Tomorrow (part 1) Sermon Series Preview

Well, it is January 1.  Another year is beginning . . . filled with a number of “tomorrows.”  As you start another year, have you made any resolutions?  Anything you want to add to your life in 2020?  Anything you want to remove from your life in 2020?  Any progress from this past year you want to sustain?

If you are like me, you probably have several goals in mind for the new year.  For me, one of the things I am looking forward to in 2020 is to complete our preaching series that have focused on the Gospel of Matthew.  Since Christmas 2016, I have been preaching through Matthew’s Gospel . . . a journey that has already encompassed 12 specific series and included 67 individual sermons.  It has been such a joy to focus on the Person and work of Jesus Christ on Sundays mornings these past 3 years.  It is a vivid reminder that Jesus really came to the earth and shows us who God is and what He is like.  

Over the next 4 months at Wildwood Community Church, we will have our final 2 series from Matthew’s Gospel covering Matthew 24-28.  These final 16 sermons from Matthew will walk us through the most critical events in all of human history.  I am so excited for us to be on this journey together!

The first of these series will begin this Sunday.  Entitled “Tomorrow: Preparing for the Son to Rise Again,” this series looks at Matthew 24-25 – Jesus’ predictions about the future and His promise to come to the earth again one day.  These words are super important for us to see.  Some view Biblical prophecy as a topic of little contemporary significance.  If that is how you view prophecy, it is likely that you may have simply avoided reading much of it out of fear or confusion, OR you have been taught prophecy only as an academic exercise.  

If you are either bored or confused by prophecy or consider it irrelevant to your current life, then let me encourage you to allow JESUS CHRIST to be your teacher on the end times over the next 6 Sundays, as we look at what He had to say about the topic.  His teaching and comments on the subject are exciting, straight-forward, and carry with them imminent personal application and response.  I can’t wait to look at these passages together.

Our outline for the next few Sundays will be:

  • January 5:  “Tomorrow – part 1” – Matthew 24:1-14
  • January 12:  “Tomorrow – part 2” – Matthew 24:15-31
  • January 19:  “Tomorrow – part 3” – Matthew 24:32-51
  • January 26:  “Tomorrow – part 4” – Matthew 25:1-13
  • February 2:  “Tomorrow – part 5” – Matthew 25:14-30
  • February 9:  “Tomorrow – part 6”  – Matthew 25:31-46

I encourage you to read ahead as we look at these passages together!

New Testament scholar Michael Green says, “The return of Christ has another important facet to it, which this chapter underlines.  History is going somewhere.  It is not meaningless.  It is not random.  It is not eternal.  There will be a real end just as there was a real beginning.  And at the end we shall find none other than Jesus Christ.”

History . . . including OUR history . . . is headed someplace; ultimately headed to Someone.  Are we prepared for that meeting?  And how should we live our lives today knowing where we are going?  That is the subject of this month’s sermon series.  Hope you make plans to be with us on Sunday mornings this January at 9:45 or 11:00!

December 31: Christmas Light – “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery”

Over the past month you probably had the opportunity to wrap a lot of presents.  Some presents are easy to box up, fitting neatly under the paper or in the gift bag.  Other presents, however, are hard to package.  Due to their unique size or shape, you were not sure how to cover them.  

I was thinking about that reality as I listened to today’s song, “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” by Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker, and Matt Papa.  This song describes a number of the truths about Jesus that are hard for us to wrap up inside our logical minds.  Just a few of the “mysteries” of Jesus mentioned in this song:

  • “The theme of heaven’s praises robed in frail humanity.” – The Son of God being hungry. The Son of God needing a nap.  The Son of God needing His mother’s care.  These realities are hard to imagine.
  • “In His living, in His suffering never trace nor stain of sin.”  – We do not know any person who is without sin . . . yet Jesus was perfect!  What must that have been like to be around in His earthly ministry!
  • “In the stead of ruined sinners hangs the Lamb in victory.”  – Calling the embarrassment and pain of a public crucifixion a victory seems crazy . . . until we think of what Jesus accomplished through that act  – the salvation of His people!
  • “Slain by death the God of life.” – How does the eternal Son of God die?

These realities are rightly called a “Wondrous Mystery” by the hymn writers.  They also remind us that our brains are not smart enough to wrap up all of who God is in neat and logical paper.  God is so great, that His actions and identity simply are beyond our ability to completely package.  Rather than throwing out the gift of Jesus because it does not fit in our box, we are encouraged through this song to wonder at it – to embrace it by faith, and draw comfort from the fact that He is truly an awesome God.

Where are you having a hard time reconciling God’s actions or identity today?  Does His timing seem off, His plans seem unwise, His identity seem illogical to you?  Rather than throwing Him away, sit in the mystery and worship the One who is greater than you.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery

Come behold the wondrous mystery

In the dawning of the King

He the theme of heaven’s praises

Robed in frail humanity

In our longing, in our darkness

Now the light of life has come

Look to Christ, who condescended

Took on flesh to ransom us

Come behold the wondrous mystery

He the perfect Son of Man

In His living, in His suffering

Never trace nor stain of sin

See the true and better Adam

Come to save the hell-bound man

Christ the great and sure fulfillment

Of the law; in Him we stand

Come behold the wondrous mystery

Christ the Lord upon the tree

In the stead of ruined sinners

Hangs the Lamb in victory

See the price of our redemption

See the Father’s plan unfold

Bringing many sons to glory

Grace unmeasured, love untold

Come behold the wondrous mystery

Slain by death the God of life

But no grave could e’er restrain Him

Praise the Lord; He is alive!

What a foretaste of deliverance

How unwavering our hope

Christ in power resurrected

As we will be when he comes

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

December 30: Christmas Light – “O Children Come”

Christmas is a time where generosity is normalized.  We give gifts to friends and family, donate financially to organizations, and provide presents to those in need in our community.  To some degree, a Christmas season without these components would feel like the Super Bowl without a football — a lot of activity in the stands without a lot of meaningful action on the field.

Have you ever stopped to consider where these demonstrations of love and compassion come from?  They don’t come from St. Nick . . . there is actually a source that informs his story.  It doesn’t come from IRS tax deductions to non-profits or Black Friday advertising . . . though both help encourage participation in the gifts of the season.   The generosity of Christmas comes from Jesus Himself.

The most appropriate way to honor the life of Jesus is to love and give to one another.  The Apostle John (one of Jesus’ closest earthly companions) summarized the response that we should have to Jesus this way:  “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16=18)

John says that BECAUSE we have been loved by Jesus (who came to this earth for us and died on the cross for our sins) we should love others.  Jesus sacrificed for us . . . and when we understand this, it prompts us to sacrifice for others.  Specifically here, John encourages us to give (as we are able) to other “brothers” . . . other followers of Christ who are in need.  This is the most appropriate response to the generosity of Jesus.

Notice, John does not say that if we really understood the message of Christmas, we would say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”  It is not primarily a response of “words” or “talk.”  The truth of the Gospel instructs our “deeds” . . . the way we show generosity to others.

Interestingly, this response is not found in a passage of Scripture describing the Christmas story.  It is found in a letter John wrote to help people like you and me know what it looks like to follow Jesus.  Therefore, this response should not get boxed back up with your Christmas decorations.  It is a way of life as a Christ follower and should instruct our behavior year round.  

Today’s song “O Children Come” moves from the events of Bethlehem in verse 1 to our ongoing response to Jesus in verse 3.  As we see the “hurt and lost” let us “show the mercy shown to us.”  So, as we move past the Christmas holiday, may you give generously to your fellow Christians in need and to your church and other ministries.  As John (and this song) remind us . . . it is the right response for those who have come to the Son of God.

O Children Come

Hear the cry from Bethlehem

Oh children come

Son of God now born to man

Oh children come

Bring your troubles, bring your fears,

Bring the needs that drew you near,

Find the hope of all the years

Oh children come

Peace on earth, good will to men

Oh children come

Righteous rule that will not end

Oh children come

Lay down all your bitterness,

Turn from sin’s toil and distress,

Find His grace and perfect rest

Oh children come

Where the Father’s grace has walked

Oh children come

Where you see the hurt and lost

Oh children come

Show the mercy shown to you,

Gifts of kindness to renew

Love from hearts sincere and true

Oh children come

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

December 29: Christmas Light – “Behold the Lamb”

John 1:18 tells us Jesus came to the earth so that He might “make known” to us who God really is.  In the miracles Jesus worked, we see that God is both powerful and compassionate.  In the sermons Jesus preached, we hear that He is wise and authoritative.  In the interactions with His disciples, we see Jesus’ interest in growing us and using us in His work.  Truly, we learn so much about who God is by looking at Jesus’ life.

However, Jesus did not just come to explain God to people . . . He also came to reconcile people to God.  In Mark 10:45 Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His live as a ransom for many.”  By giving His life for the many, Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice on the cross to pay the ransom (the price necessary to set sinners like you and me free).

The death Jesus died was not a tragic accident, but an intentional plan.  Jesus was not the victim of a vicious plan by the Jewish leaders or Roman officials.  If Jesus had wanted to avoid the cross, He could have.  The fact that He can do anything, knows everything, and can go anywhere meant that at any time Jesus could have slain His enemies, outsmarted their plans, or avoided their pursuit.  But He chooses not to do that.  Instead, knowing what lay before Him, He walked directly to Jerusalem to offer His life on the cross (see Mathew 16:21-23, 17:22-23, 20:17-19).

Early in Jesus’ public ministry, His cousin John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)”  What John was proclaiming was that Jesus’ death would pay the penalty for sin . . . like an animal sacrifice symbolized in Old Testament times.  Jesus was born to die in our place.  As Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  That is the full extent of the incarnation.

His death was a beautiful expression of God’s love for us.  “But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  Will we receive His love this Christmas?  This gift has been specially given just for us.  Don’t return or reject this, but embrace our loving God and allow His death to be the ransom to pay the penalty our sins deserve.

Today’s song is Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb” . . . the title song of an original collection of Christmas tunes Peterson and friends have performed live for the past 20 years.  It points to Jesus’ sacrificial death that takes away our sins.

Behold the Lamb

We who walk in darkness deep now see the light of morning

The mighty God, the Prince of Peace, A child to us is born!

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin

Behold the Lamb of God, the life and light of men

Behold the Lamb of God, who died and rose again

Behold the Lamb of God who comes to take away our sin

Wanderers in the wilderness o hear a voice is crying,

“Prepare a way, make straight the path, your King has come to die”

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin

Behold the Lamb of God, the life and light of men

Behold the Lamb of God, who died and rose again

Behold the Lamb of God who comes to take away our sin

Son of God, Emmanuel

Son of Man, We praise you

Behold the Lamb, the hope of man

Behold the Lamb!

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin

Behold the Lamb of God, the life and light of men

Behold the Lamb of God, who died and rose again

Behold the Lamb of God who comes to take away our sin

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

December 28: Christmas Light – “Joy Has Dawned”

Great Christian songs are not just old.  There are wonderful songs currently being written that reflect upon the majesty of Jesus.  Of the groups currently writing modern hymns, my favorite is Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.  They have written a number of very popular modern hymns including the “Power of the Cross” and “In Christ Alone.”  They also have written a few songs that reflect on the birth of Jesus.  Of these new Christmas songs, my favorite is “Joy Has Dawned.”

In “Joy Has Dawned” each verse reflects upon the paradox of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Just some of the poetry in this song:

  • “Not with fanfare from above, not with scenes of glory, but a humble gift of love – Jesus born of Mary.”
  • “Hands that set the stars in place, shaped the earth in darkness, cling now to a mother’s breast, vulnerable and helpless.”
  • “Shepherds bow before the Lamb, gazing at His glory”
  • “Son of Adam, Son of heaven, given as a ransom; reconciling God and man, Christ our mighty champion!”

These statements reminded me of Philippians 2:4-11, where the birth  of Jesus is described as a step of tremendous humility – “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).” 

The humility Jesus shows is meant to do more than just inspire us, it is to instruct us with a model for our lives.  If the Creator God humbled Himself in love to come to the earth for us, then we should (following that example) humble ourselves in service to others.  As you sing “Joy has Dawned” today may the humble example of Jesus inspire you that joy dawns not when we cling onto our life and rights but when we freely give it away in love for others.

Joy Has Dawned

Joy has dawned upon the world,

Promised from creation—

God’s salvation now unfurled,

Hope for ev’ry nation.

Not with fanfares from above,

Not with scenes of glory,

But a humble gift of love—

Jesus born of Mary.

Sounds of wonder fill the sky

With the songs of angels

As the mighty Prince of Life

Shelters in a stable.

Hands that set each star in place,

Shaped the earth in darkness,

Cling now to a mother’s breast,

Vuln’rable and helpless.

Shepherds bow before the Lamb,

Gazing at the glory;

Gifts of men from distant lands

Prophesy the story.

Gold—a King is born today,

Incense—God is with us,

Myrrh—His death will make a way,

And by His blood He’ll win us.

Son of Adam, Son of heaven,

Given as a ransom;

Reconciling God and man,

Christ, our mighty champion!

What a Savior! What a Friend!

What a glorious myst’ry!

Once a babe in Bethlehem,

Now the Lord of hist’ry.

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

Questions for Reflection – Keep the Gospel Central!

On Sunday, December 29, 2019, Teaching Pastor Bruce Hess’ message is “Keep the Gospel Central” from 2 Timothy. Below are some questions for your personal or group reflection.

1. Did you have someone who filled a role as a spiritual mentor to you?  How do/did you feel about them?  Elaborate.

2. Timothy had been shepherded for 17 years by his spiritual father/mentor Paul. What kind of emotions do you imagine Timothy had as Paul penned his last words to him before facing execution?  How carefully do you think Timothy repeatedly poured over Paul’s last words to him?

3. Why do we often tend to view the gospel—the truth that Jesus died for our sins—as merely a past event (though a significant one) in our lives?

4. Bruce cited several reasons why we should preach the gospel to ourselves regularly.  One was our tendency to let feelings rule our life.  What did he mean by that?  Explain.

5. Another reason cited was we often stumble spiritually. How does the gospel and the truth of the cross help us there?

6. A final reason Bruce cited was that the gospel assists us in our everyday relationships.  How does that work?

7. What are some practical ways to help us embrace the cross, revel in it, and rest in it on a regular basis?

8. Consider memorizing the song “Who Killed Jesus?” like Bruce has.
You can find the lyrics at this blog post by Charlie Dyer:  http://thelandandthebook.blogspot.com/2011/03/who-killed-jesus.html

December 27: Christmas Light – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

There is a great scene in the 1995 movie “Apollo 13″ where Tom Hanks (playing the part of Astronaut Jim Lovell) sits in his back yard staring at the moon.  Lovell was soon to pilot the famed Apollo 13 spaceship all the way to a lunar landing.  As he sat in his suburban backyard on terra firm, however, Lovell was thousands of miles away from his destination.  While staring at the moon, Lovell closed one eye and extended his hand in front of him.  The captain then extended his thumb up into the air.  The camera switched to Lovell’s perspective and showed us the captain’s ability to make the moon disappear behind his thumb.

Now, two possible explanations exist regarding Lovell’s disappearing moon technique:

  1. The disappearance of the moon was an optical allusion created by the close proximity of the finger to the eyeball.  In other words, it was a matter of perspective.
  2. Tom Hanks has an extremely large thumb!  In other words, his thumb is bigger than the moon.

Of course, option one is the correct answer.  It also serves as a helpful reminder to you and me.

In our lives, the problems we face everyday have a very close proximity to our eyes.  Medical issues we deal with, relationships that crumble, dreams that are dashed, are so close to where we live that they feel absolutely enormous.  In fact, they feel so big, they can even cause us (as we close one eye of perspective under the strain) to not be able to see God in the midst of our difficulty.  As we ponder this phenomena, two possibilities exist:

  1. We have some really large problems . . . larger than the God who created the universe.
  2. We are allowing our current circumstances to create an optical allusion blinding us to the reality of the presence of our God.

This Christmas season, many of you are no doubt dealing with difficulty.  In fact, I would hazard a guess that virtually all of us are facing a tough trial of some kind.  Because of that, we might have a tendency to miss God this holiday season.  Under the stress and strain of life, we squint our eyes and see only that which is attached to our own hands.  However, do not be fooled.  God is there!  The infant born in Bethlehem is not small in stature . . . He is larger than life, and He is our Immanuel – God with us.  Because of this, we can sing loudly the chorus to the hymn “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”   

O Tidings of Comfort and Joy!  Comfort and Joy!  O Tidings of Comfort and Joy!

We are comforted because God does not disappear from us . . . He has come to us in Christ.  We have great joy because when we open both eyes of biblical perspective, we can see that the Lord has been here all along.  Remember, Jesus last words to His disciples were, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  This promise opens our eyes to dispel the allusion that we are alone.  He is here, and He is bigger than all of the problems and issues we face.  We can trust Him with all our problems, big and small.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

God rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day

To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

Fear not then, said the Angel let nothing you affright

This day is born a Savior of a pure Virgin bright

To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

Keep the Gospel Central! Sneak Peek – December 29, 2019

Hello Wildwood Family!

We hope each and every one had a restful and encouraging Christmas time with friends and family.  I guess I’m getting older because it just flat seems that Christmas creeps up on me faster and faster each year.

On another front, can you believe that the year 2020 is right around the corner?  Utterly amazing!  It made me smile today when I thought back to how 20 years ago (with the coming of the new millennium) how many folks were prognosticating that the technology world would likely unravel with Y2K.  Computers everywhere would cease to function!!!
Of course, nothing happened. That was now 20 years ago.  Wow.

This Sunday we will have two worship gatherings at 9:45 am and 11:00 am with both of them being “All-in” services.  That means there will be no adult groups, no student groups, no children’s classes and no nursery provided. This is one of those Sundays where we will give our volunteer staff a break from normal responsibilities.

However, we will still have a great time in our services.  Please bring your family or visiting friends with you. The message title is Keep the Gospel Central!  We will be digging into the mind of Timothy as he received the final correspondence from Paul, his spiritual father, who would soon be executed by the Romans.  Among the things that Paul communicated to Timothy, we will highlight a very vital and practical truth that EACH of us should heed as we go into a new year.

Communion will also be a part of our time…a great way to end the year. In addition, I will be sharing one of my favorite memorized songs that was written by a friend many years ago.  You don’t want to miss that.

We look forward to seeing you Sunday at either 9:45 or 11:00.  Happy New Year!

Bruce

December 26: Christmas Light – “We Three Kings”

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.

We Three Kings

We three kings of orient are, 

Bearing gifts we traverse afar

Field and fountain, moor and mountain, 

Following yonder star.

Oh, star of wonder, star of night, 

Star with royal beauty bright.

Westward leading, still proceeding,

Guide with thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,

Gold I bring to crown him again

King for ever, ceasing never 

Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I, 

incense owns a Deity nigh

Pray’r and praising, all men raising,

Worship him, God most high

Myrrh is mine: its bitter perfume

Breathes a life of gathering gloom

Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,

Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

Glorious now behold Him arise, 

King and God and sacrifice; 

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Sounds through the earth and skies.

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

December 25: Christmas Light – “Go Tell it On the Mountain”

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.  About the same time that the Father sent His Angels to talk to the shepherds, He 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.

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 . . . He 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.  Today, let us “Go and Tell it on the Mountain!  Jesus Christ is born!”

Go Tell it on the Mountain

Go, tell it on the mountain, Over the hills and everywhere;

Go, tell it on the mountain, That Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching

O’er silent flocks by night,

Behold, throughout the heavens

There shone a holy light.

Go, tell it on the mountain, Over the hills and everywhere;

Go, tell it on the mountain, That Jesus Christ is born.

The shepherds feared and trembled,

When lo! above the earth

Rang out the angel chorus

That hailed the Savior’s birth.

Go, tell it on the mountain, Over the hills and everywhere;

Go, tell it on the mountain, That Jesus Christ is born.

Down in a lowly manger

The humble Christ was born,

And God sent us salvation

That blessed Christmas morn.

Go, tell it on the mountain, Over the hills and everywhere;

Go, tell it on the mountain, That Jesus Christ is born.

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist: