Today, we want to have an explanation of everything. We want to know how everything works, where it came from, what it’s doing, why it does it, and what it’s going to do next. Our society has an insatiable appetite for knowledge.
Sociologists study people so they can learn how we tick, how we think, how we spend, how we live, who we love, and what our priorities are, so they can determine how we are going to develop as a society. Psychologists study our minds so they can determine why we do what we do and feel what we feel. Archeologists study things left over from the past so they can learn how people lived then. Biologists study living things to see how they work. Geoscientists study the earth. Climatologists study the weather. Oceanographers study the oceans. Astronomers study space. We want to know how everything works.
We spent well over a billion dollars to send the Rosetta Probe to land on a space-snowball just so we could know what it was made of! That’s awesome, by the way.
And it’s not just scientists that are on a quest for knowledge. We all are. What do we say after the first bite of something new? “What is this?! What’s in it?!” Some people can’t live without knowing the weather, others start and end the day watching the news. Some can’t live unless they’ve checked their Facebook or Twitter feed to know what’s going on with their friends.
Theology & Philosophy
Not only do humans have great curiosity about the world, we also have a great desire to know what is beyond our world. We want to know where everything came from, what happens after we die, if our existence has purpose and meaning, if there is anything beyond this mortal realm.
Enter the theologians and the philosophers. The study of the nature of God is called Theology – “Theos” meaning God, “ology” meaning “to speaking about”, or “the study of”. Those who practice it are called theologians.
Philosophy is the study of existence, reason, beliefs, values and language. It comes from the words “philio” meaning “love” and “Sophia” meaning “wisdom” – the love of wisdom. Theology and Philosophy go beyond the realms of where pure science can reach, but they are no less important – in fact, there are many who would call them more important.
Philosophy has been called the “mother of all science” since before scientists can study anything they must consult philosophy to find a question worth answering and whether they are able to know anything at all. And to go one step above the mother of all science, Medieval universities called Theology the “queen of the sciences” – supreme above all, the source of all truth. One cannot know anything worth knowing unless they first know God and His Word. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”
For thousands of years theologians and philosophers have talked, debated, argued and studied everything beyond the physical realm – including God.
Too Much Knowledge?
Our insatiable desire for knowledge is a good thing. It’s a God given thing. Our love for knowing how things work has led to some amazing things. And our curiosity about God and the meaning of life, has driven some of the most important things ever done in this world.
But, like anything else, when it gets out of control, that desire leads to sin. Dedicating our life to the study of a singular object may be helpful to the world – but it can also be idolatry. When the knowledge gained by sociologists and psychologists is used to manipulate consumers so they will buy more junk, it’s sin. Wanting to know what our friends are up to is good, obsessing over gossip is sin.
And it’s the same with Theology. A desire to know God is wonderful and healthy, but the belief that we can know everything about God is sin. Spending our life pursuing a greater knowledge of Jesus and His Word is valuable, thinking we know everything about Him leads us to sin and error. Believing in the Holy Spirit and growing in the knowledge of spiritual things is of great benefit, believing we know how to manipulate the Holy Spirit because of our knowledge of Him is foolishness. And we’re going to talk a little bit about that today.
The Feeding of the 5000
Let’s read the story of Jesus feeding the 5000.
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ And they said to him, ‘Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have? Go and see.’ And when they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’
Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.” (Mark 3:30-44)
This is a pretty familiar story. It’s told in all four of the gospels. But before we get into talking about what we can’t know – let’s talk about what we can. What does this passage tell us about Jesus?
I think the first thing we learn here is that Jesus has great compassion for people – even dumb, hardhearted, lost people who don’t have any idea what they are doing or why they are there. He has compassion on people who don’t plan ahead, but just want to be where He is. He has love in His heart for people who have no idea what He is doing, but just want to be there.
That’s what this crowd was like. The mission that Jesus had sent the Apostles on was apparently successful. Jesus was more popular than ever. No doubt many of these people had followed the disciples as they came back to Jesus. Stories of his miracles and great teaching had spread far and wide and He had literally thousands of people following Him around, some there to hear the teaching, many there to be healed from their illnesses.
But they don’t really understand Jesus. They think they do, but they don’t. In the same story told in the Gospel of John 6:14-15 it says, “After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
He literally has to run away because they want to force Him to be something he’s not. They think they’ve got Him figured out. They think they know His mission, His plan, His power, and why He’s there. But they don’t.
But Jesus doesn’t get angry with them. Do you remember why he’s there in the first place? He’s trying to give his Apostles some rest from their missionary work. But this crowd goes rushing on ahead, hoping to head Jesus off. Now, Jesus could have sent them all away, but He didn’t. No, His heart overflowed with compassion for them because He knew how lost they were, how desperate they were for the presence of God.
He wasn’t just seeing their physical need for healing, it says inverse 34, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” They needed more than physical healing – they were spiritually lost – and He has great compassion for them.
Sheep Without a Shepherd
“Sheep without a shepherd” is a very interesting phrase for Mark to use. It’s repeated a few times in scripture, and points specifically to Numbers 27:15-17 which describes the passing of the mantle of leaders from Moses to Joshua. It says,
“Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, ‘Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.’”
Moses desires God to raise up a leader for the people, because He knows that they are stubborn and rebellious, and if there was no godly leader, these people would turn from God in a heartbeat. They would need someone to lead them into the Promised Land who knew God and loved the people. They needed a shepherd! And God appoints Joshua to succeed Moses.
And Joshua leads them – but when He dies, what happens? They Israelites start to disobey, they don’t get rid of the Canaanites, they compromise their mission. Then, in only one generation, we see a generation come up that has completely forgotten Moses, Joshua and the Exodus from Egypt. Within one generation the sheep without a shepherd wander into idolatry and divide from one another. They stop following God’s law, growing more and more corrupt and evil (Joshua 2).
And the generation that stood before Jesus that day was no different. They too were sheep without a shepherd. Moses was long dead, as was Joshua. God had raised up prophets, priests and kings, most of whom either rebelled against God or were persecuted by their own people for speaking the truth. Now they were under a pagan king and those who were supposed to be their shepherds – the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Teachers of the Law – were mostly blind, foolish, hypocrites who erected more and more barriers between the people and God.
And it broke Jesus’ heart to see them this way. Wandering. Rebellious. Anxious. Fearful. Sick. Faithless. Hopeless. Lost.
Jesus Reveals Himself
Turn to John 10:7-13. In John 10 we Jesus calls Himself “The Good Shepherd”, contrasting Himself to everyone else. He knows His special place, and He knows how desperately people need Him to be their shepherd. Keeping with our theme today, these are things that He wants to make sure we know about Him. There are things that we must know about Jesus, that He reveals about Himself. Things that bring us hope and peace, and a greater understanding of who He is.
I am the Door
“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (7-10)
This is the first thing that Jesus wants us to make sure we know about Him. Jesus is the only way to salvation. There are many pretenders, but they are all thieves and robbers. Many have come promising safe “pasture” and rest – but they were liars.
I’m certain, as He looks at the crowd of thousands before Him, He can see into the hearts of those who have tried so many different doors seeking salvation and rest for their souls.
They’ve tried to find salvation in power and wealth, but found only emptiness. They tried to make their own “abundant life” through food, sex, and worldly pleasure – but learned they are thieves that promise one thing but are really stealing their joy. He sees those who have tried to find rest through practicing religion, but found the yoke was too hard and there was no rest in manmade ways to get to God. He sees people who have tried to find their way to good pasture through gaining great knowledge or trying to control everything, but found that it only lead to them to despair as they could never gain enough.
And Jesus, the Good Shepherd says, “You are like sheep without a shepherd. You’ve had a lot of people promise a lot of things, and they’ve all failed. If you want salvation and rest then you have to become part of my flock, and the only way to do that is through Me, ‘I’m the door.’”
I am the Good Shepherd
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (11-13)
This is the next thing that Jesus wants to make sure we know. Here we see Jesus differentiate Himself even further from the predecessors and pretenders.
He’s not like the shepherds who have come before. They were merely hired hands. They didn’t own or love the sheep like He does. Jesus isn’t like like the prophets, priests and kings that have come in the past –He is greater than them. Everyone else runs away when wolf comes – Jesus doesn’t. Even the greatest prophets failed the people.
Even the greatest Prophet, Elijah, who was part of the great battle with the Prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (Kings 18), was overcome by fear and went into a deep depression. Jesus isn’t like that. He doesn’t get depressed. He doesn’t succumb to fear.
Even David, the greatest king, the shepherd who defended his sheep from lions and bears with only a sling (1 Sam 17:34-37), fell and brought calamity on his people more than once. Jesus isn’t like that. Jesus doesn’t start out great and then fall to temptation and foolishness at the end. No, He is the Good Shepherd. When the wolves come, He fights for them to the very end of his life.
Solomon, the greatest wise-man of all time fell into lust and was led into idolatry, letting His people down and bringing calamity on them. Jesus is the perfection of wisdom and will never fall into sin, and no one will ever pay for his mistakes – because He doesn’t make any.
All who came before were pretenders – He’s the real deal.
When Jesus sees looks out to the crowds He sees lost people who need Him. People who have put their faith in so many other things and have been let down again and again. Lost sheep who need a Good Shepherd. And His compassion overwhelms His desire for rest, and so He gives of Himself even more.
A Strange Command
After a long day of teaching, it says “his disciples came to [Jesus] and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’” (35-36)
They were saying, “Jesus, you’re tired, their tired, we’re very tired. You’ve done enough. It’s time for you to pull back and have that rest you were talking about. Besides, it’s a long walk back and they need to start if they’re going to get to eat. We know you really love teaching people, and that they need it, but it’s time to eat now.”
I think the disciples feel like they are doing him a favour by telling him the situation. Maybe He’s distracted. Maybe He’s too into His sermon to be hungry. Maybe He needs a little reminder about reality. But they didn’t need to. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He’s not going to forget to feed the sheep. He’s got it under control. But, sticking with our theme, they don’t know what He’s doing, and they’re not sure He’s got it under control.
His response, no doubt, surprises them, considering there were thousands and thousands of people there. “You give them something to eat.” Why would He say that? He wasn’t showing off. He wasn’t being snarky.
No, He was preparing them to open their minds to learn something greater about Himself. What He is about to do how He does it, was intended to speak volumes about Him. He about to declare something very specific about Himself.
He’s not just another prophet. He’s not just a great teacher. He’s not just greater than Elijah, or David, or Solomon. He’s the Messiah. He is God. He’s about to show them that He’s even greater than Moses. He’s the fulfilment of all of the prophecies that have come before – from God’s word to Eve (Gen 3:15), to Moses’ teaching that a prophet like him would come (Deut 18:15), to all the Messianic Psalms, all of the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi – He would fulfil them all and prove to them that He was greater.
He’s not one of the “hired hands”, He’s the Door, the Good Shepherd. And His statement, “You give them something to eat.” is meant to prepare them for what’s to come.
Jesus is Greater than Moses
Consider this: Jesus leads the people into a desolate place, just like Moses led the Israelites to the desert. Then all the people get hungry and start to complain. Why? Because they didn’t know what God was doing, didn’t trust Him, and didn’t trust Moses. They wanted to go back to Egypt!
Now who brings the complaint? Jesus’ own disciples come and say that perhaps they needed to go back and get some food or the people are going to starve in the wilderness.
Same issue. A total misunderstanding of who God is, what God is doing, and a lack of trust that Jesus has things under control. But what does Jesus do? He feeds them.
In Moses’ time it was manna and quail from heaven. For Jesus it was loaves and fishes. The first time the people were told they couldn’t keep any until morning, but when Jesus did it, there were baskets and baskets of leftovers!
When Jesus told his disciples to give the people something to eat, there was something deeper going on. He was asking them, “Do you know who I am? Do you trust me? Do you believe that with me all things are possible? Have you forgotten the power and miracles and provision you had during the mission you just came back from today? Knowing what you know about me, my Father, and what you’ve seen already, do you have the faith to feed these people?” And their answer was simply, “No… no we don’t.”
Jesus Defies Explanation
Something interesting happens a few verses later in Mark 6:52, and it’s tied to the feeding of the 5000. Look what happens after Jesus feeds the people. Read verses 45-52:
“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
Do you see? Jesus was showing them something very important, but they still didn’t get it. The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 was meant to teach them who He was. He was the Good Shepherd, the one Greater than Moses, Greater than Elijah, Greater than David, Greater than all who had come before. He showed His inexplicable power over nature. He went right over the rules of math – something we take as absolute and unchangeable – and made five loaves and two fish feed thousands and thousands. It was absolutely miraculous. Jesus showed His divinity to them.
But when they saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified. When He said, “don’t be afraid”, they still were. When He calmed the storm, they were “utterly astounded”. Why? Because they still didn’t understand who Jesus was.
They didn’t realize that Jesus was God, in control, had power over anything, and had great love and compassion for His people. Their hearts were too hard, their minds too closed. None of what Jesus was doing should have been surprising if they had figured out who Jesus was. But their minds and hearts, all of their reasoning powers for how the world works, wasn’t allowing them to grasp who Jesus was. He didn’t make sense.
Jesus the humble carpenter – can turn a thunderstorm into a nice day because He wants it to happen. Jesus, the wandering Rabbi, whose shoes are caked with dust, doesn’t just part the sea like Moses did – but can walk on water and cause others to do the same. Jesus the son of Mary, born in a stable can literally bend reality to His will and turn McDonalds Happy Meal into a feast that can feed a whole city.
That’d doesn’t’ compute because there are things about Jesus that we can explain – and then there are things that we just can’t.
Trying to Explain God
A lot of people struggle with this one, and it’s the point I want to close with today.
Many people want an explainable Jesus. One that they can understand and predict. We want to know why Jesus does things. We want to be able to predict His miracles, and maybe even figure Him out well enough to make Him do miracles for us. If we can figure out the formula for how to get miracles out of God, then we’ll have the upper hand.
We want a God that fits into our box. We don’t like not knowing things about something as important as our God. We want Him to behave according to our rules, and abide by our standards. We want him to be predictable – under our control.
But the truth is, just as there are things that we can know for absolutely certain about God, there are other things about Him that are absolutely inexplicable – they can’t be explained.
There are times that Jesus makes absolute sense to us and we know what He’s doing. But then there are times when He goes way over our heads, past our understanding, beyond our abilities, beyond our comprehension, and does something completely outside our ability to process.
Why does the universe seem like it’s billions of years old, yet the Bible seems to only say it’s thousands? Why did God create Satan if He knew He would fall? Why does God choose some for salvation and not others? Why do some people get miraculous healings, while others suffer for years and years and are only released from their pain by death? Why do earthquakes and tornados hit where they do? Why do some people get rich and others struggle their whole lives to make ends meet? Why did God take thousands of years to bring the Saviour, and why is He taking so long to come back again? Why would God create people if He knew some of them would be eternally punished in Hell? If He can do anything, and is perfectly good, then why doesn’t He end all suffering today?
These are huge questions, which we are not going to get perfect answers to. And some people can’t handle that. The disciples struggled with it too.
They had just come back from a successful mission where they had actually performed miracles, cast out demons, and taught powerfully. Then they sat down and saw Jesus feed over 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. Now they see Jesus walk on water and calm a storm without even speaking a word. That didn’t make sense – not at all.
Putting God on Trial
This is a huge, mega-theme in scripture. God does something amazing, and no one has any idea what God is doing, or why He’s doing it, and so they freak out. We see it in the Israelites after the Exodus and we see it among the disciples and followers who were there at the feeding of the 5000. And we see it today.
We are, so often, no different than them. We claim to believe in God, but when He does things that don’t line up with what we believe about Him, we don’t assume we’re wrong about Him – we assume God is wrong.
We are so used believing our own perspectives, ideas, and presumptions, that we think we’ve got Him all figured out. And then He does something we think He shouldn’t do – or doesn’t do something we think He should – our faith crumbles. Just like the Israelites, just like the disciples, we are “utterly astounded” that God did something outside of our little box.
So what do we do? We put God on trial. We demand He explain Himself. We demand He show Himself to us. “Why did you do that? You must answer me! Give me your reasoning, God! You owe me an explanation!”
But the truth is that it is not He who is on trial, it is us. He’s God. He has nothing He needs to answer for. It is we who must answer. (Read Job 38-42)
Jesus looks to us and says, “Do you believe I’m God? Do you trust me? Is it possible that I’m bigger than your explanations and reasoning? Are you God? Do you have faith in me?”
It is not God who is on trial – it is us. We do not have the right to contend and find fault with the Almighty (Job 40:1). We must take Him as who He says He is. It is not He who must conform to our image, but we who must conform to His. He doesn’t have to meet our standards, we must meet His. It is not He who has to explain Himself when we stand before Him one day – it is we who will stand under His judgement.
What amazing grace He gives us as we stand there thinking we can put Him on trial and ask Him to defend what He’s doing! What amazing patience He shows as we complain against Him for enacting His will.
The concluding questions are simple: Do you trust Jesus? Do you think you need to remind Him what’s going on, that somehow He’s forgotten how to care for people? Do you need Him to answer why the wind and the waves are so large? Is it ok with you that He is God and you are not?
The 17th episode of “Carnivore Theology”.
Are Christians Allowed to Be Competitive?
Let the games begin! Chad and Al let their competitive sides take over as they go head-to-head in a hot dog eating contest. But are Christians allowed to be competitive in life, sports and church? How competitive is too competitive?
And here’s the link to the behind-the-scenes YouTube video.
As Always, We Want Your Feedback
Please give it a listen and then give let us know what you think in comments section below, by e-mailing me, commenting on our Facebook page, or on Twitter! It would be great if you’d rate us on iTunes too! We’d also really appreciate if you’d pass them around to your friends. Sharing is caring!
What Makes Good Worship Music?
Worship music is a often debated and dividing issue in too many churches. What does the Bible really say about hymns, choruses and worship music?
Here’s the Podcast Audio:
Click here to download the episode in MP3.
And here’s the link to the Behind the Scenes YouTube video.
As Always, We Want Your Feedback
Please give it a listen and then give let us know what you think in comments section below, by e-mailing me, commenting on our Facebook page, or on Twitter! It would be great if you’d rate us on iTunes too! We’d also really appreciate if you’d pass them around to your friends. Sharing is caring!
Before you start, I encourage you to read the Christmas Story from Luke 2:1-20.
A Special Time of Year
Last week I invited you last week to take one of these books, called “The Purpose of Christmas” by Rick Warren. The reason that I did this was so that we could spend time together, here at church and at home during the week, thinking about the reason that we celebrate the season of Advent and Christmas.
The whole premise of this little book is to ask the question: Why do we spend so much time, money, energy and effort on this one day of the year? Why is this the big one? What makes Christmas so special?
That being said, over the past 40 years or so, Christmas has been losing some of its specialness. It’s still the biggest holiday, but it is now being challenged by Halloween as the biggest day of the year. Where even 50 years ago people would have felt an obligation to come into a church for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – if only out of tradition – now less and less people bother. At one point the “Story of Christmas” was about baby Jesus in the manger, the shepherds and the angels, and now there are many, many more Christmas stories – Santa Clause is obviously the big one, but there’s also The Night Before Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, The Little Match Girl, A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, It’s A Wonderful Life – and they are given equal, if not more, significance in people’s lives than the story of Jesus. (This DVD is titled “The Original Christmas Classics” — I’m pretty sure Jesus pre-dates Frosty as the “Original” Christmas story.) Many families would much rather sit down and read The Grinch who Stole Christmas than the Nativity Story.
And so, this year, I wanted us to ask ourselves the question, “What is the purpose of Christmas?” We are Christians, this is a church, and we know the Christmas Story. We talk about Jesus all year long, so what makes Christmas so special? Or perhaps, the better question I want us to be able to answer is this: “How can we make sure we have a purposeful Christmas and make it special?”
The Meaning of Christmas
Doing that – having a purposeful, meaningful, special Christmas – is sometimes harder than we think. And I believe the reason that it’s hard is because there are so many different ideas about the “True Meaning of Christmas”.
Rick Warren’s first chapter is entitled “A Time for Celebration”. His point is that one of the main purposes for Christmas is that it is an annual time that we have set aside to concentrate on celebrating — something. For hundreds of years people knew what we were celebrating, that the “true meaning of Christmas” was the incarnation of Jesus. But that’s just not the case anymore.
It’s not that people aren’t thinking about it. We’ve heard and read the phrase a million times in every movie, TV show and newspaper article at this time of year. Everyone is looking for the “true meaning of Christmas.” What is the “true meaning of Christmas”? But it’s almost as though they believe the there is no answer. Like so many other things now, there’s no “right answer” to the question because everyone gets to answer it for themselves. Truth is relative, meaning is relative. It’s like looking at an impressionist painting intended to allow each person can ascribe whatever meaning they want.
For some, the “True meaning of Christmas” is getting presents… not the noblest of causes, but at least their honest. For some it’s simply time off work and an excuse to spend money. For others, it’s all about getting together with family. Some believe the “true meaning of Christmas” is found in the rituals and traditions: baking cookies, turkey dinner, skating on the canal, decorating the tree, and remembering Christmases as a kid.
It’s easy to get caught up in that because they are all really good things! Christians are supposed to say that the “True meaning of Christmas” is the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. If we are asked on the street corner, or in a mall whether we say “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas”, we will unabashedly – almost militantly – say, “Merry Christmas” because Christmas is all about Christ.
But in our hearts, in our homes, in our private times, and in our celebrations, it is so easy to get caught up in all the other things that come with Christmas – and push Jesus off to the side. I know I’m guilty of it.
And so, during this short Advent season, my hope and prayer is that each of us will be able to be purposeful about this Christmas season – that we will imbue it with special meaning – not in the secular sense, but in the sacred sense. That we would enjoy all of the rest of the good things in the season, but not allow them to dominate our thoughts – that we would keep Jesus at the centre of all that we are doing.
How to have a Purposeful Christmas
How can we do that? I believe, first and foremost, it comes through an understanding of what Christmas is really about. It comes from allowing the story of the incarnation of Jesus Christ to fill up our hearts so that there is much less room for other things to take it over. I believe that if we can remind ourselves consistently about the love Jesus showed for us, the grace given to us, the story of what Jesus did for us, that our Christmas will have more meaning.
What I’ve appreciated about this little book we are going through is how Rick Warren simplifies the message of Christmas for us so that we can not only understand it, but appreciate it. The whole of the book revolves around in on what the angels say to the shepherds, and the first chapter pulls out that first phrase: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
The big idea is that with all that comes with this season, we must remember the very core message of what we are celebrating: That “God loves you”, that “God is with you”, and that “God is for you”. If we are able to purposefully keep those things in mind: that celebrating Christmas reminds us that God loves us — that celebrating Christmas reminds us that God is with us — that celebrating Christmas reminds us that God is on our side — then we will be able to celebrate a Christmas full of meaning.
Little cost, little love. Big cost, big love.
John 3:16 says,
“For God so loved the world that he gave us his one and only son…”
The reason that we celebrate Christmas, and the coming of Jesus Christ, is because it is a demonstration of His love for us.
One of the ways you can tell how much you love someone, or are loved by someone, is what they are willing to give up for you. One might call this Sacrificial Love. It’s not always a fair equation, but I think it’s at least one of the ways we can tell. People who love you will show it by giving up their time for you, their energy, their reputations, their comfort, and even their money, because they value you more than whatever it is they are giving up.
If you want to show someone you love them, or wonder how much you really do care about them, just ask yourself how much you would be willing to give up. These could be good things: A mother sacrificing her career for her children. A soldier sacrificing his life for his country. A father sacrificing his health for his family. Or they could be not so good thing. A mother sacrificing time with her children so she can go out and party. A businessperson sacrificing their family so they can stay at work more. A gambler sacrificing his money so he can play the game. That’s a form of sacrificial love too.
Are you willing to put aside yourself and your wants for the sake of the other person, or do they always come after you? This is something that happens around Christmas all the time. We are constantly caught weighing out how much we really care about someone. Do I get them a gift, or a card, a phone call or a letter, a hug or a handshake? How long do I shop for this person’s gift? Are they someone I shop for at the dollar store, or someone I spend hours worrying about as I search online or walk malls looking for the perfect gift? And how much do I spend? (I know this is cruel, but it’s true) Is this a $5 relationship, or a $300 relationship?
And it’s not just about money – it’s also about our time, effort, & energy? Do I take time off of work to attend this person’s Christmas party? Are they close enough for us to spend Christmas dinner with, or are they more of an “I’ll see you after New Year’s” type friend? Do I travel through a snowstorm to make sure I’m at their house, or if the weather’s too bad do I stay home? What am I willing to give up for this person? What a person is willing to give up, whether it be time, money, energy, effort or anything else… I believe… is at least one indicator of how much love that relationship has.
Little cost, little love. Big cost, big love.
For the last part of our time here this morning I want to talk about what coming into the world cost Jesus, and I want to do it using three important theological words which describe those costs.
The first word is “Incarnation”. One continuing heresy that the church has taught against is something called Docetism which is the belief that God would never stoop to becoming a human. But the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus “incarnated” Himself. That word literally means “in flesh”. Jesus is and always has been God. When He came to earth, Jesus took the fullness of His deity, and not putting anything aside, added humanity to His deity, becoming the God-Man.
In many Christmas carols we use the word Immanuel, which means “God with us”. Jesus came to be God with us. John begins his gospel this way describing the incarnation:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”
And then says in verse 14:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
It was by Jesus by coming and dying in the flesh, as a human, one of us, that humanity was able to be saved. He had to be one of us.
The next word is tied to the incarnation. The next word is “Condescension”. God condescended, came down, stooped, to our level. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says it like this,
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
When we kneel down to a small child to get eye to eye, and use simple language to explain something so they can understand, we are condescending to them. That’s Jesus Christ did for us. He had the full glory and power and majesty of God, but chose to bring Himself down to our level and spoke in a way we could understand.
Which brings us to the third word, which is what I really want to park on because it makes the point so well. I said before that love can be measured by what a person is willing to give up for another. The third word is “Humiliation”. We don’t use this word very often, and when we do, it’s often given in a negative sense, but when Jesus came at Christmas, He humiliated himself.
To humiliate someone is to literally make them humble, or lower them in dignity. Most of us have been humiliated at some point in many different ways. This happens to me a lot when I try to play sports or board games with people. I walk in thinking highly of myself, confident in my abilities… and generally walk out humbled and lowered in dignity.
But Jesus’ humiliation was different. He wasn’t humbled by anyone. He humiliated himself. He chose to bring himself down in dignity. He chose how He would enter the world, what the circumstances would look like, who His parents would be, what His life would look like, and how it would end. It was His choice to be humiliated.
Philippians 2:5-7 capture this perfectly,
“Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
Humility was a mega-theme in the life of Jesus. From the very moment He was born to his death on the cross, the life of Jesus was marked with humility. We have to remember where Jesus came from, and where He is now, to at least begin to appreciate the humiliation of His condescension and incarnation.
Remember, Jesus is God. Always has been and always will be. He’s no less than God. He is worshipped by angels, proclaimed in the highest, equal with the Father, all powerful, all knowing, all present, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, God.
And yet, he humbled Himself… humiliated Himself… condescended Himself to our level. There has never been any descent like that of Christ’s.
Just consider the choices that Jesus made when He decided to come into the world. He, the King of All, made Himself a subject of Herod – a cruel, despotic, corrupt ruler who would try to kill him as soon as he found out about Jesus.
Consider the circumstances of his birth. The Creator of the Universe, who spoke everything into being, decided to make himself a helpless baby. He deserved to have a royal welcome, the best medical care, silk sheets, a golden crib, a thousand nurses, on a hill, in the Holy City of Jerusalem. But no, Jesus gave all that up.
The place of His birth was no accident. He didn’t accidentally end up in a feeding trough – He placed Himself there. That’s where He wanted to be born. Why? To show us the depth of his love, and set for us the highest example.
As I said, greater cost equals greater love. He gave it all up for us. He didn’t keep one scrap of His glory. There are not many people one that can claim to have had a more obscure, dirty, humiliating birth as the Son of God. He gave it all up. If one of the ways we can know how much a person loves us is by how much they are willing to give up, then Jesus must love us very, very much. The whole story of Jesus’ birth sets us up for the paradox that is His life. Jesus consistently taught us that the way up is down.
“Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5).
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11).
“Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4)
He didn’t give himself an attractive body that everyone would immediately love and trust. Instead, Isaiah 53:2 says,
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
What would we have done in his place? Set up some advantages, right? Made it a little easier. He didn’t. He humiliated Himself over and over out of love for us.
We would have chosen an easier life with more resources, good friends and a decent house. Isaiah 53:3 says,
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Throughout his life he was mocked because of how he was born. When people heard that he was from Nazareth they made fun of him. Some scholars even say that the Pharisees even mocked him for being conceived out of wedlock (John 8:19,41).
During His life He could have used His amazing teaching abilities, influence and power to get anything He wanted. He could have been the best salesman, politician, lawyer or celebrity ever known. Instead when someone asked him where he lived he answered them,
“Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”” (Matthew 8:20).
Celebrate the Love of Jesus
Why would Jesus do this? Why humiliate Himself? First, to teach us how to live… but also to prove His love for us. Much cost equals much love.
So my encouragement to you this week is to remember and celebrate that God loves you – He proved it in his Humiliation, God is with you – He came in his Incarnation and remains alive today, and God is for you – He provides for us Salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.
I’ve seen some wonderful miracles throughout my life, and this past year has been even more amazing. Sometimes I get miracle and coincidence confused, but not this year — it’s been pretty obvious. I’ve been unemployed or underemployed for almost a whole year now, and even though it’s been financially tough, we have seen God show up and miraculously provide for us time and again.
He has been teaching me the paradox of being dependent on Him, while at the same time practicing wisdom and diligence. He’s been teaching me how important it is for me to back off and let Him act, provide, defend, etc. instead of stressing out, panicking, and doing something because I’m afraid and want to take control.
I’ve learned to sit back and say, “I wonder how God is going to solve this problem, because I’ll just make a mess of it if I try to fix it.” In other words, I’ve learned to trust in God’s Common and Special Grace.
Sometimes, with all the bad news floating around us, it’s hard to remember that His grace and provision is truly abundant. Theologians (who love to embrangle simple ideas in complicated language) talk about the good things that happen to humanity in two categories: Common Grace and Special Grace.
Common Grace (click here for a very embrangled definition) encapsulates all the good things that happen to everyone. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:45, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Or, as John Murry of Westminster Seminary defines it: “Every favor of whatever kind or degree, failing short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.” It is the Common Grace that allows us to be alive, even experience joy and love, while in a condemned state (2 Peter 3:9). It is his Common Grace that provides for all humanity, even when we are completely undeserving.
Special Grace (click here for more embranglement) is that wonderful, amazing gift where God changes our hearts so that we may see our sin, turn from it, and accept Jesus as our Saviour. Without His Special Grace we would never see our sin for what it is, never hate our sin, and would therefore never turn from it. It is His Special Grace by which we are saved.
Take some time today to thank God for His Common and Special Graces. First, for the salvation of our souls in Jesus, but also for rain, sun, food, teachers, medicine, books, plants, cold water, smiles, loved ones, cotton… and any other good thing.
What about you? What did it miss? What Common Graces are you thankful for?