Historical Truth

Read: Acts 4:1-20       

I recently ran across a Christmas quiz that tested my knowledge about some of the historical facts pertaining to the Christmas story shared in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  It was interesting to see how many of our common held perceptions of that story and the nativity are assumed truths.

In the midst of learning those things I was thankful that the historical truth of the story is not compromised by the ponderings of how many and what kinds of animals were at the nativity, or how many Magi eventually visited Bethlehem to see Jesus.  It’s good and fine to imagine what that scene looked like and recreate it with our nativity sets, but it is great news to know that the birth of Jesus our Savior is true and not some made up story.

Virtually all New Testament scholars and Near East historians, applying the standard criteria of historical investigation, find that the historical truth of Jesus is certain.  Those who follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior will tell you that the presence of Jesus in their lives and world is truly a light shining in the darkness.  The Bible and the lives of those who believe are full of these accounts.

One of them is found in Acts 4.  Peter and John are standing before the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law in Jerusalem and proclaiming the truth about who Jesus is, what they have witnessed Jesus do, and how Jesus is the Son of God.  These were the things that followed that wonderful night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.  Peter boldly proclaims in verse 12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

We may not know all of the exact details of Christ’s birth; how many animals, how many wise men and where they found Jesus, or what the night of his birth looked like for sure.  But we do know the most important part.  Jesus was born as God’s Son, lived a perfect life of love and compassion, died on the cross for our sins, and was resurrected to life.  Even the authorities listening to Peter testify could not deny the historical truth in front of them.  And yet they did.

Make it personal:  The most important part of this Holiday Season is that we embrace the truth of what Christmas means for us and our world. Receiving the salvation and saving grace of Jesus and believing on him as God’s Son can truly bring new light and hope to your new year ahead.  I’m not exactly sure what that first nativity looked like, but I’m sure of what happened there!

Happy New Year, Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church

The Christmas Donkey

Read:   Luke 2:15-40       

Recently at our church Christmas program one of the children dressed up as a donkey at the manger scene during the birth of Jesus.  Our donkey was active and into his part, making donkey noises as the Christmas story was being read.  It brought laughter and interest among those who were in attendance.  Then the next morning I read a recent Christmas post by author and pastor Max Lucado that spoke of those who volunteer to be the donkey. Here is what Max wrote…

“Beneath a suspended star a baby will be born, the angels will sing, the wise men will kneel and children of all ages will go home telling their parents that next year they want a part in the nativity play. Little boys want to be Joseph. Little girls want to be Mary. Some want to wear the angel wings or bear gifts from a distant land. A few might even offer to be the hard-hearted Herod or the hassled innkeeper.

But no one, ever, as far as I know, volunteers to be the donkey. Which is odd, actually, for what greater honor could exist than to do what the donkey did? He carried Jesus. I know, Joseph is better looking and Mary is quite stunning. Wise men get the cool hats and angels have the hallelujahs. And the donkey? He just stands to the side and chews on hay.

But look at him. Do you not see contentment in those big, brown eyes? A look of satisfaction on his face? He just delivered history’s greatest gift! Before Santa had a sleigh or UPS had trucks, God had a donkey. Thanks, in no small part, to him, the choir can sing “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.”

I know, I know. We’d rather be Joseph, rugged and bearded. We’d rather be Mary, faithful, beautiful, and immaculate. But somebody needs to be the donkey. I’m thinking a donkey at Christmas is a good thing to be.  The Christmas donkey did his work. He delivered Jesus so Jesus could be delivered.  He plodded. He didn’t gallop or giddy-up. He did what donkeys do. He steadily stepped in the direction the master directed.

And, upon arrival, he stepped to the side. He demanded no recognition, expected no compensation. He isn’t even mentioned in the Bible.  He was happy to do his job and let Jesus have all the attention.  Perhaps we could learn a lesson from the Christmas donkey? There is always a place in the nativity, God’s nativity story, for the person who will plod along expecting no applause, bear up under the weight of the long haul, and carry the One who will carry us all.  So here’s to the donkeys of the story. May your ride be faithful and your rest be fruitful. And we will do our best to follow your example.”

… Like always Max Lucado has a way with words.  I hope his story and his thoughts this week can help us to think about the Nativity and the Christmas story in a little different way.

Make it Personal:  No matter who you are, what you do, or what your past looks like, Jesus came to carry you as Max says.  He can carry you and help you through whatever you face in this life.  Jesus, the best gift ever, was sent to save us all.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Everyone,  Pastor Glen Rhodes

Best Gift Ever

Read: Luke 2:1-14
In a recent newspaper article the question was asked, “What is the worst Christmas gift you have ever received?”  Some of the responses were interesting.  A used bread maker, a manual can opener, a ream of printer paper, a glow in the dark toilet seat, and a gift card holder with no gift cards included were just some of the submissions. What would you have shared?

Is it easier to answer that question or the question the newspaper asked the week before: “What is the best Christmas present you have ever received?”  It’s easy to think of this question in a material way instead of a spiritual way.  But which one is truly more significant? 

Some material gifts are very nice and really do bless both the giver and receiver.  But in the Bible Luke chapter 2 shares about the best gift ever given.  In fact, without this gift many things would be quite different for people around the world.  God sending his Son Jesus into the world to save us all is truly the best gift ever!

When the angels arrived to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ birth in verse 11 they said, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  No gift can compare to the salvation, grace, and eternal life in heaven that Jesus provides for us.  He is the way, the truth, and the life, and provides hope for all who believe and follow him.

It’s fun to give and receive gifts during this time of year, but as we do that we must remember the best gift ever given.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  My prayer this Christmas is that you will receive this gift from God and cherish it above all others.

Make it Personal:  As we get older it becomes easier to give than receive.  It feels good to give a gift and bless another person.  However, one of the requirements of this best gift ever from God requires us to receive it, believe it, and accept it as the free gift that it is.  We cannot earn it by being good, doing things, or being perfect.  We must simply accept this free gift that God offers through the life of Jesus.

Have a very Merry Christmas Everyone, Pastor Glen Rhodes

Wrong shall fail and right prevail

Read: 2 Peter 3:8-15a

As mentioned last week, the season of Advent is known as a time of waiting, anticipation, and expectation.  Much like people waited on the coming Messiah Jesus to arrive, we wait today for the return of Jesus and his second coming that is spoken of in 2 Peter 3. The question for us should be more about how we wait than how long it is until that occurs.

In 1864, American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem which became the well-known Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”  In that poem Longfellow shifts from the joy of hearing those Christmas bells to the reality of despair that still exists in the world.

He writes, “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”  In the final verse of the Christmas carol we are reminded that the Christmas bells bring renewed hope for peace in this world and in our lives through Jesus.  It says, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Peter reminds us that some day Jesus is returning to bring forth a new heaven and new earth.   He encourages us to not live in despair, but instead live with hope and faith that peace will prevail, wrong will fail, and the righteousness of Christ will be realized.  While we wait for that great day we are encouraged to grow in grace and peace, help others, and share the good news of Jesus.

In “Our Daily Bread” James Bank recently shared about how he ended up being the last one off of a flight recently because his overhead bags were in the back of the plane.  While he waited he decided to use his time to help others with their bags and children.  What a great example of how we can help to bring peace on earth in this time of waiting.  As Peter says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever!”

Make it Personal:  How can you help in this endeavor to bring the peace of Christ into a world in despair?  Who do you need to extend grace to?  How can you help someone in need?  Where can you share the good news of the gift that Jesus gives to those who believe?   When these things become important to us, God’s peace becomes real to us.

Have a great week,  Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church