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)
In yesterday’s devotion, Jesus died. And the world – the centurion, the sky, the women, the crowd – took notice and responded. Even the crowd that had not been Jesus’ followers, some of whom may have earlier shouted, “Crucify Him!”, now, “beat their breasts and went away” (Luke 23:48). There was something very different about this man Jesus and the way he died. Though they did not understand at the time that he had died for their sins – and not only theirs – but the sins of the world.
If Luke’s gospel story had ended there, we could still be forgiven people today – able to have a relationship with God because of the sacrifice of Jesus carrying our sins to his death because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). BUT – there is even MORE good news to come in Luke 24! A great gift of God is set before us – eternal life in Christ Jesus our RISEN Lord. Without a risen Lord there would be no future hope for a resurrection for his followers.
When the women brought news to the disciples that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, “they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb.” (Luke 24:11,12). He was going to search it out and find the truth. Likewise, the two on the road to Emmaus had many questions and were confused about what they had seen and heard. Jesus walked with them, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27).
Today, news of his resurrection and the resurrection to come still brings great joy to his followers. There are those who say it sounds like nonsense. There are those who are questioning. Be like Peter and seek out answers. Like Jesus, dig into the Scriptures and reveal them to others. Declare the good news of Jesus’ birth – but then so much more – his death and resurrection. Share the Joy!
Accusing chief priests
Informative sign: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS
Dead righteous man
So much could be said and written about any one of these elements of Luke 23. Much of Luke and the gospels – and even the Old Testament – point to this moment in history: the Crucifixion of the Son of God. Which character do you identify with most today? Which adjective describes you this year? What do you find the most amazing? How does this chapter of Jesus’ history add to the Christmas story of Luke 20 we discussed earlier this week? In an effort to become more Christ-like, what characteristics do you see in this chapter that you want to work on this week?
Keep Reading and Growing
Yesterday, in Luke 21 Jesus was warning the disciples (and those who would follow) of persecution while encouraging them to stand up under it. And today, in Luke 22 Jesus himself is cast into a fierce storm of persecution. He will now be showing – not just telling – the disciples, his contemporaries, and all those who would come after him how to stand up under persecution.
But first, a private dinner with his closest disciples to commemorate the Passover – when God saved his people from slavery by the blood of the lamb. And very soon a new lamb would be sacrificed to save God’s people from slavery to sin. Jesus tells his disciples that he will not eat the Passover meal, or drink of the cup again, until the Kingdom of God comes. Communion services are a great reminder of this promise. At the dinner, he uses the opportunity to remind them once again the secret to great leadership – be a servant. Stop fighting over who is best…just serve.
I love how even though Jesus knew ahead of time that Peter would fail him, he had still prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. And even though Satan would have the opportunity to “sift all of you as wheat,” Jesus saw a future for Peter in which Peter would be using those painful experiences to help strengthen his brothers.
And then, in the garden while Jesus is pouring his heart out in prayer – his disciples are sleeping. I wonder how many times he would prod me and say, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” How much better would Peter – or I – stand Satan’s arrows if he – or I – were fully filled up with prayer rather than whatever feels good or most urgent at the moment?
Enter, Judas – and the chief priests and the guards and the great betrayal! And even in the midst of the hurt and personal persecution – Jesus gives healing as he restores the servant’s ear.
Early the next morning, Jesus is brought before the chief priests and elders and is questioned about who he is. Is he the Messiah?
Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He replied, “You say that I am.”
They didn’t expect the Son of God to have appeared as a baby in a manger. They didn’t expect the Son of God to have a rag-tag group of followers in the countryside. They didn’t expect the Son of God to be persecuted at their own hands. Beware of what you expect from the Son of God. Keep reading the gospels – and all of God’s Word to see who God really is, and who the Son of God is!
Yesterday our devotion centered on the Christmas story – as presented in Luke chapter 20. Today takes us into Luke 21 which begins with a few verses concerning giving gifts. How fitting. But here it is a slightly different type of gift which Jesus is referring to. “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4). Giving to God’s work is indeed a great place to give your gifts – whether you are blessed with a lot to give or very little to give. God sees the heart and is delighted in the heart that joyfully gives all to Him.
The rest of this chapter is devoted to the future – including some rather troubling events: earthquakes, wars, famine, and hatred, prison and persecution as a result of believing and testifying about Jesus. But hope is given. Jesus says he is telling us these things so that we will know what must take place before the end will come. A hard day of dirty work is always made easier by knowing it will not continue forever. At the end there will be a time to enjoy the rewards of working hard. So too, those who are faithful through the end times can look forward to reaping the reward when the Son of Man comes again.
Jesus says do not be afraid; rather, “Stand firm, and you will win life.” (Luke 21:19). Even while our neighbors are fainting from terror at the surrounding events, Jesus tells us to stand tall. He says, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27,28).
Keep Giving – and Stand Firm!
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.