Does the Bible contradict itself? Isaiah 43:18 says, “Do not remember the past events; pay no attention to things of old” (HCSB). But plenty of other scriptures tell us to remember, including Isaiah 46:8-9, which says, “Remember this and be brave; take it to heart, you transgressors! Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is none other.”
Of course, carefully examining the verses in context show what God wants us to forget and remember—and why.
Familiar rituals surrounding Christmas and Easter help illustrate the problem. They can draw our attention to God’s work. Or they can substitute for thinking about it.… Read the rest
Once the frenzy of Christmas shopping and all the returns have finished, stores and most of society turn away from Christmas to the next big thing. But the Christmas season in the church calendar goes on for a couple of weeks. In this time after Christmas, it seems especially important to look at what else happened in Jesus’ life shortly after his birth. Matthew’s account of the flight to Egypt cites three prophecies that especially deserve attention.
In 1 Corinthians 13:9-12, Paul reminds us that now, we know only in part. Our knowledge of God’s ways and plans is like looking at an image in a dirty mirror. We can at least clean up the mirror a little by looking at less-familiar scriptures from time to time.
Our focus on Christmas (and Easter) is like taking a picture with a telephoto lens.
The familiar Christmas story in the gospels portrays a young peasant woman becoming pregnant in an unusual way, then having a very ordinary pregnancy.
The birth experience was certainly inconvenient, but many other women have given birth in awkward circumstances.… Read the rest
Christmas, it seems, ought to be such a beautiful time. We celebrate the birth of a darling baby to wholly admirable parents. A bright star shone. The angels sang. The shepherds left their flocks to see the baby. Magi came from a great distance to offer gifts fit for a king. All is calm and beautiful.
Except for Herod.
“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi” (Matthew 2:16 NIV).… Read the rest
John’s gospel includes no birth narrative, yet the prologue is read on Christmas day in churches of all kinds. Matthew and Luke tell stories about the birth of the Christ. They offer some comment about its spiritual significance.
On the other hand, John’s prologue describes its spiritual significance, with only a single sentence to summarize the stories.
Centuries before the Eastern and Western churches split, the church began to call her the Queen of Heaven, thinking to honor her. In Scripture, however (Jeremiah 7:18; 44:15-18), the queen of heaven is a pagan fertility goddess. When God’s people worshiped her, they provoked God to anger. It’s an insult to Mary to give her the same title as a false goddess.
In centuries of art and church teaching, Mary becomes some kind of other-worldly figure, devoted to perpetual virginity.
Nowadays, a child often portrays Mary church pageants. Another may portray the angel Gabriel. … Read the rest
In a stable in Bethlehem, Mary had a baby. She was certainly neither the first or last woman to deliver a child under less than ideal conditions. But she had an ordinary childbirth experience after an ordinary pregnancy.
She delivered no ordinary child. Mary conceived Jesus while she was still a virgin, a miracle that has happened exactly once. Angels announced Jesus’ birth to shepherds, who rushed to Bethlehem to see him.
The ordinary and the extraordinary persisted side by side throughout Jesus’ life. Luke’s gospel records both a week following his birth.
At Christmas time, advertisers want us to concentrate on gift giving. But did you ever stop to think that it’s also the season of gift receiving? And that God gives the gifts that give the season its meaning?
People can very carefully choose gifts that reflect their understanding of the people they’re giving to. Or they can put minimal thought and effort into the task.
People can receive gifts with gratitude. Or with indifference, disappointment, or rejection.
If you have carefully chosen a gift and the person you give to doesn’t appreciate it, how do you feel? Have you ever thought about what God feels?… Read the rest
Matthew describes the virgin birth of Jesus from Joseph’s viewpoint in Matthew 2. Have you ever studied the first chapter of Matthew? Most Christians probably skip it. It seems like nothing but a boring genealogy.
But let’s pay some attention. Matthew mentions four women in the first six verses. And all four names recall stories of sin.
Jesus had to be born sinless, live a sinless life, and die as a perfect and unblemished sacrifice. Everyone from Cain and Abel onward has been conceived and born in sin.
And that’s not because they were conceived through sexual union. God planned for that from the beginning.… Read the rest