This is a question we’d rather not ask, but is so central to our experience and our destiny that we can’t help but ask it. No one should be surprised that most people have at least some fear about death, because we naturally fear the unknown. It is a door that we look at our whole lives, yet is closed to us our whole lives, until in that one final instant when we cross the threshold. Continue Reading…
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38-42)
A small act of mercy on the part of Joseph of Arimathea meant that Jesus’ limp and lifeless body would not be thrown into a pit of a grave, but laid carefully in a rock-hewn garden tomb. Joseph was probably a man with significant conflicts. Wealthy, a prominent member of the Jewish council, he represented the very establishment that was committed to Jesus’ demise. Yet he believed in Jesus, secretly. To believe in Jesus does put one on the spot. Being a committed disciple of Jesus always upsets the status quo.
Nicodemus, also fearful but compelled, came to the tomb too. So there two men, both of whose associations put them at odds with Jesus, both of whom really wanted to believe, are the ones who respectfully wrap the body of Jesus in cloths and seventy-five pounds of spices. Yet the only thing that can really take away the stench of death and its empty stare is resurrection.
These and the other disciples were still stuck in that no-man’s-land between life and death. All that Jesus’ followers had to hold onto were Jesus’ vague words about rising from death. Could such words be taken seriously at all? What would they do in these days? Would they be arrested next? And so they waited behind locked doors because there was nothing else to do.
Many of us feel like we are stuck waiting in life. Waiting after a hard thing that has happened. Waiting to see if there really is hope. Waiting for the power of God.
Ponder This: Is there some way in which you are waiting to see what will happen next? How will you find faith in the waiting place?
They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS (Matthew 27:33-37).
Now came time for the clash between good and evil, heaven and hell. The crucifixion of Jesus is both the most horrific moment in human history and humanity’s only hope. That’s why we call the Friday before Easter Good Friday. Continue Reading…
Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:31-35)
The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for commandment (mandatum), which Jesus talked about when he told his disciples that he was leaving them “a new commandment,” that they “love one another.” There were probably so many things going on in the disciples’ minds in that upper room where they had their last supper together, including fear and bewilderment from Jesus telling them that someone in that very room would betray him. Continue Reading…
Here is where faith begins. “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator…” You are not an accident. You are not merely the best mutation in the neighborhood. You are not merely a species who is really good at avoiding getting eaten by another species. You can seek design and purpose in your life because you were created according to a design. And a “very good” one at that. Continue Reading…
What do you really see when you look in the mirror? You probably notice the lines that were not there a year ago. The scar just beneath your chin from when you went head-first over your bicycle when you were a kid and they stitched you up with little thought to “cosmetic” effect. Your eye is drawn to your retreating hairline or your sagging skin. Your eyes have seen the pleasing and the ugly. You may even look at your face in the mirror and wonder, as we all do, is that really who I am? Not because of the flaws, but because you know that your soul is too big to be circumscribed in a face.
In many doorways of the Roman Empire there was a depiction of a god with two faces pointing in opposite directions. Janus was the god of transitions. He looked ahead and he looked behind–to the past and the future. He was a kind of doorkeeper, a minder of the gate. And so our calendar’s first month, January, is named after him. On January 1 of the new year we look behind, and we look ahead.
So what’s on the other side of the doorway you’re stepping through? Continue Reading…
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The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. -Luke 2:20
At the birth of Jesus, amidst the dirt and straw of a stable, millennia of promises, prophecies, and hopes were fulfilled. In the birth of a child, something that happens every single day all over the world, something happened that would change the world. Everything the faithful were anticipating took shape. It was the alignment of all that was meant to be. But the birth of Jesus has that power and significance only if he really is who he said he was.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. – Luke 2:6
On the night before Jesus was born, the shepherds would have seen the night sky the way they had seen it thousands of times before. That was a quiet night, in stark contrast to the following night, when an angel would appear with “the glory of the Lord,” announcing the birth of the child—then join with a great company of heavenly beings proclaiming glory and peace. Continue Reading…
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. – 1 John 1:1-2
Beginning. The Beginning. How much we all want to know about the beginning of all things, in order to understand the now of all things, and to pursue the way things are supposed to be in our lives today. The original design must be the ideal, the way things ought to be. The Bible’s opening words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” delineate between a time in which there was only God, and a new time in which his magnificent creation began (Gen. 1:1).
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For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. – Luke 2:30-32
The winter solstice on December 21, the darkest day of the year, means for many of us who live halfway between the equator and the North Pole, that we have breakfast when it is still dark outside, and that by supper, the sun has long set. That slide toward the shortest day of the year seems like sinking into a black hole. No wonder people in ancient cultures celebrated the days when the sun began to return. The prophet Malachi spoke of the healing power of light: “The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2).
The word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. – John 1:14
Not only did the Son of God become a baby, but also he became flesh. Divinity joined to corporeal muscle, blood and bones. In this humbling of the eternal Son of God, the Word who was with God from the beginning and was God, chose to begin in the way all flesh does—as a newborn.
But what does “flesh” really mean? Doesn’t it sound a bit crass?
They went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. – Matthew 2:9-10
In Psalm 19, David gives voice to the stars:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Vss. 1-4)
If you have ever stood outside at night and looked up at the canopy of stars, away from the city, away from noise, you may have seen that the stars have a message. In silence they speak, and their voice is thunderous.
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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” – Matt. 2:1-2
Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem many months after the birth of Jesus, yet we know nothing about that time. How was Mary treating her baby, knowing she would have to submit to him as her Lord? How much attention were they getting from the townspeople? What were they telling people, if anything? We simply don’t know. But we do know that one day some travelers from the east—maybe Persia or Mesopotamia (the regions of modern day Iran or Iraq)—suddenly showed up in Bethlehem, claiming to have been guided to a new king by a star.
And he will be called…Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6
In ancient times, princes, whether they desired it or not, often became warriors. Rulers of nations may talk about peace, but nothing is more elusive than peace. And so, when Isaiah talked about a child who would be born, a son who would be given, who would be called “Prince of Peace,” it sounded like high rhetoric, wishful thinking. Could it ever possibly happen?
And he will be called…Everlasting Father. -Isaiah 9:6
What a remarkable string of names in Isaiah 9:6! Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Now, these were radical statements indeed, and they described the one who was coming to rule heaven and earth. A coming ruler might—if he were an ordinary ruler—simply assert his authority and prerogatives as sovereign. As we well know, a king is one who has the power because he has an army, and who has wealth because he controls the resources of his realm. That is the way of earthly rulers. But Isaiah also spoke of a ruler whom people would look to in far more personal terms: “Father.”
In the Old Testament, some of the prophecies about Christ are mysterious statements. They were so bold and so large that they were treasured through the generations, until they were fulfilled and finally understood. Isaiah’s oracle about a son who would be born—Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, and all the rest—was one of those landmark prophecies. In that moment of inspiration, Isaiah revealed he would be Mighty God.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders…and of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. – Isaiah 9:6-7
Government. Does that word strike a positive note in you, or negative note? The word has good and bad connotations. Over the centuries, many corrupt governments run by greedy and power-hungry people have imposed tyranny rather than justice. Their form of order is more often a form of chaos.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6
“What is the baby’s name?” The people in Bethlehem who had heard of a baby born in a stable must have stopped by to talk to Mary or Joseph. Mary and Joseph voiced the name they themselves had not chosen: Jesus. But hundreds of years earlier, other names had already been announced for the Anointed One. Among them, Isaiah spoke of one who would be called Wonderful Counselor.
This is post #13 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.”
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My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. -Luke 2:46-47
One of the worst things that can happen to a person is to live with a shrunken understanding of God, a shrunken soul. This is the perfect reason to take Christmas seriously, as our best hope for our minds and hearts to be enlarged with God’s greatness.
Mary’s response to the message that she would bear the savior was a remarkable song of praise, sometimes known as the Magnificat (Luke 2:46-55). It begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” which means that because God’s announcement opened her heart him in a way that she couldn’t have imagined, her soul was beginning to grasp the bigness of God.
I remember the first time I looked through a telescope at the open sky on a cold winter evening. When I pointed it at the half-lit moon, I was stunned as it came into focus—to see mountains and plains, unlike the picture books I was used to, but the real thing in real time. An ethereal, bright disk hanging in the sky was now a real place to me. The telescope magnified its reality. The moon didn’t increase, but my comprehension of it did.
Sometimes human beings look at God as if he were a distant point of light. But when we take his word into consideration, and if we accept it by faith, our perspective changes drastically. We see that we are living in a greater reality, with a greater God than we had imagined, and with greater possibilities in our future.
Mary knew her life would never be the same—not just her life, but the lives of countless others—because of what God was going to do. This stretched her soul, and it can stretch ours.
Prayer for today:
Lord, this Christmas, give me a larger vision of who you are. May you be magnified in my soul, and may others see that you are the focus of my celebration.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” -Matt. 1:22-23
My wife and I have only seriously lost track of our daughter once. We were walking through a crowded tourist town and the streets were lined with shops. It was evening and the crowds were dense. Suddenly, I noticed that neither my wife nor I had our eight-year-old daughter by the hand. We spun around, unable to spot her. With candy stores beckoning children indoors, and winding side streets all around, she could be anywhere.
This is post #11 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” Past days HERE. “Christmas Joy” as eBook HERE.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. -Luke 2:4
Bethlehem was like any other town in the hills of Judea. Yet, it was the birthplace of the greatest king of Israel, David, and one thousand years later, the Messiah.
How does such honor come to the ordinary? Were the people of this town particularly worthy? Was there some great strategic advantage to where it lay? Were the people of Bethlehem politically savvy, having a long history of producing great leaders? Not at all. The little town of Bethlehem was in the shadow of great Jerusalem just six miles to the north. Even the meaning of Bethlehem, “house of bread,” is unremarkable.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. -Luke 2:11
Some people think that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name. Jesus Christ, like Joe Johnson or Audrey Smith. If you have thought that, don’t feel bad. It is just evidence that over the centuries our understanding of Jesus as the Christ has become so solid in our thinking that we don’t think of “Jesus” without “Christ.”
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. – Luke 2:7
Sometimes a name is just a name, and sometimes a name captures someone perfectly. The ancients inclined to choose names carefully, so as to make a lifelong statement about a person’s identity. “Jesus” is a name so familiar to us, that we easily forget that it was a name with an extraordinary significance. The name an angel announced should be given to Mary and Joseph’s new child. And what a name! “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.”
Where is the first place a baby is placed after it emerges from the mother’s womb? Today we use hyper-sterilized blankets and sanitized cribs. A Plexiglas dome, if necessary. All precautions go toward minimizing the germs the child may come into contact with.
But Mary laid Jesus in the feeding trough for an animal. The Good Shepherd took refuge that night in the sheep’s manger, and when the shepherds came to see what was announced to them, how stunned they must have been.
This is post #7 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” Previous days HERE. Christmas Joy as Kindle book HERE.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. -Luke 1:32-33
Christmas represents a beginning that only makes sense if we comprehend the end. The beginning is a child—a humble birth in an earthy stable. But the end… The end is an explosion of divine glory bright enough for the whole world to see—like the birth of new star. The end is a kingdom. Jesus came to forward the kingdom of God, to open people’s eyes to the power of God, to make it the central reality of their lives. “His kingdom will never end.”
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. -Matthew 1:18-19
We know so little about Joseph. He is only mentioned in the birth and childhood stories of Jesus. He was named after an ancient patriarch who used his success in Egypt to save his family and a future nation. Joseph was a carpenter who lived in the town of Nazareth. His ancestors were from Bethlehem, so when a Roman ruler, Caesar Augustus, wanted a census, Joseph had to go back to Bethlehem, even though his wife was well along in her pregnancy.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks at night. – Luke 2:8
It may seem like a stretch of the imagination, but try it anyway: If you were God, and could announce the arrival of the savior of humanity, would you send your messengers to some shepherds out in the fields, as they whiled away their nighttime watch? Why not instead send angels to an assembly of the religious council in Jerusalem? Why not to the megalomaniac King Herod? How about Caesar? Wouldn’t that be a night of work—to blow opens the doorways of society, to change everything with a few simple words.
God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” -Luke 1:26-31
Can any of us fathom the immense amount of faith Mary was called on to have? She was young. She was a virgin. She was probably expecting to lead no more than an ordinary life in a no name Galilean town.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21
Angel: 1). A spiritual being believed to act as an attendant, agent, or messenger of God (Oxford English Dictionary).
What did Mary see when the angel Gabriel appeared to her? What kind of being came with foreknowledge of a supernatural conception and with words that would change her identity forever? “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28). How would the shepherds have described the angel with the glory of the Lord shining about? How could they encapsulate “a great company of the heavenly host,” whose voices poured out a sudden tidal wave of sound, a booming chorus?: “Glory to God in the highest!” (Lk. 2:14). How would Joseph his own encounter with the angel? Or what would Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, say about their messengers? In the days leading up to the birth of Jesus, supernatural appearances and utterances were occurring like they never had before—an electric buzz of Heaven’s voices among us.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” – Luke 2:13-14
Peace is a noble aspiration at any time. In times of war or in times of harmony. When you find yourself at odds with someone, or when you are feeling pretty good about your relationships. When you feel in harmony with God, or when you feel a discord. It is always important to pursue peace.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” - Luke 2:10-11
Great joy? Is it almost too much to hope for?
Where did all the Christmas joy go? How did things get so complicated? So rushed? So squeezed and cluttered? A non-stop buzz of Christmas lights and weary shoppers, boisterous television specials and pleading children. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to step aside, step into a quieter moment, and read the angel’s words that came on the night that changed the world: “I bring you news of great joy!”
“By him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17).
This passage is speaking about Christ, making the point that the Son of God was present and involved when the universe was willed into existence. “All things.” Every physical reality and every spiritual reality exists because God created it.
In a mighty song at the beginning of the book of Revelation, four “living creatures” bearing the looks of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle-covered with eyes, fitted with wings, moving about a throne before a sea of glass, focusing day and night on proclaiming the holiness of God-these four creatures representing the whole of creation, sing these words:
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The Christmas season should be a time for personal spiritual renewal. A time of joy and celebration, light and life. Christmas Joy, a daily devotional for the month of December, has 25 daily readings to bring insight and inspiration into the Christmas season. Each daily reading unpacks the meaning of words like…
* and more.
The 25 daily readings of Christmas Joy begin Saturday, December 1.
“Universe” means “the whole thing.” It is shorthand for every world, every speck of cosmic dust, every rock, every four-legged creature, every human being, every gamma ray and photon that exist anywhere. Put it all together and you have “universe.”
It was God who put it all together. He “fashioned” it. He conceived it and then willed it into being. “Let there be light,” he said, “and there was light.” We all know the opening words of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Hebrew word for “create” does not mean merely the rearrangement of matter. It is not the idea of a potter shaping clay or a woodworker building a cabinet. No construction worker ever said, “Let there be wood.” To create, in the most fundamental sense, means to bring into existence.
Time and again people responded to Jesus’ words with speechless astonishment. Perhaps as they listened to Jesus’ teaching, they occasionally found themselves turning a corner and stunned by a vista of reality that was bigger and grander than they had imagined.
Not everyone who heard Jesus became believers because we all have personal agendas that can hold us in disbelief. But everyone who did hear had to grapple with the power of what he said, and they had to decide what to do with the authoritative voice with which he spoke–an authority that did not come from a booming microphone or spotlights or banners, but from the ring of truth in the words themselves, backed up by every action he performed.
One of the boldest things any human being can do is to stand in front of someone else and say, “This is what I believe.” We listen, whether we are inclined to believe the same thing or not. It is bolder still to act on what we believe. Continue Reading…
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:28-29
Faith is a calling. It is backed up by a universe of tangible facts about the goodness and greatness of God. Yet faith is still an extension of trust outward so that we are certain of what we do not see.