A lot has changed in our world over the last 5 years since I last wrote on this subject on this website. More will change in the coming years. But what does remain constant is the enduring message of Christmas. Every new Christmas reminds us of His first coming over 2000 years ago. This Christmas 2017 brings His second coming a year closer. No one knows the time of His second coming. But we should prepare for it lest we be caught unawares!
What was so significant about His coming into the world at this time 2000 years ago? What does His coming tell us? Paul reminds us in Galatians 4:4-5.
- GOD’S TIMING IS ALWAYS PERFECT.
Galatians 4:4. “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son.” The time was right, from God’s point of view, for Jesus to be born as a human baby at that first Christmas. We can say humanly speaking, it was an ideal time for Jesus to come to earth. The different cultures had prepared the way for His coming. For example:-
- The Roman Empire. The communication system was highly developed. Roads had been built throughout the Roman Empire. It was safe for trade to be conducted in various places, for the Roman army kept watch over the main trade routes. Because of the Pax Romana, the Roman peace, there was political stability in the world under the Roman Empire. It was a relatively safe time in which to live and to travel.
- Greek Culture. The common language of Greek was known and understood by most people. The Old Testament had been translated into a Greek version so that many could understand the way God had been active in history in the lives of His people. Even New Testament documents were written in the common language of the day, so that most people could understand them.
- Jewish Culture. The Dispersion meant that many of the Jews had been scattered throughout the world. Synagogues had been established even in small towns where the Jews could gather together to read and study the Old Testament Scriptures. Many Jews were praying and expecting their Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, to come.
BUT, there was a spiritual vacuum. The gods of the Greek and Roman cultures hadn’t satisfied. The Jews felt restrained by the law. It pointed out what was right and wrong but did not give power to do the right. They were not free politically either. They were subject to the Roman authorities, and not just to God. They didn’t like it one little bit. People were looking for something to happen.
In many ways it was a time similar to our own day, in which we’ve become disappointed with the things of the world. In human terms we despair at the seeming incompetence and apparent arrogance of world leaders. We are amazed that humans could so easily thumb their noses at God in rejecting His rule over their lives. Many today too are looking for something more real and satisfying than what they are presently seeing and experiencing.
IT WAS AT THIS TIME THAT GOD SENT JESUS INTO THE WORLD
Here was the power of God and the love of God in action. Jesus came into the world He had made, in the form of a baby. It wasn’t easy for the people of that day to recognise who Jesus was as the Messiah and the Son of God. They failed to see how God’s purposes were being fulfilled in the birth or the death of Jesus. A crucified Messiah? Foolishness to the Greeks! Crucified in weakness? A stumbling block for the Jews! Paul quoted the scripture from Deuteronomy 21:23 when he wrote in Galatians 3:13 ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”’. If Jesus had been crucified, then of course He must have been under the curse of God in their eyes. He was, but it was for our human sin not for His.
Paul put it in Romans 5:6, “while we were yet helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” And Peter expressed it, 1 Pet 2:24, “Jesus Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross that we might die to sins and live to righteousness.” The death of Jesus was planned from all eternity and happened at exactly the right time in human history.
But note: We see these truths now in retrospect
We see the way all things came together at that particular time for the Christ to come. However the people of that day may not have seen it at the time, as we see it now. The coming of Jesus back then may have been on an ordinary day in an ordinary year for most people.
You and I don’t always see the significance of what God is doing at any particular time. Some people came to the Wednesday night Healing Service in the Cathedral in Sydney, not realising that their lives would never be the same again as God ministered to them in love and healing power. It can be the same when the people of God come together in many different places around the world. He can touch their lives so that they are changed forever. It could be on a very ordinary day that you have an encounter with God. In retrospect you may see it as the most significant day on your life. But why did Jesus come?
- WHY GOD SENT JESUS. Galatians 4:5.
1]. To set us free from the condemning law. Gal 4:5 “ to redeem those who were under the law.” “Redeem”means to set at liberty those who were previously bound. The law of God promised life to those who perfectly obeyed it. It also promised condemnation to those who disobeyed it in any way. It said “Do this and you will live” and promised death to those who didn’t obey it perfectly. But Jesus came to fulfil the law by living a perfect human life, and by dying a perfect human death for sinners. Christ redeemed them by His death. Now we are able to come to God through Him.
The writer to the Hebrews put it, Heb 10:19 ‘Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.” Now through Him we are able to live in a personal loving relationship with God
2]. To enable us to be adopted as His children.Gal 4:5 “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus died for us that we might receive adoption as His children, through faith in Him. He came and died so that we might live in a relationship of love, not law, with God Himself.
John wrote of the coming of Jesus that He came to bring light, life and acceptance to the world. The Gospel message that is often read each year throughout the world on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, is this from John chapter 1. John 1:9 “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Grace! Freely forgiven and accepted in Christ. Truth! Reality! The real God offering real love to real people as they opened up to Him.
At that first Christmas Day God sent His Son into the world as a gift to be received by faith. Millions throughout the world and through the ages have done so over the succeeding years. But the number of Christmas Days is coming to an end. Jesus will return to pass eternal judgment on all who have ever lived and on those who are alive at His coming. The basis of the judgment is what they have done with God’s gift. Those who have received God’s gift of Jesus will live with Him in bliss for ever. Those who have ignored God’s gift will not. A frightening prospect! But one that can be averted by putting one’s faith in Christ.
A PERSONAL STORY
It was Christmas Day 1958. I was wrestling with a truth I had just come to understand, namely that Jesus was born to die. To die for humans. To die for me. Over the succeeding days the truth burned more brightly in my heart and mind. I was finding it difficult to understand that Jesus, the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, the Anointed One of God, the Messiah, the Christ, had actually come down from heaven to die for ME! Yes, even ME!
Just a few weeks before I had not done well in an Inorganic Chemistry exam. The previous year I had gotten among the highest marks in the whole state. I was shocked I didn’t do better. In desperation, I made a vow at that time in a prayer to God [if He did exist that is]. I vowed that if He did help me get through all the remaining exams to pass the year I would “think seriously about Him”. By His grace I did do well and passed the whole year with good results. I did “think seriously about Him” as I began to read the Bible, the book “Peace with God” by Billy Graham, and numerous leaflets my two Christian sisters had given me.
New Year’s Eve 1958 arrived. I was struggling with the question, “What should I do with Jesus? Should I continue to reject Him? Should I humble myself and invite Him to be my Saviour and my Lord?” I made a decision. It was the most important decision I ever made or will ever make!
I decided to repent on my sins and to ask Jesus to come into my life to be my own personal Saviour and Lord. There in that little flat in Boundary Street, Tweed Heads-Coolangatta on the border between Queensland and New South Wales I knelt beside my bed and prayed asking God to forgive me and inviting Jesus to come into my life.
Life has never been the same since. Different! In every way! Coming to understand the written word so much more clearly. Coming to love the Living word, Jesus, more and more dearly. Knowing that the Almighty God has a plan and purpose for me in His world. Knowing His strength to be able to do it. Knowing I am loved by the God who so loved the world (including me) that He gave His only Son to come and die for me so that I might have life, in abundance!
I received God’s Christmas gift back in 1958 and have never regretted it. But a question for you to answer. Have you received God’s Christmas gift, the gift of His Son to come and live in you by His Spirit, so that you can become part of the family of God? It’s a question that only you can answer. And answer it you must! Soon!
This is something like the prayer I prayed that night. The words came from a Prayer of Commitment that I had read in one of the late Rev John Stott’s books. [He had been a Chaplain to the Queen and one of the most widely read authors, and listened-to speakers in the Christian world of that time. Also Rector of All Soul’s Langham Place in London.] It had a simple outline to pray with words beginning with the letters A, B, C, and D.
To get right with God, to receive the Christmas gift God was offering I had to
- Admit I was a sinner in the eyes of God. [That was easy to do. I knew I was.]
- Believe that Jesus had died for me on the cross. [I had read that and now had begun to understand that truth.]
- Consider the cost of becoming a Christian. [It meant handing over the control of my life to Him, the One who had died for ME! It meant giving myself to the One who had given Himself for ME! That made perfect sense. He died for me. Now I should willingly live for Him]
- I had to do something about it. That is, to ask the Lord Jesus [who as Revelation 3:20 puts it, was knocking at the door of my life] into my life to be my Saviour from sin and to be the Lord and Master of every part of my life, from that day forward.
As I have often mentioned since that day, that as soon as I prayed the prayer just before midnight, the horns honked, the bells pealed and there was cries of joy out on the streets from the thousands of people who were there to witness this great event! Not my conversion! Rather the coming of a New Year 1959!!! I later read Luke 15:7 “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” How wonderful to know that what I did that night in that tiny flat on the Qld-NSW border brought joy in heaven! Even greater to realise the joy I have experienced in the Lord and His marvellous blessings since that eventful New Year’s Eve 1958!
May Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2017 find you wide open to Him and to His amazing love for YOU! Remembering that the Christ of Christmas came down from heaven to die for YOU! Yes! YOU! AND to live in you by His Spirit. As Paul wrote a little earlier in that same epistle, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20. Christ FOR me, then. Christ IN me, now by His Spirit!
Blog No.248. Posted on jimholbeck.blog on Sunday 19th November 2017. (Being a revision of an article No.105 posted on New Year’s Eve 2012.)