Friday, December 1, 2017

The Christmas Challenge: Day Two

My Christmas challenge is aimed at assessing whether it is possible to have joy apart from God and his Christ that is as great, or greater, than the joy God offers us through his Son. The question before us all the way through the Christmas season is this:

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?

Today I would like to present an expression that is as big a reason for joy as it is possible to find anywhere and in anyone. God’s Book presents it like this:

Though you have not seen him (Jesus), you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.[2]

The man God used to write this down knew what it was like to see Jesus and love him. Peter was an eye-witness to Jesus’ ministry, his death, his burial, and his resurrection. He was now writing to people who had never seen Jesus as he had, and yet loved him in the same way.

Peter identified something they all shared in common, no matter whether they had personal eye-witness experience or the just-as-real experience of faith-without-seeing: they all shared the experience of rejoicing “with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory."

“Inexpressible” means it is so amazing that there are not enough words to describe it. “Filled with glory” identifies the goodness, and wonderfulness, and radiance, and magnificence of this joy that is their shared treasure because of their shared faith.

The reason that there is such a joy as this is because these people of faith were “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

What this does in our Christmas challenge is raise the bar up to the height of something accomplished for our souls. Not some gift cards to help us with worldly purchases. Not some dopamine-driven entertainment experiences that give us a momentary high. Not some people-centered good times that make us happy as long as we are with the right people for the right time with no threat to these relationships.

In all the cases we could ever come up with for leaving Jesus out of our lives, we have list upon list of things that can be taken away from us at any time. And, they all share the same common finality that none of it matters when we die. When death ends our earthly lives, our denials of God and his warnings will mean nothing. We will find ourselves standing or falling based solely on how we responded to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.

In such a brief note, it is impossible to express the utter horror of standing before God with full responsibility for our sins against him. There will be no argument when God opens his book and reminds us of all we have done to rebel against both his goodness and his grace. Suffice it to say that all of us have sinned against God our Creator,[3] the wages of our sin is death,[4] and this death includes the just condemnation our sins deserve.[5]

The reason that anyone will stand before God in the judgment still guilty and condemned is one reason alone: “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”[6]

That condemnation will be so piercing that, when Jesus returns to take his people home, those who have rejected his “good news of great joy” will try to hide “themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains,” and will call “to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”[7]

Now, with such a threat hanging over us because of our sin, how would we feel if someone could deliver us from such an experience? What if Christmas wasn’t about the spirits people get out of a bottle, or presents, or fictitious fat men, or flying reindeer? What if you had come to understand the horrible thing you have done against God, and the horrifying justice awaiting you when you die, and then understood that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners?[8]

This is what gives people the kind of rejoicing that expresses a “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory." These people have felt the weight of their sin, and the burden of their condemnation, and heard the voice of Jesus calling them out of their darkness and into his wonderful light.[9] They now have a joy that will last forever because it surrounds the eternal salvation of their souls.

Is there anything better than that? Not on your life!

© 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
[3] Romans 3:23
[4] Romans 6:23
[5] John 3:18,36
[6] John 3:18
[7] Revelation 6:15-17
[8] I Timothy 1:15 (I Timothy 1:12-17 for context)
[9] I Peter 2:9

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