The 100th Anniversary of a “Christmas in the Trenches”

ThidGasMaskSomething remarkable happened in December 1914. On a battlefield in France — the “Western Front” of World War I — the armies of Great Britain and France were facing the army of Germany. They had been killing one another for weeks. And yet, one night, as Christmas approached, compassion held sway.

The German soldiers began singing in their trench. To the French and British soldiers across No Man’s Land the words were indistinguishable, but the tune was unmistakeable — Stille Nacht. Silent Night!

The British joined them. Then the French. A unified hymn was raised to the Lord God in three languages.

Then, one by one, the soldiers came out — unarmed.

German soldiers helped French soldiers carry their wounded back to their lines. The English and the French helped the Germans bury and honor their dead. Then, rather than return to their lines and aim their guns again, the soldiers shared chocolate and cigarettes with one another. They played a game of soccer which the Germans won handily. And only after the game did they reveal that several of the players on their side had been teammates back home in Munich on a little club known as Bayern. They shared stories of home. Showed one another photos of their wives, their children. They met one another for the first time, not as nameless, faceless uniforms they’d been ordered to kill, but as people.

This story has been commemorated in a movie entitled Joyeux Noel, and in a song by John McCutcheon entitled, “Christmas in the Trenches”…

There is an interesting aspect to this story — the chain of command from the respective armies had issued standing orders against this sort of thing. It was a court marshal offense. You see, a soldier who “fraternizes with the enemy” who offers “aid and comfort” might discover what these men discovered — your enemies are people, too. The soldiers on all sides were disobeying direct orders, risking courts marshal and even being shot, in order to show compassion to fellow human beings.

Now, let’s take this a step further…

All of these men came from cultural backgrounds that claimed to be Christian. Now, I know not everyone who claims to be Christian is actually Christian (Scripture makes this abundantly clear) but, for the sake of argument, we will assume these men at least had a basic knowledge of Scripture and some measure of respect for it’s teachings — if only because it was their cultural background.

What they did in their direct disobedience to their respective chains of command was exhibit obedience to the very words of Christ, Himself…

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:34-35

Jesus commanded believers to love one another. In fact, it would be a sign that they really are His disciples. Their commanding officers, in effect, had ordered them to kill their brothers in Christ. On this night, they decided to obey Christ, instead.

Now, before you send me e-mails directing me to Romans chapter 13 and arguing that God has told us to obey those in authority over us allow me to point out this…

These soldiers called a truce during a time of year when we commemorate the birth of Christ. Consider the biblical account of this…

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. — Luke 2:8-11

Who was born?

Christ the what?

The LORD.

HE IS LORD! His commands come first. He is Lord over everything, even the laws of men and their institutions. I recommend you read Lord of the Law (particularly Part 4, Higher Law) for a better understanding of this concept.

He commanded we show love one for another. Who does the Bible say we should obey — God or men?

Now, you may object and say, “Okay, fine. These three armies came from Christian cultures. Maybe they ought not to have been fighting. But what about armies from non-Christian cultures? To fight such an army would not be killing a brother in Christ, is that okay?”

Let me answer with an account from Scripture…

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” — Luke 10:25-29

This lawyer is offering a similar objection. Christ answers him with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point being to show love to everyone — even those our culture tells us we should despise.

Never forget: the Kingdom of God is comprised of the elect from every tribe and language. Look forward to that day…

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” — Revelation 5:1-10

The word here translated as “nation” is the Greek word ethnos. It is where we get our word “ethnic.” The Kingdom of God is comprised of people from every ethnic group. So it really does not matter who our earthly kingdoms order us to kill. The army we would see through our gun sights is almost certainly populated with God’s elect.

Maybe that is why Jesus and the leaders of earthly kingdoms have such radically different views concerning our conduct toward enemies. Earthly Kings insist on criminalizing “fraternizing with the enemy” or providing them with “aid and comfort.” Yet Jesus said…

You have heard it said, “You shall love your Neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies…” — Matthew 5:43-44

It’s hard to love someone without fraternizing, aiding and comforting them.

I wonder which point of view Christians ought to adopt.

The “Perfect” Christmas Gift (a repost)

Note: This was originally posted on December 10, 2012

ThidRabbiThe Old Testament Law set an impossibly high standard. There is no aspect of life that is untouched by God’s Law, keeping it would be a monumental task. Then Jesus came…

… and made it more difficult.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes the impossibly high standard even more impossible (if that’s even possible). The Law forbid murder, yet Jesus said anyone who is even angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. The Law forbid adultery, yet Jesus said anyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his heart. The Law outlined righteous behavior, yet Jesus pointed out that to keep the Law out of obligation is to fail. True righteousness comes from within, and sinful man has only one nature — sinful.

You’d think Jesus would cut everyone some slack. Mankind was already having a tough enough time just trying to keep the letter of the law, but keeping the spirit of it, too? Come on! And yet, rather than cut any slack, Jesus insisted the standard was set.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:17-20

You need to understand that the scribes and Pharisees were basically full-time law keepers. It was pretty much their job. And Jesus is telling everyone that the standard for entering the kingdom of heaven is to do better than the scribes and Pharisees — a tall order, indeed.

Then, Jesus takes it up yet another notch…

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” — Matthew 5:48

The standard has officially reached the level of “absurd.” No one is perfect like God. And, if Jesus is correct when he says this is the standard for entering heaven (and he is), then the question becomes…

Who can ever enter heaven?

The answer is in Christmas.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” — Galatians 4:4-5

Notice Paul mentions that Christ was born “under the law.” This is crucial. You see, we all failed in keeping the law. We didn’t even come close to keeping the impossibly high standard God set before us. None of us rate entry into the kingdom of heaven. So why does it matter that Christ was born “under the law”?

So he could keep it. Notice again what Jesus said in Matthew 5…

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” — Matthew 5:17

He came to fulfill the law — to perfectly keep every, single aspect of it. He is perfect like the heavenly Father. He not only rates entry into the kingdom of heaven, he is the King.

So, why should we care? Well, remember how Jesus said “…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”? Guess what. Our righteousness CAN exceed theirs because Christ transfers HIS righteousness to our account. It’s called “imputed righteousness.”

When Jesus Christ was crucified he not only took upon himself the sins of his people, he also gave to them his righteousness. He bore God’s wrath for our transgressions against God’s law and gave to us his perfect fulfillment of the law. He stood before God as guilty so that we might stand before God justified.

“For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” — 2 Corinthians 5:21

Christ’s righteousness is the perfect Christmas gift.

The “War on Christmas”

There are a variety of news stories floating around highlighting what is considered to be the “war on Christmas.” You know, the stories that spark outrage over secular culture taking Christ out of Christmas. The initial reaction among many in the Christian community is to fight it out with the forces of secularism by getting in their face and wishing them a “Merry CHRISTmas” whether they like it or not.

But is this really the attitude Jesus would have us exhibit in His name?

Lee Shelton doesn’t think so. In fact, he makes a compelling case that getting “up in arms” over the use of the word “Christmas” is exactly the wrong reaction…

ss-121013-christmas-06

 

Prophecy and Providence

The world has always known political oppression — and God’s people have frequently lived under it. This is a fact of history that American Christians tend to forget because for more than 200 years Americans have enjoyed a certain level of liberty. And, when American Christians begin to experience a rise is political oppression, one of their very first reactions is to pray for the removal of said oppression because it is a clear violation of their rights.

Thid-CaesarBut, this reaction is more American than it is Christian.

World history goes back much farther than the 200-plus years America has been on the scene — much of it marked with God’s people living under oppression. And, if God is sovereign over all things (and He is), then this has happened with His full intent.

Consider the oppressive nature of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. He was concerned only with his own power. Yet, God allowed Caesar Augustus to reign over God’s own people NOT because Caesar Augustus was a worthy ruler, but because Caesar’s oppressive rule served God’s purposes. Caesar was nothing more than a tool in God’s hand — even when issuing decrees intended to benefit himself…

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. — Luke 2:1-5

It didn’t matter that a journey to Bethlehem would be quite uncomfortable for a pregnant woman and potentially dangerous for her unborn child. Caesar gave an order and it was to be followed. Such is the nature of tyrants. But Caesar was not really in charge here, was he?

The child Mary carried was the long-awaited Messiah — Jesus. And, if prophecy was going to be fulfilled (and there was never a doubt that it would), then Jesus was going to be born in Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. — Micah 5:2

God made sure Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem prior to the birth of our Lord and He used Caesar to do it…

The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. — Proverbs 21:1

This should be a great comfort to believers everywhere. God’s purposes are accomplished and His timing is perfect. As Christians, if we find ourselves living under the oppression of an evil government, we need to remember that it is only because our King has allowed it to happen. But, you may still wonder, “what about our rights that are violated by wicked men?” The apostle Paul reminds us of our proper place…

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. — 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

If God ordains that we live under the oppression of wicked men then let us trust in Him who “works all things according to the counsel of His will.” Let us trust that He is accomplishing His purposes and conforming us to the likeness of His Son. Let us pray as Jesus taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.” And, if we can’t see the hand of providence unfolding in our own circumstances, let us look to the evidences God has provided in the past. Remember, Caesar thought he was in charge — but his reign ended thousands of years ago.

Our King is still on His throne.

Why did his name have to be “Jesus”?

Did you ever wonder why Jesus Christ’s name had to be “Jesus”?

Alex Stewart provides the answer.

Matthew1-21

Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

There is a trend among some Christians to dismiss Christmas — some even treat Christmas with contempt. This is done for a variety of reasons:

  • December 25 was chosen by the Roman Catholic Church to coincide with a pagan festival.
  • We don’t really know the date of Jesus’ birth, so it is impossible to celebrate it on the actual date.
  • The Christmas tree has its origin in a pagan festival.
  • The Holiday is a celebration of materialism and commercialism.
  • There is no biblical imperative to celebrate or commemorate Christ’s birth.

I get that.

However — if you will allow me to mix a cliché and a pun — let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. More than 100 years ago Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the prince of preachers himself, was well aware of the list of objections cited above. Yet, he did not shy away from celebrating the birth of Christ at this time of year. Why not? I’ll let him speak for himself…

We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas… because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority.

Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Savior’s birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred. … It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not till very long after the Western church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it. … Probably the fact is that the “holy” days were arranged to fit in with the heathen festivals. We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Savior was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December.

Nevertheless since, the current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction.

Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for today. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of His dear Son. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from his sermon delivered on December 24, 1871

Christ’s birth is a defining moment in history. The long-promised Messiah has come. The theological implications of this event are unfathomable. This is the fulfillment of numerous prophecies. The virgin birth tells us so much — it is how Jesus was both God and man. It is how He entered into this world uncorrupted by sin. It is the reason He was able to be the perfect sacrifice, the substitute who endured God’s wrath for us. His birth and his death are inseparable, for the Christ child was born to die. And, the fact that it is recorded is Scripture indicates it is something on which we should meditate.

Thid-ChristmasTreeIf the account of Christ’s birth has become corrupted by the efforts of sinful man then take the opportunity of this holiday to help un-corrupt it. Remember, Christmas isn’t the only thing man has ruined. Man has ruined everything. Our sinfulness is the reason the entire world groans under a curse. Left to ourselves we have no ability to fix it and we have no hope.

THIS is why Christ came. He is THE hero in the greatest narrative ever told. And, even though we don’t know exactly when He was born, His birth is worth celebrating every single day of the year…

…even on December 25.

Peace on Earth (a repost)

Note: This post originally ran on December 24, 2011.

Something remarkable happened in December 1914. On a battlefield in France — the “Western Front” of World War I — the armies of Great Britain and France were facing the army of Germany. They had been killing one another for weeks. And yet, one night, as Christmas approached, compassion held sway.

German soldiers helped French soldiers carry their wounded back to their lines. The English and the French helped the Germans bury and honor their dead. Then, rather than return to their lines and aim their guns again, the soldiers shared chocolate and cigarettes with one another. They shared stories of home. Showed one another photos of their wives, their children. They met one another for the first time, not as nameless, faceless uniforms they’d been ordered to kill, but as people.

You can read the entire account of this World War I Christmas truce here. It has been commemorated in a movie entitled Joyeux Noel. It is a remarkable story.

There is an interesting aspect to this story — the chain of command from the respective armies had issued standing orders against this sort of thing. It was a court marshal offense. You see, if a soldier “fraternizes with the enemy” he might discover what these men discovered — your enemies are people, too. The soldiers on all sides were disobeying direct orders, risking courts marshal and even being shot, in order to show compassion to fellow human beings.

Now, let’s take this a step further…

All of these men came from cultural backgrounds that claimed to be Christian. Now, I know not everyone who claims to be Christian is actually Christian (Scripture makes this abundantly clear) but, for the sake of argument, we will assume these men at least had a basic knowledge of Scripture and some measure of respect for it’s teachings — if only because it was their cultural background.

What they did in their direct disobedience to their respective chains of command was exhibit obedience to the very words of Christ, Himself…

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:34-35

Jesus commanded believers to love one another. In fact, it would be a sign that they really are His disciples. Their commanding officers, in effect, had ordered them to kill their brothers in Christ. On this night, they decided to obey Christ, instead.

Now, before you send me e-mails directing me to Romans chapter 13 and arguing that God has told us to obey those in authority over us allow me to point out this…

These soldiers called a truce during a time of year when we commemorate the birth of Christ. Consider the biblical account of this…

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. — Luke 2:8-11

Who was born?

Christ the what?

The LORD.

HE IS LORD! His commands come first. He is Lord over everything, even the laws of men and their institutions. I recommend you read Lord of the Law (particularly Part 4, Higher Law) for a better understanding of this concept.

He commanded we show love one for another. Who does the Bible say we should obey — God or men?

Now, you may object and say, “Okay, fine. These three armies came from Christian cultures. Maybe they ought not to have been fighting. But what about armies from non-Christian cultures? To fight such an army would not be killing a brother in Christ, is that okay?”

Let me answer with an account from Scripture…

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” — Luke 10:25-29

This lawyer is offering a similar objection. Christ answers him with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point being to show love to everyone — even those our culture tells us we should despise.

Never forget: the Kingdom of God is comprised of the elect from every tribe and language. Look forward to that day…

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” — Revelation 5:1-10

The word here translated as “nation” is the Greek word ethnos. It is where we get our word “ethnic.” The Kingdom of God is comprised of people from every ethnic group. So it really does not matter who our earthly kingdoms order us to kill. The army we would see through our gun sights is almost certainly populated with God’s elect.

The announcement of Christ’s birth concludes this way…

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” — Luke 2:13-14

Those “with whom he is pleased” refers to God’s elect — those he will bring to faith in Christ. The apostle Paul said he “endures all things” for their sake.

Do we?

The “Perfect” Christmas Gift

ThidRabbiThe Old Testament Law set an impossibly high standard. There is no aspect of life that is untouched by God’s Law, keeping it would be a monumental task. Then Jesus came…

… and made it more difficult.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes the impossibly high standard even more impossible (if that’s even possible). The Law forbid murder, yet Jesus said anyone who is even angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. The Law forbid adultery, yet Jesus said anyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his heart. The Law outlined righteous behavior, yet Jesus pointed out that to keep the Law out of obligation is to fail. True righteousness comes from within, and sinful man has only one nature — sinful.

You’d think Jesus would cut everyone some slack. Mankind was already having a tough enough time just trying to keep the letter of the law, but keeping the spirit of it, too? Come on! And yet, rather than cut any slack, Jesus insisted the standard was set.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:17-20

You need to understand that the scribes and Pharisees were basically full-time law keepers. It was pretty much their job. And Jesus is telling everyone that the standard for entering the kingdom of heaven is to do better than the scribes and Pharisees — a tall order, indeed.

Then, Jesus takes it up yet another notch…

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” — Matthew 5:48

The standard has officially reached the level of “absurd.” No one is perfect like God. And, if Jesus is correct when he says this is the standard for entering heaven (and he is), then the question becomes…

Who can ever enter heaven?

The answer is in Christmas.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” — Galatians 4:4-5

Notice Paul mentions that Christ was born “under the law.” This is crucial. You see, we all failed in keeping the law. We didn’t even come close to keeping the impossibly high standard God set before us. None of us rate entry into the kingdom of heaven. So why does it matter that Christ was born “under the law”?

So he could keep it. Notice again what Jesus said in Matthew 5…

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” — Matthew 5:17

He came to fulfill the law — to perfectly keep every, single aspect of it. He is perfect like the heavenly Father. He not only rates entry into the kingdom of heaven, he is the King.

So, why should we care? Well, remember how Jesus said “…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”? Guess what. Our righteousness CAN exceed theirs because Christ transfers HIS righteousness to our account. It’s called “imputed righteousness.”

When Jesus Christ was crucified he not only took upon himself the sins of his people, he also gave to them his righteousness. He bore God’s wrath for our transgressions against God’s law and gave to us his perfect fulfillment of the law. He stood before God as guilty so that we might stand before God justified.

“For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” — 2 Corinthians 5:21

Christ’s righteousness is the perfect Christmas gift.

Peace on Earth

Something remarkable happened in December 1914. On a battlefield in France — the “Western Front” of World War I — the armies of Great Britain and France were facing the army of Germany. They had been killing one another for weeks. And yet, one night, as Christmas approached, compassion held sway.

German soldiers helped French soldiers carry their wounded back to their lines. The English and the French helped the Germans bury and honor their dead. Then, rather than return to their lines and aim their guns again, the soldiers shared chocolate and cigarettes with one another. They shared stories of home. Showed one another photos of their wives, their children. They met one another for the first time, not as nameless, faceless uniforms they’d been ordered to kill, but as people.

You can read the entire account of this World War I Christmas truce here. It has been commemorated in a movie entitled Joyeux Noel. It is a remarkable story.

There is an interesting aspect to this story — the chain of command from the respective armies had issued standing orders against this sort of thing. It was a court marshal offense. You see, if a soldier “fraternizes with the enemy” he might discover what these men discovered — your enemies are people, too. The soldiers on all sides were disobeying direct orders, risking courts marshal and even being shot, in order to show compassion to fellow human beings.

Now, let’s take this a step further…

All of these men came from cultural backgrounds that claimed to be Christian. Now, I know not everyone who claims to be Christian is actually Christian (Scripture makes this abundantly clear) but, for the sake of argument, we will assume these men at least had a basic knowledge of Scripture and some measure of respect for it’s teachings — if only because it was their cultural background.

What they did in their direct disobedience to their respective chains of command was exhibit obedience to the very words of Christ, Himself…

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:34-35

Jesus commanded believers to love one another. In fact, it would be a sign that they really are His disciples. Their commanding officers, in effect, had ordered them to kill their brothers in Christ. On this night, they decided to obey Christ, instead.

Now, before you send me e-mails directing me to Romans chapter 13 and arguing that God has told us to obey those in authority over us allow me to point out this…

These soldiers called a truce during a time of year when we commemorate the birth of Christ. Consider the biblical account of this…

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. — Luke 2:8-11

Who was born?

Christ the what?

The LORD.

HE IS LORD! His commands come first. He is Lord over everything, even the laws of men and their institutions. I recommend you read Lord of the Law (particularly Part 4, Higher Law) for a better understanding of this concept.

He commanded we show love one for another. Who does the Bible say we should obey — God or men?

Now, you may object and say, “Okay, fine. These three armies came from Christian cultures. Maybe they ought not to have been fighting. But what about armies from non-Christian cultures? To fight such an army would not be killing a brother in Christ, is that okay?”

Let me answer with an account from Scripture…

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” — Luke 10:25-29

This lawyer is offering a similar objection. Christ answers him with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point being to show love to everyone — even those our culture tells us we should despise.

Never forget: the Kingdom of God is comprised of the elect from every tribe and language. Look forward to that day…

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” — Revelation 5:1-10

The word here translated as “nation” is the Greek word ethnos. It is where we get our word “ethnic.” The Kingdom of God is comprised of people from every ethnic group. So it really does not matter who our earthly kingdoms order us to kill. The army we would see through our gun sights is almost certainly populated with God’s elect.

The announcement of Christ’s birth concludes this way…

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” — Luke 2:13-14

Those “with whom he is pleased” refers to God’s elect — those he will bring to faith in Christ. The apostle Paul said he “endures all things” for their sake.

Do we?

Could Mary have said “no?”

bibleThere are two things you can almost always count on during Christmas time. Well, there are actually more than two things you can count on during this time of year — but for my purposes today we will look at two of them…

First, there will be any number of sappy, tug-at-the-heartstrings proclaimed “real meanings of Christmas.”

  • “The real meaning of Christmas,” some say, “is the joy of giving.”
  • “The real meaning of Christmas,” others contend, “is being with family.”
  • “The real meaning of Christmas is love, or hope, or…”  you get the idea.

And second, you may get to hear a gratuitous reading of either the birth narrative of Jesus or of the angel telling Mary she is going to have a son — or both.

I’d like to take a look at the passage in Luke where Mary is first made aware she is to give birth to the very Son of God. But I hope your reading of it here is anything but gratuitous. I want to consider a question after the passage. Read carefully…

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. — Luke 1:26-38

birthofbabyjesusfigurinesetDid you read carefully? Good. Here’s the question: Could Mary have said “no” to the angel?

The Church in America is so captive to an Arminian mindset that many people automatically answer: “Mary had a free will just like anyone, of course she could have said no.”

But consider the implications of that. Just where does that kind of thinking lead? Consider the following statements taken from theological websites where the writers believe Mary could have said no.

Example 1:

“The Bible clearly shows us that man was given free will. Eve had free will to say “no” to God and cause the fall. Mary was free to say “no” to Gabriel. She was given free will. So [we] believe that Mary’s role at the annunciation was special, not shared by any other human in the history of the world. If she said “no,” none of us know what would have happened. Perhaps God would have worked out salvation history another way. Perhaps it was God’s last chance for us, we just don’t know. But when we think about the immensity of Eve’s “no” we get a pretty good idea. Mary’s “yes” was huge.”

This writer makes a couple of statements that absolutely boggle the mind — they fly right into the face of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. The first is “Perhaps God would have worked out salvation history another way.” The second is “Perhaps it was God’s last chance for us.” The Bible clearly contradicts this pathetic view of God.

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” — Job 42:2

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” — Psalm 115: 3

It’s amazing to me that anyone professing to be a Christian has such a limited view of God. God does not make contingencies. He has no plan B. But if you research the topic for very long you will find it is an attitude that has quite a bit of support.

Example 2:

“I firmly believe that Mary freely consented to her divine inpregnation, but recognize that this question poses difficulties similar to the entire question of predestination itself. Did God really put the fate of our entire race into the hands of a single woman, who was truly free to veto His divine scheme for our salvation? Yes — just as traditional Christianity teaches that the entire race was doomed to perdition because of the free choice of a single woman. Eve was herself beguiled by Satan and, in turn, beguiled her husband. What Eve did in freely rejecting God’s grace, Mary undid by freely consenting to it.”

Again, if Mary “was truly free to veto [God’s] divine scheme for our salvation” as this writer suggests then the Bible is clearly in error where it says things like…

“My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” — Isaiah 46:10

and…

“God, “…works all things according to the counsel of his will.” — Ephesians 1:11

Apart from these clear contradictions there are other problems with making this comparison between Eve and Mary. I mean, it sounds good, sure. But Scripture cautions us against leaning on our own understanding. We must decide if we are going to believe things that seem right to us, or if we are going to believe the Bible — because sometimes the two are at odds. Personally, I like to go with Scripture. And Scripture makes no comparison between Eve and Mary as the instruments of the fall and of redemption. The Bible makes that comparison between Adam and Christ.

“Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” — 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

appleA comparison between Eve and Mary does not work because Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. They did not have a sinful nature until after the fall. Mary, like every other person born of man, had a sinful nature. She could no more stand as a representative for the human race than any one of us.

Some of you may say, “Fine. The comparison between Eve and Mary does not work, but that does not mean Mary didn’t have a free will and the ability to say ‘no’.”

Remember, I cautioned you to read the passage in Luke carefully. Let’s take a closer look at it. Do you see any place where the angel seeks Mary’s consent?

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” — Luke 1:31-33

Note, the angel does not say all of these things will come to pass if you agree. He says these things will happen, period.

Many people object, saying, “Isn’t this a violation of Mary’s free will? Isn’t free will the one thing God can’t mess with?”

I respond with another question: Doesn’t God have every right to use people as He sees fit? Furthermore, has he not already done so on other occasions?

Yes, He does and yes, He has.

Occasion 1: God used Pharaoh without Pharaoh’s consent.

Time after time Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and Scripture declares God specifically hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Himself.

“But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.” — Exodus 9:12

God goes on to point out why He did this:

“But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” — Exodus 9:16

The apostle Paul quotes this passage in his letter to the Romans when discussing election:

“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” — Romans 9:17-18

Occasion 2: God called Paul to ministry without asking for his consent.

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” — Acts 9:10-16

God tells Ananias that Saul is a chosen instrument and that Paul must suffer for God’s name. There is no question. There is no request for consent. Saul is going to become the Apostle Paul.

One thing most Christians can agree on is that Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s plan. His birth, life, death, and resurrection are the central events upon which all of history hangs. All of the Old Testament points to the coming of Christ. All of the New Testament points back to it. He is central. He is key.

Now, consider for a moment the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus. He is…

  • From the seed of a woman
  • Born of a virgin
  • Son of God
  • Seed of Abraham
  • From the tribe of Judah
  • Son of Isaac
  • From the House of David
  • Born at Bethlehem

And on and on and on…

In both His earthly parents Jesus’ linage is from the House of David. The genealogy in Luke traces back through Mary. It shows the actual, physical lineage of Jesus to the House of David. His humanity comes from there. The genealogy in Matthew follows Joseph’s line. And, even though Jesus is not the physical son of Joseph, Jewish law held that the adopted son of a man was the legal son and legal heir and entitled to the lineage of the father as his own. This shows Jesus’ legal claim to the throne of David.

nativitiyAll of the prophesies of the Old Testament converge perfectly through Mary and Joseph at the person of Jesus Christ.

The Bible even says that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. So, before the world was even created the death of God’s own son was a done deal.

Now, do you really think that Mary had in her the power to thwart God’s perfect plan of redemption — a plan whose completion was already set before the foundation of the world — by the power of her free will?

So, does this mean Mary was forced into something contrary to her will? No. her response to the angel, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” clearly indicates her willingness to be used by God. But how did she come to be so willing? Giving birth to the Christ child was not an easy thing.

There is a key in the passage from Luke.

“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” — Luke 1:30

The phrase translated here “found favor” is literally “grace.” In the Greek it is charis. What this means is that Mary was the recipient of God’s grace. She was perfectly willing to do what God required of her because God had already given her the grace necessary to make her so. She chose the path she wanted, and that path was completely consistent with the path God wanted because God had conformed her desires to his own.

Likewise, Paul did exactly what he wanted. Can you think of anyone in Scripture with a more fierce desire to share the gospel than Paul? But his desire was made consistent with God’s desire through God’s application of grace on Paul.

Pharaoh did exactly what Pharaoh wanted to do. And it was exactly what God wanted him to do. It was through the removal of His grace that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. We all have a sinful, selfish nature. Pharaoh was no exception. God merely allowed Pharaoh to be Pharaoh.

We all choose exactly what we want. But God is sovereign. Even over our desires.

Mary certainly had the free will to choose whatever she wanted. But God made sure she wanted what He wanted.

Could Mary have said “no?”

No.

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