Culture or gospel driven?

Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about ‘culture’ and especially how it relates to Christian worship and the gospel in general. The question with which we need to deal is whether our culture drives the gospel or should the gospel drive our culture.  It seems to me that the latter is correct, but it is easier said than done.  We certainly wish to be relevant to our culture, yet we don’t wish to compromise the pure gospel.

Jesus was born into a culture and presented a refreshing gospel, which was rather radical by the Scribes and Pharisee’s standards.  Perhaps we may need to think seriously about how we present the gospel and all that we do as Christians so that we can affect our culture positively as well.  And sometimes it may mean thinking ‘outside the square’ a little more than we tend to do.

For many in our present culture, the ‘church’ is a place where you go when there is a wedding or a funeral.  For some, ‘church’ is the soup kitchen that is held every Friday evening, or a men’s breakfast or even our own ‘Lifted-Up’ on a Saturday morning. For others, it may be the Christian op-shop.  Whatever it is, the reality is that it is at these ‘mission’ events where some non-Christian people gather and have ‘fellowship’ with Christians and each other.   And if that is the case, it is important that these small, but important ‘mission’ events are saturated with gospel talk and good, Christian literature.

It seems to me that if we really wish to influence our communities and reach them with the gospel, a lot more thought needs to go into these types of mission ministries and also how we ‘do church’.   That doesn’t mean that our normal worship services should be done away with, not at all.  There is a time for coming together as the Lord’s people and to worship and just delight in our marvellous God and what He has done for us in Christ.  And it is our hope and prayer that some people who come to the mission events will progress and join us in worship.

Yet, we should occasionally ask the hard questions.  Why do so many churches struggle to keep their young people?  Why don’t more ‘non-Christians’ come off the street and worship with us?  Is the building we use for worship aesthetically appealing and welcoming?   Maybe it isn’t enough to just have an ‘A’ board outside the steps announcing that we are open. Perhaps it is the seating or the arrangement thereof that hinders the gospel.  Perhaps it is our worship style or format, after all, it can be rather monologue at times.  All the above are food for thought.

Now I am not suggesting for a moment that we throw out our present structures or the way we worship.  Yet, some of these things would be good to think about from time to time.  Perhaps a small tweak here and another one there can have a great impact in our endeavours to reach the lost for Christ.

Of course, we all realise that the Holy Spirit needs to change hearts and bring people to Christ.  Nevertheless, I have a strong suspicion He uses redeemed sinners like us to bring them to Christ.  We just need to make sure that we are not only ready to be the willing instruments in His hand, but ensure that our buildings, furnishings, and structures are not a stumbling block.  If they are then we may need to be radical and change some things so that with the Lord’s blessing, we may see the gospel impact our culture for God’s glory.  JZ. 

Loving discipline

Sometimes when we discuss the third mark of the true church as listed in Belgic Confession Article 29 (i.e. the faithful administration of discipline), we could exchange the word ‘discipline’ with ‘love’ for discipline is a sign of love.  The disciplining of Church members is always a difficult thing to implement, however, the ruling elders have been given this responsibility. They not only have to ensure the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments administered, but to also discipline those who are behaving in a way that shows they have no regard for God’s word or live in obedience to it as it reflects the way of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Of course, the process of disciplining members can sometimes take months and even years.  Part of the process is for the elders to make regular visits to encourage, implore, caution, warn with tears if necessary, those who are deliberately being disobedient to God’s word to repent and again love Him above all else, especially because of His great love to them in Christ.   The ruling elders, as servants of the Chief Shepherd have a responsibility to keep the ‘bride of Christ’, the Church, as pure as can be humanly achieved (Eph 5:21ff).  Just as a human bride wishes to stay pure for her future husband (also vice versa), so also, the ‘Bride of Christ’ needs to remain pure for her Husband, just as He who bought her with His own precious life is pure and holy.  Hence those who deliberately live a life of sin and have no desire to repent, need to be lovingly disciplined, not unlike a parent disciplining a naughty child.

When little children are naughty, parents who love their children will discipline them.  It may mean sending them to their bedroom for some ‘time-out’ or an occasional loving ‘smack’ to correct bad behaviour.  In fact, if children are constantly allowed to do what they wish to do without boundaries, then they usually grow up to be teenagers and young adults without boundaries as well, often with vastly more serious consequences to their bad behaviour.  As one wise father said, “Better that our children shed a tear when they are small than parents having to shed many tears when they are older.”

What does this have to do with church discipline?   As ruling elders, we love our Church members dearly, but we love Christ more.  Hence, when the need arises, we lovingly discipline those who are being disobedient so that they may turn and again love the Lord as they promised to do when they professed their faith in the Lord Jesus as Saviour.   The Psalmist says that the man is blessed who the Lord disciplines (Psa 94:12).   Solomon writes that he who heeds discipline shows the way to life (Pro 10:17).

Now I would be the first to admit that parents and ruling elders get it wrong on occasions with discipline.  Sometimes they’re too slow and at other times far too quick.  Sometimes they don’t act when they should have and at other times they have acted when they shouldn’t have.  Please show patience and forgive them when they err.

Thankfully, our Father in heaven doesn’t get it wrong.   The writer to the Hebrews writes, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” That’s good news, for none of us would want to miss out on glory due to lack of discipline.  What a great sign of our Father’s love that He would lovingly discipline us to make us holy and fit for glory!  When the need for loving discipline comes our way from the under-shepherds, may we also receive it as such.   JZ. 

Don’t write them off!

For some people, the biblical doctrine of election becomes difficult to comprehend since some of our close friends, perhaps even family members that we love, have until now not responded to God’s call on their lives.  At other times, we know our own hearts and wonder why God would make Jesus known to us, whilst other people, often morally decent, generous in love and giving, exemplary in behaviour, seem also to be passed over.  It seems so unfair.

Well, perhaps we should state from the outset that God would have been perfectly just to pass us all by.  Sometimes you will hear people say (even from pulpits), that God thought we were worthy and hence He sent His Son to redeem us.  Not only does such thinking rob God of His glory, nothing could be further from the truth.  No one is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:9ff).  Hence, that God would call any of us to be saved and to enjoy eternity with Him is entirely a work of grace on His part. As Paul reminds us in Romans 5:8ff, “While we were still sinners … while we were still God’s enemies, Christ died for us.” Furthermore, who are wee to accuse God of being unfair? He is the Potter and we are the clay (Read Romans 9:14-26).

Our wonderful election to be God’s children forever is something that occurred in the counsel of God before the foundations of the earth were put in place (Eph 1:4ff).  Furthermore, our election is unconditional.  God did not look to the future and see that we would be nice people and thought that He should save us. On the contrary, He saw that we were rotten to the core with sin and that without His help, none would be saved unto eternal life.

Now, this doctrine of election is a great blessing and reason for great rejoicing for those of us who are saved and who can rest in the completed work of Christ.  Yet, it is tinged with sadness for we see so many people we know, family members, friends, work colleagues, classmates, who are still walking without Christ as Saviour and therefore living in darkness.  Should we then, write these people off?  Absolutely not!

While they still enjoy God’s breath in their nostrils and while their hearts are still beating, there is hope for their conversion to Christ and salvation.  So, let us pray for the world in general and that the Holy Spirit may bring about a great revival. But in our prayers, let us not forget to pray for people we know by name.  Let us bring them before the throne of grace and ask for God’s Holy Spirit to quicken them to life.   But don’t just pray, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the right words so that you can chat to them about the blessing of knowing Jesus Christ as Saviour in a winsome way (Rom 10:14ff).

Oh, they may not instantly be converted, but perhaps the Holy Spirit will use the gospel seed you have sown and caused it to be watered by someone else and spring it to life at some other point in time.  Whatever you do, don’t write them off, for God only knows, that perhaps at a given point in their lives, He may overcome their resistance and answer our prayers and efforts concerning them in a marvellous way.

If God saved us, the unlovable with a love that stretches from everlasting to everlasting in Christ, surely, He can save them too!  God knows, we don’t, but they may belong to the elect and are just waiting for us to bring the saving message. So, may we never be accused of just sitting back and writing people off.   JZ.

“Salvation – it’s free, take it”

One thing I thought that was interesting recently at our Lifted-Up during the Pako Festa was when some people came for a bacon and egg roll, they were reluctant to accept it for free.   Some people even offered to pay for it or at the very least make a donation for the food received.  Perhaps these people were reluctant to accept a free bacon and egg roll because they were aware of the saying, “There are no free lunches in this world” for their experience has taught them that there is nearly always a catch.

There are generally two obstacles to people accepting Jesus Christ as their Saviour. First, is coming to terms that forgiveness and salvation are free to receive.  So, a sinner needs to come to terms with the fact that they cannot contribute or add to their forgiveness and salvation.  They cannot make a monetary payment, not even a donation, indeed, not even their good works in response to the forgiveness and salvation received can be added.  As soon as they think they can, they defile the work of Christ.   The work of salvation wasn’t free for Jesus for it cost Him is very life, but for us it is free to receive.  Yet, that is often where the difficulty lies.  Our sinful pride raises its ugly head and thinks, “There are no free lunches in this world – where is the catch?  Surely, we must have to donate or pay something towards our salvation! It can’t be for free!”  Yes, it is!

Perhaps there is nothing more dangerous to receiving the free gift of forgiveness and salvation in Christ than our self-righteousness.  Indeed, unless we come to Christ totally bankrupt of all our own righteousness, aware that we are rotten to the core and have nothing to offer, we cannot be made clean by Christ.

That brings me to the second obstacle when people don’t think they need saving.  Sinful pride will not allow them to think that they are totally bankrupt and rotten to the core.  Some may even think that they are ‘good’ people and don’t need saving, or worse still if there is a loving God, the onus is on Him to save them because they are so good.  In fact, they are so good, they absolutely refuse to take a bacon and egg roll for free and insist on giving at least some loose change!

Scripture teaches that we must come to a point in our lives where we confess that we are “nothing else but sin.”  Yet, even to come to a point where there is an acknowledgement of sin and the need for cleansing is a work of grace.   Sinful pride will not allow us to make that confession, however, if the gracious Holy Spirit is working in our hearts and lives, it will spring spontaneously from our lips.  All the dark, filthy clothes of sin need to be stripped off before we can be clothed with the clean clothes of Christ and be seen righteous in God’s sight.   “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Your cross I cling; naked, come to You for dress, helpless, look to You for grace; stained by sin, to You I cry: ‘Wash me, Saviour, or I die.’”   JZ.

An awkward discussion…

I would hope that most of us reading this feel blessed to be part of a Christian fellowship.  Of course, it is our prayer that we will continue to be a blessing to each other until the day the Lord returns victoriously on the clouds, or alternatively, calls us into His eternal presence some other way.

Sometimes being part of a Christian fellowship means that we need to have ‘awkward’ discussions before we pass into glory. A Pastor was once asked two questions concerning death. First, how many years can we reasonably expect the Lord to give us?  He answered by quoting Psalm 90:10, “The length of our days is seventy years or eighty if we have the strength…”   Second, what happens if we don’t get to seventy?  After some thought, the Pastor replied, “If you are a Christian, early promotion.”

The reality is that unless the Lord returns quickly, the Lord will use various means to call us home, perhaps an accident or sickness or just heart failure that eventually comes with old age.  Having said that, did you know some of the best thanksgiving services are held when people have planned their departure to glory before it occurs?  So, may I encourage you to give that some thought.  Here are some suggestions that you may wish to consider:

  1. Have you arranged your funeral or paid for a pre-arranged funeral?
  2. What passage from Scripture would you like the officiating minister to use for a message to family and friends who may attend the graveside service, or thanksgiving service, or both?  Perhaps you just want a graveside service – that’s fine too.
  3. What hymns, songs and music would you like to have sung and played during the service?
  4. Consider whether the interment (graveside service) should be first, followed by a thanksgiving service, or vice versa?  Have a chat to your Pastor about the pros and cons for either way.
  5. Consider whether a eulogy is appropriate, and if so, what should be the content of such a eulogy? The Pastor may be able to give some direction.
  6. Consider whether you would like to offer light refreshments after the service and where that should be and if costs are involved, how payment can be arranged.
  7. If refreshments are offered, who will set-up, serve, supply food and drinks and clean up afterwards?
  8. Consider whether a bequest to the Church may be appropriate so that the gospel continues to go forth.

Anyhow, if you wish to speak about this further, please see one of the leadership in the church.  The Lord’s blessing on you for the coming year as we together seek to serve Him and each other, to His glory. JZ

“It’s not about the view…”

When we lived on the Northern Beaches in Sydney, there were some spectacular views along the coastline, especially when one drove along the cliffs and could see the beaches below. Perhaps one of the best views was from the Bible Garden looking down to Palm Beach. Interestingly, some people (not all) who have spent megabucks purchasing their dream mansion along the coastline were soon bored with the view and after a while rearranged their furniture so that they didn’t have to look at the ocean all day or sold their mansion. I am not too sure how you could be bored with those great views, but some were. Perhaps I would be too if all I had was the ocean to look at.

Now you may be wondering, “Where is this going?” Well, it’s going to the graveyard! I once attended a graveside service on the northern beaches in NSW and I overheard the comment, “I would like to buried here – it has such a great view?” Well, I could certainly appreciate the view, it was spectacular, to say the least, but I have a strong suspicion that the Christian brother we buried that day is enjoying a far better view in glory. Sometimes we need to be reminded, despite the tranquil and picturesque surroundings at cemeteries, our loved ones are in glory and not in the grave looking up or out to some picturesque scenery. Dearie me, if that is how we think we will spend eternity, it will be very disappointing, for even the best scenery soon becomes ‘dead’ boring.

This past week we laid to rest the earthly remains of a brother in Christ. I mention earthly remains, for as Christians, although we wish to show respect to the earthly body, we don’t believe for a moment that our soul (spirit) remains with the body nor do we believe that this is the body we will have in eternity. There is enough evidence in Scripture to understand that from the moment we breathe our last our soul goes to be with the Lord (Jn 11:25-26; Rev 6:9ff). Furthermore, when Jesus returns there will be a great resurrection and Christians will be changed in the twinkling of an eye and be given glorified bodies that are fit to live with our Saviour forever. We will no longer have perishable bodies, but imperishable. While on earth, we have the image of the man of dust, but when the last day arrives we will bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Cor 15:42ff).

So, let’s be thankful that Scripture teaches that the grave is not the end and that heaven will be something spectacular. How good? I wish I could tell you, but I cannot. Even the man (possibly Paul) recorded as seeing the ‘third heaven’ and being ‘caught up into paradise’ was not allowed to utter what he had seen (2 Cor 12:1-4). But this I do know, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9).

So let’s not be too concerned about the views around us, not when we are living nor when we are buried. Rather, let us be concerned presently that we love the Lord dearly, and continue to fan into flame the gift of faith that He has given us. JZ

How to fight the good fight…

One annoying thing that keeps niggling at our assurance of salvation on occasions is whether we will be like some others who have at one time done their profession of faith but now seemingly have given their Christian faith away.   One trap we fall into as Christians is looking for assurance of salvation in the wrong places.  It is so easy to be what I call ‘belly-button’ gazers and continually look at ourselves to see if we can somehow qualify or quantify what God is doing in our lives.  For instance, we may be looking at our own spiritual growth or whether we are being obedient to God’s will or even doing good works.
Now some of these things may be useful and be evidence of our salvation because Jesus Himself said that “by their fruit you shall recognize them” (Mat 7:16), but they are not what we should base our assurance of salvation upon. There may come a day when we can no longer do the good works, perhaps due to illness or even the frailty of old age.  Nor should we place our trust in how we ‘feel’ for one day we may feel great and the next day we may feel lousy!
Rather, we should find the assurance of salvation in the objective truth of God’s Word and hold on tightly.  The thief on the cross had no chance of doing any good works.  In fact, his life was probably one of all ‘bad-works’ and yet Jesus assures him of his salvation that very day because the thief believed in Jesus and the objective promise given to Him by the Saviour of sinners.  Abraham, years earlier, believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.  This is the key to assurance of salvation.  We can only be confident that we are saved based on the objective promises of God contained in His Word, and not because of what our hands have done or any other other subjective experiences.
There are many verses in Scripture which testify that God wants his children to be certain of their salvation and not to be tossed about ‘to and fro’ by the storms of life or their continuing self-doubt. For instance, John 20:31; “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  Or again, 1 John 5:11-13, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (See also John 3:16; 5:24; 6:37; Acts 16:31. Rom 5:8ff; Rom 8:28-39; 10:9; 2 Cor 5:21 and others).   Jesus gave this assurance, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:28-30).
Now it is one thing to know all this, it is another thing to hold onto it tightly.  Yet even there, God preserves us so that we will continue to persevere and hold on tightly.  The Apostle Paul encourages the Philippian Christians in 2:12-13 to work out their salvation with fear and trembling.  It’s not that Paul doubted his salvation, rather, he understood that the sanctifying process calls for ongoing obedience (See WCF 16.3).  Furthermore, Paul did not place any confidence in the things he ‘felt’ or ‘did in his flesh’, rather, he considered everything a loss, but rested in the righteousness gained by Christ, given by God and is by faith and kept working at it (please read Phi 3:7-14.)
So, yes we can have assurance of salvation, however, there is no room for being a ‘lazy’ Christian. Don’t neglect feeding on God’s Word, participating in the sacraments, spending time in prayer, gathering for worship.  These are some of the means of grace God has given us to encourage us in our faith and walk of obedience.  May we all be able to say with Paul, (2 Tim 4:7-8) “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Prayer: “Lord, thank you for giving us such great promises in Your Word. In light of them, forgive us when we doubt or do not trust your promises.  Holy Spirit, please help us in times of doubt to trust in Jesus Christ and to recall to mind the wonderfully promises and assurances given to us in Holy Scripture of our eternal salvation.  Amen.   JZ

Revival and renewal

As most of you would know, we have been in Europe this past month, catching up with some family and friends and seeing some spectacular scenery.  One of the highlights of the trip was being able to see the history of Europe, which included some of the early architecture, the narrow streets that are sprinkled with little shops and of course the Cathedrals.

Of all the Cathedrals seen, perhaps the Milan Cathedral was the most spectacular of all, at least from the outside.  It took six centuries to complete.   It’s hard to imagine that people worked on that structure all their lives and many after doing so never saw it completed.  Of course, many of these workers saw this as a service to God and hence were willing to commit their whole lives to these projects.

History has recorded that the indulgences demanded by the early Roman Church paid for these structures.  Today, many of these Cathedrals have their doors open to the public, but most of them charge a price, from about five through to twenty euro or pounds for entry, depending on where you were.  Much of those funds are used today to cover the expenses associated with maintaining these buildings.

One sad thing was to see that many of these churches, along with their lavish artefacts and beautiful paintings, still had crucifixes depicting a ‘dead’ Jesus on the cross.  Some had little shopping (souvenir) areas inside the building where people could buy all sorts of memorabilia associated with the particular Cathedral.  Perhaps one of the most disturbing things was to see the public invited to purchase a small candle for three euro, light it, say a prayer, and be given an assurance that their prayer would be heard for it would be carried on the wings of the saints.

There was only one church where we didn’t see a crucifix and that was at St Peters in Geneva.  Yet even there we were charged five euros to go up the tower for a view of the city.  And then not to be outdone, we were charged quite a bit more to see the Reformation Museum around the corner.  This museum was very dated and had very little or no modern content at all. In some ways, it denied the reformational concept of an ‘Ecclesia semper reformanda’ (a church always reforming).

However, we did have the opportunity to attend an Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Cambridge.  We just loved being part of a fellowship where we could understand and hear faithful preaching, great singing and enjoy Christian fellowship (sometimes we forget how blessed we are to be able to enjoy this every week).  This particular Sunday, they had a guest preacher for their previous minister (Iain Hamilton) had retired.  When speaking to one of the elders afterwards, he remarked how difficult it was to find ministers who were willing to move to a new congregation and finding willing and gifted men for the eldership.   Nothing new under the sun!

Anyhow, one thing became apparent and that is the need to pray for renewal and revival and may the Holy Spirit begin with us.   We need to pray for a ‘new’ reformation where people will bow the knee before King Jesus and Him alone.  We need to pray that people everywhere may understand that God is not concerned in the first place about bricks and mortar or gold-plated icons, but a heart that loves Him and desires wholeheartedly to worship Him for Who He is and all He has done, not least in sending His Son for our eternal salvation.  To that end, may we always be seeking renewal and ‘reforming’ to reach the lost for Christ, to the glory of our Father in heaven.  JZ

Have a blessed New Year – to God’s glory

As another year draws to a close it is useful to look back and reflect on what has happened this past year, not just in the world around us, but also in our personal lives.   Often on New Year’s eve, Psalm 90 is read, and why not.  This Psalm is ascribed to Moses and it takes the form of a prayer.  In verses 1-2, the Psalmist acknowledges God’s power, greatness and His eternity.  In contrast, verses 3-6 highlights our frailty. In verses 7-12, the Psalmist speaks about our sinfulness and its consequences, namely death. In the closing verses, 13-17, the Psalmist calls on God to bless them with His wisdom so that they may count their days correctly, as well as show His compassion towards them and to bless them with happy days, so that they can tell others about Him as their great God.

Sometimes people accuse Christians of using God as a crutch and perhaps there is some truth to that, but what a good crutch to have.  Who can we compare to Him?  Where would we be without Him?  Where would we be without His sustaining grace this past year?  And then looking forward, to whom would we look for help as we enter into a New Year?   Moses reminds us that the one who trusts in God has a secure “dwelling place” (refuge) in Him for our God is from eternity to eternity and His faithfulness stretches from one generation to the next.

In direct contrast to God’s eternity, we know that earth has no permanence about it at all.  We may like to think we can put down deep roots and last forever, but the Psalmist (and reality) reminds us that we are like grass or a flower in the field.  We blossom and bloom for a short while in the dew of the morning and then the sun dries us and we’re gone and no one remembers us.

Moses (v4) and the Apostle Peter (2 Pet 4:8), reminds us that with the Lord a thousand years is like a day and a day like a thousand years.  Moses’ point is not that time passes quickly for God, but that it passes quickly for us.  In my ministry, I have the opportunity to visit many elderly people, occasionally on their birthdays.  Some are pleased they have been granted many years and are remembered by the cards and well wishes they receive, but in the end, unless the Lord returns, they too will be swallowed up by death and their place remembered no more.

Thankfully, the Psalmist doesn’t end on that note but gives us some instructions going forward.  First, the Psalmist calls upon us to count every day and every moment as a gift from God.  So instead of being poor mathematicians, let us count and live each day, knowing that it may possibly be our last day.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan for the future or work hard, we must and it is our duty to do so.  However, let us do it to God’s glory and call on the Lord to help us live holy lives.  May we not be like the rich man who kept building bigger and better barns so that he could live a life of luxury. This rich man did not give God or His glory a thought and Jesus tells us that such a man is a fool! (Luke 12:13-20).   “Only one life! ’Twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Second, it is only when we acknowledge each day as a gift from the Lord that we can sing and be glad all our days.  When God fills our hearts with His love, not least for our salvation, we will be most satisfied.   So don’t place your trust in man or in ‘things’ or to building bigger and better barns without having a godly focus.   Saint Augustine prayed, “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they find rest in you.”

Third, the Psalmist asks God to establish the work of his hands.  While we have breath, redeemed by Christ, we have work to do.  Let us find out, guided by God’s word, what that work is and do it to His glory!

So in light of our great salvation and the few ‘short’ years we have, let us be a blessing to others in the New Year, so that when our years are done, we may hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  Have a blessed New Year.

Christmas & Good Friday coming together

There are a number of great events on the church calendar year which we focus on throughout the year. For instance, in the past, some of our churches have focused on Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Pentecost, Ascension Day, Reformation Day as well as the six-week period of Lent and of course the four-week period of Advent.

The two main periods are Christmas and Easter, and it is good to focus for a moment on both these in the final week of Advent. The very thing that is obvious is that both were necessary. The writer to the Hebrews connects both events in Ch 2:14, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil.”

We know from Scripture that when man sinned, the just sentence from God was death (Gen 3:19; Rom 6:23). Hence, since mankind sinned, our Saviour had to share in their humanity, taking on our flesh and blood, otherwise, He would not have been able to save those God had chosen unto eternal life beforehand (Eph 1:4). Although we understand this to be the case as taught in Scripture, we should not belittle this event. We are speaking about a mystery that is in many ways too wonderful for us to fully comprehend. Before Christ came as a baby in a manger, He was the eternal Word and was with God and was God at Creation (John 1:1). He clothed his deity with flesh and blood and became fully man whilst also remaining fully God (Phil 2:5ff).

He came as a baby and became fully man with one main purpose in mind, to save sinners who repent and believe. He came to secure their salvation which meant He came to die as a man and that is why He took on our humanity. Man sinned and could no longer save himself and hence a sinless man had to die to satisfy the justice of God. Good Friday, therefore, is inextricably connected to Christmas Day and is indeed the reason for the festivities at this time of year.

However, it wasn’t only God’s justice that needed to be met for man’s sin by our Saviour’s death, but by his death, he would destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil. The baby born in Bethlehem did this by covering our sin with his perfect righteousness through His sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection (Rom 3:21ff). Hence, when we stand before the judge of all the earth, no legitimate accusations can be levelled at us, because they are all covered by the broken body and shed blood of our Saviour. What was previously Satan’s weapon against us, our sin, has been taken care of by the baby born on Christmas Day on Good Friday.

What does this all mean? The debilitating fear of death has been taken away and it no longer has hold over us (v15). We can now rejoice in the Saviour Whom God has provided and in thankful response live in the joy of our salvation every day. Have a blessed Christmas enjoying God’s greatest gift of His Son to us and while you’re at it, tell others about this gift too. JZ.