Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Christmas Challenge: Day Three

The Challenge

What do people have in their Christmas celebrations, and their lives in general, that is a greater expression of “good news of great joy”[1] than what Jesus the Christ did for us through his coming into the world, laying down his life in love, and securing an eternal victory over sin and death?

On day two of the challenge, I presented the positive picture of how the joy we can experience in Jesus Christ is a “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory”.[2] Today I would like to look at this from the negative side of how joy addresses the very worst of the despondency, and fear, and sorrows faced by the human soul.

My contention is that in both the positive focus on what goodness God’s joy gives us, and the negative focus of what joyless things it overcomes in our lives, the joy offered to us in Jesus Christ is so superior to what we find anywhere else in the world that we must go beyond including Jesus in our Christmas celebrations to fully receiving him in everything to do with his life-giving gift.

Did you know that there are 962 synonyms for joy (words similar in meaning to joy) and 453 antonyms (words with opposite meanings to joy)?[3] Perhaps this is a message of how important it is to God that his children experience joy! Whatever the case, God purposely addresses joyless situations in our lives in order to show us that his “good news of great joy” is good news for every antonymic (opposite) experience we could ever face.

One of the expressions that describe what things were like when Jesus came into the world is this: “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”[4] Jesus’ entrance onto the world stage was as a great light suddenly shining into the darkness. It was this light-invading-darkness that was such good news of great joy. Light is synonymous with joy, and darkness is antonymous to joy.

One reason I am so absolutely convinced that the Bible is God’s Book is the way God has filled the pages with detailed prophecies that were clearly fulfilled in the life of Jesus the Christ. Long before Jesus came as the light dawning upon the darkness, God had already prophesied his intention of doing this very thing. In fact, seven centuries prior to its fulfillment, God’s prophet declared, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”[5]

My point is that the joy shining in the light of Jesus Christ is not like the star atop a Christmas tree that shines with greater interest than the lights covering the rest of the tree. Jesus’ joy is not like some fanciful addition to our happy Christmas festivities.

Rather, it is a “great light” shining into the “deep darkness”. It is a light dawning upon “those dwelling in the region and shadow of death”. The question is, what was it about the condition of the world at that time that would fulfill the description of people living in deep darkness, in the very shadow of death?

God’s Book describes it like this: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way”.[6] Since “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all”,[7] when people turn away from God like sheep straying from their shepherd, they are actually walking away from the light into the darkness. At the time Jesus came into the world, the people were so far away from God that the metaphors of their spiritual condition had to include this reference to the deep darkness of the shadow of death.

Now, what has God done that is like light demolishing darkness? It is described prophetically like this: “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”[8] Iniquity is a synonym for everything to do with sin. We rejected the God who created us, and we turned to our own way of doing things in rebellion against him. The result is that all our crimes against God are hanging over our head in judgment. We are not only living in the deep darkness, but the shadow of our condemnation constantly whispers its impending doom.

When God tells us well in advance that his intention is to shine his Light into our darkness, and then he sends Jesus as the great light bearing good news of great joy, he was setting the stage to fulfill his own prophecy that on Jesus Christ he would lay our iniquities. Later on, it was described like this: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[9]

The point is that death was hanging over us because of our sin, and the good news of great joy is that God sent his Son to take upon himself our sins and iniquities in order that we could be forgiven and restored to righteousness. The right-ness we lost when we turned away from God is regained, not through us doing what is right, but us receiving the righteousness Jesus has secured for us in his punishment for our sins.

After Jesus fulfilled all the work of salvation God had promised, one of the men who was transformed by this good news testified about how God interrupted his darkness with Jesus’ light and commissioned him to proclaim this joyful news to others. He described his God-given purpose like this: “…I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”[10]

This is what God is doing to this day. He has given us his Book in which he tells us of his work to create us to know him and to save us from all the darkness that has taken us away from him. He has written detailed accounts of what Jesus did to bear our sins in order that we could be forgiven.

I will close with just one more of these glorious expressions of how God continues to shine his great light into our deep darkness. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”[11] The same God who had the power to call light out of darkness in his first work of creation is fully able to shine his glory into our lives through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

What was first announced as “good news of great joy,” continues to shine into our hearts with such a relationship with God through Jesus Christ that it does indeed give us “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory”.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Luke 2:10
[2] I Peter 1:8-9
[4] Matthew 4:16
[5] Isaiah 9:2 ~ One reason God had his prophecies written into Scripture centuries before their fulfillment was so that no one could legitimately claim that a group of men got together and pulled off the greatest hoax of all time. The Bible contains so many prophecies written hundreds of years prior to fulfillment that there is only one explanation, that God did indeed announce his intentions through his prophets so everyone would know what he was going to do, and then orchestrated the fulfillment of what he foretold so we would know he had kept his word. This proves that both he and his word can be trusted in what he says for our lives today, and what is ahead for the future.
[6] Isaiah 53:6a
[7] 1 John 1:5
[8] Isaiah 53:6b
[9] 2 Corinthians 5:21
[10] Acts 26:17-18
[11] 2 Corinthians 4:6

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