MIRRORS AND REFLECTIONS

Did you ever go to the circus or perhaps an arcade “fun house” when you were a child, or perhaps you took your children or grandchildren?  If so, you may have seen the mirrors that you walk past which create a deformed reflection of yourself.  Remember?

One wavy mirror reflected a very T A L L you, while the next wavy mirror reflected a very short you.  The next mirror, the one that I hated, reflected a chubbier version of yourself.  As a child, I understood that I did not look like what the mirrors showed, and I also understood that I would not change my shape that fast.  But, there was always a little something tugging at my self-image – what if the mirror really showed me how I looked to others?

Mirrors are fun.  I recall our grandson making faces in the mirror when he was a small child.

mirror

Mirrors can confuse your pets as well.  When we first introduced Cuddles to our home, she barked at each window and mirror, apparently thinking that there was another dog in the house.

Cuddles frightened by reflection in mirror

If you look at the picture carefully, you will see her eyes reflected in the center of and at the bottom of the dresser’s center section of the mirror.  Even today, several years after coming to the house, she will look in a mirror and stare, cocking her head and watching that the dog in the mirror does the same thing.  Funny to us, but sometimes scary to her.

Mirrors are not the only things that provide reflective images. 

USED Mirror lake (C)
I love this picture of Mirror Lake, taken with a sepia tone filter.

We can see ourselves reflected in the still waters of a lake or pond.  But, while rivers have the same water that is found in the lake, the river is running, and the surface of the water is not calm, so the reflection is not visible.

Scripture talks about images and reflections.  We say that we want to know what God is like, but we cannot see Him because He is Spirit.  But, we have seen what God is like.  We have seen Him in Jesus Christ, our Lord.  In speaking of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews says:

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for [our] sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

Hebrews 1:3

Jesus is the visible, earthly presence of the holy God, Father Almighty.  He, Jesus, holds all power and authority in heaven and on earth, and He is our Savior.  The mirror of Jesus Christ is not wavy nor is it fuzzy.  Jesus is the exact imprint of God in physical, visible, touchable form. 

Our problem is that we are mortal, made of dust.  But because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, He has enabled us to be transformed into His image. 

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”

1 Corinthians 15:49

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Romans 8:29

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 3:18

This transformation does not occur all at one time … we still bear our carnal, earthly nature even after we have been saved from our sin by the gracious love of our Lord and Savior.  For example, Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

1 Corinthians 13:12 [New Living Translation]

Our growth in Christ and our transformation into His image takes place as we study His Word, as we worship with other believers, as we hear His Gospel proclaimed, as we obey His voice, as we pray and intercede for others, as we live a life in conformity to the commands of our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

How do I know that this will take place?  Scripture tells me that I need to be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only.

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

James 1:23-25

So Beloved, do you look into the mirror of Scripture and see what it says, then going home and forgetting what you have seen?  Or, do you look into the mirror of Scripture and persevere as you do that which you have seen and heard, as you serve the Lord in humility and in love, as you praise Jesus Christ and His Father for your salvation and for your life in grace, as you praise the Holy Spirit for His presence in your life and for His guidance as you are transformed into the likeness of Christ?

Mirror clock

Now is the time to repent and be justified by your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  Look into the mirror of His Word and allow the Holy Spirit to transform you from the man/woman of dust into the man/woman in the image of Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray that Your Spirit would transform me into the image of Your Beloved Son, so that I can be a witness to others of His love and mercy, of His atoning sacrifice, of His serving nature as He did all that You asked of Him.  I pray that I would look into the mirror of Your Word and see where I am lacking, and then do that which Your Word directs so that I will grow into the likeness of my Lord.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – LOVE

Scripture says that God is love. 

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

1 John 4:8

We know that there are three primary words for love in the New Testament that enrich its meaning in Scripture beyond what our English translation can provide.

First is Eros from which we derive erotic, or romantic love, sexual and physical; it is a love that desires to possess for personal benefit.

Second is Phileo from which we get Philadelphia and philanthropy, words that mean companionship and friendship.

Third is Agape love.  This is the New Testament Greek word that describes God’s love for us.   Agape love is the result of a decision that commits itself to the well-being of the beloved regardless of the condition or reaction of the one who is loved, and it is the type of love that comes from God.

God loves His creation, and more than the creation generally, God loves His people.  Moses expressed it like this:

“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 7:7-8

In other words, God’s love is not dependent on anything that we have or any action that we have taken.  It is not dependent on our position in society or the status of our bank account.  Indeed, we have nothing that God has not given us, and we can give Him nothing that he needs … He loves us because He is love.

The amazing aspect of this attribute is that it is complete, unconditional and everlasting love.  A. W. Tozer (1897 – 1963) said this about God’s love:

God’s love is measureless.  It is more.  It is boundless.  It has no bounds because it is not a thing but a facet of the essential nature of GodHis love is something He is, and because He is infinite, that love can enfold the whole created world in itself and have room for ten thousand times ten thousand worlds beside.

The Apostle John elaborates on this incredible attribute of our marvelous God when he 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. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. … We love because he first loved us.”

1 John 4:9-11, 19

And now we come to the crux of the matter.  John said it well – “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”  This week, known by many as Passion Week, we have prepared for Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  It is truly a day of joyous celebration for the Christian. 

But, before we can properly arrive at Sunday’s celebration we need to ruminate upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, the Friday night when sin thought it had triumphed over mankind.  This is the supreme example of God’s Agape love.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinnersChrist died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 5:6-10.

We, who were wallowing in our sin and were deserving of nothing but death and judgment from a holy God, were granted righteousness and full pardon from the judgment that our sin surely deserved when Christ died for us.  His sinless life, His death on the cross, and His powerful resurrection from the dead provides us with His righteousness because He took our sin and paid for it with His precious blood on the cross.

That, Beloved, is Agape love.  We don’t have to get clean before God will love us.  We don’t have to do anything before God will love us. The Holy Spirit said it through Paul’s writing: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This is the example of divine, Agape, love for a being that can offer nothing … it is supreme love that is contingent not on the person being loved but on the nature of the One doing the loving.

This is the love that our Lord exhibited when He took our place on that cross.  It is the love that is evident when Jesus, suffering mightily on the cross, prayed for the soldiers who, even as He spoke, were dividing His clothing among themselves:

“”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.”

Luke 23:34

Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion.  It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party.  It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them.

J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, p. 182.

This love that has been extended to us deserves our response in love extended back to God and then to others.

Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) was a Puritan theologian, pastor, and devout Calvinist, whose conversion centered on his coming to the realization that God is sovereign over all things.  In the book Charity and Its Fruits, Edwards calls love the “sum of all Christianity”.  And he renders the following exhortation:

A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to God… If love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming [to] Christians.  An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!

May we relish in this glorious attribute of our holy God – Love.  And may we honor and glorify the embodiment of that love in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who endured unimaginable horror on the cross as He absorbed all our sin in Himself so that we could be called the children of God, all on the day we call Good Friday.  And may we live in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we glorify God through compassion and loving kindness as we share the good news of Jesus Christ and the glorious message of hope through His resurrection which we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Sovereign God, I praise You and glorify You as only You are worthy of adoration.  Thank You for the love that has been expressed through the sacrifice of Your Son so that my sin has been paid for and my debt extinguished through His righteousness.  I bow in humble obedience to You, my Lord and Master.

NEAR THE CROSS

For the past couple of weeks, a neighborhood church has had the following phrase on their sign: “Jesus keep me near the cross”. 

At first, my mind went directly to the hymn that we used to sing in my home church when I was a little girl.  The hymn, entitled “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” was written by Frances (Fanny) Crosby and was published in 1869.   I loved singing that song and my heart swelled when I thought of it.

Later, however, I started pondering that phrase.  Do we really want to be “near the cross”?  Have we thought about what that entails?

The cross was not a beautiful thing that people wanted to be near.  It certainly was not a symbol that was hung around your neck as a personal decoration!

It was a means of killing people in a most humiliating, vicious, excruciating manner.  It was gory and ugly.  It was meant to be a deterrent to those who would try to copy the wrongdoing that resulted in the criminal being executed.  The cross was a well-known instrument of cruel and ignominious punishment.  It originated with the Phoenicians and was borrowed then by the Greeks and Romans .  The most heinous criminals, especially robbers and the authors and/or abettors of insurrections, were executed in this horrific manner.

Each of the Gospel writers of Scripture record the crucifixion.  For example, Mark records the following just before Judas betrayed Jesus and the soldiers arrived:

“And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'” … Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Mark 14:27. 29-31

Peter, dear impetuous Peter. This is the same person, please recall, who saw Jesus walking on the water and who got out of the boat to go to Jesus.  “Here I come, Jesus; I’m with you.”  But then when he took his eyes off the Lord and saw he was on water, he sank, screaming for Jesus to help! 

This Peter said “I’ll be with you Jesus, no matter what, I’m your man.  I’ll be there even if all these other disciples run away.  Not me, I’ll stick right by your side!” (my own paraphrase,)   Jesus knew Peter well (just as He knows each of us) and Jesus knew that Peter was going to deny knowing Him.  But dear Peter just clung to his original position – “I’m your man, right by your side, through thick and thin, even if that means death!”

Then Judas and the soldiers arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal kiss was given, and the soldiers seized Jesus.  Then we read these awful, haunting words:

And they all left him and fled.”

Mark 14:50

Suddenly the bravado was gone.  The talk was forgotten.  The three years of listening and learning from The Master was behind them.  In modern terms, when the rubber met the road, they ran.  In clear, heart-rending honesty, Mark records what occurred to a “young man” who many commentators believe was Mark himself:

“And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.”

Mark 14:51-52

Can’t you see the picture?   Can you imagine the downward spiral?  “We’re with you Jesus, all the way!”  Oh, the soldiers, and clubs, and spears.  We’re out of here.  Oh, they grabbed my clothes, I’ll keep running even if I am naked!

No, Beloved, the cross was not a lovely thing to look at.  It was a place of jeering, of mocking, a place of taunting the criminals and laughing at their predicament.  No one wanted to be considered a friend of the condemned man.  The person who was a friend was also a likely candidate for crucifixion!

So, all of Jesus’ disciples and friends had abandoned him.  He was beaten so viciously that He was unable to carry His cross all the way to Golgotha, the execution site.  No disciple was there to help; instead a man in the crowd was grabbed by the guards and handed the cross to carry for the Lord.

As Jesus was hanging there, there were only a few who were present with sadness and love in their hearts for Him:

“but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

John 19:25-27

Jesus’ mother was standing by the cross, along with several other women.  The disciple John apparently was standing near but not as close as the women. 

Notably, none of the other disciples were mentioned in any of the Gospel narratives.  They had fled and were well outside the scope of the cross and all its ramifications. 

So, would we find ourselves standing near the cross?  Or would we be like the clear majority of folks who had heard Jesus and who loved Him and who declared their undying loyalty until difficulty came and then they ran?

The second verse of the hymn “Near the Cross” says:

Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and Mercy found me
;

There the bright and morning star
Sheds its beams around me.

I pray that God would give me the grace, mercy and perseverance to stand near the cross; and to stand up for the cross, even when difficulties arise, when persecutions may threaten, when family members criticize, when it is uncomfortable to be a follower of Jesus. 

“but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” 

Matthew 10:33 

 

May we stand firm, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as the light of our Lord shines through us when we stand at the foot of His cross.

Please listen to the rendition of Fanny Crosby’s well-known hymn, “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross”, as sung by the Smucker Family with the video by SE Samonte, 2013.

Father, I am afraid that I would have been like the disciples who ran and scattered when Jesus was arrested, who did not stay by His side in support of Him, who hid and trembled in fear before they saw Him resurrected from the grave.  I pray that I would have the grace and strength to stand for You no matter what, as I am kept near the cross through the love of the Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

SIGNS – FOLLOWED OR IGNORED?

It seems as though our culture is overrun with signs.  Billboards are all along the highways and some are digital, enabling the billboard owner to multiple “signs” displayed for all to see.

Some signs are humorous.  There is a van for a lock and key company which has, along the bottom of their vehicle, the statement “Cheer up it can always be worse.”

Some signs are informational. 

Blenheim Palace signpost
Signpost at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England

Some signs are confusing even though they have been in use for over 60 years.

Road signs from England the magic roundabout
The Magic Roundabout in Swindon, England

(For a video on how this roundabout works, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OGvj7GZSIo.)

Other signs are rather straightforward.

Texas sign
Welcome sign at the Texas state line

Sign - Hats and Boots in Nashville TN

Hats Boot Co. sign in Nashville, Tennessee

There is another sign on the highways that we have no difficulty following, because we know that an accident will surely occur if we disobey its warning.

One Way sign cropped
One-Way Sign along the highway

No matter what your language may be, when you see the arrow going in a certain direction, you understand that such direction is the only correct one.

In the Bible, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be leaving them very soon.  John chapter 14 details this conversation between Jesus and his closest friends:

“”Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 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.  And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:1-6

How many ways are there to God the Father?  Just one – belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Just as the One-Way sign points to the correct direction to be followed on the highway to avoid disaster or death in an accident, Scripture details the one way to avoid disaster and eternal death.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross for our salvation.  He said it clearly – “I am THE way”.  He did not say “I am A way” as if there were more than one option.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12

Signs – they are helpful, instructive, humorous, and some remind us of eternal consequences. 

I pray that if you have not sought the Lord, please do so now.  Scripture has told us everything that we need to obtain eternal life.  Now is the day of salvation.  Now is the time to go the right direction on that narrow road to salvation. 

Father, I pray that those who read this missive would be touched by Your Spirit.  If they are already believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, may their faith be renewed, and their spirit be encouraged by these words. If the reader is not already a believer in our Lord, I pray that Your Spirit would quicken their heart and that they would realize their need for the Savior. 

 

A NEW SERIES: THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD

We have entered a new year, 2018.   In considering what God has done for us through the past year, I was contemplating what we believe about Who our God is, what is He like, what is His nature?  In other words, what are the attributes of our God?

So, as we begin this year, we will consider the attributes of God as a special “series” of posts each Friday for the next several months. A couple of notes at the outset of this series.

  • There are numerous listings of the attributes of our God, and I will not be covering each and every one. 
  • I certainly will not consider the posts here to be the final authority on any of the topics, but I pray that we would think about the nature of God and His attributes and realize that each of them have a significant impact on our faith in Him. 
  • There will probably be times when pictures are not appropriate for the post topic.  So please bear with me.  
  • There will likely be many questions, comments, and elements of the attributes that I do not cover in the post and tangential positions that I did not explore.  I would encourage you to let me know of your comments, etc., and if there are questions I will gladly respond.  But, the posts are not intended to be exhaustive studies on the attributes.  
  • I pray that the studies presented here will whet your appetite for your own further, more detailed, study of the attributes of God so that your understanding of Him will be deeper than ever before. 

If your family is like mine, on New Year’s Eve we held out until midnight when we watched the ball drop to mark the beginning of the new year.  As we were ticking off the minutes to that moment when the calendar changed and 2017 was gone forever, we pondered just where the “old year” went?  How did time fly away so quickly?  What have we done with the time that God has granted to us? 

Since “time” was so paramount in our thoughts that evening, I thought the best place to begin in consideration of the attributes of God would be His Eternality – that is His eternal nature.  That post will begin the series next Friday, January 12.

As we begin to consider this topic, I would ask that you pray for guidance and that, together, we will grow to be even more in love with our God, His Son, and His Holy Spirit than ever before.

Blessings to each of you, my dear followers, as we embark on our 2018 journey.

 

LOVE IS A COMMAND — NOT A FEELING!

We speak of love often in our conversation with others.  We love people, animals, objects and activities and it is usually a love that is conditioned on a multitude of different factors.  For example, we love those related to us in a different way than we do our general acquaintances. 

Children swinging
Children swinging at the campground playground.

We love some flowers and not others. 

Flower garden in Maine from Bette
Flower garden in Maine

We love certain foods while others wouldn’t eat it or even touch it! 

 

Fish at Dancing Bear Lodge
Sea Bass with head and skeleton. Delicious said our son, while his wife wouldn’t even watch him eat it!

In our modern culture, we fall in love and things are heavy with passion and emotion.  But, when difficulties arise or when someone younger/prettier/richer comes along, we fall out of love; and often there is just as much heated passion against the other party as there was when we fell in love in the first place. 

The bottom line is that there is almost always self-motivated volition involved in human love.  And, we consider love as an emotion, as something that we feel, and when the feeling is gone or when it is transferred somewhere else, so is the love.

But, not so with God.  Scripture says that God IS love.  It is one of the attributes of our God – it is part and parcel of His nature. 

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

1 John 4:8

Indeed, we are COMMANDED to love the Lord our God, and not just a little bit or for a limited time!   In Deuteronomy 6:5 we read:

 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Jesus reiterated this commandment in Matthew 22:37 and then He expanded the command in Mark 12:29-31 by saying we are to love God as commanded in Deuteronomy, but then we are also to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

Jesus took love out of the emotional/spiritual world and puts it into the physical/material world.  Love is action rather than mere emotion.  We see our neighbor and we are not to have mushy, mind consuming passion for our neighbor; we are to love him/her.

 The Apostle John elaborates on the commandment to love others when he 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. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

We love him, because he first loved us.”

1 John 4:9-11, 19

There it is in a nutshell – we love God BECAUSE He first loved us.  We cannot love Him on our own – we are sinners and He is holy.  We can’t do anything spiritually to make Him love us — all our “good works” are like filthy rags in comparison to the holiness of God.   See Isaiah 64:6.  BUT, God Himself gave His Son so that we could approach Him, so that we could love Him, so that we could love others through Him.

Since we received love while we were undeserving sinners, we certainly should not have any trouble following the commandment to love others, whether they are loveable or not, whether they return the love to us or not, whether they like us or not, whether they can help us achieve some goal or not. 

There should be no reciprocal obligation in our love to others.  God’s love to us is one directional – He initiates it and gives it to us through His grace.  Yes, we are to love Him in return, but the full commandment is that we love others as he loved us. 

That is the way we are to love others, especially those who are of the family of faith.  We may not agree with each other on various issues, but if we are Christians, if we have been adopted into the family of God, we are commanded to love each other.  

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Ephesians 5:1-2

God loved us even when we were dead in our sin and unholy before Him.  He sent Jesus Who walked in love and gave Himself to the death on the cross so that we could be accepted by God, so that our sin would be paid for, and so that we would be granted the righteousness of Jesus.  When we understand the gravity of our sin and the holiness of God, we will see that we can and must love others unconditionally, because but for the grace of God we would be in the same condition before God. 

Others will know that we have been adopted into God’s family by the way we love them. 

In this new year, love others as He loved us.  Unconditionally, whole-heartedly, and without judgment.  Let our love for others be our witness of our love for Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Take love out of the world of platitudes and put it into action, real life, concrete, discernible and undeniable action.

Father, I pray that the meditation of my heart is acceptable to you this day.  I pray that you would forgive me when I have failed to love others as You have loved me. And I pray that your Word would be used by the Spirit to illuminate the hearts of those who do not know You. 

 

NOW THAT I HAVE HELD HIM.

We know the Christmas story; we see it reenacted in the children’s Christmas pageant every year.  Mary and Joseph travel from their home to Bethlehem where there is no room in any inn and Mary’s baby, the Son of God, is born in a manger.

Angels in Epiphany Pageant
The angels brought the news to the shepherds.

The angels announced the Baby’s birth to the shepherds in the fields.  Then the shepherds went to where the Babe was and they saw Him.  Their response was to tell everyone what they had heard and seen. 

Shepherds in pageant

While the magi usually are included in the children’s Christmas pageant, because children love to dress up like kings, Scripture does not support seeing them at the manger.  They came to see the King some time later, but that time discrepancy is alright for our pageant purposes.

When the pageant is over, we praise God that the “story” is true and that our Savior was, indeed, born of a virgin and that He came to save His people from their sin.

But there is another event that occurred when Jesus was just a baby that we seldom read or hear about during the Christmas celebration.  In short, it is about Simeon and Anna who recognized Jesus as The Christ, the Savior, the Messiah.  Luke’s description of Simeon’s response to the Babe is found in Luke 2:

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’”

Luke 2:25-32

Simeon was waiting.  He was watching.  He was ready to see the Savior.  He was told that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ, and he was waiting. 

Jesus promised that He would come again and receive His people to Himself.  He was born as a baby for the specific purpose of dying on the cross as our atoning sacrifice.  He was raised from the dead and now is in heaven where He intercedes to God the Father on behalf of His people.

Are we waiting?  Are we watching?  Are we ready for Jesus’ return?  It is a promise as securely written in the book of the Father as the news was for Simeon that he would see the Savior before he died. 

“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”

Numbers 23:19

Simeon understood – the prophesy said that there would be a Savior and he believed and waited.  Are we waiting?

While it is not a traditional Christmas carol that we sing every year, here is Michael Card singing Simeon’s song “Now That I Have Held Him In My Arms”.   It is a beautiful rendition of the song and I suggest that it will speak to your heart as you prepare for the celebration of the Advent of our Lord.

Here are the lyrics if you want to read them as you listen to the song.

That old man in the temple
Waiting in the court
Waiting for the answer to a promise
And all at once he sees them
In the morning sunshine
A couple come and carry in a baby

Now that I’ve held Him in my arms
My life can come to an end
Let Your servant now depart in peace
Cause I’ve seen Your salvation
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people Israel

Mary and the baby come
And in her hand five shekels
The price to redeem her baby boy
The baby softly cooing
Nestled in her arms
Simeon takes the boy and starts to sing

Now that I’ve held Him in my arms 
My life can come to an end 
Let Your servant now depart in peace 
‘Cause I’ve seen Your salvation 
He’s the Light of the Gentiles 
And the glory of His people, Israel

Now’s the time to take Him in your arms
Your life will never come to an end
He’s the only way that you’ll find peace
He’ll give you salvation cause
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people Israel

Father, thank You for people who are skilled in writing and performing music and movies so that we can ponder and meditate on Your Word.   Your Word is alive and speaks to us, and I pray that I will take time to meditate on it daily, even when all the Christmas activities close in on me – enable me to make YOU the priority this season, and all year long.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU.

We hear that cry everywhere we go.  “Merry Christmas to you!? At least we hear it unless the speaker doesn’t want to acknowledge Christmas in which case it is “Happy Holidays”.  That seems to cover the waterfront of celebrations at this time of year. 

Then we also hear the phrase “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”.  We see it on greeting cards, plaques, china, even coffee mugs at Cracker Barrel. 

I certainly agree that Jesus came to earth as a baby born to a Virgin, although whether it was December 25 is somewhat in doubt.  I am glad that the phrase at least indicates that we are celebrating Christmas because our Savior came, and if it encourages people to think about our Lord’s birth then I am glad for it.

But is He really the reason for the season?  In a blog post by Jill McIlreavy on her website Mustard Seed Blog entitled “Jesus is NOT the Reason for the Season” she argues that the phrase is theologically wrong – WE are the reason for the season.  [You can find her blog at https://mustardseedblogs.com and I encourage you to read her post that gives her thoughts about this phrase.]

You see, Jesus did not leave His home in heaven because He wanted to visit our planet, or because He wanted to take a “road trip” or because He wanted to see how the “other half” lived! 

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, 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 2:5-8

He left glory to come to this earth in humiliation: born of woman, in a cattle shed, with no clothing other than rags.  The manger became a king-sized bed as it was where the King of Kings was laid.

king-size-bed
The manger that provided a place to sleep for our Savior was, on that day, a bed for the King.

Think about it – the One who was coexistent with God the Father from all eternity, even before the world was created and before His plan for mankind was put in place, the Creator of the world and everything in it had absolutely nothing upon His birth.  The One who could call legions of angels to do His bidding had nothing but a mother and stepfather as the Babe was surrounded by farm animals.

Why would He do such a thing?  Why would He suffer such indignities as these?  He was despised by those in power from the moment He arrived.  Then after three years of declaring His message, He was rejected by the very people He came to save.  He was betrayed and belittled; He was mocked and beaten; He was crucified.  He voluntarily died a death so horrible that only one of His followers remained with Him.  Why would He do that?

Because God loved YOU and ME.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” – John 3:16-17

He came so that WE could come to God in repentance and humility, so that WE could hear the Holy Spirit tugging at our hearts and pointing us to Him, so that WE could receive forgiveness of our sins. He knew what awaited Him on earth … He willingly went through agony because of God’s love for us!

He came because of us  – WE are the reason for the season.

Father,  I thank You and praise Your holy name for sending Your Son from heaven and for His obedience in coming to this planet to live a sinless life that we could not live and for dying a death that we deserved but which He did not, all so that we could be forgiven of our sins and have a life here and forevermore with Him in heaven. 

WHAT CHILD IS THIS?

Christmas is a time of joy, of singing robustly about the Babe who came to earth 2000 years ago and is the Savior of mankind.  So, it is a bit unsettling when we hear the opening strains of the carol “What Child is This?” because the tune is set in the key of F minor.  We wonder why the soul-searching question at this time of joy and celebration. 

The answer to the title question and the somber mood is dispelled by the chorus which proclaims “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.”

The tune is an old British tune called “Greensleeves”, which originally was a ballad about a man pining for his first love, the Lady Greensleeves.  It has been said that the tune was penned by Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn.  While this is not likely, what we do know is that Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, danced to the tune.

We also know that Shakespeare referenced the song in the play The Merry Wives of Windsor

The tune was first printed in 1580 and in 1647 it first became associated with Christmas, with words other than those we know today.   “What Child is This” has been sung to the tune “Greensleeves” for over 150 years.

The words of the carol are taken from a longer poem that was written by William Chatterton Dix.  Mr. Dix was born in Bristol, England in 1837 and earned his living by working as an insurance agent after he moved to Glasgow.  His greatest love was writing prose and poetry that praised Christ Jesus.  He wrote two devotional books and scores of hymns including two Christmas carols that we still sing today, “What Child is This” and “As with Gladness Men of Old”.

The scripture text that forms the basis of the carol is Luke 2:9-18.  Verse 18 reads:

“And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.”

Luke 2:18 

nativity-carved-into-olive-tree-wood
Nativity scene carved into olive wood tree in Bethlehem.

What child is this?  That was the question that the people 2000 years ago in Bethlehem and, later, throughout the land pondered. 

  • Jesus the baby in the manger grew into Jesus the youth who remained in the temple amazing the teachers at His understanding of the Torah. Luke 2:41-50
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the carpenter’s son who taught in a way that befuddled the hometown folks. Matthew 13:33-36
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the One who had authority so that even evil spirits obeyed His command. Luke 4:36
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John 1:29
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the resurrected Christ who was taken into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father. Mark 16:19

What child is this?  While the inquiry begins as a question from the dark, the answer is illuminated through the joyous response “This is Christ the King!”

Listen as the carol “What Child is This” is presented to you by the Canterbury Choristers directed by Dr. Newell Wright.

Father, I praise Your name for the gift of the baby in the manger who became my Savior and Lord.  May my Christmas celebration be glorifying to You.