You have likely heard of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when, for a few brief hours, the Brits and the Germans left off their fighting and came together to celebrate Christmas.

That fascinating event raises an important question: How could one man—or rather the memory of one man—stop a whole world war? How has it been able to do so for over 2000 years? And how will it continue to do so until the end of time?

If you’re like me, you are grieved by the cultural and political war that seems to have engulfed us. If you’re like me, you may also be grieved by the part you have played in it. How in the world will this end? How can we extricate ourselves from this all-consuming anger and polarization?

Here is my best thought: At Christmas it is God himself who draws near to us, and who draws our attention once again to the baby of Bethlehem. Then, as we pay such attention, he somehow reveals to us what we are actually capable of being—as individuals, and as the family of man—if only we could abide in this Spirit, and enjoy this peaceful presence year round.

Thus, the revelation is also an invitation: to consider afresh, not only the baby in Bethlehem, but the life he lived, the death he died, the aftermath of the death he died, and what all of this might have to do with us dwelling permanently in the presence of a divine being who can truly change the world.

As in 1914, so today: When the Christmas truce is over the world will go back to war.

But the memory of that truce, and of the invitation to consider the baby of Bethlehem, will linger throughout the year. And in my experience, those who take time to accept the invitation will often find, to their great joy, something they have been looking for all their lives: not just a temporary truce, but an eternal one.

Well, lest my inner preacher overtake me, I will cut short here.

I will, however, leave you with this lovely short clip about the Christmas Truce.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KHoVBK2EVE

May it—and the baby of Bethlehem—be a rich blessing to you and yours throughout 2020.

With All Our Love,

Dean and Linda Davis

Hinting broadly at the deity of the promised Messiah, the prophet Isaiah spoke of Jesus Christ as Immanuel, which means “God with us us” (Isaiah 7:9). That name got me to thinking about the many fascinating ways in which Immanuel is related to us. Here are a few of the choicest:

  • He was before us—with the Father and the Holy Spirit—prior to the time when time began and the world was created through him
  • He was ahead of us, when, for four millennia, the Old Testament prophets longingly foretold his coming
  • He was down here among us after he left heaven and, through the Spirit’s work, took up residence as a true human being in a virgin’s womb
  • He was out there among us, when, in the days of his flesh, he lived, worked, taught, and ministered (miraculously) to the children of Israel
  • He was in behalf of us, when, through all of the above, he obeyed every divine command, fulfilled every law, and passed every test, thereby attaining a perfect righteousness that God will credit to all who believe in him
  • He was instead of us, when, on the cross, he endured the sentence of suffering and death for all who would place their trust in him for the forgiveness of their sins
  • He is now over us, having risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and taken his seat at God’s right hand as King of the Cosmos and Head of the Church
  • He is now facing us in the person of his people and their proclamation of the Gospel, through which he urges everyone who hears to receive him by faith as Savior and Lord
  • He is within us (and at work within us) through the gift of the Holy Spirit, if and when we do receive him
  • He is up above us in heaven, where he is praying for us, and where, on the day of our death, our perfected spirits will see him and fly to him with inexpressible joy
  • He is up ahead of us in the World to Come, which he himself will create at his return, when he raises the dead, judges the world in righteousness, and welcomes the saints to eternal life with God in the new heavens and the new earth

This is our Immanuel. As we think afresh about him this Christmas, may he be with us all in every possible way.

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man;
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed:
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks,
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with every purpose fuses him,
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out—
God knows what He’s about.

– Anonymous

Note: Some years back, in a visit to Justin Taylor’s blog (Between Two Worlds), I happened upon this short summary of John Newton’s teaching about sanctification. As then, so now: It strikes me as wise, true, edifying, and eminently shareable. So here it is again. d

If God Is Sovereign, Why Is My Sanctification So Slow?

If God is sovereign (and he is), and if my sanctification brings him glory (which it does), then why do I continue to struggle so much? Why are there so many set-backs? Why does my Christian walk often seem like two steps forward, one step backward—at best? Why is my sanctification so slow?

In his letters, John Newton, ex-slave trader and beloved 18th century Anglican pastor, sought to address these hard questions, questions that lurk in the heart of many Christians. Here is how he answers:

1. By such experiences God teaches us more truly to know and feel the utter depravity and corruption of our whole nature, that we are indeed defiled in every part.

2. By such experiences God endears to us his method of salvation: We see that it is and must be wholly of grace; and that the Lord Jesus Christ, and his perfect righteousness, is and must be our all in all.

3. By suffering us to endure manifold infirmities, temptations, failures, and enemies, God teaches us that we must draw near to him and cling to him; that we must depend upon him; and that his strength is manifested and perfected in our weakness.

4. In the Christian’s fitful quest for sanctification, Satan is all the more disappointed and put to shame, since he finds that God has set limits to his rage and schemes, limits beyond which he cannot pass; and that those in whom he finds so much to work upon, and over whom he so often prevails for a season, escape at last out of his hands. He casts them down, but they are raised again; he wounds them, but they are healed; he obtains his desire to sift them as wheat, but the prayer of their great Advocate prevails for the maintenance of their faith.

5. By what believers continue to feel in themselves they learn by degrees how to warn, pity, and bear with others. A soft, patient, and compassionate spirit, and a readiness and skill in comforting those who are cast down, is not perhaps attainable in any other way.

6. Finally, there is nothing that more habitually reconciles a child of God to the thought of death, than the wearisomeness of this spiritual warfare. Death is unwelcome to our human nature: But then, and not till then, the conflict will cease. Then we shall sin no more. The flesh, with all its attendant evils, will be laid in the grave. Then the soul, which has been partaker of a new and heavenly birth, shall be freed from every encumbrance, and stand perfect in the Redeemer’s righteousness before God in glory.

(Quotes complied by Justin Taylor, Between Two World Blog.)

For Further Study

1. Newton on the Christian Life, by Tony Reinke (Crossway)

2. Extravagant Grace, by Barbara Duguid (Presbyterian and Reformed)

“I know your works, that you are neither hot nor cold. If only you were hot or cold!

So then: Because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am poised to spew you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:15-16

 

In what is surely the sternest reproof addressed to any of the seven churches in Asia, the Lord directed the words of our text to professing Christians at Laodicea. Was he speaking to born-again believers? Is it really possible that he would spew lukewarm Christians out of his mouth? Can backslidden born-again believers “cross the dead line” and be rejected and lost after all?

To find our answers we must begin by noting carefully that here Christ is speaking to the church as a whole. Early on it doubtless was aflame for him; all together were on fire for the King and his Kingdom. Now, a generation or two later, it has grown lukewarm. Practically speaking, this means that while a few of the Laodicean Christians were surely dining intimately with their Lord (v. 20, 3:4), the vast majority were either badly backslidden or Christians in name only. As a result, the church as a whole was in danger of falling under Christ’s judgment.

What might that have looked like? Strong persecution driving nominal believers into hiding and apostasy? A judicial hardening of hearts, such that many who once professed the faith now suddenly turn against it? Numerous Laodiecean house churches folding altogether? A tiny remnant of true believers (and alarmed back-sliders) forced to start the work of the Kingdom from scratch?

Whatever the Lord had in mind, we meet him here speaking urgently, lovingly, and mercifully, both to the nominal and the backslidden. Standing at the door of the church, knocking, extending a sincere invitation to a fellowship meal with the High King of Heaven, he offers the nominal new birth, and the backslidden renewed fellowship, all on condition of honest repentance and faith. If the nominal spurn his offer, he may indeed spew them out of his mouth, in the sense of finally severing their external connection with the life-giving ordinances of the Church, and so from the Head of the Church as well (John 15:1-7, Col. 2:18-19). As for the backslidden, if they will not repent he may simply take them home (1 Cor. 11:30). Sadly, they will be numbered among those who largely built with wood, hay, and stubble; whose works will be burned up in the judgment while they themselves are saved only as someone who escapes through a fire (1 Cor. 3:12-15). But the Lord will never spew them out of his mouth (Psalm 89:30-37, John 6:37, 10:27-30).

But what of earnest Christians? Are these words meant for them as well? Indeed they are, for here faithful believers learn once again to steer clear of all worldliness, and to dine daily and intimately with the High King, who will gladly warm their hearts and make them hot for the knowledge of God and the work of his Kingdom (v. 15, Rom. 12:11). But if, as they read those words, they find themselves stricken with a fear of rejection, let them swiftly remember the King’s precious promise to his own: “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37, 1 John 4:18). Most assuredly, that includes “spew out” as well.