Archives For Jesus

By Eric Reed

Garden of Gethsemane.Jerusalem

Garden of Gethsemane.Thousand-year olive trees, JerusalemPassing through Gethsemane

A Baptist pastor said in an article I read recently that Maundy Thursday has become his favorite day of the Easter season. That was surprising, he admitted, since he didn’t grow up observing the day before Good Friday as anything special. Nor do many Baptist churches. But as he was called to pastor a church with a unique Thursday night Lord’s supper service prior to Resurrection Sunday, he took on the observance and came to appreciate it deeply.

I understood his experience. A couple of churches I served added Thursday services to their pre-Easter observance. At first, it was a matter of convenience for those who would travel on Good Friday to spend the weekend with grandma. But eventually we found we ourselves needed more time in the garden before we stood at the foot of the Cross, and ultimately at the vacated tomb.

“Maundy” Thursday may sound mournful, but the name itself comes from the Latin for “mandate.” A new commandment I give you, Jesus told his disciples in the upper room on that night, that you love one another. Maundy is a manmade term, as is the “Good” of Friday, but as for the events that happened that night, they are by God’s design.

After donning the servant’s towel and washing his followers’ feet, then giving them his body and blood in the first Lord’s Supper, Jesus led the crew, minus Judas, to the olive press on the other side of the temple grounds. Calling it Gethsemane, we forget that this was a working vineyard, where the crop was grown and at its maturity harvested, then crushed to release its treasure and fulfill its purpose. (Makes you have new respect for that bottle of oil in the cupboard, doesn’t it?) There, kneeling among the gnarled trees and the stone pressing floor, Jesus appears at his most human: suffering, knowing greater suffering was just ahead, wrestling, and yet willing.

And if we left the account there, we would miss several deep truths that make the events of Thursday night crucial to our understanding of Sunday’s victory. We might be tempted to think of Jesus as somehow less than fully human, that his deity abated his agony, if we did not see him wrestling in prayer while even his closest supporters a few yards away abandoned him in favor of sleep. We might miss a point of deep personal connection to Jesus that we need in our own times of crisis.

For Jesus Gethsemane was no rest. It is the place where one last time, his obedience and his surrender to the plans of his Father were tested. It is the place where God’s purpose and his own mission surpassed a momentary desire for relief from the pain of the night. And, blessedly, it is temporary.

In Gethsemane, the Father prepared the Son for the cross before him. Luke, who diagnosed Jesus’ suffering as bloody even in the garden, also tells us that God sent an angel to minister to Jesus.

The agony won’t last forever, but God knows we need help to get through it. And he sends it by his holy messengers. In our own seasons of crushing, we are lifted with the news that God has a purpose for the suffering he allows, and that it is temporary. God knows we hurt; God sends help; God sets a time limit.

In those times, it helps to know that Jesus suffered too. He cried over Lazarus. He cried out on the cross. And he endured in the garden where any remote possibility that he might put his relief ahead of our need was crushed: Not my will, but Yours be done, he said to the Father. We speak of “The Lord’s Prayer” as our model prayer. It, too, says, “Thy will be done.” But in Gethsemane, the prayer is tested and proven, and Jesus comes out the other side fully committed to finish his mission—at all personal cost to himself.

Finally, Gethsemane points to victory. To know the exhilaration of Jesus’ triumph over Satan and hell and sin and death, we must endure with him in his Gethsemane—and ours. In trial, we can be assured that Jesus has been here before. And though it hurts—a lot—we must not rush past Gethsemane, or we miss the magnitude of the victory, when the darkness of Thursday night surrenders to the brilliance of Sunday morning. And that light you see is the Son.

Eric Reed is editor of Illinois Baptist media. 

In times of crisis, this heady Christian doctrine can become deeply personal—and reassuring.

By Eric Reed

Empty tomb

The empty tomb. Pastor Jon McDonald of First Baptist Church of Casey led a tour of Israel in January. His wife, Lindsay, is a gifted professional photographer. She shared from her album some scenes that serve to illustrate this article.

Prologue
May I tell you a secret? When I close my eyes, I still see my wife on her deathbed.

Please stay with me. This article gets much more upbeat soon, but I have to start at this point so you will know why resurrection is so important to me right now. And it’s not because I want to get a jump start on the Easter celebrations. My need to understand resurrection has become very personal.

It’s been five months since my wife died. We spent her last three weeks in Room 101 at the hospice here in town. When I close my eyes, I sometimes—make that often—see her laying on the hospital bed in silhouette against the window. Each day as the sun passed over the building toward her west-facing window, the outside light would become quite bright. And I, sitting on the opposite side of the bed in a vinyl chair, would stare at her, and beyond her into sunlight.

I can muster other scenes from those weeks: Her sister sitting on the sofa under the window texting relatives. Our dog coming for a visit. Friends praying and doing their best to cheer us. One couple bringing a guitar and my wife singing hymns from memory, even third verses, when she was unable to say much else.

And I can see the night when I played Gaither songs on YouTube, and during “We Shall Behold Him,” my wife lifted both arms upward and pointed. “What do you see?” I asked. “A glimpse of heaven? Your mother?” Eyes closed, she nodded. She was eager to see her mother and old friends from the church where she grew up.

Then she lowered her arms and clasped her hands together. “Do you want me to pray?”
She nodded.

I prayed kind of like Jesus prayed on the cross at the very end, commending her spirit to the Father.

From that time, she hardly moved. I sat there for most of two days waiting for her body to catch up with her soul, staring across her prone figure into the light.
That’s the image I see.

That’s why resurrection has become not just a doctrine, but an urgency to me. The Resurrection of Jesus? Certainly. What is our faith without it? But also my wife’s resurrection, and my own. Whole libraries have been written on the Resurrection of Jesus, but relatively little on the resurrection of believers, and even less about resurrection as a necessary present-time action.

For me this year, Easter is not just a happy dance outside an empty grave, but a time of seeking earnestly the assurance of things to come, the affirmation of reunion, and a down payment on glory. In the meantime, resurrection—not as a future event, but here and now—becomes enough to get us through the here and now.

If you’ve wondered whether you can make it through today, much less tomorrow, then join me as we think about resurrection.

Gethsemane

Gethsemane

One word changes everything
Weeping outside her brother’s tomb, Martha insisted that if Jesus had hurried on, Lazarus would still be alive. His first words to her were cold comfort. Her response to the promise that Lazarus would rise again seems to be more a protest than an affirmation. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” she said. But she was more concerned about the present day.

Jesus’ reply turns her to the truth standing before her: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

If the religious leaders standing there in the cemetery heard Martha’s statement, some would have applauded, others would have shaken their heads. The Pharisees believed the righteous dead would be raised at the end, while the Sadducees argued there was no resurrection at all.

Martha’s reply hinges not on the teachings of the major schools of Jewish thought, but on the words that Jesus has just applied to himself. He is life (zoe in Greek), and he is the very thing that guarantees life.

A friend of mine phoned across the country to tell his parents their grandchild had been born, a beautiful baby they called Anastasia. The proud dad heard his own father, a seminary professor, laughing from a thousand miles away.

“Well, son,” the older man said, “that little girl will always stand up to you. And no one will ever back her down.” He chuckled some more. “You named her anastasis, the Greek word meaning to stand up again.”

When Jesus called on Lazarus to come out of the tomb, Martha and Mary and the crowd around them saw anastasis in action. Lazarus stood up again.

More important, that’s what Jesus did soon after at his own Resurrection—stand up again. It’s a simple phrasing for a complex event: anastasis describes plainly the pivotal point in history, for, as one observer said, without the Resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is quite literally dead.

The Father calls, Arise! and Jesus stands up. The One who lay down his life for our sake takes it up again and emerges from the place of death into life everlasting. As he does, Jesus proves to the world that he is the Christ.

Resurrection is proof that Jesus is alive. So much for claims that robbers stole his body: The grave was sealed and guarded. So much for the swoon theory: Jesus didn’t pass out, he died. The soldier’s gash in Jesus’ side proved it, as water separated from blood gushed out. And if more proof were needed, the grave clothes were still in the grave, and the head cloth was neatly wrapped and laid aside by one who sat up, stood up, and no longer needed it. So much for mouldering in the grave: He is not here, he is risen!

Jesus’ declaration that he is the resurrection was proven on Resurrection morning. But the question of what that means in our hour of need remains.

A down payment on our future
Baptists are not a creedal people, so not many of our churches recite the Apostles’ Creed on a regular basis. Yet, we find in those summaries of the Christian faith a statement that the early church fathers felt was crucial to their belief in Jesus: “I believe in…the resurrection of the body…” Likewise, the Nicene Creed lists “resurrection of the dead.”

From the fourth century onward, believers needed to state aloud, along with their systematic beliefs about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, their own hope for themselves. This was true in a largely illiterate culture, so leaders built the statements into the worship services. This was a necessary response to various movements in the early centuries of the church that denied or misconstrued the deity of Jesus, and belittled the future hopes of his followers.

“Jesus was raised from the dead, and we will be too!” If the worship service had been a pep rally, that would have been the cheer, starting in 325 A.D.

This simple statement affirming the resurrection is based on verses in the Gospels and Epistles, of which Paul’s masterwork is 1 Corinthians 15. What the apostle says briefly in Romans 6:5—“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”—is unpacked in 58 verses to the Corinth church.

You can’t blame the Christians in Corinth for sounding a little selfish. “We believe in Jesus,” they might have said, “but what’s going to happen to us?”

Paul reminds them that his teaching about Jesus is of “first importance”—“that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day…” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Whatever they may understand about their own coming resurrection is based on Jesus’ resurrection. Paul calls him the “first fruits” of the believers, in the same way that the first grains of the harvest forecast much more to come. (Around here, we would be more likely to talk about the first ripe tomato of summer or the first ear of corn.) There is such joy when the first fruits come in, because it’s only the beginning of harvest season and celebration.

Paul continues the agricultural imagery.

“‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’….What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body….So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (vv. 35-38, 42-43).

“The analogy of the seed enables Paul to walk a fine line,” scholar Richard Hays wrote, “asserting both the radical transformation of the body in its resurrected state and yet its organic continuity with the mortal body that precedes it.”
That should be good news to us.

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

Will I know my mother?
In her final week, I asked my wife again if she was scared. Of death itself? “No,” she responded, “but dying is coming quicker than I expected, and dying isn’t so easy.” She knew that her faith in Jesus as Savior would see her through to heaven, “but,” she said, “will I know my mother?”

I was surprised by that question. I thought she knew that for certain, but now she needed reassurance. I rifled through my pastoral answers: Paul says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12 KJV).

  • Mary recognized Jesus after his Resurrection when he spoke to her. The pair walking on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus. He was somehow changed, but he was still Jesus.
  • Thomas saw Jesus a week after his first appearance to the disciples. Meeting them a second time in the upper room, the scars showed that his glorified body was still his body. In some way it was still his earthly body—changed, transformed, glorified, but still his.
  • From his boat, Peter saw Jesus at a distance barbequing a beachside breakfast. Realizing who it was, Peter jumped into the water to swim to him, and left the others to row the boat in.

In these scenes from Easter morning forward, we see that resurrection—his and ours—proves God cares about the person and our personhood. He’s not just keeping the ethereal, spirit-y part of us, but he promises the preservation of all that makes us us. The questions that come up about the deceased whose bodies are destroyed or lost or cremated are rendered irrelevant by these truths: We are all made of dust and to dust we will return, but God has promised to this dust that it will stand again. In the biblical examples we have, the person was known by those who saw him. Organic continuity.

My wife wanted to hear that. “Will I know my mother in heaven?” was a way of saying, Will Mom still be Mom? Will I still be me?

Frankly, it was a word I needed too. I needed assurance that at the resurrection of the dead, a body ravaged by cancer is somehow transformed into something immortal and incorruptible and glorious. God promises to raise us from the dead, preserves yet transforms us, and that action assures us we will be together again.

When and how, we don’t know for sure, but we’re sure it’s coming. And like my wife said, it seems to be coming more quickly than I expected.

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

As if there was any doubt. “I will arise and go to Jesus; he will embrace me in his arms,” the hymnwriter said. Or as Paul concluded his Thessalonian note: “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

The Resurrection of Jesus foretells the resurrection of his followers. For me in recent months, that has proven to be a powerful, bankable promise from God. (See Philippians 3:10-11.) But what about the meantime? What does resurrection mean to us right now?

Baptism

The River Jordan

Throw some wood on the fire
Let’s be careful that this article doesn’t take a sharp, unwarranted turn at this point. That said, here is a road we should go down, if only briefly.
With Christ’s resurrection on one end of the timeline, and the promise of our own on the other end, what’s in the middle? I find an answer in that word we most often translate as resurrection: anastasis.

Literally the word means “stand up!” While linked theologically to life after death in many New Testament uses, it’s also a simple command to those who are sitting, resting, or, perhaps, lollygagging.

  • When Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple, the tax collector “arose” and followed him (Matthew 9:9).
  • Jesus told Jairus’s little girl to get up from her deathbed and she “arose” (Mark 5:42).
  • Jesus said the prodigal son came to his senses and “arose” to go to his father (Luke 15:18, 20).
  • Jesus told the one healed leper who returned to give thanks to “arise” and go his way (Luke 17:19).
  • The Holy Spirit told Philip to “arise” and head south for his divine appointment to share the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26).
  • And on the road to Damascus, Jesus commanded Paul to “arise” and go into the city for further instructions (Acts 9:6).

For those mired in grief, daydreaming about what might be, or lamenting what never was, this imperative is a big help. Stand up. In other words, until that final morning when we all stand up, there’s a lot of daily getting up to do and serving to fulfill Jesus’ mission.

There’s a lot of work to be done.

I’m still thinking about a story Pastor Ralph Schultz of Fieldon Baptist Church told at the Sandy Creek Association’s fall meeting. When he was a teenager, his family home was heated by a wood stove. Just before bedtime, his father would stoke the fire to keep the house warm overnight. Ralph would be snug in his bed and sleep soundly for several hours, but as morning approached, he would discover he was awake and thinking, “Someone needs to throw some wood on the fire.”

In a few minutes, Ralph’s father would call out from his own bedroom, “Son, get up and throw a log on the fire!”

“The house was cold, we needed someone to throw some wood on the fire,” Ralph said, “and I realized that ‘someone’ was me.”

Anastasis.

Epilogue
Maundy Thursday will mark six months since my wife died. On that day before Good Friday, I will retire some of my small grief rituals. Soon afterward, the dog and I will move to a new house in hopes of creating some fresh memories. And on Resurrection Sunday, I will arise and run with the disciples to the empty tomb, then beyond, seeking the Risen Savior.

“He is not here, he is risen,” I will hear.

And one day, by God’s grace, we will be risen too.

Eric Reed is editor of Illinois Baptist media and IBSA’s associate executive director for Church Communications.

The gift of presence

Lisa Misner —  December 24, 2018

By Nate Adams

Not long ago, my wife, Beth, and I were discussing whether or not to try and attend a wedding to which we had been invited. It was a considerable distance from our home and required a couple of nights in a hotel, driving and meal expenses, and at least one vacation day.

Though we both wanted to go, and felt we should, I found myself asking, “I wonder if the couple would rather have the money that we would spend on travel as a wedding gift?”

It’s not the first time I’ve asked that kind of question, and it probably won’t be the last. I remember international missionaries once telling me that a church had spent $50,000 to send a large mission team halfway around the world to serve with them for a few days.

They were grateful for the help and encouraged by the fellowship. But they also shared with me candidly, “We couldn’t help but think how much more we could have accomplished here with $50,000 if they had stayed home and just sent the money.”
Experiences like these underscore the sometimes difficult question, “How much is someone’s physical presence worth?” Or, to state it more casually and commonly, “Shall I go, or just send something?”

And of course, when the question presents itself at the time of someone’s death, it often has the additional pressure of urgency, since there is often little advance notice and little time to make a good decision about going. I still remember fondly and with great appreciation the people who traveled distances to attend my dad’s funeral. And I remember a funeral from almost 40 years ago that I still regret missing today.

How much is someone’s physical presence worth? It’s an excellent, spiritual question to ponder during this Advent season. Could Jesus have just “sent” the gift of salvation, without coming personally? Could he have dispatched someone else to the cross, or was it supremely, eternally important that he be there himself?

I think we miss something incredibly important if we celebrate salvation without celebrating incarnation. On that holy night when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he chose not just to be present with us, but to become one of us. Through Jesus, God entered in to our condition not just with sympathy, but with immeasurable sacrifice.

At Christmas, we celebrate God’s love and amazing grace in choosing to become human, in choosing to embrace mortality for the sake of our immortality. How much was the physical presence of Jesus worth? It was worth everything. It was worth our eternal lives.

By the way, eventually my wife and I did decide to attend that distant wedding. We decided to do so after remembering some of the older adults that traveled distances to attend our own wedding. We remembered wondering, at the time, why they went to such trouble. But now, decades later, we remember very few of their wedding gifts. But we still remember their presence.

There’s a worship song that says, in part, “I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sins upon that cross.” That’s certainly true. And yet I wonder if we don’t reflect more on the gift of salvation than we do the very presence of “God with us” in the incarnation.

As great as the gift of salvation is, that gift is simply an expression of how much God loves us and is willing to sacrifice to be with us, both now on earth and throughout eternity in heaven. The value of his very presence eclipses even the value of his wonderful gift.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

By J.D. Greear

What do we mean when we talk about the “favor of God”?

The house you’ve always wanted goes into foreclosure and you buy it for a steal. Your kids bring their report cards home and it’s straight A’s. You find out that a long lost relative left you a tidy sum of money.

Many people may think that God’s favor is something like that. When life seems to break your way, it’s easy to think, “God is really smiling down on me now. He must really love me.”

When we turn to the New Testament, though, we get a splash of cold water. The favor of God doesn’t always line up with great circumstances. Case in point: Mary.

When the angel Gabriel shows up to announce the first Christmas to Mary in Luke 1, he tells her twice that she has God’s favor. But her situation sure doesn’t look like it.

Gabriel has just told her she is going to be pregnant out of wedlock in a culture where this isn’t just frowned upon but could have been punishable by death. The man she loves, Joseph, is probably not going to understand the situation or believe her bizarre explanation and might leave her. She’s already poor, and if Joseph rejects her, she’ll be destitute. She might have to beg for a living.

So here’s Mary — financially insolvent, with a ruined reputation, her most important relationship in tatters.

Maybe you can relate if you sense no joy or good cheer this Christmas season, but dread. Your life doesn’t look like one “blessed and highly favored.” For you, Christmas only reminds you of all the good you don’t have in your life.

If that’s you, then Mary’s circumstances are particularly relevant, because she supposedly has the favor of God in the midst of all her mess. How?

Because a Son is being born to her — a Son, the angel says, whose name will be “Jesus,” meaning that He will save His people from their sins. Like all of us, Mary’s main problem was a severed relationship with God. Jesus was coming to restore that.

But Jesus was coming to do more than merely save from sin. Gabriel points out that He’ll also rule from the throne of David (Luke 1:32). It’s easy to miss how big that promise is. David’s throne symbolized the restoration of worldwide peace and blessing — a condition called shalom.

Think of the promise in Joel where the prophet says, “I will restore the years that the swarming locusts have eaten.” Not just forgive, but restore. Bodies destroyed by disease will leap and run in perfect health. Reputations that have been ruined will be exonerated. Relationships torn apart by death will be mended, as we see, in Tolkien’s words, “all the sad things come untrue.”

We know that God will do this because He did this with Jesus. At the cross, Jesus went through pain that looked like a defeat. But the Father used that pain for our good. He reversed it and turned the devil’s strongest attack into an opportunity to redeem us and restore the world.

Mary isn’t the only one with a miraculous birth in Luke 1. Her relative Elizabeth also gets a visit from Gabriel, and even though she’s barren, she is promised a child. Barrenness has never been easy, but in those days it would have been devastating, the biggest disappointment a woman could imagine. The lead-up to Jesus’ birth includes an elderly, barren woman getting pregnant because the birth of Jesus is God’s promise to erase our deepest disappointments.

What that means is we don’t have to be frantic if we don’t get to everything on our “bucket list.” Many of us live with such an urgency to experience everything that life becomes worthless if we don’t. It’s not the glib stuff, like not seeing the Grand Canyon, that really leads us to disappointment. It’s not getting married, or having children, or being financially comfortable, or overcoming an illness. What we need to see is that in the resurrection, under the reign of the Son of David, every disappointment will be fulfilled.

We have pain; He will reverse it. We have disappointment; He will erase it. We yearn for justice; He will restore it. When we go through seasons of racial strife in our country, many people start to ask, “Will there ever be justice?” Or maybe the yearning for justice is more personal: You’ve been wronged and just can’t get past it. You want to cry out like the psalmist, “Will the wicked go unpunished?”

Unless we look to God’s perfect justice — instead of our judicial system or our own efforts — we’ll always be bitter. Perfect justice will be restored but only when Jesus rules from David’s throne. That truth gives us the hope to continue working for justice now while enduring the injustice in the world.

In the end, that’s what God’s favor is all about. It’s what Christmas is all about — hope. God’s favor isn’t always easy. Sometimes, as with Mary, it brings with it a lot of difficulties. But it’s always good because it brings us a hope in God’s promises and an assurance that His presence will be with us.

J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Avoiding Christmas letdown

Lisa Misner —  December 17, 2018

After the gifts are opened, what’s left to celebrate?

By Mike Keppler

Simeon

What comes after the waiting is over? Let’s ask Simeon.

Christmas gift-opening for our family is a seasonal experience of merry mayhem! The usual gathering of 16 adults and children is a large-sized event for our family room. We fill up the couches and chairs and use all the floor space as well, but still have to spill over into the dining area to accommodate everyone. I just have to keep remembering that it was my wife, Monique, who wanted this large family. But everyone knows that I, too, consider this one of our greatest blessings.

Monique has tried numerous approaches over the years for this time of giving and receiving. We started out opening only one gift at a time (and still prefer this!), but in these last years we have allowed the grandchildren to open their large Christmas bags of gifts at their own frenzied pace in order to deal with their exuberant impatience. It still seems that after the paper has found its way into the recycling bag, there are some eager ones waiting on the adults who are passing and sharing their gifts with each other. With a pile of unwrapped gifts strewn before them, our “near perfect” grandchildren can be heard pleading and even demanding, “Is that all there is?!”

There is a letdown after the last gifts are opened and all the boxes, wrappings, and bows have been processed. The tree looks lonely without packages teeming under its ornamented boughs. Adults feel relief that it is over but secretly long for the feelings of anticipation they had at the start of the season. The declaration that “Christmas is over” brings a certain disappointment with the acknowledgment.

Luke’s Gospel is rich with details surrounding the first Christmas: angelic announcements to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds. It is the latter who are blessed to follow the angel’s directives to Bethlehem. After finding Mary and Joseph, these lowly shepherds are the first to see the baby lying in his manger bed. With great joy that night, they return to their fields and flocks glorifying and praising God on their way.

Most families conclude the reading of the Christmas story with the shepherds’ return, but Luke, the historian, is not ready to wrap up his thrilling account. He wants all his readers to wait because the story of Christmas is far from over. The scene shifts to the temple 41 days later and focuses on two saintly seniors who, with hope-filled lives, are waiting for the coming Christ.

One of these is Simeon, who, with prophetic insights that could have only be revealed to him by God himself, sings out this part of the Christmas story to all who are waiting for more. Within this prophecy, there is a musical message of singing praise, stumbling rejection, the all-important message of salvation for everyone, and even a surprising finale of sadness and sorrow.

The Singing: A sight to celebrate
“I have seen the One who was promised!” must have startled many who witnessed the crescendo of praise from the old prophet. How many who heard the old man sing this out could have thought he was a little tipsy in his prophetic merriment? How could anyone see in this vulnerable baby boy, the son of peasant parents, the Promised Deliverer? These young parents could only afford a humble and modest sacrifice at his dedication. Israel was expecting a prominent and proud warrior who would restore glory to the nation once again. Surely, many observers concluded this baby could not be the son of David, the hoped-for Messiah of God.

Simeon was so convinced by what he saw in the child that he was now ready for the next chapter of a peaceful end to his life. The promise of God was fulfilled. He had seen the Messiah.

What would Christmas be like without music? Musical programs abound during the holidays, rekindling Christmas memories. Luke’s Gospel account has even been put to poetic harmonies. Throughout church history, liturgies have been written and chancel choirs have been singing the canticles of Mary’s Magnificat, Zechariah’s Benedictus, the angels’ Gloria and Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis (Latin for “now let your servant depart”). Community and church choral performances at this season become excellent occasions for inviting seekers to experience these Scriptural songs. More importantly, they allow these friends to hear the good news of the Christmas story.

As the mood swings with this old man’s continued prophecy, Simeon now predicts there will be a stumbling resistance in this child’s future.

The Stumbling: Rise and fall
Jesus was a polarizing figure in his time. Some would gladly welcome the Son of Man, and others would vigorously oppose him. Those rejecting him would say he was not their kind of Messiah. He challenged the assumptions of his enemies. They wanted a revolution of power to overthrow their oppressors and establish an earthly kingdom of dominance and glory for Israel. Jesus would come to rule over human hearts, live his life in selfless service, and die on a cross as a sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world. The opposition would declare, “Not my kind of Messiah!”

We live in a culture that speaks about and even practices spiritual things. However, these beliefs are more aligned with eastern religions such as Buddhism that emphasize self-help. Engaging people readily talk about their own ideas of the spiritual realm, but it is increasingly clear that many of them do not really know what Christianity is all about. It seems that too many individuals today want to design a god in their own image. They vigorously defend the need to love, respect, and accept others, but they are repelled by the God who holds them accountable and confronts their sin. More and more will even dare to claim they do not sin and don’t need a savior! Their stumbling over Christ is our cultural challenge in witnessing.

For centuries, Israel hoped for a Messiah who would deliver them from Roman oppression and restore the glory of their nation. Even Jesus’s disciples zealously shared this idea of Messiah. Many who saw in him hope for the future, however, turned against him when he spoke of suffering and death on a cross. They stumbled over what he was accomplishing in their presence. They refused to believe in him.

Simeon’s prophetic song predicted this child would be a light and salvation to the nations. He would expose the darkness of man’s unbelief and futile attempts to live without God. He would challenge assumptions and there would be resistance. But like Simeon, there would be many in the world who would accept Jesus and follow him into eternal life.

On this occasion of happiness and joy at the prophet’s celebrative praising, there follows a surprising prediction of great grief and sorrow for this young mother.

The Sorrowing: A sword
It is almost ironic that a season like Christmas, so full of joy, could also have a mix of grief and sorrow; however, everyone who has lost a loved one to death can say this is true. There is a letdown and sadness for many at this season when loved ones are no longer with us at family gatherings.

Mary must have been taken aback by Simeon’s painful pronouncement. The coming opposition to Jesus would result in a stabbing grief like a sword piercing her own heart. Mary, who had treasured and pondered many things at Jesus’ birth, no doubt would leave the temple that day thinking deeply about the perplexing prophecy of this devoutly righteous man.

It is sad to think, and reflects a very shallow understanding of Christmas, that for many this season is only a time of gift-giving and receiving. The nation’s retailers project the average American will spend around $900 this Christmas on holiday presents and candies. The Christmas season alone has become a $500-billion-dollar juggernaut of sales for the economy. These businesses with accounts in the red count on Christmas profits to put them back into the black.

It is surely time for Christians to say, “Wait a minute! There is more to this season!” The truth must be told that if this season is only about sharing material gifts, we will feel a great letdown after the credit card bills start coming in January. But there’s good news! The baby Jesus came for a greater reason. He came to forgive our sins through his suffering death on the cross and provide salvation for everyone who will put their faith and trust in him. Unless we are convinced of this, we will miss the whole point of Christmas.

The Saving: A revelation
Many of the Jewish faithful saw in the Messiah a hope only for Israel. They had no problem receiving the blessing of God to make of them a great nation. But Simeon’s prophetic song of salvation was more inclusive and offered a broader invitation to all the nations. This salvation would start in Jerusalem, but that would only be the epicenter. From this locale, the gospel would spread to the ends of the earth. The baby whom Simeon held with humble gratitude this day in the temple would grow up to be the Savior of the whole world!

During this season of giving to international missions, those of us who have received Christ know that we have a global missions mandate to share the good news of Christ our Lord with everyone on earth. The annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is a partnership among Southern Baptists to give to make this mandate a reality around our world by funding church planting and the making of disciples. It is projected that there are 2.8 billion in our world who have little or no access to the gospel. For an individual, this task would be impossible, but working and giving together, we can make an everlasting difference in people’s lives.

Some may not see the point of sharing the Christmas story with unchurched family and friends. Yet it remains that when we do get the message and the “reason for the season” to the forefront of our witness sharing, we see that the gospel does impact the lives of those who hear it. Simeon understood what God was doing the moment he saw the infant Jesus. Let’s give the Holy Spirit something to work with in our witness by sharing the good news with someone this season.

Who knows how God will work through an intentional spiritual conversation that simply retells how Simeon had a surprising encounter one day at the temple with a baby boy who would change the world. Through those conversations, we just might convince some friends of the need to accept Christ as Savior. Imagine what they will discover as the Lord blesses and takes charge of their lives each day!

You might find yourself thinking, as you follow Luke’s telling of the Christmas narrative through the part about the shepherds, “It would be hard to top that story!” However, Luke interrupts that thought like a stage manager in a theatre drama and directs the next actor forward to stage right, “Simeon! Tell your story!” And Simeon joyfully sings out, “I can top that! I’ve seen the Sovereign Lord’s Salvation with my own eyes! I’ve experienced him face to face!”

There will not be a Christmas letdown if we who have accepted Christ and do see him at the center of this Christmas season, say to our world, “Wait a minute! There is more to this story! Come. Experience Christ! Worship him! Share him with everyone!”

Mike Keppler served as pastor of Springfield Southern Baptist Church for 26 years. Recently retired, he is enjoying writing and grandfathering.

Sharing Christ at Christmas

Lisa Misner —  December 14, 2018

By Autumn Wall

Christmas. The season of joy. Jesus’s birthday. It’s right around the corner!

As believers, we know the real reason for the season is Jesus. This is the day we celebrate our Savior coming to earth to begin his journey to the cross which will give us freedom from sin and shame eternally. But the chaos of the season can overshadow the real reason we celebrate and distract us from the very thing we were put on this earth to do: tell his story.

This Christmas, will you be intentional to share Jesus everywhere you go? Here are some fresh ideas to keep you focused on the gospel:

• Buy some clear or blank ornaments and decorate them with your favorite Scripture verse. Keep a box of them in your car and give them away to people you encounter—at the gas station, grocery store, your kid’s school program, on a family walk, etc.

• Get a stack of invitation cards from your church (or make some yourself) to invite people to your church’s Christmas Eve service or program. So many people are willing to attend a holiday event who might never go to a “church service.” Who are you inviting?

• Host a neighborhood Christmas tea. Invite your neighbors to stop by your home just to celebrate the season together for a few minutes. Present each attendee with a small gift, card, and/or invitation to your church or small group.

• Take time to train your kids how to tell people about Jesus. It can be as simple as telling their teachers and friends that we celebrate Christmas because God came down to us and made a way for us to know him.

It’s simple in this season to share Jesus, but it’s also simple to forget to share him. How will you share him everywhere you go this Christmas season?

Autumn Wall, online at autumnwall.com, is an author, speaker, worship leader, pastor’s wife, and mom of three in Indianapolis.

Missionary heroes

ib2newseditor —  April 26, 2018

Dr. Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, Illinois

We need heroes. The true hero of our story, of course, should always be the Lord Jesus. No earthly hero can do what He did or give what He gave. But there is something to be said for the example of a fellow Christian who has followed the Lord in a way we can emulate.

The apostle Paul said, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). He served the church of Corinth as an example of a sinner following the Savior. He was a model, an example — a hero if you will — for other Christians to follow. He reminded them to follow him only as he followed Jesus. But he showed them how it was done in the real world by a real sinner who was following a real Savior.

Career missionaries serve as models for Christians back home. They might not like the tag “hero” but they serve as models and examples for the rest of us who follow Christ.

Missionary heroes may not leap tall buildings in a single bound or be faster than speeding bullets. But they point us to the Ultimate Hero.

We see their example of sacrifice and learn something of what it means to “die to self” amid the joys of a calling often tempered by loneliness, isolation and illness. We see what “take up your cross daily and follow Jesus” is all about. We learn from them. We “imitate them as they imitate Christ.”

Having missionary heroes doesn’t mean we think they are perfect. Only Jesus is. It doesn’t mean we don’t know they have feet of clay like all the rest of us.

It just means that we have seen people who followed Jesus even when it was hard. And we learn that we can follow Jesus through hard times as well. We learn that we can sacrifice, we can value the eternal over the earthly and we can be obedient to our Lord. They serve as models of the kind of heart we need as we follow the Lord wherever He leads us.

We don’t put missionary faces on bubble gum cards like we used to do with baseball players. Not many movies feature missionaries saving the day. But career missionaries ought to be a special kind of hero to us. We should honor them, pray for them and love them. We should tell their stories. We should follow their examples.

Maybe you will never be called by God to serve as a career missionary far from family and home. But every missionary can serve as an example to you of how to follow Jesus where you are. Missionaries can be spiritual heroes who point you to the greatest hero — the Lord Jesus who loves you and calls you to follow Him.

Missionary heroes may not leap tall buildings in a single bound or be faster than speeding bullets. But they point us to the Ultimate Hero. And that is better than being more powerful than a locomotive any day!

Doug Munton, online at dougmunton.com, is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is the author of “Immersed: 40 Days to a Deeper Faith.” This column appeared at BPnews.net.