Monday, December 23, 2019

Celebrating an Incomparable Combination

This painting by artist Gaye Frances Willard,
“Every Knee Shall Bow,” captures the message
of Jesus, the Christmas story and the cross.
Some things just seem to go together: peanut butter and jelly; salt and pepper; Mickey and Minnie Mouse; sunshine and flowers; eggs and bacon (or ham, if you prefer); Lewis and Clark; Laurel and Hardy (I know, I’m dating myself).  However, there’s one important combination that doesn’t receive nearly as much notice, even though it should: Christmas and Easter.

Christmas, with Santa Claus, seems to overshadow Easter and its bunny. And a festive tree surrounded by brightly wrapped gifts has lots more impact than colored Easter eggs and chocolate rabbits. But in reality, without Easter there would be no Christmas.

Except for those offended by just about everything these days, the annual Nativity scenes we can see displayed in homes, churches, and even some public areas have a warming effect on our souls. Sweet little baby Jesus. Even filmdom’s “Ricky Bobby” had a soft spot for Him. But why the fuss over a baby born in a stark, unsterile setting in an obscure village in the Middle East? Why celebrate that now?

It's not a spoiler alert to observe that infant grew to become a man with an unsurpassed worldwide impact upon countless millions around the world, even though His radius of earthly travel was probably well within 100 miles. How do you accomplish that? 

It’s because unlike any other religious leader in history, Jesus Christ not only went about teaching and serving as an example, but also claimed to be God in the flesh, willingly suffered cruel execution on a cross and then, as He promised, rose from the dead and empowered a rag-tag but zealous group of followers to continue the work.

He was the Messiah whose birthplace was prophesied in Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

This same Messiah was spoken of in many other Old Testament passages, including Isaiah 53:5, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

After He had fulfilled these and hundreds of other prophecies, Jesus was convicted at a mock trial, and with the approval of the Jewish leaders hung on a wooden cross, crucifixion being a unique form of capital punishment invented by the Romans. But that stopped neither Him nor His soul-saving, life-transforming ministry.

When devoted women arrived to anoint Jesus’ body on the third day following His death, they were greeted by an angel who declared, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here” (Mark 16:6). Then He appeared to and met with His closest disciples and was seen by hundreds of other eyewitnesses.

Before ascending to heaven, as the Scriptures report, Jesus gave some final instructions:“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). He was leaving, but also sending His Spirit in His place to live in them and work through them.

So as we hit our annual pause button to celebrate Christmas and the birth of the Christ Child, let’s not forget the cross, without which there would be no need to commemorate and rejoice in the birth.

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