Category  |  Christ

Expect the Messiah

The repair man looked young—too young to fix our problem, a car that wouldn’t start. “He’s just a kid,” my husband whispered to me, showing his doubt. His disbelief in the young man sounded like the grumbling in Nazareth where citizens doubted who Jesus was.

“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son,” they asked (Matthew 13:55) when Jesus taught in the synagogue. Scoffing, they were surprised to hear that someone they knew was healing and teaching, asking, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” (v. 54). Instead of trusting in Jesus, they were offended (vv. 15, 58) by the authority he displayed.

In this same way, we may struggle to trust in our Savior’s wisdom and power, especially in the familiar and ordinary details of our daily lives. Failing to expect His help, we may miss out on the wonder of His life to transform our own (v. 58).

As Dan found, he first needed to see that the help he needed was already here. Finally agreeing to accept it, my husband allowed the young man to look at our old car’s battery. By switching just one bolt, the young man had the car running in seconds—engine humming and lights ablaze. “It lit up like Christmas,” Dan said.

So, too, may we expect and experience the Messiah bringing fresh light, life and help into our daily journey with Him.

Questions at Christmas

Well before the calendar flips to December, Christmas cheer begins to bubble up in our northern town. A medical office drapes its trees and shrubs in close-fitting strings of lights, each a different color, illuminating a breathtaking nighttime landscape. Another business decorates its building to look like an enormous, extravagantly wrapped Christmas present. It’s difficult to turn anywhere without seeing evidence of Christmas spirit—or at least seasonal marketing.

Some people love these lavish displays. Others take a more cynical view. But the crucial question isn’t how others observe Christmas. Rather, we each need to consider what the celebration means to us.

A little more than thirty years after His birth, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). They gave responses others had given: John the Baptist, Elijah, maybe another prophet. Then Jesus made it personal: “Who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).

This year, many will celebrate Christmas without a thought about who the Baby really is. As we interact with them, we can help them consider these crucial questions: Is Christmas just a heartwarming story about a baby born in a stable? Or did our Creator truly visit His creation and become one of us?

A Solid Foundation

This summer my husband and I toured Fallingwater, a house in rural Pennsylvania designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Wright wanted to create a home that rose organically out of the landscape, as if it could have grown there—and he accomplished his goal. He built the house around an existing waterfall, and its style mirrors the neighboring rock ledges. Our tour guide explained what made the construction safe: “The whole vertical core of the house,” she said, “rests on boulders.”

Hearing her words, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s words to His disciples. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told them that what He was teaching would be the sure foundation for their lives. If they heard His words and put them into practice, they would be able to withstand any storms. Those who heard but did not obey, in contrast, would be like a house built on sand (Matthew 7:24–27). Later, Paul echoed this thought, writing that Christ is the foundation, and we must build upon it with work that will endure (1 Corinthians 3:11).

When we listen to the words of Jesus and obey them, we are building our lives on a steady, rock-solid foundation. Maybe our lives can look a little like Fallingwater, beautiful and built to last on the Rock.

The Great Crescendo

My parents taught me to love all sorts of music—from country to classical. So, my heart beat rapidly as I walked into the Moscow Conservatory, one of Russia’s great music halls, to hear the Moscow National Symphony. As the conductor drove the musicians through a masterful Tchaikovsky piece, themes developed that gradually built to a powerful crescendo—a profound and dramatic musical climax. It was a magical moment, and the audience stood to roar its approval.

The Scriptures move toward the most powerful crescendo of history—the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the moments following Adam and Eve’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, God promised that a Redeemer would come (Genesis 3:15), and throughout the Old Testament that theme moved forward. The promise rang out in the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:21), the hopes of the prophets (1 Peter 1:10), and the longings of the people of God.

First John 4:14 confirmed where that story had been going: “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” How? God accomplished His promised rescue of His broken world when Jesus died and rose again to forgive us and restore us to our Creator. And one day He will come again and restore His whole creation.

As we remember what God’s Son has done for us, we celebrate the great crescendo of God’s grace and rescue for us and His world—Jesus!

Impossible to Hold

Swimming with friends in the Gulf of Mexico, Caitlyn encountered a shark, which grabbed her legs and pulled at her body. To counter the attack, Caitlyn punched the shark in the nose. The predator unclenched its jaws and swam away in defeat. Although its bite caused multiple wounds, which required over 100 stitches, the shark was unable to keep Caitlyn in its grasp.

This story reminds me of the fact that Jesus delivered a blow to death, ending its power to intimidate and defeat His followers. According to Peter, “It was impossible for death to keep its hold on [Jesus]” (Acts 2:24).

Peter said these words to a crowd in Jerusalem. Perhaps many of them had been the ones yelling out, “Crucify him!” to condemn Jesus (Matthew 27:23). As a result, Roman soldiers fastened Him to a cross where He hung until they confirmed He was dead. Jesus’s body was carried to a tomb where it stayed for three days until God resurrected Him. After His resurrection, Peter and others spoke and ate with Him, and after forty days they watched Him ascend into heaven (v. 32).

Jesus’s life on earth ended amidst physical suffering and mental anguish, yet God’s power defeated the grave. Because of this, death—or any other struggle—lacks the ability to keep us in its grip forever. One day all believers will experience everlasting life and wholeness in God’s presence. Focusing on this future can help us find freedom today.

A Piercing Thorn

The thorn pricked my index finger, drawing blood. I hollered and then groaned, drawing back my hand instinctively. But I shouldn’t have been surprised: trying to prune a thorny bush without gardening gloves was a recipe for exactly what just happened.

The pain throbbing in my finger—and the blood flowing from it—demanded attention. And as I searched for a Band-Aid, I found myself unexpectedly thinking about my Savior. After all, soldiers forced Jesus to don an entire crown of thorns (John 19:1–3). If one thorn hurt this much, I thought, how much agony would an entire crown of them inflict? And that just a small portion of the physical pain He suffered. A whip flogged his back. Nails penetrated His wrists and ankles. A spear pierced His side.

But Jesus endured spiritual pain too. Verse 5 of Isaiah 53 tells us, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him.” The "peace" Isaiah talks about here is another way of talking about forgiveness. Jesus allowed Himself to be pierced—by a sword, by nails, by a crown of thorns—to bring us spiritual peace with God. His sacrifice, His willingness to die on our behalf, paved the way to make a relationship with the Father possible. And He did it, Scripture tells us, for me. For you.

Unexpected Ways

In 1986, five-year-old Levan Merritt fell twenty feet into the gorilla enclosure of England’s Jersey zoo. As parents and onlookers cried out for help, a full-grown male silverback, named Jambo, placed himself between the motionless boy and several other gorillas. Then he began to gently stroke the child’s back. When Levan began to cry, Jambo led the other gorillas into their own enclosure as zoo-keepers and an ambulance driver came to the rescue. Thirty years later Levan still talks about Jambo the gentle giant—his guardian angel who had acted in a shockingly unexpected way, changing his perception of gorillas forever.

Elijah may have expected God to act in certain ways, but the God of gods used a rock-shattering wind, a powerful earthquake, and raging fire to show His prophet Elijah how not to think of Him. Then He used a gentle whisper to show His heart and to express His presence (1Kings 19:11-12).

Elijah had seen God’s power before 18:38-39). But he didn’t fully understand the One who wants to be known as more than the greatest and most fearsome of gods (19:10, 14).

Eventually, that quiet whisper found fullness of meaning in the powerful gentleness of Jesus, who said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Then he quietly allowed Himself to be nailed to a tree— to deepen our understanding of the Great God who loves us.

Engraved on His Hands

In Charles Spurgeon’s many years at his London church during the 1800s, he loved to preach on the riches of Isaiah 49:16, which says that God engraves us on the palms of His hands. He said, “Such a text as this is to be preached hundreds of times!” For, he continued, this thought is so precious that we can run over it in our minds again and again.

Spurgeon makes the wonderful connection between this promise of the Lord to His people, the Israelites, and God’s Son, Jesus, on the cross as He died for us. Spurgeon asked, “What are these wounds in Your hands? . . . The engraver’s tool was the nail, backed by the hammer. He must be fastened to the Cross, that His people might be truly engraved on the palms of His hands.” As the Lord promised to engrave His people on His palms, so Jesus stretched out His arms on the cross, receiving the nails in His wrists so we could be free of our sins.

If and when we are tempted to think that God has forgotten us, we only need to look at our palms and remember God’s promise. He has put indelible marks on His hands for us; He loves us that much.

The Ultimate Satisfaction

As we distributed snack food for children at a Bible School program, we noticed a very hungry little boy. After devouring his snack, he also ate the leftovers of the children at his table. Even after I gave him a bag of popcorn, he still was not satisfied.

As leaders, we were concerned as to why this little boy was so hungry. But are we perhaps like him when it comes to our emotions. We look for ways to satisfy our deepest longings, but we never find what fully satisfies us.

The prophet Isaiah invites those who are hungry and thirsty to “come, buy and eat” (Isaiah 55:1). But then he asks, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (v. 2). Isaiah is talking about more than just physical hunger here. God can satisfy our spiritual and emotional hunger through the promise of His presence. The “everlasting covenant” in verse 3 is a reminder of a promise God made David in 2 Samuel 7:8–16. Through David’s family line, a Savior would come to reconnect people to God. Later, in John 6:35 and 7:37, Jesus extended the same invitation Isaiah gave, thus identifying Himself as the Savior foretold by Isaiah and other prophets.

Hungry? God invites you to come and be filled in His presence.

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