3 Posts from December 2012

Looking at the Big Picture . . . and Finding Hope, Part 2

Here is the apostle Paul’s version of the Christmas story:

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4–5)

Without realizing it, mighty Augustus was only an errand boy for the commencement of “the fullness of time.” He was a pawn in the hand of God . . . a mere piece of lint on the pages of prophecy. While Rome was busy making history, God arrived. He pitched His fleshly tent in silence on straw . . . in a stable . . . under a star. The world didn’t even notice. Reeling from the wake of Alexander the Great . . . Herod the Great . . . and Augustus the Great, the world overlooked Jesus the baby.

It still does.

As they were in Jesus’s day, so our times are desperate. Moreover, they often are a distraction from the bigger picture. Just as the political, economical, and spiritual crises of the first century set the stage for the “fullness of time” to occur . . . so today, in our own savage times, our God is weaving His sovereign tapestry to accomplish His divine will. Times are hard, indeed—but they never surprise God. He is still sovereign. He is still on the throne. As the psalmist reminds us: “Our God is in the heavens; / He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

In my 50 years of ministry, I have never been more committed than I am today to pointing our generation to the Word of God. It remains the single most accurate source of strength and divine direction during these difficult days. I urge you as pastors and leaders in ministry to recommit yourselves to consistent exposition combined with practical teaching from the Scriptures. With the same urgency, I exhort you—wherever God has placed you—to live out the truth of God’s Word before your family and neighbors through evangelism, Bible study, and memorization of God’s Word.

Feeling anxious about these difficult days? I understand, and Jesus does too. Times were no different when Jesus was born. Because so many lives have been turned upside down this year for one reason or another, I encourage you to do more than preach it again this year. I also urge you to reflect—just as Mary did—on what God is doing in your life. Christmas is a good time to ask ourselves this question: Will I focus on Jesus as the center of my life and cling to Him regardless of the circumstances I face? That’s not for you to preach. That’s for you to ponder.

Political corruption . . . religious compromise . . . economic crises—these will always be front-page news. But we must remember that our God is on the throne. He promises to use our desperate times to accomplish His bigger and better purposes in our world . . . and in our lives.

— Chuck

Looking at the Big Picture . . . and Finding Hope, Part 1

Before you preach again on the birth of Jesus, it might be best for you to lay it aside and start from scratch.

The Christmas story has been so sanitized and romanticized over the centuries that even Hollywood—as jaded a culture as can be found anywhere—fails to capture the gritty pathos that surrounded Jesus’s arrival. Truth be told, even some churches annually idealize the birth of our Savior. Yet it was anything but ideal.

Without question, 6 BC was a lousy time to live in Judea. Herod the Great had seized the throne of Israel through bloody intrigue and with political support from Rome. Then, once in power, he guarded his stolen title, “King of the Jews,” so ruthlessly he even put his own sons to death when any of them posed a significant political threat. Macrobius, a fifth-century writer, recorded, “When [Caesar Augustus] heard that Herod king of the Jews had ordered boys in Syria under the age of two years to be put to death and that the king’s son was among those killed, he said, ‘I’d rather be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son!’”¹

Caesar’s comment illustrated the sad irony of Israel’s condition. Herod, though not really Jewish, pretended to be a pious religious Jew by eliminating pork from his diet, but he indulged an insatiable appetite for power. He built a magnificent temple for the God of Israel—an architectural wonder in its day—and gave its administration to one corrupt high priest after another. He taxed Jews through the temple in keeping with the Old Testament Law and then used the proceeds to break the first commandment, building cities and temples in honor of the emperor and his pantheon of Roman deities.

The larger Roman Empire—bounded on the west by the Atlantic . . . on the east by the Euphrates . . . on the north by the Rhine and Danube . . . and on the south by the Sahara Desert—was as vast as it was vicious. Political intrigue, racial tension, increased immorality, and enormous military might dominated everyone’s attention and conversation. Judea existed under the crush of Rome’s heavy boot. It was a time of unprecedented economic and political advancement for the rich and a time of horrific oppression for everyone else. By the first century BC, a dark cloud had settled over Israel, blocking any ray of hope.

The first Christmas, all eyes were on Augustus—the cynical Caesar who demanded a census to determine a measurement for increasing taxes even further. At that time, who was interested in a young couple making an 80-mile trip south from Nazareth? What could possibly be more important than Caesar’s decisions in Rome . . . or his puppet Herod’s edicts in Judea? Who cared about a Jewish baby born in a Bethlehem barn?

God did.

— Chuck

 

Endnotes

  1. Macrobius, The Saturnalia, trans. Percival Vaughan Davies (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), 171.

God’s Promises Regarding His Faithfulness

Someone once counted all the promises in the Bible and came up with an amazing figure of almost 7500. Among that large number are some specific promises servants can claim today.

I have discovered that there are times the only hope to keep you going will be in something God has declared in His Word, promising that your work is not in vain.

Isaiah 41:10 has often encouraged me:

“Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

And a little further on, Isaiah writes:

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
And the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.” (Isaiah 49:14–16)

I call that fantastic! More faithful, more caring than a nursing mother, our God watches over and cares about us. We have frequently received counsel from Paul the apostle. Let’s look now at a few of the promises God led him to write. In 2 Corinthians 4:16–17 we read:

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.

And who can forget Philippians 4:19?

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Or his words of hope regarding a choice servant named Onesiphorus?

The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me—the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day—and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus. (2 Timothy 1:16–18).

No. Our faithful God will never forget His own.

—Chuck