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"Ã¯Â»Â¿Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Ã¯Â»Â¿who... made Himself of no reputation, taking the form Ã¯Â»Â¿Ã¯Â»Â¿of a bondservant, and Ã¯Â»Â¿Ã¯Â»Â¿coming in the likeness of men. Ã¯Â»Â¿And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and Ã¯Â»Â¿Ã¯Â»Â¿became Ã¯Â»Â¿obedient to the point of death..." Philippians 2:5
Our sovereign King -- born into time as Man and risen in eternity as Savior -- doesn't do things our way. His more excellent ways confound the world's most noble dreams and heart-felt sympathies. They always have! Contrary to our feel-good presumption about God and whatever "new thing" we attribute to Him, His narrow way rarely matches our wide gateways to "success."
The world just doesn't understand Him! Therefore its "Christmas season" raises all kinds of questions that defy simple answers. For example, why would our heavenly Father send His beloved Son to be born in a stable? Why didn't He prepare a more comfortable room in Bethlehem's finest inn? And -- getting closer to the divisive root of Christianity -- why did God have to become a Man? It makes no earthly sense.
But the world's questions reach far beyond the circumstances of His humble birth. Why would our Father allow His faithful children through the centuries to be persecuted, imprisoned, beaten, starved, tortured, beheaded, and martyred? Why not provide a more secure existence? Why -- after 2000 years of Christianity -- is "peace in the world" as elusive as ever? Ã‚Â And how does His humble birth and humiliating death fit into all this?
God's answers bewilder those whose hearts are set on this world. "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18
Why didn't Jesus show some gratitude when Peter sympathized with His imminent crucifixion? Remember the story? Toward the end of His earthly ministry Jesus began to prepare His disciples to face His suffering and death, but Peter refused to accept the bad news. "Far be it from You, Lord," he argued. "This shall not happen to You!"Ã‚Â Then Jesus answered Peter,
"Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.'' Matthew 16:21-23
Those words sound harsh, don't they? Especially in light of today's obsession with unbiblical tolerance. Didn't Jesus see the compassion in Peter's heart? Didn't our merciful Lord understand that His friend's motives were good and worthy of kindness, not rebuke?
Of course Jesus understood! But He didn't come to earth to see reality through our eyes. He already knew man's thoughts, feelings and short-sighted perspectives. [John 2:24-25] Instead, He came to open our eyes and change our hearts so that we might see reality from His perspective. He had something better than sympathy to offer His friend. Peter needed correction, not affirmation. To fulfill his own mission, the well-meaning disciple had to grasp the fact that God's ways are always higher and greater than ours. [Isaiah 55:8] Our finite minds can never comprehend the wonders of God's eternal purposes!
"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" wrote the apostle Paul. "How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!"' Romans 11:33-34
Only through the incarnation -- God as Man, fulfilling the requirements for our redemption and justification -- may we share in those wonders. Only by His Spirit, may we know the wisdom and ways of God. "As it is written,
"'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.'
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit." 1 Corinthians 2:7-12
His wonderful revelations to us include grace to resist a multitude of distractions. Like Peter, we so easily dishonor Him by being "mindful... of the things of men" instead "of the things of God." Do we love the visible things of this world more than unseen treasures of God?
"He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me," said Jesus. "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." Matthew 10:37-39
The cross was central to His birth. Had He not been born into our world and died in our place, He would not have freed us "from the curse of the law" and from bondage to sin. Unlike Santa's lighthearted reflection on the words "naughty and nice," God's guidelines in His Word (including the Ten Commandments) represent a moral law with authority to expose our sin and keep us forever separated from God.
"For it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.' But... Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us...." [Galatians 3:10, 13]
That's good news for those who, by God's grace, sense the conviction and come to the cross. It's bad news for those who deny the truth, justify their ways, and trust in today's pleasing illusions. Remember His sobering words:
...this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light.... John 3:18-20
No wonder the world around us wants to censor His name and mythologize His Word! His revealing light is as uncomfortable today as it was two thousand years ago. That's why Time Magazine's Christmas issue (12-13-04) featured the birth of Jesus but refused to honor Him! David Van Biema, the author of "Behind the First Noel," tried in a every way to undermine the Biblical account of the virgin birth, the two separate angelic announcements (to Mary and to Joseph), and the birthplace in Bethlehem. According to Time, the gospel writers were merely adapting existing myths and pagan legends to their own imagined scenarios. For example:
"As New Testament scholars have delved deeper into the pagan faiths that competed with early Christianity for followers, Mary's virginity has been challenged... as a theme borrowed from the literature of the non-Jewish world.... 'Virgin births were a rather Gentile thing,' says the Very Rev. John Drury, chaplain of All Souls' College at Oxford University.... Other scholars claim that Luke especially might have been familiar with pagan models...." [Behind The First Noel]
Such assaults on God's Word are nothing new. People have hated God, slandered Jesus, twisted His truth, re-imagined His nature, and persecuted His people for the last two thousand years. But as interest in truth and facts diminish, the anti-Christian campaign is fast gaining ground. Ponder these signs of our times:
In 2004: "In the latest skirmish over Christmas in America, a Christian group is not allowed to participate in Denver's annual Parade of Lights, because church members sought to sing yuletide hymns and proclaim a 'Merry Christmas' message on their float....
"Among those allowed to participate is the Two Spirit Society of Denver, a support group for American Indians who are homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered, honoring them as 'holy people.' Also included are performers of the Lion Dance, a Chinese New Year tradition 'meant to chase away evil spirits and welcome good luck and good fortune for the year'....
"Despite the inclusion of these groups with spiritual connotations...the event does not allow 'direct religious themes.' Included in the ban are signs that read 'Merry Christmas' and the singing or playing of Christmas hymns. 'We want to avoid that specific religious message out of respect for other religions in the region.... It could be construed as disrespectful...." "Christmastime event is no-Christian zone"
In 2003: (UK) "...the Scottish Parliament banned traditional Christmas cards due to similar fears of offending other religions. Officials said 'Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year' could not appear on government cards as the wording was not deemed to be 'socially inclusive.'" "Christmas CD banned for mentioning Jesus"
To please today's multicultural communities, Christmas cards -- whether or not they showed nativity scenes -- were banned! That's how intolerable our wonderful Lord and Savior has become to the world! Which brings us right back to the first question: Why was Jesus, the King of the universe, born in a lowly stable, not a palace?
The last week of our King's earthly life illustrates the answer. The religious leaders were busy planning His arrest and mock trial. Meanwhile, large numbers of Jews making their annual journey to the Passover feast were crowding into Jerusalem and surrounding towns. Many flocked to the nearby town of Bethany, where Jesus was staying with His friends, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. As the Bible tells us, "many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus Ã‚Â sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, Ã¯Â»Â¿whom He had raised from the dead." [John 12:9] Ã¯Â»Â¿Naturally, the curious masses wanted a glimpse of the amazing Teacher who could revive someone who had been dead for three days.
"The next day," the excited crowds gathered with their palm branches to offer Him a royal welcome into Jerusalem. Many believed Jesus to be the promised king foretold by Old Testament prophets -- a mighty deliverer certain to replace Roman tyranny with a reign of peace and freedom. They might even have expected Him to come riding on a splendid stallion worthy of a conquering king. But that would have been man's way, not God's way. In contrast, the arrival of their King was anything but grandiose. Consider Zechariah's description:
"Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey." Zechariah 9:9
This wasn't the first time His admirers mistook Him for an earthly king. After seeing His amazing miracles early in His ministry, many wanted to crown Him king. But He simply walked away. "My kingdom is not of this world," He later told Pilate.
God doesn't value earthly success, prosperity, human skills, or large crowds as we do. Instead, He seeks out the weak and lowly who would best demonstrate His strength and wisdom. As Paul wrote,
"...not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty... that no flesh should glory in His presence. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Only a few poor shepherds heard the angels' joyous announcement and saw the newborn King. The highly respected men of Jerusalem neither heard nor saw the fulfillment of the long awaited prophesies. Content with their world and committed to their ways, they were oblivious to history's most momentous event!
How alert are we to God's signpost in our lives? What do we choose?Ã‚Â The wide, popular road that pleases the world and brings earthly success -- or the narrow road so despised by the world? Only those who choose the latter will know the wonder of His eternal riches, the joy of His presence, and the peace that surpasses all human understanding.
In a world that is fast forgetting God's Word, we can expect intolerance, hostility and persecution. That's why Jesus warned us,
"If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you....Ã‚Â Ã‚Â If they persecuted Me they will persecute you... for they do not know the One who sent Me." John 15:19-21
Following Him, we have nothing of lasting significance to lose, and we have everything to gain! Walking with Jesus in His lowly path -- never ceasing to demonstrate His love, yet never compromising His truths to win approval -- we enjoy a peace and joy that far surpasses all earthly thrills. Our lives will be full of challenges, but He has promised to provide all the resources we need. My grace is sufficient for you," he assures us, "for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Hopefully, you and I will echo Paul's heartfelt response:
"Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
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