Charles Stanley – A Reason to Celebrate

 

Galatians 4:4-5

At Christmastime, the part of Jesus’ life that we think about most is, of course, His birth. You hear sermons about it, see nativity scenes everywhere, and perhaps even notice the Bethlehem story referenced on secular news broadcasts. What we all too easily forget at this time of year, however, is the reason that little baby came. He was born to die.

Now, you may not like thinking about that right now. You may be preparing food for a family gathering or looking around your home at some beautiful decorations, and you just do not want to think about the brutal death that awaited the peaceful infant at the center of your manger scene. And yet, how can we truly celebrate the birth of Christ without taking into account the reason for His arrival?

Jesus had a purpose in life. From the moment He appeared that night in Bethlehem, He lived His life on mission for the Father. He came to show us who God really is. He came to teach us how to live, walk, and talk as spiritual people. But most importantly, He came so that we might have a full, intimate relationship with the Father He knew so well. Jesus’ job was to secure our salvation. That victory would cost Him His life.

Therefore, as we embrace the celebration of Christmas, let us not lose our focus. As we lay our praises at the foot of the manger, let us not forget that He came so that we may lay our sins down at the foot of the cross. This is Jesus’ Christmas gift to you.

Our Daily Bread — What Really Matters

 

2 Corinthians 9:10-15

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! —2 Corinthians 9:15

When our children were living at home, one of our most meaningful Christmas morning traditions was very simple. We would gather our family around the Christmas tree where, in sight of the gifts we were receiving from one another, we would read the Christmas story together. It was a gentle reminder that the reason we give gifts is not because the Magi brought gifts to the Christ-child. Rather, our gifts of love for one another were a reflection of God’s infinitely greater Gift of love to us.

As we rehearsed the familiar story of angels, shepherds, and the manger scene, it was our hope that the magnitude of what God had done that first Christmas would overshadow our best attempts at displaying our love for each other.

Nothing could ever match the gift God has given us in His Son, a reality which echoes in Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).

Clearly, God’s willingness to send His Son to be our rescue is a gift that words cannot fully comprehend. This is the gift that we celebrate at Christmas—for Christ Himself is truly what matters most. —Bill Crowder

’Twas a humble birthplace, but O how much

God gave to us that day;

From the manger bed what a path has led,

What a perfect, holy way! —Neidlinger

Jesus Himself is the greatest Christmas gift ever given.

Bible in a year: Nahum 1-3; Revelation 14

Insight

Today’s passage celebrates all that God has given us. He supplies the sower with seed and bread for food (v.10), and He blesses us so we can be generous to others (v.11). Our proper response is thanksgiving to God (v.15) and gratitude that we are able to share with others because of His gifts to us (v.13).

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Good News of Great Joy

 

One of the wonderful aspects of the Christmas season is the celebration of unique and sometimes quirky family “traditions” that make the season special for each one of us. In my family, we had several Christmas television specials that became part of our celebration ritual. One of my favorites was “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I loved the music by Vince Guaraldi that undergirded the animated characters and plot; I loved the fact that Charlie Brown finds the lowliest Christmas tree for the pageant, and I loved Linus’s gentle, yet poignant reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. I will never forget his slow walk to the center of the stage with thumb in mouth and blanket trailing behind him.

To this day, his recitation from the second chapter of Luke still gives me goose bumps. Tears of joy and beauty easily fill my eyes as I hear his small, childlike voice proclaiming the powerful message of God’s good news for the whole world:

“And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom God is pleased’” (Luke 2:8-14).

In recalling Linus’s recitation, I’ve been thinking about the message of good news the angels proclaimed to the shepherds that starry night. I think about what a contrast that message is to our prevailing “bad news” messages today. Random violence, terror, and wars continue; thousands dying of Ebola in West Africa; an increasingly hostile political climate; and news of illness and loss of life among friends and family. It is hard not to feel at times that the world is full of bad news.

As I juxtapose the bad news of our world with Luke’s message of good news, I have to wonder if it’s just wishful thinking. In light of our bad news world, what is good about the good news?

Notably, the angel proclaims that salvation has come in one “born this day in the city of David, who is Messiah.” For those poor shepherds, this was indeed good news! Their deliverer had come to rescue them from Roman oppression, and now all of Israel would be restored under the rule of God’s messiah. But this good news would go beyond the boundaries of ethnic Israel to the whole world. The good news of God’s promised Messiah demonstrates God’s favor towards ‘all people.’ “Glory to God in the highest,” the angel host proclaims, “And on earth peace among men with whom God is pleased.” The Greek word for pleased literally means “to think well of, to approve, or to take delight in or pleasure.” So often, perhaps influenced by bad news all around us, many of us struggle with a foreboding sense that God is angry with us, smoldering with rage and wrath against us. But the angels declare the exact opposite—and this is indeed, good news! God sends Jesus, the Messiah, out of a sense of delight and pleasure with his creation. The Messiah coming as one of us, Immanuel, God with us is the greatest good news we could ever hope to receive. Jesus says in John’s gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only, begotten son; that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

In the face of the bad news of our world and in our lives, the good news of God should resound in our hearts and minds as we enter the Christmas season: God is with us, God is pleased with us, and God loves us! Jesus inaugurates the reign of good news, his shalom, even in the face of bad news. All are invited to share in this good news. The good news of God’s reign exists even in the midst of crisis. The good news of God’s reign offers hope that Immanuel has arrived in Jesus. And even when the news is overwhelmingly bad, the promise resounds: “In the world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This is indeed good news.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

Alistair Begg – We See Thee Face to Face

 

Yours is the day, yours also the night.  Psalm 74:16

Lord, You do not abdicate Your throne when the sun goes down, nor do You leave the world during all those long wintry nights to be the prey of evil. Your eyes watch us like the stars, and Your arms surround us as the band of planets belts the sky. The benefit of kindly sleep and all the influences of the moon are in Your hand, and the alarms and solemnities of night are equally with You. This is very sweet to me when walking in the midnight hours or tossing to and fro in anguish.

There are precious fruits supplied by the moon as well as by the sun: May my Lord make me a favored partaker in them. The night of affliction is just as much under the arrangement and control of the Lord of Love as the bright summer days when all is bliss. Jesus is in the tempest. His love wraps the night about itself like a cloak, but to the eye of faith the sable robe is scarcely a disguise. From the first watch of the night even to the break of day the eternal Watcher observes His saints and overrules the shades and shadows of midnight for His people’s highest good. We believe in no rival deities of good and evil contending for mastery, but we hear the voice of Jehovah saying, “I form light and create darkness . . . I am the LORD, who does all these things.”1

Gloomy seasons of religious indifference and social sin are not exempted from the divine purpose. When the altars of truth are defiled, and the ways of God forsaken, the Lord’s servants weep with bitter sorrow, but they need not despair, for even the darkest eras are governed by the Lord and will come to an end at His command. What seems defeat to us may be victory to Him.

Though enwrapt in gloomy night,

We perceive no ray of light;

Since the Lord Himself is here,

‘Tis not fitting we should fear.

1) Isaiah 45:7

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The family reading plan for December 23, 2014 * Zechariah 10 * John 13

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Devotional material is taken from “Morning and Evening,” written by C.H. Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg.

Charles Spurgeon – The incarnation and birth of Christ

 

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2

Suggested Further Reading: Hebrews 10:5-7

“Go,” saith the Father, “and thy Father’s blessing on thy head!” Then comes the unrobing. How do angels crowd around to see the Son of God take off his robes! He laid aside his crown; he said, “My father, I am Lord over all, blessed for ever, but I will lay my crown aside, and be as mortal men are.” He strips himself of his bright vest of glory; “Father,” he says, “I will wear a robe of clay, just such as men wear.” Then he takes off all those jewels wherewith he was glorified; he lays aside his starry mantles and robes of light, to dress himself in the simple garments of the peasant of Galilee. What a solemn disrobing that must have been! And next, can you picture the dismissal! The angels attend the Saviour through the streets, until they approach the doors; when an angel cries, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors, and let the king of glory through!” I think the angels must have wept when they lost the company of Jesus—when the Sun of heaven bereaved them of all its light. But they went after him. They descended with him; and when his spirit entered into flesh, and he became a babe, he was attended by that mighty host of angels, who after they had been with him to Bethlehem’s manger, and seen him safely laid on his mother’s breast, in their journey upwards appeared to the shepherds and told them that he was born king of the Jews. The Father sent him! Contemplate that subject. Let your soul get hold of it, and in every period of his life think that he suffered what the Father willed; that every step of his life was marked with the approval of the great I AM.

For meditation: When we think of the birth of the Son of God, our eyes are rightly focused on earth. But are we in danger of forgetting God the Father in heaven, the one who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son (John 3:16)? May we remember to give “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14).

Sermon no. 57

23 December (1855)

John MacArthur – The Revelation of Man’s Destiny

 

“He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying, ‘What is man, that Thou rememberest him? Or the son of man, that Thou art concerned about him? Thou hast made him for a little while lower than the angels; Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, and hast appointed him over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.’ For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him” (Heb. 2:5-8).

Man’s original intended destiny was to be king of the earth.

When we look at the vast, seemingly endless universe and then think about the little dot we call earth in the middle of it all, we cannot help but wonder, “What is man? What right do we have to be so much on God’s mind?”

David had an answer: “Thou hast made him for a little while lower than the angels . . . crowned him with glory and honor . . . appointed him over the works of Thy hands . . . put all things in subjection under his feet” (Heb. 2:6-8). The writer of Hebrews was quoting one of the Psalms (Ps. 8:4-6) to show that God made man to be king.

David undoubtedly penned his psalm based on what God said in the beginning: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26). God’s original design for man in his innocence was to be king over an undefiled earth.

When God made Adam, who was pure and innocent, He gave Him honor and glory. God crowned man king of the earth: “Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet” (Heb. 2:8). One day we again will be given the right to rule the earth, and all God’s creation will be put under our feet.

Suggestion for Prayer; Read Psalm 8 and offer it as your own praise to God.

For Further Study; Read Daniel 7:18, 27 and note the extent of the saints’ ultimate rule.

Joyce Meyer – Learn to Receive

 

I will bless you [with abundant increase of favors] . . . and you will be a blessing [dispensing good to others]. —Genesis 12:2

Nothing frustrates me more than people who don’t know how to accept gifts. It’s a joy to express my love or appreciation to someone by giving them a gift I know they’ll like. But if the response is, “No, no, I can’t accept that,” or “Really, you shouldn’t have,” or “No, take it back,” then that drains all the joy out of it. It becomes downright embarrassing if you have to force a gift on someone. You may even wonder if you should have offered the gift at all.

Receiving a gift graciously stems from inner security. Those who are uncomfortable getting gifts usually have some deep-seated insecurity that prevents them from accepting others’ kindness. They feel so low that they can’t imagine they deserve anything. Or they worry that the gift burdens them with reciprocation. They would rather reject the gesture than have to engage in a relationship.

In my life and work, I have opportunities to give many gifts, and I also get some. When I do, I genuinely appreciate it and tell people so. Be a giver and expect God to bless you through others. When they do, say thank you and graciously receive their offers.

The greatest gift that can be given is offered to each of us every day, yet few of us have the faith and self-esteem to accept it. God offers us His love. All we have to do is open our hearts and make the decision to receive it. Then we in turn get to pass it on to others.

Receiving God’s love is an important step because we can’t love others without it. We cannot give away what we do not have.

Campus Crusade for Christ; Bill Bright – Power Over Discouragement

 

“And let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t get discouraged and give up” (Galatians 6:9).

“Yes, I do get tired inthe work, but I never get tired ofthe work.” I have heard many missionaries, ministers and other Christian leaders make such a statement. I echo their sentiments.

The first half of this wonderful verse is the sower’s imperative; the second half is the sower’s reward. The first half is my responsibility; the second is God’s – which of course means that I should concern myself only with the first half, since our faithful God always keeps His promises.

One of the enemy’s greatest weapons is discouragement. Years ago that great saint and prophet, A.W. Tozer, preached a sermon on this subject in which he recognized discouragement solely as a tool of the devil, hence one he would refuse to accept in his own life.

It is because of Satan’s wiles in this regard – in causing us to be discouraged and give up – that one of God’s greatest gifts to His children is the gift of exhortation and encouragement, with emphasis on the latter. How many believers have been strengthened to carry on because of the helpful, encouraging word of a friend! And how important that you and I become that kind of friend. Yet, God’s promise of encouragement is far more important.

To “keep on keeping on” is easier when we know that God is faithful.

Bible Reading: Galatians 6:1-8

TODAY’S ACTION POINT: With power from the Holy Spirit who lives within me, I will refuse to allow Satan’s trick of discouragement to hinder my work, my walk and my witness for the Lord.

Presidential Prayer Team; J.R. – Commander in Chief Comeback

 

People like to talk about the good old days, but they typically don’t bring presidents back. Only one chief executive has ever been returned to the White House after having previously been defeated: Grover Cleveland was both the twenty-second and twenty-fourth President of the United States. One person who anticipated this turnaround was Grover’s wife, Frances. As the Clevelands vacated the White House after losing the 1888 election, Frances instructed a staff member to “take good care of all the furniture and ornaments in the house…we are coming back four years from today!”

Jerusalem remembers…all the precious things that were hers from days of old.

Lamentations 1:7

When Jerusalem was overrun by her enemies – the result of disobedience to God’s direction – her citizens desperately wanted things to go back to the way they were in the days of old. You may be feeling much the same way as you consider the myriad of ways in which Americans and their leaders have slipped away from truth. But it’s not too late! The Lord is patient and anxious for His people to call His name once again.

As you pray today, ask God to bring your nation back to His “precious things.”

Recommended Reading: II Chronicles 15:1-7

Greg Laurie – What Christmas Is About

 

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. —Isaiah 9:7

As we look at our world today, we realize that part of the promise of Isaiah 9:6-7 has not yet been fulfilled. The Son has been given. The Child has been born. But He has not yet taken the government upon His shoulders. We do not yet have peace with judgment and justice. But the good news is that there will come a day when Christ will return. He will establish His kingdom on this earth. And it will be the righteous rule of God Himself.

Before Jesus could take the government upon His shoulder, He had to take the cross upon His shoulder. Before He could wear the crown of glory as King of Kings, He had to wear the shameful crown of thorns and give His life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. The first time, a star marked His arrival. But the next time He comes, the heavens will roll back like a scroll, all of the stars will fall from the sky, and He Himself will light it.

Christ came to this earth. God came near to you so you can come near to Him—to give your life purpose and meaning, to forgive you of your sins, and to give you the hope of heaven beyond the grave. Christmas is not about tinsel or shopping or presents. Christmas is not about the gifts under the tree. Rather, Christmas is about the gift that was given on the tree when Christ died there for our sins and gave us the gift of eternal life.

 

Max Lucado – More Than a Christmas Story

 

The virgin birth is more, much more, than a Christmas story. It’s a story of how close Christ will come to you! The first stop on His itinerary was a womb. Where will God go to touch the world? Look deep inside Mary for an answer. Better still—look deep within yourself.

“Christ in you, the hope of glory!” the scripture says (Col. 1:27). Christ grew in Mary until He had to come out. Christ will grow in you until the same occurs. He will come out in your speech, in your actions, in your decisions. Every place you live will be a Bethlehem. And every day you live will be a Christmas. Deliver Christ into the world…your world.

From In the Manger