their “hearts shake like trees.”  What causes your heart to fear?  How would “placing that fear on the timeline” help you in quieting that fear?
  6. The birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary is THE sign that Jesus is not just an ordinary man, but God Himself who will deliver us from our sins.  How does the virgin birth help accomplish this (remember the reasons for the virgin birth we talked about in this morning’s message)?  
  7. Since Jesus is God, it changes everything.  What does it change for you?
  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:

God With Us #1 11.27.22

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

To watch the service, use YouTube online:

November 27- Jesus is God: Sign #1

The year was 1957.  IBM had created a device which would change the world as we know it.  This device was large by today’s standards, taking up several cabinets of space.  This machine was also expensive, costing nearly $80,000 to purchase.  What is this large and expensive machine that changed the world?  An electronic calculator.

Now, I realize that we do not normally consider the calculator to be a world changing device, but that is because we have grown up with it.  We have grown accustomed to it, and thus we take it for granted.  If you were born prior to 1957, all math was done in your head.  If you are like me, you grew up in elementary school learning to add, subtract, multiply, or divide by hand.   And if you are like me, math became difficult for you when dealing with numbers that outstretched your number of fingers and toes!  Because of my difficulty with math, I welcomed the day I got to use my first calculator to aid in solving problems in school.  It was as liberating as it was accurate.  It also opened new vistas into deeper fields of mathematics (things like trigonometry and calculus) which would be nearly impossible without the use of a machine.  The machine IBM invented in 1957 did not invent math … it was based on the same numbers and truths as long division … but it did reinvent how higher math was computed, placing a powerful tool in the hands of people everywhere.   

In John 2:1-11, Jesus performed a miracle filled with symbolism to reveal to His followers that He was creating a New Covenant by which mankind would relate to God.  For centuries, God’s people had related to Him under the Old Covenant based on the Old Testament Law which was filled with the Ten Commandments, ritual cleansing, and animal sacrifices.  While the miracle of John 2 may look like Jesus was simply providing some good wine to a few thirsty guests at a wedding feast, a closer look reveals that Jesus was actually highlighting a significant truth about His identity and the gift He was offering.  By taking the water from the Old Covenant ceremonial jars and turning it into something new (and better), Jesus was actually foreshadowing the fact that He was creating a New Covenant that would change the spiritual lives of all who would embrace it.  This New Covenant would be very expensive, costing Jesus His blood.  This New Covenant that Jesus was establishing was what we know of as Christianity.  

Now, I realize that as Americans, we can take for granted the amazing revolution that life in Christ creates, but that is because many of us have grown up with it.  If you lived your life before the time of Christ, all spiritual interaction with God was based on strict adherence to the Law.  If you are like me, you find God’s Law beautiful but too lofty to adhere to 100 percent of the time.  Because of our inability to keep God’s Law, we should welcome the amazing extension of God’s grace to us in Christ.  It is as liberating as it is holy.  It provides forgiveness for our sins once and for all in Christ and opens new vistas for our spiritual lives including mission, purpose, a close and personal relationship with God, and gracious provision to actually live out the Christian life.  The New Covenant did not invent holiness—it was based on the same righteousness prescribed in the Law—but it did reinvent how our spiritual lives would be lived out, placing the powerful life of Christ in the hearts of people everywhere.

Like wine out of water, Jesus has saved the best for last.  Take a moment and praise God for creating us as people who are arriving at the feast of history at this time.  Like wedding guests in Cana, we can enjoy the blessing that Jesus creates out of an old pot.  

Turning water to wine at the wedding in Cana was the first “sign” of Jesus’ divinity referenced by John.  Only God Himself could initiate this new covenant.  This miracle, and its symbolic significance pointed to Jesus’ true identity.

 

This devo is a part of the 2022 Wildwood Christmas Daily Devotional, “God with us.”  You can find the entire Christmas Devotional here.

2022 Christmas Devotional Guide – FREE!!!

Imagine you were to get a phone call this afternoon from someone who is really famous (in a circle or industry you care about).  Could be a politician, a famous sports star, an author, an actor, or a titan of industry.  This is a hypothetical, so you get to decide which famous person is calling you.  Upon answering the call, they inform you that they are coming to YOUR HOUSE to celebrate Christmas with YOU!  Now that would be quite a phone call … wouldn’t it?

If you got that call, what would you do next? 

Well if you are like me, you first would want to make sure that the phone call was ACTUALLY from the famous person and not from an impersonator.  You might check the caller ID, request written documentation, evaluate whether their voice sounded like the person they said they were, etc.  I’d be looking for signs to determine if this person really was who they said they were.   

After seeking signs of verification as to their identity, I would next begin to wonder what it was going to be like to have THAT PERSON in MY HOME.  What would we talk about?  What would we serve for dinner?  Should I get them a gift?  Will they bring me one?

These are just some of the things we might do if a famous person announced they were coming over to spend the holidays. Truth is, though, for most of us, we will not get that call this Christmas season.  However, I want to let you know something even more amazing to light up your holidays:  God came to your house.  That’s right … the One who created all things has come to us at Christmas.  

Now hearing that statement, you might ask a couple of questions.  First, how do I KNOW that God really came to earth on that first Christmas?  Second, if God really did come at the first Christmas, what was it like?  What did He do?  What can we learn from it?

Well, this Christmas at Wildwood Community Church, we will be exploring one of Jesus’ nicknames – Immanuel.  This Hebrew word (translated “God with us”) is attributed to Jesus in both Matthew 1:22-23 and Isaiah 7:14.  Christmas is the story of God coming to be with us!  

But how do we know that Jesus is really God?  Over the next couple of weeks we will be looking at evidence to answer this question in daily devotionals (from November 27-December 11).  These 15 daily readings will explore 15 Scripture passages revealing that Jesus is indeed God.  These 15 passages are all rooted in the Gospel of John.  John (one of Jesus’ close earthly friends and followers) wrote His Gospel “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)  John organized His Gospel around 7 miraculous signs, 7 revelatory statements, and one exclamation point (the resurrection) that all made the case of Jesus’ divine identity.  We will explore these 15 passages of John’s Gospel from November 27-December 11.

And … what is it like for God to be with us?  We will explore this in 14 daily readings (from December 12-25).  We will explore many excerpts from the historical account of the first Christmas to see what the experience of “God with us” is trying to teach us about what it is like to live in relationship (and in close proximity) to Almighty God.  

This daily devotional is intended to help you understand more of what it means to say “Immanuel” this holiday season.  Join us on this journey!  Oh, and make plans to be with us on each of the Sundays at Wildwood between November 27 and January 1, as we will have a sermon series exploring these same concepts.  

In addition, Wildwood has produced a Spotify and Apple Music playlist of some of our favorite Christmas songs to help serve as the soundtrack for our season.  We also have a number of different ways for us to serve our community together this time of year.  Find out more about all these opportunities on our website – wildwoodchurch.org/christmas.

We look forward to worshipping with you and your family this Christmas season!

In Christ,

Pastor Mark Robinson

 

NOTE:  The devotional will post one reflection each day from November 27-December 25 to this blog and on my Facebook page.  However, you can also access the entire devotional for download:

To have each day’s devotional emailed to you each morning during Advent, subscribe to this blog in the form located in the right hand column when you access this page from a desktop or laptop.

December 25: Joy to the World! Rejoice! The Treasure of Jesus

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 25

Rejoice!  The Treasure of Jesus!

Scripture Reading:  Luke 2:19

One of the things that God has reminded me of this past year is the natural means by which He does supernatural things.  This principle has many applications:

  • I am praying right now for physical healing (a supernatural gift from God) for a number of people who are struggling, and God may provide that healing through “natural” means (like medicine or surgery).
  • I am working right now on my sermon for Sunday.  I need supernatural illumination of His Word to make sense of it, but God often provides this insight after the natural process of study and preparation.
  • I want those around me to know how much I love and care for them with supernatural depth, but the way God works that out often is through the natural process of affirming words and good deeds over time.

See what I mean?  Certainly God DOES supernatural things, but often the way He does them is through natural means.

This principle can even be used to understand the writing of much of our Bible.  The Bible, no doubt, is a supernatural work (inerrant and authoritative).  However, the means by which God brought us the Scripture involved natural processes.  The supernatural and natural processes of the transmission of Scripture are demonstrated through a couple of New Testament verses:

  • Peter (who himself wrote two of the letters included in our New Testament) says in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  In this verse, Peter highlights the supernatural origin of God’s Word.
  • In Luke 1:1-4, Luke talks of the natural process he used to compose his supernatural letter, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

So, God supernaturally moved the writers of Scripture along to write His Word to His people, but the process by which the Scripture was written sometimes looked very natural — like when Luke researched and compiled the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ disciples in writing his Gospel.

But who did Luke talk to?  And when did he talk to them?  At this point, we are dealing with some conjecture, but conjecture educated by historical facts.  Luke’s Gospel dates to the late 50’s AD, about 25 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.  Many scholars believe Luke (a traveling companion to Paul) probably got a lot of his “eyewitness accounts” during Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea from 57-59.  During these years, Luke (a Gentile who joined Paul’s ministry as he headed to the European continent) found himself in Israel (possibly for the first time) and interacting with many of the original Apostles . . . and Mary – the mother of Jesus.

Knowing this background helps us understand a bit more why Luke’s Gospel includes so much detail from events ONLY MARY (or the Holy Spirit) would have been able to share.  Event’s like:

  • The Angel’s visit to Mary to inform her of her virgin pregnancy (Luke 1:26-38)
  • Mary’s trip to visit Zechariah and Elizabeth while pregnant (Luke 1:39-45)
  • Mary’s response to this news in song (Luke 1:46-55)
  • The events around the manger (Luke 2:8-20)
  • The story behind the naming of Jesus (Luke 1:31, 2:21)

In all these accounts, Mary opened up the vault of her soul, and probably shared with Luke what she had treasured about the birth of her firstborn son, who was the Firstborn of all creation! (Luke 2:19) In turn, Luke wrote these treasures down and through that natural process, the supernatural revelation of God was preserved for you and me.

Suggested song for today:  O Holy Night

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 24: Joy to the World! Rejoice! There is Hope for Dusty Shepherds

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 24

Rejoice!  There is Hope for Dusty Shepherds

Scripture Reading:  Luke 2:8-20

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.

Suggested song for today:  Go Tell it on the Mountain

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 23: Joy to the World! Rejoice! He is a Humble King!

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 23

Rejoice!  He is a humble King!

Scripture Reading:  Luke 2:6-7, 12

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.

Suggested song for today:  “Away in a Manger”

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 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: