December 4: Good Shepherd, The Christ of Christmas

Read John 10:1-21

“I am the good shepherd” (v. 11a).

Just hours after His birth, Jesus, Joseph and Mary received visitors in their humble, barnyard accommodations. Shepherds stood there asking if they dare enter. Although they may have seemed out of place as commoners visiting the Creator, they were likely not strangers to mangers. They fit into the barnyard motif.

Jesus used the shepherd imagery in describing Himself about thirty years later.

Few of us in the Wayne County, Ohio area have an experiential hook onto which we can hang this statement of Jesus. Although we live in an agricultural community with crops and livestock, the livestock consist of  mainly cows, pigs, and chickens. It is true that sheep are shown at the fair, but you typically don’t see large flocks of them along countryside. And, at least in our area, the first-century shepherd has been replaced by some kind of fence.

Thankfully, Christ’s description of His own role as the Good Shepherd allows us to appreciate nuances of the shepherd’s care that may be foreign to us. As the Good Shepherd, then, Jesus said these things about Himself.

  • He knows His sheep. (See vv. 3, 14, 15.) He has an intimate relationship with His followers. He knows them personally, calling them by name. And they know Him and recognize His voice.
  • He leads His sheep. (See vv. 3, 4.) He goes out ahead of them. His leading sometimes takes the sheep past a quiet stream. At other times, it may lead into the valley of the shadow of death. No worries, though. He is with them.
  • He lays down His life for the sheep. (See vv. 11-13.) Because He cares so deeply for the sheep, Jesus is willing to give His all for their eternal welfare. He did not flee when the risk was greatest, but surrendered His life so that the sheep might live.

Jesus is a good shepherd. David was right when he said in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want” (Ps. 23:1). With His intimate concern about, careful leading of, and sacrificial love for sheep like you and me, we can be completely content. He provides all that we need.

sbk

Posted in Christ of Christmas

December 3: Mighty God, The Christ of Christmas

Read Isaiah 40:1-31

“And He will be called . . . Mighty God . . .” (Is. 9:6).

For those of you who don’t know me, let me describe my build. I am tall and thin. Although I exercise regularly, my workouts only consist of running and biking. Neither  weight-training nor any kind of upper body exercise is part of my routine. And it shows. “Buff” or “chiseled” or “strong” are not words people use to describe me. For a while, though, I owned a t-shirt that said “Big Dog XXL.” I felt cool, even stronger, when I wore it. But it wasn’t like Superman’s cape. I couldn’t do anything more with that shirt on than when I wore my button-down dress shirt.

Compared to others, I am a proverbial 90-pound (okay, quite a bit more than that) weakling! Actually, according to Isaiah 40, all of us are.

As inhabitants of the earth, we are like grasshoppers before God. Our lives are like the grass that withers and fades, while He and His Word are eternal. Not one of us has the understanding He possesses. None of us serve as His counselor. Even collectively as nations, our potential is like a drop compared to His bucket. His wisdom and might exponentially exceed mine . . . and yours.

But His power and strength are not things He uses for His own impulsive enjoyment. He exercises His incomparable strength justly and righteously for His own glory and for the ultimate good of man. Jesus . . . this Mighty God in the flesh . . . cast out demons, stilled, storms, healed the lame, and gave sight to the blind. He uses His might to bless others.

That same mighty power is available to us today. Even though I grow tired and weary even when you stumble and fall, Jesus the Mighty God wearing the “Big Dog XXL” shirt, comes to our aid offering us strength.

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” so that  “they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (vv. 29, 31b).

sbk

Posted in Christ of Christmas

December 2: Root of Jesse, The Christ of Christmas

Read Isaiah 11:1-16

“In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious” (Is. 11:10).

Roots and stumps are not particularly exciting. Not unless the tree was believed to be dead and you discovered a shoot coming up out of the stump! When someone comes in with a chainsaw and cuts down a tree, that happens sometimes. Out from the stump come little branches — signs of life. If you hated the tree and were trying to eliminate it, those shoots are disappointing. If you loved the tree, though, and still want it around, you might find the shoots encouraging.

As Isaiah gave this prophecy, Israel must have seemed like a dead tree stump. Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army had invaded Jerusalem. Their military had carted Jews hundreds of miles off to captivity in Babylon. They had burned and destroyed much of the Jewish sacred city, including its protective wall and elaborate temple. The future of the nation must have seemed hopeless. To the Jews Israel must have seemed like a lifeless stump.

Do you have any hopeless stumps in your life? Dead ends you had hoped would be through-streets? Scraps of metal that, in your mind, were destined to become something valuable? Painful relational debris that, at one point, seemed to have the makings of something lasting?

Thankfully, Isaiah’s words bring hope. The root is still alive! And one day a shoot would come up out of the very area where the axe did its work. The “stump,” the “root,” and the “shoot” are identified as being “of Jesse.” He was the father of David, the greatest king up to that point. In other words, Isaiah is saying, “Not only will Israel be restored, but its best days are still ahead.” Jesus, a descendant of David, was going to come.

Through this shoot and root of Jesse, the nation of Israel will be gathered and restored. Nations will rally to Him. In His yet future kingdom, there will be peace and safety for all who follow Him.

Don’t let the discouraging stump experiences of your life cause you to give up hope. Jesus, the Root and Shoot of Jesse, will bring life, blessing, joy, and glory.

sbk

Posted in Christ of Christmas

December 1: I Am, The Christ of Christmas

Read Exodus 3:1-22

“It’s me.”

Have you ever used those words to identify yourself as you speak on the telephone? If you have, then you’ve operated under a basic assumption that the listener will recognize your voice and that there is, therefore, no need to give your name. I mean, let’s face it, “It’s me” is not really your name. “It’s me” wouldn’t help much if you were speaking to someone who didn’t know you.

Meanwhile, as Moses asked God for a name to use to identify Him before His fellow Israelites, God gave him what seems to be an incomplete, even mysterious, answer.

“I AM.”

Part of me sees that as just the beginning of the answer. I use those words as I tell a stranger, “I am Steve.” But God put a period after “am” . . . not a name. Who, then, is this mysterious God? Who is this “I AM”?

He is the self-existent One, who is not dependent upon anyone or anything else for anything. He is not a has-been whose heyday of power, authority, or glory lie somewhere in days gone by. He is not a will-be who is still perfecting His character or skills like an up-and-coming athlete.

He is the I AM. The LORD. Yahweh. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. That is His eternal name, a statement of His identity to be remembered throughout all generations.

Now fast-forward from that burning bush encounter between God and Moses to the hot-seat experience between Jesus and some Jews of His day. Jesus brought the discussion to a close with this statement of His own identity: “. . . before Abraham was born, I am!” (Jn. 8:58). At first glance, this is a claim acknowledging Christ’s preexistence . . . that His “being” predates not only His own birth, but also that of Abraham. But a closer look tells us that Christ was identifying Himself with the same I AM  of the Old Testament. He is God!

The Jews understood that claim. Then they sought to stone Him! As you and I understand that claim, we ought to worship Him.

sbk

Posted in Christ of Christmas

November 30: Last Adam, The Christ of Christmas

Read 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 and Romans 5:12-19

” . . . the last Adam (became) a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45).

Kris . . . as in Kringle. Nick . . . as in Saint. Santa . . . as in Claus. Scrooge . . . as in Ebenezer. Grinch . . . as in Mt. Krumpet. Those are names often associated with Christmas. But Adam . . . as in Last? Did we miss a legend somewhere?

Though perhaps unfamiliar, “Last Adam” is one of the titles assigned to the Christ of Christmas. Of course, the very name invites a comparison / contrast with the “first Adam” whose life is headlined in Genesis 2.

  • Origin. The first Adam was natural, from the dust of the earth. The Last Adam, however, is spiritual, from heaven.
  • Essence. Adam became a living being as God breathed life into him. Jesus, on the other hand, is a life-giving spirit as a result of His victory over death.
  • Morality. The first Adam was a sinner, while the Last Adam was sinless and righteous.
  • Ramifications. As a result of the first Adam’s sin, all of mankind is sinful and deserves condemning judgement. Christ, meanwhile, offers justification to all as a result of His supreme act of righteousness on the cross.

Although secular anthropologists wouldn’t describe it this way, from God’s perspective, it’s as if there are ultimately only two different “races” in this world. There are those who, as natural humans, have only been born as descendants of the first Adam. They have inherited the qualities of their father. Although physically alive, they are spiritually dead, characterized by sin, and headed down a path leading to eternal punishment. That’s not a “race” in which to claim proud membership!

Meanwhile, there is the “race” comprised of those who have been born again. By placing repentant faith in the Last Adam, Jesus, they have come alive spiritually. The eternal consequences of their sin have been dealt with at the cross. God gladly calls such people His children and allows them to call Him “Abba Father.” That is a “race” of people made possible by the Last Adam, the Christ of Christmas.

To which Adam do you trace your roots this Christmas season? What about your friends? Your relatives? It is not complicated. Faith in the Last Adam is all He asks.

sbk

Posted in Christ of Christmas

November 29: The Word, The Christ of Christmas

Read John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:1, 14a).

To return to this “time” of the beginning and this “place” with God is impossible. It’s not just the complexity of time-travel. No, the difficulty is reflected in these two questions:

  1. How do you travel to a time before there was time? You see, God is the Creator of the ages. (See Heb. 1:3.) Since the “beginning” in John 1 predates the very creation of time, can we even speak of it in chronological terms? But somehow, at that beginning, before there was time, the Word existed.
  2. How do you travel to a place where the 3-dimensional universe did not yet exist? It is hard to fathom, but the heavens and the earth had not yet been spoken into existence. Yet, even though terms like “width, length, and depth” were not yet relevant, the Word was “with God.”

Nevertheless, at this “time” that could not yet be measured by clocks or calendars, in the “place” before there was space, the Father existed and “the Word” was with Him. “The Word” was God. “The Word” was responsible for the creation of time and space.

Now, fast-forward to a specific time and place . . . to a Galilean town called Nazareth roughly 2,000 years ago. An angel is speaking to a young, engaged woman. He gives her a verbal birth-announcement. She will have a son. Miraculously, the eternal “Word” would begin to take the shape of a baby growing within her body. As His body developed, “the Word,” this One who is not dependent upon time and space, would enter into and subject Himself to space limitations the size of a womb. And after nine months, “the Word” entered into the very world He created and dwelled among men and women.

Of course, this “Word” is none other than Jesus. What a wonder that He would subordinate Himself to the very limitations of the time, space, and natural laws, that He created. He did it so that we might receive Him and become God’s children!

sbk

Posted in Christ of Christmas

November 28: Jesus, the Christ of Christmas

Read Matthew 1:1-25

There sure are a lot of names in today’s reading! But, really, what’s in a name? In our culture, it seems, not much. Parents choose names because they like the sound of them . . . or maybe as a namesake for a favorite relative.

Once in a while, though, you discover a person intentionally named because the name says something about who they are or something about what the parents hope they become. Jesus was one of those names. An angel made clear to both Mary and Joseph that this was to be the name of the child they would call their first-born.

When we hear the name Jesus, we associate it immediately with Him. In reality, though, it was a common name of the day. There was a “Bar-Jesus” in Acts 13:6 and a “Jesus, who is called Justus” in Colossians 4:11. Jesus was actually the Greek form of the name Joshua, the name of Moses’ successor after the period of the Exodus. Joshua was a key player during the time of conquest when the people of God regained the land God had promised them.

Even though the names Jesus and Joshua have rich biblical histories, it wasn’t just a nice sounding name that the angel chose arbitrarily or as a namesake to a prominent Old Testament character. The name Jesus has meaning. “The Lord saves.” In fact, that is the very reason Jesus came . . . to save. He understood His mission and personally said that He “came to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk. 19:10).

But what did He come to save us from? The angel told us. “He will save His people from their sins” (v. 21). Through His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus provided rescue from the consequences of all those thoughts, deeds, and words that displease God.

The Lord saves. By definition, that is the name of Jesus. “The Lord saves.” That was the mission of Jesus by personal declaration.

Don’t lose sight of the fact this Christmas season that the baby in that manger came to fulfill the meaning of His name . . . to save you.

sbk

Posted in Christ of Christmas