HT: Reformation Theology
by: Rev. Charles R. Biggs
Each year at this time, I think about how I would like to remind my unbelieving friends and loved ones of the glorious gospel and hope found in Jesus Christ. Seasons like Christmas give us another great opportunity to make the good news of Jesus known to the whole world, and especially to those closest to us.
Sadly however, when Christmas comes and we gather with our unbelieving friends and family, we Christians look into the eyes of our unbelieving friends and family members excitedly telling them of how God has greatly blessed us, and what the true meaning of Christmas is about, only for these glad tidings to be received at best as a nice sentiment that spiritually falls flat in their response to us, or at worst it is received as divisive and ignorant, and a subject to be avoided in our Christmas conversation (for instance: “Happy Holidays!”).
This year I decided to write a letter to those friends and loved ones who love me, but who do not love Christ; this is a letter to friends and family who do not believe. I decided to write an uncomfortable Christmas card for unbelievers comfortable at Christmas.
No one should ever be too comfortable with the truths of Scripture any time of the year! I think it is important for the truths of Scripture to keep believers all uncomfortably ever-depending upon Jesus Christ alone for our righteousness throughout the year (one of the purposes of gospel preaching). I especially think it is good for unbelieving friends and relatives to be uncomfortable this time of year when we celebrate God becoming flesh in order to save those who believe. When unbelievers become comfortable this time of year, it is time to ask ourselves as the Church whether we are speaking and proclaiming the gospel in clear, pointed, penetrating ways as Jesus, John, and Paul preached it.
If you find this letter helpful, and would like to use it yourself in order to send to those whom you love and desire them to know Jesus, I invite you to use it as often as you would like, and to send it to as many as you would like.
Dear Friend or Loved One Who Loves Me, but Does Not Love Jesus Christ:
This Christmas, I eagerly and affectionately desire to write to you a different kind of Christmas message. I long to send you good tidings of great joy, and high hopes that your Christmas and New Year will be cheerful and full of good things, but I also want to write to make you as uncomfortable with the Christmas message as possible.
“Why would I do that?” you may ask. “Why would you want someone you love to be uncomfortable by the Christmas message?” Well, Christmas is about more than eating together, mustering up good feelings, enjoying a restful winter holiday, giving and getting presents, and singing songs around the Christmas tree (even when we don’t feel like singing). Christmas is much more than that! Now understand me, you can have a holiday anytime of the year if you want, and if you want to take a holiday at Christmas time, then that is your prerogative, but please don’t feel comfortable with Christmas and Christmas things.
The gospel message of Christmas should greatly frighten all who do not believe and love Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Great and Powerful God and Maker of the universe became flesh and dwelt among us; this is the message of Christmas. This great God who made us all, and to whom we will all be accountable, became one of us in order to make himself fully known. If you want to know God, you find him and understand him in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ; Jesus is the one who reveals God or makes him known in all of his attributes and righteousness (John 1:14-18).
This Christmas, I want you to consider three very special Christmas Bible verses, and I want you to feel very uncomfortable each time you read and hear them until by God’s grace you know the Lord Jesus Christ himself as your Lord and Savior.
These three verses will be found this season in great number on church signs, songs you hear sung, and in Christmas cards sent by others to you. In hoping to make you feel uncomfortable, I am not doing this to be mean, or to be angry, or to cause you to be unnecessarily upset with me. I am doing this because I believe your eternal destiny is at stake for not believing upon the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, and I take it very seriously because I love you very much! The Bible says in John 3:18 and 3:36:
John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God….John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
There are only two kinds of people at Christmas: those who believe in the Christmas message, and those who do not believe the Christmas message.
Those who do not believe in Christ the Son, who was sent by God to save sinners, are already condemned. This means that if you are an unbeliever, or one who rejects Christ outright, or merely accepts Christ on your own terms as a good religious teacher, you abide under God’s wrath for your sins at this very moment (John 3:18, 36), and this is not something to take lightly- -but fearfully and uncomfortably until you find your sins forgiven and your rest in Jesus Christ alone.
My hope as you read further is that you would feel greatly uncomfortable and convicted by your sins against God and man, and that the powerful Holy Spirit of God would reveal your need, hope, and ultimate and eternal comfort to be found in Christ alone!
With that said, may you never think the same comfortable, mere sentimental “Christmas” thoughts about the following Biblical passages! I am taking three familiar passages, two from Isaiah the Prophet (Isaiah 9:6-7 and Isaiah 40:1-5) and one from the Gospel of Luke. Let’s read together Isaiah 9:6-7:
“For Unto Us a Child Is Born…”
Isaiah 9:6-7: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
This prophecy of Isaiah that is quite familiar and quoted very comfortably during the Christmas season is about the manger ultimately. This prophecy is about a child being born and a son being given for sinners. Notice how this child, this son is described: 1) He shall be a great ruler over all governments (“the government shall be upon his shoulder”); 2) He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace; and, 3) His great rule will increase so that peace will cover the face of the earth and his Kingdom will extend throughout the earth and throughout eternity. He will rule with justice and righteousness forever.
This should only comfort you if you believe upon Jesus Christ, the child, the son who is given for us. Otherwise, this prophecy should greatly threaten your comfortable existence. The first way he is described is a great ruler over all governments. Do you bow before him in service and worship as your king? Do you treat this Jesus Christ as a King, a great and mighty ruler? Do you understand that even though you might not recognize his sovereign rule, he does indeed rule? In fact, the risen ascended Christ has authority over heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:19-21). If you do not obey and serve Christ as King, you are guilty of cosmic treason against the King, and he will judge you for your unrighteous trespassing on property that has been claimed by him as his own, and over which he rules and reigns even now.
Secondly, Jesus is described as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Do you long for someone to guide you through this dark world of sin and misery, giving you a sense of purpose and understanding of who you are and who God is? HE is the Wonderful Counselor to guide and teach you. Do you listen to his counsel; or do you reject it; or are you disinterested in his counsel to you through the Bible?
Jesus came to make known the true God and he said that salvation was a knowledge of the True and Living God found in himself (John 17:1-3). Is he your wise and great Counselor, or do you live life on your terms, your way, according to your puny knowledge?
Jesus is called Mighty God. Do you recognize Jesus Christ, born in a manger of a virgin, from the little town of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem to be God himself for us? Jesus Christ was born as man to reveal God in all his greatness and power to us! Jesus called himself the Great “I AM”, making himself equal with Jehovah God. Jesus claimed to be very God of very God, that is, equal with God.
The Apostle John opens his gospel with these words (speaking of Christ as ‘The WORD’): “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Do you acknowledge him as God and Creator of all things? Think of how a Word describes and communicates something. John is saying that Jesus Christ was God’s communication of himself “The Word made flesh” to make his love and grace known (John 1:14).
I beg of you who think of Jesus as a merely another sentimental Christmas icon (along with Frosty and Santa), don’t come to the manger to peer in and fondle God’s Son unless you are coming humbly as a sinner to bow to him as Lord, to serve and worship him! Do not come to Jesus merely thinking of him as “baby Christmas Jesus”, or merely a good teacher, or a nice man who lived and made a bit of a difference in the world.
Jesus witnessed of himself, and other Scripture writers witnessed of him that he was the Mighty God; he is nothing less and will accept nothing less than your obedience and worship as God.
Jesus is called Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. As Everlasting Father he shows to us eternal love and care. No matter how much hardship we have endured, no matter how far we have gone from the love of God, and how much we have sinned again him, he receives the humble and repentant back as his children. He has come to save his own, not to condemn those who believe! Do you believe you have sinned against him as a naughty and sinful child of the Creator? Do you believe he is a forgiving Father (despite what kind of earthly father you had, or did not have)? Jesus says he came specifically for the sinners, not the righteous; he came to seek and save the lost! Are you lost? This “Everlasting Father” full of grace and truth has come to heal your wounds and forgive you your sins.
As Prince of Peace, Jesus has come to bring peace with God so that guilty consciences can be silenced by God’s grace and love. Do you long to know the peace with God that only Jesus can bring in reconciling you to the Father through his bloody death? Romans 5:1 says of believers that we receive reconciliation with the Father through Jesus Christ alone. Why? Because Jesus died as a sin offering, taking the wrath of God that sinners deserve upon himself, so that we could have peace with God.
Do you want this peace of God that passes all of your understanding? Not some fragile, temporal and idyllic peace of the world where everyone just “tries to get along” (the impossible!), but an eternal peace with God the Father and with those who are called by his name.
Do you understand that accepting this peace causes you to be at enmity with those who do not believe? Jesus brings peace with God for those who believe, but he also divides families in the process. Jesus said that father and son, mother and daughter, and other members of one family will be divided because of the peace he offers. Some will give their all to him, and some will despise him in the same family- -but he comes to bring the eternal peace with God that truly matters and makes us members of his own family.
Jesus’ Kingdom is spoken of as extending throughout the world and throughout eternity. Are you a member of that Kingdom through belief in Jesus Christ? If you do not believe, as part of the display of his righteousness and justice, he will punish eternally in hell those who deny him. The only way and hope for salvation is found in Jesus Christ. Since he is the Great God and King, he calls the shots! If he says that there is only one way to receive eternal life and it is found in him, then he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no man comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6).
If this great God and King says that those who oppose and deny him will be eternally punished and cut off from the grace and mercy of God, then this will occur because the mouth of the Lord has spoken. The Book of Revelation says when he returns it will be as a Mighty Warrior and as God Almighty to save and redeem his own of this world of sin and misery and to punish with fire those who do not believe (Revelation 19:11-16). This is not a picture of a baby in a manger, but of a warrior on a white horse full of the righteous and just wrath of Almighty God!
Repent now before it is too late. But please, stop merely thinking of Jesus as just another nice religious teacher, and baby Jesus as another American Christmas icon, and accept him as Lord and Savior. We shall now look at another popular text of Scripture from Isaiah 40:
“Comfort, Comfort My People…”
Isaiah 40:1-5: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
This is another famous portion of Scripture that has been made famous by Handel’s ‘Messiah’, but I beg you not to get too comfortable with it. Rather, heed and hear its message! It is good to be uncomfortable in God’s presence in order that perhaps through the work of the Holy Spirit and humility, you might seek after God in the face of Jesus Christ and find true and lasting comfort in his saving and loving arms- -but do not reject him!
Notice how this prophecy of Isaiah begins with words of comfort. This seems to be the opposite of what I am trying to do in my Christmas letter you might think. But notice something important: the comfort that God wants Isaiah to speak is address to his people. God says to comfort “my people” and to speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and from this Old Testament perspective, to speak to Jerusalem, meant to speak to those who were confessing to be God’s people.
The sad news is that Jesus came to his own in Jerusalem, but many did not receive him. Those who received him in Jerusalem and in other parts of the worlds were saved, and were called sons of the living God, and were those to whom words of comfort could be spoken (John 1:9-12).
God, the living God, Creator of Heaven and Earth speaks through his Scripture. There are no more prophets like Isaiah, but Isaiah’s words are still in the Bible for us, and when we speak or declare these words, it is God speaking to us (Heb. 4:1-11). Is God speaking tenderly to you through these words? Do you find comfort in these words?
For these words were written as preparatory for those who confessed faith in God to be eagerly awaiting and eagerly watching for a voice, one calling in the wilderness to prepare the way of the LORD, in order for the LORD to come and make his glory manifest all over the earth. The voice that was prophesied in Isaiah was John the Baptist (Matthew 3), and John testified and witnessed to Jesus, who was God come in the flesh. The words of comfort here were for those eagerly awaiting and anticipating the arrival of God in the flesh, who were those who believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who believe in God’s Christ can truly take comfort as his people.
Do you believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ who has come (“Joy to the world the Lord is come?!”)? Do you await the Lord Jesus’ coming? Then you should be uncomfortable in the presence of God and His Christ. This passage in Isaiah goes on to say that the glory of God shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it. The Apostle John writes in John 1:18 that we have “beheld his glory” that is, the glory of God was revealed in the face of Jesus Christ (John 1:14-18).
Do you see God’s glory in the testimony of Jesus Christ found in the Scriptures? Jesus says that blessed are those who saw him and believed, but even greater blessings await those who do not see yet believe (John 20). In the Bible, we see the glory of God (that is all of who and what God is) in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is your only hope of comfort and source of joy in this present evil age, as well as in the world to come. Do not make this prophecy a prophecy that is just part of the make up and background music of Christmastime. Let this prophecy make you feel greatly uncomfortable, and seek comfort in God alone. God speaks comfort to HIS PEOPLE- -those who receive the Lord Jesus Christ—not those who reject him selfishly.
And for those who are part of the Christian Church, who confess Christianity as their religion. Do you hope in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation? Are you comforted by Christ and something you have done for him as the basis or source of your salvation? Only in Christ alone will you find the righteousness of God that God requires in order to be saved and redeemed from death, hell, and the devil.
Remember also for those who are outwardly Christian in name. This comfort was written for those in Jerusalem who confessed their belief in God. When Christ came however, many of them rejected him because he was not the Savior they desired. Do you long for Christ’s return as the Christ that is revealed in Scripture?
Do you believe in Christ alone not trusting merely in the fact that “Jesus is just alright with you” and that perhaps the Christian religion seems the best option or choice for you among many good religious out there? Or, is belief upon Jesus Christ your only hope of eternal life, the very revelation of God’s glory and righteousness, and the one you hope in daily in order to be saved from hell?
“Would Someone Tell Me What Christmas is All About?!”
Finally, we shall turn to Luke 2. Growing up as an unbeliever, I was thankful for the opportunity every year to hear Linus Van Pelt in Charles M. Schultz’s ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ broadcast on CBS, to hear the gospel good tidings of Jesus born in a manger. If you remember the cartoon, Charlie Brown the main character, while unsuccessfully trying to direct a Christmas play, yells out in great frustration: “Would someone please tell me what Christmas is all about!”
His friend Linus asks the lights to be dimmed, and steps forward into the spotlight, to declare the gospel of hope for all those who would believe. I remember believing sentimentally in what Linus was saying when I was a child, but it was not until later that I truly believed the truth of what Linus (and Luke) were saying in Luke 2! May you also come to understand this as more than a quotation from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ and a sentimental Christmas wish- -and come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, the babe in the manger!
Luke 2:8-16: And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
Notice in this passage that when the angels appeared with this great and glorious news it caused sinful shepherds to quake in their boots at this vision in the dark night sky. The angel of the Lord tells them (and the entire world) not to fear because they bring glad tidings, or gospel good news from God himself! In order to find peace and hope they were to go to a manger, and in that manger they would find eternal hope in a baby. He was a Savior and was Christ the Lord.
What does this mean? It means that the little baby in Bethlehem’s stable was a Savior of sinners and an Anointed One full of God’s Spirit to save and renew those enslaved by sin and misery. A savior is one who can redeem, or purchase back from slavery, and Jesus said that he came to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus as Savior came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). As an Anointed One (which is the translation of ‘Christ’ from a Greek word; Christ is not his last name!), Jesus is one full of the Spirit of God, able to save the lost, able to renew them by His Spirit, able to lay down his life in order to take it up again for them in resurrection, and able to take away all the guilt and pollution in them because of their sins and unrighteousness.
This was great news but it was not for everyone, and so once again please stop merely sentimentalizing this passage, and remember to whom it is addressed specifically. Don’t get me wrong, this message should be proclaimed to the whole world; this message of this baby in the manger is God’s only hope for peace, hope, and love for mankind, and this is to be declared to as many as possible.
But the actual point of this message, that is, the message as a message that makes a difference for a weary world as far as the curse is found, is the message addressed to those with whom God is pleased (Luke 2:14). There have been other translations of this passage, but this is the best one. God is saying that there is peace on earth and goodwill toward men in Christ alone! Please do not lie to yourself (or God), and pretend to think that this message of good tidings and cheer, and peace on earth is for those who would deny and reject the Lord Jesus Christ!
God is saying through the angel here that there is true peace found among those whom he is pleased. God is pleased when men and women no matter how wicked their sins, or how hopeless their lives, believe upon the Son he sent to be Savior and Christ, who came to dwell with man, being born in a manger.
Jesus is the one who came to save us and deliver us from our sins. Do you know of the hope that only Christ can give? Do you long to know how to be right with God and the world? Are you tired of each Christmas getting a glimpse of what it is all about only to find yourself rejecting him once again?
This Christmas receive the Lord Jesus Christ. As Savior of sinners he does not require you to be righteous first (he will make you righteous later)! All that he requires is that you believe and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your only Savior and hope.
This is the message of good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people throughout the earth who believe! Jesus came to be born for you, to live the law of God perfectly for you; Jesus came to die a terrible death on a heinous cross for your sins, and he came to be raised for your justification (or your being declared righteous and no longer condemned before God!).
Do you believe?
If you do not believe, you have every right to be uncomfortable this Christmas! The wrath of God abides on you; you are in serious danger. You should not be comfortable at Christmas or any other time of the year! Repent of your sins! And believe the good news of Jesus!
Hear the words of Jesus (and I pray with every fiber of my being that you can hear):
“Come to me, all of you who are burdened by the commands of God, and of the uncomfortable feeling found in sermons about Jesus and sin, and who feel like a world of trouble and sin is on your shoulders and that it is killing you…
Come to me, and I will give you rest!
Come to me, and I will give you rest!
Come to me, and I will give you rest!
My burden is easy, and my yoke is light!” – Jesus says.
This means that belief upon the Lord Jesus Christ will give you the peace for which you so desperately long, and the good news and glad tidings of Christmas will be truly yours. But don’t seek comfort until you believe and bow before the babe in the manger in worship and obedience because you have recognized that he is God with us, and if God is with us, he is for us who believe!
Merry Christmas, and with great and affectionate love,
Charles Randall Biggs
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Posted by Coram Deo at 7:07 PM