Friday, December 25, 2015

Advent Day 25: Jesus Came to Come


 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again 
and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also"
(John 14:3)

Jesus came to crush the head of Satan.
Jesus came to serve.
Jesus came to make us children of God.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
Jesus came to be our example of humility.
Jesus came to show us the way to the Father.
Jesus came to accomplish the will of his Father.
Jesus came to become a curse.
Jesus came to shine light into darkness.
Jesus came to demonstrate God's justice.
Jesus came to be our Great High Priest.
Jesus came to be our righteousness.
Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father.
Jesus came to free us from fear of death.
Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil.
Jesus came to preach peace.
Jesus came to bring a sword.
Jesus came to call sinners.
Jesus came to give us life abundantly.
Jesus came to give his life as a ransom.
Jesus came to be our example of love.
Jesus came to show us how to suffer.
Jesus came to teach truth.
Jesus came to fulfill all of God's promises.

Jesus came for all these reasons and more.  And, he is coming again.

In John 14:1 he said to his disciples, "Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me."  Jesus says that our hearts should not be troubled because there are many rooms in His Father's house and he is going to prepare a place for us.  "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:3)

He came down in humble flesh so that he could return in his glorified body to take us to be with him forever.  The fact of his next coming is just as certain as the reality of his last coming.  As you celebrate Christmas today and reflect on the birth of Jesus, be reminded to look to the next time he will appear.  As you look to the manger also look to the heavens.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Advent Day 24: Jesus Came to Fulfill All of God's Promises


For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. 
That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 
(2 Corinthians 1:20 ESV)

The Bible is filled with promises from God.  Various individuals have attempted to add up all the promises that God makes in the Bible and have come up with widely varying answers; anywhere from 3,000 up to 8,000.  The final count depends on how some verses or statements are interpreted.  

Whether the right answer is 3,000 or 8,000, the reality is that God made thousands of promises in the Bible.  In 1 Corinthians 1:20 Paul makes an astonishing claim.  Every single one of these thousands of promises find their yes in Jesus.  What does that mean?  And, how can that be?

When Paul says God's promises find their yes in Jesus, he means that apart from Christ the promises of God would never come to fruition.  Every promise God made in the Old Testament was made knowing that Christ would come in the flesh in perfect obedience, laying down his life on the cross, and victoriously rising from the dead to sit at the right hand of God the Father.  And, it is through this glorious work of Jesus Christ that all of God's promises become yes to you and to me.

Therefore, Paul says it is through Christ "that we utter our Amen to God for his glory" (2 Cor. 1:20). When we say Amen, we are saying "so it be" or "it is so."  The only way we can say  "so it be" to the promises of God is through Christ.  Apart from him there would be no "it is so."

Though it's difficult to wrap our minds around, at Christmas we are celebrating the coming of the fulfillment of all of God's promises.  In the child that laid in a manger, thousands of God's promises found their fulfillment.  So, as we prepare our hearts for Christmas tomorrow, let us praise God that we have received our yes in Jesus Christ!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Advent Day 23: Jesus Came to Teach Truth



[37] Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world
—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
 (John 18:37 ESV)

Just about everywhere Jesus went, he taught.  That's what he spent the vast majority of his public ministry doing.  He was a teacher.  Yes, he healed lots of people and even raised some from the dead. But, if we were to try and calculate the amount of time he spent on any given activity, it seems that teaching wins by a long-shot.

Mark 6:34 tells us that when Jesus came to the shore he saw a large crowd and, in that moment, his heart was filled with compassion for them.  He saw them as sheep without a shepherd.  How does he respond?  Verse 34 says that he began to teach them many things.  Jesus' compassion drove him to teach.

Jesus was passionate about teaching because he held the words of truth we all needed to hear.  In fact, in John 18 Jesus says, "for this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world - to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37).  Once again, we see that there were a multitude of reasons Jesus came to dwell among us.  It wasn't just to die on the cross, but also to spend three years teaching truth.

And, he taught like no one else had ever taught before.  At the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, we're told, "And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (Matthew 7:28-29).  His teaching wasn't dependent on any outside source.  He is the truth, therefore he doesn't need to footnote his sources.  He is the authority on every subject.

Jesus, being God, could have imparted information in any way he saw fit.  He could have miraculously transferred knowledge into the head of his followers with very little effort.  But, he came to make disciples by teaching.  God continues to desire that disciples be made in the same way: through teaching.  Therefore, the leaders of God's church must be teachers (1 Tim. 3:2). Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that he gave teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry. 

Teaching is central to God's work on earth. Jesus proved this by spending three years teaching; for this purpose he came into the world.



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Advent Day 22: Jesus Came to Show Us How to Suffer


[20] For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? 
But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. [21] For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, 
leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 
(1 Peter 2:20-21 ESV)

Suffering is difficult in all its forms; emotional, physical, or mental. Though we do our best to avoid suffering, all of us will face some degree of it in our lives. It's unavoidable. Therefore, because it's inevitable for a Christian, we need to be sure that we suffer in a way that brings glory to God.

The temptation when we suffer is to shake our fist at God and declare that we don't deserve what we're going through; that he is treating us unjustly. Others give up on God altogether believing that God, were he real, would never allow such suffering to occur in the first place. So, how should a Christian respond? Should we be angry or bitter with God? Is suffering evidence that God doesn't really love us? Does it show there is no all-powerful, loving God? Should we complain and grumble?

Apart from God's Word, these questions would be difficult to answer. We would be left scratching our heads trying to understand how love and suffering can possibly come from the same source.
In Christ, however, we see the answer to all of these questions. Jesus took on flesh, and all the weaknesses that entails, in order to suffer for you and me. He dealt with hunger and fatigue. He felt physical pain. He experienced emotional hurt - Jesus wept. And, of course, he experienced the mockery and humiliation in his phony trial and beatings. He suffered intense physical pain in his crucifixion. Yet, 2 Peter 2:23 says, "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."

Jesus didn't complain. Jesus didn't grumble. Jesus didn't see suffering as his Father abandoning him. Instead he continued to trust his Father because he knew that His Father was in control and that whatever happened was for the glory of his name.

Jesus is our example of how we are to suffer well. We must keep trusting our gracious Heavenly Father. Romans 8:28 tells us "that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." This is why James is able to say, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (James 1:2-3).

Jesus knew the Father was at work in his suffering, therefore he continued to trust him without wavering. In the same way, we can be confident that God is working for our good, and His glory, in our suffering. Therefore, we are called to follow Jesus' example of suffering.

Because Jesus came in the flesh and suffered as we suffer, we can never shake our fist at God and say, "You just don't understand." He perfectly understands because of his miraculous incarnation. "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" (Hebrews 4:15).





Monday, December 21, 2015

Advent Day 21: Jesus Came to Be Our Example of Love


[9] In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. [10] In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 
(1 John 4:9-11 ESV)

If you do an internet search for "What is love," your results will be filled with all kinds of philosophical pondering.  You'll read statements that sound profound, but ultimately have no meaning.  Everyone has an opinion about love, from actors to authors, from scientists to scholars.  

Currently, a lot of research is going into trying to understand how the brain creates feelings of emotion.  Scientists are trying to see what chemical and neurological interactions create the emotion we call love.  Their goal is to try and remove the mystery of love and show that it's nothing more than an evolved neurological response to a specific set of external observations.  Their view of love will make marriage proposals just a little less romantic, "My neurons consistently fire when I'm around you, therefore it seems logical that I should spend the rest of my life with you.  Will you marry me?" That doesn't sound like love, does it?

When left to ourselves, humans will come up with all kinds of definitions of love: scientific ones, selfish ones, and philosophical ones. But, in Christ, God has shown us what love is.

1 John 4:9 says "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him."  The love of God was shown to us by sending Jesus to dwell among us.  He loved us by sending his son to be the propitiation for our sins.  (Propitiation means that he satisfied the wrath of God in our place).  And, he did this not in response to our great love for him, but simply because he is love.  Romans 5:10 says that God did this even while we were his enemies.

God defines love for us.  1 John 4:11 says that if God loves us this way then we ought to love one another in the same way.  Therefore, love is more than an neurological evolutionary response that just happens based on certain circumstances.  When we are called to love our enemy or love those who don't love us or love the unlovely, we're not acting on chemical reactions.  We are demonstrating the love God has already shown us in Christ to the watching world.

When Christ arrived as a baby, God showed us what sacrificial love really is.  He showed us that love is more than just an emotional response; it's a willingness to love those who don't deserve to be loved.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent Day 20: Jesus Came to Give His Life as a Ransom


[28] even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, 
and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 
(Matthew 20:28 ESV)

A ransom is money that is demanded in exchange for the release of a prisoner.  For example, the United States of America has a long-standing policy of not negotiating with the ransom demands of terrorists.  The US will not pay for a prisoner to be released.

This is often how terrorist organizations fund much of their efforts.  They kidnap people with the intention of demanding millions of dollars for their release. 

From the perspective of the US government, a definitive and unwavering policy of refusing to pay ransoms protects Americans.  If the terrorists know that the US will not pay a ransom they are less likely to kidnap Americans in the first place.  If, on the other hand, the US paid millions of dollars to meet the demands of a ransom every time an American was kidnapped, then we would actually be encouraging the enemy to kidnap Americans as a means of raising money.  

So, if this is what our modern day notions of ransoms are all about, then what does the Bible mean when it says Jesus gave his life as a ransom?

After Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God made the consequences of sin clear - they would now die; not just a physical death but a spiritual death.  Romans 6:23 makes this clear, "the wages of sin are death."  Because of our sin, we are all under an eternal death sentence from God the Father; not because he is cruel but because he is just.  He will not and cannot let sin go unpunished; to do so would make him unjust.

God, however, was willing to make a way for us to be freed from our death sentence by allowing his son to die in our place.  He was willing to accept the life of Jesus as a ransom that would free us from the eternal judgment we deserved.  Matthew 20:28 says this is why Jesus came to earth.  He came to serve us by paying a ransom with his own life that we might be free from our death sentence.

It is fair to say that Jesus came to die.  He came to pay a ransom and Jesus knew the only ransom that could save God's people would be his own death in the place of God's people.  Yet, he was willing to come as a man to die, anyway.  

Because Jesus is our ransom, we are free from the demands of the Law.  His ransom eternally satisfied the demands of God the Father.  We don't don't need to worry about God demanding more. He is perfectly satisfied with the ransom of his sacrificial Son.  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Advent Day 19: Jesus Came to Give Us Life Abundantly



[9] I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out
 and find pasture. [10] The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. 
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 
(John 10:9-10 ESV)

When we hear the phrase abundant life, all kinds of images flood into our heads.  Some imagine a large family, some a life of relaxation, others a life of great material possessions.  Whatever most people imagine, it typically includes having more than they have now.

In fact, what is commonly referred to as the prosperity gospel or the "health and wealth" movement takes verses like this and abuses them.  See, they would say, Jesus wants you to have abundant life. He came for that very purpose.  God wants you to have wealth and great material possessions.  He doesn't want you to live in poverty.

To come to those conclusions, however, they have to ignore verses where Paul speaks of being content with both much and little (Phil. 4:12) or the command in Hebrews to be content with what we have (Heb. 13:5).  They have to ignore the expectation of suffering from James 1 or 1 Peter 1.  

They're also ignoring what Jesus is saying in John 10.    Jesus says that all who enter through him, enter into eternal life.  If you listen to anyone else and try to enter another way, then you will not be saved or find eternal life.

Jesus is setting up a contrast between eternal destruction and eternal living.  Jesus' point is not, "If you enter by another way, you'll be ok, but your life will be miserable.  So, enter by me and you'll have a life of great possessions and influence."  Jesus is not comparing the quality of life, but whether you will have life at all.

The word abundant is defined as "existing or having available in large quantities."  In other words, Jesus is saying that we will have much life - large quantities of life.  Jesus says nothing of the possessions of this life being abundant - only that our life will be, if we enter through him.  

The problem is that we take eternal life in Christ for granted.  Therefore, we think eternal life is not what Jesus is talking about.  Instead, he must be referencing something added to this life.  But, when we realize what we deserve is eternal death and destruction, then having eternal, abundant, large quantities of life is astonishing.

Jesus came to earth so that we could have abundant life; not a rich life or a life of ease or a healthy life on earth.  He came that we might live for all eternity with the joy of knowing him!



Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent Day 18: Jesus Came to Call Sinners



And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, 
but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” 
(Mark 2:17 ESV)

The Pharisees couldn't believe what they were seeing.  Jesus, a man that claimed to be godly, invited a tax collector named Levi to follow him.  Then Jesus did the unthinkable.  He actually went and had dinner with many tax collectors and sinners. They couldn't believe Jesus would do something so ungodly.  When Jesus heard about their grumbling he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17)

Imagine a doctor that refused to be around sick people.  He refused to go into a hospital because the risk of getting sick would be far too great.  If he got sick, he wouldn't be able to care for his healthy patients. The sign on the front door of his office read, "Healthy check-ups only.  No sick patients allowed."  In his view his job was simple.  He needed to reassure the healthy people that came to see him that everything was ok.  He helped people by giving them peace of mind about their good health. If he discovered one of his patients was sick, he would immediately remove them from his practice so that they couldn't infect any of the other patients.  They were allowed to come back when they got better.

Nobody would want that doctor. There would be no doctor of the year awards to hang on his wall. His community would mock and deride him.  

Yet, Jesus says this is what the Pharisees wanted.  They wanted their leaders to only spend time with people who saw themselves as righteous.  To do otherwise would make them unclean.  Therefore, only the righteous received their attention.  

Jesus, however, came to this world with another purpose.  He wasn't interested in the people who thought they were spiritually healthy. He wanted to spend time with the sick sinners because they needed him.

Jesus didn't come to earth because of how great we are.  He came because we were in desperate need of a Savior that could make us well and save us from our eternal death sentence.  The manger is not a reminder of the greatness of humanity, but of our great wickedness.  Praise God that Jesus was willing to come dwell among sinners like you and me!

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent Day 17: Jesus Came to Bring a Sword


[34] “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [35] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 
(Matthew 10:34-35 ESV)

This isn't the kind of verse we normally think of when we picture the Christ child laying in a manger. We like to think about him coming to seek and save the lost, or making us children of God, or freeing us from fear of death.  But, we don't get to pick the reasons Jesus came.  This verse came from his own lips, so we must think about what it means, believe it, and worship him for it.

On Day 16 we reflected on the fact that Jesus came to preach peace because He is our peace.  We recalled that when the angels announced his birth to the shepherds they declared "peace on earth." Yet, here we have Jesus seeming to contradict the angels and, for that matter, himself.  How can he come and preach peace and, at the same time, say, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34)?

Jesus explains what he means by sword in verse 35, "For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." In other words, Jesus doesn't mean a literal sword, but that his coming will create divisions in households: "a person's enemies will be those of his own household" (verse 36).  Jesus is referring to the inevitable reality that there will be homes where some family members become his followers and some do not.  As a result, in some homes, there will be tension, hostility, and even hatred toward his followers.

Now, to be clear, Jesus' point is not that he wants every family to have it's members set against one another.  But, he does want to be clear that faithfulness to him trumps peace in the home.  He's helping us set our priorities. If not for the clear teaching of Jesus in places like this, human reason may have led us to believe that we should pursue peace at all cost.  After all, that's what Jesus would want us to do, we would reason.  

Jesus, however, helps us shape our priorities.  We don't pursue peace at all costs.  If we have to choose between a peaceful home and faithfulness to Jesus, we must choose Jesus.  That doesn't mean we dismiss our families, stop loving them, or hate them back.  But, it does mean, that if our families make us choose - family or Jesus - then Jesus it is.

Now, what does this have to do with Christmas? Everything. It means that this child born to Joseph and Mary wasn't like any other man. He was (and is) the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. All things were created through him and for him. He holds them all together by the word of his power. He is eternal. He is the image of the invisible God. 

This was no ordinary baby. Therefore, with him our allegiance must lie above all others. Not to give it to him would be the height of foolishness. That's why he says in Matthew 10:37, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

He was no ordinary baby and he deserves extraordinary devotion.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent Day 16: Jesus Came to Preach Peace


[17] And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. [18] For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 
(Ephesians 2:17-18 ESV)

World War 1 was one of the deadliest in history.  Over 15 million people died as a result of the war. The war was filled with fierce and brutal battlefields.  Even so, during the first year of the war, something unexpected happened in the week leading up to Christmas.

In 1914, during the Christmas holiday season, armed forces in certain areas of the war laid down their weapons.  British and German troops left their trenches and met each other in the middle of the battlefield to talk and wish one another a merry Christmas.  Gifts were given, some prisoners were exchanged, and each side allowed the other to recover the bodies of their fellow soldiers.  Some even speculate that the two sides in some locations may have enjoyed a spontaneous game of European football (you know, the thing we call soccer).

Of course, the truce was short-lived.  Within days the soldiers were using the hands that embraced one another to shoot one another.  Instead of exchanging gifts and pleasantries they were now exchanging gunfire and artillery.  There was peace, but it was short-lived. 

That's the problem with all human achievements of peace, they never last.  No matter how hard humanity has tried to achieve peace on earth, sin always creeps in and destroys those efforts.  Pride, greed, revenge, and foolishness all ruin the day.

Jesus, however, comes with a different kind of peace.  Ephesians 2:17 says that Jesus came to preach peace.  How was this man able to bring peace?  Because, verse 18 says "through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father." Jesus met our deepest need for peace; our need to be at peace with God the Father.  

Not only does Jesus preach peace, but Ephesians 2:14 says that "he himself is our peace." On the cross, Jesus was able to accomplish peace by bearing the wrath that we deserved from God the Father. "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

Jesus came to preach peace because he is our peace.  This is why the angels announced to the shepherds, "peace on earth."  Peace arrived in the baby Jesus.



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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent Day 15: Jesus Came to Destroy the Works of the Devil


[8] Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 
(1 John 3:8 ESV)

1 John is a hard hitting book.  John challenges us over and over again to put sin away. That's what he's doing in chapter 3. For example, in verse 6, he says "No one who abides in him keeps on sinning."  Or, verse 8, "Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil."  Those are hard words to swallow!

Now, to be clear, John isn't demanding perfection. In 1 John 1:8 he says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."  In 1:9 He points us to the gospel for our hope (not perfection), "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Even so, John still calls us to rid our lives of sin.  The fact that God forgives us when we confess our sins is not an excuse for continuing in sin. John says one reason to put sin away is because Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil.  This is why Jesus appeared - in the flesh as a baby.

John's basic argument is this: Why should those who follow Jesus continue to take part in the very things he came to destroy?  

On D-Day, America and it's allies, courageously stormed the beaches of Normandy to drive the Nazis out of France and gain a foothold in Continental Europe.  Thousands of men sacrificed their lives that day.  Can you imagine those who made it to the shore then helping the Germans repair their defensive positions, reload their artillery and machine guns, and get them back into position?  That would have been treasonous.  That would have never crossed the mind of an Allied soldier.

In the same way, John is essentially asking us: Why are you giving life and vitality to the very thing Jesus came to destroy?  Jesus humbled himself and laid aside his glorious position in heaven to come to earth and give his life to destroy the works of the devil, which is sin.  How can you work against his purposes and follow him at the same time?

Therefore, when we meditate on the Christ child lying in a manger we need to remember that one of the reasons he came was to destroy sin.  Let Christmas be a reminder to join the victory of Jesus and put sin to death in your life!

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