Category Archives: Seasons – Christmas

Jesus the Spokesman

When the eastern sages asked Herod where Jesus was to be born his advisers looked to a prophet for the answer. Who better to turn to that one of God’s spokesmen? For the King of the Jews who was born was God’s Anointed King and over the centuries since God had first announced his coming, God’s spokesmen had foretold his life in great detail.

The prophets of ancient Israel did not merely foretell the future, they spoke God’s words. Open any of their books and see “thus says the Lord” on every page (e.g. Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13). Sometimes they said “hear the word of the Lord” (e.g. Amos 3:1) or concluded “declares the Lord” (e.g. Amos 2:11, 16). Israel’s prophets were God’s messengers with God’s message. They did not speak for themselves, but for God. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1).

Little did Herod’s religious advisers realise that the promised Anointed King would be God’s greatest spokesman. “But in these last days,” Hebrews continues, “he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:2) Until the birth of Jesus, the greatest Israelite prophet had been Moses. He spoke for God, giving the people of Israel God’s Law. In fact, he spoke face to face with God (Exodus 33:11). No other prophet was so privileged.

In one of his farewell addresses to Israel Moses had predicted the coming of a prophet, greater even than himself (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). Now at Bethlehem that prophet had come. And true to his calling, when he began his public ministry thirty years later Jesus spoke for God, but not as the former prophets. He went beyond “thus says the Lord”. Time and again he prefaced his message with the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you” (e.g. John 3:5; 5:19, 24, 25).

The religious leaders heard blasphemy in those words. And so they should have, but that he was no mortal prophet. He was the very Word of God in the flesh (John 1:14). He alone could say such words without blaspheming. The Messenger was the Message.

Christmas is a time to remember the birth of Jesus, God’s last word (Hebrews 1:2). He was born on earth, a real human being. Yet he was born from above by the intervention of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). In a famous encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above [or, again] he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus was the chief rabbi, but even he wasn’t good enough to see God, because God’s kingdom is not for good, religious people. It is only for those who have been born again from above. God’s Kingdom is not for those who merit by their outstanding character or deeds. It is for flawed people who recognize their unworthiness. So everyone needs that second birth because everyone is flawed by sin, and thus barred from heaven and cut off from God’s presence. Only a second birth from above can enable flawed people to enter the Kingdom of God.

Jesus the Spokesman was born that we might be born from above. As the apostle Peter reminds his Christian friends, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23) Jesus is the Word of God, the Messenger who is the Message. God has caused his children “to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

As I remember Jesus’ birth this Christmas I am compelled to consider my own birth. Have I been born again, from above? The Good News of Christmas is that you can be born into God’s family and enter God’s Kingdom because Jesus has been born, has died, and has risen again. Only through believing in Jesus and trusting in his sacrificial death can we enter God’s family and his kingdom. As Jesus himself said, “Whoever believes in [me] may have eternal life.” (John 3:15)


This was first posted at Gilnahirk Baptist Web site on 12 Dec 2010.

Jesus the Shepherd

To the shepherds of Bethlehem the angels announced a Saviour. But to the eastern sages the Scriptures announced a Shepherd. When they asked Herod where the king of the Jews was to be born, the priests and scribes told him Micah had said, “‘In Bethlehem of Judaea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” ’ ” (Matthew 2:5-6)

Such are the twists of the Christmas story. And as we shall see, Jesus the Shepherd will provide us with plenty more twists.

Micah’s prophecy that Herod’s clerics cited to their very unshepherd-like king and his visiting dignitaries reveals Jesus in a rich metaphor. The shepherd was a biblical description of a king. It did not emphasize the king’s majesty and authority, but his duties and responsibilities to his people, his flock.

Israel’s first great king was a shepherd in his youth, a true shepherd king. From David’s time on Israel’s kings and leaders were seen as shepherds of the people. Jesus the Shepherd was David’s direct descendent.

Just after the House of David lost political power in Judah to the invading Babylonians, the prophet Ezekiel berated the shepherd rulers of Israel for exploiting the human sheep for whom they had responsibility (Ezekiel 34). Instead of feeding the sheep, they had devoured them. Weak, sick, injured and lost sheep were abandoned instead of being strengthened, healed, bound up and rounded up.

God’s under-shepherds had failed. Now the Chief Shepherd, God himself, would have to step in and do the job properly. His plan was to have one shepherd, whom he called his servant David (Ezekiel 34:23-23). Herod’s visitors would soon come face to face with God’s new shepherd king, who could be relied on to care for God’s sheep as God would wish.

Matthew’s Christmas account takes another twist as he reveals the identity of God’s shepherd is not disclosed to Herod or his clerics, but to Gentiles, non-Jews! Thirty years later the Shepherd announced, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16) God’s Good Shepherd would not only be Israel’s Good Shepherd, but the Good Shepherd of all who would hear his voice, Jew and Gentile alike.

And as the Good Shepherd explained his mission there came a further twist in the story. The Good Shepherd would lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15, 17,18). Emaciated by neglect and exploitation of shepherd leaders who were more thieves and robbers, human sheep have a terminal condition that has only one cure. Jesus came as the Shepherd sent by God to announce and dispense that cure. Jesus “came that [we] may have life and have it abundantly.” He said, “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 10:10, 18).

Jesus’ death is our only means to life because the Shepherd became a sacrificial Lamb. Thirty years after he was announced as the Shepherd, John the Baptiser pointed him out to the crowds who heard him preach his fiery message, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Jesus died to cure our terminal condition, what the Bible calls sin. He died to give us life, abundant life, eternal life. His death paid the ransom to release us from the bondage of our sin that would ultimately squeeze the very life from our beings. As the prophet Ezekiel described it, “The soul [i.e. the person] who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). Jesus’ apostle Peter later described Jesus’ death like this: “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver of gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)

I cannot help but wonder if Peter’s mind went back as he wrote those words to the day his brother Andrew told him he had come face to face with the Lamb of God (John 1:35-42). Three years later Jesus died at the time of the Jewish Passover feast. At the first Passover a lamb had died in place of every Israelite firstborn son. Saved from death, he and his family were also ransomed from the cruel bondage of Egyptian slavery. Now the Passover had been re-enacted. This time it was life-size, even supersize. In Egypt one lamb had been sufficient for a family. Now one Lamb was sufficient for the whole world. And like the passover lamb, God’s Lamb was without blemish or spot.

Peter was not the only one to spot the connection with the Passover. His disciple colleague John did too. He’d been there with Andrew the day John the Baptiser pointed out the Lamb of God, as he recounts at the start of his Gospel (John 1:35-42). And in his account of Jesus’ crucifixion he indicates clearly that Jesus died as the Lamb of God. He tells us that when the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side instead of breaking his legs it was a fulfilment of the Scripture that said “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36). The Passover account said just that (Exodus 12:46, cf Numbers 9:12).

What the Passover did in picture format, Jesus did for real. His death paid the ransom required to release men and women from sin’s bondage. When he died “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Those who respond to Jesus’ voice as God’s Shepherd “were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of [their] souls” (1 Peter 2:25).

Christmas is not about shepherds and lambs, it is about God’s Shepherd and God’s Lamb. If we see only shepherds and lambs we’re in danger of not hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice, calling us to real and lasting life. That’s the real Christmas present, purchased at the cost of the life of the Lamb of God.


This was first posted at Gilnahirk Baptist Web site on 5 Dec 2010.

Jesus the Saviour

There is something about names. Some names strike fear and terror in the heart — the school bully, the abuser, the deadly foe, the arch business rival. Others command respect — the childhood teacher who invested time in us. While still others inspire affection and love — our spouse, or a favourite granny. Even in our modern, often impersonal world of numbers, names are powerful symbols, often invested with deep personal meaning.

As we enter the season of Advent, one name naturally comes to our attention — Jesus. It’s a name we hear daily, whether we’re a Christian or an unbeliever.

But what does the name Jesus mean to you? Many treat it with a casualness today, nothing more than an expletive, devoid of meaning or significance. Yet it is a name overflowing with meaning and significance. The most famous Jesus wasn’t the first to be called Jesus, nor the last. But he was given the name for very good reason.

Before his birth, Joseph, in whose family he grew up, was told what to call him and why. “He shall be called Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:18). So when John Newton wrote his hymn “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear” he began the fourth verse “Jesus! Our Saviour, Shepherd, Friend”.

There is no better starting place to get to grips with the name for Jesus and its significance. Whatever respect you may have for the name of Jesus, it is only a believer who has experienced Jesus’ saving work in their life who knows the sweetness of that name.

As we enter Advent and begin to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, we must face the unpalatable truth that the name of Jesus contains. It is sweet in a believer’s ear, but it brings all of us, believers and unbelievers alike, face to face with the dark underbelly of life. If Jesus is a Saviour, then we are in need of saving.

But from what? From our enemies? From ourselves? It is certainly true that we have an Enemy from whom we need saving. And often we are our own worst enemies, thinking and doing things of which we are deeply ashamed.

But Jesus came to save us from something more destructive — our sin. That principle ingrained in us from birth that rebels against God and everything he does and stands for. That principle that means each one of us will one day die, and if it is not dealt with in this life will be the thing that condemns us to eternal death.

That’s the reason Jesus was born: “to save his people from their sins.” Christmas without sin is absolutely meaningless. We might enjoy the tinsel and the trees, the turkey and mince pies, but if we don’t have sin and a Saviour we don’t have Christmas.

What the angel told Joseph, the angel choir announced to the Bethlehem shepherds. “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 Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)

The birth of a Saviour is good news only if we face up to the bad news — we are sinners before Almighty God. And it is only good news when we realize that we cannot deal with our sin to God’s satisfaction by ourselves. We are hopeless, helpless sinners.

But the good news that Christmas reminds us about is that God himself has become our Saviour. The Jesus who was born in Bethlehem was not simply the Son of Mary, he was “Christ the Lord”. Christ means the Anointed One, and is the title Jews gave (and still give) to their expected deliverer. The Bible proclaims him to be Jesus of Nazareth, the Saviour of the world.

The truly amazing thing about this Anointed Jesus is that the angels also called him “the Lord”. They do not simply mean he is our superior, to whom we owe allegiance. They mean that he is actually God himself, born in the flesh. The term “the Lord” is used throughout the first part of the Bible (the Old Testament) as the chief title of God. When the angel talked to Joseph before Jesus’ birth he told him exactly the same thing. Jesus was to have a second name — Immanuel, which is Hebrew for “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23).

The Good News of Christmas is that though we are helpless and hopeless sinners, guilty before a holy and perfectly just God, God himself has come to be our Saviour, to die for our sin. Jesus died the death we deserved for our sin, so that we might live.

The Good News of Christmas is that sinners on death row have been reprieved. They can live, and more. They can be part of God’s own family. As Jesus Christ’s beloved disciple, John, put it: “to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12, 13)

In fact, John wrote his Gospel account “so that you may believe that Jesus is The Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

Do you believe?

Will you believe?

To have a truly happy Christmas you must believe. Then and only then will Jesus’ name be the sweetest name in your ear.


How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
   In a believer's ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
   And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
   And calms the troubled breast;
'Tis manna to the hungry soul,
   And to the weary, rest.

Dear Name, the rock on which we build,
   Our shield and hiding-place,
Our never-failing treasury, filled
   With boundless stores of grace!

Jesus! our Saviour, Shepherd, Friend,
   Prophet and Priest and King,
Our Lord, our Life, our Way, our End,
   Accept the praise we bring.

Weak is the effort of our heart,
   And cold our warmest thought;
But when we see thee as thou art,
   We'll praise thee as we ought.

Till then we would thy love proclaim
   With every fleeting breath;
And triumph in that blessed Name
   Which quells the power of death. 

John Newton (1725-1807), 1779
Believer’s Hymn Book, No. 79


This was first posted at Gilnahirk Baptist Web site on 26 Oct 2010.

King of the Jews

During Sunday morning’s service Matthew 2 was read. I was struck by the strangeness of the phrase in verse 4 “the people’s chief priests and scribes”. Was this Matthew’s way of drawing our attention to the Gentile Herod? He may have been known as the King of the Jews, but he was no Jew himself. How unlike the King of the Jews who was born as his reign came to an end.

Herod was no Son of David, as Jesus was. Jesus’ lineage is emphasised as the angel addresses Joseph as Son of David. An Matthew leaves his readers with tantalising hints to Jesus’ real identity all through his Gospel. Jesus is called “Son of David” several times. Even blind men saw it clearly (9:27; 20:30,31). So did children (21:16). But not Herod’s priests and scribes, the teachers of Israel.

Herod was the last King of the Jews. Though his son Archelaus ruled in his place he was not granted the title king, and the later Herod was but a tetrarch. But the one whom the wise men sought as the newborn King of the Jews, who was mocked by soldiers with the words, “Hail! King of the Jews” (27:29), and over whose cross hung the words “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (27:37) was more King of the Jews than the wily Edomite who claimed the title.

Matthew begins his Gospel with the death of one King of the Jews and the birth of the next, or rather the final King. He ends his Gospel with the death and resurrection of The King of the Jews. And that risen King exercised authority to which Herod no doubt aspired, but could never attain. That King could truthfully and accurately claim, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” (Mt 28:18)

But, King of the Jews though Jesus was, he is not just King of the Jews. Rather he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, King of all nations. Gentiles gave him homage at his birth, and in his name his disciples go to all nations to make disciples. This is the King the Christmas story brings to us.