At this time of year people begin to prepare for the holiday known as Christmas. This highly commercialized season of the year means different things to different people, ranging from raucous drunkenness and immorality to pious celebration of the birth of the Savior of man. In fulfillment of prophecy Christ was born during the reign of the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1-2). The place of birth was in the Judean city of Bethlehem to the virgin Mary (Luke 2:3-4). Because there were no accommodations for Joseph and Mary in the inn, the King of kings and Lord of lords was born in a stable and laid in a feeding trough for animals (Luke 2:5-7). Most of the known world now celebrates his birth marking deity’s entrance into the world. Over a period of time, however, there has been introduced some aspects of the story of his birth that are fictional; material that is based on human tradition rather than based upon divine revelation. In the space allotted we will seek to distinguish between fact and fiction.
Consider some biblical facts about the birth of Christ. First, we learn that Christ was, indeed, born of a virgin. Mary’s betrothed husband, Joseph, was told by an angel of God that she was found with child of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-25). This was a miraculous conception since she had not had sexual relations with any man at the time (Matthew 1:18, 25). Joseph later became her husband and the father of other children whom she bore (Mark 6:3). Second, Jesus was born in a stable (Luke 2:7). The normal place where travelers might find lodging was not available to Joseph and Mary at the time. They were content to find repose in one of the stalls reserved for the animals. At his birth, Jesus was laid in a manger (feeding trough) and wrapped in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:7). Third, wise men from the east worshipped him after his birth (Matthew 2:1-12). The Bible does not specify from which country they came.
Various fictional stories have been associated with Jesus’ birth. Because three different gifts are mentioned at the time of their visit (Matthew 2:11), some have concluded that it was three wise men who came to worship Jesus. The Bible does not say how many there were. Furthermore, typical manger scenes today depict the wise men coming to the stable where Jesus was born. However, the Bible says they came to the house where he was living at the time with his parents (Matthew 2:11) Sufficient time had passed from the time of Christ’s birth to the wise men’s visit that Joseph and Mary had taken up residency in a house. Another fictional matter associated with Christ’s birth is its celebration on December 25. No one really knows when he was born, but likely it was not in December. It was warm enough for shepherd to be in the field at night caring for their flock (Luke 2:8). Additionally, there is no indication in Scripture that God wants men to remember any one day in honor of Christ’s birth. Only the first day of each week is set aside by the Lord for special religious significance (Acts 20:7) and that was for the purpose of commemorating his death.
We conclude that the fact of Christ’s birth is important, but the time of it is not. Christians should not be bound by religious custom established by man. However, we are at liberty to observe national holidays or secular seasons (Romans 14:1-10). While we appreciate Christmas as a holiday, we realize it is not a holy day established by God for man to observe as a religious festival.
Two men went to the temple court to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector (Lk. 18:9-14). The Pharisee would be viewed as a pillar within the community, an ardent patriot, and a respected citizen of the highest character. On the other hand, the tax collector would be viewed as a traitor to his fellow Jews and the off scouring of his community. However, it was he who was justified rather than the Pharisee. Why was the Pharisee lost? Why did God not accept him?
He was lost because he trusted in his good character to save him. His prayer was an essay in self-congratulation. He first congratulated himself on his virtues of omission – that he was not a robber, an evildoer, an adulterer, or even as the tax collector. Having listed his abstentions from wrong, the Pharisee next informed heaven of his virtues of commission – he fasted twice a week and gave tithes of everything he gained. Measured by other men, he towered above them. It had not occurred to him to measure himself by the sky. A mountain shames a molehill until both are humbled by the stars. The Pharisee’s virtue was so cankered by pride that it was almost rotten. Good character is an important part of the Christian life, but it is not the basis of justification before God (Isa. 64:6).
He was lost because he trusted in the performance of religious observances to save him. The Pharisee fasted twice a week though the only obligatory fast was on the annual observance of the Day of Atonement. It was believed that Moses ascended Mt. Sinai on Monday to receive the Ten Commandments and descended on Thursday; thus, many Pharisees set these two days aside as days of fasting. In like manner, many people today trust in religious observances to justify themselves before a holy God. To many, it matters little that the observances may only be mere inventions of men. The only thing that matters to them is that the activity has a religious emphasis. Like Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10) they fail to see the importance of doing what God says in the way He says it is to be done. In the case of others, they are careful to observe only that which is authorized by God. However, they do not possess the right attitude or disposition of mind in their observance (cf. 1 Cor. 11:27-31; John 4:24). Both are wrong. Merely engaging in the observation of certain religious acts does not justify a person before God (cf. Amos 5:21-24). We must be careful to only engage in religious activities authorized by God and to do so with the proper motivation.
He was lost because he trusted in his good deeds to save him. Good works are absolutely essential to a vital faith (Jas. 2:26). It is one thing to do them, but quite another to depend upon them as the basis of our justification (Eph. 2:8-9). The mercy of God as demonstrated in the gift of His Son is the foundation of our salvation (Tit. 3:5).
All that can be said about the Pharisee’s goodness is that it was negative. Even his fasting and tithing were negative things because they consisted in giving up certain things. That is the reverse of true goodness. Sadly, the religious life of many people consists entirely of prohibitions. Such results in a negative life and is only half the story.
The subject of baptism is the focus of much discussion in religious circles. Some religious groups advocate that a sinner is saved by God’s grace through faith without the action of baptism being involved. Others affirm that baptism is essential to one’s being saved from sin. As with any religious subject, man would be wise to consult God’s word without preconceived notions in order to resolve the debate. The apostle Paul wrote by inspiration of God that there is only one baptism (Ephesians 4:4). What does that “one baptism” entail? Who should be the recipient of it? For what purpose should it be administered? Is it a requirement of salvation from sin?
The Bible answers the question, “Who should be baptized?” It is imperative that a person hear the gospel of Christ in order to attain faith in Him as the Son of God (Romans 10:17). Proper instruction is essential to the development of faith (Acts 18:8; Matthew 28:19). Faith is required in order to please God (Hebrews 11:6; John 8:24). Repentance, or a change of mind that results in a change of life, precedes acceptable baptism (Acts 2:38). A confession of faith in Jesus as God’s Son is necessary before baptism is to be administered (Acts 8:36-38). These requirements of hearing, believing, repenting, and confessing negate the practice of administering infant baptism. The spiritual state of infants is such that baptism is unnecessary for them (Matthew 19:14). Furthermore, they cannot meet the requirements.
The Bible also addresses the question, “How should baptism be administered?” Some religious orders practice the sprinkling or pouring of water over the candidate. However, the Bible describes baptism as a burial in water (Romans 6:1-4; Colossians 2:12). That action is pictured in the baptism of the eunuch who went down into and came up out of the water (Acts 8:38).
Why should a person be baptized? Again, the Bible does not leave us guessing. No doubt, one should be baptized because it is commanded (Acts 10:48). Obedience to divine commands is essential (Hebrews 5:9). Jesus taught its necessity (Mark 16:16) and the apostles preached it (Acts 2:38; 18:8). Baptism is an act of faith (Colossians 2:12); not a work of merit. By obedience to this command one gains entry into the Lord’s church (Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 12:13). It is the culminating action by which the sinner finds reconciliation with his Creator (Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21) and enables him to put on Christ (Galatians 3:27).
A frequently asked question is, “When should a person be baptized?” The fact that salvation is linked to the action suggests the urgency and immediacy of it. Folks in biblical times, upon proper understanding of the need, never ate a bite or slept a wink until they obeyed the Lord by being baptized. One should not procrastinate but obey immediately and be “immersed for the remission of sins.” If we can assist you in being baptized, or if you would like further Bible study, please feel free to contact us.
Forty days after His resurrection from the grave Jesus ascended to heaven to occupy His heavenly throne at the Father’s right hand. We are apt to neglect this aspect of the Lord’s life because much attention is given to His birth, temptation, baptism, transfiguration, miracles, and death. Yet, these events in Christ’s life would lose their significance without the fact of His ascension. There are several reasons why the Lord’s ascension was necessary.
It was necessary because Christ’s earthly mission was completed. He came to do the Father’s will which involved dying upon Calvary’s cross for man’s sins (Jn. 1:29). The last words He uttered were, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). Having accomplished the work for which He was sent (Jn. 17:4), Jesus ascended and “sat down on the right had of the majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3).
It was necessary in order that Jesus might take up His priestly office. “Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all…” (Heb. 8:4). Since He has ascended, Christ stands now in the presence of God fulfilling His priestly function of interceding in our behalf (Heb. 7:25).
It was necessary in order that Christ might prepare our heavenly home. He told His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them (Jn. 14:2) At His ascension, the Bridegroom went to prepare a place for His bride, the church. Where Christ our Forerunner has gone, His people may and will also go.
It was necessary before He could send the Holy Spirit. John the Baptizer promised that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:1). This promise, however, could not be fulfilled until Jesus ascended (Jn. 16:7). Ten days after the disciples saw Jesus ascend into heaven (Acts 1:9), the apostles were miraculously empowered being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). The events of that day recorded in Acts 2 marked the beginning of the Lord’s church and the redemption of man through a crucified, risen, and ascended Savior (Acts 2:29-36).
It was necessary that we might have a pledge of Christ’s sure and certain return. Jesus said, “If I go…I come again” (Jn. 14:3; cf. Acts 1:9-11). He has gone --- and we can be quite certain that He will come again!
In the great resurrection chapter of the Bible, Paul plainly declares the gospel to be the fact that Jesus “died for our sins…was buried, and…rose again… according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). As great and deeply significant as was Christ’s death, had he not risen from the tomb his death would have been meaningless. The resurrection of Jesus was, of course, unique. Others had died and were raised to life again, but only to die again. Jesus was raised never to experience death again (Rev. 1:18). Consider the following clear evidences that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
There is the testimony of Jesus himself. Jesus declared that on the third day after his death he would rise up (cf. Mt. 16:21). If Jesus did not rise from the dead then he would be declared an imposter, a deceiver, and a liar. On the other hand, if he did rise from the dead then his claim to be divine is valid.
There is the historic account in the four Gospels. No one has successfully discredited the accuracy of these records! In them are four independent accounts of the resurrection written without collaboration on the part of the writers, and these accounts manifest a wonderful harmony.
There is the significance of the empty tomb. There is no indication in the inspired record or in secular history that anyone questioned the fact that the tomb was empty. How did it become empty? The disciples could not have stolen the body without a conflict with the Roman soldiers who were charged to make it secure (Mt. 27:62-66). If the Roman soldiers took the body away, they would have risked their own lives (Mt. 28:11-15). The Jewish authorities wanted the tomb to remain closed and Jesus’ body to remain in it past the third day in order to discredit Jesus before his own disciples. So, they would not have removed his body. The only logical answer is that Jesus rose from the dead just as he said he would and the empty tomb is evidence of that fact.
Thomas Arnold correctly stated, “The resurrection is the best attested fact in history.” What a day of victory!
It has been frequently said that this year’s election is one of the most critical in U.S. history. That may be accurate; I don’t know. Of course, I wasn’t alive during earlier years in our history, so I am not familiar with the political climate or many of the issues facing our young nation. In fact, I had not paid much attention to politics until my college years in the early sixties. I remember Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower as leaders of our nation, but don’t know from personal knowledge the issues that were considered critical during their presidencies. The first president to whom I paid much attention was John F. Kennedy. Since then I have tried to have at least a working knowledge of national and local issues and the people running for office so that I can be an informed voter.
During the past fifty years I have basically been conservative in my views and have voted accordingly. I have not always agreed with every stance of the person running for office or the one for whom I voted, but I have evaluated their economic, military, and foreign policy views, as well as other considerations before making a decision. I have tried to cast my vote for the person whom I feel would do the country, state, or local community the most good. I have not confined my voting to one political party, but have placed more emphasis on the person rather than the party. The people for whom I have voted have not always been on the winning ticket, but that is the nature and beauty of our political system in which every legally registered voter has the opportunity of voicing his opinion at the ballot box. Sometimes I have been disappointed in the person elected and at other times have been pleasantly pleased.
Over the years, as I have matured both in age and as a Christian, the basis on which I have evaluated political candidates has changed, however. At one time, I paid more attention to their economic, military, and tax policies, etc. than anything else. I don’t mean to diminish these considerations as being unimportant. They are important. I think all of us are interested in the employment rate, economic growth, military supremacy, and entrepreneurship continuing in a positive direction in America. They have a profound impact on world peace, national security, and a general sense of optimism. We live in a nation that has been greatly blessed because these causes have been emphasized by our leaders. For that I am profoundly grateful.
The concerns I have just mentioned, however, are not the reasons for our national greatness. America’s greatness is not found in her economic might, her military strength, or her scientific achievements. I have come to realize more convincingly that the foundation for any nation’s greatness is based on her respect for God and the moral standards set forth in the Bible. God’s word declares, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). For that reason I have tried, in the past several years, to pay closer attention to a candidate’s moral convictions and the tenor of his life. What are his views about same sex marriage, homosexuality, abortion, and the sanctity of marriage as presented in the Bible? Is he or she an honest person or do they practice deception and self-justification? Do they respect civil law or circumvent it? Do they pay their taxes or do they look for questionable loopholes? Are they able to exercise self-control over their tempers and sexual urges? Are they “legal thieves” as they rob the general public in order to “line their own pockets”? By their example, are they able to lead us as a nation in the direction of righteous conduct? A nation will deteriorate from within and eventually fall, if respect for God and his moral standards are not maintained. The noted historian, Edward Gibbon once stated that 19 of the 22 civilizations that have arisen collapsed when they reached the moral state that America is in now. That is what concerns me. It seems to me that the voting public would be wise to examine the moral principles that guide the various candidates before entering the ballot box during this election year. It was once observed, “America is great because America is good. When she ceases to be good she will cease to be great.” It takes leaders who are good people to establish and maintain goodness in a nation. Give that some serious thought as you enter the voting booth this year.
The most precious of all themes to every Bible-loving and saved person is the death of Jesus Christ. We may not be able to comprehend fully all that is connected with Christ’s death, but we can rejoice in the blessings which are ours by virtue of it. A study of the Bible reveals that Christ’s death was unique and deeply significant. With that in mind, let us consider these thoughts pertaining to His death.
It was predetermined in eternity. This is in stark contrast to the position of dispensationalists who advocate that Jesus’ death was a complete surprise to the Father. Luke records that Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Israelites did with Jesus what the hand and counsel of God “foreordained to come to pass” (Acts 4:26-28). Christ’s death was “foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:19-20).
It was predicted in the Old Testament. Many references could be given; significant among them would be Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 53. All that was written in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms concerning Jesus’ suffering and resurrection were fulfilled (Lk. 24:44-46; Acts 10:43).
It was prominent in the Gospels. All that was recorded in the four gospel accounts was pointing to this pivotal event (read Mt. 27:45-50; Mk. 15:33-41; Lk. 23:44-49; Jn. 19:30-37).
It was predominant in the epistles. The writers kept Jesus’ death in the forefront of every discussion. While His death might be a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others, it was a demonstration of God’s power and wisdom to every saved person (1 Cor. 1:23-24).
It was the principle theme in heaven. Angels meditated upon its wonder and mystery (1 Pet. 1:12). The major theme of discussion with Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration was Christ’s death (Lk. 9:30-31). In a vision John heard the redeemed of the ages singing a glorious refrain concerning Jesus’ death (Rev. 5). Jesus died – precious truth divine – He died for me!
You don’t hear too much about the Lord’s transfigure-tion. That may be due to the feeling that there is nothing practical about the event. Interestingly, the transfiguration marked a significant division in the Lord’s ministry. Previous to it His ministry was popular and public; afterward, it became basically private until He reached Jerusalem and died on the cross. What can be learned from the Mount of Transfiguration? Let’s join Peter, James, and John in Matthew 17:1-9. What do we see?
First, we see that Jesus Christ is the pre-eminent one! Impetuous Peter suggested making three tabernacles in honor of Christ as well as Moses and Elijah who appeared on the mount with the Lord. Immediately, a cloud overshadowed them and the voice of the Father said, “This is my beloved Son…hear ye him.” When the disciples lifted their eyes they “…saw no one, save Jesus only.” Jesus stands alone; no one supersedes Him. Before Him every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess (Phil. 2:9-11). In all things He has the pre-eminence (Col. 1:18).
Second, we see that the sacrifices of the Mosaic economy and the hopes kindled by the prophets all found their fulfillment in Jesus. What did Moses and Elijah discuss with Jesus on the mount? It was Calvary (Lk. 9:30-31). All the sacrifices under the Jewish system and all the utterances of the prophetic ministries pointed forward to Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of man. Is the death of Jesus a major topic of our conversation?
Third, we see that after a mountaintop experience there often follows the valley of disappointment. After the exhilarating experience on the mount, they met a mocking, jeering crowd in the valley below (Mt. 17:14-21). There is a boy writhing in the grasp of torment. We see a father whose heart was once filled with great expectancy that is now filled with hopelessness. In the midst of that scene Jesus quieted the crowd and said, “Bring him to me.” When others have tried and failed, there is Jesus. In life Monday always follows Sunday. The height is always next to the depth. Jesus can place us on the level plain of steadfastness so that we do not have to remain in the valley of despair.
Barthe DeClements has written an interesting book, “Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade.” The fifth graders who read the book identify with and understand the message.
It can seem like things are unfair in the fifth grade. The teachers, the homework assignments, the coaches, and the way your friends treat you – it can be very unfair.
What’s worse is that it can happen again in the 6th grade …… I think you see where I’m going.
So, things are not always fair. That’s an old problem, but don’t think you have any “rights” on that one.
How can we respond to the unfair? Do something about it, if you can! But, if you can’t do something about it, two options are left. Either respond with hostility and bitterness, or respond with peace and joy.
You may not be in control of the circumstances, but you are in control of your response.
Probably no job requires more tact, wisdom, understanding and love than the responsibility of raising children properly. There are many ingredients that combine to make for a successful effort in child rearing; one of which is the administration of proper discipline. The goal of parental discipline should be the eventual capability of self-discipline by the time a child reaches adulthood. Perhaps it is in the area of discipline that many parents feel they have failed their children the most. The subject provokes more discussion and the greatest differences of opinion among parents than just about anything else regarding parenting. It is a subject that can create guilt problems for parents who have already raised their children. It can also create frustration for parents who are in the process of raising theirs. One thing for certain, you will not find all the answers to raising children by reading a book --- unless it is THE BOOK! Permit me to share some principles of discipline that are found in the Bible.
Discipline is a proof of parental love. “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24). Dr. James Dobson wisely wrote parents should “…identify the rules well in advance; let there be no doubt about what is and is not acceptable behavior. When the child cold-bloodedly chooses to challenge those known boundaries in a haughty manner, give him good reason to regret it. At all times demonstrate love and affection and kindness and understanding. Discipline and love are not antithetical; one is a function of the other” (Dare To Discipline, pg. 29).
Don’t wait until it is too late before you decide to exercise discipline. “Discipline your son while there is hope” (Proverbs 19:18). Some parents wait until the child has already established a rebellious spirit before deciding that discipline needs to be implemented. By then “the twig is bent” and it is extremely difficult, though not impossible, to change the child.
Proper discipline will not hurt a child. “Although you beat him with the rod, he will not die” (Proverbs 23:13). This passage is not recommending brutal beatings; neither is it suggesting that physical punishment is the only method of child training. However, parents need to understand that crying is not a barometer of pain. In like manner, neither are tears an indication of successful discipline.
Discipline is not a mechanism for releasing parental anger. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart” (Colossians 3:21). What exasperates children most is not discipline, but unjust accusations, unfair punishment, nagging, sarcasm, or short-fused anger. Parents would do well to exercise good judgment and self-control in the administration of discipline.