Category Archives: Faith

THE CROSS AND RESURRECTION IN CHRISTMAS

The Christmas story is so simple, and yet it is so profound. The prophecies that were fulfilled when Jesus was born are numerous, God’s plan of redemption went against everything a human being could think of, and the raw humility of the scene that surrounded the Incarnation is staggering. The Son of God, one of the three persons in the triune Godhead, came to earth for the ultimate destiny of the cross on which He died for the sins of mankind.

And when you look at the events surrounding the Christmas story, you see an incredible picture of the events surrounding the cross and resurrection. As we take a look at these, it is almost breathtaking, and I hope it will bring a deeper, richer meaning to your Christmas.

At Jesus’ birth, a decree from a Rome (Caesar Augustus’ command for a census) is what sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, setting in motion then events of His birth (Luke:1-6). Likewise, it was a decree from Rome (Governor Pontius Pilate’s execution approval) that set in motion Jesus’s crucifixion (Luke 23:22-25).

Many scholars believe that Jesus was born in a cave (not a wooden barn) and laid in a manger, which would have been carved out of the stone walls in the cave. When He was taken off the cross, Jesus was laid in a tomb that was a cave cut out of a rock hill (Luke 23:53). So He was laid in a rock bed at both His birth and His death.  Additionally, these two caves were “borrowed” from others (the cave stall certainly wasn’t theirs as they were from Nazareth and Mary gave birth in Bethlehem, and the tomb was borrowed, Matthew 27:59).

When He was born, angels announced His birth to lowly shepherds (Luke 2:8-12). When Jesus rose from the dead, angels announced His resurrection to “lowly” women, who,in ancient culture, were considered as second class (Matthew 28:1-6).

The message of the angels at both His birth and His resurrection started out the same: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10, Matthew 28:5).

At His birth Jesus was wrapped in cloth, which was cut into strips and tightly wrapped around Him, following the custom of the day (Luke 2:6-7)). At His death, Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth, which was the burial custom of the day (John 19:40).

Additionally, the strips of cloth were a sign to the shepherds of the Savior’s birth (Luke 2:12). Likewise, the empty strips of cloth were a sign to Peter and John that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:1-9)

After Jesus was born, He would have been washed in order to be cleansed of the blood and other body fluids from birth (as we do with newborns today). When He was taken off of the cross, in order to follow usual burial customs of the day, His body was washed in order to be cleansed of the blood that He shed and the other fluids He had been subject to (His own sweat and spit from those who mocked Him).

After the shepherds had seen the newborn Savior they ran to tell everyone in the town (Luke 2:17). After the women had seen the empty tomb of the risen Savior they ran to tell the rest of the disciples (Matthew 28:8).

When the Magi came to see Jesus (although they came around two years later they are usually included in our modern Christmas scenes) one of the gifts they brought was myrrh, which was a spice used in burial (Matthew 2:11). When Jesus was wrapped in His burial cloths after his death, He was buried with the spices aloe and myrrh (burial customs included putting spices in the cloth strips that the deceased was wrapped in; John 19:38-39).

And finally, after the days of purification were complete (Leviticus 12:1-4 states that a mother had to wait forty days after giving birth to a son before entering the temple to offer sacrifices for her purification) Jesus was brought to the temple to be presented to God (Luke 2:22-23). Likewise, forty days after his resurrection, He ascended into Heaven to be “presented” back to His Father (Acts 1:1-11).

Do you see the incredible similarities in the events of the birth and death of Jesus? Are these coincidences? I don’t believe so. Jesus came to die on the cross, and His whole earthly life was lived for this ultimate goal. And His coming, His death, and His resurrection was for you and me. How awesome is that?

This Christmas celebrate our wonderful Messiah. As you look at your nativity scenes don’t just see the baby and the manger, let the scene bring you to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And let this bring a fresh, new perspective as you worship Him and celebrate His birth.

Merry Christmas my friends!!





SIMPLE CHRISTIANITY

I recently read about a major Christian university that commissioned a task force to, among other things, “provide clarity regarding the (school’s) identity as an evangelical Christian university” and to establish “a common understanding regarding behavioral expectations for fulfilling roles and responsibilities in light of university values.”  Wow, is it really that complex? You’re a Christian university, follow Biblical standards.

Additionally, one can go to a Christian bookstore and find books on how to measure church health, how to facilitate church growth, how to pray, how to worship, how to be relevant, etc, etc. Christianity is glutted with books that, with great detail and complexity, show you how to find yourself, how ro lose yourself, how to be a leader, how to raise perfect kids. and countless volumes on how to have the picture perfect Christian marriage. For those who are strapped for time, you can buy “instant” Christianity books – thirty days to this, forty days to that, one minute Bibles, and  discipleship as quick as microwaving instant oatmeal. All of these books, whether on spiritual disciplines, theological issues, or practical living, use Scripture references to back their claims. After reading these, one’s head can be spinning with facts, figures, “how to’s”, and loads of guilt for not doing what the “experts” say we should be doing..

Really, is living the Christian life really that complex? We sure have made something that is so beautiful, and so simple, into something that is so complicated.


Living for Jesus after you are born again is, at its core, really quite simple. It can be summed up in one word — “surrender.” Jesus made this clear in Luke 9:23: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Surrender is giving up all right s to yourself to Him. He calls the shots, He is in control. Your life is totally His and you live in total obedience and devotion to Him.


When we are on the journey of surrender, our lives will be holy, we will be able to integrate spirituality into every facet of life, we will know how to pray and we will glorify Him. When we are growing in intimacy with Him, which is the natural byproduct of surrender, we will be hungry for His Word, and we will build a Biblical world view on life.  Take marriage for example. The Bible is very concise about it.  Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church (put her first and serve her); wives, submit to your husbands (allow him to be the leader of the home as God has ordained). Pretty simple.  Yes, I know that the marriage relationship can be complicated. But just think, what if every married couple surrendered to Jesus and followed these two simple rules.  Marriage would be in a lot better shape.  


If a church is filled with surrendered believers, Jesus becomes the main focus, and it will be alive and healthy; and what is alive and healthy will grow. We won’t need to hire consultants, assemble task forces or committees or follow complicated charts and graphs to see what we are supposed to do. Just surrender to Jesus and obey the Bible. That’s all we need.


If it is so simple, why has Christianity taken the complicated route? Probably because surrender is not very attractive in a culture where “self” is the focus of life. As I mentioned above, surrender is giving all rights to ourselves to Jesus, but we fight this because we want to call the shots and be in control. So we take matters in our own hands and end up making a mess of something that was intended to be so simple.


Following Jesus is simple — it’s all about surrender.

WE NEED TO BE THINKING CHRISTIANS

     Christian beliefs are based on faith. For example, we believe in the trinity – one God who eternally exists in three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We believe that God created the universe with His spoken word.  We believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose bodily from the dead three days later.  These are only three core beliefs in the theology of Christianity, but we can see that faith is essential in these beliefs:  to truly grasp the concept of the Trinity is beyond our finite minds, we weren’t present when God created the universe, and we weren’t eye witnesses to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
     However, even though we believe these doctrines by faith, our faith is definitely not a “leap in the dark”.   We have overwhelming evidence in the Bible for what we believe, which is substantiated by secular history, archeology, and science. Unfortunatley, although many Christians might have a basic understanding of what they believe, very few know why they believe it.  When asked why they believe in a certain doctrine of Christianity, many respond “that’s what my Sunday school teacher,  my pastor, or my parents taught me”.  They have never dug into Scripture for themselves to prove their faith.  Christians who run on blind faith are prime targets for cults and aberrant theology.  These are the ones who turn their back on God and the church when confronted by secular thought or when assaulted by the trials of life.   Studies have shown that most of our young people fade away from the church when they leave high school.  Why is this? Because they weren’t grounded in their faith and were easily enticed by the world.   Thus, we have a culture of shallow Christians whose faith is shaky at best. 
     Faith, in order to be strong, must have an intellectual understanding of some facts; the brain and faith are intricately woven together.  Faith without a mental ascent to some facts is indeed a “blind leap in the dark”.  For example, I sat in my chair to write this blog believing it would hold me up and not collapse.  How do I know this?  I didn’t watch it being made so I have no first hand knowledge of its construction. However, I do know that it was manufactured following an engineer’s specification.  There are tags on it that prove that it was built and tested by qualified people.  And I know that the company that sold it would not risk a law suit if they didn’t have confidence in the builder. So my sitting in this chair is not a blind leap in the dark at all. It is based on certain facts I know to be true. 
     Our faith follows the same line of thinking.  We must understand the facts God has so wonderfully given us in order for our faith to be strong through the storms of life.  Obviously, we cannot know everything about God.  If we did He wouldn’t really be God.  However, He has given us all  we need to firmly grasp the truths necessary to have a firm foundation.
     It’s time for pastors to start preaching the depths of biblical truth and theology. It’s time for all followers of Jesus to take the initiative to study, and I mean really study, the Bible.  This is the only foundation on which to build our relationship with our wonderful God.  Remember, we dig deep not just to know facts, but to know the Author of the Bible intimately.  The stronger our foundation of knowing what we believe and why we believe it, the more intimate we become with God.