Category Archives: Seasons – Advent

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.

The Climax of the Ages

Although Advent marks the beginning of the church year, Christmas comes at the end of the civil year. It is a grand climax to the year. Perhaps the older we grow the less of a climax it seems. But even the most cynical retailer sees it as a sales climax.

I wonder how much of a climax people who lived through the first Christmas considered it. We sing carols that cheerfully proclaim “a new king born today.” And yet when the Magi called with Herod he was far from cheerful (Matthew 2:1-12). He was furious. He was the King of the Jews. How could there be a new king born that he was unaware of? He wasn’t born in his house. Christmas was no climax for Herod.

Little did he know that long after his death the Roman authorities would name the baby of Bethlehem King of the Jews. Before they named him, Pilate, the Roman civil and military governor, questioned him carefully at his trial. He asked him straight, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33). The honour guard came up to him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (John 19:3) The governor presented him to an expectant crowd with the words, “Behold, your King!” (John 19:14) And at the governor’s insistence an inscription was made for public display, bearing the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19)

But this was no climax for the Jewish leaders. Their Easter plot to do away with the baby of Bethlehem now grown to manhood was perilously close to failure. When Pilate presented Jesus to them with the words, “Behold, your King!” the crowd replied, “Crucify him!” (John 19:15) And when Pilate asked for confirmation, “Shall I crucify your king?” the chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15) Later they protested in vain when Pilate hung his inscription on Jesus’ cross proclaiming him “King of the Jews” (John 19:19-22). Easter was no climax for them.

And yet these events were climactic, if only the participants had seen them for what they really were. The new king born on Christmas day was God in the flesh (John 1:14). The Apostle Paul described Jesus’ birth this way: “But when the fullness of the time came God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law . . .” (Galatians 4:4).

And the king on the cross achieved something beyond the wildest imaginations of everyone around his cross. Paul jumps from Christmas to Easter when he continues: “. . . in order that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:5) Christ’s crucifixion dealt the final death blow to sin, and redeemed, that is ransomed, those bound by sin, in order that they could become part of God’s family.

Advent and Christmas point to the climactic events by which God has provided redemption, or salvation, for repentant sinners. But they also point to a greater climax, greater than any climax earth has ever known. Christians of all ages have attested to it as they confessed their faith using the words of the Apostles’ Creed. The Jesus who was born of the virgin Mary also suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. The third day he rose from the dead, and he ascended to the right hand of God the Father. From thence he shall come to judge the quick (that is, the living) and the dead.

Judgment Day will be a real climax. When it comes, it will be more than righting the wrongs of Christmas—the murdered toddlers of Bethlehem, or the city without room for God come in the flesh. The truth is, we live in a world where atrocities still happen. And worse, this world still has no room for God, whether in life or leisure, business or pleasure, heart or mind.

The King who came at Christmas will come again one day as King and Judge. And when he does he will hold every one of us to account. Everything we do will be subject to his examination and scrutiny. And head of his list will be our response to God’s universal command that everyone repent of their sin (Acts 17:30-31). God has charged every single human being on the planet to change the way they think and act.

Last week I mentioned how John wrote his gospel account that every who read it should believe in Jesus. That is the change of mind that is needed. The urgent question of Christmas is simply, “Do you believe in Jesus?”

The world’s best known Bible quotation summarizes the consequences of believing or refusing to believe. “For God so loved the world that he sent his unique Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The coming judgment will result in eternal perishing and consequent punishment for all who refuse to believe in Jesus.

But the message of Christmas is that you may avoid such a terrible future. Believe in Jesus and receive God’s amazing Christmas gift—eternal life. But don’t wait until Christmas. God offers this gift all year round. The time to receive it is now. The time to believe in Jesus is right now. Then Christmas will be a real climax this year.

This was first posted at Gilnahirk Baptist Web site on 23 Dec 2009.

The Gift of a Lifetime

Advent is a time to remember how God had a promise to keep. It was the reason why Jesus Christ was born, the reason why God wanted to become human.

But there is much more to the birth of Jesus Christ. At Christmas we give gifts, just as the Magi did when they visited Mary and Joseph (Matthew 2:1-12). Though John doesn’t mention this, he does mention a much greater gift in his Gospel. It is the reason he wrote it. He wanted everyone who read it to have this gift. He wrote his Gospel “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)

The gift John wants you to have is life itself. Not the life you have now, though that, too, is a gift from God, but eternal life. Here’s how he describes it in perhaps the best known sentence in his gospel, which is probably also the best known Bible verse in the entire world: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his unique Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The gift God gave was his Son, Jesus Christ, and the gift he still gives is eternal life.

Jesus himself often talked about this eternal life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me [that is, God the Father] has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24) On another occasion he said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28).

Perhaps the most striking statement he said is, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26) This shows us how John can speak about God giving Jesus as a gift and also about eternal life as the gift. In a very real sense Jesus is the life that we can have. John put it this way at the start of his gospel: “In him was life and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) And John’s fellow disciple, Peter, put it like this: God has given you “his precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature.” (1 Peter 1:4)

John wrote his gospel with the express purpose that everyone who reads it should have this marvellous gift of eternal life. If you have read his Gospel, as we have been doing this Advent, you must answer the question Jesus asked immediately after he said he was the resurrection and the life. “Do you believe this?” (John 10:26) You cannot have eternal life without believing.

And did you notice the serious consequences of not believing? Virtually every time John or Jesus spoke about eternal life there is a very black backdrop to their statements. God does not want you to perish (John 3:16). Jesus tells us believing takes us out of judgment and death (John 5:24). If we become Jesus’ ‘sheep’ we will never perish (John 10:28). And finally Jesus tells us that eternal life transcends physical death, so that even if we die physically we will never die eternally (John 10:26).

Just over a week later Jesus told a group of Greek enquirers, “he who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.” (John 12:25) Eternal life is literally a matter of life and death.

If you have never considered this vitally important matter before or seriously, then now is the best time to take the time or make the time. Read through John’s Gospel again this week, and be convinced that Jesus is God become human. Hear Jesus himself give you the incontrovertible evidence and believe in him, and have eternal life in his name. The alternative is to be avoided at all costs. Don’t just give and receive presents this Christmas, get the gift of a lifetime that will last for all eternity.


This was first posted at Gilnahirk Baptist Web site on 14 Dec 2009.

Into the Darkness . . .

Last week I asked the question why would God want to become human? The answer the Bible gives involves a sobering truth that is uncomfortable and disturbing.

The long dark nights of winter in the northern hemisphere point us to the moral darkness of the human soul. Despite the many optimistic voices we hear, deep down we are much more pessimistic. We may rarely express our deep-seated pessimism, but in our truly honest moments it haunts us and disturbs us deeply.

The dark side of Christmas is most forcefully illustrated by the Massacre of the Innocents. What drove King Herod to murder every baby boy in Bethlehem around the time of Jesus’ birth? (Mat. 2:16-18) It reminded Matthew as he wrote his gospel account of the prophet Jeremiah’s words half a millennium earlier. There was bitter weeping that night for every mother in Bethlehem. (Mat. 2:8, cf Jer. 31:15)

Jeremiah had earlier written,

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
(Jer. 17:9)

Who indeed could fathom the motives that would murder innocent children?

Colour photograph of sunrise at the Bush foot, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland

Sunrise over the Bush foot, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, by Peter F. Whyte, 2009.

But lest we consider the darkness of Herod’s soul unusual and unique, John reminds us that such moral darkness is a universal human condition. Speaking of Jesus he says,
“in him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overpower it. . . . There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every person.” (Jn. 1:4,5,9)
We cannot escape the conclusion that we share Herod’s moral darkness, even though his terrible deed is repellent and repugnant to us.

In our truly honest moments we must agree with Jeremiah’s assessment of our deceitful hearts. We know our deep sickness. And we feel hopelessly inadequate to deal with it. Our condition is terminal. The Bible calls it sin, and we do well to feel inadequate in the face of it.

But Advent is a time to remember Hope. The first human sin, for all its seeming hopelessness, led to a great promise of hope. Though God pronounced deserved judgment on our first parents, he gave them an incredibly hopeful promise. Addressing the one who had infected the human race with such a deadly condition he said,

And I will put emnity
Between you and the woman,
And between your offspring and her offspring
He shall bruise you on the head
And you shall bruise him on the heel.
(Gen. 3:15)

So hopeful is this promise that Christian theologians call it the Proto Evangelium, the First Gospel, the Initial Good News.

What this promise meant was that the problem of sin would be dealt with once and for all by a future human being. This deliverer would be human, and his deliverance decisive. In the face of the moral darkness of sin, we could be hopeful, not hopeless.

And yet centuries passed without the appearance of this promised deliverer. The second human generation brought murder into our world. And within a millennium the moral darkness of the human race had developed into such radical corruption that God found it necessary to destroy all but eight human beings (Gen. 6–9).

Bible history honestly portrays human scheming, lying, murder, rape, incest, cruelty and torture. But running through the account are reminders of that first hope. A thoughtful reading of the account cannot but lead one to the conclusion that delivering on the promise will be a tall order for God.

But deliver he does. Jesus is God’s deliverer, the fulfilment of God’s promise.

Why would God want to become human? Because he had a promise to keep. He promised an effective human deliverer, and none could be found suitable. John’s gospel account talks about the pervasive reality of sin and our inability to cure it ourselves.

If God would make good on his promise he would have to become a human being himself and turn back the darkness. Advent is a reminder that Jesus Christ is that human being. As John puts it, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (Jn. 1:14)

But this was no plan B. It had been God’s intention all along. A careful reading of the unfolding of the promise through the pages of the Bible shows that only a man who was God could ever have fulfilled the promise.

If we would know the reality of hope in a seemingly hopeless world we must place our trust in Jesus. That’s the reason John wrote his gospel account. Why not reread it this week and look out for all the reasons John gives why you should hope in Jesus and place your trust in him.


This was first posted at Gilnahirk Baptist Web site on 6 Dec 2009.

In the beginning . . .

The New Year is just around the corner. Once December arrives we’re on the home straight. The end of the year is in sight. Time for those New Year’s resolutions, time for a new beginning. But for those who follow the Christian church calendar, the new year begins with Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. The birth of Jesus Christ certainly marked the beginning of an era. We count the years of the current era from his birth.

When Yochanan bar Zivdi sat down to write his life of Christ he started at the very beginning of everything — the creation of the universe. His book (which we call the Gospel according to John) begins with the words “In the beginning” (John 1:1), the very same words the Bible begins with. Christ’s birth reminded him of creation. Was that the fanciful notion of an old man, for he was most likely in his nineties when he wrote? What led him to that idea? It was simply this, that Christ was none other than the Creator of this universe.

Photograph: Hubble Space Telescope of NGC 4710

Credit: NASA, ESA, and P. Goudfrooij (STScI)
Further details about his image are available from Hubble Site.

Genesis begins “In the beginning God created . . .” (Gen. 1:1). When John writes “In the beginning was the Word” he’s saying the same thing, for he continues “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The one he calls the Word, Genesis calls God. They are one and the same person. And John continues, “All things came into being by him and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:3) In other words, “In the beginning the Word created.”

You can’t help think how fitting the name the Word is because when God created this universe he did not manipulate elements or particles with forces or implements. He simply spoke. “Light, be!” are the first recorded words of God in the Bible (Gen. 1:3). All God had to do was speak and things came into being.

But what has this to do with Jesus Christ and Christmas? That’s where it all gets very interesting, for John continues, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). In other words, John says when Jesus was born in Bethlehem 2000 or so years ago he was no ordinary child who grew up to be an ordinary man. He was the most extraordinary child this world has ever seen or known. He was God incarnate — God become a human being. The one who created this universe actually became one of his creatures.

Now that raises two questions in my mind. The first is how could that happen? The Bible doesn’t give much of an answer to that question. All we can say for certain is that God intervened in the normal human process so that Mary, Jesus’ mother, had a baby without a human father. Do you think that’s impossible? Think about it this way. If God could speak the universe into being, then creating a baby without a human father would be relatively straightforward, wouldn’t it?

However, I’m more curious about the other question. It’s much more interesting, and the Bible has a great deal to tell us about it. Why would God want to become a human being? He must have had a reason. But if you were God with all his knowledge and power and ability, why would you want to become mortal, limited, weak, and human?

That’s a great question, and the Bible gives us the answer in great detail. To find out more, why not read the Gospel according to John during this coming week? Just why would God want to become a human being?

The Gospel according to John is not a long book. It should only take around a hour an a half to read it at a single sitting. Or if you read it three chapters a day it would only take 10-15 minutes a day for the week. Read it online or listen to it read out loud at the ESV Bible site. You could also get a personal copy at a good bookshop or online retailer, a local Bible society office, or a nearby church.


This was first posted at Gilnahirk Baptist Web site on 29 Nov 2009.