Monday, December 18, 2006

Treasure Christ this Christmas

A meditation on Micah 1:1-5a and Matthew 13:44.

I have seen bumper stickers and car magnets saying "Keep Christ in Christmas" all over the place. In fact, someone put one on our car without us knowing it. I have to confess...I took it off because I have never liked having any kind of bumper sticker or car magnet. That's not the point, and I'm not about to pull out a soap box on the whole "Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays" debate. I actually don't care for that debate...some people try to make you feel "less that Christian" if you with someone a happy holiday. "Keep Christ in Christmas," they might say. Well, as my grandmother (a.k.a. - Jo Jo) would say, "Jesus shouldn't just be celebrated one day a year. He's for every day." Amen, Jo Jo.

No, what I write today is a reminder that if we are to focus on Christ, let's not just remember him the way we remember fond Christmases gone by. Let's not just have him as part of Christmas the way we have trees and gifts and family meals. The incarnation of Christ as a baby is far too significant to just be part of a holiday tradition. So, don't just remember Christ or recognize Christ...treasure Christ this Christmas. Why? I'm glad you asked.

Why treasure Christ at Christmas?

(1) He is the God-man. Micah 5 indicates that the coming Messiah would be both God and man. We can see this in two places. First, the Messiah will be God according to verse 2b... "one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." There is only One who can be described in this way. It is God Himself. God is eternal and existed before time, space, or any material thing was created. He alone could be described as the Ancient of days.

Second, the Messiah will be a man. In verse 3, Micah says that Israel will be abandoned "until the time when she who is in labor gives birth..." Isaiah says the same of the Messiah in his prophecy: "For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given" (9:6). From the garden, we can hear echoes of a coming Savior who would be a man, as God says that the seed of the woman (i.e.- a man) will crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).

This Messiah would be God. This Messiah would be a man. This Messiah would be the God-Man...Jesus Christ. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:1, 14). Treasure Christ this Christmas because He is the God-Man promised in the Old Testament prophecy.

(2) He was born in a manger. That sounds strange, doesn't it? Treasure Christ because He was born in a manger?!? Are you sure? A manger is such a low and humble place. In fact, Micah indicates that even the town was low and humble when he says, "Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me...[a] ruler" (v. 2). First of all, Bethlehem was such an inconspicuous town that it wasn't even listed when the tribe of Judah was given its land in Joshua 15. Saying the Messiah would come from Bethlehem would be like saying a Messiah would come from Iron City, TN. Iron City? you might think. Where's Iron City? Well, that's exactly the point. It's a town of about 700's no place for such a royal birth.

However, God seems to choose obscure people and places to accomplish His work. "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise...the weak things of the world to shame the strong...the lowly things of the world and the despised that no one may boast before him" (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). John Piper says of this truth, "God chose a stable so no innkeeper could boast, 'He chose the comfort of my inn!' God chose a manger so that no woodworker could boast, 'He chose the craftsmanship of my bed!' He chose Bethlehem so no one could boast, 'The greatness of our city constrained the divine choice!'"

This same choice of God's is observable in salvation. God did not save me or you because of our great talents or because of our wondrous character. He chooses the foolish, weak, despised, sinful people of the world to display the great glory of His salvation. When you remember the manger, don't feel sorry for Mary and Joseph...rejoice that your life was a smelly, rotten, abandoned manger into which Jesus has been born. There was nothing about you that drew God to was His grace alone that drew you to Himself. Treasure Christ because He was born in a manger.

(3) He came with a mission. There are seven pieces of this mission that Micah points to. It is an eternal mission (v. 4 - "he will stand..."). The Scripture says elsewhere that the Lord will never leave you nor forsake you, but here Micah uses the word "stand". That word means that He will remain...stand fast. When life tosses you into disease and turmoil, Jesus will stand. When you feel like you can't go on, Jesus will stand. When you sin and fail in your walk with Christ, Jesus will stand.

It is a providing mission (v. 4 - "he will...shepherd his flock"). Feeding the flock was a main responsibility of the shepherd, and Jesus Christ is the good shepherd. He has laid down His life for the that you might live. He will not abandon you in your time of need. He will provide all that you need according to His glorious riches.

It is a consistent mission (v. 4 - "in the strength of the Lord" and "in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God"). People will let you down. Your spouse will let you down. Your pastor will let you down. People may be cold when you need warmth. Your spouse may forget something that was critical to remember. Your pastor may be unavailable at the moment you need him. Jesus will not do any of these. Our Messiah shepherds us in the strength of the Lord and in the majesty of His name. He will never forget you...He is near you when you are brokenhearted... He is never unavailable to those who cry out in faith to Him. He is our consistent Messiah.

It is a secure mission (v. 4 - "they will live securely"). When you belong to this Messiah, Jesus Christ, you are secure. You see, your salvation and eternal life are not based on your character. It is based on the character of God. Jesus says, "I shall lose none of all that [the Father] has given me" (John 6:39). He also says, "No one can snatch [My sheep] out of My Father's hand" (John 10:29). Salvation is not about a prayer prayed, a baptism observed, or a membership card filled is about our lives being saved from the miry pit of sin, death, and hell by a God who will in no way cast us out.

It is a worldwide mission (v. 4 - "for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth"). This Messiah would not be an Israeli king only. He would be the King over all kings. No matter their color or nation, He is the King over all. All kings...white, black, Asian, Hispanic, mixed race, American, German, Kenyan, Chinese, Korean, subject to the King of kings. All men, women, boys, and girls will either bow their knee in faith during this life, or they will bow their knee in condemnation in the life to come. This is why it is so critical that men and women are sharing the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ all over the world. This is why international missions is so critical. The Messiah's mission is's not a white America mission. It is an "every tribe, language, people, and nation" mission.

It is a peaceful mission (v.5 - "he will be their peace"). There is a political aspect to the peace about which Micah speaks. However, our Messiah brings us peace with God. "Therefore, having been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). As sinners, we are enemies of God, but through the glorious salvation of Christ, we have been reconciled to our God and now live at peace with Him.

Finally, it is a forgiveness mission (read 7:18-19). Forgiveness comes from God alone, even the Pharisees knew this. Jesus Christ came as the God-man to glorify our great God through the forgiveness and salvation of sinners. Who will be forgiven? Notice the word "remnant." All will not be forgiven...only a portion. How do you know who that portion is? Romans 5:1 tells us... "justified through faith." Only those that have been justified through faith in Christ live in a peaceful, forgiven relationship with God.

These seven things (and more) mark the grandeur of our Messiah's mission. It is an eternal, providing, consistent, secure, worldwide, peaceful mission of forgiveness.

So, treasure Christ this Christmas! Why? Because He is the God-man, He was born in a manger, and He came with an amazing seek and to save that which was lost.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Epistolary Evangelism

If you have been keeping up with recent posts, you noticed that I have mentioned Robert Murray McCheyne, a Scottish pastor who lived and ministered in the 19th century. After heart palpitations took him from the pulpit to the sickbed, McCheyne wrote letters to minister to his church, other pastors, friends, and even the lost. On March 20, 1840, McCheyne was burdened with someone mentioned as being in need of salvation. From his sickbed, he wrote this letter. I'll make at least one comment afterward. For now, just read his words to a stranger:

"I don't even know your name, but I think I know something of the state of your soul. Your friend has been with me, and told me a little of your mind; and I write a few lines just to bid you to look to Jesus and live. Look at Numbers 21:9, and you will see your disease and your remedy. You have been bitten by the great serpent. The poison of sin is through and through your whole heart, but Christ has been lifted up on the cross that you may look and live. Now, do not look so long and so harassingly at your own heart and feelings. What will you find there but the bite of the serpent? You were shapen in iniquity, and the whole of your natural life has been spent in sin. The more God opens your eyes, the more you will feel that you are lost in yourself. This is your disease.

"Now for the remedy. Look to Christ; for the glorious Son of God so loved lost souls, that He took on Him a body and died for us - bore our curse, and obeyed the law in our place. Look to Him and live. You need no preparation, you need no endeavors, you need no duties, you need no strivings, you need to look and live. Look at John 17:3. The way to be saved is to know God's heart and the heart of Jesus. To be awakened, you need to know your own heart. Look at your own heart, if you with to know your lost condition. See the pollution that is there - forgetfulness of God, deadness, insensibility to His love. If you are judged as you are in yourself, you will be lost. To be saved, you need to know the heart of God and of Christ. The four Gospels are a narrative of the heart of Christ. They show His compassion to sinners, and His glorious work in their stead. If you only knew that heart as it is, you would lay your weary head with John on His bosom. Do not take up your time so much with studying your own heart as with studying Christ's heart. 'For one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ!'

"Look at Romans 15:13. That is my prayer for you. You are looking for peace in striving, or peace in duties, or peace in reforming your mind; but ah! look at His Word. 'The God of hope will you will all joy and peace in believing.' All your peace is to be found in believing God's Word about His Son. If for a moment you forget your own case altogether, and meditate on the glorious way of salvation by Christ for us, does your bosom never glow with a ray of peace? Keep that peace; it is joy in believing. Look as straight to Christ as you sometimes do at the rising or setting sun. Look direct to Christ.

"You fear that your convictions of sin have not been deep enough. This is no reason for keeping away from Christ. You will never get a truly broken heart till you are really in Christ. (See Ezek. 36:25-31.) Observe the order: First, God sprinkles clean water on the soul. Then He gives a 'new heart also.' Third, He gives a piercing remembrance of past sins. Now, may the Lord give you all these! May you be brought as you are to the blood of the Lamb! Washed and justified, may He change your heart - give you a tender heart, and His Holy Spirit within your heart; and thus may He give you a broken heart for your past sins.

"Look at Romans 5:19. By the sin of Adam, many were made sinners. We had no hand in Adam's sin, and yet the guilt of it comes upon us. We did not put out our hand to the apple, and yet the sin and misery have been laid at our door. In the same way, 'by the obedience of Christ, many were made righteous.' Christ is the glorious One who stood for many. His perfect garment is sufficient to cover you. You had no hand in His obedience. You were not alive when He came into the world and lived and died; and yet, in perfect obedience, you may stand before God righteous. This is all my covering in the sight of a holy God. I feel infinitely ungodly in myself; in God's eye, like a serpent or a toad; and yet, when I stand in Christ alone, I feel that God sees no sin in me, and loves me freely. The same righteousness is free to you. It will be as white and clean on your soul as on mine. Oh, do not sleep another night without it! Only consent to stand in Christ, not in your poor self.

"I must not weary you. One word more. Look at Revelation 22:17. Sweet, sweet words! 'Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.' The last invitation in the Bible, and the freest - Christ's parting word to a world of sinners! Anyone that pleases may take this glorious way of salvation. Can you refuse it? I am sure you cannot. Dear friend, be persuaded by a fellow worm not to put off another moment. Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.

"You are sitting, like Hagar, within reach of the well. May the Lord open your eyes, and show you all that is in Christ! I pray for you, that you may spiritually see Jesus and be glad - that you may go to Him and find rest."

What a letter! I have only a few lessons we can learn from such a letter to help us along as we seek to have hearts of evangelism.

(1) Rely on the Word of God. Did you catch how McCheyne took His reader to the Word? Oh, his letter is powerful, but it is the Word of God that can give wisdom that leads to salvation.

(2) Make no excuses. If anyone had an excuse to stop his evangelistic work, it was McCheyne. His heart palpitations made him so weak that he could not continue his pulpit ministry. He was quite sick, and yet he continued to make disciples with pen and paper. For those who know him, take a lesson from David Maynus, who is battling pancreatic cancer. What was his prayer request when I asked? That he might stand for Christ and people would be saved because of his cancer. Make no excuses.

(3) Make the most of every opportunity. Not even knowing this man's name, McCheyne writes a letter and hands it to the lost man's friend to deliver. Relational evangelism is wonderful and powerful, but we should never shy away from an open door simply because we haven't become friends yet.

(4) The Gospel is for everyone. Did you catch the "whosoever" from Revelation 22? The Gospel is not just for people who look like you and talk like is for all! Let us live like it is!

(5) Eyes must be opened. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that the enemy has blinded those who are lost, and the Lord is the only One who can let light shine into the darkness of the lost heart. As you obey the call to evangelize, intercede for the Lord to open the eyes of those who hear.

Whether it's epistolary evangelism, preaching evangelism, or personal evangelism, let us be about the task of evangelizing the home, at work, at church, at the grocery store, on the mission field...even from our sickbed, if we must.