The Lord who is with us

Losing the Shepherd’s voice

I have recently begun reading Embracing God as Father by Daniel Bush and Noel Due, a theological and pastoral reflection on how the Fatherhood of God established by the Gospel creates a new identity for us as sons and daughters of God.

This morning I was struck by this reflection on those times of feeling besieged and under attack as a child of God:

‘The work of the devil among the people of God is like an unruly dog who has intruded on a sheep pen. The dog runs and barks until it gets the sheep in a frenzy, pinned up in a corner against the fence. He singles out one sheep at a time from the rest of the flock, leading it to doubt that it ever belonged to the flock in the first place. All the sheep can hear is the voice of the dog, and all they can feel is fear. They certainly can’t hear the shepherd – and will they be trapped forever? Perhaps the shepherd isn’t strong enough or doesn’t care enough to silence the intruder?

In those moments when the world, the flesh, and the devil come crashing down on us, when the feel the force of discouragements, doubts, and the accusing voice of the Devil, where do we turn?

A rescue from outside ourselves

Turning in on ourselves, attempting to summon up internal strength and resolve will provide no realistic chance of success. What is true for that frightened, isolated sheep pinned to the fence is true for all of God’s children: we need our Shepherd to rescue us.

In Psalm 46 there is chaos and turbulence facing the people of God. Distress and trouble may be around every corner, but yet the Psalmist expresses faith that there is a source of strength, a rescuer is at hand. The Psalmist’s repeated refrain sounds:

“The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress (Psalm 46:7,11).

The prophet Zephaniah sounds a similar note of hope in the LORD as the one who comes from outside to be the rescuer of his people. Writing to the city of Jerusalem facing the certainty of Babylonian oppression as a consequence of their turning away from God and his word, Zephaniah announces:

“The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; he has turned back your enemy” (Zephaniah 3:15).

Our strength and security rests entirely on the ‘with-ness’ of God the Father whose love for his children is complete and absolute. When trouble crowds in, we turn towards Jesus our Immanuel (‘God with us’), who entered our world of pain and struggle to be that rescuer from outside ourselves. In isolation and distress we receive grace and help from the Holy Spirit the comforter (John 14:16-18). We draw strength from God’s total commitment to be with and for his people. The gospel gives promise of a rescue from outside of ourselves, and this comes as good news to us in our weakness.

A saviour under attack for us

Nowhere do we see this more clearly than at the cross. We see Jesus facing an unprecedented barrage of physical, spiritual and emotional attacks. Hostile crowds baying for his blood. Religious and political rulers conspiring to humiliate and brutalise him. Betrayal from one of his inner circle having been prompted by the Devil. Bearing the awful weight of human and sin and rebellion though he had done no wrong. Experiencing a sense of complete isolation and abandonment as he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mark 15:34)

The answer to that ‘why’ question? Because Jesus volunteers for a rescue mission that takes him right into the heart of human sin and destruction. To be our saviour he must go into the very depths for us – our rebellion, our idolatry, our sin and shame – so that he might secure a complete deliverance for us and to bring us to God. Jesus becomes the forsaken son, so that God can receive by grace sons and daughters bought and set free by the blood of Jesus.

So when we are attacked and distressed, feeling like sheep without a shepherd, it is to the gospel that we turn. We place ourselves once more into the care of our God who is so powerfully for us, to the Saviour who has won the battle for us and is with us now and forever. He is the one whose love never fails, whose promise never falters. He is the shepherd who protects his sheep from each and every attack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why all the secrecy?

Did that really happen?!?

So Oscars night. The most important night of the year for the movie industry. They eyes of the world turned to watch a host of A-list stars from the most critically acclaimed films of the year walk the red carpet and then look surprised/humble and congratulatory as their names are/ are not read out come award time.

And then things went awkwardly wrong! For a few brief moments, the La La Land team basked in their glorious achievement of being best picture of the year, only for the organisers to realise a wrong envelope had been delivered, and Moonlight was in fact the film which had taken the award.

Embarrasing, right? But nothing more than that.  “The craziest moment of Oscars history” as Emma Stone put it, but ultimately no damage done.

Other times, however, an identity mix up can lead to major problems. Which brings us to Mark’s gospel and one of its recurring themes.

Mark’s Gospel and the ‘secrecy’ theme

As we have been working our way through Mark’s gospel in church, Jesus’ ‘Messianic Secret’ stands out time and again. Whether it is people who have been healed, disciples who have witnessed great miracles, or even demons who have been driven out, there is the consistent refrain in these events that calls for secrecy (for example, 1:32-34, 1:40-44, 3:11-12, 5:35-43, 8:27-30). Why?

Jewish expectation at the time was for a mighty king, a warlord who would take political power, end the Roman occupation, and lead the Jewish nation into a time of peace and prosperity not seen since the reigns of King David and Solomon. Hopes had been raised and subsequently dashed as political revolutionaries prior to Jesus had come and gone. So when Jesus performs miracles that indicate the breaking-in of God’s kingdom on earth, we should not be surprised that the crowds’ expectations began to rise. Maybe he’s the one. Maybe freedom is just around the corner. You can imagine the thought process.

Yet Jesus calls time and again for secrecy. And that maybe surprises us. Surely Jesus would want people to hear and see these incredible miracles performed with the power of God as the Son of God? But Jesus wants his disciples, and those around him to be clear: while Jesus is God’s Messiah, his chosen and promised King, he is not that kind of Messiah. He is the not the King of popular imagination. Jesus needs his disciples and his church to understand what kind of king Jesus is.

Peter’s confession of Jesus in 8:29, “You are the Christ“, marks the turning point in the story. Having come to understand that Jesus is God’s King, now Jesus begins to teach his disciples “that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (8:31).

No longer does Jesus call people to secrecy. Now the truth is out. The reason for Jesus’ mission on earth is spelled out plainly in his teaching, and will be seen as he carries his own cross to face execution in perfect obedient to his Father’s will, and to the plan of salvation.

Amidst the confusion of the masses about the Messiah, Jesus wants to be absolutely clear: he is the King whom God had promised, but as king he is also the suffering servant, the one who “came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). That is why Jesus came, that is the reality that dominates Jesus’ life on earth. It is why preaching comes ahead of healing (1:35-38), and why he chooses the cross before the crown.

Jesus’ identity and our evangelism

This has significant implications for how we share the good news of Jesus with others. Jesus had no interest in attracting followers with the promise of healthier, wealthier lives. He wanted followers willing to carry crosses, dying to self-interest and receiving Jesus as Lord and Master. We need our friends and family to meet Jesus on his own terms, because understanding his identity informs how people then respond to him.

So we direct people to the glorious Jesus we meet in the gospels not so that people’s lives will become a little bit healthier or happier, but so they will have a transforming encounter with their Lord so that he might become their saviour. Jesus did not want to be known primarily as a healer or great teacher – though he is unquestionably both of those – but as the only saviour for sinners, the one who demands and deserves absolute allegiance because he is the Lord, and the one moves people to loving obedience because he is our suffering servant.

We want people to love the Giver more than the gifts. We bring the good news of Jesus to people so that they might love Jesus as Lord, God, Saviour and King. Anything less than that is to distort the real identity of Jesus and will prove of no eternal benefit to anyone in the end.

 

Holiness…like learning to ride a bike (sort of)

 

 

cyclingGod’s will in one word

“What is God’s will for my life?”

There are few questions in the realm of practical Christianity that provoke quite as much agonizing and soul-searching as this one. But did you know the Bible answers the question in a very straightforward way? (What, you mean I wasted all that time reading all those books and attending all those seminars?? Hopefully not.)

Here is Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification (1 Thess 4:3)

And here is Peter in a letter to scattered Christians beginning to face the brunt of Roman opposition:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

So there it is. God’s will for us is personal holiness. But if we are honest, not only is that possibly the answer we didn’t expect, more than likely it is not the answer we want either.

Recovering Holiness

The notion of holiness has fallen onto hard times. Used as an insult on those perceived to have a “holier-than-thou” attitude, the idea of directing our lives towards pursuing holiness hardly seems attractive.

J.I. Packer has written that ‘holiness is the goal of our redemption’, drawing directly from Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus:

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4)

From the beginning, God rescued Israel and established a covenant relationship with them so that they might be holy, in other words, they were to be a nation reflecting God’s character in their national, religious, social and political lives.

Holiness is an essential for the people of God if we are to see the Lord Jesus and be with him one day(Hebrews 12:14). If God’s life has come into our life, if he is living in us, then we will necessarily reflect that light and that life in how we think, speak and act.

Jesus Christ gave himself to death on the cross so that we might be holy. His holiness gifted to us is what enables us to live in holy obedience to our holy God.

So if this is true, why is holiness so unattractive to us as a goal to pursue?

The Man of Holiness

Holiness as a concept can easily become distorted in our minds, or ignored in our day to day living. Sometimes we may feel that our efforts at holy obedience don’t matter because we are saved by grace alone, forgetting that saving grace is always accompanied by works of faith as evidence of salvation.

At other times, we may feel the gap between promise and reality is just too big and giving up and giving in to despair is our response. We know we are not who we are meant to be, we are not even who we ourselves want to be, but the effort feels too much and the result too small.

How can we respond to this?

One vital way is to look to Jesus in order to see how beautiful and compelling a life marked by holiness truly is. Give yourself time to admire a holy saviour who welcomed prostitutes, tax collectors, and shame-filled foreigners. Look to Jesus who was unafraid to confront sin and injustice among the religious establishment, yet was remarkably patient and gracious with earnest seekers of God.

When God calls us to live a holy life, he is calling us to see the wonder of Jesus and follow after him. Put in those terms, holiness is much less a burden and more of a delight.

Understand too that faith in Jesus unites us to him. That gives us our security. Even when I fail, my holiness does not fail because when God looks at me, he sees me as united to Christ in his perfect life and perfect obedience. And being united to Christ also give us our power to live in holiness. Jesus has broken the power of sin in our lives so that now we can say ‘no’ to sin and ‘yes’ to holiness.

Our holiness is dependent on our saviour Jesus. And that is beautiful news.

And now for the bike riding

Ever since our oldest boy Kasper was big enough to use his balance bike or go in a bike seat, one thing has been on his mind: “when can I go cycling with you mum and dad?” Now he has upgraded to a pedal bike, that wish is so close to becoming reality and it’s exciting for us all.

Because not only is bike riding a core life skill, it will open up a way for us to enjoy new things together. More places to explore, more time in one another’s company.

What has this got to do with holiness I hear you ask? Let me hand over to Rankin Wilbourne, the author of Union with Christ: the way to know and enjoy God (which is a wonderfully practical study on the doctrine of union with Christ well worth reading):

‘God wants us to grow in holiness, not as some sort of test or punishment, not even just as preparation for the future, but because he wants us to enjoy life with him more. The more we grow in holiness, the more we can enjoy his presence. He wants us not simply to press on but to soar. He wants holiness for us, for our joy. Now my child can ride with me.’

Sermons: portable or disposable?

 

 

 

bbq

 

It’s Monday. Whatever happened to Sunday?

It’s another Monday. While in real terms our experience of Sunday worship may be only 24 hours ago, there are times when it feels more like a lifetime. In the middle of an ever-increasing cycle of activities, responsibilities and experiences that shape our lives this week, what part does the 20-30 minute monologue delivered by a preacher have?

Maybe a better, more positive way to frame that question is: what part could it play in setting the tone for our week, helping us face those various responsibilities as people of faith who are strengthened by God’s gospel word delivered to us Sunday by Sunday? (Kind of a wordy question, but you get the gist I hope!).

Moving from disposable to portable

When we moved to our new house complete with garden last year, one item was top of my shopping list. A portable barbecue. Up until now, living in various flats, we had always settled for the disposable variety. The use once, let it cool, then chuck it away variety.

So pretty soon after settling in a trip to the garden centre secured the desired item. That was a glorious summer of freedom to grill at a whim, pulling out the barbecue when friends and family came to visit, a permanent fixture bringing joy (and a powerful charcoal tang) to our household.

Do you see where I am heading with this? It is easy to approach sermons as something disposable – a thing we experience and benefit from in a moment, but very quickly forgotten. Now don’t get me wrong, I am 100% convinced that God works salvation and transformation in a dynamic way as we encounter God through his preached word. It is a glorious thing that there and then God brings truth to bear on our hearts and minds in such a way that we grow in our discipleship and our apprehension of the privilege of being or becoming a child of God.

Portable Sermons

But what if sermons also became portable, something we took with us into our life that week, equipping and empowering us beyond Sunday worship to the times when life and faith collide?

What might that look like? It is something I have been thinking through over a little while and so what follows are suggestions that might spark our imaginations so that the sermons we listen to (or preach) might have more chances to speak to us and change us.

  • Listen again Modern technology makes it really easy to go back to hear the sermon again, to catch bits we missed or re-digest some of its teaching
  • Read and pray through Why not make the Sunday sermon passage part of our weekly pattern of Bible reading so that the truth stays fresh
  • Discuss in community Some churches encourage making use of Sunday Bible passages for that week’s family worship which is a great way for parents and children to consider and apply truth together. In Buccleuch we tend to use our midweek Bible studies to focus on applying the Sunday sermon so it gets processed twice
  • Write and reflect For those who take sermon notes, there is then the opportunity to look over them and pray over them during the week.
  • Take it and use it Be deliberate about thinking through how that particular message can be applied to life at home, work or among friends. If the passage issued a command, how will we obey it? If it spoke of the gospel, how will we live in it? If it spoke a rebuke, how will we repent and be restored by it? That kind of thing

I am sure there are plenty more ways than that for sermons to move from being disposable to portable. I hope making that switch will be as rewarding as my summer of grilling!

 

 

Panoramic Prayer

blackford-hill

Not too shabby a view for a Monday morning really, is it?

My only resolution for 2017 was that I would make the quick stroll up Blackford hill every day during the week so I could pray, and boy am I glad I did! There have been a few drizzly days, and one or two hand-numbing times as I shivered my way through a prayermate list, but nevertheless it has been a wonderful experience.

Something about the expansiveness of the view, and the sense of being in the city but enjoying God’s glorious creation at the same time have helped my prayer life be that bit more vibrant, and certainly more panoramic. What do I mean by that? Here is where my Blackford hill vantage point is really special.

Praying the gospel

Sitting atop castle hill lies Edinburgh castle, that imposing and historic fortress. Prayer begins with recognizing the awesome strength of our God, that he is the ‘rock eternal’ and ‘our refuge and strength’, the one who has secured salvation through the victory of Christ at the cross.

A city of spires

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Edinburgh’s skyline is the prominence of churches. Our city is blessed with wonderful gospel churches to give thanks and pray for. There are churches being planted in areas around the city to be remembered. And there are also churches in desperate need of resurrection so that the gospel would sound clearly through the city Sunday by Sunday.

The crane I call home

I think I have figured out where our church, Buccleuch should be in my panorama. I don’t know if it is my eyesight or the rise of the buildings in front of it, but I haven’t yet made out our spire. Instead, I get my focus from the crane at work on the nearby university technology building to direct my thoughts towards our people. Praying for our elders and deacons, our families, our students and older folk, those facing real pressures and dealing with tough situations. I like to pray that God will be glorified in our shared life together and as the gospel is proclaimed and taken from the building into the community by our members.

A great city

Although comparatively small as a city, Edinburgh still has hundreds of thousands of people who need to hear the gospel. From the very affluent tree-lined neighbourhoods to our council estates, people are living and dying with no concept either that God is there or that he cares. The task is huge but our God is great and so I pray that God bring his transforming power to bear on the people that call Edinburgh home.

The people over the sea

I love that Blackford hill overlooks the sea. Taking in that view prompts me to remember that God’s kingdom and interests are not localized but global. So I pray for people and nations across the sea (and no, I don’t mean Fife – though I do pray for churches there too!), missionaries that we know who serve in different places, brothers and sisters in the persecuted church, and a country like Japan which for a long time has captured my imagination as a great unreached people group.

As the view from Blackford quickly becomes one of my favourite in the whole wide world, I increasingly come to look forward to my daily meander up one of its many paths as I look forward to engaging with God in prayer.

To read an excellent article by Francis Chan on metaphorically ‘going up the mountain’ to God in prayer, click here

 

 

 

 

The joy of praying together

A realization and a precious example

Don’t you love it when someone points us something so obvious, and yet so profound that you wonder why you hadn’t ever seen it before?

David Mathis, in his excellent book habits of gracepraying gave me one such moment as he wrote about praying in company:

If any human life would have been fine without regular company in prayer, it would have been Jesus’s. But again and again we catch glimpses of a life of prayer that was not only personal but corporate…Jesus let others invade his prayer space.

In a number of places (Luke 9:18, 9:28, 11:1 for example) we discover that Jesus praying with his disciples was a regular part of their life together. Little wonder that the book of Acts is so full of accounts of God’s people in prayer together (Acts 1:14, 2:42, 4:24, 12:5, 13:3 etc). Jesus taught that prayer is a private affair. But it is also a corporate privilege.

As I read his short chapter on praying with constancy and company, my mind immediately turned to a dear Christian brother from our church who recently went home to be with his Lord. Although I only had the joy of knowing TaeDae for a few months, I am left with precious memories of a faithful prayer warrior who encouraged and strengthened so many of us with his bold public prayer, who depended on prayer for his ministry and interceded on behalf of others, a man for whom prayer seemed every bit as vital as breathing.

A call to joy

As we look ahead to a new year, let me therefore encourage you to actively pursue the joy of praying together with other members of God’s family. Notice: this is not a guilt trip to try and fill a few extra seats at a prayer time, nor is it a spiritual burden to be carried out through gritted teeth. It is joy!

Joy that comes from deep fellowship with other believers, where we can move closer to one another as we are honest in our prayers for ourselves and others. Joy as God receives greater glory when our shared prayer is answered by God. Joy as we realise our ministry and service for God is a shared enterprise in which praying together prays a crucial role. Joy as we learn from others how to pray, listening to those wiser than us, and who have a closeness with the Father in heaven that is palpable. Joy as we experience God’s Spirit guiding us and allowing us the privilege of being a strength and encouragement to others in our praying with them and for them.

Plan to pray with others

So maybe you are with me up until now, but then comes the awkward question: ‘but how?’ With lives that are busier than ever, and schedules that never stop multiplying events and meetings (something church finds easy to specialize in!), how can we take that step to begin praying with others?

Let’s begin close to home – in the home.

Are you married or do you have a family? Begin praying regularly together. Husbands and wives. Mums and dads with their kids.

Are there Christian friends you see regularly? Why not build prayer time into those situations when the occasion arises? Are there one or two people you could approach to be part of a regular prayer group with you?

If you belong to a local church fellowship, what avenues for praying with others are available to you there? In Buccleuch for example, we have Wednesday nights at church night or home bible study where small groups pray together. Our students and young workers meet regularly during term-time where prayer features. Some members are part of a mentoring scheme. We meet once a month for a prayer breakfast.

Most churches will have set times and special times for praying together with others. For the good of your spiritual growth, and the encouragement of yourself and the others around you, get involved. The New Testament church was a praying church. We are not given step by step instructions or a fixed pattern, but we are given the principle: a healthy prayer life is a shared prayer life.

I will leave the last word to David Mathis once again:

The high point of all-pervasive prayer, outside the closet door, is praying together with other Christians. Arranging for accompaniment in prayer takes more energy than a whispered prayer while on the move. It takes planning and initiative and the syncing of schedules in a way that private prayer does not. But it is worth every ounce of effort.

The Christmas story: God’s Promised Champion

Like so many churches throughout the country, yesterday we welcomed a host of friends and family members for our carols by candelight service. I decided to try something a little bit different in light of the different format and the number of visitors we expected to have with us.

So I tried my hand at conveying the story of Christmas within the wider story of the universe taking the theme of the battle between good and evil. And all in 10 minutes! For those of you who missed it, or who have a spare 10 minutes, here is what we thought about together. Not perfect by any means, but I did enjoy the challenge of communicating the ‘grand storyline’ of the Bible. I wonder what you would choose to include if you had 5-10 minutes to share the gospel with a friend or colleague?

The Promised Champion

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a Hollywood blockbuster. Which movie gets your vote for the best of all time? Is there a particular movie that kick-starts the festive season in your household?

When you examine the festive box office success stories, they tend to fall into 1 of 3 camps:

There are Santa/ Elves/ Santa and Elves stories. Think Elf

Then there are families on the brink saved by Christmas stories. Like It’s a wonderful life

I am interested in category number 3. It is the all action epics depicting the battle of good vs evil. This year it is Star Wars, but previously we have had Harry Potter, LOTR, and of course… Home Alone

Their constant appeal appears to be rooted deep in our psyche. We want to feel that good will triumph over evil, that darkness will give way to the light, our hope is that “all that is sad is going to come untrue” to quote Samwise Gamgee. Confronted with so much horror in the media and sadness on our streets, we long for peace.

These stories of good defeating evil take us right to the heart of the story of the universe, in which the coming of Jesus into our world in that manger in Bethlehem plays a crucial part.

So let me tell you that story, the Bible in 5 scenes. It is the story of the great battle between good and evil, and the promise of a hero, a champion, to provide the victory we all want.

Scene 1 – The Garden

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. His powerful word spoke our universe into existence. And the centrepiece, the masterpiece of this vast universe? Us!

Humanity. Male and Female. Adam and Eve. A perfect world and perfect friendship with God. But soon the darkness came. Into that perfect environment came the snake, Satan, to tempt Eve. Tempting her with the notion that real freedom and joy is found in rejecting God’s good rule, Tempting her with the power to decide for themselves what is right and wrong.

Eve took the bait as she swallowed the forbidden fruit. Darkness came into the human heart. Perfection was gone, replaced by guilt, fear, and shame. The poison of sin went deep, and we are all affected. That instinct to turn our back on our Creator God, to pursue value in anything and everything except the One who made us for a relationship of love, is universal. The so-called freedom of self-rule brought suffering, pain, and ultimately death into every human experience.

But into the darkness, God, the creator, the light of the world, spoke a word of promise and hope. As the battle between good and evil began to rage on the earth, God promised a coming champion, one who would crush Satan and his evil power. In the face of our rebellion, God sets in motion his plan for restoration and true freedom.

Scene 2 – The Battlefield

Fast forward hundreds of years. And all that time the war between good and evil has been fierce. By now God has chosen the nation of Israel as his chosen means to bring the light of his goodness into his world. Yet all the while the forces of darkness have raged against the light.

On the battlefield this particular day stands Goliath, a ferocious warrior standing some 9 feet tall, and a young shepherd boy called David. Goliath, the champion of the forces seeking to destroy God’s people comes heavily armed with all the weapons of war. And David? He comes armed with a catapult…and his trust in the promises of God.

Here is the battle of good versus evil played out in the lives of these two men. And the outcome? Goliath, the enemy of God’s people is taken down by David, the shepherd who would become king.

Many hundreds of years later, from the town of Bethlehem, from the family of King David, would come another hero, God’s promised champion, and this time the victory would be even more decisive.

David, the shepherd-boy secured national freedom for Israel, a signpost to the coming one, ‘David’s greater Son’ and his mission to secure freedom from the enslaving power of our sinful disobedience and to establish peace with God for all who will trust in him.

Scene 3 – The Manger

Still the war rages. The might of the Roman Empire occupies and rules over God’s people Israel. God has been silent for over 400 years. Evil and darkness seem to have the upper hand. The light appears dim and hope is fading.

But into the darkness comes a promise. God breaks the silence with a word of hope delivered by the angel Gabriel to a young teenage girl:

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, his kingdom will never end.”

And just as the angel promised, nine months later a child is born. Among the animals, to a poor young virgin girl in a small backwater village, God’s light had dawned!

The glorious light of the angels announcing the birth to a group of outcast shepherds out in the hills. The pure light of the King’s star in the sky drawing the wise men to worship.

But once more the forces of darkness are awakened. Herod tries to destroy the child born to be king. But God’s promise would not fail. His promised champion would be kept safe until the final battle.

Scene 4 – The Cross and Empty Tomb

The child grows and becomes the man Jesus. Living in obedience to God’s good plan, empowered by God, and confirmed as the Son whom God the Father loves, Jesus begins to fulfil the promise of the coming champion. Sickness and disease give way to restoration, the dead are returned to life, and evil spirits are driven out. Glimpses of his new kingdom of life and light are visible for those with eyes to see.

The powers of evil align together to oppose him. He is rejected for being too welcoming to the outcasts of society, despised for being too gracious, hated for his claims to forgive sins and grant eternal life, seen as a threat to both power and pride.

And so God’s long-awaited king, his promised champion is arrested, mocked, abused, and then hung to die on a Roman cross. Publicly shamed, dying in the darkness, the prince of peace is murdered and his lifeless body placed inside a cold rock tomb.

To his friends the darkness had won. To his enemies, they had achieved their great victory.

Then, three days later, just as the sun began to rise in the eastern sky over Jerusalem, Jesus rose in victory from the dead. God’s champion had faced down the full force of evil and the destruction of death, and had won!

In the greatest single act of love this universe will ever witness, good triumphs over evil as we discover Jesus hurled himself into that darkness to save us from our sin and from ourselves, emerging in victory to secure victory for all who trust in him.

Jesus, God’s promised champion, through his obedient life and sacrificial death reverses the curse under which we all live, so that trusting in him, God’s great gifts of life and love come to us.

Scene 5 – The Throne

Behind this story there lies a question. The big question is why? Why the entrance into our world? Why the awful death of horror and shame? Why the return to life again? And what has all this got to do with the grand story of the universe and the battle between good and evil?

All of which takes us to our final scene. A scene that hasn’t come to pass just yet. But it will because God is the great promise-keeper.
One day Jesus will return. Not this time as a vulnerable baby born in an obscure corner of Israel. He will return in the glory of heaven and everyone will see him on that day as he comes to judge the living and the dead.

He is coming to make everything new. For his people on that day, everything sad is going to come untrue forever. It will be like the garden, only this time it will be a great garden-city, and this time it will be forever.

No more tears. No more cancer. No more Aleppos. No more division in society. All such things replaced by feasting and joy. Love and peace. Jesus and his people united together forever. It’s the world we all want. The happily ever after we all long for. The victory of good over evil once and for all.

The hopes and longings we harbour for ourselves, our families and our world, find their ultimate answer in Jesus, God’s promised champion.

This is the grand story of Christmas. This can be your story. If you accept the invitation to enjoy the gift of love extended to you by Jesus Christ, the child in the manger born to be the saviour of the world.