Book Reviews From 2017

3 Manger Lessons

Only Luke uses the Greek word for manger in all of the New Testament, with three of those instances being closely linked with the story of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-16).

Luke is a prolific writer, but also a very specific writer. Luke uses more unique Greek words in his two books of the Bible than any other New Testament author. Because Luke is so precise, we need to pause to ask: what message was Luke trying to highlight in the fact that Jesus was born in a manger.

Here are three manger lessons…

  1. The manger shows us God’s PLAN.

The birthplace of Jesus was predicted 700 years before He was born (Micah 5:2). God moved the heart of the most powerful man in the world (Caesar Augustus) to issue a decree that would bring a nearly unknown Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, and cause them to cross paths with a bunch of unnamed shepherds.

  1. The manger shows us God’s PRIORITY.

Jesus was not born to a handsome family (Isaiah 53:2), nor was He born to an influential family (Philippians 2:7). If He had been born to the high and mighty class, He would not only be unmoved by the desperate conditions of the least and the lost, but He would also be inaccessible to them.

Think about this—Who would you be more likely to have access to: a King or a peasant? Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:25-28).

  1. The manger shows us God’s PLEASURE.

God is pleased to deliver His good news to the disempowered, the downcast, the over-burdened, the desperate (Luke 2:14; Matthew 11:25-26). And what is this good news? The good news is that Jesus came to make it possible for us to be linked with Him forever! (see Matthew 11:28-30).

Jesus was born in a manger to show us that (1) God’s plans always prevail; (2) His priority is to rescue those who are unable to rescue themselves; and (3) He has immense pleasure to yoking us to Him forever and ever! 

May this good news of Christ in manger bring you joy this Christmas season!

We also looked at some other powerful Advent stories in our Carols Of Christmas series. You can read about the lessons from O Come Emmanuel and Silent Night! Holy Night!

Silent Night? Holy Night!

A little boy wanted to do something special for his family, so he thought he would do something he had seen his mother do dozens of times: bake a cake. Quickly he looked through a cookbook and got to work.

Dad was the first one to come home and heard an unusual clatter in the kitchen. Peeking around the corner he saw his son wearing his wife’s apron, slightly dusted in flour, and vigorously stirring a big bowl of batter.

“What are you doing, son” Dad asked.

Without looking up from his work the boy proudly answered, “I’m making a cake, Dad!”

Dad looked around the kitchen and saw all the proper ingredients out, so he was somewhat assured when he asked, “So how’s it going?”

The little boy paused and looked up at him, “Pretty good I think. I’m just having a little trouble with the ‘tbls” and ‘tsps.’”

For those of you who have done any baking, you know that “tbls” are tablespoons and “tsps” are teaspoons. If you get those mixed up, the cake might not turn out very well. For instance, adding a teaspoon of baking powder when the recipe calls for a tablespoon might result in a flat cake. Or adding a tablespoon of salt when the recipe asks for a teaspoon might making a rather salty cake.

Abbreviations only work if everyone is on the same page with you. If they’re not, it could be rather unsavory or maybe even dangerous.

In 1816, Joseph Mohr penned the words to what some have called the best-known Christmas carol in the world: Silent Night! Holy Night!

I’m not really sure how “silent” the night Jesus was born really was: a village so filled with people that no bedrooms were available, a mother in labor, a crying newborn, animals in a stable disturbed by the mother and child, singing angels, and curious shepherds. But let’s leave that part alone for a while.

Although it may not have been a silent night, it most assuredly was a Holy Night! That full title gives us the full impact of what happened at Christ’s First Advent.

Holy means something unlike anything else; someone or something devoted to God; something divine; something with God’s fingerprints all of it. I see at least three divinely holy things in this carol.

  1. The virgin birth of Jesus. 

Not only was the birth of Jesus a fulfillment of prophesy (see Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:18-25), but it was also an indication of God’s miracle-working power. The fact the Luke gives so many specific details about that birth night (see Luke 2:1-2) also lets us know that this isn’t a “once upon a time” myth.

  1. The involvement of angels in the affairs of humans. 

Angels bring messages to key people before the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:11, 26; Matthew 1:20) and on the night of His birth (Luke 2:9-14). John also gives us a peek behind the scenes of the massive spiritual warfare taking place the night of Christ’s birth (see Revelation 12:1-5). Paul tells us that we, too, are involved in this spiritual battle, but that because of Christ’s Advent we’re more than conquerors through Jesus (Ephesians 6:12; Romans 8:37).

  1. The full deity and the full humanity of Jesus. 

Jesus was fully Man and fully God (see Philippians 2:5-7; Matthew 26:63-64; John 8:54-58). This is so important, because without this we would be lost. If Jesus wasn’t fully Man, He wouldn’t know how to help us; if He wasn’t fully God, He couldn’t help us.

So when you hear this carol playing, ask someone if they know the title. More than likely they will say, “Silent Night.” To which you can easily reply, “Actually it’s Silent Night! Holy Night! and I’d like to tell you three amazing, holy things that took place!”

Let’s never abbreviate away the miracles. It may or may not have been a Silent Night, but it most certainly was a Holy Night! These supernatural miracles surrounding Christ’s First Advent provided us freedom from sin, and a rock-solid hope of our eternal reward in Heaven at Christ’s Second Advent.

Seeing Jesus (book review)

seeing-jesusB.B. Warfield once commented that the Old Testament is like a beautiful mansion, but the lights are turned off; with the Advent of Jesus, the lights have come on and we can now appreciate the beauty that was always there. In Seeing Jesus, Nancy Guthrie shows us the beauty of Jesus that is on full display from the opening words of the Bible, shining a bright light on passages that many may have previously missed.

Sadly, a lot people mistakenly believe that Jesus first shows up at His birth in Bethlehem, forgetting that Jesus Himself said that all the Scriptures point to Him. Nancy does just what Jesus said: She links together passages from both Testaments to show how all the Scripture finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Each chapter opens with a passage from the Old Testament and a passage from the New Testament. Then Nancy masterfully shows how Jesus links the two Testaments by the work He completed at Calvary. I appreciate how there is a satisfying conclusion to each chapter, but also how there is an open door to explore each particular topic more in my own Bible study time.

Especially for those who have thought the Old Testament is confusing, or outdated, or even boring, Seeing Jesus will bring a whole new excitement and insight into your Bible study time.

I am a Tyndale book reviewer.

What If Jesus Had Been Physically Weak?

physical-healthWe have been exploring the whole health of Jesus, as Dr. Luke recorded it in Luke 2:52. In this verse Luke tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom (mental health), stature (physical health), in favor with God (spiritual health) and in favor with men (emotional/social health). Being unhealthy in any one of these areas will ultimately pull down the health in all of the areas.

The life of Jesus shows us that we, too, must strive to live wholly healthy lives.

Yesterday at Calvary Assembly of God, Scott asked a challenging question: “What if Jesus hadn’t been strong enough to make it to the top of Calvary’s hill?”

Think about the excruciating torture Jesus went through—

  • He was sleep deprived.
  • He was dehydrated from His intense prayer time in Gethsemane, where He sweat blood.
  • He was emotionally depleted from having all of His friends abandon and deny Him.
  • He was beaten multiple times by temple guards and Roman soldiers.
  • He was brutally whipped to the point that His back muscles and nerves were exposed.
  • He had thorns crushed into His scalp.
  • He had His beard ripped out.
  • He had to carry a 60- to 90-pound wooden crossbeam nearly 650 yards uphill.

All of this took place before He had metal spikes slammed through His wrists and ankles, and then was hoisted up rudely into the air to be suspended from His Cross.

Jesus went through all of that for you and me. In making it all the way to the point where He said, “It is finished,” He fulfilled every prophesy concerning His death.

The only way Jesus could have made it through this is if He was at optimal physical health.

If Jesus had died from exhaustion or heart attack or loss of blood before He was actually nailed to the Cross, how many of the prophesies would have been left unfinished? He needed to keep His physical body in tip-top shape throughout His entire earthly life in order to be ready for this one crucial moment.

Being physically weak makes it difficult for us to…

  • …think clearly (mental health)
  • …concentrate on the things of God (spiritual health)
  • …control our emotions and respond appropriately to other people (emotional/social health)

So we, like Jesus, must work on our physical health. God has a plan for your life. In order for you to fulfill all God has in mind, you must be wholly healthy. Are you taking care of your physical body? If you’re not, you are slowly robbing all of the other areas of your life of the strength they need.

If you’re not as physically healthy as you could be, what are you willing to do differently?

Check out this 3-minute clip where Scott asks us what physical health changes we’re willing to make for God’s glory…

What Child Is This Anyway?!

christ-the-kingA couple of years ago as we were setting up for our Living Nativity, I was wrapping a towel around the doll we were going to use for the infant Jesus. A young boy from the community was carefully watching me and he asked, “Is that baby Santa?”

“No, it’s not Santa,” I said. “See this manger? We’re getting things setup to tell the story about the very first Christmas, long before St. Nick came on the scene. Maybe you’ve heard about Mary and Joseph?”

The young lad’s eyes lit up as he seem to get the answer. “Oh! Is that baby Moses?!”

Clearly, people don’t know all the facts surrounding the first Advent of Jesus. Sometimes things in culture and church get jumbled—what belongs to which? Is Christmas a pagan holiday? Where do Christmas trees come in? Was the birth of Jesus actually on December 25? What does it all matter anyway?

Instead of running from these questions, Christians should use them to point people in the right direction. 

Have you heard the tune called Greensleeves? It’s been around longer than anyone knows. William Shakespeare referenced it in two of his plays and didn’t feel the need to explain it to his audience. The tune has been set to some pretty bawdy words about New Year’s Eve parties, and even as a mocking song to some folks about to go to the gallows. And then in the mid-1800s William Chatterton Dix used this tune to write words about Christ’s birth in What Child Is This?

What an excellent question! Who exactly is this Child? Is Jesus merely a line on the pages of history? Or is His birth something more? Oswald Chambers noted, “The tremendous revelation of Christianity is not the Fatherhood of God, but the Babyhood of God—God became the weakest thing in His own creation, and in flesh and blood He levered it back to where it was intended to be. No one helped Him; it was done absolutely by God manifest in human flesh.”

The first-century historian Luke simply records that Mary is pregnant with “a child.” That is, until Jesus is taken to the temple in Jerusalem eight days later, and we see that a man named Simeon didn’t just see this Child as any baby, but as a fulfillment of prophesy (see Luke 2:25-32; Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6).

This Child is much more than just a historic person. He not only split history into BC and AD, but He has changed my life, and countless others’ lives as well! That’s why the chorus of this Christmas carol joyfully announces, “This, THIS is Christ the King!”

People may be confused about what tradition belongs to culture or Christendom. You may even be confused about what belongs to which. But none of that should stop us from knowing the Child we celebrate this Christmas. None of that should stop us from helping seekers to find Jesus as their own Savior. None of that should stop us from enthroning Jesus Christ as King and giving Him the highest praise He deserves!

Jesus used common, everyday things—farmers, fish, trees, weather, children’s songs—to tell people about a Heaven that was prepared for them. Paul used the cultural idols and poets to point his community to Jesus. Philip used the Scripture a governmental official was reading to point him to Jesus.

So we, too, can use whatever is around us to point people to Jesus this Christmas! What Child is this? This, THIS is Christ MY King! Merry Christmas!!

Little Is Not Insignificant

gods-promise-to-youPastor Phillips Brooks visited Israel in the mid-1800s. While there he visited a small church just outside of Bethlehem. Listening to the worshipful songs being sung in that quiet countryside, he was inspired to pen the words to O Little Town Of Bethlehem.

Because of that quiet setting, notice how Rev. Brooks notices things we often miss—

  • little town on Bethlehem
  • in thy dark streets
  • while mortals sleep
  • no ear may hear His coming

But little does not mean insignificant. And just because we can’t see or hear something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or it isn’t important.

Sometimes we’ve looked and listened and waited and searched for so long that we have given up and we begin to drift off to sleep. We continue to live in our own “little town” surrounded by silence. And we are in danger of missing a miracle right in our midst!

We know today that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But did you know that this little town was still so obscure in Christ’s day that many people in Israel were unaware of what went on there? (See John 7:41-43). Even after King Herod had gruesomely killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem, scarcely anyone outside of that town knew about it or cared about it.

But God cared. And He knew exactly what He was doing.

But when the proper time had fully come, God sent His Son (Galatians 4:4)—the exact right moment—to be born in Bethlehem—the exact right place (Micah 5:2). Notice even Micah says of Bethlehem though you are small among the clans of Judah, giving birth to the title of Rev. Brooks’ poem.

How small was it? Look at the description of the territory for the tribe of Judah (in Joshua 15), and you can easily glossed over the names of all of the towns. But look more closely and you will see something you didn’t read in that list of towns. Take a close look at all 38 cities: it’s still missing.

There are a couple of very notable figures that dominate the Old and New Testaments, and they have something in common—King David and Jesus both come from the tribe of Judah. And both of them were born in Bethlehem. But in the list of towns in Judah’s territory, there is absolutely no mention of Bethlehem.

This town either didn’t exist, or it was so “insignificant” that Joshua didn’t even think to mention it. It would be almost another 500 years before David would be born in Bethlehem, and then another 900 years after that before Jesus would be born in this little town of Bethlehem.

God had in mind for the greatest earthly king in Israel’s history and the King of all kings to come from such humble origins… from a village that didn’t even make the list. Bethlehem was ready for these kings at just the right moment!

Jesus said heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will never pass away. What promise in His Word do you need to cling to? 

Just as those awaiting the Messiah clung to Micah’s promise until it came to pass, you must find God’s promise for you in His Word, cling to it, and don’t let go until it comes to pass in your little town.

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