know we're two days past Christmas, but since this is Christmas week, I wanted to share these biblically rich quotes:Infinite and yet an infant.
Eternal and yet born of a woman.
Almighty, and yet nursing at a woman’s breast.
Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms.
Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son.
—Charles Haddon Spurgeon
That man should be made in God’s image is a wonder,
but that God should be made in man’s image is a greater wonder.
That the Ancient of Days would be born.
That He who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle?
Man’s Maker was made man
that the Bread might be hungry,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired from the journey;
that Strength might be made weak,
that Life might die.
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.”
From: Justin Taylor
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…” —Jeremiah 31:31
God is just and holy and separated from sinners like us. This is our main problem at Christmas and every other season. How shall we get right with a just and holy God?
Nevertheless, God is merciful and has promised in Jeremiah 31 (five hundred years before Christ) that someday he would do something new. He would replace shadows with the Reality of the Messiah. And he would powerfully move into our lives and write his will on our hearts so that we are not constrained from outside but are willing from inside to love him and trust him and follow him.
That would be the greatest salvation imaginable—if God should offer us the greatest Reality in the universe to enjoy and then move in us to see to it that we could enjoy it with the greatest freedom and joy possible. That would be a Christmas gift worth singing about.
That is, in fact, what he promised. But there was a huge obstacle. Our sin. Our separation from God because of our unrighteousness.
How shall a holy and just God treat us sinners with so much kindness as to give us the greatest Reality in the universe (his Son) to enjoy with the greatest joy possible?
The answer is that God put our sins on his Son, and judged them there, so that he could put them out of his mind, and deal with us mercifully and remain just and holy at the same time.
Hebrews 9:28 says, “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.”
Christ bore our sins in his own body when he died. He took our judgment. He canceled our guilt. And that means the sins are gone. They do not remain in God’s mind as a basis for condemnation. In that sense, he “forgets” them. They are consumed in the death of Christ.
Which means that God is now free, in his justice, to lavish us with the new covenant. He gives us Christ, the greatest Reality in the universe, for our enjoyment. And he writes his own will—his own heart—on our hearts so that we can love Christ and trust Christ and follow Christ from the inside out, with freedom and joy.
John Piper, Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent, p. 33-34
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. (Hebrews 8:1–2, ESV)
The point of the book of Hebrews is that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has not just come to fit into the earthly system of priestly ministry as the best and final human priest, but he has come to fulfill and put an end to that system and to orient all our attention on himself ministering for us in heaven.
The Old Testament tabernacle and priests and sacrifices were shadows. Now the reality has come, and the shadows pass away.
Here’s an Advent illustration for kids (and for those of us who used to be kids and remember what it was like). Suppose you and your mom get separated in the grocery store, and you start to get scared and panic and don’t know which way to go, and you run to the end of an aisle, and just before you start to cry, you see a shadow on the floor at the end of the aisle that looks just like your mom. It makes you really happy and you feel hope. But which is better? The happiness of seeing the shadow, or having your mom step around the corner and seeing that it’s really her?
That’s the way it is when Jesus comes to be our High Priest. That’s what Christmas is. Christmas is the replacement of shadows with the real thing.
John Piper, Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent, p. 25-26
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. —Hebrews 2:14–15
Hebrews 2:14–15 is worth more than two minutes in an Advent devotional. These verses connect the beginning and the end of Jesus’s earthly life. They make clear why he came. They would be great to use with an unbelieving friend or family member to take them step by step through your Christian view of Christ- mas. It might go something like this...
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood...”
The term “children” is taken from the previous verse and refers to the spiritual offspring of Christ, the Messiah (see Isa-ah 8:18; 53:10). These are also the “children of God.” In other words, in sending Christ, God has the salvation of his “children” specially in view. It is true that “God so loved the world, that he sent [Jesus] (John 3:16).” But it is also true that God was especially “gathering the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:52). God’s design was to offer Christ to the world, and to effect the salvation of his “children” (see 1 Timothy 4:10). You may experience adoption by receiving Christ (John 1:12).
“...he himself likewise partook of the same things [flesh and blood]...”
Christ existed before the incarnation. He was spirit. He was the eternal Word. He was with God and was God (John 1:1; Colossians 2:9). But he took on flesh and blood and clothed his deity with humanity. He became fully man and remained fully God. It is a great mystery in many ways. But it is at the heart of our faith and is what the Bible teaches. “...that through death...” The reason Jesus became man was to die. As God, he could not die for sinners. But as man he could. His aim was to die. Therefore he had to be born human. He was born to die. Good Friday is the reason for Christmas. This is what needs to be said today about the meaning of Christmas.
“...he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil...”
In dying, Christ de-fanged the devil. How? By covering all our sin. This means that Satan has no legitimate grounds to accuse us before God. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). On what grounds does he justify? Through the blood of Jesus (Romans 5:9). Satan’s ultimate weapon against us is our own sin. If the death of Jesus takes it away, the chief weapon of the devil is tak- en out of his hand. He cannot make a case for our death penalty, because the Judge has acquitted us by the death of his Son!
“...and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
So we are free from the fear of death. God has justified us. Satan cannot overturn that decree. And God means for our ultimate safety to have an immediate effect on our lives. He means for the happy ending to take away the slavery and fear of the now. If we do not need to fear our last and greatest enemy, death, then we do not need to fear anything. We can be free: free for joy, free for others. What a great Christmas present from God to us! And from us to the world!
John Piper, Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent, p. 22-24
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10–11)
God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything (Acts 17:25). The gifts of the magi are not given by way of assistance or need-meeting. It would dishonor a monarch if foreign visitors came with royal care-packages.
Nor are these gifts meant to be bribes. Deuteronomy 10:17 says that God takes no bribe. Well, what then do they mean?
How are they worship?
The gifts are intensifiers of desire for Christ himself in much the same way that fasting is. When you give a gift to Christ like this, it’s a way of saying, “The joy that I pursue (verse 10) is not the hope of getting rich with things from you. I have not come to you for your things, but for yourself. And this desire I now intensify and demonstrate by giving up things, in the hope of enjoying you more, not things. By giving to you what you do not need, and what I might enjoy, I am saying more earnestly and more authentically, ‘You are my treasure, not these things.’”
I think that’s what it means to worship God with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. May God take the truth of this text and waken in us a desire for Christ himself. May we say from the heart, “Lord Jesus, you are the Messiah, the King of Israel. All nations will come and bow down before you. God wields the world to see that you are worshiped. Therefore, whatever opposition I may find, I joyfully ascribe authority and dignity to you, and bring my gifts to say that you alone can satisfy my heart, not these.”
John Piper, Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent, p. 20-21
Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we
saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
Over and over the Bible baffles our curiosity about just how certain things happened. How did this “star” get the magi from the east to Jerusalem?
It does not say that it led them or went before them. It only says they saw a star in the east (verse 2), and came to Jerusalem.
And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as verse 9 says it did? And how did a star stand “over the place where the Child was”? The answer is: We do not know. There are numerous efforts to explain it in terms of conjunctions of planets or comets or supernovas or miraculous lights. We just don’t know. And I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied with developing theories that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance.
I risk a generalization to warn you: People who are exercised and preoccupied with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal. You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the gospel—the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of man, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the glory of Christ’s return and the final judgment. They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with a new article or book. There is little centered rejoicing.
But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: it is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship him.
There is only one Person in biblical thinking that can be behind that intentionality in the stars—God himself.
So the lesson is plain: God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him. And he is doing it by exerting global—probably even universal—influence and power to get it done.
Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy with her delivery. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem so that they can worship him.
This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations—all the nations (Matthew 24:14)— worship his Son.
This is God’s will for everybody in your office at work, and in your neighborhood and in your home. As John 4:23 says, “Such the Father seeks to worship him.”
At the beginning of Matthew we still have a “come-see” pattern. But at the end the pattern is “go-tell.” The magi came and saw. We are to go and tell. What is not different is that the purpose of God is the ingathering of the nations to worship his Son. The magnifying of Christ in the white-hot worship of all nations is the reason the world exists.
John Piper, Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent, p. 15-17
And while they were there, the time came for her to
give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and
wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a
manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Now you would think that if God so rules the world as to use an
empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, he
surely could have seen to it that a room was available in the inn.
Yes, he could have. And Jesus could have been born into a
wealthy family. He could have turned stone into bread in the
wilderness. He could have called 10,000 angels to his aid in
Gethsemane. He could have come down from the cross and
saved himself. The question is not what God could do, but what
he willed to do.
God’s will was that though Christ was rich, yet for your
sake he became poor. The “No Vacancy” signs over all the
motels in Bethlehem were for your sake. “For your sake he
became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
God rules all things—even motel capacities—for the sake
of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy”
sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing of
the cross in Jerusalem.
And we must not forget that he said, “He who would come
after me must deny himself and take up his cross” (Matthew
We join him on the Calvary road and hear him say,
“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater
than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you”
To the one who calls out enthusiastically, “I will follow you
wherever you go!” (Matthew 8:19). Jesus responds, “Foxes have
holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has
nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).
Yes, God could have seen to it that Jesus have a room at his
birth. But that would have been a detour off the Calvary road.
John Piper, Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent, p. 9-10
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us...” —Luke1:68–71
Notice two remarkable things from these words of Zechariah in Luke 1.
First, nine months earlier, Zechariah could not believe his wife would have a child. Now, filled with the Holy Spirit, he is so confident of God’s redeeming work in the coming Messiah that he puts it in the past tense. For the mind of faith, a prom- ised act of God is as good as done. Zechariah has learned to take God at his word and so has a remarkable assurance: “God has visited and redeemed!”
Second, the coming of Jesus the Messiah is a visitation of God to our world: “The God of Israel has visited and redeemed.” For centuries, the Jewish people had languished under the conviction that God had withdrawn: the spirit of prophecy had ceased, Israel had fallen into the hands of Rome. And all the godly in Israel were awaiting the visitation of God. Luke tells us in 2:25 that the devout Simeon was “looking for the consolation of Israel.” And in Luke 2:38 the prayerful Anna was “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
These were days of great expectation. Now the long-awaited visitation of God was about to happen—indeed, he was about to come in a way no one expected.
John Piper, Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent, p. 5-6