The Meaning of Christmas

[We believe in]…one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God,
Light of Light,
Very God of very God,
Begotten, not made,
Being of one substance with the Father,
By whom all things were made;
Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven,
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary…
~ The Nicene Creed, excerpt.

We Christians believe that there is one God. This God never had a beginning and he will have no end. This God made the whole world and therefore owns the world. God made us to live with him and each other in love.

But each one of us, by saying ‘No’ to God and living for ourselves, has rejected God’s loving plan and has thus placed ourselves outside of relationship with God. This is what the Bible calls ‘sin’. Today, all people stand under God’s righteous judgement, which is death. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Have you ever been sold a bad car? Have you ever been ripped off? Sin is expensive! It costs each one of us our lives. For God is good, and he will never tolerate sin. And he calls us to account for our actions.

And even though God would be fully within his rights to let us sinners die just like we deserve, nevertheless God so loved us that he did not wish to leave us to ourselves.

At Christmas time, Christians remember the true story of how God sent Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, into our world to show us what God is really like by his own living example and by his teaching.

But most of all, we remember how this Jesus—though he was God’s perfect Son who was undeserving of death—went to the cross, and died the horrible death we each deserve, so that we would not have to die for our sins, but rather that we might be healed and restored to right relationship with God to live with him forever and ever.

As proof that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was enough to bring us back to himself, God raised Jesus physically back from the dead. Jesus Christ lives today. And God has set a time when Jesus will return judge all people in line with God’s perfect Law. God doesn’t judge us by our standard; God judges us by his standard.

Here’s how the Bible puts it:

                   “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever trusts in him would not perish but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16)

The Bible further explains how everyone who trusts in God’s Son, Jesus, will live forever. But everyone who rejects Jesus’ sacrifice for them and tries to get in God’s good books by their own way–such as trusting in one’s own goodness or personal spirituality for example—they will most surely die and perish in a place the Bible calls hell: completely cut off from God and every good thing forever and ever. Even self-styled atheists and agnostics, who claim not to believe in God, will face God’s judgement for rejecting Jesus.

Let me give you an example of how this works. Say a stranger walks up to your house and says, “Hey, let me in! I’m a good person; everybody likes me! You should let me in to eat your food, use your toilet, sleep on your couch…” And so on. Will such a person ever be permitted into your house? If you’re honest with yourself, probably not. Why? Because the person does not have a relationship with you. Who here would seriously let just any stranger into your home, to play with your children and to take your stuff?

Because trusting in God and entering into Heaven is not based upon how good we think we are. It is based upon whether or not we have entered into a saving, personal relationship with God. And the Bible says that we can only have such a relationship with God through Jesus. We each individually have to admit that we are sinners, trust that Jesus died the death we deserve, and then rose again to physical life three days later. This is what the Bible calls ‘faith’. Then, we must turn away from our sinful lifestyles and back to God. This is what the Bible calls ‘repentance’. There can be no faith without repentance, and there can be no repentance without faith. And most of all, there can be no forgiveness without both faith and repentance.

God wants to forgive us. God wants to save us, God wants to be in a personal, saving relationship with each one of us. And he has made all this possible through Jesus. This is what Christians call ‘the Gospel’, which means, ‘the Good News’. But as long as we choose to harden our hearts and keep on saying ‘No’ to him, God will respect our free will and let us go our own way. But the end of that life is not joy and peace. The end of that life is death and hell. The Bible says, “There is a way that feels right to us. But in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 16:25)

So I hope you will think about what I have shared with you today. As a Christian. I believe what I just said is not imaginary but is real and every person in this room will have to give an account for their lives to God one day. And I hope that on that Great Day, each one of you will be found trusting in Jesus, having a righteousness not of your own, but from him who died for you and rose again.

God bless you.


The Lord is our Lion

Recently, I was watching a documentary about lions narrated by Sir David Attenborough on YouTube.

One of the most interesting parts of the documentary was when it talked about when outsider nomadic male lions try to take over a pride by force (see 44:15 to 46:40 of the video, below.*)

Apparently, when nomadic male lions from the outside want to join the pride, they will first challenge and attempt to kill the current pride leader, and then they will kill all the male offspring of that pride leader and begin anew.

What the pride leader therefore has to do is to defend his pride and send these outsider nomadic challengers packing.

* * *

 As a Christian, this had me reflecting on two passages of the Bible, both of which describe both Jesus and the Devil as lions:

Revelation 5:5. “Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals.”

1 Peter 5:8. “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”

In the first passage, Jesus is said to be the victorious Lion from the tribe of Jesse, David’s father’s line. In the second, Satan is said to be prowling around like a lion seeking to devour believers.

Thinking about how nomadic lions challenge the leaders of the pride, we can imagine an analogy where Jesus is the leader of our pride and Satan is a nomadic lion from the outside prowling around the wilderness trying to seek to take over Jesus’ pride, the Church, and devour its young, the believers.

But just as the leader of the lion pride will fight for his pride and fend of the adversaries in the animal kingdom, so too will Jesus fight for us against the Devil when he comes to challenge Jesus’ leadership in the heavenly kingdom.

The one point of dis-analogy would be that sometimes the leader of a pride in the animal world can be defeated by the challengers from the outside.

But Jesus never fails us.

So I hope you take encouragement from this today. The Devil may prowl around seeking whom he may devour. But the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has triumphed.

* * *

*Video (see 44:15 to 46:40): 

* * *

Believer’s Baptism vs. Confirmation

I’m interested in pursuing ministry some time in the future. But one of the difficult parts of ministry is the high standards of morality an doctrine one must be held to in any particular denomination one seeks to serve in.

This should be obvious. But for someone like me, who is a member of the Anglican Church in Sydney, who desires to service in pastoral ministry in the future, but who is also ambivalent on whether or not Infant Baptism is biblical, that serves as a major challenge to my thinking.

As an Anglican denomination, my church practices the baptism of believing parents’ babies. This is because the Covenantal Theology to which Anglicanism seems to be committed implies that believing parents’ babies are members of the New Covenant, and are therefore worthy to receive the covenant sign of trinitarian baptism.

But as a matter of course, Believer’s Baptists do not believe this practice is biblical. It would therefore follow that the Anglican Church is full of many unbaptised people, yet the Bible says, “Be baptised” in various passages (e.g. Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38, 10:44-48)..

However, in the Anglican Church, we have a service called Confirmation. In Confirmation, believers who were baptised as infants freely, publicly, and personally claim for themselves the promises made on their behalf by
their parents and godparents at baptism, namely, to:

1. renounce the devil and his works;
2. believe in and follow the Christian faith;
3. be holy and keep God’s commandments.

Here’s the full citation from the Prayer Book (An Australian Prayer Book, 1978, p.513.):

The bishop may address the congregation and the candidates. He then says to those who were baptized as infants

At your baptism, your godparents made three promises in your name: first, that you would renounce the devil and all his works, the empty display and false values of the world, and the sinful desires of the flesh; secondly, that you would believe the Christian faith as set out in the Apostles’ Creed; and thirdly, that you would keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in them all the days of your life. Do you now, in the presence of God and of this congregation, renew these promises and take them upon yourself?

The candidates answer

I do.

[…] When all have answered, the bishop continues

Let us now pray that God will enrich with his Holy Spirit each one of these who have been baptized, and confessed Christ.

The congregation then prays to God together, and the bishop praises God the Father for the gift of his Son and the Holy Spirit, lays his hands upon the head of the candidate for Confirmation, and asks God to bless him with power in the Spirit to increase him in God’s gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, godliness and reverence for God that they may bear the likeness of Christ. (Ibid. p.514.)

Since the Anglican church in Sydney is a Protestant church, believers who undertake Confirmation class in preparation for this service are taught clearly the doctrine of the Gospel in a catechism class before they proclaim their belief in Christ publicly before the congregation. Thus they confess Christ before others, and according to my understanding of pssagesin the New Testament are therefore confessed by Christ before the Father and the holy angels (Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8).

My thought is that, from a Believer’s Baptist point of view, wouldn’t such a public confession of Christ such as happens in the service of Confirmation essentially fulfill the role Believer’s Baptism should normally play in the Believer’s baptist view, just without water? Since baptism per se is not necessary for salvation, but being unashamed and confessing Christ as Lord is, wouldn’t Confirmation be “good enough” for doing the thing Christ wants us to do — proclaim him publicly? Confirmation on this view could serve as a king of Believer’s Baptism surrogate, such that those who get confirmed count as being baptised. Is this acceptable? The thief on the cross next to Jesus was not baptised, but would be with Jesus in paradise.

If this is the case, it seems to have the implication that we needn’t worry too much about if a person is baptised falsely as an infant (if indeed it is false) yet who really trusts in Christ and proclaims that publicly and personally for all to see. Now there would be a problem if someone simply did Confirmation as a kind of ritual without any real faith, just as would be so in the case of Believer’s Baptism. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about “Believer’s Confirmation”! I feel that were a person of true faith Confirmed in the manner of the Anglican service represented above, that would be adequate to seeing them as a true disciple, bold and unashamed.

But I guess I’m not a teacher, so all my thoughts above have been quite tentative. I’d appreciate any thoughtful comments.

Confirmation in an Anglican Church

Confirmation in an Anglican Church