God Wants You In His Family

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His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:5 (NLT).

Christmas is about family. The reason why we’re alive, the reason why we’re breathing, the reason why our hearts are beating is because God wanted a family. You are not an accident. It doesn’t matter whether your parents planned you or not, what matters is that God planned you. There are no accidental babies. You were born because God made you to love you. He created you so He could love you and bring you into His family. And He wants to bring you into His family because He wants a relationship with you. This is what Christmas is all about. It’s about God doing everything possible to connect with us. It’s about God wanting you to know He loves you and wants a relationship with you.

Now you can miss the whole point of Christmas if you don’t know it’s about God wanting a family.

Thirty years ago I met a smashing woman named Karen Terhoven. We got to know each other and we fell in love. But getting to know each other and falling in love wasn’t enough. We needed a permanent relationship. On the 26th March 1983 I stood in front of a packed church and said two words that changed everything – “I do.” “I do,” has bound Karen and me together in a permanent relationship.

Have you ever said “I do” to Jesus Christ? Jesus came to earth for a relationship. He didn’t come to found a religion. He didn’t come to formulate rules and rituals for us to live by. He came for a relationship. So the question is, have you ever said, “I do,” to Jesus? Have you ever said, “I want to be part of God’s family”? Have you ever said, “I need Christ’s forgiveness … I want to learn to love and trust Him … I want to live out the rest of my life for His purposes”?

If you’ve never said “I do,” I hope you’ll say it today. Christmas is about being part of God’s family and it begins by saying to Jesus, “I do.” You’re not here by accident. God wanted you here because He wanted you to know how much He loves you and how much He wants you in His family. Yes, God’s seen every tear, every hurt, and every heartache – He’s seen the good, the bad and the ugly – and He still loves you and wants you in His family. You are the reason for the season. Jesus wants a relationship with you. He wants you to say, “I do.”

 

Erasing Misconceptions

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For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19:10 (NIV).

People believe strange things about God. While more than 95% of North Americans believe in God, many have a distorted image of God. That’s because people try to picture God in their image. But God isn’t meant to be a figment of our imagination or a creation of our desires. God wants us to know what He’s like. So He came to earth in human form, in the person of Jesus Christ.

When Christ was embodied in flesh He destroyed the stereotypes about God. He did this by living right and teaching what is right. John 18:37 says, “This is why I was born and came into the world: to tell people the truth” (NCV). By telling the truth He cleared up the misconceptions about God. John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God. The only One, who is the same as God … has made him known” (NIV).

The Bible is very clear on this point: Jesus is God, with skin on Him. John 14:9 says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (NIV). Billy Graham said, “When I want to know what God’s like I take a long look at Jesus Christ.” This is what separates Christian faith from other world religions: When Jesus was born He was no ordinary baby – He was God in the flesh.

Furthermore, Jesus is also, “the light to reveal God to the nations” Luke 2:32 (NLT). Pay attention to the word “light,” and the phrase “to reveal God.” Light helps us see things as they really are. When we’re in the dark we become disorientated and confused. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why there’s Christmas. Jesus came as the light so that we would no longer be perplexed. He came to help us see what God is really like. And in so doing He made it possible for the blind to see and the lost to get saved.

Why Jesus Came To Earth

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For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV).

You may have heard someone say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Christmas is about Jesus. God didn’t send an angel, prophet, assistant or representative. He sent Jesus. He came Himself. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …” John 3:16 (NLT).

Not only is Jesus the reason for the season; we are the reason for the season! He came so we’d understand Him and know how much He loves us. If it wasn’t for you and me there wouldn’t be Christmas. Why? Because we need what Jesus came to bring. And what did Jesus bring? His presence.

At Christmas time we’re looking for the perfect present. But the best expression of love isn’t our presents, it’s our presence. It’s being there. In November 1996 I immigrated to Canada from South Africa. The family were scheduled to join me two months later. You can imagine the circumstances: loneliness and longing on both sides of the Atlantic; love separated by the equator; hearts divided by the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Just before Christmas a letter arrived from my daughter Christie. She was eleven years old at the time. Opening the letter, I found a piece of red paper with a poem she’d written. This is her poem:

Twas Christmas Eve I do believe,

But still we were quite sad.

The tree was lit,

The stockings hung,

And all we missed was Dad.

Though we were in a summer clime,

We’d rather be with you this time.

Have a merry Christmas Dad

And a New Year too.

And don’t forget the child at home

Who’s thinking about you.

So as I kneel next to my bed

And pray a silent prayer

My thoughts are all for you Daddy,

For your good health and care.

I cried when I read: “And all we missed was Dad.” At Christmas people want our love, they want us to be there. 1 John 4:9-10 says, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love … that … God … sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (NLT) Pay attention to the phrase “showed how much he loved us.” Real love is something that’s shown. Real love is about giving; about sacrifice; about setting aside my desires, my needs, and my preferences to help someone else be all God meant for them to be. God showed how much He loved us by sending His “only Son into the world that we might have eternal life through Him.”

Even if you were the only person who lived in the world, Jesus Christ still would have come to earth to live and die for you so you could be with Him forever in Heaven. This is the purpose of Christmas. Jesus came because you matter to God. He came so you could experience His love for yourself, to let you know that you’re not alone in this world, and to be here for you.

The Day Death Died

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Death has been swallowed up in victory … Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” 1 Corinthians 15:54, 57 (NIV).

Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, and then, according to Romans 10:7 and Ephesians 4:10, He descended into Hell.

This is my conjecture of the scene in Hell: Demons in an ecstasy of glee – strutting and parading, gloating and cackling as they celebrate the death and demise of the Son of God. Then Satan arrives amidst thunderous applause. There’s backslapping and high-fives. Congratulations for finally winning what they believed to be the ultimate victory. And there, in their midst, the Son of God is their prisoner. He’s defeated at last. He’s stripped of dignity, friends, life. He’s been abandoned by the Father (cf. Matthew 27:46) and cursed for being hung on a tree (cf. Galatians 3:13). As the demons celebrate – creation groans. The earth shakes and the rocks split open (cf. Matthew 27:51). Men and women are terrified and filled with dread (cf. Matthew 27:54). It seems as if the greatest of tragedies has occurred. It appears as if Satan has defeated God.

But Christ is Christ! What appears to be irreversible is reversible. Christ is stripped of life, but He isn’t stripped of His power over death. He is abandoned by the Father, but He’s still the Son of God. And more … Hell could not hold Him because the love of Christ is the antithesis of evil!

This is the good news! What at first appeared as a tragedy for Christ was actually the greatest of triumphs. Christ was not defeated – He had come to defeat! “The cross was the fish hook that trapped the devil” Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335-395). “The hook of Divinity was clothed in the bait of humanity” Origen (2nd Century theologian). And “The death of our Lord was the bait of the mousetrap that caught Satan” Augustine (4th Century church father). Colossians 2:15 says, “. . .  having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

What a reversal! Good Friday is the day death died. Hallelujah! Death was “swallowed up in victory” 1 Corinthians 15:54. Death was denied its sting (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55). The victim had become the victor. Christ had conquered sin and Hell! Death couldn’t stop Him or hold Him. Christ turned a disaster into a coronation and a martyrdom into a triumph. Light is greater than darkness. Satan was defeated once for all. Christ has dealt with sin, descended into Hell, and been victorious in Satan’s backyard. “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:54.

So what does this mean for you and me? It means that because Christ is the victor, we can be victorious. That’s because “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” 1 John 4:4 (NIV).

Christ the Victim

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From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) Matthew 27:45-46 (NIV).

Christ’s death is the tragedy at the heart of the Christian faith. As we read the Scriptures we see that Christ suffered the humiliation and shame of being stripped naked, flogged, spat on, struck in the face, garlanded with thorns, bullied, mocked and finally nailed to a cross and crucified. It’s an appalling story. Christ is the victim of religious thuggery, political jockeying, and military bullying.

There’s more to the narrative concerning Jesus’ death than what first meets the eye. Yes Jesus was a victim. But He was a willing victim. In accordance with His Father’s will He subjected Himself to a mockery of a trial, to the brutal beating at the hands of Pilate’s and Herod’s guards, and to the jeers and catcalls of the spectators lining the road as He staggered up the hill under the burden of the cross. And more, He allowed the steel spikes to be driven through His wrists and ankles when He was fastened to the cross. Amazingly, because it was completely in His power to resist, Christ chose to subject Himself to the agony and ignominy of the cross.

It’s astounding, isn’t it? Christ is the Word of God, the life and light of the world (John 1:1). “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:3 (NIV). And yet remarkably, on that dark Friday more than two thousand years ago, Christ demonstrates extraordinary restraint. He allows His creation to crucify their Creator! With every lash of the whip and every fibrous crunch of fist against flesh, Christ could have called a halt. With one word, He could have brought His ordeal to an end. With one word, He could have summoned legion upon legion of angels to come to His assistance. With one word, He could have wiped out every one of His antagonists. But He didn’t, and He wouldn’t, because Christ chose to be the victim. He chose to give up his spirit (cf. Matthew 27:50).

This is the good news! The death of Christ on that bleak hillside was the God of history working out His plan to reconcile the world to Himself in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19). The people at the foot of the cross couldn’t see this. But we know the rest of the story. We know that Christ chose to be our sacrificial lamb. He chose to be the once for all sacrifice for our sin, chose to endure the suffering of the cross,   chose to take upon Himself the sins of the world, and chose to face death.

Words are inadequate to describe what Christ chose to do. Yes He was a victim – but he was a willing victim. The death of Christ was not in vain. He gave up His life for the greatest cause of all – to bring together sinful man with a holy God.

Preach the Word

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Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV).

Today’s Scripture text addresses what we must do, when we must do it, and how we must do it:

What we must do:

“Preach the word.” Preaching is unique. It’s not a talk about spiritual matters. It’s taking a stand with God’s Word and allowing God, by the Holy Spirit, to speak the Word through you. It involves challenging, warning and urging people (correct, rebuke, encourage). And it’s making the Scriptures the main point, not the footnote of what we’re saying.

When we must do it:

“In season and out of season.” That means when it’s favourable, and when it’s not! Preach the Word when you’re feeling down, and when you’re feeling up. Preach the Word when people say you can, and when people say you can’t. Preach the Word when it’s convenient and when it’s inconvenient. In God’s economy there is no good time or bad time for preaching the Word. And there’s no time out. God wants us to preach the Word all the time!

How we must do it:

“With great patience and careful instruction.” In other words, don’t quit and keep it simple. It’s a long obedience in the same direction. And we must do it graciously, thoughtfully, mercifully and faithfully while never losing sight of the fact that it’s not our words, but His Word we proclaim.

Are you preaching the Word? Secular society tells us to keep our faith private. Tolerance would have us believe that it’s wrong to proclaim God’s Word in the public square. Don’t listen to the Devils attempts to silence or marginalize the Word. We should proclaim divine truth wherever and whenever we can.

Do you want your friends and family to know Christ? Preach the word! Most people have never read the Bible in part or whole. To know the Word, people have to hear the Word. To hear the Word, someone has to proclaim the Word. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14 (NIV).

Why Should We Celebrate Communion?

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The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (NIV).

Why should we celebrate the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist/Communion? Here are some reasons:

To come together. The Greek word koinonia means community, from which we get the word ‘communion’  meaning to participate together as a sign of our unity in Christ and with each other … we’re a unique eschatological community in which Christ is present.

To give thanks. In the 2nd Century it came to be called the Eucharist from the Greek eucharisteo which means ‘to give thanks’. “And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me'” 1Corinthians 11:24 (NIV).

To participate in the life of God. His life becomes our life and we become members of each other. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (NIV).

To keep us focused. Communion is a sermon without words, a picture of the cross, a memorial to the death and resurrection of Christ, a reminder of all that Jesus has done to reconcile us with God.

To be real with God. We are all sinners saved by grace, all at the same level. This is beautifully illustrated in the story of the Duke of Wellington who, after defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, went to a little church to celebrate the Eucharist. There was an old man at the altar who had come to break bread and the priest/minister asked the old man to move away. But Wellington intervened. He grabbed the old man’s arm and insisted he break bread with him … saying, “Here we are all equal.”

To sustain us. Communion is symbolic of the fact that we all need spiritual nourishment and to get that nourishment we must keep coming back to Christ.

To remember. We should look back and keep the crucifixion in mind – “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me'” Luke 22:19 (NIV). And we should look forward to His coming again – “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” 1 Corinthians 11:26 (NIV).

To renew our commitment, to rededicate ourselves to Christ. He is God and we are not!

To be connected with the Lord and with others. One of the four marks of a Spirit-filled community is that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” Acts 2:42 (NIV).

To consecrate ourselves – to set ourselves apart, to dedicate ourselves as the people of God.

To know that we have a unique identity, a new identity and have been given the gift of God’s Spirit.

To celebrate. We’ve been set free from sin! We’ve been reconciled with God! We have a future and a hope! “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” Revelation 19:9.

To do what we’re told to do. It’s a command (1 Corinthians 11:24 “Do this …”).

To examine ourselves. “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup” 1 Corinthians 11:28 (NIV).

To proclaim His death until He comes. It’s a statement of our faith. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” 1 Corinthians 11:26 (NIV).