Dec 16, 2016 | Comments 8
In April of 1974, my wife was about to deliver our first child. We were excited, filled with joy, and anticipation. I was about to become the father of the smartest, the most beautiful, and the most wonderful baby in the world.
In 1974, we lived in Cape Canaveral, Florida. My wife’s obstetrician was an older gentleman, a Cuban immigrant who had escaped Castro’s tyranny in 1959. He was an amazing man, an excellent physician, a wonderful person. He was warm, gentle, friendly, and grandfatherly. He was an elegant man who spoke with the most charming Spanish accent reminiscent of Ricardo Montalbán.
In those days, one did not know the sex of the baby until the baby’s birth; however, one day as our doc examined my wife and listened to our baby’s heartbeat, he smiled confidently at me and said, “I think you have a son!”
I was delighted. I had hoped for a son. What would his name be? I agonized over what it would be. Finally, I came to it: Matthew! Matthew is the first book in the New Testament. Indeed, Matthew is a good name for a minister’s son.
On April 10, we named our daughter Katie. My wife’s obstetrician looked at me sheepishly, smiled and said, “You know, I’m right half the time.”
Matthew was born six years and one month later. Our last child!
Sometimes people give their children outrageous names. I had a student named Boy Man Dixon. As Boy informed me, he was named “Boy” became he was a male child, and he was named “Man” because a male child grows to be a man. In the little central Florida village of Eloise, where I grew up, we had neighbors who rhymed the names of their eight children. The four sons were named Vernon, Herman, Sherman, and Thurman, and the four daughters were named Arlene, Charlene, Darlene, and Marlene. And, believe it or not, the eight came in that male-female order. However, the prize for names goes to Goforth Eli Turnipseed. I do not care that mama and daddy’s heritage was Moravian, what would possess a woman to allow her baby boy to be named “Goforth Eli”?
Did you know Christmas is about the naming of a son?
The naming of Jesus was not left to the initiative or whimsy of Mary and Joseph. According to Matthew 1.21 and Luke 1.31, an angel of the Lord specifically instructed Mary and Joseph to name the babe of Bethlehem “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1.21, ESV)
Mary and Joseph were familiar with the name “Jesus.” At the risk of oversimplifying, the name “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua.” Joshua means “Jehovah is salvation.” And as Joshua was appointed by Jehovah to lead the people of God out of the Wilderness into the Promised Land, Jesus is appointed by His Father to lead the people of God out of sin’s wilderness into the promised land of eternal life.
There are numerous lessons to be learned here, but let me highlight only three.
The first and obvious thing we learn is that Jesus is sent to be the Savior who saves His people from their SINS.
Interestingly (and it is so often missed), Christmas declares we are sinners who need a Savior. Because Christmas is about a Savior, we see we are sinners by birth and by choice. Clearly, we are sinners because we are the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve who rejected God’s Word and defiantly ate of the forbidden tree, and we are sinners because we go astray, purposefully disobeying God’s Word and wandering from the good way God has for our lives.
Our sinful natures are clearly delineated in how we ignore and violate the Ten Commandments. Instead of worshiping the God of the Bible, we turn to the idols of our making (especially SELF); instead of keeping God’s name holy, we blaspheme and take it in vain; instead of honoring and protecting life, we destroy life (especially, nowadays, as we countenance a holocaust on the unborn and then wonder why both the historic black and white populations of the United States are in decline); instead of embracing the ennobling institution of marriage as it is given by God for our blessing and is biblically defined as between one man and one woman, we rewrite marriage in self-abasement to include homosexuality, and then we countenance a parade of life-destroying sexual practices and perversions which God condemns with curses; instead of promoting industry, we institutionalize getting something for nothing; instead of cherishing truth, we (like Pilate) ask, “What is truth?”; instead of honoring our neighbors’ possessions, we politicize theft and seize our neighbors’ wealth in the name of wealth redistribution; instead of upholding truth in national life, we justify bearing false witness by calling it politics-as-usual; and instead of being satisfied with our own possessions, we dignify greed by calling it ambition.
For sinners such as we are, the Star of Bethlehem spotlights Jesus as the Light of the World and declares He is the Savior of sinners. In Jesus, we cast our cares and sins on Him as we disabuse ourselves of our feeble efforts to save ourselves and cast all our hopes in Christ Jesus, trusting in the righteousness that is “through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (Philippians 3.8-9 KJV)
Wait! there is more. Jesus who saves His people from their sins also “breaks the power of [indwelling] sin” (see Charles Wesley, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing). Jesus’ salvation not only grants forgiveness but Jesus’ salvation makes it possible for a new life in Him. That is, He makes it possible for a new life which is not dominated by the old ways.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6, speaks of this change, writing,
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God [my emphasis]. (vss. 8-9 ESV)
In Ephesians 4.17-32, as Paul writes concerning the Christian’s new life in Christ, he gives the following instructions. He says, as Christians, we are no longer to live in the manner we did before we be believed in Jesus. We can no longer live in the futility of sensuality and sinful indulgences of every kind. Rather, we must discard the “old self” and “be made new in the attitude of the mind,” as we “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” To this end, we put off falsehood, unwarranted and unrestrained anger, theft, unwholesome talk, behaviors which grieve the Holy Spirit, bitterness, rage, brawling, and slander; instead, in our behavior to one other, we are to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other” just as the Lord Jesus in God forgave us. (ESV)
In sharp contrast, the message today from secular therapists and mental health specialists is we are the way we are because of DNA and not much can be done about it, so learn to cope; however, the Savior of Christmas points sinners to a lifestyle change in Christ who forgives sins and grants a new start in a new life of faith and obedience.
No wonder the angel instructed Mary and Joseph to name the child “Jesus”! Indeed, He saves His people from their sins, but He goes much farther: He renews His people and sends them on the way of new life.
So, at this point, can we talk? This Christmas season do you need a Savior? Do you need a new life created by God for righteousness and holiness? Do not miss the point of Christmas: there is a Savior who saves and gifts those who believe and are saved with a new life. So, have you let Jesus “say to [your] soul, ‘I am your salvation?’” (Psalm 35:3 NKJV)
The second thing we learn is Jesus is called “Jesus” because there is no other name given by God to men whereby there is salvation. (Acts 4.12)
Truly, Peter gave a Messianic coloring in Acts 4.12 when he declares “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” No wonder the detractors of Christmas want to shutdown the celebration of Christmas! Christmas announces they cannot save themselves, and they will not have Jesus!
Many people who consider themselves atheists, agnostics, or secular humanists rail against Acts 4.12 and other such passages in the Bible. They scream, “Unfair!” They accuse God of being a tyrant. They dismiss Christianity as imperialistic because the God of the Bible rejects all religious pluralism — particularly, their self-worship.
The arrogance of such accusations (and those who make the accusations) is, on the one hand, comical, and, on the other hand, pitiful. It is comical because, if there is no God, it really does not matter what the critic of the Bible says, for there is no God to hear or respond. The message of both the Bible and Christmas is the declaration there is a God who hears and responds. I suppose the no-goders replace “Joy to the World” with the words of Neil Diamond, singing, “I am / I said / To no one there / And no one heard at all not / Even the chair / I am / I cried / I am said I / And I am lost and I can / Even say why / Leavin’ me lonely still.”
It is sad in that the no-goders find their significance in themselves. They think they are the measure of significance. “Me! Me! Look at me! I’m important!” they cry.
I met Jack at Gold’s Gym. One morning we found ourselves sweating side by side on elliptical machines. I immediately liked Jack. He talked while working out. Talking makes the time go faster and lessens the pain.
Jack was from Missouri, he has two degrees from the University of Missouri and was a United States Department of Labor retiree. Never married, Jack was permanently engaged to Budweiser beer and country music — and he had an amazing memory and seemed to know the lyrics to every country song since 1950.
When Jack discovered I was a minister, he informed me he did not discuss religion and immediately launched into a discussion on religion. As I said, I liked Jack.
According to Jack, his father and younger brother were Baptist ministers and his two sisters were women of faith. He was the only member of his family who was not “a religious fool.” Indeed, according to Jack, “anyone who believes in God is a fool!” He came to the conclusion he did not believe in God when he was twelve while reading through The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
In subsequent conversations, I learned the following about Jack: (1) he was estranged from his father, and, when his father died, he did not attend the funeral; (2) he was estranged also from his brother and older sister, but the younger sister lived nearby and they were now friends; (3) he had made “a lot of money” and lived comfortably but did not know what he was going to do with his money when he died; (4) not a woman-hater, Jack had a number of long-term relationships with women, but the relationships ended badly when they left him (but he sang, “Thank God and Greyhound, they’re gone!”); and (5) God (if there happened to be a God) was the bane of his existence for allowing so many “bad things” to happen in his life.
One day as we sweated and talked, I said, “Jack, humor me. Let’s suppose there is a God. When you die, if God asks you why He should let you into His heaven, what will you say?” Jack responded, “I’ll say to God, ‘If I’m not good enough for heaven, you can go to hell!’”
Christmas is despised and rejected by many, not because there is a message of a Savior, but because Christmas declares loudly and boldly that God has sent a Savior named Jesus and salvation is only in Jesus’ name. I think much of the anger against Christmas (and the visceral reactions against the Christmas message as it is explicated in Acts 4.12) comes down to this: Christmas is hated because God will not allow us to be our savior, and, if God will not allow us to be our savior, then God can go to hell because we will not have God’s Savior.
The third thing we learn about this Jesus who saves His people from their sins is He is coming again to receive His people unto himself. That is, if Jesus saves His people, to what end does He save them? Does He save us to be trophies on a mantle above the fireplace in the palace of heaven, or, as is indicated by John 14.3, does Jesus saves us in order for us to be with Him?
This Jesus of Christmas comes to save His people from their sins. What does this ultimately look like? Because we are so earthbound and so now-bound, we tend to think of salvation in terms of a box of spiritual gifts for this present time: forgiveness, a righteous status before God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, insights into Biblical knowledge as we read and study the Bible, and feelings of peace and purpose. And, of course, these are real and I do not minimize them! But, sometimes, I think we see Jesus like a medieval prince riding through the streets in His carriage and tossing bread and trinkets to paupers who are spectators of His grand procession. This metaphor is inadequate. The metaphor should go like this: Jesus is the Prince who steps out of His carriage, sets His love on a particular pauper, and pledges Himself in marriage to her. That is, Jesus Himself is our possession, and, as such, we become co-heirs with Him to all the vast treasures of heaven. This means the question we should ask at Christmas is not “What is salvation?” but “WHO is salvation?” And the answer to the who-question is: Jesus who is God-With-Us!
Have you seen the movie RISEN? I usually do not like Christian movies. I do not like movie-portrayals of Jesus. The Jesus character is usually stylized into something like a medieval icon of Jesus and, at best, Jesus is little more than a wax manikin that moves.
In RISEN, the Jesus character appeals to me. He is real. In RISEN, Jesus is believable as human, He is winsome, He is comfortable with people, and He is able to enjoy the wide-eyed amazement, disbelief, and discomfort of the Roman Tribune Clavius when he finds Jesus alive, sitting with His disciples, talking, and laughing.
The thing which is so comely about RISEN to me is how Jesus is shown with His people: He sits with them as He teaches, He eats with them, He walks beside them, and He demonstrates His power in their presence.
The point: the Jesus of Christmas who comes to save us comes to save us in order for us To be with him!
The Apostle Paul calls the second coming of Jesus the Blessed Hope — “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2.13-14 NIV; my emphasis)
With regard to His going away, the Lord Jesus told His disciples not to let their hearts be troubled, He was leaving to prepare a place for them, and if He left to prepare a place for them, He would come again to get them in order for them to be with Him. (John 14.1-3)
In 2 Thessalonians 1.9, Paul describes the second coming of Jesus as the day when “he comes to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed [my emphasis].” (ESV)
In 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, Paul comforts the early Christians and us by instructing us about Jesus’ coming. Paul does not want us to be ignorant. He writes,
For [Jesus] himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive . . . to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord [my emphasis].” (ESV)
When I turn to the Book of Revelation, I learn a great deal about heaven. I am told of a magnificent city which lies foursquare, whose radiance is like a rare jewel, whose walls are great and built of jasper, whose foundations are twelve and adorned with all kinds of jewels, whose gates are pearls, and whose streets are pure gold. (Revelation 21)
These metaphors stand for something which is so glorious our language is unable to convey it. It is what Jesus went away to prepare for His people. However, the most glorious thing about heaven is heaven is where Jesus is, who is both the Light of the World and the Lamp of Heaven, the one who has written our names in the Lamb’s book of life. Heaven is where Jesus is present with the people for whom He came on Christmas Day to save. And He wants us with Him!
We give many titles to Jesus. We address Him as Master, Teacher, Physician, Light of the World, Bread of Life, the Way, the Truth, Counselor, and King of kings, and Lord of lords; however, the most comforting and pleasant way I know to address Him is Savior, who is Emmanuel (“God with us), who will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13.5), for His desire is to be with us.
Say, do you want to be with Jesus?
The songwriter delights in Jesus, singing,
There is a Savior
What joys express
His eyes are mercy
His word is rest
For each tomorrow
There is a Savior
Who lights our way.
Charles W. Wilson
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