December 25th 2017: Gareth Edwards

gareth-e-sept-2016In 1647 Christmas Day was not celebrated. No church bells rang, no services were held. Christmas was not to be celebrated by an Act of Parliament for a few years. Why? Was it because M.Ps were against the gospel? Because there was no love for Jesus Christ in the land? Perhaps a great disaster had struck in the land so Christmas was cancelled? No. The people who passed this Act of Parliament loved Jesus Christ with all their hearts. So why then? The people were concerned to underline the importance of Sunday worship. Over the centuries the church had added saint feasts, there was concern to point out the only command is to worship the Lord on the Lord’s Day. They wanted to establish the Lord’s Day as a worship day for the nation.

The people were also concerned that Christmas was celebrated with drunkenness, gluttony and little or no reference to the birth of Jesus Christ. They thought it such a travesty that they cancelled the celebrations. Perhaps we should cancel Christmas? After all, isn’t it true that Christmas is nothing more than an excuse for gluttony, revelling and with little thought of Christ? An increasing number of children do not know Christmas is anything to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.

What about us? How much are we conscious we gather because of the birth of a Saviour? What is wrong with the nativity scenes that are presented to us? It is highly unlikely Jesus was born in a stable. It is not likely animals were present. One thing in the usual nativity scenes in Christmas cards and presented to us is definitely not part of the nativity – the wise men weren’t there. Herod slaughtered boys up to two years old. The wise men would have taken a substantial time to travel to Herod. We are not told the wise men found Jesus in Bethlehem – they came to a house where the young child lay.

Our Christmas is so full of different ideas and notions and bear little or no relation whatsoever to the birth of Jesus. Let’s cancel it. We don’t need a special day of giving thanks to God … But perhaps Christmas is worthwhile, worth keeping if we, like the wise men, come to worship. If that’s our true motivation.

The wise men brought three gifts. The gold symbolised the kingship and royalty of Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Frankincense is a very aromatic spice used in the temple as part of worship of God. The priests prepared it. The wise men brought frankincense to one who will be the great High Priest of His people, representing His people before God, bringing sacrifice for the atonement of sin. Myrrh is associated in the New Testament with the death of the Saviour. It was part of the preparation of herbs and spices of Jesus’ body by the women. He came to die. Myrrh is a symbol of death. Perhaps Christmas should be celebrated if it’s us coming to worship the King of Kings, the great High Priest, the Lamb of God. If that’s why we gather, then certainly it is right we do so. But how sad so many are careless they celebrate what they do not understand or know, they reduce worship of the King of Kings to nothing more for indulgence.

Perhaps too, Christmas is worth keeping because God has given us, in Him, the gift that really matters. There are presents you can open anytime, not waiting for a certain day, presents offered by God. Angels spoke of them. Presents embodied in the baby. He is the gift, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ (John 3:16). This is God’s gift. It brings us joy. There is a difference between great joy and great fun. For most, Christmas is just great fun. But at some point the laughing stops. But joy continues. There is a difference between great happiness and joy. Happiness depends on circumstances. But circumstances can change. Adverse things can overtake us and our happiness is spoilt. Great joy, deep satisfactions of the soul, is knowing God, having contentment which means we know it is well with our souls and nothing can change that. The laughing may stop but the joy goes on, knowing God’s presence because a baby was born to die for our sins. It’s not only joy, it is peace, that peace with God, being made right with God. God was justly at war with us because of our sin. He shed the blood of His only Son to bring peace.

God’s gift in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ is so we can enjoy every moment of every day. It is worth celebrating Christmas if it’s thanking God for His great gifts to us. We can show the concern of 1647 but maybe we don’t have to cancel Christmas if we truly come to worship the King, trusting in Him as the sacrifice offered for our sin, thanking God for joy unspeakable and peace which passes all understanding that He has given us – Jesus Christ.

May this day be a blessed day as we spend it having fun, being happy, but full of joy and peace in Christ Jesus, our Saviour. Amen.

 

Advertisements

December 24th 2017: Ian Middlemist

Ian - March 17Isaiah 9:1-7

The Saviour came into the world in obedience to the Father’s will. He sent His Son to save sinners. Praise the Saviour for His obedience.

We must consider other aspects of reasons for Christ’s coming. Sometimes we have a crisis in the business of it all, it can become all too much. The Saviour never once had such a crisis. His will was always united to the Father’s. The Saviour set His face towards the cross to save sinners and bring light to a dark world.

Why Christmas? Whys this glorious birth?

  • To redeem sinners
  • To bring light into a dark world.

‘The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.’ (1 Timothy 1:15).

In Christ’s first coming He is implementing a rescue plan conceived even before the world begun. Jesus was to come to save sinners. To do this He had to remove sin which came in, like an unwelcome virus, infecting mankind.

How can sin be eradicated? We need to begin with Old Testament. We see in Isaiah 9 the Lord was already addressing this through the Old Testament sacrificial system. One of the main themes in the epistle to the Hebrews is the numerous priests who, from generation to generation, placed burnt offerings as a sacrifice for sin, ‘The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.’ (Hebrews 7:23-24).

All of the Old Testament sacrifices would not put away a single sin, yet this was a God-given requirement for people of Israel, showing the enormity of the disease. A better sacrifice offered in a better tabernacle was necessary – a truly perfect sacrifice offered in the tabernacle of heaven. ‘For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.’ (Hebrews 9:24). Sins are crucified and buried in Christ.

Christmas is a time to remember past events but it is right to remember the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is wonderful that we can anticipate the return of the Saviour who was wounded for our transgressions. ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’ (Romans 3:23). We can thank God, as redeemed sinners, we can look forward to meeting Him who is to change all things. There is hope.

The apostle Paul says he is the worst sinner, guilty of blasphemy, guilty of persecuting the church. He sees his own sin in the light of God’s holy law and realises even if he were the only sinner in the world, Christ would still have had to shed His blood for his sin. If Christ can save Paul, He can also save you and me – hell-deserving as we are. We need to ask Jesus for the gift of redemption and grace.

Christ also came to bring light into a dark world, ‘I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.’ (John 12:46).

‘If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.’ (John 15:22).

Bright light is a mixed blessing. Switch a light on and it frees us from the impression of darkness which brings fear. But it also reveals ugly flaws and imperfections. Since the fall of Adam God sent prophets who exposed, with precisions, the darkness of sin. As powerful as these prophecies were, the prophets were still sinners. However eloquently they spoke, it was still on a hazy canvass. Christ exposes sin but He delivers us from sin. 700 years before Christ’s birth Isaiah says, ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.’ (Isaiah 9:2).

It is so fitting the birth of Jesus Christ was heralded by bright light. The shepherds saw the glory of the Lord, the star directed the magi. There is still more glorious light, ‘Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”’ (John 8:12).

Just before His death Jesus said the light is among you for just a little longer. We are to walk in the light. When this light was lifted up to Golgotha, the light of God’s love shone brightly in the darkness. We take light for granted until we are without it. Praise God that the light has come and shone into our hearts.

 

December 17th 2017: Alan Davison

alan davison-dec17Matthew 1:18-25: Joseph, the forgotten man

When reflecting on the Christmas story, Joseph is usually in the background, in a supporting role. However, if we look at the scriptures, Mary and Joseph have equal billing in the Nativity story. Here in Matthew the focus is on Joseph. Luke’s focus is on Mary. The Roman Catholic tradition of focusing on Mary has contributed to the general forgetfulness of Joseph. Here in Matthew’s account of the Nativity, God’s story is from Joseph’s perspective. Joseph was a carpenter living a fairly normal life. Other than the Nativity and visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12, there is no other mention of him. He had a humble station in life and yet the Holy God dealt with him directly.

As a carpenter Joseph would have had a busy life of hard, manual labour. He was engaged to be married to Mary, everything seemed set for the rest of his life. He was betrothed – effectively married, underlying the seriousness of the relationship. May became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, in his human nature, must have thought this incredible. He probably thought the worst, that Mary had been unfaithful. Deuteronomy 22 warns of falsely accusing a woman of adultery. If, however, this was true, an adulteress would have been stoned to death. This was the potential threat hanging over Mary. However, more likely, it would have ended in divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1).

Joseph could have formally divorced Mary. But instead he wanted to put her away secretly, to save her from public embarrassment. Joseph is to be commended here. He did not have a knee-jerk reaction to Mary’s pregnancy. He wanted to protect both Mary and himself. Yet it’s a wrong decision, even if made for the right reasons. ‘But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”’ (Matthew 1:20). Joseph still considers what to do when God intervenes to reveal exactly what is going on. As human beings we can be easily confused and distracted by what we see. God in His grace intervened in Joseph’s life.

God then reassures Joseph. An angel says, ‘Do not be afraid.’ This phrase occurs throughout scripture (e.g. shepherds, Mary). Jesus repeatedly had to tell people not to be afraid (e.g. disciples on the boat in Lake Galilee). God always reassures His people. Joseph here is going to be told the reason for Mary’s pregnancy, which is the will of God. The Holy Spirit is the agent of God’s creativity, particularly in the creation of new life. Isaiah 11:1-2, Isaiah 42:1.

As well as being told by the angel of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph was probably told by Mary herself. Presumably he did love Mary. Any doubts about her truthfulness would be removed. The angel now goes on to offer an explanation about what is happening. God is under no obligation to do this but issues commands in a loving manner (Matthew 1:20). Joseph is to take Mary as his wife, to continue the marriage. Joseph is part of the lineage of David, born into the people of God. Any sons of his would be legally considered to be sons of David, thus fulfilling the prophecy that Jesus would come from David’s line.

 ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ (Matthew 1:21). For God to reveal a child’s name would reveal something special and the role for them. Here, even before Jesus was born, God is saying He will save people from sins. Isaiah prophesies the role of Jesus’ life. When Jesus came to earth He was Immanuel, God with us. We are separated from God by our sin, but Immanuel, God is with us.

God remains in control throughout. Having been reassured and given an explanation, Joseph obeys. He didn’t pause to consider any more. He acts and obeys. It is not just blind servitude. God has explained to Joseph what is going on. His own knowledge of the scriptures would have directed his way as well. Joseph kept Mary a virgin after marriage. There was no doubt Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit. Joseph follows God’s guidance to the letter.

What does all of this mean for us? God intervened in Joseph’s life. Even as believers we can find it difficult to follow God’s will. After intervening God then reassures Joseph. Because God is with us we too know things will work out. God didn’t reveal everything to Joseph, but he knew it would all be OK. God gave Joseph everything he needed, enough so he could make the right decisions.

Sometimes, life can overwhelm us. The temptation is to despair but God guides us step by step. Sometimes we just need to get on with the work. God will never overburden us. Joseph obeyed. Quite simply, that’s all we need to do. God is sovereign. He knows what is best for us. God wants us to enjoy our lives. We only really do that when we trust the future to God. This Christmas, may we, like Joseph, find the time to pause and consider things. Simply trust Him for tomorrow, as Joseph did.

 

December 10th 2017: Norman Rees

norman rees-dec17Luke 2:7 “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn.”

Caesar Augustus declared all to be registered, to go to the place of their birth. Picture the scene of Jesus’ birth. His mum and step-dad Joseph were brought up in Nazareth. The Holy Ghost came upon Mary in a miraculous way, according to God’s great plan, planned in eternity. God knew we’d be cursed and Jesus would come and save millions. Jesus Himself would leave heaven, leave communion with the Father. Jesus, at the right hand of the Father, would come into this world as a baby. Miraculous! He would be born and conceived in the womb of a virgin. The Holy Spirit came upon this young girl, who asks, ‘How can this be?’ Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit. Mary was a godly young woman, blessed to be the mother of the Son of God – but not worshipped. He was her Saviour, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47).

So Mary and Joseph took the long, arduous journey of some 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, travelling on a rough, dangerous road. They were registered in Bethlehem as Caesar Augustus had decreed. They had to go according to the law of the land, but more importantly, ordained by God and prophesied by Micah.

Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have been on their own. Quite a few were also travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Finally, towards evening time, as they came towards Bethlehem they saw an inn. Surely this would be somewhere to stop, to have a warm meal and a room? The innkeeper may have heard of Mary’s pregnancy and thought she may have been an adulteress. Mary may have been shamed and shunned simply because God worked in her life. However, the innkeeper pointed them to a little shelter, less than a stone’s throw. Mary and Joseph made a place there, where Jesus was born and laid in a manger. Here Joseph would have held the very Son of God. Staggering! God the Son being taken out of the womb of a virgin. How they must have praised God!

Jesus could have come down from heaven in all His glory and splendour, bringing sinners unto Himself. He could have come down with angels and a great cry of triumph. But He humbled Himself, He took on flesh. He came as a baby, totally dependent on His mother. The Son of God.  It blows your mind! That was His first Advent. He will return.

Everyone born of a woman is a sinner. We have inherited Adam’s genes. Christ lived a life without sin. He came to live a perfect life. At the end of His 33 years He was rejected. He came to bring the gospel, heal the sick, bring life abundantly, raise dead sinners to life. He was mocked and put to death. He was beautiful, perfect, spotless – He was killed in the most cruel way – the death of thieves and robbers, nailed to a cross after being beaten. Nails were driven into Hs hands. The nails were probably about 4 to 5 inches long, with the top of the nail about 1 ½ inches across. The nails were driven into His hands and feet as they lay Him down on the ground on a cross, before lifting Him up. Psalm 22. He dragged the cross, a spectacle for all to look at as they mocked Him. They put a reed in His hand. God turned His face away from His Son. His wrath was poured upon His Son so we might live forever, our sins washed away.

After the taxation was over people would have made their way back to their home. Joseph was warned to escape to Egypt, eventually returning to Nazareth. We can be so caught up with the things of Christmas we forget why we’re here, why Christ came. There was no room in the inn but room in a cattle shed. There is no room in the hearts of many people yet they celebrate Christmas. What has the birth of Christ have to do with Santa, reindeer, crackers and snow? Nothing at all. Let’s get our minds focused on why Jesus came. Let’s go again to Bethlehem and see the Lord who was born to save our souls. Oh that we might not stop talking about Jesus, like the shepherds. One day He’s coming again. Praise God. We’ll see Him glorious and holy. Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners. Do we love Him because He first loved us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Light of the World has Come

 

christmas-clipart-religious-2

When I think about Christmas, I realise that I came into the world having nothing to do with my birth. I showed up without planning it. When Jesus came into the world it was the most dangerous mission ever undertaken by a Baby. He came knowing the battles He would face and knowing the ultimate end of His life on earth would be a week like no other in human history. He came to live, die and be raised to life again in the greatest drama mankind has ever seen.

Rome was a corrupt government morally and spiritually; its sins were shamelessly committed for all to see. The death of innocents in the Coliseum was a major form of entertainment. Its emperors wanted to be worshipped and their gods were evil creations. Rome spread the darkness of paganism in every place that they had influence.

Herod, was an infamous madman and was made king by the Roman Senate, which proclaimed him “King of Judea.” Once in power, he immediately killed forty-five of the wealthiest citizens and confiscated their property for his own use. He was incurably ill, nearly 70-years-old, and insane in Matthew chapter 2 when the Magi came looking for Jesus. While the killing of all the male babies in Bethlehem under two years of age shocks us, it was typical of Herod. He had slaughtered his sons and executed his favourite wife, Mariamne. Even the good guys, the religious Pharisees, would be enemies of Jesus. His message would unsettle and irritate them until they would finally conspire and bring about His execution in the most agonising way possible – crucifixion.

The world was dark when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, amongst the immoral Romans, heinous Herod and self-important religious leaders, it wasn’t a place we would have chosen to enter. Yet, Jesus came into that world voluntarily.

Luke2.11.jpg

It was a wicked world that received the Baby in Bethlehem; but because of His willingness to enter our darkness, the angels were able to announce: “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Christmas means that God was willing to come into a dark place and bring the light of salvation and because of Him, salvation is available to all of us.

            Robert Robinson was an English clergyman who lived in the 18th century. Not only was he a gifted pastor and preacher, he was also a highly gifted poet and hymn writer. However, after many years in the pastorate his faith began to diminish. He left the ministry and moved to Paris where he indulged in an ungodly lifestyle.

            One night he was riding in a carriage with a Parisian socialite who had recently been converted to Christ. She was interested in his opinion on some poetry she was reading:

“Come thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace,
Streams of mercy never failing,
Call for hymns of loudest praise.”

When she looked up from her reading, the socialite noticed Robinson was crying. “What do I think of it?” he asked in a broken voice. “I wrote it. But now I’ve drifted away from him and can’t find my way back.”

            “But don’t you see?” the woman said gently, “The way back is written right here in the third line of your poem: ‘Streams of mercy never failing.’ Those streams are flowing even here in Paris tonight.” That night Robinson recommitted his life to Christ.

            For the wanderers like Robinson, for the religious like Nicodemus the Pharisee, for the Roman collaborators like Matthew the tax collector, and for all of us, salvation has come. Jesus has entered our unlit world to bring the light of salvation to everyone who will believe. This can be the most wonderful Christmas ever for those who realise that “streams of mercy” are still flowing because of that first Christmas.

December 3rd 2017: Paul Daniel

Paul Daniel-Dec17Matthew 1:17-25

What’s appropriate at Christmas time? What is Christmas all about? It is a time of year of watching cute Christmas films, trees and Christmas decorations. There are Christmas films being released. Perhaps a surprising one is a new war film of the 9/11 events. Christmas is more like the war film than the cute Christmas films.

This is a story of when God Himself comes to this earth in flesh. Mary conceives, the conception is from the Holy Spirit (v.18). This reminds us Jesus was born without sin, therefore, He will war against sin. He took on flesh – God came down out of heaven to take on flesh. This is the nitty gritty of the Christmas story, the real nativity.

We love opening gifts, it’s wonderful. There are things we want, things we desire in this world. Sometimes we may receive things we don’t need. But what we really need is a Saviour to save us from death, destruction and sin. That is what all of us will have to face. Adam and Eve brought death into this world. Adam lived and died. You and I live and die – which is why this message of a Saviour is wonderful. It brings us hope. Jesus was born into this world to be a Saviour.

We are to remember what the significance of the story is – at Christmas we focus on the birth, the little baby. But do you see in verse 21 Jesus will save His people from their sin? “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). This is not just about a baby but what that baby will do. He will fulfil all righteousness and save His people from their sins. This is about a Saviour. It’s a humbling reminder that Jesus came to save sinners.

Look back at your life and all the things you’ve done – your achievements but also your failures, the times you’ve not done what is right – when you’ve hurt the people you love most. Then look at this verse. You’re reminded, if you’re a Christian, at one point in time you were not saved. But Christ came and made you aware your sin deserved hell. By His grace you turned and now follow Him. Jesus went to war for you. Because of your own sin there was nothing you could do, ‘As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.’ (Ephesians 1:1). But Jesus came to save you, not people, but His people. Not everyone will be saved – only those who come to Him and ask for forgiveness.

Once upon a time, when you lived your life your own way, God in His goodness and justice could have left you like that – doing exactly what you wanted – and you wouldn’t have been saved. But in His mercy and love He came to you and made you aware of His love for you, ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us.)’ (Matthew 1:23).

What is more important, the gift or the giver? Children get excited about the gift. But the giver is more important, the relationship is more important. What is the purpose of having your sin forgiven? Christmas is all about God being with us and us being with God. There is a time coming when, if you’re one of God’s people, you will be with God. Jesus was with us, died on the cross, then was absent for 3 days before He rose again and appeared with His followers, then left. There is a time coming when we will be with God. Revelation 21 speaks of God dwelling with man, ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death.” (Revelation 21:3-4).

That is where the Christian story started and is heading to. As Christians we are looking forward to a time when we will see Jesus and live with Him in perfection and glory forever. Are you looking forward to seeing your Saviour, talking to Him, being with Him forever? The gates of heaven are open. If you know your sin brings death and destruction and know Jesus died for you, if you confess your sin and repent, then nothing condemns you, you are welcomed into heaven.

There’s a certainty about Salvation. You’ll be with Jesus. The doors are open if you’re a Christian. But on that final day when Jesus Christ comes and His people will live with Him forever, the doors are also going to be shut. When He comes to judge the living and the dead, and make everything right, the doors will be closed. No-one else will ever be able to go in there again. There is only a certain amount of time for people to come to the Saviour, to put their trust in Jesus. For one day the door will be closed.

As God came to be with us and us with Him, share the gospel message – not in our own strength but asking in His Spirit – to change the hearts of children, parents and loved ones. The time is coming when Jesus Christ is coming again, when He will open and close the doors. Let’s get people ready. Let’s remind them of this wonderful, miraculous birth.