Christmas Is War

What happens at Christmas? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re visiting my family in Knoxville which means going to our old church here to hear a sermon and see people we know. We heard a sermon about how some people don’t have joy at Christmas and Christmas is really for them. I thought about that more last night. We often celebrate Christmas as a time of joy and gladness, and we should, but let us never lose sight of the fact that this is not the way Christmas was originally.

I don’t mean by the original usage what the later church did. I mean the real birth of Christ. Let’s go to see what the Bible says was going on. My favorite account of this is not in Matthew or Luke. It’s in Revelation.

Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.

Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.

She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.

Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.

Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,

“It has come at last—
    salvation and power
and the Kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters
    has been thrown down to earth—
the one who accuses them
    before our God day and night.
And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by their testimony.
And they did not love their lives so much
    that they were afraid to die.
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!
    And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!
But terror will come on the earth and the sea,
    for the devil has come down to you in great anger,
    knowing that he has little time.”

When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time.

Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon.And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.

Then the dragon took his stand on the shore beside the sea.

This is the world Jesus was born in. The world of Rome was not a friendly place. It was a sexually loose culture where women were seen purely as objects and children could be put to death for most any reason a father wanted. Slavery was seen as normal and it would have been revolutionary to suggest that it should not be. What we consider to be obvious answers to moral questions were not obvious to them. Those of us who are Christians believe also the works of the evil one were there. We can say John was exaggerating in 1 John 5:19, but that exaggeration surely had a point to it.

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

We could even ask where would the evil one be wanting to be the most active? It’s not in the areas that have already conquered. It would be going after the areas you still want to control. That would be the land of Israel, the very land Jesus was born in. We know in His ministry He encountered several demon-possessed people.

Jesus came into a world where things were hopeless. The Jews were looking for a promised Messiah and faced against the greatest empire the world had ever seen. Just a couple of centuries earlier, the empire of Carthage had not been able to defeat this force and militarily, Israel could not produce a stronger force. An act of YHWH could overcome, but YHWH had been silent for centuries.

Jesus came into this world. Jesus came into enemy territory as a baby and grew up fighting the enemy head on. This is the story of Christmas. We often think that there are people who are in hopeless situations, but these are the ones that Christmas is for the most. Christmas is not for people who have hope. They do not need hope. It is the hopeless that need hope. It is the hopeless that Christmas is meant to give hope to.

Earlier, I said the moral questions we consider to have obvious answers were not obvious to them. The Christians were the most counter-cultural people back then. They believed that every human being is in the image of God and deserves to be treated like that. They believed that sexual intercourse should be reserved for a husband and a wife only. They believed that the poor should be cared for and provided for.

Today, we Christians still uphold these beliefs and if we do so today, we are still the counter-cultural ones. It is in these times that we still observe Christmas. Every time we celebrate Christmas, we should remember that we are not just having fun and exchanging gifts. We are taking place still in a counter-cultural revolutionary movement. Those who want to be really different and stand against the culture should not be the secularists, but should seek to be Christians. Christians are holding the most radical idea of transformation. We actually believe that Heaven will one day be united to Earth in a sacred marriage.

Today, have fun celebrating Christmas and remember those who cannot. Christmas is for them too. Seek to give hope to someone who has none, for that is the very person that needs hope.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Faith Like Paul

What does it take to live like the apostle Paul? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Yesterday, I heard somewhere someone saying about how great it would be to live like Paul. Paul certainly had a great faith and it really transformed his life. He wrote about joy from a prison cell and he dealt with persecution all his life, until in the end he was beheaded for his faith in Christ.

Now I do want to say that when I speak about faith like Paul, I mean faith in what I take to be the biblical sense. Faith is one of the most misused words today. I have written about a true understanding of faith here. Faith biblically is trust in that which has been shown to be reliable. It does not mean belief in the absence of evidence. It’s quite the opposite in fact. It requires evidence.

It’s important to realize Paul is not traveling around the Roman Empire based on what he thinks is a subjective experience or a hope he wants to see fulfilled alone (Though he has had an experience and he does have hope for the future because of Christ), but it is rather because he is because he has seen something in the world outside of his mind that he thinks changes everything about reality.

Years ago, there was a cartoon I watched and one clip advertising said something like “I watched the TV shows. I used to play the card game. Then I found out, this is real.” Imagine what it would mean if the plot of a favorite cartoon of yours was real. How would it change your life? Imagine if you found out that just one fairy tale or Disney movie was a real historical event. What would it change for you? Would you ever see the world the same way again?

Now for Paul, Paul has been a good Jew all his life and has grown up hearing about the hope of Israel, the Messiah, and as a good Pharisee, he has also believed in the resurrection. He has been holding to the Torah all his life. The Law of God is sacred writ for him. He treasures it. He reads it daresay I far more than we’ve ever read our NT. We would not be surprised if we heard Paul had the whole of it memorized.

What happened?

Paul’s claim is that He saw the risen Christ.

So what did that mean for Paul? “Yay! My sins are forgiven!” No. Paul thought he had a system of forgiveness already that worked quite well. He saw himself as blameless before the law. If you preached Jesus to him because he needed forgiveness, Paul would say “No I don’t! I am a faithful observer of Torah! That reveals that I am justified in the eyes of God!”

Of course, Paul did come to realize and teach that forgiveness is found only in Christ, but that is not why he came to Christ and while that is something that he was teaching an unbelieving world, that was not the main change.

What was it? I’d like for you to think about a work like Craig Keener’s book “Miracles.” Now if you’re the atheist reading this, just take a thought experiment with me. Suppose you undeniably witnessed someone praying in the name of Jesus for someone and then saw right before your eyes that they were instantaneously healed. Let’s suppose it was a condition like blindness or paralysis in fact.

Does your worldview change any at that point?

Now you might not come straight across to Christianity at that point (though I would have no complaints if you did), but I would hope at least you would if you were a committed atheist start thinking “Could I be wrong about something? What would it mean if God has broken in?”

In fact, for those of us who are Christians, we might need to start thinking like atheists more. We need to realize that this is something incredible really. God has broken into our world. There is someone out there in the world and He has spoken. There is more to this universe than meets the eye.

The problem is that we’ve grown up with Christianity so much that its become familiar to us. We know the stories so well that we’ve never found them to be incredible. It can sadly seem natural to us that God took on flesh and that Jesus rose from the dead.

They weren’t natural at all to a first century Jew.

For Paul, to see that Jesus is raised expresses so much that I seriously doubt that I can get it all. It is extremely difficult to begin to think like a 1st century Jew, but to understand Jesus as his contemporaries saw him, we must do this.

For Paul, I can wager some guesses.

First, he sees in Jesus that the promises of God are all yes and amen. God has spoken in Jesus which means that the time of renewal is at hand. The Kingdom of God has begun and it has begun with the reign of King Jesus.

Second, since the kingdom of God has begun its reign, then that means that the eschatological hopes of Israel are being fulfilled. God’s glory is being made known throughout the world. The Kingdoms of this world are to eventually bow the knee to the Kingdom of Christ.

Third, moral renewal will begin. The Law will be written on our hearts and we will follow the moral dictates. Paul is not an antinomian. He holds that there is still a law, but the righteous demands are being made known through the Holy Spirit.

Fourth, salvation has changed entirely. No more does it rely on following the sacrificial system, but it relies on trust in the Messiah of Jesus who occupies the throne of Israel. The Davidic and Abrahamic covenantes both find their fulfillment in Christ.

Fifth, God is in the act of making all things new. This includes even the dietary laws and the sacred days of Israel. Creation is being reborn. The curse is being lifted. Paul would have very well understood the claim of Revelation “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Sixth, in the resurrection of Jesus, we find the death of death itself. Death was the stranger that came into the world and ruined humanity. It has had a hold on most everyone save Enoch and Elijah. As long as death reigns, we have no certainty that justice will be done on this Earth. Since Christ has been raised and is the firstfruits of the resurrection, we have certainty.

Seventh, this means that judgment is coming. God has acted which means he’s not kidding around any more. The time of patience is over. It is now time to repent and get right with God. This motivates Paul even more to preach the gospel.

These are just seven I can think of. I do not doubt for a moment that there are many more, but if these facts haven’t fully gripped you, and to confess they haven’t fully gripped me either, then we will not have the faith of Paul that we so want to have.

Today, I urge you to look at your Christianity differently. Only when you see it as changing the world, can you see it as changing your world.

In Christ,
Nick Peters