Prayer of Worship to the Crucified and Risen Christ
O crucified Son of Man, I worship You. You were arrested that I might be set free. You were falsely accused that I might be acquitted. You paid the price on the cross that I might be redeemed. When Easter morning dawned, and You walked out of that grave, I was given life!
Therefore, even as You walked out of the darkness, Jesus, may I walk in the light. You took the nails in Your hands and feet, may I use my hands and feet to bless others in Your name. You were silent before Your accusers; may I confess my sin as I proclaim Your name, the name of the Risen Son of God, Jesus Christ my Lord!
A Christmas poem for Isaiah 9:6
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Next to the “Hallelujah Chorus,” one of the most familiar pieces from George Frederic Handel’s “Messiah,” is the song, “For Unto Us a Child Is Born.” The melody proclaims each of the titles of the Christ from Isaiah 9:6, like royal trumpet blasts for each phrase: “Wonderful! Counselor! The Mighty God! The Everlasting Father! The Prince of Peace!”
If we take time to reflect on what these joyous trumpet blasts of isaiah 9:6 mean, we can experience a musical interlude and transition to a gentle harp, reassuring our souls. I wrote it in poetic form, like this:
As Wonderful Counselor, Christ takes away our gloom.
As Mighty God, Christ takes away our doom.
As Everlasting Father, Christ adopts believers, all.
As Prince of Peace, Christ takes down the wall.
May these truths harmonize with your heart and bring you great comfort and joy this Christmas Day and every day.
The women in Jesus’ family tree
The Gospel of Matthew opens with the family tree of Jesus, from Abraham through Joseph and Mary. In typical Hebrew fashion, it lists the men, not the women, who “begat” (KJV) or “fathered” each son. Yet of the 42 generations listed, Matthew inserts references to four women other than Mary, the mother of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (who is only called “Uriah’s wife”). Why are these women mentioned?
Matthew is writing to a very religious Jewish audience, and by inserting these names in the genealogy of the Messiah, he is showing us two encouraging truths.
All our welcome. All of the women were foreigners: Tamar was a Canaanite (Genesis 38:6), Rahab was from Jericho (Joshua 2:1-22), Ruth was from Moab (Ruth 1:4), and Bathsheba was a Hittite (2 Samuel 11:3). To a Jewish audience, he was reminding the Chosen People that God welcomes all people to follow Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the world.
He came to save sinners. Three of the women were notorious for sexual sin. Tamar seduced her father-in-law Judah (Genesis 38), Rahab was a prostitute (Joshua 2:1), and Bathsheba committed adultery with King David (2 Samuel 11-12), which is why she is referred to by Matthew as “Uriah’s wife,” as a reminder of that adultery.
No wonder the angel said to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
I’m so glad Jesus’ genealogy included those four women, because it reminds me that He includes me, a non-Jewish sinner in need of a Messiah and Savior.
Charles Spurgeon said in commenting on Matthew 1:21, “The first link between my soul and Christ is not my goodness but my badness, not my merit but my misery, not my standing but my falling, not my riches but my need. He comes to visit his people– not to admire their beauties but to remove their deformities, not to reward their virtues but to forgive their sins.”
The stories behind three of the most popular Christmas carols
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Perhaps the three most popular Christmas carols in English are “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night.” The first two were sung in the American colonies even before the United States was a nation, but the third one came from Austria.
“Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts in 1719. It is based on Psalm 98, and its tune comes from one of the songs in Handel’s Messiah. Originally this song was intended to refer to Jesus’ Second Coming, but it has come to be associated mostly with His first coming at Christmas.
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was written by the great Methodist founder Charles Wesley in 1739, and the words were revised by the great evangelist of the Great Awakening, George Whitefield. A hundred years later, the classical composer Felix Mendelssohn composed the tune that is popular today when people sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
“Silent Night” was originally written in German and first sung on Christmas Eve, 1818, at St. Nicholas Church in the village of Oberndorf, near Salzburg, Austria. The organist, Franz Gruber, discovered that the organ wasn’t working at the church. The priest, Joseph Mohr, had composed the words in German to “Silent Night” two years before. So he shared it with Gruber, who composed the tune to be sung by guitar. When Karl Mauracher came to repair the organ, he heard the story of how the song was composed in an emergency and sung without the organ, and Mauracher spread the song everywhere that he went. The song came to America by German-speaking congregations. Originally the words were “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” The English words we sing today were translated by John Freeman Young. “Silent Night” has been translated into 140 languages.
While these songs are popular today, the first Christmas carols can be found in the Bible itself. More about that tomorrow…
The Gospel in the Old Testament
Copyright by Bob Rogers
Many Christians can share the Gospel of Christ with verses from the New Testament, but you can also share it using only the Old Testament. Christians commonly think they can only share the Good News of salvation by verses like the “Roman Road” (Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9) or other collections of scriptures from the New Testament. However, the Gospel message is to the Bible like the spokes on a wheel, all revolving around that central truth. So below is a collection of the truths of the Gospel, just from the Old Testament:
All have sinned:
1 Kings 8:46a: “There is no one who does not sin…”
Sin separates us from God:
Isaiah 59:2: “Your iniquities are separating you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you…”
We cannot earn our own salvation:
Psalm 49:7: “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice.”
Christ died for our sins:
Isaiah 53:5, speaking of the Messiah: “But He was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.”
“In a single day” (on the cross) God took away guilt of sin:
Zechariah 3:3-4, 8-9 speaks of Joshua the high priest, who represents the people: “Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. So the angel of the Lord spoke to those standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes!’ Then he said to him, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you…
Listen, High Priest Joshua… I am about to bring my servant, the Branch… and I will take away the iniquity of this land in a single day.”
What “single day” could possibly fulfill this verse than Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross to take away sin?
Repent, confess sin, and be forgiven:
Psalm 32:5: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You took away the guilt of my sin.”
Hosea 14:2: “Take words of repentance with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Forgive all our sin…”
Will the Jews Be Saved?
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
There are more Jews in the United States than live in Israel, and more Jews in New York City than Jerusalem. Thus many American Christians have Jewish friends, and wonder about their eternal destiny. Many people believe that Jews will be saved just because they are God’s chosen people, but a study of Romans almost seems to say the opposite.
In Romans 9:6, the apostle Paul said, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” He said in 9:30-31 that the Gentiles had obtained a righteousness by faith, but Israel pursued a righteousness by the law and failed to obtain it.
In Romans 10, Paul said that the Jews had heard and understood, but failed to believe.
So he comes to Romans 11:1, and asks, “Did God reject his people?” His answer in verse 2: “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” So what does God say will happen to the Jews? Will the Jews be saved?
In Romans 11, Paul answers this question in the present, and in the future.
1. At the present time, only a few Jews are saved (Rom. 11:1-24)
In the first part of the chapter, Paul discusses the situation of the Jews during his time, a situation that we still observe today. The key statement is in verse 5: “at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” They are saved by grace, not race.
Paul himself was a Jew. He stresses this in verse 1, saying, “I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” Paul reminds his readers that there are still Jews like himself who follow Jesus, and that is true to this day, although they are a small percentage of the Jewish population (by some estimates, about 100,000 Jewish people are “Messianic Jews” who follow Jesus as their Messiah.)
Paul senses a danger here, and he issues two warnings to his Gentile readers. He says in verse 13, “I am talking to you Gentiles.” Then he proceeds to use an analogy of an olive tree to explain the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the story of salvation. This is an appropriate illustration, because an olive tree was often used in scripture as a symbol for Israel. Paul says that the olive tree has some branches broken off, which represents the fact that many Jews have rejected the gospel, and then he says in verse 17, “and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others…”
Thus we who are Gentiles have no right to be proud. It is only by God’s grace that He has grafted us in to be part of His people. This should remind us that there is no place in the church for anti-Semitism. Throughout the years, people have persecuted Jews, forcing them to move out of their homes, calling them “Christ-killers.” While few of us would do such a hateful thing, how many Americans make jokes about Jewish people being stingy with their money? How dare we say such things about God’s chosen people?
2. In the future, the Jewish people will be saved (Rom. 11:25-32)
So will the Jews be saved? Paul finally brings this question to a climactic answer in verses 25-26. Paul says, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved…”
Matthew 24:14 says the gospel must be proclaimed to all nations, and then the end will come. Apparently this verse is referring to the same matter, that God knows how many Gentiles are going to receive Him as Savior, and when that critical mass is reached, a revival will break out among the Jews, as they turn to faith in Christ. In this way, God will fulfill His promises and covenant with Israel. This is confirmed in Revelation 7:4-8, which names the tribes of Israel before the throne of God in heaven.
Over and over again in the Old Testament, God promised that he would not reject the Jewish people. The prophet Samuel said in 1 Samuel 12:22, “For the sake of His great name, the Lord will not reject His people…”
So the answer to our question is yes! In the end times, the Jews will turn to faith in Jesus, and be saved!
The miracle of the Jews
Frederick the Great, king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, asked for proof that the Bible is true, in a discussion with his court chaplain. Frederick had been influenced by the atheistic French philosopher Voltaire. The king said, “If your Bible is really true, it ought to be easy to prove. So often, when I ask for proof of the Bible, people give me a large book that I have neither the time nor desire to read. If your Bible is really from God, you should be able to demonstrate it simply. Give me proof for the inspiration of the bible in a word.”
“Your Majesty, I can give you the proof you ask for in one word,” replied the chaplain.
Amazed, the king asked, “What is this magic word?”
“Israel,” replied the chaplain. Frederick the Great responded only with silence.
When you think about the history of the people of Israel, it is a miracle of God that they still exist. The descendants of Jacob, or Israel, went down to live in Egypt, and were made into slaves there. But God brought them out of slavery and settled them in the Promised Land. They were conquered again and again, but each time God delivered them from their invaders. Finally, the empire of Assyria destroyed the northern part of Israel, and deported the lost tribes of Israel to other lands, and the empire of Babylon destroyed the southern part of Israel, burned down Jerusalem and the temple, and deported the Jews to Babylon. But after the exile, once again God brought the Jews back to the land. The Greeks tried to exterminate Jewish faith and culture, sacrificing a pig on the altar in the temple, and trying to force the Jews to only speak Greek and adopt Greek culture, but the Jews fought a war for independence under the Maccabees, and restored their land and cleansed the temple. A few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Jews fought a war with Rome in A.D. 70. Again the temple and Jerusalem was destroyed, millions of Jews died, and millions of Jews scattered all over the world. Despite all this, for centuries they maintained their language, faith and culture. They continued to be hounded out of nations, called “Christ-killers,” and persecuted wherever they lived. Then the communists tried to expel them from Russia, and Nazi Germany murdered six million of them in the holocaust. Did that eliminate the Jews? No! Instead, in 1948, the United Nations established Israel as a nation again. Surrounded by millions of Arabs who hate the Jews, Israel has had to fight war after war with their Arab neighbors, but Israel has won each war. In 1967, Israel fought a war simultaneously against Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and defeated them all in just six days, taking the Sinai peninsula from Egypt, the west bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Today over 5 million Jews live in Israel, along with about 2 million Arabs, and every year more and more Jews are returning to their homeland.
The only explanation for all these events is the grace of God. Or, as Romans 11:29 says, “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”
This same God who has an amazing plan for his Chosen People has a plan for you. We who are Gentiles are only wild shoots, but God in His grace calls us, as well, to be grafted in to His spiritual tree. You can only come in by faith. One day the full number of Gentiles will come in, and it will be too late for us. As more and more Jews are beginning to turn to Christ, and more unreached people groups are reached, we do not know how long that will be, but one day it will be too late for us. How about you? Will you come to Him by faith while the door remains open?
God Has Good News for You!
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
It seems like we constantly hear bad news: mass shootings, hurricanes, war, terrorist attacks, racial strife, and on it goes. No wonder it is so encouraging that Paul’s Letter to the Romans starts by letting us know that God has good news for us! In Romans 1:1, Paul says he was called and set apart for “the gospel of God.” The word “gospel” simply means “good news.”
He goes on in the next few verses to explain the content of this gospel, the impact of the gospel, and the urgency of the gospel.
The content of the gospel.
A great tragedy occurred in 1982 in Chicago, Illinois, when people went to the grocery store to buy a bottle of Tylenol. Someone laced some of the capsules with cyanide, and seven people died. They went to the store believing they were buying Tylenol. They had belief, but their belief was not sufficient, because the contents of the bottles had been tampered with. Likewise, if somebody tampers with the contents of the gospel, it is dangerous to our spiritual health.
Paul explains in verse 2 that it was promised in the Old Testament scriptures, then in verses 3-4 he points out that it is fulfilled by Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection as the Son of God, and in verses 5-7 he emphasizes that it is received by grace through faith. This sums up the contents of the gospel: it must be based on prophesied Messiah, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again for our eternal life, and it must be received by his grace, not be our good deeds, but by our faith.
The impact of the gospel.
Next, Paul explains the impact that the gospel of Jesus has. He says that it spreads everywhere, commenting in verse 8 that the whole world had already heard about their faith in Rome. Then he talks about the encouragement of the gospel in verses 9-12, as he discusses how mutually encouraging it will be to him and them when they meet as brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally, he notes in verse 13 how the gospel bears fruit, as he looks to see a harvest of souls among them when he preaches there in Rome. We are seeing that today, as millions of people are turning to faith in Jesus Christ, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, China, South Korea, the Philippines and many other places around the world.
The urgency of the gospel.
Third, Paul explains the urgency of sharing the gospel. He says in verse 14 that he is under obligation to share it with people of every culture and race, “Greek and barbarian.” How dare he not share such good news! But he doesn’t just see it as a duty, but he sees it as an opportunity. In fact, he says in verse 15 that he is eager to share the gospel to them. Are you as excited to talk about the gospel as you are about your favorite ball team or hobby?
Dr. Tony Evans shared the experience of a seasoned chess champion touring an art museum. While passing through the gallery, his attention was drawn to a painting that involved chess. The artist had painted a match between Satan and an outwitted young man. The picture frozen on canvas showed the two engaged in a chess game being played out for the man’s soul. The man was in obvious panic as the adversary’s hand is shown making his final move. The artist’s work is simply titled Checkmate. The chess champion stood and observed the painting for a long time. His scowl of concentration was finally softened by a slight smile. He turned to the curator and said, “I’ve got good news for the man in that picture. He still has a move.” Satan, the father of lies, has convinced far too many people that he has placed them in checkmate, but thanks to the gospel of the grace of God, every person “still has a move,” if we only believe in Christ. That’s good news!
The HCSB is now the CSB. What’s the difference?
In 2003, Holman Bible Publishers, which is owned by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, released a completely new translation of the Bible, called the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which was used in all of LifeWay’s literature, including its Sunday school curriculum. The HCSB was nearly as readable as the popular New International Version (NIV), yet closer to the New American Standard Bible in accuracy. When Zondervan revised the NIV in 2011, making it more accurate in some ways but gender neutral in reference to mankind, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention publicly condemned the revision, and some pastors who were using the NIV, myself included, switched to the HCSB. Now the HCSB is no more.
In 2017, Holman released a radical revision of the HCSB, under the new name, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). It is now the translation used in LifeWay literature instead of the HCSB. So what’s the difference? Basically, the CSB has positioned itself between the New International Version (NIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV). It is nearly as contemporary and readable and almost as gender-neutral as the NIV, but nearly as accurate and literal as the ESV.
1. The CSB is more gender neutral.
Interestingly, the CSB follows the gender neutral trend of the NIV far more than the HCSB did. Even the HCSB had begun to use “people” instead of “men” in places where the text clearly refers to people in general, like Matthew 4:19 where it refers to Jesus teaching His disciples to “fish for men.” But the CSB goes much further. In Proverbs 27:17, the CSB says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (The HCSB has “men.”) One may argue that the context implies all people there, although men’s groups have often equated it to masculinity. A more significant change is the constant reference to the believers in the church in the New Testament letters as “brothers” in the HCSB. The CSB changes this to “brothers and sisters.” So we read in Romans 16:14, “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers and sisters who are with them.” Again, the reasoning for this is that the apostle must have had in mind all members of the congregation, both male and female (although all of the Greek names in Romans 16:14 happen to be male).
To be fair, the CSB avoids the extreme examples of gender neutral language found in the NIV. The NIV goes so far as to translate the Hebrew ab, father, as “parent” in Malachi 4:6, and in Hebrews 12:7 it says “God is treating you as children,” although the Greek word is “sons.” The CSB does not goes this far; in both of these passages, the CSB uses the masculine word, and the CSB is consistent in always referring to God with the masculine pronoun (as is the NIV).
2. The CSB is more traditional.
The HCSB broke translation tradition in several ways, including the frequent, but inconsistent use of the literal “Yahweh” instead of the traditional “LORD” in all capital letters to translate the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh. The HCSB also translated the Greek christos as “Messiah,” since many people did not understand that Christ and Messiah are Greek and Hebrew words for the same title, Anointed One. In contrast, the CSB has returned to more traditional wording. The CSB uses “LORD” in the Old Testament for Yahweh and often uses “Christ,” for christos in the New Testament, although the CSB does use “Messiah” in some places where a declaration of faith is made about Jesus, such as John 11:27: “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God…”
3. The CSB is usually more literal.
A good example of how the CSB is more literal than the HCSB would be Psalm 1:1, which the CSB translates literally: “How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway of sinners or sit in the company of mockers.” The HCSB paraphrased the “walk, stand, sit” poetry of Psalm 1:1 this way: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers!” (Notice again, however, that the HCSB uses “man,” while the CSB uses the gender neutral “one.”)
However, in some places the CSB uses a traditional translation that is not as literal as the HCSB. For example, the CSB translates both doulos (slave) and diakonos (servant) as “servant, deacon” whereas the HCSB translates doulos literally as “slave.”
4. The CSB no longer capitalizes pronouns referring to God.
A fourth major revision of the CSB is that it dropped the capitalization of pronouns referring to God. The HCSB showed reverence to God by capitalizing all pronouns that referred to God, as does the New American Standard Bible (NASB), New King James Version (NKJV), Berean Standard Bible (BSB) and a few others. The CSB does not (nor does the RSV, NRSV, ESV, NIV, KJV or NLT). The CSB translators reasoned that it is not always clear in the context if the reference is to God. Thus we see the difference in John 15:26, a passage which refers to all three persons of the Trinity. This verse is translated by the HCSB: “When the Counselor comes, the One I will send to you from the Father– the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father– He will testify about Me.” But John 15:26 is translated this way in the CSB: “When the Counselor comes, the one I will send to you from the Father– the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father– he will testify about me.”
No translation is perfect, as they are made by imperfect people, and language is constantly changing. As I said at the beginning, the CSB has positioned itself between the readable, gender-neutral NIV and the more literal ESV. In doing so, it has eliminated some of the quirky, fascinating translation characteristics of the HCSB. For this reason, I hope that the HCSB will still be available for those who want something different. Each person will need to make his (or her) own choice, and never forget that the Author is God, not man (or humanity).
(For more study on changes from the HCSB to CSB, here is a good resource: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1U7uvZHYsCtSpQdKNwrS6zZYSre-MdY7GbDQZzefWs50/pub)
(You can read Holman’s own list of the changes here: https://csbible.com/ministry/hcsb-to-csb/)
(There is a Facebook group for people who like the HCSB here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/289605548301539)
(And the CSB has a Facebook group as well here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1278639902253540)
Finding Christ in the Christmas tree
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
All over the world, people are putting up Christmas trees this time of the year.
In southern California, a 90-foot Christmas tree was erected at the Fashion Island shopping center in Newport Beach, covered with strobe lights and Disney-themed music for the thousands of shoppers. (Emily Foxhall, “90-foot Christmas tree arrives at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island,” Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2013.)
All over the world, people are putting up Christmas trees for the holiday. But what does this have to do with the birth of Jesus? Is it just a pagan practice, or can we find Christ in the Christmas tree?
I. The origins of the Christmas tree
Where did the tradition of the Christmas tree come from?
There are many different stories, since ancient peoples have made use of trees and even worshipped them. One of my favorite stories is of St. Boniface, the missionary to the Germans in the 8th century. Boniface told them about Jesus Christ, but they worshipped a great oak tree. So Boniface boldly went to the oak with an axe and began to chop it down. They were ready to kill him, when a great wind came and blew the tree down. After that, the Germans converted to Christianity in large numbers.
Some legends tell that St. Boniface later decorated a fir tree to represent Jesus instead of their pagan gods. It is uncertain whether this is true.
During the Middle Ages, there was a popular medieval play in western Germany about Adam and Eve and a “paradise tree,” which was a fir tree hung with apples, that represented the Garden of Eden. Germans set up paradise trees in their homes on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it, representing the bread of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and then later they hang cookies, and often put candles, symbols of Christ as the light. (“Christmas tree.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopeaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encylopaedia Britannica, 2012.)
Meanwhile, in the 15th and 16th century in Latvia, Estonia and northern Germany, there was a tradition of bringing an evergreen tree to the town square on Chritmas Eve, dancing around it, and letting it burn. Eventually people in Germany began to light a tree on Christmas Eve with candles. Lutheran tradition says that the Protestant reformer Martin Luther helped popularize the lighting of an evergreen tree at Christmas all over Germany.
II. Modern Christmas tree traditions
Germany settlers brought the Christmas tree to North America as early as the 17th century.
Prince Albert of Germany, the husband of Queen Victoria of England, introduced the Christmas tree into England in the early 19th century. By the 19th century, Christmas trees were popular all over the world. In Victorian England, trees were decorated with toys and small gifts, candles and candy. Blown-glass ornaments became popular in the 1870s. By 1890, strings of electric tree lights became popular to hang on trees. In the 1960s, artificial Christmas trees made out of aluminum became popular, but these were soon replaced by artificial trees that look realistic.
Many families still enjoy going together to get their own real Christmas tree. John and Pam Carper’s family have a tradition for the past five or six years, of traveling to a North Carolina Christmas tree farm, to cut a Fraser fir to bring back to Georgia for Christmas. James & Kerri Gilyard also have a tradition of getting a real tree, which they do right after Thanksgiving. Their tradition is to put on the lights first, then the ornaments, with the memorable and breakable ones up higher. Last of all, they put an angel on top.
Many families will choose a special ornament for each member of the family. We have an ornament for each child on the year that they were born. Kevin & Sharon Kendall choose a special ornament each year for each child in the family. They enjoy looking at the ornaments to see what dates they got each ornament.
That brings us back to our question. As nice as these traditions are, what if anything does a Christmas tree have to do with the birth of Jesus? Let’s open our Bibles and see.
III. God’s Christmas tree
- Israel was symbolized by a tree (Isaiah 5; Ezekiel 17; Daniel 4:10-12)
In ancient Israel, a tree symbolized God’s people Israel. Isaiah 5 gives a parable of a vineyard that was planted but failed to produce good fruit, and so it is torn down. Isaiah says, “For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah, the plant He delighted in.” (Isaiah 5:7, HCSB).
Ezekiel 17 gives another parable comparing Israel to a tree, saying God will plant a sprig on a mountain. “I will plant it on Israel’s high mountain so that it may bear branches, produce fruit, and become a majestic cedar… Then all the trees of the field will know that I am Yahweh.”
Thus Psalm 1:3 speaks of the righteous man as like a tree planted by water, and in Matthew 3:10, John the Baptists says every tree that doesn’t produce is cut down.
Daniel 4 tells how God used a vision of a tree to warn King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to beware of his pride. He told about a tree that reached to the sky, but it was cut down, and Daniel said, “That tree is you, the king.” (Daniel 4:22).
So a tree often symbolized Israel, although it could also symbolize the life of others.
- Christ is symbolized by a tree of life (Isaiah 11:1-10) and a tree of death (1 Peter 2:24)
So if we stay with the symbolism of life in a tree, notice what we read in the prophecy of Isaiah 11: “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit… On that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will seek Him, and His resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:1, 10, HCSB).
Jesse was the name of the father of King David, so this passage is referring to the Messiah who would be a descendant of David. Notice the description of the Messiah in verses 2 and following:
“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him—
A Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
A Spirit of counsel and strength,
A Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord…”
From the beginning to the end of the Bible, we read of a tree of life. In the Garden of Eden, Genesis 2:9 speaks of a tree of life, and in Revelation 22:2 we read that in heaven, “The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations…”
Jesus is symbolized by this tree of life, for Christ gives us life. And how? Because he is also represented by a tree of death by his death on the cross!
Crucifixion was so horrible it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen, and Jews saw it as a curse. Deuteronomy 21:23 says that anybody executed on a tree is cursed, and Galatians 3:13 repeats this. So when Jesus was nailed to the cross, which of course was made from a tree, the Jews thought He was cursed.
Yet look what we read in 1 Peter 2:24: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness, for you have been healed by His wounds.”
Thus the tree of life became the tree of death so that by faith in Christ, we could enjoy life.
The best Christmas gift was not under a tree, but hung upon a tree, the tree of Calvary.
In 1957, Frances Kipps Spencer at Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Virginia, came up with the idea of the Chrismon tree. She wanted a way to display a Christmas tree in her church that had Christian symbols, instead of gaudy, bright lights. So she covered the tree with monogrammed letters, and other Christian symbols, such as the cross, fish, crown, etc. Today, many churches display a “Chrismon tree,” which is a Christmas tree that only has Christian symbols on it.
Why don’t we have our own traditions to see and show Christ in the Christmas tree? Put an angel or a star on the top. Display a manger scene under the tree. Put a nail on a ribbon, and hang it on the tree to remember the tree upon which Jesus was nailed. Make a Chrismon tree full of Christian symbols. When your family, friends and neighbors see your tree, you can share the meaning of the symbols.
But there is something even more important than what we do with our Christmas trees. That is what we do with our lives. Let us show Christ in a Christmas tree traditions, but even more, let us show Christ in the way we carry the cross of Christ in our daily lives.
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