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Archive for December 2019

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Christmas 2019 23. Jesus - Fully God

Yesterday we looked at what the name Jesus meant and how it was appropriate that he was called that. Today we are looking briefly at Jesus being fully God!

God’s salvation plan for humans’ involved triumphant victory over sin, death and the grave. However no person could be found who was eligible or capable enough to do this. So God stepped into human history, so that this victory could be achieved. This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

This God-man would be fully human, so as to live every feature of humanity, including suffering and death. This God-man would also need to remain fully God, so as to be big enough and powerful enough to defeat sin, death and the grave. A human could only die for their own sins. However God could die for the sins of all humanity. Jesus, being sinless, was this God-man, consisting as he did of two complete natures, the God nature and the human nature.

Throughout the Bible, Jesus is acknowledged as God. His good friend, John expressly calls Jesus, ‘the Word’ or God (John 1). Later on in John’s life, he states that Jesus was truly God and also eternal life! (1 John 5:20)

Jesus Himself claimed equality with God when he forgave people their sins (Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:9; Luke 7:48). The Jewish rulers reckoned this was a God alone thing and dependant on the involvement of the temple authorities. They therefore accused Him, at least in their minds, of blasphemy against God!

During the questioning when Jesus was on trial for this supposed act of blasphemy, Jesus equated Himself with being God (Matthew 26:64). John, reports many times where Jesus used the ancient name of God. “I AM”. In reference to Himself. (John 6:35, 48 & 51; John 8:12; John 10:7-11; John 10:14-15; John 11:25; John 14:6 and John 15:1)

That Jesus is both human and divine is what makes Christianity unique amongst the religions of the world. It is why Jesus’ claims to be the only way to God, are true. Of course this is only a brief synopsis of what the Bible affirms about Jesus being fully God! Be encouraged to study this exciting topic for yourself!

That is all for today! Come back tomorrow to see more in our Christmas series 2019, looking at Jesus Christ, the promised one of God.

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Christmas 2019 22. What’s In A Name?

I wonder what your name means. Parents often name their children after the hopes and aspirations they have for that child. For example, I know somebody called Grace, and her nature is full of grace.

My name, David, means “beloved”. When my parents named me, it was meant to symbolize the love they had for me. Although when I put the cricket ball through the kitchen window or the time I crushed the vegetable patch whilst running after a football, I did not feel very beloved afterwards!

When Jesus was born, his name expressed the very reason he was born. His conception and birth were extraordinary at every level. Do you think that his parents ever gazed upon him and thought “How misnamed he is”! They did not, because they knew the very purpose for which he was born. Did Jesus ever think of how misnamed he was? Certainly not! For Jesus’ name means ‘the one who saves’ or ‘a rescuer’.
In light of this, Jesus knew his purpose and his mission (Luke 4:42-44). Jesus Christ’ whole birth, life and death were centered on saving all those who would follow him. He is the most talked about person in history. Almost everyone has an opinion about him. Jesus Christ was born to fulfill the promises God had made over many years. You can read them for yourself in the part of the Bible we call the Old Testament.

Jesus Christ came to reveal God as a Father, to die instead of us for the punishment we deserve, in order that he may stand before God on our behalf and also to show us what it means to live a holy and perfect life here on earth. The life of Jesus Christ was a life totally dedicated to obediently following God and revealing God to the world. Such was the impact of the person Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was not merely a man who received some special power. Jesus Christ was not some strange creation that was half man and half God, with his human nature somehow absorbed into the divine. Jesus Christ was much more than these suggestions! Let us go on to discover together much more about this most amazing of men!

That is all for today! Come back tomorrow to see more in our Christmas series 2019, looking at Jesus Christ, the promised one of God.

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21. A Christmas Prayer Service


Today as part of our Christmas 2019 series, we have a prayer service where we offer to our God, prayers of the Church from history. Come, Church! Let's pray together!

1. Nativity Prayer of St. Bernard of Clairvaux

2. Nativity Prayer from the Orthodox Liturgy Feast of the Nativity

3. An advent prayer dating from the 10th century...

4. Christ, Redeemer of All

5. A Nativity Prayer of St. Augustine

6. The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.


That is all for today! Come back tomorrow to see more in our Christmas series 2019, looking at Jesus Christ, the promised one of God.

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Christmas 2019 20. Mary’s Song

Introduction

Luke 2:39-56

There is much to be said about this time of year we call Christmas. Worldwide there are about 250 babies born every minute.
Yet, the birth we celebrate at Christmas, is like no other birth of a human. That birth of the man Jesus Christ, 2000 years ago, caused the world to change. The birth of Jesus Christ causes more of the world today to pause amidst the busy-ness of life, take a breath amidst the noise of daily life and celebrate in many different ways and fashions.

Enough of an introduction, let’s get down to business! Here is what John Calvin, one of the giants of Church History, says about this passage:

“Now follows a remarkable and interesting song of the holy virgin, which plainly shows how eminent were her attainments in the grace of the Spirit.”

Isn’t that a beautiful thing for him to say about Mary? Here is what the reformer Martin Luther said of this passage, the Magnificat:

“In order properly to understand this sacred hymn of praise, we need to bear in mind that the most blessed Virgin Mary is speaking out of her own experience, in which she was enlightened and instructed by the Holy Spirit.”

 Synopsis (Download the mp3 using the link below to hear in full)

1. Mary visits Elizabeth
2. Mary’s Song – Synopsis
3. God: Holy and Almighty
4. Why did Mary have to be a virgin?

Conclusion

What can we take away with us today from this story from the Bible? We saw how Mary burst into song. Much is made erroneously of Mary by some people down through history as well as today. She isn’t, as some purport, to be the Queen of Heaven. She was not eternally a virgin, because we know that the marriage to Joseph was consummated afterwards and that they had other children together. She needed a Saviour herself, and I think she knew that when it was announced to her that she was to be with child by a work of God. I don’t think she would want the attention to be on her, as some people want to do these days, but as evidenced in this song, to deflect automatically all glory and praise to God.

Are we like that in our dealings with others? Do we deflect all praise to God for the things that he has done for us in the past, is doing things for us now and will do in the future? That is part of what it means to be humble.

We have been given a job to do as Christians, as well. To tell others about the amazing work of God done in our lives, in order to bring people back into relationship with God? That is what we have been trying to do on these Thursdays in the lead up to Christmas. God may have given you a specific job to do. How are you getting on with these things?

Are you like Mary who considered it a blessing and honour to be of service to God and other humans? Or are you like most people, just ignoring it, or not being so happy to do what you have been told to do? I am sure you would love this Church to be filled with people. If you do, then you will tell other people about the Jesus you serve. We looked at this recently from Romans 10 together.

Jesus coming into the world was so that He would be the Saviour of the whole world. His life, death and resurrection would establish salvation for all who would believe and receive it, regardless of their race, colour, creed, culture, or social status. Jesus came so that people can turn to being friends with God. This Jesus is somebody whom I depend upon and personally know to be totally reliable in every way. When people let me down, turn away from me, discourage me, think wrongly off me, incorrectly assume my motives, this Jesus always picks me up, never turns me away and always encourages and embraces me. All through each day, I know that Jesus has been dependable, going ahead of me! Amazing!

God stepped into human history in the person of Jesus Christ so that triumphant victory over evil and death could be achieved. That Jesus is both God and human is what makes Christianity unique. It is why Jesus’ claims to be the only way to God are true and it is why millions of people today worship Him and acknowledge Him as their God.

If you are not a Christian, the opportunity for you to do so is still here. At Christmas time, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Jesus, the God-man who entered human history, conquered sin, suffering and death. Jesus Christ who grew into adulthood, who died a horrific and painful death and was raised to new life again by God. When you allow Jesus to be your Saviour and rely on Him for the salvation that you need, you become spiritually alive. Until then, you are spiritually dead. But you can have spiritual life.

Come and follow this personal and personable God who knows what suffering is about. What are you waiting for? Again, I ask, who do you say this Jesus is? You have a choice to make. Deny Jesus now and he will deny you. Accept Jesus now and he will accept you. It is not too late. Today can be the day of your salvation and new life.

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Christmas 2019 19. Wise Men on a Journey

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
Matthew 2:1-18

We are now going to think about the Magi, or wise men as they are popularly known. Travelling is what these men were doing, and probably for quite a long time. Why? For it seems they originated in what we now call Iran but used to be called Persia. The Magi were sort of priestly group - not kings, as is usually supposed in traditional Christmas presentations. They were men who studied the night skies for signs of what was going to happen. We would label them astrologers today, but they were more than that. They were aware of ancient writings and promises that had been made long before they were born, and looked to see where and when they would be fulfilled. Those who visited Jesus had seen a clear sign that an ancient promise was shortly coming to pass.


There is a verse in the Old Testament, Numbers 24:17 which reads, ‘A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel.’ No wonder, then, that they burst into Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, with the question, ‘Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We’ve seen his star. . we’ve come to worship him.’

With a bit of help from the Jewish scholars, the star took them to Bethlehem, where they found the young child with his mother. They brought gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. These three gifts may have suggested that there were just three of them in the party, but Matthew gives us no data on that. Gold; frankincense and myrrh. Gold, a gift fit for a king. Incense, a gift appropriate for a priest; still used today in some churches. Myrrh, a gift suggesting sacrifice and death, for it was an embalming spice. What other insights did they have, we wonder, as they travelled and talked among themselves.

Matthew understood that they were significant to the story of Jesus birth, not just because they came, but because they were part of God’s strategy for Jesus. Those gifts were valuable, extremely so, and their value would have provided the means for the Holy Family to escape into Egypt and remain there for as long as it was necessary. This thought is strengthened by the fact that it was the Magi’s visit that provoked Herod’s wrath and his vicious massacre of the young boys of Bethlehem.

There is something unexplained and mysterious about this visit of the Magi but, whatever else may be true, it makes the point for us that Jesus coming into the world was not only to save his people – that is the Jewish people – from their sins. Far from it; he was coming to be the Saviour of the world. His life, death and resurrection would establish salvation for all who would believe and receive it, regardless of race, colour, creed, culture, or social status.

In emphasising the nature of the gifts they brought, we may overlook that, first of all, ‘they bowed down and worshipped him.’ They realised to some extent, that he was more than just another earthly king; that, somehow, he was destined to be of wider and greater significance than that. The apostle John was later to write of him as ‘The Word of God’ and penned the words, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’ Perhaps these Magi were Wise Men after all, in that they partly understood what we’ve come to call incarnation – God on earth as a real human being!

A question for you to think about. ‘What gift could you bring to the Lord Jesus this Christmas that would express your love for him?’

Let’s finish by thinking about the stable scene in Bethlehem. Mary looking at Jesus with a mother’s love for her firstborn child, and with deep thoughts about how different their lives would be from here on. Joseph, still with Gabriel’s words ringing in his ears, already slipping into the role of being father to God’s Son. The shepherds, alive with excitement and looking with wonder at the little baby whose future was to be so big. The Magi, kneeling before the one they know is destined to be more than a king, worshipping him in a manner that befitted their religion and understanding. It’s good for us to join them all around the manger, giving thanks and praise to God for the gift of his only Son.

The Lord bless you today, and then as you move into the new year. Whatever it holds for you, if you’ve stood in the stable today, you will know that God will be with you and nothing is impossible with him.

We began our journey with that promise. We’ve seen how it happened for these characters. The question we now have to face and work through is,

‘Will it be true for me?’

There’s only one way to find out - trust him; he’s as good as his word.

That is all for today! Come back tomorrow to see more in our Christmas series 2019, looking at Jesus Christ, the promised one of God.

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Christmas 2019 18. Shepherds, first on the Scene

 

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2:8-20

Having previously discussed Mary and Joseph, this time we’ll have a look at the shepherds, who apparently were the first people to see the new-born Son of God, the one we now describe as ‘Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ,’,

Shepherds were not sophisticated middle-class people. They were down-to-earth, rugged, hard working men, who tended and took care of flocks of sheep, mostly belonging to rich people. Some of them had a special role in looking after the flocks that produced lambs for the Temple sacrifices at Jerusalem. It’s known that these were pastured on the fields surrounding Bethlehem, because of it was close to Jerusalem. With that in mind, consider the fact that Jesus was to become ‘The lamb of who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29) Isn’t that remarkable? But there’s something else, too. Jerusalem was King David’s city but Bethlehem was his home town. That’s why Joseph had to travel to register there, ‘because he belonged to the house and line of David.’ (verse 4) With these ideas in mind it’s good to reread verses 8-11 again. It all comes together into what we can only think of as God’s superb plan for introducing His Son to the world..

These shepherds may have been ordinary people, representing the rank and file of humankind, but they were very privileged people too. That night out in the fields, unexpectedly, the curtain between heaven and earth was drawn back sufficiently for God’s messengers to be seen and heard. ‘An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.’ Then a little later we read, ‘Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel.’ The message they brought was ‘Good news of great joy to all the people’ – the Saviour had been born in Bethlehem. It was made pretty clear to them that they were to bear witness to this tremendous event by visiting the Baby, then passing on the good news to others. What does all this say to us, as we approach Christmas by crossing Shepherds Fields?

First of all, that Jesus is for all people. Good news of his birth was entrusted to what a poet has called ‘a few farm workers!’ News of his resurrection was entrusted to a woman with a dubious history, Mary Magdalene. Jesus is for everyone, whatever their social rank or moral background. He’s the Saviour – he specialises in forgiving the past and creating a new future for all who put their faith in him.

Then, they did what was required of them. They went off immediately to find the Baby and confirm what the angel had said. They were eager to do what God wanted from them, which is a mark of true faith. Mind you, if we’d been among them, I think the excitement of heaven breaking through in the encounter with the angels and in the birth of God’s Son, would have sent us hurrying down to Bethlehem as well.

Then, they told everyone what had happened. They witnessed to others about their experience and the message they’d heard. Another mark of genuine faith is that we become so thrilled with what’s happened to us, that we simply overflow. We tell everyone about it. That’s what happened with Jesus’ disciples about thirty three years after this. They just couldn’t stop telling everyone the good news that Jesus was risen from the dead.

Finally, the shepherds glorified and praised God for all the things they’d seen and heard.
They did not draw attention to themselves. They did not entertain a ‘special status’ mentality because God had chosen them for this important role in the nativity. It’s a mark of true spirituality that all glory goes to God for the experiences he grants us.

We sign off with another question for you to consider. Verse 19 reads, ‘Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ The question is simply, ‘Will I give some time this Christmas, to pondering its significance for me?’

That is all for today! Come back tomorrow to see more in our Christmas series 2019, looking at Jesus Christ, the promised one of God.

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