From the Manger to the Cross

The road to the cross led through a stable in Bethlehem

With the Christmas season upon us, many are stressing over the final gift ideas.  Many are feeling the strain of the family coming to town, or trying to prepare for the trip to visit with family and friends; and many are too busy to see the real reason for the Christmas season.

It started with a woman – a virgin; pure, blameless, favored by God.  It had to be this way…it was what God told the world would happen.

3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.  And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace.”

— Micah 5:3-5 (NIV)

Israel had fallen away, it had become their custom…and God was tired of it.  But, He did promise redemption…in the form of a baby – His Son!

God made the promise to save Israel, and His promise carries resoundingly into today.  God sent His only Son.  A Child, who would become a man, shows us the right way to live, and then…this Child, the one we celebrate, gave up His life to save the world.  Jesus came to the earth with a purpose, to die for the world.

“For God did not send His Son into the World to Condemn the World, but that the World, through Him, might be saved.”

— John 3:17

It was all in the plan…a virgin, a carpenter, a star, a small town named Bethlehem…and a baby.  Christmas is about His birth, but we can’t remember His birth without remembering the reason He came.  This Christmas, remember the path to the cross went through the stable in Bethlehem.

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Who is the Greatest?

33They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

— Mark 9:33-37 (NIV)

It’s probably hard to imagine the apostles arguing, right?  Not at all – and the reason it’s not is because they were a close knit group…a family so to speak.  This was a group of men who spent most, if not all, of their time together…so of course they had their spats every now and then.  The quarrel isn’t the key in this passage; however, the key is what they were arguing about…who is the greatest?

This is something that we each do day in and day out.  We fight with siblings about who is our parents favorite…we fight with co-workers about who does the best job…we constantly seem to give ourselves the glory for things that happen in our lives…whether we deserve the credit or not…we don’t want to go unnoticed.

There are three keys that stick out in this passage – what they were arguing about, their reaction to Jesus questioning them, and Jesus solution to the problem.

First – Who is the Greatest?

Why did they feel they needed to figure out who was the best…who was the favorite…who was first in line?  It is something we can all relate to.  We all have egotistical tendencies when it comes to how others feel about us, whether it be over a sibling in the eyes of a parent, or a co-worker about who is the boss’ favorite; whatever the situation, the argument is the same, “Who is better?!?”

What is our fascination with being the best?  Why do we constantly feel we need to pump ourselves up to gain someone’s approval?  It is something that we’ve seen from the beginning of time…the serpent used this against Eve when he convinced her to partake of the forbidden fruit, Cain was jealous of Abel’s standing with God, and the Apostles wanted to know who Jesus’ favorite was.  We constantly seek to be the best at something…it’s something that comes to us naturally because we want to be accepted by anyone and everyone; or maybe you don’t care what people think…but doesn’t that come from a mindset of ‘I’m better than them’ in some ways?

I’m not saying this is the reaction all the time, but think about times in your life, and you will see that each one of us have that reaction to many situations we face.  Jesus tells us that no one is better than another.  Cain and Abel both had something to offer God…Cain didn’t get why God was upset because he wasn’t willing to give the best of himself to God…Abel was; it had nothing to do with who was greater…just who was willing to give their best.

Second – The Apostles’ reaction…

They fought about who was the greatest, and Jesus had heard the argument.  Jesus, however, asked the question of them, “What were you quarreling over?”  It’s not that Jesus didn’t hear them; it’s that Jesus wanted to give them a chance to fess up to their mistake…but they knew they were wrong.  We know this because they kept quiet…just as we do when we know we were in the wrong.  When you were a child and your parents asked you if you did something (knowing you did the entire time) the first reaction is always to divert the attention from what was really going on.  Look at the story of Cain…that is what he did…when God asked Cain where Abel was, God already knew that Cain had taken matters into his own hands and had killed his brother; but Cain’s answer to God was, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Because Cain felt guilty he lied to God.  It’s the same thing Adam and Eve did after eating the fruit…they didn’t want to accept blame for making the decision to partake…divert attention.

It’s funny though, the first and second points contradict each other in some ways.  Not scripturally, but within ourselves.  We’re ready to crow aloud the accomplishments we feel will bring us the glory…we’re ready to shout from the mountaintops that we are the greatest…that is until someone brings us back down when they call our lack of humility into question…then, we cower back into a shell…wishing we could disappear…it’s the whole “not me” mentality.

Third – The Solution…

35Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

— Mark 9:35 (NIV)

The first shall be last…we’ve heard it time and again.  If you want to be first among the children of God…you must be last in your mind.  If you want to be the greatest…be the lowest, be humble, be a servant to everyone you meet.  Jesus tells his followers that unless you are able to stop the ‘me first’ thinking, you’ll never achieve the glory you seek.  It’s something that we have trouble doing because we don’t want to look at others as above us.

“I’m better than the homeless guy” – oh really?  “I’m a better person than so-and-so” – are you sure?  Statements like this put us behind those people according to Jesus.  In order to be first, we must put ourselves last.  Does this mean we should appear to be humble and serve to receive glory?  NO!  It means that we should be sincere in what we do.  Nothing that we do in life should be done with our glory in mind…if that is what we do it for…then we will receive our reward here on earth…because that is what we want…because we’re still living in a me first frame of mind.  You have to mentally humble yourself to serve…motive speaks just as much as the action.  If you do something because you feel you have to do it, joy is nowhere to be found…if you do it because you want to, you can’t help but smile…and your joy is evident.

Jesus gives the disciples the solution…but it wasn’t the answer that they were expecting.  Then Jesus calls a child to him…what do children have to do with the answer to the question of who is greater?

36He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

— Mark 9:36-37 (NIV)

Children exemplify humility.  Jesus was using this child to show the mindset the Twelve needed to have…one of childlike humility.  Being humble means that you hide from the spotlight, you don’t seek your own glory for what you do…you know what it means to be like a child…dependant upon your Father for support.  Children know they can’t do things without their parents, and we are called the children of God.  We are the Children of God…we are His children, His offspring…His pride and joy – when we do what we are called to do.

Jesus tells the Twelve to become like a child…and he also tells them to accept the child in his name.

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me…” Jesus is saying to the Twelve, “I know this is a child, and he doesn’t have much standing in your society…accept him in my name, because by doing so – you accept me.  Jesus then goes on to say, “…and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” If you welcome a child, you welcome Jesus, and when you welcome Jesus you don’t welcome him, but God.  What is Jesus saying?  If you humble yourself and accept a child in the name of Christ, not only do you welcome Jesus, but more than that, you welcome God.  Welcoming God means you realize you have no standing without him…and welcoming a child in the name of Jesus means that you realize that God is in control…that you are a servant of God, and that by serving Him you serve others.

To be the greatest you must become the lowest…you must serve others to receive your reward…but you mustn’t do it with becoming the greatest in mind.  Serving God begins when we submit to service of others with a joyful and contrite heart; when we humble ourselves we will be lifted up…out of the depths…to His Glory.  To achieve our full potential…we must deny ourselves.

What are you doing for others?  Are you serving the children of God?  Have you devoted your life to living a life that is not self-gratifying, but bringing glory to your Father in heaven?  When you serve do you do it for the right reasons?  Are you devoted to knowing God and making Him known?  What is your motivation?

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

— John F. Kennedy (1961)

Don’t keep asking God what he can do for you…ask God what you can do for him.

37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

— Matthew 25:37-40 (NIV)

Take the time to serve someone today…you’ll be glad you did!

 

I’m Thankful For…

Those three words seem to make an appearance for the month of November, and then seems to disappear from conversation just as quickly as it enters. I want to challenge everyone to begin being thankful on a daily basis.  It is a shame that we sometimes need a special day or month to remind us of the need to be thankful.

Thanksgiving is not a Christian Holiday, but I feel that it is a central theme of the Bible and can be applied to our lives in many different ways.  Let’s take a look at a number of scriptures to remind us to be thankful during this holiday season:

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name. For Yahweh is good, and His love is eternal; His faithfulness endures through all generations.”—Psalm   100:4-5

” Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever.” – Psalm 118:1

“First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,” – 1 Timothy 2:1

“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6

Being thankful in all circumstances we face can truly bless those around us, because they will begin to see God’s spirit at work in us, but also, it will bless us. If we focus on the good things that God is doing and determine that no matter what we are facing to be thankful in the things that we have and in the things that we don’t have.  Determining to be content and thankful in all circumstances will not only bless those around us, but will also bless us.

Today, be thankful! Tomorrow, be thankful! Be thankful more than just one day or 30 days a year…give thanks daily in all things!