Tag Archives: Christmas

Jesus and Christmas in a Land of Skepticism

The Gospels tell us that Jesus fed a crowd of more than 5,000 people out in the wilderness with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. And everyone was satisfied. A miracle! But why did he do it? What does it mean?

Some folks claim that Jesus did nothing supernatural. They say that many people in the crowd already had food but were too selfish to share. All Jesus did, they argue, was inspire them to open their hearts and share with one another.

The non-miraculous interpretation of Jesus feeding the 5,000 may sit well with skeptics, but it doesn’t fit the Gospel writers’ accounts. The Gospel writers clearly present Jesus as a man of miracles, born of a virgin, healing all kinds of diseases, casting out demons, and even commanding storms to stop!

So, if Jesus did not feed the 5,000 in order to inspire people to be more generous, then why did he do it?

Another interpretation of this episode starts by recognizing that Jesus truly performed a supernatural act by dividing 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed more than 5,000 people. But this version goes on to say that Jesus’ goal in feeding the 5,000 was to inspire sacrificial giving. As a young lad in the crowd gave his lunch to Jesus, we should give our all to Jesus.

But John is the only Gospel writer who mentions this lad and John never says anything about the boy’s desire to give his loaves and fish to Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke never mention the youngster at all, so the boy certainly cannot be vital to a proper understanding of Jesus’ actions.

If Jesus is not inspiring generosity toward others or promoting sacrificial giving to him, then what is the meaning of his feeding the 5,000?

The people who ate Jesus’ miracle meal that day recognized that Jesus was doing something similar to what God did when he fed Israel in the wilderness. After the Lord rescued his people from bondage in Israel he rained down manna from heaven to provide food for them in the desert.

Jesus is demonstrating that he has the same kind of power that God displays. When they asked for more miraculous meals, Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus believes in generosity and sacrifice, but something bigger is at stake. Jesus is God in the flesh, come not just to promote or inspire good deeds, but to give himself so that we can have eternal life in heaven with God.

Each year we hear heart-warming and sentimental expressions about the true meaning of Jesus’ birth, the real spirit of Christmas. A plethora of virtues find room in the inn of a humanistic Christmas: love, generosity, sacrifice, family, compassion, and so on.

As the wise men came and brought gifts to Jesus we should give gifts to one another, so the popular reasoning goes. But the magi from the east were not on a goodwill tour. They traveled a great distance not to promote a spirit of gift-giving, but to worship the King.

The Bible says that Jesus’ birth is a cosmic turning point in human history. The nations of this world languished in violence and hatred, hunger and poverty, suffering and sorrow, disease and death. God made us for better.

Jesus, born to a young lady named Mary and laid in a manger, is God stepping into this tragedy we call life, sharing our ups and downs. His mission? to bring victory over death and joy in God’s presence forever. That’s bigger than anything that comes in a gift bag.

So Christmas is not just a time to promote human virtues or to enjoy temporary delights. Christmas is the time we remember this greatest episode in all human history: Jesus is God in the flesh come to save his lost people.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill,

Brother Richard

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Jacob’s Wrestling Match

Abraham’s grandson Jacob encountered God in a very unusual manner.  It was nighttime.  Jacob was alone.  Tomorrow he would see his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years.  Esau had wanted to kill Jacob when he left home two decades earlier.  Had Esau changed his mind?

Then it happened.  In a rugged area not far from the Jordan River, some miles north of the Dead Sea, Jacob was attacked.  Suddenly a man began wrestling with him.  And they wrestled all night.

Neither one could seem to gain the upper hand in this nocturnal wrestling match.  So as dawn approached, the man touched Jacob’s hip, which was immediately and permanently disjointed.  After a brief conversation, the mysterious man changed Jacob’s name to Israel and then he was gone.

With whom did Jacob wrestle that night?  Was it Esau?  Was it an angel?  As the sun rose and Jacob went limping away, he realized that he had encountered God face-to-face.  And he lived to tell about it.

This was not Jacob’s first encounter with God.  Twenty years earlier when he left home, God appeared to Jacob in a dream.  In the dream, Jacob saw God high and lifted up, standing over a ladder which reached from heaven to earth.  But now God comes to Jacob as a man, wrestling.  Why?

Jacob could stand in awe when God stayed in heaven overseeing that ladder with angels ascending and descending on it.  He could be amazed and astonished at God, but Jacob could not relate closely to such transcendence.  God-in-flesh, however, was easier for Jacob to understand, to get his hands on, to draw close and relate.

Jacob’s encounter with God was a foreshadowing of Bethlehem.  More than a thousand years after Jacob’s wrestling match, God’s Son Jesus stepped down from the throne in heaven and took on the very nature of a man, God-in-flesh.  In Jesus Christ, God condescended.

But if the man who wrestled Jacob was God-in-flesh, then why could he not instantly overcome Jacob?  Why did he prolong the contest?  Because God did not step down from heaven and wrestle Jacob in order to destroy him.  God came to mold Jacob and to build him up.  God fought Jacob so Jacob could have the victory.

A similar question occurs when Jesus becomes God-in-flesh.  How could he die on the cross at Calvary?  Can God really die?  Yes, Jesus can die and he did, so that we can be saved from sin and have eternal life.  God became like us so that we can become like him.  This is the mystery of God among us.

Jacob had no way of knowing that his wrestling match that night in the dark east of the Jordan River anticipated the momentous day when the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).  Jacob’s encounter with God was a hint of Christmas future.

Jacob’s pre-Christmas encounter with God-in-flesh left him a changed man.  Not such a silent night, but it was surely a holy night.  He had a new name and a new walk.  Our encounter with the God-Man Jesus has also changed us forever.  We have a new identity and a new life.  Joy to the world!  The Lord is come.

Praise God that he is with us and for us,

Brother Richard Foster

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Why Christmas Music is so Important

Christmas would still be wonderful without the music, but the songs we hear and sing each year as we celebrate Jesus’ birth really accent the joy of Christmastime.

The Bible urges us to see that the word of Christ dwells richly within us (Colossians 3:16). With all wisdom, it says, we are to teach and instruct ourselves by using psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Music is a powerful tool for communicating spiritual truth. Music is not only helpful in learning Christian truth, it is commanded!

This should not be a surprise. In the pages of the New Testament careful students of God’s word have detected the presence of songs from the Early Church. In one place, lyrics from ancient Christian worship express the sweeping magnitude of Christ stepping down from glory to die on a Roman cross only to be exalted again to the highest place (Philippians 2:5-11).

Another apparent worship song appears in the first letter to Timothy:

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
  He appeared in a body,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
    was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
    was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory (1 Timothy 3:16, NIV).

The ancient musical terms in Colossians refer to musical styles long forgotten, but one thing is clear: all types of music should be used in Christian teaching. Psalm 33 exhorts us to sing to the Lord a new song (v. 3). The mixture of both established and innovative songs is part of the wonder, reminding us that the one message of all Christmas songs is the real focus, not a particular style of chords, rhythms, and melodies.

The older Christmas carols that we still sing have stood the test of time. They are the cream of the crop, musically, lyrically, and theologically, expressing both the feelings and the thoughts of that silent night in Bethlehem with almost supernatural precision.

New songs that are well-written and performed infuse a fresh sense of wonder into the ancient story about the manger and swaddling clothes, shepherds and angels. The old hymns and the new choruses combine to tell the one profound account of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

The instruction in Colossians concludes by calling on us to sing with our hearts to God. Some of us may struggle to get the rhythm just right or hit the proper pitch as we sing the songs of Christmas. But the Bible does not mention anything about great musical performances; rather, it asks for something that comes from inside.

Sing the wonderful music of Christmas. Enjoy your favorites. Learn a new song. And may the word of Christ dwell richly within you. Merry Christmas!

Brother Richard

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The Appointed Time

God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son, but nothing happened. They waited for years, until Sarah was physically unable to bear children and Abraham was closing in on 100 years of age. They remained childless.

Then a miracle happened. The Bible says that God visited Sarah, that is, God enabled her to have a baby with Abraham. More than that, the Bible tells us that God blessed the couple with a son at the very time he had promised (Genesis 21:2).

Some people might think that God was a bit late in blessing Abraham and Sarah, but Scripture assures us that he acted at the appointed time. The boy was named Isaac, which means “he laughs.” Sarah was laughing. She was filled with joy.

Some two thousand years after Isaac was born, God promised a miracle baby to one of Isaac’s descendants. She was a young lady named Mary. She was soon to be married to a man named Joseph.

God promised Mary that she would have a boy before she was married to Joseph, before she and Joseph came together, and without knowing any other man. She was understandably confused.

Sure enough, God’s Spirit visited young Mary and she was carrying a baby. Joseph was stunned. He drew the logical conclusion that Mary had been unfaithful to him. But the Lord spoke to him personally and cleared Mary of any wrongdoing.

Some people might think that God was a bit early in the case of Joseph and Mary. Was he not putting Mary in an awkward position? What would people say? But Scripture assures us that God acted at the appointed time. When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem us (Galatians 4:4-5).

God’s great work of salvation started thousands of years ago when he chose a man named Abraham and promised him a son. It seemed impossible, but God does the impossible.

Centuries later a prophet named Isaiah wrote that a virgin would be with child and give birth to a son, calling him Immanuel. It seemed impossible, but it happened. And all who heard it were amazed.

Laugh with Sarah, rejoice with Isaiah, and treasure up all these things in your heart with Mary. Our Savior has come!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all,

Brother Richard Foster

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The Face of God

An astounding description of heaven is recorded in John’s Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, chapters 21 and 22.

Under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, John notes the things that will not be in heaven. First, he says that there will be no sea. Then he makes the wonderful proclamation that there will be no death, which means no mourning. John goes on to say that heaven will have no night, so the gates of heaven’s city, the New Jerusalem, will never close.

One thing missing in heaven, John writes, is the temple. In heaven there will be no temple. This would have been a shocking statement to many of John’s first-century readers, especially his Jewish readers. No temple in heaven?! Why not?

The Book of Revelation teaches us that God’s people will have no need for a Temple in heaven because God the Father and Jesus the Lamb of God will be there in person. Because of the secular madness that surrounds us in this life, we need a sanctuary to help us focus on God’s invisible Presence. In eternity, in the New Jerusalem we will be able to open our physical eyes and see the Almighty.

John writes that God’s people in heaven will see God’s face (Revelation 22:4). When Moses encountered God at the burning bush he hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Later, God told Moses, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). The Old Testament saint had a healthy fear of God’s blazing holiness.

In his Gospel, John wrote, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18). He is pointing out that Jesus has made God known. Paul wrote that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). When Jesus’ disciple, Philip, asked to see God the Father, Jesus answered, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

It is true; Mary was looking into the face of God when she cradled Jesus in her arms that night in Bethlehem. Christmas foreshadows heaven. For a brief moment in history humanity beheld God’s face in the gaze of a carpenter-turned-preacher from Nazareth. Then he was gone.

The day is quickly approaching when all God’s people will see him face to face. This Christmas let’s look back again at the time when “the Word become flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As we do, let’s rejoice in the knowledge that God is preparing a place where we will live with him in peace forever.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,

Brother Richard Foster, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church, Camden AR

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The Truth of Christmas

A crowd of people asked Jesus what it takes to please God. Jesus told them to put their trust in him, because he was sent by God. The crowd wanted Jesus to do some sort of miracle in order to prove that he was worthy of their trust. Ironically, Jesus had fed more than 5,000 people with only 5 barley loaves and 2 fish just the day before (John 6). If that was not enough, then miracles would not convince them, so he taught them.

Jesus told the crowd that he is the Living Bread which came down from heaven in order to give life to the world. He came down from heaven to do God’s will. Jesus assured them that whoever trusts in him will have eternal life. He told them that on the Last Day he will raise up all who trust him.

They were skeptical. They began to grumble and complain about Jesus’ teaching. After all, they knew Jesus’ family. Wasn’t he the son of Joseph and Mary? How could he now say that he came down from heaven?

The people rejected Jesus because they could think of him only as a man, the son of a carpenter, not the Son of God. Apparently they were unaware of Jesus’ miraculous birth. They knew nothing about the wonderful events in Bethlehem a little more than 30 years earlier. They were blind to the power of his miracles and unmoved by the authority of his teaching.

Many of the people in that crowd were unable to see Jesus as more than a man. The idea that he came from heaven to give his life for the life of the world was offensive to them. But some who were listening to Jesus that day did not walk away. They knew that he was the only one with the words of eternal life. They had come to trust and to know that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

Christmas is a time to remember that Jesus is more than a man, that he is the Living Bread which came down from heaven, from God. Many people still cannot see him as anything more than a man, and so they have no real interest in the truth of Christmas. But some have come to trust and to know that Jesus is the Holy One of God, and we look forward to Christmas because it reminds us that Jesus came down from heaven to do God’s will, to give us eternal life. Merry Christmas!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,

Brother Richard Foster, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR

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The Spirit of Christmas

Folks talk about the spirit of Christmas. Different people have different ideas about what the spirit of Christmas is. Many would say that the spirit of Christmas is giving. In other words, a person who enjoys giving gifts at Christmastime is a person with the spirit of Christmas. By this way of thinking, the word spirit simply means attitude, or desire. So, the spirit of Christmas is a feeling. Is that all?

The Bible uses the word spirit in a different way. In Scripture we learn that God is Spirit. The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters on the dawn of creation. The Spirit of God came upon prophets in the Old Testament and enabled them to speak the Word of God. Those same prophets promised that a time would come when God would pour out his Spirit on all his people.

Jesus made promises about the Spirit of God, too. He told his followers that after his death and resurrection he would send God’s Spirit to be with them. He warned them that the world would not receive God’s Spirit because they could not see the Spirit. The Spirit of God is invisible.

Jesus’ promise about God’s Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost, after his death and resurrection. The Spirit of God arrived suddenly like the sound of a violent wind that filled the house where Jesus’ followers had gathered. What looked like tongues of fire rested on each of them and they were enabled to speak in ways that amazed the people in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God is powerful.

When the time drew near for Jesus to leave his disciples and return to the Father in heaven, he promised not to leave them as orphans. He told them that he would send God’s Spirit to be their Guide, leading them into all the Truth. God’s Spirit would also remind them of all that Jesus said. Jesus had been God’s personal representative in the world, but now God’s Spirit would take over. The Spirit of God is his personal Presence.

When we put all this together it tells us that God’s Spirit is his invisible, powerful, personal Presence in the world today. Christmastime is a reminder that God sent his Son Jesus to be the Savior of the world. Jesus promised to send God’s Spirit so that all who are saved by Jesus can have God’s powerful Presence in their lives. Jesus promised that God’s Spirit would live in God’s people.

For all those in the world who cannot see or receive God’s Spirit, Christmas must be about something smaller, about an attitude, a feeling. For God’s people the spirit of Christmas is about far more than our thoughts or emotions. The Spirit of Christmas is God himself, his invisible, powerful, personal indwelling Presence. May the Spirit of Christmas fill you to overflowing this year.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,

Brother Richard Foster
Grace Baptist Church, Camden AR

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