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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas

The Beauty of Christmas

I love Christmas.  I really do.  I was listening to an interview with Dr. John MacArthur in which he stated that he has a love/hate relationship with Christmas.  On the one hand, MacArthur said that he loves that December is focused on the Lord Jesus Christ especially by the Church.  The Church celebrates the birth of our Lord but we also recognize that the Word became flesh (John 1:14).  We recognize the mystery of the incarnation of God (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; 1 Timothy 3:16).

Yet, like MacArthur, I also share in his hatred of Christmas because how this celebration has become associated with getting stuff.  I enjoy giving and receiving presents but the world has made Christmas synonymous with stuff.  Where is the joy of the birth of Christ?  Where is the realization that Christmas is about God giving His Son (John 3:16) and not about our greed and desire for stuff.

When I was a boy, I loved Christmas because of the stuff.  My parents raised me to believe in Santa Claus and I believed that I could ask him for anything I wanted and he and his elves would work hard in the north pole to grant me my wishes.  In the midst of this, my dad would read the Christmas story to my sister and I on Christmas morning while I sat starring at my stuff that I would forget about in a week or two.  While I understood that Christmas was vaguely about Christ and His birth, I believed it to be more about Santa Claus and getting kids more toys (and mainly toys that were too expensive to ask for throughout the year before).  Christmas was about Christ but more about my greed than about His birth.  Santa Claus made sure of that.

When I became a Christian, this all changed.  I sit here now having been a Christian for over 20 years.  Through the years my love for Christmas grows.  I love the theology behind Christmas.  I love that we celebrate our Lord’s birth despite my own judgments that He was not born on December 25.  I love that twice in a year (this and Resurrection Sunday or Easter as it is commonly known) we celebrate the Lord Jesus Christ like no other times.  The world despises both holy days.  The world wants to rob Christ of Christmas but they can’t.  Christmas remains with Christ in Christmas. The fact that Christ was born of the virgin, that He lived a sinless life, that He did great miracles, that He taught the people, and that He suffered, was crucified, killed, buried, and then rose again flies in the face of the lost world that would like to keep Christ out of Christmas.

The mystery of Christmas is not that it endures despite the world trying so hard to take Christ away from this day.  The mystery is the incarnation of God.  While people will forget about Jesus after December 25, for the child of God, the mystery remains and one that I rejoice in all year.  I remember someone wrote a song called “Like Christmas All Year Round” and for the disciple of Christ, it is just that.  For me, the joy that I have at my Lord’s birth is not just felt on December 25 but all year long.  I rejoice that Jesus has come.  I rejoice that Jesus is coming again (Acts 1:11).  I rejoice that Jesus is now praying for me before my Father in heaven (Hebrews 7:25).  I marvel at His perfect life that He lived for me (2 Corinthians 5:21).

For me, Christmas is the mystery of the God of glory coming down to His people.  The light of the world (John 8:12) has come to bring us who are in darkness the true light (Matthew 4:16; John 1:9).  The Shepherd who will shepherd His sheep has come (Matthew 2:6; John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20).  God has become a man (John 1:14, 18).  This is the joy of Christmas.  This is the mystery of Christmas and one that I gladly rejoice in.

Merry Christmas to all and may the God of glory fill you with His love by His grace this Christmas season.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/24/2015 at 12:40 PM

How Did Famous Arminians Celebrate Christmas?

Christmas brings up different emotions for me.  On the one hand, I have fond memories of Christmas as both a boy and an adult.  I have appreciated Christmas over the years.  Yet on the negative side is watching my own boys grow up in a culture where Christmas means one thing: presents.  Lost is the focus of the incarnation of God.

As a history buff, I am also torn on Christmas itself.  The practice of Christmas, as we know it now, is really the product of 19th and 18th century practices coming from Germany and England to the United States and because of the economic power of the United States, the practice of Christmas as focused on gifts and stuff is by in large an American edition to the holiday.  While both Germans and Brits did give gifts to each other in the late 19th century, the excessive nature of gift giving is a largely American focus.  Santa Claus, as we know him today, is the product of advertisement from 1931.  The really St. Nicholas was a bishop who was at the council of Nicaea and tradition tells us that he punched Arias for his blasphemy toward the deity of Jesus Christ.  Not the picture of Santa Claus we think of today!

When it comes to Church History, how did early Arminians celebrate Christmas?  I am only speculating based off information from that era and not off direct statements from Arminians themselves.

Let us begin with Arminius and the early Remonstrants.  No doubt they would have followed the Calvinist tradition of rejecting Christmas.  John Calvin had made Christmas illegal to celebrate in Geneva and Calvin viewed the day as more pagan than divine.  Calvin, like all the Reformers, viewed the Catholic Church as corrupt and vile. Calvin viewed the popery as the antichrist.  Calvin viewed the various Catholic holidays as having nothing to do with the gospel.  Calvin then rejected the Catholic celebration of Christ’s Mass (or Christmas).  Arminius, who studied under Calvin’s son-in-law and successor, Theodore Beza, would have likely rejected Christmas for the same reasons.  Arminius wrote much like Calvin on the popery and he too viewed the Catholic church as corrupt and he called her “the great whore of Babylon” (Revelation 17:5-6).  I suspect that Arminius would not have celebrated any Catholic holidays and neither would the Remonstrants.

By the time of John Wesley, England was a mixed bag when it came to Christmas.  The Puritans had sought to end the day called Christmas and even sought to officially change the name to Christtide.  The name didn’t stick.  The Puritans, like the Reformers, viewed themselves as Protestants and not Catholic and wanted nothing to do with the Catholic holidays.  The Puritan in 18th century America made it illegal to celebrate Christmas in many of their towns in New England.  They allowed “the strangers” (non-Puritan immigrants) to practice Christmas but only in their own homes.  The Puritans made sure to work on Christmas as to show they were not resting or celebrating with the Catholics.  In this environment, John Wesley came.  Wesley likely would have been in-between having strong love for the Church of England and his love for the Puritans.  Wesley never condemns the holiday but we find no record of him practicing it either.  Yet his brother Charles wrote Hark! The Herald Angels Sing which would become a theologically accurate hymn for Christmas that is sung even today by Catholics.

I suppose that we could bring up other Arminians in the past and show their views on the day.  What would Adam Clarke say?  Clarke opposed Charles Wesley’s organ playing in church so I suppose he would oppose Christmas in the church.  In his Bible Commentary Clarke notes in passing that Jesus was not born on December 25th and reasons that He was born possibly around late September since the shepherds were in the fields with their flocks (Luke 2:8).  Clarke makes no mention of Christmas.

Richard Watson likewise makes no mention of Christmas in his Theological Dictionary.  Watson does mention that Catholicism is heretical and unbiblical so it is safe to say that he would not have regarded Christmas with fondness.  Watson also takes aim at the heretical Catholic mass.

Today all Arminians that I know of have no trouble with Christmas.  The day has become a day to remember and ponder the birth of the Son of God.  I agree with Arminius and with others before me that the day is likely the day that Jesus was born on nor is a Christian less a Christian if they don’t celebrate Christmas.  In our day the birth of the Lord Jesus has largely become a day of giving of gifts, commercialism, Santa Claus and his flying reindeer.  The glory of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus has been either completely ignored by the secular or watered down by the Church.  I have often joked with my wife that it is the one time of the year that secular radio plays Christian songs and Christian radio plays secular Christmas songs.  It is the one time of the year that Christian radio will play Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” and secular radio will play a secular artist singing “Silent Night.”

The reality is that Christmas does cause us, no matter who we are, to atlases acknowledge Jesus.  Militant atheists want to deny that Jesus even existed yet Christmas points to the biblical reality that Jesus did in fact live and the world continues to acknowledge this.  Secularist want to remove Jesus from Christmas and, like Easter before it, make it about children and about more stuff (greed).  Yet the incarnation of God (John 1:14) is still there.  While December 25th was probably not His birthdate, the reality of the birth of the Son of God drives unbelievers and sinners mad.

In my estimation, Christmas is neither good nor evil.  It is not biblical but it does point to a biblical reality: that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:34-35).  Jesus was born to die (Matthew 1:21).  He came to shed His blood for our salvation.  This is the miracle of Christmas.  The incarnation of Jesus should cause us to worship and adore Him for what He did for our salvation (Philippians 2:5-11).

The world has no problem with the Baby in the manger.  They have a problem with their sins and with the Judge of all the earth (Romans 1:18-21).  While the unbelieving world will celebrate the birth of the Messiah this December 25th, we disciples are looking to Hebrews 9:27-28 and we declare the Jesus is Lord!

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/23/2014 at 4:30 PM

Merry Christmas!

I love Christmas for the simple reason that the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14).  I love the incarnation of God!  I love that Christmas represents the time when the Church celebrates the fact that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  I love that He who created all things became part of His creation (Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-3).  I do not care about the debates over whether Jesus was actually born on December 25.  The point is that He was born of the virgin Mary (Matthew 1:18-23), lived a sinless life (1 Peter 2:22), performed might miracles for God was with Him (Acts 10:38) , He died (John 19:30), rose again on the third day(1 Corinthians 15:1-4) and ascended to the right hand of God on high (Acts 1:11).  Jesus will come again (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 22:20).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/24/2013 at 10:24 AM

The Importance of the Virgin Birth (Part Two)

In my previous post, I posted on why the virgin birth of Christ matters.  The sign of Isaiah 7:14 was that Immanuel would come through the virgin.  Jesus is called Immanuel in Matthew 1:23 which Matthew gives as a direct prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14.  Jesus is God with us.  Jesus was both fully God and fully man (John 1:1, 14).  Paul the Apostle would later write in 1 Timothy 3:16:

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

The question is who was manifested in the flesh?  Obviously it is God who was manifested in the flesh.  In fact, the NKJV has God as manifested in the flesh.  Jesus was God manifested in the flesh.  Christmas speaks of the incarnation of God.  At Resurrection Sunday, the Church celebrates the fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20).  When the Church celebrates the Lord’s Supper we celebrate Jesus’ death, resurrection and His coming again (1 Corinthians 11:26).  But there could be no resurrection without an incarnation.

The birth of Jesus demonstrates that it was fully God who was coming into the world.  Albert Barnes writes about this wonderful event of Matthew 1:22-23:

This is a Hebrew word, and means, literally, God with us. Matthew doubtless understands this word as denoting that the Messiah was really “God with us,” or that the Divine nature was united to the human. He does not affirm that this was its meaning when used in reference to the child to whom it was first applied; but this was its meaning as applicable to the Messiah. It was fitly expressive of his character; and in this sense it was fulfilled. When first used by Isaiah, it denoted simply that the birth—of the child was a sign that God was with the Jews, to deliver them. The Hebrews often used the name of Jehovah, or God, in their proper names. Thus, Isaiah means “the salvation of Jehovah;” Eleazer, “help of God;” Eli, “my God,” etc. But Matthew evidently intends more than was denoted by the simple use of such names. He had just given an account of his miraculous conception; of his being begotten by the Holy Ghost. God was therefore his Father. He was Divine as well as human. His appropriate name was “God with us.” And though the mere use of such a name would not prove that he had a Divine nature, yet, as Matthew uses it, and meant evidently to apply it, it does prove that Jesus was more than a man; that he was God as well as man. And it is this which gives glory to the plan of redemption. It is this which is the wonder of angels. It is this which makes the plan so vast, so grand, so full of instruction and comfort to Christians. See Php 2:6-8. It is this which sheds such peace and joy into the sinner’s heart; which gives him such security of salvation; and renders the condescension of God in redemption so great, and his character so lovely.

Barnes then gives us a poem about the beauty of Immanuel:

“Till God in human flesh I see,
My thoughts no comfort find;
The holy, just, and sacred Three,
Are terror to my mind.

“But if IMMANUEL’S face appears,
My hope, my joy, begins;
His grace removes my slavish fears,
His blood removes my sins.”

Immanuel has come to bring peace for men before God.  The angel proclaimed in Luke 2:14 to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth (NKJV):

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Ephesians 2:14 says that He would bring peace between the Jews and Gentiles and bring us together as one people under His Lordship.  Micah 5:5 records that the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem (v.2) would be our peace.  Romans 5:1 says that we have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is our peace!

His birth demonstrates the fact that this birth through Mary was not about Mary.  The Catholics have placed too much emphasis on Mary even going so far as to teach that she herself was born of a virgin (the immaculate conception).  Yet both Matthew and Luke place the emphasis on the Lord Jesus and rightfully so.  The Christmas story is about God becoming a man.  Is not about the virgin.  The virgin’s role (as important as it was) is insignificant to the birth of the Messiah.  This birth shows that Jesus is fully God.  This Child born of Mary was conceived by the supernatural power of God (Luke 1:35) yet the birth of the Messiah is so incredible that even the angel Gabriel had to say that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).  That a virgin gave birth is incredible in of itself.  The virgin birth has driven liberal theologians mad for many years.  How could a virgin give birth to the Messiah?  And yet Scripture says that it happened and so it did.

Without a doubt the message that Christmas shouts to us is that God became flesh.  Christmas has nothing to do with Santa Claus or with Christmas trees or lights or snow or singing festive songs.  Christmas has nothing to do with giving and receiving gifts.  Christmas has everything to do with the incarnation of God.  This is what the world ignores in favor of elves for if God truly became a man and He lived among us, He will judge the world again in perfect righteousness (Acts 17:30-31; Hebrews 9:27-28).

As a disciple of Jesus, I rejoice that He became flesh.  I rejoice that He was tempted in all ways as I am yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15) and I rejoice that He lived a perfect life and died for my sins (2 Corinthians 5:21).  I rejoice that He is risen from the dead (Luke 24:36-43) and that He now sits at the right hand of God praying for me (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).  I rejoice that Jesus is coming again (Acts 1:11).  I pray that He comes soon (Revelation 22:20).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/19/2013 at 3:19 PM

The Importance of the Virgin Birth (Part One)

Why was Jesus born of a virgin?  Why is it important that the Church continue to preach that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary?  And what role does the virgin birth play in regard to our redemption?

Some propose that the virgin birth is necessary because of the doctrine of original sin.  For instance, Dr. Wayne Grudem proposes that the virgin birth of Christ was necessary because all humans have inherited legal guilt and a corrupt moral nature from their first father, Adam.  But since Jesus did not have a human father then He partially interrupted the line from Adam.  Jesus did not descend from Adam in exactly the same way in which every other human being had descended from Adam.  Dr. Grudem sees Luke 1:35 as a proof text for this.  Luke 1:35 reads,

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

Notice that Luke records that Jesus would be called “holy.”  He could be called holy because He was born without the corrupt nature inherited by all humans from Adam.  The virgin birth thus ensured that Jesus was born fully human but without inherited sin of any kind.  Jesus could be both fully human and fully God through the virgin birth and He could be called holy unlike us.

In contrast to this, others propose that the virgin birth has nothing to do with original sin.  Dr. Jack Cottrell, for example, rejects the teaching from above.  While Cottrell affirms the virgin birth as necessary and part of God’s plan, he rejects the idea that the virgin birth helps Jesus not inherit a sinful nature.  Instead, Cottrell states that there is simply no biblical basis for such a view either of original sin inherited by humans or about Jesus needing the virgin birth to avoid original sin.

Another theologian who rejects the virgin birth as necessary to avoid original sin states it this way,

Some have supposed that the virgin birth was necessary in order for Jesus to avoid the inheritance of a sinful nature.  However, the Scriptures nowhere state that Jesus was born of a virgin to avoid the inheritance of some type of sinful substance.  Rather, the Bible says that He was born of a virgin because His Father was God.  Though Jesus was born of a virgin and His Father was God, Jesus did not have a different type of flesh from the rest of us.  He had the same type of flesh that we have.  Jesus was not made physically perfect until the third day when He was raised with a glorified body (Luke 13:32; Hebrews 5:9).  If Jesus was born with a glorified flesh, or if He did not take upon Himself a physically depraved flesh like we have, which was subjected to death, He could not have tasted death for every man; and therefore, could not have made atonement for all.  It was necessary for Christ to be made with the same type of physically depraved body that we have, so that He could be capable of physical death (Hebrews 2:9, 14, 16-17).

Another theologian who rejects the virgin birth as necessary to escape from the pollution of Adam’s seed states it thus:

The Bible is clear that the virgin birth is to be a sign (Isaiah 7:14).  That is the point of the virgin birth, a sign.  It points to the fact that the Baby born to the virgin would be God (Immanuel).  We find nothing in the Bible that teaches that the virgin birth is necessary to avoid original sin.  Instead, the virgin birth points to the absolute deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bible and Supernatural Births

The Bible lists other supernatural births but none compare to the supernatural birth of Jesus.  For example, the birth of Isaac (Genesis 18:9-14), Samson (Judges 13) Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1-20), and John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25).  Yet all of these births occurred naturally with a human father and mother.  In the case of Jesus, He was born of a virgin without a human father.  He was 100% human through Mary but was 100% God through the Holy Spirit.  Paul the Apostle never mentions the virgin birth, but when he writes of the Lord Jesus coming into the world (Romans 1:3; Galatians 4:4; Philippians 2:7), he uses the Greek word ginomai (“become, come into being”) and avoids the word gennao or the common term for “be born” which would focus on two human parents.

The birth of Jesus was a supernatural event unlike any other.  This birth was a direct fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 (see Matthew 1:18-25).  The birth of Jesus pointed to His deity, that He was God and always had been God (John 1:1, 14).  Jesus did not come into being in Bethlehem but He had always been and always will be.  The Word became flesh in Bethlehem but He was always God from everlasting (Micah 5:2 NKJV).  Hebrews 1:10-12 is clear that Jesus has always been and He always will be (Hebrews 13:8).

And The Word Became Flesh (John 1:14)

Here is a great story from the late Paul Harvey about the incarnation of God.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/24/2012 at 2:10 PM

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