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Christmas Eve 2019

Here’s a video of our children singing on Christmas Eve at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA.

 
 

Christmas Eve 2019

Here’s some photos from the Christmas Eve Service at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on 12/24/19. Celebrate the Son!

 
 
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Thank God for Jesus!

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2019 in Christmas, Scripture

 

Start at the manger and then go to the cross

Where will your journeys take you this Christmas?

Will you go over the river and through the woods to visit family? Will you get on an airplane to visit relatives? Will you ride a ferry and cross a bridge to connect with old friends?

Journeys play a big part in the Christmas story. From an earthly perspective, Jesus Christ’s journey certainly had many twists and turns.

  • Gabriel journeys from heaven to earth twice to deliver news to Mary (Luke 1:26-38) and Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25).
  • Mary & Joseph journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7).
  • The shepherds journey from the fields to the stable (Luke 2:8-20)
  • The wise men journey from the east to the house where Jesus is (Matthew 2:1-12).
  • Joseph, Mary, and Jesus journey from Bethlehem to Egypt, and then later back to Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23).

In September, Carol and I journeyed to SoCal and Las Vegas to visit family. In October, we journeyed to Moscow for ministry and stopped in the U.K. on our way home. We took a number of pictures in each of these locations. Each snapshot told a piece of the story of those trips.

The manger in Bethlehem only tells one scene of the story of Jesus Christ. If you focus only on the baby in the manger, you will miss the whole point of the story. In order to fully understand the story of Jesus, start at the manger, and then go to the cross. The cross is why Jesus came. That was his purpose.

Listen to how Jesus described why he came to earth.

  • Matthew 20:28, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
  • Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
  • Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
  • John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Jesus Christ did not come to be:

  • A baby in a manger
  • A Christmas ornament
  • A decoration on a lawn
  • A story told once a year
  • A character in a pageant
  • A reason to give presents
  • An excuse to visit family
  • A reason to be nice to neighbors you don’t like
  • A time for a ceasefire or a call to end a war
  • A reason for a party

Jesus Christ came to be our Savior. He was born to die. He came to pay the full and final price for our salvation. He came to give his life as a sacrifice. He came to ensure our forgiveness and freedom from sin. He was born to die so that we might spend eternity with God.

During his life on earth, Jesus never instructed his followers to remember his birth. But he gave us two practices, two ordinances, baptism and communion or the Lord’s Supper, so that we might remember his death and resurrection.

In your spiritual journey, start at the manger, and then go to the cross. Remember his birth, but consider his death. Confess your sins and receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life he offers.

This is the synopsis of a devotional shared during the Christmas Eve service at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 24, 2019.

 

Wise Men & Foolish People—The Story of the Wise Men

“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.” That statement, penned 65 years ago by E. B. White, is still true today. Between the focus on impeachment hearings, Presidential debates, school shootings, fears of terrorism, and the over-commercialization of Christmas shopping, it is difficult to find the meaning in the madness of the season.

Once discovered, people respond in a variety of ways to the message of Christmas. Some are offended. The Freedom From Religion Foundation takes the opportunity of the holidays to promote their manifesto. Some are nonplused. They know the story but go about their business without pausing to consider the meaning. But those who discovered the savior rejoice in his birth. The account of the Magi searching for Jesus portrays all of these responses (Matthew 2:1-12).

There are three main actors in this part of the Christmas drama—King Herod, the wise men, and the star.

King Herod was not Jewish, but was declared “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. He ruled Palestine from 37-4 B.C. He was cruel and merciless, jealous, suspicious, and paranoid. He killed his enemies including his brother-in-law, one of his wives, and three sons.

Rather than kings, the magi were of a priestly caste from Persia or Babylon. They were skilled in astronomy and astrology. The magi probably learned about the one true God and the coming Messiah from Daniel, who was the leader of the magi (Daniel 2:48).

The star was either a natural phenomenon such as a star, comet, supernova, or conjunction of planets; a supernatural phenomenon; or an angel. The significance is not found in what the phenomenon was but rather what it pointed to.

Verses 1-2 explain that wise people seek Jesus. The wise men saw the star and knew it signified the birth of royalty. They correctly interpreted the signs and knew the messiah of Israel had been born. They traveled some 900 miles from Babylon to seek the newborn king.

On December 17, 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.”

In the same way, the religious leaders of Israel saw the same signs as the magi but completely missed the point. The religious leaders portray the foolish people who ignore Jesus (3-8).

Knowing he is not the rightful heir to David’s throne, Herod feels threatened by the birth of a new king (3). He summons the religious leaders and asks them to explain what the magi were talking about (4). The religious leaders know the facts about the Messiah’s birth, but don’t appear overly impressed or interested (5-6).

Feigning interest, King Herod sends the magi to Bethlehem to finish their quest. Once they find the newborn king, they are to send word to Herod so that he can come and pay his respects (7-8). As the text explains later, Herod is secretly hatching a plot to protect his throne by eliminating a supposed rival (16-18).

Verses 9-12 show that wise people worship Jesus. The star reappears and leads the wise men to the child in Bethlehem (9). The magi honor Jesus as they present their gifts to him (10-11). Their quest ends in worship.

I put together the following chart to compare and contrast the differing responses by the characters in the story. It is difficult not to identify with one of them.

Foolish people

Wise people

Herod

Scribes & Priests

Magi

Intimidated

Indifferent Intrigued
Duplicity Disturbed

Devotion

Troubled

Factual Rejoiced
Opposing Ignoring

Seeking

Antagonism

Apathy Adoration
Hostility Disinterest

Worship

The question each one of us must answer is, “How do we respond to the message of Christmas?” Are we antagonistic? Do we reject the birth of Jesus? Are we apathetic to the news of the gospel? Do we know the story so well that we are no longer moved? Are we just going through the motions? Do we express praise and adoration? Like the wise men, do we come and worship the God who sent his son to be our savior?

The magi discovered that those who seek Jesus Christ are invited to worship him. May we seek him and find him and worship him as well.

This message was preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 22, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on Advent. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Simeon & Anna

How do you celebrate Christmas? What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? What are some of your favorite Christmas foods?

Two of my favorite characters in the Christmas story are senior citizens. One is said to be 113 years old and the other is either 84 or 105. According to Luke 2:25-38, Simeon and Anna are introduced to Jesus when he is about six weeks old. These two people provide an example of how to celebrate Christmas. They are the type of people I want to be like when I grow up. These two people demonstrate that you are never too old to celebrate Christmas.

By all appearances, Simeon was a godly senior citizen (25). Tradition says he was 113 years old, but Scripture does not give us his age. What it does say is that he felt he could die in peace after seeing the baby Jesus (29).

What impresses me about Simeon is that he spent his entire life longing for Christmas. His expectations were more than met because he discovered that God’s Christmas gift satisfies the deepest longings of our heart.

Simeon encountered Jesus when his parents brought him to the temple to be dedicated (22-24). According to the Old Testament Law, the event occurred 40 days after Jesus was born, or when he was almost six weeks old.

Though we don’t know how or when, Simeon received advance knowledge that he would live to see the day when the Messiah appeared (26). Waiting with confident expectation, I’m sure he asked the Father often, “Is this the one?” as he saw parents come into the temple to dedicate their children. Something stirred in his spirit when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus (27-28).

Like a child on Christmas morning, Simeon took Jesus in his arms and exclaimed, “This is what I’ve always wanted!” He recognized the significance of the little baby. Not only was he God’s instrument of salvation (30), but he would bring salvation to Jews and Gentiles alike (31-32). This child would bring people to a point of decision (34) and reveal the hidden secrets of each one’s heart (35).

The story of Anna in Luke 2:36-38 provides us with an example that we can celebrate Christmas best by praising God for Jesus and telling others about him.

Anna was a godly senior citizen. She is either 84 or 105. Depending on how you translate the phrase, Anna was married for seven brief years and was a widow for the rest of her life to the age of 84 or she was a widow for 84 years. The point is not her age. The point is that Anna chose a lifetime of service over remarriage. She was known for teaching the Scriptures. She was known as a person who prayed.

Anna lived with a sense of expectation. She was part of the remnant looking for the Messiah. Anna knew her only hope was in the mercy and grace of God.

Anna demonstrated single-minded devotion. She made the temple her permanent home. Anna was not idle, but made worship, prayer, and fasting her chief occupation.

Anna was in tune with God. In God’s providential timing, she was in the temple near where Simeon stood as he blessed Joseph, Mary, and Jesus (Luke 2:25-35). Without an invitation, Anna approached the baby Jesus just as Simeon had done. She recognized what God was doing in the person of this child.

Anna responded with praise. She gave thanks to God. Anna’s long years of passionately petitioning God gave way to an outburst of joyous praise.

Anna responded by telling the good news to others. She did much more than sing praises and give thanks. Anna turned to the other worshippers and announced that the Messiah had come. She could not stop talking about Jesus.

Like Anna, we can celebrate Christmas best by praising God for Jesus and telling others about him.

Be like Simeon. Study God’s word to discover what he has planned for your life. Receive the gift of his son.

Be like Anna. Develop a lifestyle of prayer and service. Be an encouragement to other people. Tell others about Jesus.

This is a devotional I shared with our Senior Saints at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, at their December luncheon on December 21, 2019.

 
 

Are you a wise person or a foolish one?

This Sunday, we will examine Matthew 2:1-12 at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA. It tells the tale of “Wise Men & Foolish People–The Story of the Wise Men.” Here’s a video preview of the message. Why don’t you join us?