Shout praises to the Lord! Everyone who serves him, come and praise his name.
Let the name of the Lord be praised now and forever. From dawn until sunset the name of the Lord deserves to be praised. The Lord is far above all of the nations; he is more glorious than the heavens.
No one can compare with the Lord our God. His throne is high above, and he looks down to see the heavens and the earth. God lifts the poor and needy from dust and ashes, and he lets them take part in ruling his people. When a wife has no children, he blesses her with some, and she is happy. Shout praises to the Lord! (Contemporary English Version)
It is appropriate, as we approach the Nativity of our Lord in just a few days, that we acknowledge and celebrate Christ’s incarnation by using today’s psalm.
Believers everywhere serve a God who is attentive to humanity. Although high and transcendent above all creation, the Lord carefully observes the plight of people. And God determines to do something about it. God breaks into the human experience by becoming human.
In the New Testament, the Apostle John frames this movement from heaven to earth in this way:
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14, The Message)
This grand descending to earth plumbed the very depths and despair of humanity.
In the largest cities of the world, like Mexico City, Mexico and Manilla, Philippines, there are huge garbage dumps that cover several square miles. On top of these heaps of waste there live hundreds of families who have made this their home.
Each day they send their kids out to forage for scraps so they can have something to eat and survive. Few others tread where these families are. Yet, there are Christian believers who make the journey and try to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to such a place.
As incredible and sad a situation that this is, it doesn’t compare to the journey from heaven to earth that Jesus made. God became flesh, Christ descended to earth and came to the sin-soaked dump of this world – to us who were living on a heap of garbage – and entered our lives to save us from our wretched and pitiable condition.
God’s generosity in sending the Son was a gracious and cataclysmic entry to this earth on our behalf. It’s as if Jesus moved into the garbage dump and was born on the heap of waste so that God might be present with us.
Jesus did not just appear to be human, but actually became like us and lived with all the same things we face from day to day. He “tabernacled” with us, using the imagery of God’s presence with the ancient Israelites. God is with us!
Jesus interacted with the families in the dump. God was coming to save the people. he way to reach people, who are so concerned for scurrying about their business and trying to survive apart from God, is through the incarnation – both through testifying to what God has done in Christ, and through being sent, we ourselves, as little incarnations of entering into people’s lives.
We are like the moon, not producing light ourselves, but in the middle of darkness, reflecting the light of the sun so that the earth may know that Jesus is coming.
The mystery of the incarnation is that Jesus became human and lived among us.
May we believe.
May we know there is a Deliverer.
May we rejoice and be glad in this reality, and may it move us to be used of God to save those on the sin heap of this world.
May the poor and needy be lifted up.
May you have a blessed Christmas and enjoy peace with God and others in this next year.
O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
God’s Son comes from heaven and is above all others. Everyone who comes from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all others. He speaks about what he has seen and heard, and yet no one believes him. But everyone who does believe him has shown that God is truthful. The Son was sent to speak God’s message, and he has been given the full power of God’s Spirit.
The Father loves the Son and has given him everything. Everyone who has faith in the Son has eternal life. But no one who rejects him will ever share in that life, and God will be angry with them forever. (Contemporary English Version)
When Jesus ascended to heaven, he left instructions to his disciples to pray and to witness (Acts 1:1-11). Jesus asks of us what he himself does or has already done. The life and ministry of Christ on this earth was marked continually with prayer and bearing witness. Just as Jesus bore witness to what he saw and heard as the Divine Word, so his followers are to do likewise. The evidence and the veracity of Christ’s witness is the giving of God’s Spirit – the One whom confirms this testimony to us.
I, personally, have found Jesus to be precisely whom he claims to be. I have come to accept his testimony as gracious, truthful, and life-giving. I have wholeheartedly embraced the New Testament Gospel accounts of his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. This belief came neither quickly nor easily for me – it resulted from an honest straightforward reading of the Bible, along with the gracious wooing of the Holy Spirit.
It really isn’t my job to convince you of Jesus Christ’s authenticity and trustworthiness. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it is my task to bear witness of the things I have seen and heard concerning Jesus.
My life has been thoroughly turned upside-down because of Jesus. With Jesus, I have been invited into the life of God. By the wounds of Jesus, I have experienced healing of damaged emotions and recovery from spiritual hurts inflicted by others. Through union with Christ, I have grace and forgiveness of things I have done and left undone. With Brother Jesus as my friend and companion, I enjoy loving attention and am never dismissed by him.
For those who have not read the Gospel accounts and refuse Christ, then, for honesty’s sake, please have the integrity to give Jesus a hearing before you dismiss him with a slight of hand. It is one thing to genuinely no little about Jesus, and it is quite another thing to ignore him when you have knowledge about how to discover him.
For those of us who have read the New Testament Gospels and accept the testimony of Jesus, we come back again and again to his life-giving words and seek continually to follow him in his way of mercy, purity, and peace. We bear witness to how Jesus has changed our lives and offers a life worth living.
Everyone with faith in Jesus has a life-giving connection with God. Those who don’t, don’t. If you disagree with this, then contend with Jesus himself. Give him a hearing. Watch him in action. Observe how he deals with people. See if he lives up to his words. Then, bear witness to what you have seen and heard.
Christian faith is a complete trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Because God has been revealed as faithful through steadfast love, the Lord gifts people with faith to know the Divine.
Faith, a noun, is closely accompanied by it’s verb, believe. Together, as identical twin sisters, they let us know that both knowledge and action are needed. We need information in knowing what step to take, and an active commitment to actually take that step.
Others’ faith in Jesus led to a man’s healing of both body and soul:
And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2, ESV)
The size of faith is irrelevant; even a smidge of Jesus has incredible power:
“I [Jesus] assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will go. There will be nothing that you can’t do.” (Matthew 17:20, CEV)
Human weakness and inability is no problem because of faith in Christ:
A person acts upon knowledge of Jesus with total trust in Christ’s finished work of deliverance from all which is evil:
It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God — “Jesus is my Master”— embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” (Romans 10:9-12, MSG)
Faith is not an event; it is continual trust in the person and work of Christ for practical living and compassionate serving:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is 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. (Galatians 2:19b-20, NRSV)
Outward rituals only have their proper place as they help inform belief in order to engage in loving actions:
For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6, NAB)
You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Ephesians 2:8-10, CEB)
Understanding and experience go together like a hand in a glove:
I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. (Philemon 5-6, NLT)
Absolute certainty isn’t in the realm of Christian spirituality – there’s always more information one could obtain. Faith discerns, intuits, and knows God is there, and orders it’s steps accordingly with faithful activity:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NRSV)
My brothers and sisters, if people say they have faith, but do nothing, their faith is worth nothing. Can faith like that save them?… Just as a person’s body that does not have a spirit is dead, so faith that does nothing is dead! (James 2:14, 26, NCV)
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, I pray to you, the God and Father of all:
For empowerment by the Spirit, that I may be a faithful witness
For those who wait on You, that they may find renewal
For all people, that they may acknowledge the kingdom of the ascended Christ
For all who are struggling with broken relationships
I commend myself and all for whom I pray, to Your mercy and protection through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (New International Version)
Jesus is the central figure of the Bible. I could preach on the finished work of Christ every Sunday and never exhaust the immensely rich implications of his death for us.
Maybe today’s verses seem like a re-hashing of things we already know. Yet, it is important to keep plumbing the depths of Christ’s once for all sacrifice because it is through continually examining Jesus that we will experientially know our forgiveness is real. Having this reality sink deep into our souls enables us to extend forgiveness to others.
The original recipients of Hebrews were experiencing spiritual fatigue due to their difficult circumstances. The believers were so tired from swimming upstream that they considered quitting and giving up on Christianity (or at least the Church).
The author of Hebrews truly believed that the way to combat this tiredness was through a robust understanding of Christ. So, he sought to demonstrate that Jesus is superior to the old sacrificial system and has even superseded it.
There are three main distinctions between the old sacrificial system and the new way of Christ. They are meant to encourage us so that we will know our forgiveness is real. This awareness will help us persevere and live for Jesus in all we say and do, until he returns.
First Distinction: Reality versus a Simulated Copy
The Old Testament sacrificial system, and its worship rituals in dealing with the sin issue, were only a copy and a shadow of the real sacrifice, which is Christ. The Temple sacrifices, in other words, were merely a facsimile of the real thing.
When my girls were small, they always enjoyed going to our local large grocery store. At that store they had a row of mechanical horses that only cost a penny to ride for one minute. Riding the horses was always the highlight of shopping for them. Their Aunt once came for a visit and brought a coffee can full of pennies and took them to the grocery store just to ride the horses for an afternoon.
All three of my girls are now grown adult women. They do not ride mechanical horses anymore. They now ride real live horses. My daughters, as excited as they were to ride mechanical horses as small girls, now have no desire to do so because those horses were only a simulation of the real thing.
As Christians, since Christ has come as the true and real sacrifice for sin, we are no longer to be content with simulations and copies of the real deal. And we are to know the difference between them. Our forgiveness is neither a simulation nor a copy because Christ is the real thing.
As my girls were growing up, my wife and I had a certain process we went through with them when they did something wrong toward one another. We would talk about the offense, and then they would need to say the words, “I am sorry.”
However, the matter was never over until they hugged each other and told each other they loved the other. If they could do that, it was the real deal. You see, they could mouth the words to get us off their backs, but to hug and express love was the reality.
Jesus did not just mouth words of forgiveness to us. He secured it through his death on a cross. It is not a cheap imitation kind of forgiveness. It is real. Christ died a violent death. The emphasis in Scripture on blood and sacrifice can be upsetting for many people.
Yet, we need to understand that the brokenness of this world is so bad that it requires drastic action. Christ’s death reflects the horrible sin of humanity. Since Jesus has secured forgiveness for us at such a steep price, we are to receive it with great humility and joy that God loves us that much.
Second Distinction: Once versus Endless Repetition
Jesus Christ came to deal with the sin issue once for all through his blood. He came to do away with sin, not just veneer over it. The old sacrificial system was like whitewashing a barn – it took care of the issue for a while, but it would need to be done over and over again.
We are familiar with temporary arrangements. For example, annual fees need to be paid and renewal stickers have to be put on a car’s license plate every year. Christ’s atonement, however, is no temporary arrangement. The forgiveness Jesus offers is permanent.
There is no need to keep offering sacrifices over and over because Christ is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. The forgiveness we possess is not like paying an annual fee and getting a forgiveness sticker for the year. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven! And this forgiveness was purchased with Christ’s own blood.
Author Henri Nouwen once told a story of a family he knew in Paraguay. The father, a doctor, spoke out against the military regime there and its human rights abuses. Local police took their revenge on him by arresting his teenage son and torturing him to death. Enraged townsfolk wanted to turn the boy’s funeral into a huge protest march, but the doctor chose another means of protest.
At the funeral, the father displayed his son’s body as he had found it in the jail—naked, scarred from electric shocks and cigarette burns, and beatings. All the villagers filed past the corpse, which lay not in a coffin but on the blood-soaked mattress from the prison. It was the strongest protest imaginable, for it put injustice on grotesque display.
The cross that held Christ’s naked and marred body exposed the violence and injustice of this world. The cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness, and a God of sacrificial love. Because Jesus was willing to do this on our behalf, we have forgiveness once and for all through his blood.
This world needs forgiveness – not a cheap sentimental forgiving but a real forgiveness that lasts forever.
Third Distinction: Salvation versus Judgment
A lot of religious energy can be spent trying to figure out how to make ourselves acceptable to God. Part of the good news is that, in Christ, we do not need to fear the future. We have been made right with God through the death of Jesus. Through Christ’s sacrifice the doors to heaven and earth get flung wide open. The way has been secured, the trail has been blazed, and the road has been made smooth to come to God.
Jesus, unlike any Levitical priest, has entered God’s presence, providing access to the living God. Christ did not need to offer sacrifice for his own sins but offered himself solely on our behalf. Jesus did more than offer the sacrifice; he himself became the sacrifice. It was a sacrifice to bring deliverance to humanity, not judgment.
Either to justify or to judge is God’s business, not ours. Our concern is to believe in the once for all sacrifice of Jesus that brings a permanent forgiveness; and, to share that life-giving message with others so that they, too, can experience deliverance from sin, death, and hell.
We can have such a hard time forgiving others because we struggle with experiencing our own forgiveness. The path to extending grace to others is in deepening our knowledge, understanding, and awareness of God’s grace in Christ.
The author of Hebrews meant for the Christian life to be an exciting and abundant adventure following Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation. And yet, many Christians do not know anything about this kind of life. They only see the Christian life as a duty and a chore, a kind of cross to bear.
It is important we recognize it is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the object of our faith, who has delivered us so that we can live a new life of freedom enjoying our forgiveness and inviting others on the journey.
There was once an immigrant that booked passage on a ship with just enough money to buy a ticket, a block of cheese and some crackers for a long voyage. The first few days at sea the crackers and cheese tasted good, but eventually they became stale.
As he watched the porters carry large steaks, lobsters, chicken, beautiful salads and many other delicious foods to the other guests, he became so hungry that he finally stopped one of the porters. “I’II do anything to get one of those steaks,” he said. “I’II wash dishes, clean rooms, even mop the deck.” The porter replied, “You bought a ticket, didn’t you? The meals come with the ticket.”
Too many people today are cheese and cracker Christians—missing out on all of God’s steak dinners. All the resources of God are available to us, yet far too many of us live in self-imposed spiritual poverty.
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.(Colossians 1:13-14, NIV)
Jesus did not die on the cross and rise from the dead so that we could live ho-hum Christian lives. He has granted us forgiveness so that we will eagerly enjoy the Word of God; enjoy laboring together in the Gospel; and look forward to how the Spirit will transform lives through Christ’s forgiveness.
Real forgiveness opens our minds, hearts, and our energies to live for Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation.