Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve Message - Salvation in Christ Jesus

As we reflect this Christmas Eve, let us always remember that Jesus did not come into the world just to be a teacher, brother and friend. He came into the world to save it by being the sin and atonement sacrifice for all of us once and for all. When we see the Nativity scene, we should always remember that the shadow of the cross is always present. 

In the Book of Leviticus, the third book of the Torah and of the Old Testament, God gives Moses the laws that he must repeat to the Israelites. In the pages of that book, we see a list of rituals and legal and moral practices that must be carried out. Faithful performance of the sanctuary rituals can make that possible, so long as the people avoid sin and impurity whenever possible. The rituals, especially the sin and guilt offerings, provide the means to gain forgiveness for sins (Leviticus 4–5) and purification from impurities (Leviticus 11–16) so that God can continue to live in the Tabernacle in the midst of the people. Following the practices and rituals is stressed rather than belief.

For the Israelites, following the laws, practices and rituals, became the only way to gain God’s forgiveness. When Jesus is born, a new covenant is created between God and His children. That covenant requires only one sin and atonement sacrifice to be made. That sacrifice is through the blood of Christ Jesus. It is through his death that our debt of sin is paid in full. By receiving him as our personal Savior, Lord and Master, we freely accept the gift of salvation provided by the Father. It is only through Christ Jesus that we are able to do this.

Salvation comes through faith. The author of the Book of Hebrews clearly tells us in chapter 11, “6 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

It is only through faith that we can find favor with God. It is not through sacrifices or following the letter of the laws, practices and rituals. Our relationship with the Lord is more than just those laws. Our relationship comes through faith in Him and believing that He exists. No matter how many sacrifices we offer up, we could not repay our debt of sin. The only way for that to occur is through the blood of Christ Jesus. He is the perfect sacrifice and unblemished lamb who, in Philippians 2, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross!

He became the sacrifice for all and for all times. In Hebrews 10, the author writes, when speaking about Jesus, “12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God's right hand.

Notice some very interesting words and phrases in this passage. The first is “single sacrifice”. Christ Jesus became the one and only sacrifice that secured our forgiveness and paid for our sins and transgressions. The other is “Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand.” Jesus does not return to the cross each and every time we sin or become disobedient. He has once and for all paid our debt. Additionally, this does not mean that we can continue to sin and wander from the path of righteousness. We must repent for those moments when we become disobedient. Christ as the single sacrifice means that we are not required to make sin or atonement sacrifices, as required under the Mosaic covenant, for each time we fall short. The new covenant and the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant are done once and for all through the blood of Christ Jesus.

Salvation came to us in the form of an innocent child and our debt of sin was paid by innocence. Jesus was and continues to be our perfect sacrifice. As we reflect on Christmas Day and the birth of Jesus, many would say, “Why are you focusing on his death? Shouldn’t you be looking with joy, hope, love and peace at his birth?”

I feel the peace, joy, love and hope of the season through both events of his life, his birth and death. Without both, we cannot receive the gift of salvation. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, tells us in chapter 6, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That free gift from God comes through His son, Christ Jesus, and his once for all and all time sacrifice for our sins and transgressions. So, when you think about it, you must always remember both events in his life, because they go hand in hand. They cannot be separated. It is through his death that we have received the gift of salvation. It is through his life that we know the heart of the Father. It is through his birth that we know the Word when it became flesh.

The apostle Paul writes his dear friend and brother in Christ Jesus, Timothy, in his first epistle to Timothy, “15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

Before becoming the apostle Paul, Saul persecuted Christians and had them imprisoned. He followed the laws, practices and rituals of the old covenant; however, he was convicted in his heart by the “trustworthy saying” that Jesus came into the the world to save sinners. Just as Jesus came into the the world quietly and in the humble form of a baby, he, too, can come into your life. Remember the gift comes freely. It is up to you to accept it.

As you prepare your heart for the blessed event of Jesus’ birth, always remember the reason why he came into the world. He came to save us from sin and the terrible penalty of death. When we accept Jesus into our life and begin our daily journey with him, we have, as written in John 10, received “life and have it abundantly.

We cannot simply follow the laws, rituals and practices in order to receive that abundant life. Our salvation is dependent on Jesus AND our obedience to God. We cannot secure our salvation alone or work our way to heaven. We cannot just simply do things that are good and win our way past the “pearly gates”. It requires us to have faith.

James tells us, in chapter 2 of his epistle, that faith without good deeds is dead. We must not only believe in God and accept His son as Savior and Master of our life, but we must also be obedient to God’s will and follow the laws and the teachings of his son. We must have a Christ-like attitude and live a righteous life.

Paul further points out in his epistle to the Philippians in chapter 2, “13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Between John and Paul, we see that faith and good deeds go hand in hand. We cannot do one without the other and salvation, once again, is given and not earned. It is a freely given gift that came in the small body of a child born to a virgin.

On Christmas Day, I urge you take a few minutes and reflect on the birth of Jesus and not just think about his birth but also why he came into the world. When you do that, you will see the deeper meaning of Christmas and its impact in your life. The birth of Jesus becomes more than just a day of gift giving and dinners. It becomes a day that lives on everyday and with that knowledge firmly planted in our hearts and minds, we can stand firm in His grace.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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