The End of the Christmas Story

nativity

What is the end of the Christmas Story?

Perhaps when Mary was treasuring these things in her heart and the shepherds were  returning and praising God? (Luke 2:19,20)

Or maybe when the magi were worshiping and presenting their treasures? (Matthew 2:11)

Too often, that is where we stop celebrating in December.  A sweet baby (the Son of God) is born in humble surroundings and certain segments of the population respond with fitting praise and wonder.  The end.  But, as we have seen in our devotions this week, that is far from the end of the story.  I have enjoyed reading through Luke especially at this time of year to see once again what we are REALLY celebrating.

Jesus came as a baby – and what a great opening act that was (you, know the opening act that followed thousands of years of God setting the stage)!!  And 30 years later all sorts of people (fishermen, tax-collectors, sinners, chief priests, foreigners, the sick and diseased, teachers of the law, governors and kings and politicians, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, men, women and children)  all prepare to meet this traveling preacher, teacher, healer, miracle maker, story-teller, leader, servant.  His favorite topic is always the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 8:1).  Through his teaching, his parables, and his miracles, the world sees a clearer picture of God than they have ever seen before.  The son truly has his Father’s resemblance.

And, he also is committed to doing his Father’s will – even when that means death on the cross, crucified as a criminal, to take away the sins of the world.  His followers are crushed as they were sure this Jesus was going to set up the Kingdom on earth and begin his reign right then.  How could they have been so wrong?

Thankfully, that is still not the end.  Three days later…the tomb is empty!  Joy to the World!!  Jesus appears to his disciples and uses Scripture to explain to them again how the Old Testament foretold what must take place.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”  45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.   Luke 24:22-28

A way was needed for both Jews and Gentiles to be washed clean before they could be full citizens of God’s Kingdom.  And Jesus’ death made the way.  And his resurrection gives the hope for a future resurrection.  For there is one more key element that must take place before Jesus will begin his reign over all the world and the Kingdom of God will fully begin.  This is hinted above in Luke 24:47 and spelled out in Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

There have been many godly men and women who have died while preaching the gospel – but still the good news has not reached all people in all nations.  The Church of God mourned the death of a very special and faithful pastor, Rex Cain, just this week.  But the mourning was not without hope because the Christmas story isn’t over yet.

In the final verses of Luke (24:51), Jesus ascends into heaven.  When the same event is recorded in the book of Acts (Luke’s sequel) the disciples are told, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11).  The best is yet to come!

The end of the Christmas story is a new beginning.  A beginning that is still to come.  When Jesus breaks through the clouds at his Second Coming this will be the start of his reign on Earth over all who have been faithful.  The dead in Christ will rise and we will see Jesus coming – not as a babe but as a triumphant warrior and king.  A new heaven and a new earth will worship him and his Father.

I pray I will be found ready.  And I pray you will be found ready.  Let’s get to work and tell the nations!

“Come, Lord Jesus!”(Revelation 22:20 b)

-Marcia Railton

 

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What Shall I Do? I Will Send My Son.

Luke 20

Luke 20 13

Merry Christmas!

May your day be full of sweet reminders of God’s love.  And may you pass along that love to others.

It is easy to lose sight of the whole picture of Jesus when we gather to feast and exchange presents amid the tinsel, lights, tree, and nativity scene.  A pregnant virgin, a faithful fiancé, a holy night, an angel assembly, a crew of shepherds, traveling wise men, pass the ham, and unwrap the presents.  But wait . . . why??? And then what????

It appears Jesus didn’t spend time preaching about his miraculous and incredibly true birth.  In fact, only two of the four gospels record bits and pieces of his birth story.  But here in Luke 20 Jesus taught the Parable of the Tenants.  And while it isn’t likely used in very many Christmas sermons or devotions, it actually paints a very fitting picture of why Jesus was sent – and what was “the rest of the story” – beyond the shepherds and wise men.

In this parable God plays the role of the vineyard owner.  He entrusts his vineyard (earth) to mankind as farm tenants to care for his vineyard.  The owner sends back several servants (Old Testament prophets) to the vineyard to retrieve some fruit for the owner.  Instead the selfish, greedy tenants mistreat the servants and send them back with nothing for the master.   

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ (Luke 20:13).  And so, the Son of God is given a mission for his Father: go to the vineyard to represent his Father to attain what belongs to his Father – the fruit of the vineyard.  God could have done this in so many ways.  He could have sent a violent and powerful son to use force to swiftly get the Father’s work done and repay the tenants for their selfish, greedy wickedness.  But instead the Son was given – a baby – as the Son of Man and Son of God.  And the angels rejoiced.   And the shepherds were in awe as they found things just as they had been told and then joyfully shared the news.

And the Son of God “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” – the tenants of the vineyard. (Luke 2:52).   And the son of the vineyard owner teaches and preaches and performs miracles to display and prove the goodness and sovereignty and master plan of the vineyard owner.  But, they still don’t get it.  Forsaking the master’s plan, as well as his very son, they conspire together and the tenants kill the son.  Now, they figure, the vineyard will be theirs.  There is no longer an heir.  And so, the tenants triumph for a time and seem to have free reign of the vineyard.

But, that is not the end of the story.   In his parable Jesus now switches from past tense to future tense as he says, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”  So, too, there is a future in our Christmas story today.  And, there is a price that will be paid for all tenants who have chosen to forsake the son.  

In your celebrating today, and in your work tomorrow, in your heart and mind and actions, in your time, in your giving, in your whole living – do not forsake the son.

-Marcia Railton

The Boy who Changed – and Is Still Changing – the World

Luke 2

Luke 2 final

“Do not be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” Luke 2:10-12

 

Today, we are reading through Luke chapter 2 which contains one of the most popular accounts written in the Bible—which is the birth of the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ. Regardless of our religious affiliation or background, we are familiar with the story line. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be registered under Caesar Augustus’s decree. While there, it comes time for Mary to give birth. Because there is no room in any inn, she must give birth in a stable.

 

For us, this narrative is important because it is the beginning of the story of a man who turned (and is still turning) the world upside down. We can skip forward and see how much of an impact Jesus had on so many, and we can also see how he works in our lives today.

 

But imagine being in the shoes of Mary, Joseph, and even the shepherds. They weren’t able to skip ahead, they had to live it out. For Mary and Joseph, they had to trust in God that he would see them through. They had to have strong enough faith that God would do what he said he would do. For the shepherds, imagine going from a normal day to having an angel tell you that the Son of God has been born. The Messiah is here! It is even written that they were terrified (Luke 2:9).

 

Why does this matter? I just think it’s important for us to realize that these heroes we read about in the Bible were more than just characters. They were real people. They didn’t get the luxury of knowing what was written on the next page. They had fears, and they weren’t perfect. They had to trust in God and his purpose. They had to believe that God was going to hold their hand through everything. Imagine the trust! Imagine the faith!

 

So as you read today, place yourself in their shoes. Because if we can understand what Mary and Joseph went through, maybe we can learn to emulate their faith in our own lives.

 

-Leslie Jones

 

 

God Even Thinks of the Little Things

Luke 1

 

Fuel Blog post 1 final

Today we are reading through Luke Chapter 1, which begins with the prediction of John’s birth to Zechariah and Elizabeth, followed by the prediction of Jesus’s birth, and ends with the birth of John.

 

It is easy to look at this section of scripture and focus on the major events that occurred—which might I add—are incredible. Imagine being in Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, or Zechariah’s shoes. In one moment, your life has completely been turned upside down. What a brave faith each of these individuals had.

 

But there is something important in this passage that I think could easily go unnoticed because of the power that the main story line holds. That is the fact that God thought of the smallest things.

 

To start from the beginning, we learn in Luke 1:7 that Elizabeth and Zechariah had been unable to conceive a child. In their time, it was a disgrace for a woman to not give birth. With both Elizabeth and Zechariah being older, I cannot imagine the shame that Elizabeth endured for years before conceiving John. She expresses this in Luke 1:25. Later, we find out that Elizabeth and Mary are related. Mary is also told that she, though a virgin, will conceive Jesus. Luke makes a point to draw the connection between Elizabeth and Mary in Luke 1:36.

 

Why am I bringing this up? Because God has the ability to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, with whoever he wants. He could have chosen ANYONE to carry Jesus and John, so why Mary and Elizabeth?

 

By choosing Elizabeth to carry John, a faithful servant of God no longer had to be frowned upon for being infertile. He gave Elizabeth a beautiful gift and miracle that I am sure had been prayed for by both Elizabeth and Zechariah for years. God could have accomplished what he needed done without this, but he did it anyway.

 

Furthermore, God chose Mary to carry his Son. That in and of itself is miraculous, but what is so cool is that God gave Mary Elizabeth. He knew that Mary would struggle and need someone to comfort and be there for her. Not only was Elizabeth faithful to God, but she also had just conceived the miracle of John. Mary had someone that understood what she was going through, and Mary also had concrete belief that the prophecy was true because Elizabeth experienced something similar.

 

What is so crazy to me is that God did not have to do any of that! He could have chosen people hundreds of miles apart with no relation to one another to carry these two powerful men. He could have chosen someone to carry John who already had many children as well, but he didn’t!

 

Simply put, God thought (and still does) think of the little things.

 

This resonates because it proves that God will not call us on a mission without all of the correct supplies. We, as Christians, are called to big things whether we may realize it or not. A lot of these callings may be out of our comfort zone and force us to jump into territory that we might not understand completely.

 

But the beautiful thing is that God sees it all. So, the next time he calls, answer. Take the jump. Start running. Because, no matter what, God won’t let you jump out of a plane without a parachute.

 

-Leslie Jones