December
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The Centurion's Tale

December

December 1

The Good, The Bad, The Anonymous

Matthew 1:1-17

If you are like most Christians, the first seventeen verses of the New Testament are also the first verses you skip. Genealogies, however important they may have been two thousand years ago, have little appeal to most of us. Some think it fun to trace their family history; but when you do, there are sure to be some skeletons in the closet.

This genealogy takes us on a tour of the Old Testament. There are names here which are highly honored:

· Abraham, the patriarch. To this day the Jews are “the children of Abraham.”

· Boaz, as found in Ruth—a love story for those over 25.

· David—the great king, so much so that Jesus called himself the Son of David.

· Solomon—admired for his wisdom, saddened by his fall into idolatry.

We have our share of evils, too. Judah fathered Tamar’s children without knowing it at the time—she playing the prostitute with him. The prostitute Rahab, who sheltered the Israelite spies, is there too. There is an extensive list of evil kings of Judah—Rehoboam, Ahaz, Jehoshaphat, Jotham, Manasseh, Amon—all these are known only for their sins. Some of those sins were rather gross—like infant sacrifice.

But the bulk of the list is relatively anonymous. Nashon commanded the army of Judah; Hezron is known only as the father of the Hezronites (what else?), Amminidab was Aaron’s father-in-law, Jesse was David’s father (who couldn’t see any potential in the kid). There were a couple of good kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, and a guy named Zerubbabel who figures (darkly) in prophecy.

Real people. Good, bad or anonymous, they were like us. Some were next door to famous, some would be great as bad examples.

In everyone’s family tree there are two things that are constant: there is a reproach to bear (the black sheep), there is a high water mark. In his family line, Jesus sets the high water mark—and bears the reproach of all sinners of all time.

Sometimes we forget: Jesus is completely man as well as completely God. Sometimes we forget that he is just like us.

Lord, it dazzles the imagination that the Living God would take on human form and walk with us. Where you walk, let us follow.

December 2

Bright Morning Star

Luke 3:21-22

This incident has been rather troublesome over the years. The question keeps popping up, “John baptized for repentance. Why would Jesus need that?”

One very likely reason is this: to teach the teachers that if they want the right answers they must ask the right questions. His ways are not like our ways.

So what is the right question? How about this: “Why do we need to see Jesus being baptized?”

· If the King of Kings was baptized, what royalty on earth could refuse it? No matter how pious the king, the supreme example is before us.

· Indeed, baptism is not only necessity but a privilege—a privilege we share with the firstborn from the dead. We are baptized into his death; we shall rise has he arose.

· It is a sterling example of humility. The sinless one is baptized by one who admits he’s not worthy to untie Jesus’ shoes.

· It shows us, at the beginning of his ministry, the entirety of the Trinity.

The picture of the Trinity given here is both simple and sublime. It poses many theological questions, but for the ordinary Christian its purpose is clear: that we might know who Jesus of Nazareth is. If you learn nothing else from this incident, know this: that by the voice of Almighty God the Father, this Jesus of Nazareth is known to be the only begotten Son of the Father. The rest is commentary.

But there is more. This also introduces us to the Holy Spirit, in a manner which teaches us. We know that the Spirit descends upon us from the Father, not arising from within us.

There is more in this. The dove is the symbol of peace; it is a gentle bird. God the Father is the Lord Almighty—but when he descends upon his children he comes like a dove, in gentleness and peace. The truth of this is simple: only the truly strong have the ability to be truly gentle. Think of a strong, young father holding his baby in his arms. His strength is much greater than his son’s; but in that strength his loving care is expressed in gentleness. So it is with the Holy Spirit; gentle for God’s children.

Lord, the Trinity is a great mystery. All knowledge is yours; teach us to trust in you; as you guide us so gently.

December 3

Dealing with Temptation

Luke 4:1-13

This passage is sometimes glossed over. It’s rather dramatic; it seems staged. Which, in fact, is the case. Much of Christ’s life is exemplary in the old sense of that word, meaning that his conduct is an example to us. Some will object: Jesus is God, how can his temptation mean anything to me? We must remember that he is also fully human—and part of being fully human is being tempted. The example here is two-fold:

· Christ shows us that can be withstood.

· He also shows us how it is withstood.

The various temptations fall into three general categories.

· First come the temptations of the flesh—meaning things that have to do with our bodies. This ranges from gluttony (another package of chocolate chip cookies? Why, I’d love to) to adultery, with much else in between. Satan prefers these, as they produce the life of sin with virtually no benefit to the sinner. But even this gets old; as life goes on the temptations change.

· Next come the temptations of the world. These range from greed (usually disguised as hard working, hard charging to get that Mercedes) to envy (why should others have so much?) These temptations can be twisted in many ways, especially power. The part these temptations play in our political system is enormous; we have organized greed and envy.

· Finally, there is pride—the state of mind in which you hold yourself in such high esteem. Modern man sees pride as a virtue; only the Christians see it as fault.

We react to these temptations differently, of course. But most of us know we could not have faced what Jesus did (including the fasting). His temptations were large, because of who he is. God let Satan offer everything he had, knowing the Son could withstand it. He will not allow Satan to tempt us like that. But in proportion to our abilities, temptation will come.

How are we to defeat them? Christ gives the answer here as well. It is through our knowledge of God’s Word—which is ample enough reason to make reading it a daily habit.

Lord, we seem so small in the face of our temptations. Therefore, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.

December 4

Moral Authority

John 2:13-15

One of the most irritating things to those who obtain their livelihood from teaching and preaching the Gospel is this: the ever present nuisance of those who teach that God will shower money on those who shower money on them. An ostentatious lifestyle is cited as proof; God really wants to make you rich.

Just what irritates the real preachers? These con artists perform their work in Jesus’ name. It is profoundly disturbing that these people take the name of Jesus with them—and in so doing blacken his glorious name.

Jesus encountered something like that here. In the temple there were moneychangers; you had to pay your temple tax in official Hebrew money; Roman and Greek coinage were not allowed. The rates of exchange made priests rich. In addition they controlled the inspection of the sacrifices; the ones you brought usually didn’t make the cut. You went over to another member of the priestly family to buy one sufficient. Extortion and fraud—in the temple of the Name of God. This site is holy above all others, for here God commanded the Temple which would bear his name.

Note, please, that Christ formed no committee. He did not launch an investigation. He assumed the moral authority of the righteous and drove those scoundrels from his Father’s House. See, too, how the authority of a righteous man needs no army; the guilt of these frauds was weakness enough. If you are doing what is right, you are clothed in the authority of God. Press on.

But do you not see that this moral authority is his in regard to your life? You claim to be a Christian; look at the word again: “Christ + ian”. You bear the name of Christ; you are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. If he would drive the moneychangers from the physical temple, how much more will he be willing to drive hypocrisy from his church. You bear the name; do you carry it in purity?

Consider this: how often have you seen business transactions at church? Cruises, home business deliveries, all manner of business is transacted. Can you remember a time when the church building was holy? The doors always open, for someone might be in need of prayer? If you complain of how lukewarm the church has become, this might be a fertile place to begin the revival. And who better than you to be first? One man with moral authority…

Lord, we see ourselves as so weak, especially when dealing with the lukewarm. Clothe us in your authority—and wisdom.

December 5

Rejection

Luke 4:16-30

It is foretold in the Old Testament that Jesus would suffer rejection. He certainly got his share, and then some. Matters are no better today; the name of Christ is thoroughly despised by many in our land; his followers are thought to be mentally addled. It follows; Christ is also a prophet, and he could see the example set by the prophets of old.

This rejection greatly shaped the ministry of Christ, and thus shapes our own:

· It is a ministry based upon rejection. His home town rejects him, he preaches elsewhere. The Jews reject the Gospel, and it goes to the Gentiles.

· It is also solidly based upon prophecy. This, and so much more, are clearly foreseen. Jesus is conscious of fulfilling prophecy; as we should be.

· The result of his work often depends upon the faith of those involved. Where there is little faith, little is accomplished.

· It is a rugged, masculine ministry. It is not too much of a stretch to say that Jesus was homeless—by his own choice. This is no place for those who will not suffer for the Cross.

· Ultimately, it is a ministry under God’s sovereignty. It is His will; it will be done.

We, the Christians, are the imitators of Christ. Few are called to the itinerant lifestyle, but all are called to follow:

· As he prophesied, we will also suffer rejection—and from those closest to us.

· We too will find that our success hinges upon the faith of others; whether for support or for the things that only prayer can deliver.

· Like all Christian endeavors, it is one with masculine and rugged overtones. Even a women’s ministry carries with it the possibility of rugged times with rugged people.

· Ultimately, whatever our callings, we are under the sovereignty of God; His will is to prevail.

The call is simple: follow Me. The response is ours.

Lord, your call is simple—and calls each to follow you, counting the cost, dismissing it as trivial compared to the kingdom of God

December 6

Centurion’s Servant

Luke 7:1-10

The city of San Francisco is known for taking under wing those who are strange, eccentric or just plain nuts. Perhaps the greatest example of that was Emperor Norton the First, Dictator of North America and Protector of Mexico. He issued his own currency with his own picture on it. The currency was accepted at all the finest restaurants (after all, if an emperor dined in your establishment…); he was consistently addressed as “Your Majesty” and catered to by everyone. From which you can tell that he was just about as deluded as a man can be. At his funeral, thousands turned out; the gravestone was engraved with the titles he made for himself.

No one, of course, expected anything but a good time from Emperor Norton. The folks of San Francisco treated him well, but no one took him seriously. We see the exact opposite of this in the view of the centurion:

· He looks for the signs of authority—the fact that the man is obeyed. And when the universe obeys him?

· He knows obedience to be the key to exercising authority. As such, he recognizes Christ as one under the authority of God. Such a man may command miracles, and will be obeyed.

· He has lived a life in harmony with those around. He is in the conquering army, yet the rulers of the synagogue plead for him.

· He is one who fears God. A man who fears God and is obedient will be one for whom Christ will work powerfully—if asked.

From the miracles he deduced the authority of God; he expects that Jesus will be obeyed. He is not disappointed.

Indeed, Christ praises the man as having great faith, one of only two such occasions in the New Testament. It is a simple bit of logic: this man is under God’s authority; therefore, his orders will be obeyed. That’s logical to an army veteran. The extraordinary thing is that he acted upon that logic. So often we feel that there must be something else—some sweeping emotion or deep feeling. This is faith that takes Christ at his word—and His Word is powerful indeed.

Lord, teach us your authority, so that we might have the simple and direct faith this centurion possessed.

December 7

The Adoration of Christ

Luke 7:36-50

For many who have carefully followed political correctness in our society, this passage will seem strange. We no longer consider prostitution a sin. Only its results are evil. Do understand, however, that all the characters in this drama would have agreed on one thing: prostitution is sin; a prostitute an open, known sinner. With that as background, we may see the adoration the woman has for Christ.

The Gift

Perfume, in our mass produced society, is relatively inexpensive today. This was not the case then; the perfume she poured on his feet would have been priced at a year’s wages, approximately $12,000 today. But the price is only the beginning. To use such a jar you needed to break the neck of the jar. Once broken, if you use it for this purpose, you must use it all. It’s a picture for us—the human heart must be broken before God before the incense of prayer rises to his throne.

The Giving

Courage—the ability to look your fear in the face and do the right thing anyway—is abundant here. Knowing that she will be known for what she is, the banquet loaded with the righteous, she goes to Christ anyway. She knows herself a sinner; those tears are evidence enough. But as we often use salt water to cleanse a sore throat, she presents her tears to Christ so that He might use them to wash her sins away. She goes in to that banquet knowing that He can forgive; she has faith in the Righteous One, and thus gives him all that she is. Her faith saves her.

The “Go”

Jesus tells her to go. That alone is merciful, for she is (socially) in the wrong place. Such a banquet would be male only, in that time. But there is a greater reason than that. She would no doubt want to cling to Jesus, following him on his trail. But he sends her back to the place she started—to be the example in her village that Jesus forgives. Think of the power of that example! The village’s own sinner, forgiven by grace. More than that, he sends her out with “Go in peace.” Peace from God, healing the heartaches of here life. Peace with God, her sinful life wiped clean.

We don’t know her name. We only know the story. Jesus saves!

Lord, this woman remains anonymous—but her actions remain before us as the example of adoration for you.

December 8

Not The Half But The Whole

Luke 14:25-35

This passage startles the modern reader much more than it would have startled Jesus’ listeners. The passage only makes sense when you know that Jesus is God in the flesh. That is, Jesus is the God of the Old Testament—the one who commanded “thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The Old Testament prescribes that if you discover your parents worshiping another god, you yourself would turn them in and cast the first stone at their execution. Jesus now claims such loyalty for himself.  If indeed he is God, then he is worthy of our adoration. We must, therefore, acknowledge his claim to be God.

Thus the Christian must place Jesus Christ above all else—including family. The Christ who commands your love for your family is superior to that love, because he can command it.

Most of us look at this and think it’s more or less a hypothetical example. But do not be mistaken; He tells you that you will bear the cross.

· First, know that you will have such a cross. It happens to all Christians. No one goes through life with no problems.

· Second, know that you will not choose that cross; it will be given to you.

· Finally, you are to lift it up as a badge of honor; do not let it drag you down.

Becoming a Christian is a simple thing; it is not an easy one. Like the builder, we need to know what we’re getting into. It’s not hidden, nor is it some secret code. You can open the Bible and find it yourself: He will demand all of you.

This seems so strange to modern ears. Our world teaches us that any religion is fine as long as you don’t go overboard. Christ tells us to go overboard, walk on the water and come to Him. He will demand that you put family, friends, house, car, hobby or whatever else you have or are—second to Him. Only God has the right to make such a claim. Indeed, only God does make such a claim; Christ tells us he is unique: God in the flesh. All other roads lead to nowhere, no matter how well paved and lit they might be.

So he tells us to count the cost. You cannot have a partial Christ; he will not have a partial you. Count the cost.

Lord, we so often hear of what you will do for us; remind us that we have a cross to bear.

December 9

Source Material

Luke 16:19-31

It is a curious and little-noted fact: most of the references to Hell in the New Testament come directly from Jesus. This passage is one of the longer ones, but it follows form. It is as if the subject of Hell and Judgment is too dangerous to entrust to the Apostles. In Christ, however, you have the one man who has triumphed over death. If He tells you that there is a Hell, you had best believe it.

Its existence could be deduced from the character of God. It is worth a moment to take that step by step:

· God is righteous.

· If God is righteous, he would reward the innocent and punish the guilty.

· I’ve seen a lot of innocents punished and the guilty rewarded.

This is where the logic usually stops and says there cannot be such a god. Either He is not righteous, or He is not powerful. The third possibility exists: He isn’t finished with us yet.

The characteristics of Hell are given here:

· There is no way to get to heaven after arriving in Hell.

· All its inmates are volunteers, for Hell is awarded based upon what you did in life.

· Much of “what you did” concerns how you treated the poor.

OK, so, if I’m a good boy I go to heaven, right? Not exactly. Note that even Abraham cannot cross that gulch. Only one person holds the keys to Hell and Death—Jesus, the Christ. He is the righteous judge who will ultimately decide who goes where—the one who will throw death and hell itself into the lake of fire.

So, as He is the one with the keys, it seems profitable for us to inquire as to his methods for deciding who goes where.

· It is clear that what you do in this life determines what you are—and where you go.

· It is also clear that He offers mercy—grace, as we know it—to those who will repent and turn to Him.

Christ offers the terms all kings offer to rebellious subjects: throw down your weapons, acknowledge me as king and all will be forgiven. In this choice you determine heaven or hell—for you.

Lord, hell seems so harsh at first; teach us to see the glory of your perfection. Then pardon us when we fall short of your glory.

December 10

Render Unto Caesar

Mark 12:13-17

This much quoted passage is often used as a catch phrase for Christians. Ask them what it means, and its cryptic nature becomes clearer. Let us examine the problem at its root.

· It is the nature of governments that, if they survive long enough, they will see themselves as having the supreme call on the loyalty of its citizens.

· It is also true that no state can long survive without at least the grudging consent of the governed.

· Those two things are sufficient to guarantee that the church will be in conflict with the state—and the conflict will be mortal conflict.

· This is a conflict in which there is only one victor. (For which reason, state and church try to postpone and soothe as much as they can).

The result is either that the government is overthrown or the church in that state is destroyed. If you think this is extreme, I would call to your mind the hundreds of thousands of Japanese Christians killed during the Middle Ages—leaving virtually no church behind. Mortal conflict between state and church is not a rare exception; America is the rare exception.

This seems strange, perhaps, to American Christians. The Scripture commands, and by and large we follow, that the rulers be obeyed. This is not for their own authority; rather, it is to place the church in a favorable light with the rulers. In peace the Gospel spreads more quickly. We are to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s—and in all things overcome evil with good.

This, of course, does not correspond to the world’s thinking. As a result, Christians are often second class citizens, as we see today. They are reviled as being monsters (see the National Organization of Women’s propaganda on Promise Keepers—which would be hilarious if these people weren’t serious). False accusations will abound. Ultimately, should God think us fit for it, we may receive the signal honor of dying a martyr for the faith.

Given all this, what should we do? We should support the government in all ways we can—and prepare ourselves to be martyred. Soon it will be Christ or the state—and no other options.

Lord, it is hard to think we could be martyrs in the America you so richly blessed. Lord, open our eyes—and prepare our hearts.

December 11

A Widow’s Extravagance

Mark 12:41-44

The passage is familiar to Christians, having been the source of countless offering meditations. Please, consider it in a different light: it is one of the great acts of devotion to God.

The woman had two coins; for whatever they were worth, she could have put in only one. She gave all. Is there any greater sign of the faith she had? She is trusting God for her keep; she now has nothing.

One thing rarely noted, however, is this: the gift (as far as the rest of the world could tell) is approximately worthless. It might buy a stamp to put on the borrowed envelope asking for alms.

This widow has given us the three great characteristics of a devotion to Christ:

· It has little or no practical value in this world.

· It is given at great cost to the giver.

· It comes from a love of God; it is an imitation of Christ.

That last is important. Consider what Christ has done, and see if it does not look like an act of devotion to us:

· He took upon himself human form—not as a king, but as a peasant under foreign rule. Not a very political start, eh?

· He paid the highest price—his life—for us.

· He gives us the fruits of this sacrifice—grace is too expensive to buy, it must be given away.

What causes a Christian to act devotionally? Sometimes it is great faith (she gave her living); sometimes it is simply the pearl of great price. Often enough, it is sheer joy.

You might think this beyond you. After all, you have bills to pay and money to earn. But let me suggest to you a circumstance in which you can—if you devote yourself—be as extravagant as this widow. It is called forgiveness.

Pick out the worst enemy, the rottenest, meanest person you know. Begin by doing the unthinkable: forgive the unforgivable. Then go beyond that; bless this person, bless, do not curse. When you have mastered that, raise your sights to extravagance: pray for that person. Deep, honest prayer, without regard to yourself, asking forgiveness and blessing. Just as Christ has done for you.

Lord, forgiveness often seems impossibly extravagant. Let us remember your extravagance at the Cross.

December 12

Right Hand Man

Luke 22:63-71

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of an “urban legend”. As I check my e-mail, it is not unusual to have three or four of these, passed on by faithful postmasters, enlightening me (again) that if only I will mail this chain letter on to two thousand of my closest friends… you get the idea.

There is a parallel class of legends concerning the Bible, particularly the New Testament. One of the most common ones is this: Jesus never really said that He is the Son of God. This is some priest’s conclusion much, much later.

It’s a great story; supports a lot of New Age thinking—the only problem is, it’s false. Wrong. Factually inaccurate. Do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s account, Jesus makes the explicit claim to be the Son of God. As you can see, he answers their question in a clear manner. If you really want to know that he really meant it, look at the reaction of the Jews—they understood him clearly enough. If that were not sufficient, consider these:

· He tells them that they will see him seated next to God.  In the politics of the time, the ruler sits, the subject stands. To sit next to the ruler is to be equal to the ruler.

· He tells them that they will see him at the right hand of the Father. We still use the expression, “right hand man”.

· The one thing they could not miss: He says, “Yes, I AM.” Those last two words are the name of God, which the orthodox Jew will never pronounce. Here, Jesus points those words at himself.

His opponents of the time had little trouble in determining what he meant. They thought it was blasphemy—and for anyone except the Christ, it would be.

Christ sets an example for us here:

· Patient endurance; he is calm no matter what they say or do.

· Honesty—no matter how great the temptation.

· Righteousness—no matter the wiles of the enemy.

The point and purpose of his replies was to tell them that he is indeed the Son of God. He said so. That settles it.

Lord, may we meditate upon this: that you are the Son of God, the Holy One in the flesh. Grant us wisdom to see the obvious.

December 13

Doubting Thomas

John 20:26-29

There is a common misconception among Christians. “If only I could see one miracle, my faith would be so strong.” Note, please, that this a) admits weak faith and b) blames God for it. Thomas has the testimony of the other disciples—men he has lived with for three years—but his attitude is firm. Here is the scientific mind: nothing but evidence will do. He will not even consider an apparition of Christ. He will physically touch the wounds of Christ—only then will he believe.

Christ responds to this in a puzzlesome way. He waits eight days. Perhaps he was allowing Thomas a chance to hear and believe, as did the other disciples. Perhaps he was giving him the chance to believe unseeing. Whatever it was, we do not really know. But we do know that Christ appears to the disciples again—and bids Thomas put his hand in his side, his fingers in the nail prints.

Thomas’ response is that of an honest man: “My Lord and My God.” He will not separate divinity from command. In one brief sentence he goes from non-believer to crystal clear faith. From the depths of doubt he bounds to the top of the rock of faith.

It is a salient point that the church regularly encounters the doubters. Christianity, almost alone among major religions, carries two burdens:

· First, Christian faith makes no sense without the miraculous—the scientifically impossible. Miracles are a must for the church.

· Second, the Christian faith invites honest inquiry into its origins. More than once a man like Josh McDowell sets out to prove the faith wrong, thinking it an easy task—only to become a strong advocate of the faith.

Christianity welcomes those who will consider the evidence directly. Those seeking to confirm their own preconceptions will do so, but the honest inquirer finds himself holding the tail of the Lion of Judah.

Indeed, one such evidence is—us. In the way we conduct our ordinary lives there should be such power that all will acknowledge that. There is more. The time approaches when martyrdom will return to us; then they will see how a Christian dies.

Lord, strengthen us so that in our deaths we may glorify you. Let us be the living proof of the resurrection.

December 14

Demarcation

Acts 1:9-12

Those of us whose occupation includes ordering telephone circuits for computer systems know the word well: D-marc. It is an abbreviation for “demarcation.” It is the point at which the wiring internal to the building is connected to the wiring external. Getting it right can be exasperating; but right it must be.

The Ascension is the demarcation point of the New Testament. All things can be classified with reference to this one act. What does it mean?

Things Past

· First, it means that the atonement—Christ’s purpose for coming—is now complete.

· Second—it is a sign that Christ’s post-resurrection appearances were not those of a ghost. A ghost can fade in and out; a body must go somewhere.

· It also signals the end of Christ’s ministry—at which he turns his work over to his church.

Things Present

· His ascension means that he is indeed at the right hand of God the Father, as our advocate. He now pleads for us.

· It also means that the Gospel will now spread. Christ in his ministry never went beyond the ancient boundaries of Israel as given to Moses; now, his word goes the entire world.

· The Holy Spirit comes after Christ leaves; his counsel and aid now guide and strengthen the church.

· More than that, the church is given power by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Things Future

· If he ascended, then surely the angels were correct: He will return. In the same blinding way, he will come back. The return, the resurrection of the body—all these start here at the Ascension.

· When he returns, he brings with him the Judgment. To the merciful, mercy; to the unforgiving, no forgiveness.

Make no mistake; he left in the body, he will return the same way.

Lord, some things are beyond our imagination—we can but believe your words, and wait expectantly for your soon coming.

December 15

Creator

Colossians 1:16-17

It sometimes surprises people to discover that science cannot answer all questions. We are willing to accept “we don’t know—yet.” But the statement, “we cannot know that by science” seems to baffle people.

However, it is a fairly simple point. Science is essentially the art of asking “why?.” How do things tick? What makes one bird fast and another slow? But like a child who discovers the word, all questions of science are a sequence of “Why’s” which end in mother nature saying, “Because I’m the mommy.”

The physicists have known for some time now that the universe started with the Big Bang. To ask what came before that—where did you get that hot ball of neutrons—is a meaningless question in physics. But it is a meaningful question for human beings to ask.

The answer is usually summarized in the word, “God.” If all we had was the testimony of mother nature, a reasonable man would conclude that God exists; somebody had to put this all together. But to be more specific than that requires revelation. If that God who created all things does not choose to reveal himself, we cannot know him—he is outside the universe, and we are trapped in it.

But God did reveal himself. In this passage, we find the answer to such questions. The creation and sustaining of the universe are through Christ. He is the answer to the question, “How is it that the laws of physics are immutable?” Because he said so.

Athanasius, the great defender of the Trinity, put it this way:

“He, the All-powerful, All-holy Word of the Father, spreads His power over all things everywhere, enlightening things seen and unseen, holding and binding all together in Himself. Nothing is left empty of His presence, but to all things and through all, severally and collectively, He is the giver and sustainer of life.... He, the Wisdom of God, holds the universe in tune together. He it is who, binding all with each, and ordering all things by His will and pleasure, produces the perfect unity of nature and the harmonious reign of law. While He abides unmoved forever with the Father, He yet moves all things by His own appointment according to the Father's will.”

Sometimes we forget just how awesome Christ is.

Lord, our very fingers hold together in you. Grant that we may see the awe due to you, and praise you for it.

December 16

The Father Loves Me

John 10:17-18

It is a simple problem of philosophy. You say that God is love—therefore God must be more than one person. Why? Because love is meaningless unless there are at least two persons. And because we are speaking of God, the sum of all perfections, there must be complete and perfect love. Therefore the Father loves the Son eternally.

It is therefore a mystery of God’s own making: he tells us that the Father loves him because he lays down his life for his sheep—that’s us. But do you not see this is because of his perfect love? What greater, more perfect act of love could there be than dying for someone else? More; dying for those who are, by nature, unworthy of this sacrifice? Even more; not just the good guys among the unworthy, but “whosoever will.” Christ has already given up the riches of heaven; what more could he do in love than going through the Crucifixion.

But there is more. In that same sentence we find that the Father loves the Son not only because he will die as the atonement but also because he will rise again, taking his life again. How is it that this too is love for which the Father loves the Son”

· First, because Christ is not through with that bodily life yet! He has people to meet and places to go.

· Next, he does it to encourage us—as we face death, we know who holds the keys of death and hell. And we know who proved it, too.

· Lastly, to forgive Peter. Peter is to be the leader of the disciples; he is also the man who disowned Christ three times. Christ will deal with this at the lake.

He tells us that no one can take his life; He only dies when He chooses to do so. The Crucifixion is not plan B.

· His life is given on his own initiative—no one else.

· His life is given by his own authority.

· It is given in obedience to the will of the Father.

Obedience seems to have become something unimportant in raising children, but here we see the true example. By obedience in love we see that the Father and Son are one.

Lord, may your perfect obedience to the Father be our lodestone, pointing out the way to our new home.

December 17

Everyone Is A Participant

2 Corinthians 5:10

Some years ago I had the dubious honor of being “outsourced.” (They couldn’t fire us; slaves have to be sold, you know.) Shortly thereafter I was given an assignment working in a huge project. Working the 90 hour week, constant airline travel and jet lag—well, it’s what passes for fun in my business.

The bulk of the work in the project was given to two team leaders, of which I was one. At the end of the project my counterpart was given a $25,000 bonus (which he promptly used to start his own company.) I was handed a cheap fiberboard plaque that started with “Dear Participant.” When I found out about the bonus, I naturally inquired why I didn’t get one—what did I do wrong?

The answer was simply this: he was “real” employee and I was a “transition” employee.

Note something with me, please. I did not expect to get a bonus; it was never mentioned to me. I was content to have a job; my counterpart took a different course. There is a difference between losing your job and not getting a bonus.

The reason I tell you this? So that you will understand the great judgment to happen at the return of Christ.

· What will he judge us on? Our works. “Wait,” you say, “I thought we are forgiven.” Right you are! For Christians, this has to do with the good deeds you did (or didn’t) in this life. This passage talks about a bonus, not about keeping your job.

· God is righteous. This is the answer to all those questions about why so-and-so did not get what he deserved. The judgment is going to settle some outstanding scores.

See the difference in the treatment for Christians and non-Christians. Everyone will rise in that new body; then all will face the judgment. Those who have taken the name of Christ may be assured of their salvation. They will make it to heaven; they will be in the New Heaven/New Earth described in Revelation. But they will also be rewarded for the good they have done—and I suspect they will lose some of that reward for what ever evil they have done.

Now you see why God is so patient with mankind. He wants to give everyone the chance to repent—and show it by his works.

Lord, so often we complain that life is not fair. Grant us patience and wisdom to see the Judgment coming.

December 18

Sin Offering

2 Corinthians 5:21

Let us suppose that I am driving through some small town in, say, Alabama. Despite my unusually cautious style of driving, an officer of the law apprehends me for violation of the traffic laws. He takes me before the judge, who fines me one hundred dollars. As I pull out my wallet, I note two things. First, there is no cash in it. Second, there are no credit cards either. As they say down South, “You in a heap of trouble, boy.”

Being allowed one phone call to avoid life in prison, I call my rich uncle. Explaining matters carefully, he agrees to help me out. He telegraphs the money, and I am released from jail. (And obviously out of that town in a cautious hurry.)

Now, if we were all theologians, we would stop and debate the role of my rich uncle:

· Some would say that (since he paid the fine) he is now legally a traffic offender.

· Others would say that (since he paid the fine sight unseen) that he becomes the archetype of traffic offenders—the traffic offender to end all traffic offenders (after all, he is rich).

· Me? I’d just say he’s the guy that bailed me out, and grateful I am about it. But then, I’m not a theologian.

This passage has caused a lot of trouble when the debate team gets together. Some will tell you that Christ became a sinner in this; others say that he became the sins of the world. But the implication in the Greek text here is that he became a sin-offering. The translation issue is rather stiff, but this passage means simply that Christ paid my debt. There is a difference between sin and the punishment for sin. He took the punishment for sin.

· If you are looking for someone to bail you out, you go to your rich uncle, not the poor one. The only one who could afford the punishment was God himself—in the flesh.

· It was for this specific purpose that Jesus was made incarnate; he came to die. It is the purpose of his life.

The righteousness of God is a perfect righteousness. Thus, sin requires the perfect (sinless) one to punish. My wallet is empty; his is full beyond measure. Praise God!

Lord, your sacrifice as our sin offering is beyond our imaginations. Thank you for putting it within our grasp.

December 19

Humanity

Philippians 2:7-8

The story is the stuff of Hollywood legends, but I’m told it really happened.

The Universal Studios tour takes the visitor via tram around the various areas in the Studios. The guide was pointing out some features that day when he saw Walter Matthau walking across the lot. “Look folks, it’s Walter Matthau. We told you this is a working studio lot!”

Matthau turned, giving every evidence of a man in agony. He waffled a bit, refusing to acknowledge the fans on the tram. Finally, in a tone fit for a repentant sinner, he shouted out, “It’s all a fake. I’m not Walter Matthau. Demand your money back!” He was such an actor that the guide had great difficulty in putting down the mutiny on the tram.

Some people look at Jesus like that. He must have been an actor since, obviously, as God he could not suffer. But the Apostles and the Scripture agree: totally human was the Son of Man.

C. S. Lewis called the incarnation “the supreme miracle.” Without it, no other miracles make sense. He compared it to one of us turning into a barnacle—to save the rotten, unworthy, ship-stalling barnacles. Let’s take it step by step:

· He emptied himself. He who was supreme became one like us, leaving the glories of heaven.

· He took on human form—coming as a baby, as we all do. Even more, the baby of some poor, devout Jews, living under Roman rule.

· As a man, he humbled himself by obedience. Not his will, but the will of the Father, was his guide.

· He was so obedient that—fully human—he faced death, painful and shameful.

He shares with us our humanity. He knows what it is to have an itching mosquito bite; he got stiff in cold weather and welcomed a fire. He knew quite well what it is to be the low man on the totem pole. More than that, he faced death, horrible death, which he conquered by that same obedience. In so doing, he conquered death and rose again. In that same obedience he offers us the opportunity to join in that triumph.

Lord, we tend to remember your footprints and forget your dusty feet. Grant us understanding of your being both God and man.

December 20

Humility

John 13:5

One favorite movie of my children (when younger) was Disney’s Aladdin. One reason for its success was that comedian Robin Williams did the voice of the genie. At one point he is asked to explain why it is that a genie always lives in a lamp. His answer, as best I recall, was this: “It’s a package deal. Vast, cosmic power and itty bitty living quarters.”

It may be said of Jesus as well. He who was the agent of creation humbled himself to take on human form. On this night of all nights his actions are significant to us. The occasion:

· It was a Passover feast. Jesus was about to die as our Passover lamb.

· It is the night of his betrayal; the disciples will not forget that.

· It is therefore his last night on earth. Whatever he teaches on this night will be of supreme importance.

So he takes a towel and a water basin and washes the feet of his disciples. It is a task left to the lowest of servants; a task which obliges humility. That’s the lesson: be humble enough to take on any task for Christ’s sake—no matter what it does for your ego.

There is one touching point in the story. We know Peter’s dialogue with Christ—but all the other disciples were silent, as far as we know, including Judas. Our Lord washed the feet of his disciples, even the one He knew would betray him.

We are the children of God, the ones whose motto is the imitation of Christ (or, colloquially, “What Would Jesus Do?”) His example is our guide:

· We follow the servant king. If the greatest of names would do the least of tasks, what service is there which is beneath us?

· If our Lord washed the traitor’s feet, by what reason could we refuse to accept anyone in the church?

Indeed, we should leave the church door open for repentant sinners, accepting any and all who will come. We are servants to God most high, and we have his example as his command—do this for one another.

Lord, we would not accept salt without flavor; nor should we accept service without humility. You lead us in this path.

December 21

Authority

Matthew 28:18

Do you remember the children’s game, Mother May I? Looked upon with adult eyes it seems rather silly—and one cannot help but notice the giggles in the game. It is designed to teach children respect for authority—a lesson much neglected lately.

It comes as a surprise to American Christians to discover that the church, via Christ, claims authority. We are taught to rebel against authority; seldom will you hear a youth minister bring up the subject. I leave it to you to say if this is wisdom or folly.

Christ has all authority. By that, he has given responsibility (and hence matching authority) to the church for a number of things:

· We are given the authority to preach the Gospel—no matter where, nor to whom, not bowing to political correctness.

· We are given the authority to grant forgiveness—even on God’s behalf.

· We are privileged to have the authority of going before the throne of grace to make our desires, problems and intentions known—and to intercede for others.

· We are given the authority to teach the Scriptures, knowing them to be the inspired word of God.

All this (and much more) stems from the authority of Christ. Paul reminds us what the right reaction to authority should be: in general, we should so behave that we make the task of those in authority into a joy. How much more, then, should we rejoice in the tasks we have in Christ!

· Are you called to preach? Be like Paul, abased or abounding, but always joyful in the Lord.

· If you forgive, do so with joy—welcome the sinner home with open arms. (Remember the Prodigal Son?)

· Are you a prayer warrior? Be diligent; may Jesus be glad to hear from you, interceding for those in this world.

· If you teach, do not consider your preparation drudgery. Even little is much, if God is in it.

Ours is the task; ours is the authority, given by Christ. May he see us turn to our tasks in joy.

Lord, teach us to turn to our tasks with the gifts of the Spirit, the authority you give, and the joy of the Lord as our strength.

December 22

Christ Our Peace

Ephesians 2:13-18

The word “peace” in the New Testament has a variety of connected meanings:

· It is commonly used as a formal greeting; Paul would say, “Grace and peace to you” in the salutation of his letters. This is still done today; Jews greet one another with “shalom.” In some churches today such a greeting is done as a part of the worship.

· The Gospel is said to be a “Gospel of peace.” Islam rests on Mohammed’s sword; Israel was born through the wars of Moses and Joshua—but Christ speaks peace. (Which, by the way, makes Christianity a rather poor argument for war.)

· The church is commanded to “be at peace with one another.” Indeed, as we are imitators of God, and He is a God of peace, we are simply doing as our Father commands. In such peace the Gospel spreads; in such peace the church thrives.

· Most of us think of peace as the personal, spiritual peace which surpasses understanding. The world around us may be a kettle of chaos; my anchor holds in the Rock.

The source of this peace is, of course, Jesus the Christ. Paul gives us the two directions of such peace:

· Because of Christ, we have peace with one another. If I offend you, our peace may be preserved by my repentance and your forgiveness. Why should I repent? Christ tells me he will be the Judge. Why should you forgive? Without it, Christ will not forgive you.

· Because of Christ, we now have access to the Father by the Spirit. In the times before Christ, only the Jews were given the right to speak to God—and that with limits, without help. But now, because of the Cross, we have access to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, who intercedes (and translates!) for us.

Those of us raised in the church sometimes take this peace for granted. Those who came to Christ later often have a different view: In Christ they found peace in the world, and peace with God.

Lord, so often we forget that you are our peace. It does the heart good to remember your sacrifice for our peace.

December 23

Christ, The Sword

Matthew 10:34-36

SOS — Single On Sunday. It is a phenomenon which in my years of teaching the Bible has only grown. There are women who come to church whose husbands never set foot there. Indeed, there are women who hope that their husbands will get roaring drunk on Saturday night—so that they will sleep late on Sunday and not miss the wife’s absence from the home. It is a sad fact that we have so many of these women. They are victims of the Great Divide.

When God created man with a free will, he created the possibility of evil. When he ordained a loving family, he created the possibility of the agonizing decision: my husband or my God? Christ is supreme; therefore, there will be division because of him in homes where the man rebels against Him.

Indeed, the dividing implement is usually the Sword of the Spirit. It is the word of God that teaches us the meaning of sin; the Spirit comes to convict us of sin and judgment to come. Christ’s word picture of a sword is very apt: the division is sharp, and usually involves close combat.

For the Christian, there is only one possible answer: the love of Christ comes first. It is his love in me that teaches me to love my wife. His love sets in order all other loves in the family. So if one of my family rejects Christ, I must choose for Him. Indeed, he tells us that such rejection is an honor. It means Satan takes you seriously.

How do we handled this rejection?

· We should expect it. It is going to happen, sooner or later (usually sooner). It is better to make up your mind about it now than agonize over it later.

· We should not return evil for evil. To pick up the weapons of Satan is to join his cause. Rather, we should return good for evil.

· We should take up the cross given to us. Recognize that this pain is a burden, and then bear that burden, asking Christ to bear it with you.

When division comes, the answer is easy to write: Christ is First. It’s sometimes harder to read—through the tears.

Lord, we love our families so much. Teach us to love you even more, so that all love may abound in us.

December 24

The Door

John 10:7

More than the other Gospel writers, John captures for us the mystic side of Christ. This passage is one such: full of imagery and not to be understood fully until the Resurrection. By such methods Christ fended off the legalism of the Pharisees; later, he would explain these things to his disciples.

Begin at the beginning: I AM. In the original Greek, this is one word. It means “I AM” in the sense of existence. It is the name of God, and the phrasing was obviously intended to make that point. In a very real sense, He is proclaiming that He is God—in the flesh.

He is the door. There is only one; He is unique. We now hear many Christian churches—whose grandfathers would be shocked to hear this—proclaiming that other religions are just fine. God wouldn’t be so strict as to proclaim only one Savior, right? We must resort to Sgt. Joe Friday’s method: just the facts. The fact is that there is no other way to God the Father than through Jesus. If there were, what would be the sense in evangelism? You might take a perfectly good Buddhist and turn him into a lousy Christian, right? There is no other way, no other door.

Note, too, it is the door of the sheep, not the door of the sheepfold. It is a subtle but necessary point. He is the door; it is because of this that He is Lord over the church—the church is not over him. This access does not belong to any denomination—it belongs to Christ alone.

He is the door. He is the only possible access, the only legitimate access.

· This access is upon his merits, not on ours. God has seen the unblemished sacrifice, covering us.

· It is by His intercession that we can speak to the Father. He has opened the door to heaven’s throne.

· We go in and out of this door by obedience to His commands, which is the way we show we love Him.

· All this is based upon His death, burial and resurrection.

What security this is! In things temporal we may lean on Him; in things spiritual and eternal He is still our rock.

Lord, your simple illustrations carry much meaning for those who have ears to hear. Call your sheep with your own voice; we need to hear you again.

December 25

Incarnation

1 John 4:2-3

Since this is to be read by modern Western audiences, it is necessary to review a few points about demons:

· Demons do exist. They are spirits who have the capability of using human beings.

· These demons are Satan’s minions.

· They will promulgate lies in the church.

We make the mistake of seeing demons portrayed on television and saying. “Pure fiction.” True for the demons portrayed on TV, but as for the real thing, ask a missionary from a third world country. He has met that enemy, and it is no myth.

These could be safely ignored except that when demons do show themselves in the church, it is with intent to deceive. It is therefore wise of us to have a test for the spirits; good or evil.

A good test must meet certain criteria:

· Foremost, it must arrive at the truth.

· It must do so in a manner which is easily understood.

· It must be consistent with other good, known tests.

This is key to understanding the spiritual world—and therefore Satan will make every attempt to substitute a false test.

What is that test? Simply put, the spirit must confirm that Jesus the Christ came in the flesh. How does this measure up?

· It certainly arrives at the truth. Jesus must be fully human (or there is no sacrifice for sin) and fully divine (or He has no authority).

· Understood? It is simple, yet very profound.

· Consistent? Clearly so, with the teaching of the Apostles and the prophecies of the Old Testament.

False tests are substituted: but there is still only one question: Who do you say that Jesus is?

This is why Christmas is so important to us. Jesus came as a baby; Satan’s minion, King Herod, tried to have him slaughtered at birth. It is the Incarnation which fulfills many prophecies; it is the Incarnation that makes him a fit sacrifice; It is the Incarnation that brings God to my level in Jesus, the Christ.

Lord, we celebrate your birth—the Incarnation. Without that, there could be no salvation. Joy to the world!

December 26

Friend of Sinners

Matthew 11:19

Willie Sutton was a bank robber. By whatever ethics and standards bank robbers might allow themselves, he was a good bank robber. He robbed over 200 banks, usually with a Thompson submachine gun in hand, and never shot anyone. He was, by the way, the original “Slick Willie.” (Now you know.)

An enterprising soul (he escaped from three different high security prisons), he is most noted for his quotation. When a reporter asked him why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Tireless investigators have undermined this story; evidently some reporter just made it up. But if he didn’t say it, he should have.

In a sense, that is Jesus’ defense against the charges of the Pharisees. He went to banquets, eating and drinking, because that’s where the lost sinners were. Even, at times, the lost hypocrites.

It is the method of God Almighty. God chooses the foolishness of the world to confound the wise of the world. Just when the experts think they have everything figured out, by some simple mechanism God shows them that they have not. So it is that preaching the Gospel requires no academic brilliance (be as brilliant as you can, though) but rather the power of the Word of God.

So it is with teaching too. There are many learned books, in print and out, which the teacher might consult. Vast libraries exist with books on the most obscure of points. But diligent scholarship is no substitute for the power of the Word.

Wisdom, it seems, is justified by results gained. Christ came to seek and save the lost. The result was the establishment of the church and the salvation of so many. In retrospect, it appears that Christ may have known what he was doing. Hmmmmmm.

How effective the foolishness of God might be, it will be revealed some day—at the Judgment.  Christ walked in human flesh, just like our own. For this he will be appointed to judge the living and the dead.

I wonder what he will say about Willie Sutton. It is recorded that he was an affable person, with a grand sense of humor. He wrote a couple of books, capitalizing on his fame. What his relationship to God is, I do not know. But this I do know: Christ came to seek and save the lost—including men like Slick Willie.

Lord, some of the most unsavory of people come into your house. Teach us to praise the God who desires it so.

December 27

Head of the Church

Ephesians 5:23-24

The concept of Lordship has rather fallen by the way in our times. Older scholars would have been surprised at this, I think. They would see the advantages of Lordship:

· The Lordship of Christ over his church produces great blessing in the church.

· Such Lordship was bought with a price: the blood of Christ. If you believe, you honor that.

· His commands are not burdensome; rather, enlightened.

Regrettably, the Apostle Paul uses (in this passage and others) the illustration of marriage as a model for the relationship of Christ and the church. He also uses the model to show how marriage should work. That relationship is one which places the husband (Christ) in lordship over the wife (church). We, in our modern thinking, have denied the existence of Lordship, in either sense. Consider what this has done to marriage in the church:

· Despite the high rate of Christians who live together before marriage, the divorce rate for evangelical Christians is higher than that of the world.

· We have noticeably greater conflict over roles in marriage.

· Wives are now proud of the fact that they are not in submission to their husbands. Once a shame, now a principle.

Our rejection of Jesus as Lord has produced similar effects on the church:

· Many are now falling away from the church and giving up.

· The church is in open conflict with the Scriptures (gay marriage, no preaching of hell—and much more).

The church, in short, no longer takes Jesus as Lord. Savior, yes; Lord, no. You think not? Have you heard preaching lately on Lordship (or obedience?) Is their teaching about Christ’s authority? Is there teaching of the judgment to come? Worst of all, does the church pride itself in its new, modern way of thinking, picking and choosing which Scripture verses she will honor?

The old hymns taught us the Lordship and authority of Christ. The new choruses do not. And this is not the songwriters’ fault.

Lord, we think we are so wise when we deny your Word. Lord, have mercy on the church; show her the path back to Lordship.

December 28

Image of God

Hebrews 1:3

It is well said that we can understand God only by analogy. You might ask why; the answer is relatively simple.

God is the creator of the universe. Now, we know that nothing ever willed itself into existence—yet the universe is not infinitely old. Therefore someone/something must have created it. That someone cannot be composed of matter or energy, for all matter and energy are in the universe (by definition). Therefore God is neither matter or energy. He is therefore “something else” - which we call spirit.

This poses some difficulty for the thinking Christian. God is, again by definition, completely inaccessible to us. We are matter and energy, and He is other. So anything I say about God must be in terms of an analogy, metaphor or parable.

But the matter does not end there. God sent his Son. We are told that God the Father dwells in inaccessible light—but his Son walked with us. How can this be? It is the fact that the Son is the exact representation of the Father, the “perfect photograph” in the spiritual sense. Paul puts it thus: he is the “exact representation” of God. To imitate Christ is to imitate God.

Exact representation: meaning, a perfect replication within the limits of human understanding. The God of inaccessible light is one thing; Jesus of Nazareth is within our view, for he is the Son of Man.

This same Jesus, we are told, is the upholder of all things. Why do the laws of physics stay the same? Because of Christ’s eternal nature. Even today, when some physicists challenge the idea of physics’ constant parameters, they do so from a framework of immutable logic—the way the universe works does not change. The agent of creation is the sustainer of all things.

He does this “by the word of his power.” This is not the logos of John; it is the ordinary word that we use. Jesus maintains the universe by telling it to remain as is—for a while. He who spoke and the worlds began speaks yet today in the very nature around us.

So, the next time when you go to prayer, ask yourself this: am I making Jesus my equal in my prayers, or do I treat him with the respect due the creator and sustainer of all things?

Lord, we do not give you the respect which is due you. Forgive us in that, grant that we might come to you as Lord of all things.

December 29

The Only Begotten

John 1:14

It is difficult to overstate the impact of the first chapter of the Gospel according to John. For example, St. John Chrysostom, the great preacher of the fifth century, usually wrote one or two homilies for a chapter of the New Testament. On the first chapter of John he wrote twenty. Two of them concerning just this verse.

The attention is well deserved. This chapter, and particularly this verse, are concerned with what C. S. Lewis called “the supreme miracle.” That miracle is the incarnation—God coming in the flesh. We will examine this under three lights.

The Word become flesh

So that you would not assume that Christ is inferior to the Father (with reference to his divinity), John tells us of “The Word.” It is the message of God. The essence of God is his existence, Aquinas told us. God is his attributes: God is love, not in part but the whole. God is righteousness, again the whole of it. God is his own message—and that message (logos) is the Christ. And the Christ is God’s message to all mankind.

Only begotten

“Begotten” has slipped from common use, so I will define it for you by example. Human beings make model railroads, angel food cakes and pink sweaters; human beings beget human beings. Christ is the only begotten of God, via Mary. There will be no others. So we know he is divine—yet also quite human. He is unique in heaven and on earth—no one else is both. He therefore knows our weaknesses, and how to overcome them.

We beheld his glory

Jesus, gentle Jesus is rather a nice guy—but the disciples knew what lay behind that flesh. John saw him in glory at the Transfiguration and the Ascension. He makes it clear: this very same Jesus, the Christ, will someday return to judge the living and the dead. He will know our weaknesses and be righteous in his judgments. The only question is, will we be prepared?

Lord, God is three, yet one. You are man, yet God. You came in weakness, for we are weak. You will return in power; shall we then be strong? Until that day—soon, please Lord—keep your children from the evil which is all too common in our time.

December 30

The Resurrection and the Life

John 11:25-26

For those who attempt to master a complex skill, it is normal to find that mastery does not come in a day. My son is working on his karate black belt; with diligence, he will achieve this. The steps are somewhat like this:

· I’ve heard about it. I know where it’s found, and I know what it will take to achieve it.

· I know about it. I have studied the moves, bought the practice uniform and I’m taking classes.

· I perform it. I have the certification; I have all the knowledge and movements as a skill of my own.

We are but human. Some additional perfection may be gained (I am told there are various degrees of black belt), but this is where most of us stop. But the levels of those of us merely human are superseded by Christ: He is that perfection.

Christ is God in the flesh; the great I AM walked this earth among us. Here he proclaims himself:

· He is the resurrection. Not just on Easter Sunday; no, he clearly tells us that he will raise all the dead in their turns (whatever those might be). He is the only resurrection; there is no other. You will be raised; He will do it.. What then?

· He is the life. The word means biological life—real humans are supposed to have a body for the soul. He is the sole source of that life; if you have Him, you have life.

Then Christ makes the astonishing statement: if you believe, and die, you will live. If you believe, you will never really die. The concept is so radical that it stops the eye in mid-paragraph.

To whom does he reveal this mind-stopping truth? Indirectly, to all his children by way of the Scripture. But see its first recipient: Martha. The lady in the kitchen, Mrs. Practical, the workaday, ordinary woman. Is she a philosopher? No. Is she a theologian? No. Is she a great evangelist? No. Perhaps a great teacher? No. Are these the wrong questions? YES.

Christ poses the only question worth answering: “Do you believe this?” No fit of mental brilliance required; do you take Me at My Word and believe? The question still rings today.

Lord, what an encouragement for us! The question is not what can we do, but what we believe you will do.

December 31

Alive Evermore

Revelation 1:17-18

It is New Year’s Eve, a time for making resolutions (no more fruitcake) and a time for taking stock of the situation. It is a time to be honest with yourself.

If you wish to be honest with yourself, then you must face things as they really are. You’re not under-tall; you’re fat. May I suggest that you look at the author and finisher of your faith in the same way? That’s what St. John did here, though I expect he didn’t really volunteer for the experience.

John saw him, in some sense, as he really is. His first reaction was to fall at his feet like a dead man. (Have you ever noticed that angels have the words, “fear not” on their business cards? How much more so with Christ!) John is so shattered that Christ must tell him, “Do not be afraid”, which is followed by a friendly right hand. However you see Him, be sure that you include this image.

He lays out before John three things necessary to understanding the past and the future:

· Christ is the first and the last. There are no anythings which existed before Christ. Indeed, as God’s essence is his existence, it is foolish to say “is” - for we and the entire universe borrow our existence in Him. There will be none after him, for there is no “after”. He is eternal; if some spirit wanted to exist after Christ, he would wait for eternity—which never expires.

· He is the Living One—the one person who has ever truly conquered death. He was doorknob dead, cold in the tomb; his enemies made sure of that. Then came the dawn of Easter, and the I AM proclaims himself again. Death could not hold the author of life itself.

· Because of his death and resurrection he now holds the keys of death and Hades. When you begin discussing things, using words like “high impact,” “heavy hitter,” “top priority” there is nothing with greater impact than death. He holds the keys.

It is good to look back; it is good to look forward. But when you look, may I suggest something to aid your vision? He is the light of the world, illuminating all eternity for those who love Him.

Lord, teach us to number (and value) our days. You are our light in the darkness of this world. Show us the path of righteousness; illuminate the narrow way; open the door when we come home.

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