The law cannot make you right with God

We need to be reminded often that we cannot be made right with God by obeying the law. We have a very bad tendency to shift from grace to law because we think that we have to take responsibility.

We will never celebrate the grace that brought us salvation if we allow ourselves to think that law-keeping is what makes us acceptable to God.

Consider the following repeated emphasis on the inadequacy of the law from one book in the New Testament:

  • Galatians 2:16 - “For we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 2:21 - “For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 3:10-11 – “But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. (NLT)
  • Galatians 3:13-14 – “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 3:23-26 - “Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 4:4-6 – “…when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father’” (NLT).

Steve Cornell

Are you poor in Spirit?

What did Jesus mean when he declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”? Does this refer to actual poverty or spiritual humility? Does “blessed” mean “happy”? How could the poor be blessed?

Blessed or happy?

We should not equate being “blessed” with being “happy.” Jesus was not making statements about the emotional well-being of people. Western culture is preoccupied with analyzing moods and feelings, whereas being “blessed” is much deeper than an assessment of emotion.

 Jesus’ use of “blessed” is better understood as a declaration of divine approval. “Blessed (of God)” are the poor in spirit. After all, Jesus is the one making the declarations.

The eight beatitudes are the qualities of the true disciples of Jesus. What does a true believer look like? — He is poor in spirit; he mourns; he is meek… I agree with the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones in seeing these as progressive spiritual experiences with lasting transformations of character.

Jesus described those who will inhabit heaven 

The eight beatitudes are sandwiched in a literary envelop between the repeated phrase “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This offers insight into the kind of people who make up the citizens of heaven. Who will inhabit heaven? Look at the beatitudes. This is true Christianity. Whatever superficial substitute you’ve seen, it must be measured by these qualities.

The meaning of poor in spirit

Blessed — approved of God — are the poor in spirit. To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual bankruptcy before God. It is to stand before God, broken and empty without anything to commend ourselves to His approval.

The poor in spirit are like the man described by Jesus who beat himself on the chest and plead for God’s mercy. “I tell you,” Jesus said elsewhere, “that the this man who identified himself as a sinner in need of God’s mercy “went home justified before God.” Then our Lord said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14).

The opposite of the poor in spirit is the proud in spirit. And since we know that God resists the proud (I Peter 5:5-6), we may be confident that nothing of spiritual consequence happens apart from poverty of spirit. God is near to those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18) and he “guides the humble in  what is right and teaches them His way” (Psalm 25:9). This is why the poor in spirit are blessed! 

Character precedes influence

It is important to notice how Jesus shifted from third person address (”theirs” is…”they” shall….) in Matthew 5:3-12 – to second person address in Matthew 5:13-16 - “You” are the salt of the earth; “You” are the light of the world. Who is Jesus talking about here? Who is salt and light? The ones he described in the beatitudes. They fulfill the role of salt and light? 

“Poor” vs. “Poor in spirit”

Luke’s gospel uses a socio-economic designation without the spiritual addition – “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). This fits with an overall emphasis in the gospel of Luke on God’s concern for the lowly and it’s taught in other places as well.

  • “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5).
  • “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. ( I Corinthians 1:26-29).

Why is it that material need often helps us to see deeper needs? Blessed are the poor/poor in spirit!

Steve Cornell

The glory of ordinary lives

il_340x270.505798718_omb6We need more emphasis on the glory of living ordinary lives for Christ. Perhaps it could become the new radical!

The emphasis we’ve seen on being radical Christians could lead to a feeling that what is ordinary is either boring or some form of compromise. This could then produce a larger chasm between what the Church says and the way most people must live day by day.

It also has the potential of threatening the joy of daily life with the spirit of discontentment that promoted the sin of Eden.

Listen to the way people tell you what they do.

  • “I am just a mom.”
  • “I am just a mechanic.”
  • “I am just a waitress.”
  • “I am just a ….”

On and on it goes. But maybe there is no “just” with God? Or, more likely, God is found in the “just.” Jesus asked, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

A needed message in our times

    • “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12, NLT).
    • “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14, NIV).

I fear that we’ve lost touch with the glory and joy of being called to faithfulness and diligence in the ordinary routines and duties of life. What would life look like if we renewed our zeal to “… be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

I think of Jesus’ emphasis on serving God quietly in secret places. “Be careful” He said, “not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).

We need renewed zeal for the quiet glory of being faithful fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, neighbors, employers, employees, — just common followers of Jesus Christ living ordinary lives for an extraordinary glory.

tumblr_mrwo0aVE5W1qcdaeho1_500“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Have we lost touch with the joy of ordinary, non-glamorous devotion to God and others because we’ve lived with an “If only….” spirit of restlessness? Have we overly radicalized wholehearted love for God and our neighbor by separating it from daily faithfulness in mundane but necessary duties?

Jesus said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

Jesus required unconcern for status as a kingdom virtue. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5).

“Stop being un-amazed by the strange glory of ordinary things” (Clyde Kilby).

Steve Cornell

Top 5 Arguments against eternal punishment

Along with great emphasis on God’s love and mercy, Scripture presents God as the Judge who sends some people into hell.

Jesus warned his followers not to “… fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus referred to hell as a place where God sends people (Matthew 25:41,46).

The Bible doesn’t describe a pleasant end for those who reject God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. But what type of judgment falls on them?

Is it eternal suffering or eternal annihilation? Eternal in consequence or in duration? Part of the debate centers on whether ‘eternal’ is meant as a consequence (i.e. eternal punishment– not eternal punishing; the result being eternal destruction,) or as a duration (i.e. never ending, on going punishing).

Five arguments against eternal punishing

1. The fire is metaphoric

The late John R. W. Stott (a teacher I hold in highest regard on most subjects) suggested that, “The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable’ but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed forever, not tormented forever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which ‘rises forever and ever’ (Rev. 14:11; cf. 19:3)” (Evangelical Essentials, David Edwards, p. 316).

But how does this same approach apply to the burning bush of Exodus 3:2-3 which “burned with fire yet was not consumed”? Consistency of metaphor would lead one to think that smoke rising forever and ever indicates something is burning in the fire.

2. The matter of justice:

Sins committed in a finite realm should not suffer an eternal consequence. Justice demands punishment in proportion to the crime. This argument may sound appealing on the surface but it fails at the Cross of Christ. Why did the infinite, eternal God have to come and die for the sins of finite creatures? Sin against an infinite God is infinite in consequence. Are we implying that people can sufficiently pay the consequence of sin against God? I am sure we are incompetent judges of the penalty sin deserves.

“The Bible does not present us with a God who chances upon neutral men and women and arbitrarily consigns some to heaven and some to hell. He takes guilty men and women, all of whom deserve his wrath, and in his great mercy and love he saves vast numbers of them. Had he saved only one, it would have been an act of grace; that he saves a vast host affirms still more unmistakably the uncharted reaches of that grace. Hell stands as a horrible witness to human defiance in the face of great grace” (How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, p. 92).

“Unless we come to grips with this terrible doctrine (of hell), we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him, he was experiencing hell itself” (Tim Keller).

3. Conditional immortality of the soul:

This is argued by the late Philip Hughes in The Image Restored, pp. 398-407. He taught that immortality belongs to God in the purest sense and to believers only through Christ (I Tim. 6:15-17; II Tim. 1:9f). This seems to be based on a limited understanding of death as total extinction of existence. But, if spiritual and physical death do not result in cessation of existence, why would the second death? (Eph. 2:1-3; Heb. 9:27; Rev. 20:6; 14:21:8). Scripture does not equate death with non-existence. The evidence points in the opposite direction.

4. Luke 16:19-31 is a parable (and should not be considered a literal source of information)

This text is not identified as a parable, but even if it is parabolic in nature, treating it as an unreliable source ignores the one who is telling the story. Should we believe that Jesus Christ would use speculative imagery on such a serious matter? If this refers only to a temporary intermediate state ending in a judgment of annihilation, the judgment seems like it would be a welcomed end. This is clearly not the point Jesus is making.

5. The problem of eternal dualism:

Philip Hughes wrote: “With the restoration of all things in the new heaven and the new earth, which involves God’s reconciliation to himself of all things, whether on earth or in heaven (Acts 3:21; Col. 1:20), there will be no place for a second kingdom of darkness and death” (p. 406, The Image Restored).

The lake of fire is certainly not a Kingdom. Ongoing punishment itself would be a continuous testimony to the defeat of evil. The reality of victory over death secured by Christ is not threatened by hell (Heb. 2:14-16; I Cor. 15:54-55; Rev. 20:14; 21:4).

What does Scripture teach?

All humans will be resurrected (Jn. 5:28-29; Dan. 12:2; Acts 24:15); all will be judged by God (Heb. 9:27; Rom. 2:4-10; 14:10-12; Rev. 20:11-15), and all will be separated between two distinct eternal destinies (Mt. 25:32,41,36; Jn. 3:36; 14:1-3; Rev. 21:3-8).

Where people go after death

Theologian Millard Erickson offers a six-point answer to the question of where people go after death. His points are worthy of careful reflection.

  1. All humans are sinners, by nature and by choice; they are therefore guilty and under divine condemnation.
  2. Salvation is only through Christ and his atoning work.
  3. In order to obtain the salvation achieved by Christ, one must believe in Him; therefore Christians and the church have a responsibility to tell unbelievers the good news about Him.
  4. The adherents of other faiths, no matter how sincere their belief or how intense their religious activity, are spiritually lost apart from Christ.
  5. Physical death brings an end to the opportunity to exercise saving faith and accept Jesus Christ. The decisions made in this life are irrevocably fixed at death.
  6. At the great final judgment all humans will be separated on the basis of their relationship to Christ during this life. Those who have believed in Him will spend eternity in heaven, where they will experience everlasting joy and reward in God’s presence. Those who have not accepted Christ will experience hell, a place of unending suffering and separation from God (The Evangelical Mind and Heart).

Steve Cornell

See: Hell bound?

Not Bethlehem, but Calvary

While reflecting on the birth of Christ, consider how the New Testament makes reference to Christ’s birth for two primary purposes.

1. Prophetic - to connect Christ’s coming with messianic prophecies. He came in fulfillment of ancient prophecy. 

  • Incarnation (Micah 5:2; Jn. 5:23; 14:9-10; Jn. 1:14; Col. 2:9; I Tim. 3:16).
  • Virgin birth (Isa. 7;14; Lk. 1:35; Mt. 1:18, 25; Lk. 1:26-38).

2. Redemptive – to connect Christ’s coming with our salvation. He came to be our Savior from sin through His self-giving, sacrificial death on the cross. 

  • Christ’s death is the only salvation for humanity (Rom. 3:21-26; 4:25; 5:12-19).
  • Christ bore the penalty of our sin to accomplish our reconciliation  (Rom. 5:6-11; II Cor. 5:18-21; I Jn. 4:9).

“The New Testament knows nothing of an incarnation which can be defined apart from its relation to atonement… Not Bethlehem, but Calvary, is the focus of revelation, and any construction of Christianity which ignores or denies this distorts Christianity by putting it out of focus” (James Denney, The Death of Christ, 1902, p.235 f.).

“The crucial significance of the cradle at Bethlehem lies in its place in the sequence of steps down that led the Son of God to the cross of Calvary…” (J.I. Packer, p.51, ‘Knowing God’).

  • “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.’ Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).
  • “God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us” (Romans 8:3-4).

The Christmas story of God’s sacrificial love for sinners like me is well summarized by the apostle John: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:9-10).

This is good news!

Blessed Christmas to all!

Steve Cornell

Christmas Eve message from space (45 years ago)

45 years ago today, a Christmas Eve message was sent to earth from Apollo 8. The crew of the first manned voyage to the moon took turns reading from the book of Genesis. It was the most televised broadcast of that time.

As we remember this moment and message, let us worship the one who came from heaven to earth as our Redeemer. Concerning Jesus Christ, Scripture says,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3).

“Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!” (John 17:24).

Reflect deeply on these great words

“For in him (Jesus) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). 

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9-14).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16-18). 

Make this prayer your own

“God, I am ready to admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself and deserve to be punished for my sin. But I believe that Jesus Christ died for me to pay the debt that I owe.”

“Today, the best I know how, I am placing my trust in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I am turning to you for forgiveness and salvation. I believe that you sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty my sin deserves. I believe that when Jesus died on the cross, his death was for my salvation. Through Jesus death and resurrection, you did for me what I could not do for myself.”

“I thank you for the gift of eternal life promised to those who believe in Jesus Christ. I now turn the control of my life over to you. I thank you that by believing in Jesus Christ I can be your forgiven child and be certain that I will never perish but have eternal life with you.”

Three words that changed the world

Play Audio!heaven-on-earth

“He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:8)

“Jesus established humility and unconcern for social status not only as the psychological structure of His kingdom but also as a basis for entrance into it. It could be argued that Jesus is simply emphasizing the attitude of truly redeemed people (cf. Isaiah 66:1-2).”

Not humble….

“Those who need to excel others to think well of themselves— who seek value at the expense of others —who try to climb to honor by using others —-who construct their glory upon the shoulders of weakness found in others— who engage in the ‘dangerous business of building self-assessments on watching to see how they’re doing in comparison with others’”

“Those who live this way are— in some profound sense— actually degrading themselves and, far worse, cutting themselves off from both God and people.”

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pe. 5:5).

“There is something in humility which — strangely enough — exalts the heart, and something in pride which debases it.”

Lacking humility?

“A lack of humility destroys a person’s spiritual life; it subverts his spiritual relationships, the deepest and most important relationships of his life. Pride cuts a person off from fellowship with others. It isolates him and, however little he may recognize the fact, degrades him. He who exalts himself will be humbled.” (Roberts).

Not a feeling….

A person could be a wonderful exemplar of humility without ever feeling humble; in fact, one who frequently feels humble is probably not very humble. But humility is…..a disposition not to feel the emotions associated with caring a lot about one’s status.”

“It is the ability to have my self-comfort quite apart from any question about my place in the social pecking order (whether the criterion is accomplishments, education, beauty, money, power, fame, or position); Humility is self-confidence that runs far deeper than the tenuous self-confidence of the person who believes in himself because others look up to him.” (From: Spiritual Emotions, Robert Roberts)

Philippians 2:3-11

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (NLT).

Kenosis – “he made himself nothing” or “He emptied himself” not of “the form or very nature of God;” not of “equality with God.” But by addition: “By taking….being made…..being found….. becoming obedient to death……”

Steve Cornell

4 truths from the birth of Christ

Yesterday my wife and I attended a re-enactment of the birth of Christ at Sight and Sound Theatres. The actors and participants always do an outstanding job!  

As I watched, I found myself asking again, “How could so much eternal significance center on such an obscure rural scene?”

And why does the story continue? Why will many millions of people throughout the world focus on the heartwarming story of Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus into the world? Why would this quaint story from so long ago capture worldwide attention for more than two thousand years? Why will many thousands of reenactments take place on every continent of the globe?

Could such an amazing drama (over such a long time) be attributed to the power of religious tradition? Or, is there more to what happened on that night? 

Any interest taken in the familial details of the story should never occur without the relentless connections made in the New Testament with the unfolding prophetic and redemptive drama. This is the story of a God who so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life!

The genuineness of the story of the birth of Jesus is validated by eyewitness accounts and rings with authenticity by the way it breaks with expected social norms of the time.

I invite you to consider this authenticity by understanding the way the story broke with expected cultural norms. God clearly chose to bring His Son into the world in a way that challenged the self-righteous pride of man. 

 The unsanitized story

Suppose God had enlisted you to help arrange the setting for the birth of His Son — the long-awaited Messiah. What kind of reception would you plan for such an amazing event? What location would you recommend for his birthplace? Who would make it on the guest list?

Suppose God had taken a survey in Jerusalem to seek the advice of leading Jewish people about arrangements for the arrival of their long-awaited Messiah-King. When you compare popular expectations of the times with the way God actually arranged the events, you’ll find yourself asking if God set things up to make it more difficult to believe. Did God do this intentionally to confront the pride of mankind?

Consider the contrast

How would the esteemed leaders of Israel have responded if God consulted them and said,

“I am about to dispatch my mighty angel Gabriel to a young girl in the Galilean City of Nazareth. She is my choice for mother of the Messiah.”

“Wait a moment, Lord!” they would have said, “If you want this to be credible among the Jews, Nazareth of Galilee is not a good idea!” “The most important people of Israel do not have favorable feelings toward people from that area.” According to one historian: “The rabbinical circles of Jerusalem held the Galilean in contempt, because of his manner of speech, colloquialisms and lack of a certain type of culture characteristic of the Jerusalemite” (Edersheim).

Any connection between Messiah and Nazareth would not sit well with the people of Jerusalem.

God explains

“The young girl from Nazareth is a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the descendants of David. The Messiah will be miraculously conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit before her marriage is consummated.” (Isa. 7;14; Lk. 1:35; Mt. 1:18, 25; Lk. 1:26-38)

“No disrespect intended, Lord,” the leaders would have responded, “but while a child born to a virgin would be an amazing miracle (and we are aware of prophecies of such an event), the Jewish people will likely attach a very ugly rumor to the Messiah and stigmatize him as illegitimate (see: John 8:41). Maybe you should save miracles for other occasions.”

Think about it

“In the modern United States, where each year a million teenage girls get pregnant out-of-wedlock, Mary’s predicament has undoubtedly lost some of its force, but in a closely knit Jewish community in the first century, the news an angel delivered could not have been entirely welcome. Nine months of awkward explanations, the lingering scent of a scandal-it seems almost as if God arranged the most humiliating circumstances possible for his entrance, as if to avoid any accusation of favoritism” (Philip Yancey).

God raises the stakes

“When you write the record of Messiah’s genealogy, make sure you include the following four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah” (Matthew 1:1-6).

“Lord,” the Jewish leaders would have responded, “it’s true that these women are in the lineage, but each one has a certain unpleasantness about her. Tamar had that incestuous encounter with Judah and Rahab was a converted harlot. Ruth was a good woman but she was a gentile. And Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah represents a bad moment in our history that we would rather forget. Could we perhaps leave these women out?”

God designates birthplace and visitors

“It must be in Bethlehem, as the prophecies foretold, but I will use a stable. As for visitors, my angel will be directing some shepherds to the place” (see Luke 2:8-13).

“Really, Lord?” “The home of animals and the keepers of sheep will not foster credibility in the eyes of the elite of Jerusalem. And the wise men with rich gifts — perhaps? But shepherds? They’re considered ceremonially unclean and social outcasts among the sophisticated.” “We don’t mean to be disrespectful, Lord, but many will have a hard time accepting this plan.”

Think about it

Philip Yancey observed how: “God’s visit to Earth took place humbly, in a berth for animals with no attendants present and nowhere to lay the new-born king but a food trough. Indeed, the event that divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts had more animals than human witnesses. For an instant, the sky grew luminous with angels. Yet, who saw that spectacle? Illiterate hirelings who watched the flocks of other `nobodies` who failed to leave their names. Shepherds had a randy reputation and other Jews lumped them together with the `godless.` Fittingly, it was they who God selected to help celebrate the birth of one who would be known as the friend of sinners” (The Jesus I Never Knew”).

What can we learn?

In the way God planned for the birth of Jesus, we’re reminded that God is not impressed with our notions of greatness. He does not need our recommendations nor pander to our opinions.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). He also said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside” (II Corinthians 1:19). The wisdom and ways of man do not set the Divine agenda.

The same principle is at the heart of the gospel itself. By offering salvation as a free gift, totally unattainable by human effort, God refuses all our attempts to impress Him. Scripture repeatedly says, “No one shall boast before God.” The un-sanitized version of the Christmas story also reminds us of God’s concern for the lowly and the outcast— for those who humbly acknowledge their need for God’s mercy, and for Jesus as their Savior from sin.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Four truths from the birth of Christ

  1. The inability of man to introduce the Savior to the human race (Mt. 19:26; I Jn. 4:14).
  2. The wisdom of God over the wisdom of man (Gen. 18:14; Jn. 8:41; I Cor. 2:4-10).
  3. Salvation as God’s free gift — not of human works or boasting (Eph. 2:8-9; Ti. 3:3-7) 
  4. The uniqueness and purity of Jesus as God in human flesh (Jn. 1:14; I Pe. 2:21-23)

Steve Cornell

Why so many names?

We all have names and titles based on relationships and roles in life. My birth name is Steven. I am a son, brother, nephew, cousin, husband, father, uncle, grandfather, pastor, and president and chairman of the board (that just sounds too important).

I have been called coach, Mr., Sir, Hey You, Buddy, friend, Reverend, and some other nick names I won’t mention. As the second oldest of eleven children, my youngest brother (16 year difference between us) finally stopped calling me “sir.” 

Names and titles applied to Jesus

Advocate (1 John 2:1) Almighty (Rev. 1:8; Mt. 28:18) Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13) Amen (Rev. 3:14)
Apostle (Heb. 3:1) Atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2) Author of Life (Acts 3:15) Author and Finisher of our Faith (Heb. 12:2) Author of Salvation (Heb. 2:10) Beginning and End (Rev. 22:13) Bread of God (John 6:33) Bread of Life (John 6:35; 6:48) Bridegroom (Mt. 9:15) Capstone (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7) Chief Cornerstone (Eph. 2:20) Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) Christ (1 John 2:22) Deliverer (Rom. 11:26) Eternal Life (1 John 1:2; 5:20) Everlasting Father (Isa 9:6) Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11) Faithful Witness (Rev. 1:5) Faithful and True Witness (Rev. 3:14) First and Last (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13) Firstborn From the Dead (Rev. 1:5) Firstborn over all creation (Col. 1:15) Gate (John 10:9) God (John 1:1, 14; 20:28; Heb. 1:8; Rom. 9:5) Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14) Great God (Titus 2:13) Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20) Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14) Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23) Heir of all things (Heb. 1:2) High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 3:1) Holy and True (Rev. 3:7) Holy One (Acts 3:14) Hope (1 Tim. 1:1) Hope of Glory (Col. 1:27) Horn of Salvation (Luke 1:69) I Am (John 8:58) Image of God (2 Cor. 4:4) Immanuel (Mt. 1:23)
Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42) King of Israel (John 1:49) King of the Jews (Mt. 27:11) King of kings (Rev. 19:16) King of the Ages (Rev. 15:3) Lamb (Rev. 13:8) Lamb of God (John 1:29) Lamb Without Blemish (1 Pet. 1:19) Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45) Life (John 14:6; Col. 3:4) Light of the World (John 8:12) Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5) Living One (Rev. 1:18) Living Stone (1 Pet. 2:4) Lord (2 Pet. 2:20) Lord of All (Acts 10:36) Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8) Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16) Man from Heaven (1 Cor. 15:48) Mediator of a New Covenant (Heb. 9:15) Mighty God (Isa. 9:6) Morning Star (Rev. 22:16) Offspring of David (Rev. 22:16) Only Begotten Son of God (John 1:18; 1 John 4:9) Our Great God and Savior (Titus 2:13) Our Holiness (1 Cor. 1:30) Our Husband (2 Cor. 11:2) Our Protection (2 Thess. 3:3) Our Redemption (1 Cor. 1:30) Our Righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30) Our Sacrificed Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) Power of God (1 Cor. 1:24) Precious Cornerstone (1 Pet. 2:6) Prince of peace (Isa. 9:6) Prophet (Acts 3:22) Rabbi (Mt. 26:25) Resurrection and Life (John 11:25) Righteous Branch (Jer. 23:5) Righteous One (Acts 7:52; 1 John 2:1)
Rock (1 Cor. 10:4) Root of David (Rev. 5:5; 22:16) Ruler of God’s Creation (Rev. 3:14) Ruler of the Kings of the Earth (Rev. 1:5) Savior (Eph. 5:23; Titus 1:4; 3:6; 2 Pet. 2:20) Son of David (Luke 18:39) Son of God (John 1:49; Heb. 4:14) Son of Man (Mt. 8:20) Son of the Most High God (Luke 1:32) Source of Eternal Salvation for all who obey him (Heb. 5:9) The One Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) The Stone the builders rejected (Acts 4:11) True Bread (John 6:32) True Light (John 1:9) True Vine (John 15:1) Truth (John 1:14; 14:6) Way (John 14:6) Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24) Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6) Word (John 1:1) Word of God (Rev. 19:13)

Why so many titles to explain Jesus?

The New Testament uses more than 100 titles for Him. Perhaps we need them because in Him are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Or, because in Jesus resides “all the fullness of Deity in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9; cf. Ephesians 3:18-19). Jesus was fully human without being merely human. 

A challenge

Choose one name each day and the Scripture with it. Mediate and pray about the meaning of the name/title as a means to worship Christ and to get to know Him better. Think about the relationship and roles implied in each title. This might require some additional study.

For example, the first name is “Advocate.” What does this mean? Use different translations and a good Bible dictionary to discover the range of meaning and application. Try to find other Scriptures that use the name or relate to the meaning of it. Finally, make thoughtful applications and share them with others!

“We have come to worship him”

(Matthew 2:2)

Suggested Plan

Name/title – Meaning – Scriptures – Relationship/Roles – Applications