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CHRISTMAS: THE BIRTHDAY OF THE FIRSTBORN

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“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers [and sisters].” (Romans 8:29)

Over the years, I have unfolded and heard other people unfold the Christmas story in many ways. The stable and manger, the angels and shepherds, the Persian magi and the working-class Jewish couple, the many prophecies fulfilled: for us as for Mary, there is so much to treasure and ponder in our hearts. (Luke 2:19)

However, I have never before now felt so led to focus on the awesome scriptural revelation that Jesus was the “firstborn”.

Luke reminds us that Jesus was Mary’s firstborn son. This is an important reinforcement of the essential truth that Mary was still a virgin. (Luke 1:26-38; Isaiah 7:14) She had not yet had other children and she had not yet known a man sexually. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Liberal Christian theologians discount this biblical revelation because it is supernatural, contrary to science, and in their opinion, unnecessary to the story. As to the supernatural element, I will for the sake of space urge all of you to read the terrific new book by Lee Strobel, “The Case for Miracles”. As to the issue of necessity, I urge you to remember that the Lamb of God, like the Old Testament lamb of Passover, had to be unblemished. (Exodus 12:5; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:17-19)

Biblical theologians call it the doctrine of atonement. If you don’t believe it, you don’t really understand Jesus. It is best summarized in scripture at Romans 5 and Hebrews 9. All mankind since Adam and Eve have sinned. Sin separates us from God, the source of life, and therefore leads to death. God loves us and wants to save us, but just as sin could not be ignored or allowed to remain in the Garden of Eden, sin cannot be ignored or allowed into heaven. (Genesis 3:22-24; Revelation 21:4, 8) Sin must be dealt with and paid for by someone without sin, and no man born of man qualified. But “God so loved the world ….”

John 3:16 leads us to the equally important revelation that Jesus was not just His mother’s firstborn. He was also His Father’s firstborn. The collaborating testimonies of Colossians 1:15-20 and John 1:1-18 reveal that in the beginning, long before the baby Jesus laid in the manger, He was with God, and He was God, and the firstborn of creation through whom all things were created.

There is great mystery here. Is the Son of God “begotten” when God speaks the Word that brings creation into existence? Do we say God is love because the Father, Son and Spirit have loved each other even before the beginning of creation? For now, we know many things only in part. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

But we do know from these scriptures that all things were created through the Father’s firstborn, and that when creation was broken, the Father’s firstborn was sent into creation to reconcile all things back to God and “make all things new”. (Revelation 21:5; Philippians 2:5-11)

This leads us to our third important revelation. After the birth of Jesus as her firstborn, Mary bore several other children, both sons and daughters. (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3) And the reason the heavenly Father sent Christ to earth as His firstborn was so the Father could have more children to be brothers and sisters of Jesus for all eternity! (John 1:12, 3:3-8; Romans 8:29)

Please pause in amazement with me to see how the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb correlates to the way in which followers of Jesus are born of God. Gabriel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”. (Luke 1:35) Jesus later told His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” (Acts 1:8)
Just as Jesus arrived on Christmas as both God and man, something totally new to creation, so we also truly become “new creations”. (2 Corinthians 5:17) We are still works in progress but already born again as God’s children because God now lives in us! (John 14:23, 17:22-23) This is not religion. This is reality.

When you look in the manger this year, I invite you to first see the baby Jesus: the firstborn. But then look deeper and see yourself. See your loved ones. See all of those who are not yet in the manger, and then go lovingly share the truth of Christmas with them.

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

WE MUST WORSHIP IN BOTH SPIRIT AND TRUTH

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“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

The writings of John: his Gospel, his three Letters and the Revelation, were the last books of the New Testament to be written. Most theologians think they were written at least fifteen to twenty years after the letters of Paul, Acts and the other three gospels.

John’s Gospel also contains more unique stories than any of the other three gospels. In fact, the other three gospels are often called the Synoptic Gospels because so many stories are repeated among them. “Synoptic” in this context means, “taking the same view”.

Matthew is written by a former tax collector, once alienated from his Jewish people, and targets a Jewish audience with the core declaration that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.
Luke is written by a Gentile physician discipled by Paul, and targets a Gentile audience with the core declaration that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world.

Mark, the first gospel written, is Mark’s recording of Peter’s preaching, setting forth the deeds of the Son of God. Almost all of Mark is repeated in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and was clearly read by them before their gospels were written.

I lay this foundation as to New Testament chronology to undergird my belief that John read the other books of the New Testament before he wrote his contributions to scripture. He also had, prior to his writings, the opportunity to live the vast majority of his long adult life as a man filled, led and continually taught by the Holy Spirit.

The other three gospel writers focused on who Jesus was, what He taught about righteous living, and what happened when He died on the Cross and rose from the dead.

John could now, under God’s inspiration, complete the scriptural understanding we need to live the life on earth Jesus purchased for us. John’s core declaration is, in my opinion, this: the true worshippers of God will be His born-again children who worship Him in both Spirit and truth.

Let’s look briefly at four very important words.

The first word is “worship”. Worship is reverent adoration, praise, thanksgiving, humble submission and service. Worship is the Great Commandment: to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.

John reveals that the people who truly love Jesus are those who learn and obey His commandments. (John 14:15, 21-23; 1 John 5:3) Love and serve one another not just with talk but in deed and truth like Jesus did. (John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:18) You are sent to do the will of Jesus just like He was sent to do His Father’s will. (John 5:30, 20:21)

The second word is “truth”. All of scripture declares that God’s Word is true. John reveals that Jesus is the Word and the Truth. (John 1:1-3, 14, and 14:6) Jesus reveals who the Father really is, and also reveals who we are designed to be and how we are designed to live – walking in the same way He walked and doing the works He did. (John 10:27, 12:26, 14:12; 1 John 2:6)
When we do this, we know the Truth and the Truth sets us free. (John 8:31-32)

The third word is “Spirit”. We become the Father’s children by receiving the Holy Spirit. (John 3:3-8). The Spirit is the living water that can flow in and through us to bring life to us and others. (John 4:10-14, 6:63, 7:38)

Jesus imparts wisdom, truth and power to us through the Holy Spirit. (John 16:13-15) Without the Spirit, we accomplish nothing of lasting value. (John 15:1-8) And the Spirit is how Jesus lives in us and we live in Him. (John 15:1-8) We are invited to the same intimacy with Jesus that He has with the Father. (John 17)

The fourth word is “and”. Just as it is not enough to worship in professed belief or church attendance if you do not worship in obedience and service, so it is not enough to worship in truth if you do not worship in Spirit. And it is not enough to worship in Spirit if you do not worship in truth.

The churches in Pergamum and Thyatira accepted false teachings and tolerated sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:12-29) Christians today must embrace biblical truth and depart from the lies of humanism, pluralism, relativism, materialism and sexual hedonism.

The churches in Ephesus and Sardis lost the love and life provided by intimacy with Christ through the Holy Spirit. (Revelation 2:1-7, 3:1-6) Christians today must depart from cessationism and modernism. Seek the manifest presence and power of God.

Perhaps most tragically, the lukewarm church in Laodicea thought they were fine just the way they were. (Revelation 3:14-19) But their compromise and contentment did not come close to the true worship being sought by the Lord.

My friends, it is a dark hour, and Jesus is standing at our doors knocking. It is time to truly worship Him in both Spirit and Truth.

God bless you, and God bless our community.