In 1989, Vaclav Havel was elevated from his position as a political prisoner to becoming the first elected president of Czechoslovakia. Years later at his funeral in Prague in 2011, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who herself was born in Prague, described him as one who had “brought the light to places of deep darkness.”
What Havel’s introduction of light did in the political arena of Czechoslovakia (and later the Czech Republic), our Lord Jesus did for the whole world. He brought light into existence when He created light out of darkness at the dawn of time (John 1:2-3 cf. Gen 1:2-3). Then, with His birth, He brought light to the spiritual arena. Jesus is the life and light that darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5).
John the Baptist came from the wilderness to bear witness to Jesus, the light of the world. We can do the same today. In fact that is what Jesus told us to do: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
In our world today—when good is often considered bad and bad is seen as good, when truth and error are switched around—people are looking for direction in life. May we be the ones who shine the light of Christ into our world.
Nearly every time an angel appears in the Bible, the first words he says are “Do not be afraid!” (Dan. 10:12, 19; Matt. 28:5; Rev. 1:17). Little wonder. When the supernatural makes contact with planet Earth, it usually leaves the human observers flat on their faces in catatonic fear. But Luke tells of God making an appearance on earth in a form that does not frighten. In Jesus, born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough, God finds at last a mode of approach that we need not fear. What could be less scary than a newborn baby?
Puzzled skeptics stalked Jesus throughout His ministry. How could a baby in Bethlehem, a carpenter’s son, be the Messiah from God? But a group of shepherds in a field had no doubt about who He was, for they heard the message of good news straight from a choir of angels (2:8-14).
Why did God take on human form? The Bible gives many reasons, some densely theological and some quite practical; but the scene of Jesus as an adolescent lecturing rabbis in the temple gives one clue (v. 46). For the first time, ordinary people could hold a conversation, a debate, with God in visible form. Jesus could talk to anyone—His parents, a rabbi, a poor widow—without first having to announce, “Don’t be afraid!”
In Jesus, God comes close to us.
It's only a keychain. Five little blocks held together by a shoelace. My daughter gave it to me years ago when she was 7. Today the lace is frayed and the blocks are chipped, but they spell a message that never grows old: “I ♥ DAD.”
The most precious gifts are determined not by what went into them, but by who they are from. Ask any parent who ever received a bouquet of dandelions from a chubby hand. The best gifts are valued not in money but in love.
Zechariah understood that. We hear it in his prophetic song as he praised God for giving him and his wife Elizabeth their son John when they were well past their childbearing years (Luke 1:67-79). Zechariah rejoiced because John was to be a prophet who would proclaim God’s greatest gift to all people—the coming Messiah: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us” (Luke 1:78
The sweetest gift we can receive is God's tender mercy—the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus. That gift cost Him dearly at the cross, but He offers it freely out of His deep love for us.
The final major historic acts of the Old Testament are described in Ezra and Nehemiah as God allowed the people of Israel to return from exile and resettle in Jerusalem. The City of David was repopulated with Hebrew families, a new temple was built, and the wall was repaired.
And that brings us to Malachi. This prophet, who was most likely a contemporary of Nehemiah, brings the written portion of the Old Testament to a close. Notice the first thing he said to the people of Israel: “ ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord.” And look at their response: “How have you loved us?” (1:2).
Amazing, isn’t it? Their history had proven God’s faithfulness, yet after hundreds of years in which God continually provided for His chosen people in both miraculous and mundane ways, they wondered how He had shown His love. As the book continues, Malachi reminds the people of their unfaithfulness (see vv. 6-8). They had a long historical pattern of God’s provision for them, followed by their disobedience, followed by God’s discipline.
It was time, soon, for a new way. The prophet hints at it in Malachi 4:5-6. The Messiah would be coming. There was hope ahead for a Savior who would show us His love and pay the penalty once and for all for our sin.
That Messiah indeed has come! Malachi’s hope is now a reality in Jesus.
One detail in the Easter story has always intrigued me. Why did Jesus keep the scars from His crucifixion? Presumably He could have had any resurrected body He wanted, and yet He chose one identifiable mainly by scars that could be seen and touched. Why?
I believe the story of Easter would be incomplete without those scars on the hands, the feet, and the side of Jesus (John 20:27). Human beings dream of pearly straight teeth and wrinkle-free skin and ideal body shapes. We dream of an unnatural state: the perfect body. But for Jesus, being confined in a skeleton and human skin was the unnatural state. The scars are a permanent reminder of His days of confinement and suffering on our planet.
From the perspective of heaven, those scars represent the most horrible event that has ever happened in the history of the universe. Even that event, though, turned into a memory. Because of Easter, we can hope that the tears we shed, the struggles we endure, the emotional pain, the heartache over lost friends and loved ones—all these will become memories, like Jesus’ scars. Scars never completely go away, but neither do they hurt any longer. Someday we will have re-created bodies and a re-created heaven and earth (Rev. 21:4). We will have a new start, an Easter start.
If you visit the village of Capernaum beside the Sea of Galilee, you will find an exhibit of ancient olive presses. Formed from basalt rock, the olive press consists of two parts: a base and a grinding wheel. The base is large, round, and has a trough carved out of it. The olives were placed in this trough, and then the wheel, also made from heavy stone, was rolled over the olives to extract the oil.
On the night before His death, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. There, in the garden called Gethsemane, He prayed to the Father, knowing what lay ahead of Him.
The word Gethsemane means “place of the olive press”—and that perfectly describes those first crushing hours of Christ’s suffering on our behalf. There, “in anguish, he prayed . . . and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Jesus the Son suffered and died to take away “the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and restore our broken relationship with God the Father. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering . . . . He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:4-5).
Our hearts cry out in worship and gratitude.
The vintage cabin, expertly constructed from hand-hewn logs, was worthy of a magazine cover. But the structure itself was only half the treasure. Inside, family heirlooms clung to the walls, infusing the home with memories. On the table sat a hand-woven egg basket, an ancient biscuit board, and an oil lamp. A weathered pork pie hat perched over the front door. “There’s a story behind everything,” the proud owner said.
When God gave Moses instructions for constructing the tabernacle, there was a “story” behind everything (Ex. 25–27). The tabernacle had only one entrance, just as we have only one way to God (see Acts 4:12). The thick inner curtain separated the people from the Most Holy Place where God’s presence dwelt: Our sin separates us from God. Inside the Most Holy Place was the ark of the covenant, which symbolized God’s presence. The high priest was a forerunner of the greater Priest to come—Jesus Himself. The blood of the sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s perfect sacrifice: “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).
All these things told the story of Christ and the work He would accomplish on our behalf. He did it so that “those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (v. 15). Jesus invites us to be a part of His story.
Why did Jesus come to Earth before the invention of photography and video? Couldn’t He have reached more people if everyone could see Him? After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
“No,” says Ravi Zacharias, who asserts that a word can be worth “a thousand pictures.” As evidence, he quotes poet Richard Crashaw’s magnificent line, “The conscious water saw its Master and blushed.” In one simple line, Crashaw captures the essence of Jesus’ first miracle (John 2:1-11). Creation itself recognizes Jesus as the Creator. No mere carpenter could turn water to wine.
Another time, when Christ calmed a storm with the words, “Quiet! Be still,” His stunned disciples asked, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:39,41). Later, Jesus told the Pharisees that if the crowd did not praise Him, “the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). Even the rocks know who He is.
John tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory” (John 1:14). Out of that eyewitness experience John also wrote, “We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. . . . He is the Word of life” (1 John 1:1 nlt). Like John, we can use our words to introduce others to Jesus whom wind and water obey.
Like most children, I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas. With great anticipation, I would snoop under the tree to see what toys and games awaited my eager grasp. So I felt deflated when I started getting things like shirts and pants. Grownup gifts were no fun! Then last Christmas, my kids gave me some cool socks with bright colors and designs. I almost felt young again! Even grownups could wear these socks, as the label reassured me: “One size fits all.”
That welcome phrase “one size fits all” reminds me of the best gift of Christmas—the good news that Jesus is for everyone. The point was proven when the first invitation sent by angel choirs was to shepherds on the bottom rung of the social ladder. The news was underscored further when the VIPs—the wealthy and powerful Magi—followed the star to come and worship the Christ-child.
After Jesus began His ministry, an influential member of the Jewish ruling council came to Him at night. In the course of their conversation, Jesus invited “whoever believes” to come to Him. The simple act of faith in Christ grants eternal life to those who trust in Him (John 3:16).
If Jesus were just for the poor and marginalized, or only for the famous and fortunate, many of us would not qualify. But Christ is for everyone, regardless of status, financial situation, or social standing. He is the only gift truly fit for all.