So many people this time of year stop to reflect on the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Although the Birth of Christ is recorded in Matthew chapters 1, 2 and Luke 1, 2, there is no Biblical or historical evidence that Christians celebrated Christ’s birth as a church festival or holiday. In fact it was not until 1038 A.D. that the Catholic Church celebrated the mass of Christ and in 1131 it was call the Christ Mass, which became known as Christmas.[i] (Taken from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm).
As the Catholic Church developed it’s Christ Mass, which to this point in history was only a special mass to celebrate the birth of Christ, it was not until 1223 the first “Nativity scene” appeared. The Nativity scene was created by the Catholic priest, Francis of Assisi in 1223 to teach that Jesus was born into a poor family. Francis of Assisi was known for ministering to the poor and used the birth of Christ to show how Jesus could relate to the poor’s plight. (Taken from http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/nativity.shtml)
Although the Bible does not tell us the date of the birth of Christ or that we should celebrate His birth. Many people through the ages have tried to highlight this very important event in history; many times taking away or adding to the Biblical text, which only distorts the truth. However Christians must seek the truth and understand how God intended to save the human race, through Jesus Christ and His birth is very much a part of this.
As one reads the biblical accounts of Christ’s birth in Matthew and Luke, which are the only detail accounts of the events surrounding Christ birth, there are other passages in the New Testament that help to explain the importance of Christ birth as fulfilling God’s intended purpose for salvation such as:
· Jn. 1:14 states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
· Gal. 4:4-5 reads, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
· Rom. 1:3, “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh.”
· Rom 8:3, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,”
· Php 2:7, “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
· Heb 2:14-17, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
As these scriptures point out, Christ’s birth was an essential part of God’s plan of Salvation. God’s plan was for Jesus to be born, in the flesh, of a virgin, and physically grow into a man, yet being fully God at the same time (Col. 2:9). Jesus later offered Himself upon the cross and then He was raised from the dead on the third day, for the sins of people.
So the next time you see a “Nativity scene” or hear the reading of Matthew 1,2 or Luke 1,2 remember this is just one aspect of Jesus’ life; there is more “to the story.” We must also remember that we could not have Jesus Death, burial and resurrection if it was not for His birth. Without Christ’s birth we have no Salvation, but also remember that God did not intend for Jesus to remain in the manger either, neither should we keep Him there. Let us learn the lesson that God intended to teach in Matthew 1, 2 and Luke 1, 2 and keep these passages in perspective with the rest of the scriptures.
Written by Mark T. Tonkery
[i] Some say the interest of Christ’s birth began in the 3rd or 4th Century, but there is no festival or celebration as such until 1038 A.D.
Are you going to Heaven? There is a growing tendency to believe that all good people, whether or not they consider Jesus Christ to be their Savior, will live in Heaven after they die on earth. In 2005 a Barna survey found that 54% agree, 39% disagree that if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others during their life; they will earn a place in Heaven. So what does the Bible say about those who will be going to Heaven?
Heaven, as described by the Bible, is certainly a wonderful place. The Bible defines Heaven as the eternal dwelling place of God in Isaiah 66:1, “Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne….” When Jesus taught His disciples to pray He taught them to pray by addressing God the Father, “which art in heaven…”(Matthew 6:9) this also illustrates that God dwells in Heaven. Not only is Heaven the dwelling place of God but also the Bible describes many other wonderful characteristic of this eternal Paradise.
First, the Bible describes Heaven as a place of eternal rest. Revelation 21:3-4 tells us “…Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Hebrews 4:9-11 and Revelation 14:13 also teach that Heaven is a place of eternal rest. This is a major contrast from Hell. Jesus points out in His teachings that Hell is a constant place of unrest where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12, 22:13,24:51, 25:30), torment (Luke 16:23), and eternal fire (Matthew 25:41). Unlike Hell, Heaven is a place of eternal peace and rest for the Christian’s weary soul.
Second, the Bible also states that Heaven is a better dwelling place or a better country. We who live in the United States of America live in a great country, yet it is not Heaven. Many problems exist here because of sin, just look at the daily newspaper. Heaven is a better country, far better than the United States. Heaven is a better place because there will be no more sin, no more death, no more sorrow, no more evil, and no more of the things that break our heart. Hebrews 11:16 reminds that the faithful long for a better country; far better than anything anyone can ever hope for or imagine.
Third, Heaven will also be a place of fellowship. Primarily, Heaven will be a place of fellowship with God. One day the Bride of Christ (the church) will dwell with her Groom according to Revelation 21:3. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 affirms that Christian will, “…ever be with the Lord.” What joy it will be to dwell with God for all eternity. Next, Heaven will also be a place of fellowship with others who have been found faithful in Christ. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 teaches that Heaven is for those people who have died as faithful Christians and those who are Christians that are alive at Christians return at which time they will be gather together and taken to Heaven. The Bible also shows that the Believer’s identity will be known to one another such as the case with Moses and Elijah on the Mt. Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-13 and the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.
Fourth, the wonder and beauty of Heaven as it is describe in the Bible is also a place of unending joy as seen in Isaiah 35:10 and Revelation 21:4. Revelations 2:7 states, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” In 2 Corinthians 12:4 it also affirms that Heaven is a place of paradise.
Fifth, the Bible portrays Heaven as such a wonderful place that its joy is beyond imagine. It is no wonder that many people want to go there. Yet Heaven is only for the Saved. 2 Corinthians 5:1 tells us that Heaven is where Christians will dwell with God for eternity. If mankind wants to dwell with God in Heaven then they must be found in Christ to do so (Philippians 3:9). People cannot just pray themselves in, or do enough good deeds, or just desire their way into Heaven. The Bible proclaims that we must believe that Jesus is the Christ. John 3:16 makes known that, “…God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John goes on to point out in John 3:36 that this belief is just not head knowledge but an obedient faith, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 declares that if individuals want to avoid the flaming fire and vengeance of the Lord they must obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ lived, died, was buried, and resurrected on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). When mankind obeys Christ’s Gospel by confessing Christ before men, Romans 10:9-10, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Upon this confession of faith the sinner who truly believes in Christ as the Son of God must repent of their sins, Luke 13:3 “…but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” One’s repentance will lead them to be buried with Christ by immersion in water, as commanded in Acts 2:38, “…Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” In Romans 6:4 it reads, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” This teaches that at ones baptism they begin a new life in Christ, where salvation is bestowed upon the sinner and they begin their journey to Heaven.
As one reads the Bible it is clear that Heaven is a place prepared by Christ. In John 14:2 Jesus tells His disciple that Heaven will be a place prepared for many people. Scripture even points out that God desires all to repent and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9) so they can go to Heaven. Yet Jesus also reminds that not all that desire to go to Heaven will be there, only those who hear and do His will (Matthew 7:21-24). As one reads Scripture one can understand that Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people.
The late gospel preacher Marshall Keeble once said in a gospel meeting, “The Bible is right! You can leave this meeting and go home mad, but the Bible is still right. You can fuss at Keeble all night, but the Bible is right! All men can die and go to Hell, but the Bible is still right!” The Bible is right, and it is where one must begin if they want to go to Heaven. The Apostle John said in 1 John 5:13, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” If one wants to know how they can have eternal life then they must begin with God’s Word, the Bible. It is the souls only guide in the journey to ones eternal reward. People just cannot be good enough to go to Heaven; we must be in Christ and obey Him. Are you going to Heaven? Written by Mark T. Tonkery
An African boy listened carefully as his teacher explained why Christians were such giving people. The teacher said, “Jesus taught us that giving gifts is an expression of our love and friendship for Him and each other.” Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35).
A couple of days went by; the boy brought the teacher a seashell of lustrous beauty. “Where did you ever find such a beautiful shell?” the teacher asked. The youth told her that there was only one spot where such extraordinary shells could be found. When he named the place, a certain bay several miles away, the teacher was left speechless. She knew that it would have taken the young African boy hours to walk to the bay which he would have faced many dangers from the jungle and rocky cliffs of the sea coast. “Why…why, it’s gorgeous…wonderful, but you shouldn’t have gone all that way to get the gift for me,” the teacher joyfully exclaimed.
His eyes brightening, the boy answered, “Long walk part of gift.” (Story adopted from Preaching Vol. 23, No. 3, p. 88. 2007).
This story brings to mind the long walk that was part of God’s gift to mankind. In 1 Peter 1:20-21 it states, “He [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
Christ was foreknown before the creation of the world, where His long walk began proclaimed by the prophets of the Old Testament; He then voyaged from heaven to earth, to born of a virgin and grew up to show people the way of Heaven, He walked upon the earth and then went to a shameful cross to pay humans’ debt of sin, journeyed from the cross to the tomb, then resurrected on the third day and went back to Heaven, all of this the gift of God.
Heb 4:15-16 reminds us that the long walk was part of the gift by saying, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
And we may ask, “Why all this trouble, God?” And God would say to us, “Long walk part of the gift.”
Written by Mark T. Tonkery
Many, many years ago a story is told of a good king in Spain known as Alfonso XIX who learned that the boys who served in his court were forgetting to pray before their meals. So, he decided to teach them a lesson. He gave a banquet and invited them to attend. Midway through the dinner a ragged beggar came in, sat down, and began eating ravenously. When he was finished, he went out without saying a word.
"That ungrateful wretch ought to be whipped," shouted the boys. "He ate the king's food and never showed gratitude." Quietly the king rose to his feet, and silence fell over the group. "Daily you have taken the rich blessings of life from the hand of your Heavenly Father," said the king. "You've enjoyed His sunshine, breathed His air, eaten His food He has provided, and you have not bothered to say 'thank you' for any of them. You are more ungrateful than that beggar."
Often we like those boys, take for granted those blessings that God has provided.
In Luke 17:11-19 Jesus healed ten men of leprosy. Out of the ten men who were healed only one man returned to thank Jesus. Jesus asked the man who return, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner" (Lk. 17:17, 18).
So many times, we often neglect to be thankful. Yet, thanksgiving is to be a natural attitude of our worship (1 Cor.14:16-17) and is to characterize all of Christian life (Col. 2:7; 4:2). We are to give thanks daily and regularly.
As we read in the the New Testament the early Christians expressed thanks: for Christ’s ministry (Luke 17:16); for Christ’s delieverence from sin (Rom. 6:17-18; 7:25); for God’s indescribable gift of grace in Christ (2 Cor. (:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:57; Rom. 1:21) and for the faith of fellow Christians (Rom. 1:8).
All this comes from the God who loves us and has given so much to us; shouldn’t we be thankful always?
Alex Haley, the author of "Roots," had an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It was a picture of a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked, "Why is that there?" Alex Haley answered, "Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words and think that they are wonderful, and begin to feel proud of myself, I look at the turtle on top of the fence post and remember that he didn't get there on his own. He had help."
That is the basis of thankfulness - to remember that we got “here” with the help of God, and that He is the provider of every blessing we have.
This Thanksgiving season may we be reminded of all the Lord has done for us and may we not only thank Him now but every day that we have the breath of life. Think about it!
Written by Mark T. Tonkery
Washington-There’s considerable ignorance about the Bible among U.S. teens, judging from a Gallup Poll released Tuesday.
Fewer than half the 1,002 youths polled knew that Jesus turned water into wine at the Cana wedding, and nearly two-thirds couldn’t identify a quote from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or the relation of the road to Damascus to the Apostle Paul’s conversion. About one-in-10 thought Moses was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles.
The poll, with a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, accompanied a report issued by the Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax, Va.
The literary project interviewed 41 high school English teachers who are regarded as outstanding by their colleagues; forty of those teachers said knowledge of the Bible gives students a distinct educational advantage.
This article that was reported by The Associated Press sadden my heart when I read it, yet I am not surprised. We live in a very Bible illiterate age. We must take the warning of Hosea 4:6 very seriously which reads, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge….” We as well as our young people will be destroyed if we do not heed the teachings and warnings of the Bible.
As Christian parents and concerned Christians we must encourage young people as well as ourselves to be involved with daily Bible study, regular attendance at Bible class and worship. We need to try to make a good effort to see our young people be involved in the spiritual activities of the church to help our children to spiritually and in the knowledge in the Bible such as: Bible Boosters, Vacation Bible School, Bible Bowl, Lad’s to Leaders, and other youth activities.
We must ask ourselves, are we making the most of these opportunities to build our faith and increase our knowledge of the God the Bible? Are we encouraging our children to be involved with various youth activities to boost their knowledge of Scripture and grow spiritually?
Not only will studying the Bible give students a distinct educational advantage as the article above pointed out, but the Bible will give every Christian a distinct advantage over sin, Satan’s schemes, and a knowledge of where we will spend eternity.
Church if you’re not encouraging your young people to read and study the Bible then we are setting them up for failure in this life and in the next. Please get involved with the various methods that the church offers to help your children get to Heaven. Do it now before it is to late for you and your children!
Mark T. Tonkery
November 10, 2016