Preach the Word: With all Longsuffering

September 17, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - 2 Timothy, Church History, Ecclesiology, Evangelism, Meditations, Preaching, Truth, Word of God

2 Timothy 4:1–2 (NKJV)
1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

For the last several weeks, we have been meditating on Paul’s charge to Timothy to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.” A few weeks ago, we began looking at the series of imperatives that Paul gives to explain his charge. Paul writes, “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” Today we consider Paul’s admonition to continue in this effort “with all longsuffering.”

The Greek word translated “longsuffering” can mean patience, fortitude, or forbearance. Paul wants Timothy to continue preaching without growing weary or being dissuaded. He is to stick to the task, be faithful to his calling, whether folks desire to listen to him or not. Paul warns Timothy in the next couple verses (4:3-4):
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

Timothy must persevere, he must be patient, for he will face opposition. People will – in this great phrase – heap up for themselves teachers who tell them what they want to hear, who soothe their consciences and who turn away from the truth to fables. But, ultimately, Paul wants Timothy to remember, the truth will prevail and so Timothy must persist in His calling.

It was this firm confidence that buoyed John Wyclif during the 14th century in England. Facing much opposition and criticism for his critique of the pope, his emphasis on the authority of Scripture, and his proclamation of the grace of God, Wyclif persevered, he taught with much longsuffering. What gave him confidence? “Magna est veritas,” he wrote, “et praevalebit.” Great is the truth and it shall prevail.

The reason Wyclif had such confidence in the power of the truth to overcome all obstacles is because God had promised that His Servant, our Lord Jesus, would not fail, in the prophet Isaiah’s words, to “bring forth justice to the Gentiles” (42:1d). This Servant, continues Isaiah, “will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law” (42:4). Jesus will so labor that the truth become fully manifest. So the Apostle Paul assures us that Jesus “must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:25-26). Great is the truth and it shall prevail – or, perhaps better, He shall prevail.

This same patience demanded of preachers of the Gospel is to be practiced by the hearers of the Gospel as well. Paul reminds us that “faith comes from hearing” (Rom 10:17) and asks, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” But sometimes the preacher is unclear; sometimes we have had a rough evening the night before; sometimes the ambient noise is annoying; sometimes the preacher’s mannerisms are distracting; sometimes his voice is too quiet; sometimes his appearance is off-putting. What is your calling then? It is to listen to the Word preached with all longsuffering – to listen for the voice of Your Master, Jesus, in the voice of the preacher and to apply the truth, as best as you are able, to your own life.

And so reminded that we are to pursue patience and persistence in the preaching and hearing of the truth, must we not acknowledge that we often give up too soon, we often boil over in frustration, we often permit ourselves to grow distracted, we often lack patience? Let us, therefore, confess our impatience to the Lord; and, as we are able, let us kneel as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Homily for Ross and Taylor Morton

April 16, 2016 in Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Church History, Ecclesiology, Marriage, Politics, Satan
2 Corinthians 10:3-6
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
It is a truism of Christian discipleship that we are engaged in a spiritual battle. As the Scriptures emphasize, we fight against the wiles of the devil, the distorted perceptions of a fallen world, and the twisted longings of our own sinful nature. In our text today, Paul reminds us that the way we fight this battle is not the way battles are typically fought. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.” We do not use swords, battle-axes, guns, or tanks. Our weapons are not carnal, but “mighty in God” for destroying the kingdom of darkness and building up the kingdom of God. So what does all this have to do with marriage?
I would like the two of you to conceive of your marriage as one of the weapons that God has given you in this war. Marriage is a powerful weapon, mighty in God, able to accomplish great good and just as able to effect great evil. The gunpowder that delights us in firework displays, that blasts a path through impenetrable rock, is the same gunpowder that slaughters the innocent victims of a suicide bomber or that maims a child who steps on an abandoned land mine. Marriage is a powerful weapon.
Earlier this week I shared the story of the end of monarchy in ancient Rome – and its end centers around a particularly bad marriage. The last king of Rome, a man named Tarquin the Proud, and his wife, Tullia the Younger, so incensed the Roman people that the Romans revolted against them and overthrew the monarchy. The causes of this revolt centered in Tarquin and Tullia’s marriage. Each had been married to the other’s sibling. But, as it turned out, the couples were tragically mismatched. While their siblings were virtuous and worthy Romans, Tarquin and Tullia were proud and conniving.
Soon Tarquin and Tullia discovered their similarity. So they killed their siblings and married one another. As if this weren’t enough, so insatiable was Tullia’s ambition, that she urged her husband to overthrow the current king of Rome – her own father. Eventually won over by her taunts, Tarquin orchestrated a coup. He deposed Tullia’s father and ordered some soldiers to murder him in the streets as he was making his way home from the palace.
Anxiously awaiting news of the coup at home, Tullia finally could bear it no longer. She ordered her carriage and made her way to the palace where she hailed her husband as the new king. But even Tarquin knew this wasn’t the time and ordered her to go back home. It so happened that her coachman followed the same route that her father had taken when he was fleeing the palace. Soon the coachman stopped. “What’s the matter?” Tullia demanded. “Your father’s body lies in the street; I cannot go around.” “Then drive on!” she commanded. And so Tullia drove her carriage over her father’s dead body.
Thus Tarquin the Proud and Tullia the Younger rose to power in Rome. But so disgusted were the Romans by their evil deeds – coupled with those of their son Sextus – that they cast them out of the city, vowing never again to permit kings to rule over them. Thus the Roman Republic was born.
You see, marriage is powerful. It makes and breaks children. It makes and breaks churches. It makes and breaks nations. It makes and breaks empires. Increasingly in our age, therefore, Christian marriage is an act of cultural warfare. What you covenant now, what you consummate tonight, is a powder keg. Will your marriage delight God’s people and destroy the kingdom of darkness, or will it maim the innocent and bring shame to God’s Name? These are the options: life and death, a blessing and a curse. Which shall your marriage be? I know that you both hunger and thirst for the former; long for your marriage to bring glory to God, joy to your friends, and stability to your (Lord willing) children. So to this end, let me leave you with three exhortations:
1.  Remember what you’ve got – this thing is explosive, it is powerful – for good or for evil.
2.  Because of this, exercise great care – don’t just toss it around; don’t neglect it; don’t treat it lightly.
a.  Ross – cherish your wife, love her, esteem her, protect her; handle her like TNT – or you might just find out what happens when a woman explodes!
b.  Taylor – honor your husband, give yourself to him; he wants you body and soul, completely; so rejoice in him and respect him with your words and your actions.
3.  Plant your charges in the right place –
a.  Make a home that is as electric and joyful as a firework display – that brings delight to your children, peace to others.
b.  Make a home that blasts holes in the walls of Satan’s fortress – a home that is a light on a hill; that is salty and shows others the power of Christ’s resurrection.

Having heard these words. . . . Please face one another.

Schools can be the Very Gates of Hell

January 21, 2016 in Children, Church History, Education, Politics, Quotations, Reformation

Among a series of great quotations on Scripture from Martin Luther (found here) was this stirring one on education:

“I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labour in explaining the Holy Scriptures, and engraving them on the hearts of youth. I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution in which men and women are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must be corrupt.”

Christmas Homily 2015

December 25, 2015 in Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Bible - OT - Jeremiah, Bible - OT - Zechariah, Christmas, Church History, King Jesus
The passages before us today from the prophets and from the Gospel of Luke share a common theme – the arrival of the Branch of the Line of David. Isaiah first heard God’s promise of the Branch – a king who would rule and reign in righteousness. The Branch would not be like the false shepherds in Isaiah’s day – kings who looked out only for their personal interests, pursuing personal gain at the expense of the sheep. Rather, He would be filled with the Spirit of God, filled with wisdom, knowledge, and discretion – modeling the character of God Himself. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of kings like Manasseh and Amon.
Over a hundred years later, Jeremiah picked up on this same promise. Disgusted like Isaiah with the selfishness and folly of the kings of Israel he reminded his readers of God’s promise through Isaiah. One day God would raise up to David a Branch of righteousness. This king would reign and prosper, saving and protecting His people, upholding righteousness and purity in His person. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of kings like Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.
Another hundred years later, Zechariah returned to the same promise. Though Israel then lacked a king and was subject to foreign rule, God told Zechariah to set a kingly crown upon the head of the High Priest Jeshua. For the Branch would be not only Israel’s king but also her high priest. “He shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne” and, “The counsel of peace shall be between the two offices.” This priestly king would not abuse the authority granted to Him but would rule and reign in righteousness and justice, bringing light to all the world. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of Persia, Greece, and Rome.
But then, over four hundred years later, an angel spoke to some shepherds. The long-promised Branch of righteousness, the Shepherd of Israel, the One who would rule and reign in justice was to be born. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And this would be good news not just for Israel but also for all people, for all the nations of the earth, for all the families of the earth. The light is coming, the world will change. Then glory filled the sky, the light and life of the Messiah’s rule reflected itself in the voices and faces of the angelic host as they declared that the prophecies of Isaiah and of Jeremiah and of Zechariah were coming to fruition. Praise filled the sky as the angels marveled that the mercies of God would now extend to all the peoples of the earth. Light had come!
So what do these words mean for us? Just this: the darkness of the Judaic Age has come to an end. The Judaic Age – when God’s presence was by and large limited to the land of Israel, closeted behind the veil in the Holy of Holies – the Judaic Age has passed. Now the Age of the Messiah has come – all nations have been given to Him and so the Word of Truth, the light of life, is going forth to all the nations of the earth. The Spirit of God has been poured out on the Church and is now pouring forth from her into the world bringing life and salvation in His wake. God has begun to fulfill the promises He made long ago through the prophets. He has given a King to rule and reign in Justice; He has given a High Priest to minister in the Temple. And this King, this High Priest is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Branch from the Stem of Jesse.
It is this transition from darkness to light that we sung of just a moment ago. In the darkness of the ancient world, amidst the rot and decay of paganism, amidst the folly of apostate Judaism, came the Root and Branch of David.
Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half-spent was the night.
And from this Root, this Branch, planted by the hand of God, a great tree has grown which shall one day fill the entire earth.
“This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.”

It is the planting of this Branch, the Branch of Righteousness, which we celebrate today. The light has come – let us feast! Our King sits upon His throne – let us rejoice! Our High Priest has offered up a perfect sacrifice on our behalf and offers up prayers and petitions for us continually – let us give thanks! And let us start even now. Let us pray together:

Isn’t that a bit harsh?

December 21, 2015 in Bible - NT - 2 John, Church History, King Jesus, Meditations, Truth
2 John 7–8 (NKJV)
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.
For the last several weeks we have seen that John has emphasized the integral nature of truth and love. Truth and love are not competitors but companions. Last week we saw that love, in particular, has substance. This is love, John told us, that we walk according to God’s commandments. Love is not primarily an emotion but an action – keeping God’s commandments from the heart.
Today John reminds us again that truth matters. There were teachers in John’s day called Docetists who claimed to be Christians; they professed faith in “Jesus.” But the Docetist “Jesus” was a fiction of their own imagination not the Jesus who actually revealed Himself in history. The Docetists claimed that Jesus had only seemed or appeared to be an actual human being. In point of fact, however, he had been a spirit guide, come to teach us how to escape the prison house of our flesh and reunite with the Eternal Spirit. Jesus had not come in the flesh.
John’s evaluation of the Docetists is blunt. He labels them “deceivers” who had gone out into the world and who had no love for the truth. But John goes further. He writes that such a teacher is not only a deceiver but an antichrist. These teachers, John insists, are enemies of Christ notwithstanding all their fair words and profession of faith in him.
Judged by many today, John’s words are incredibly unloving. “How can he be so judgmental? Deceiver? Antichrist? Isn’t that a bit harsh?” But John’s words are merciful and gracious, a reflection of his deep love for his readers. How so? Because what the Docetists were teaching was damning. A Jesus who did not take on human flesh and offer Himself a sacrifice on our behalf is no Savior. Were these professing Christians to embrace such a “Jesus”, they would be damned and lose the reward, eternal life, for which they had been aiming. So John was being most loving, warning them that the liquid they were being urged to drink was not medicine for the healing of their souls but poison that would damn them to hell.
Once again, therefore, we see how imperative it is for us to take our notions of truth and love from Scripture. Love warns those who are in danger of the danger they are in. Love warns the people of God against the Jesus of Mormonism and Unitarianism and Liberalism and sentimental Americanism and Islam and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The “Jesuses” they teach and embrace cannot save you; they are no more powerful than an imaginary friend. But the Jesus revealed in Scripture, God Himself in human flesh, can indeed save for He actually lived, died, and rose again.

So reminded that merely invoking the name “Jesus” is not sufficient but that the Jesus we invoke must be the Jesus who has revealed Himself in Sacred Scripture, let us kneel and confess that we often prefer our own thoughts of Jesus to the Jesus revealed in the pages of Scripture.

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

February 19, 2015 in Bible - NT - Revelation, Bible - NT - Romans, Bible - OT - Genesis, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Bible - OT - Psalms, Church History, King Jesus, Newsletter, Providence

What is your only comfort in life and in death? Have you considered the answer to this question? Life is of course full of many comforts. I like my home, my car, my hot showers and plenteous food. I rest in the embrace of my wife, the laughter of my kids, and the affection of my parents. All these are comforts in life – but they are not comforts that carry over with us into death. They are comforts that leave when the blackness of death envelops us. So what is your only comfort in life and in death?
 
Many think, vainly, that death itself is a comfort, a land of forgetfulness. But death is no comfort to the one who is not reconciled to God. Death brings no release from suffering for the one who hates or is indifferent to God; it brings only an instantaneous and blinding confrontation with perfect holiness and justice and love – a confrontation that will condemn any man or woman not forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Death is not a comfort; it is an enemy.

What is your only comfort in life and in death? If you know anything of the Reformed tradition, you perhaps know that this is the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism was written around AD 1563 for the instruction of German Reformed believers, especially children, in the basics of the faith. Its answer to this question is one of my favorites.

Question #1: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto him.


Now that, brothers and sisters, is comfort for life and death. I am not my own but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has given Himself for me and, what’s more, so rules over all things that nothing happens in my life that is not for my ultimate good, for my salvation. And this “all things” includes the false accusations of my enemies (Is 50:7-9), the wounds of my friends (Gen 50:20), the failings of my physical and mental health (Ps 73:25-26), etc. All things come to me from my loving Father in heaven who has designed and crafted each event just for me – including the time of my death (Rom 8:28; Rev 1:17-18). Thanks be to God for such comfort.

Shouldn’t We All Just Get Along?

February 4, 2015 in Church History, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Homosexuality, King Jesus, Mosaic Law, Politics, Sexuality, Ten Commandments

A couple weeks ago, the Coeur d’Alene Press ran an article I wrote in response to the “Add the words” campaign being pushed by the LGBT group. It generated a bit of controversy and I wanted to follow up on a few comments that were made. I have submitted this response to the editor of the paper but he decided not to print it.

It seems my recent My Turn piece has caused a bit of turmoil in some circles. How dare I condemn the LGBT community? How dare I create the acronym PIGLET to criticize their behavior? That’s so judgmental! Shouldn’t we all just get along? Shouldn’t we just be tolerant? So in the interests of genuine peace, permit me to respond.
Don’t I think we should all just be tolerant? Well, frankly, no. But then again neither do you. The person who asks the question doesn’t really mean it. No one wants absolute tolerance. We want limits; we demand limits. Which of you will say, when your home is burglarized, “Well, that’s OK. We’ve got to be tolerant and big hearted”? No – we don’t want such behavior tolerated. We want it prohibited. Why? Because we know that if we tolerate such behavior we’ll get more of it.
There’s an old adage – “You get more of what you subsidize and less of what you penalize.” Any teacher knows this. Start the school year as the permissive teacher and what happens come November? Pandemonium; frustration; chaos. In 1969 the state of California, that great bastion of societal wisdom, led the way in legislating no-fault divorce. “We’ve got to be tolerant.” And the result? Divorce has skyrocketed. So begin publicly tolerating perverse behavior and what’s going to happen? Well I think you can do the math.
Regarding the issue of tolerance there are two questions to ask; and both are deeply religious questions – sorry, but I’m a pastor, and it’s my duty to point out such things. Just because certain people want to deny that the Creator exists doesn’t mean that He doesn’t; anymore than my dislike of chicken means that chickens aren’t real.
So what are our two questions? First, what are the limits of tolerance? What types of things should be publicly tolerated and what should be prohibited? Some suggest that we should tolerate anything as long as it doesn’t harm others. But in the area of human behavior, how can we know what actually causes harm? Scientists can’t even agree which foods we ought to eat! Left to ourselves we simply cannot identify the proper limits of tolerance. The only One who truly knows what causes harm is the One who has created us, who knows how we’re intended to operate. And His moral law, revealed in the Bible, is the instruction manual and has been the framework within which our laws and rights have historically been applied. As President John Adams remarked, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” God’s moral law sets the limits of tolerance.
Second, how should we define tolerance? Many are confused here. I think that what many mean by “tolerance” is simply compassion. And I have profound compassion for those who are caught in degrading sexual sins – both heterosexual and homosexual. I trust you do to. I have counseled numerous men enslaved to pornography and, thanks be to God, some have been freed from its shackles. But let us be clear – they are shackles. And how compassionate is it to tolerate behavior that will enslave yet more people? Does the father of the drug-addict say, “It’s okay son; let me help you with that needle”? Is that compassion? Should that father really tolerate his son’s behavior? Or should he not, in true compassion, urge his son to change?

So let us indeed be compassionate as a people – let us publicly condemn all sexual perversion, let us rid it from our homes and object to it in our communities, while helping those ensnared by sexual sin to recognize what it truly means to be a man or a woman created in the very image and likeness of God.

False Prophets, Priests, and People

February 2, 2015 in Authority, Bible - OT - Jeremiah, Church History, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Homosexuality, Judgment, Meditations, Sexuality, Ten Commandments, Word of God
Jeremiah 5:30–31 (NKJV)
30 “An astonishing and horrible thing Has been committed in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own power; And My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?
One of the reasons that it is critical for us to draw correct lines of parallel between the Old and New Testaments is that it equips us to understand the course of church history and our own moment in the story of redemption. In the history of the Church there are times of great blessing and growth – as in the days of King David and King Solomon – there are also times of judgment and shrinkage – as in the days of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah lived at a low point in Judah’s history. During his lifetime the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar besieged and destroyed Jerusalem including the temple. Jeremiah’s words today help illumine why God’s judgment was falling upon Judah: prophet, priest, and people had exchanged God’s Word for their own words; they had hardened themselves to the truth and embraced lies. Listen to Jeremiah: The prophets prophesy falsely – they speak not the words of God, not truth, but their own words, falsehood; the priests rule by their own power – not by God’s power but their own; and my people love to have it so – this is the sober finale, the people delighted in the deception practiced by prophet and priest. Leaders and people alike exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Consequently, God was judging Jerusalem.
We live in a day not unlike that of Jeremiah. Many of our prophets and priests – pastors and pastorettes in historically Christian churches – proclaim falsehoods and lies in the Name of God. They say that there are many ways to God; they say that Jesus was just a great man; they say that male and female are interchangeable; they say that God’s forgiveness makes holiness unnecessary; they say that homosexuality is acceptable to God; they say that we mustn’t judge unrighteousness or lawlessness. The prophets prophesy falsely, the priests rule by their own power, and my people love to have it so.
God’s assessment of this sin is found at the beginning of our text: An astonishing and horriblething has been committed in the land. Here we receive God’s twofold assessment of Judah’s sin. First, it is “astonishing” – hard to believe. After all, what can be more astonishing than to place one’s confidence in man rather than in God? God is eternal and unchangeable; His Word is sure and fixed, a solid and everlasting foundation. And man’s word? Fickle, unreliable, biased; subject to constant revision and change; influenced by the latte he had at breakfast and the paycheck coming next week. So it is astonishingto exchange God’s truth for man’s opinions.
But not only is it astonishing, it is also “horrible” – devastating in its results. In the end, what will all these lies profit? God sees infallibly the outcome of this sin: Jerusalem will be in ruins; many of the Israelites will die; and then they will stand before God to answer for their sin. Their exchange of the truth of God for a lie is not only astonishing but also horrible.
So here’s the challenge Jeremiah gives you: whose voice do you want to hear? Don’t be surprised that there are many voices, even among priest and prophets, articulating opinions contrary to God’s Word. This has happened before among our people. So don’t be surprised; but do be warned: God is calling you, in the midst of these unfaithful voices, to hear and obey His voice. Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as our fathers did. Determine to understand and submit to God’s Word, God’s wisdom. Have no problem texts; bow before the Lord and seek His grace and mercy to understand and to apply His Word aright.

Reminded of our sinful propensity as God’s people to reject God’s Word and replace it with our own; reminded that many in our day have done this very thing; let us confess our individual and corporate sin to the Lord and petition Him to have mercy upon us; and since we are confessing our sins, let us kneel in humility before our Lord.

God Chose Mary

December 26, 2014 in Bible - NT - Luke, Christmas, Church History, Confession, Election, Reformation, Singing Psalms, Ten Commandments, Thankfulness
Luke 1:46–50 (NKJV)
46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. 49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”
Christmas is a time to reflect on the particular blessings that God has bestowed on each of us and to lift up praise and thanks to God. We see this modeled in Mary’s Magnificat – her song of praise written while staying with Zacharias and Elizabeth.
Has it ever struck you that God gave a gift to Mary that He did not give to any other human being on earth? Consider this for a moment: don’t just let the Christmas story pass you by; consider what’s happening. God chose Mary to be the mother of our Lord. God chose Mary – a girl in the city of Nazareth who was betrothed to a man named Joseph; who had a sister named Salome; who had a mother and father whose names are not recorded. God chose Mary – a girl who had a certain color hair and eyes; who was of a quite definite height and weight; who had skin of a particular shade. God chose Mary.
Now doesn’t that seem a trifle unfair? Why Mary? Why should she get the honor? Shouldn’t Mary perhaps feel a little guilty for being chosen? Don’t you and I have the right to be a little jealous, perhaps?
After all, let’s consider this: here God bestows on Mary a privilege that He had bestowed and would bestow on no other woman ever in all of human history. God chose Mary. Shouldn’t Mary feel guilty? Shouldn’t she realize that this was a trifle unfair and bemoan the gift that God had bestowed on her? Shouldn’t she perhaps have flogged herself? Felt guilty every time that babe leapt in her womb or sucked at her breast? Been apologetic to the various other women she met in the course of her life? “Sorry, sorry, sorry – so much wish it could have been you… Sorry.”
And shouldn’t you be a little jealous? After all, because God chose Mary, He didn’t choose any other to have this honor. Have you considered that? God did not choose Mary’s sister Salome. He did not choose Herodias – for which we’re grateful! He didn’t choose Mary the wife of Clopas or Mary Magdalene or Elizabeth or Anna the prophetess or Susanna or Joanna the wife of Chuza. God chose Mary. And consider that what this means: it means that God didn’t choose you. If you’re a woman, God passed you over; He simply did not choose you to be the mother of Jesus. God chose Mary. And, if you’re a man, God eliminated you from the running before you were even out of the gate. God chose Mary. Shouldn’t you be a little jealous?
I ask these questions because they have great relevance for us on Christmas day. You who stand here today have been given many remarkable gifts from God. If you are in Christ, you have been given the gift of salvation, a gift some men will never receive. If you are an American citizen, you have been given gifts of liberty, constitutional government, and incredible prosperity, gifts that others, who remain subject to tyrants and who are starving even as we speak, can only long for. If you are a husband, then you have been given the gift of a wife, a gift men some will never have. If you are a mother, then you have been given the gift of children, a gift some women will never enjoy. If you have Christmas gifts at home, then you have been given a measure of prosperity that millions have never known. Should you feel guilty?
And some of you aren’t getting the same gifts as others. Perhaps your brother got the Lego set you wanted? Perhaps the neighbors drove up in their brand-new Cadillac Escalade? Perhaps you find yourself unmarried still? Perhaps that other lady just announced that she’s having a baby and you’ve never had one? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… Perhaps you should feel jealous?
But guilt and jealousy are both unbecoming and sinful responses to the Lord’s gifts. God is the Creator; God is the Giver of all good gifts; God is the Sovereign Lord; and God is not fair. He simply does not give gifts equally. But that inequality is not to move us to guilt and jealousy but to praise and thanksgiving. Listen to Mary’s Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”
Notice, first, that guilt is not the way to respond to God’s gifts. After all, none of us deserve the gifts which God gives us. We all of us have forfeited God’s favor – including Mary. God chose Mary in His mercy, Mary tells us. And in this mercy, God gives sinful, undeserving men and women gifts; He lavishes kindnesses; He bestows graces – to one this and to another that. And the one who fears God learns to receive these graces not with guilt but with gratitude. Solomon reminds us, “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, And He adds no sorrow with it” (Pr 10:22). So today receive the gifts that God has given with praise and thanksgiving. Lift up your heads! Don’t feel guilty – give praise to God! Don’t feel guilty – give thanks to God! And in that praise and thanks imitate Him by loving those with less.
Jealousy is just as unbecoming as guilt. Our Lord forbids covetousness – for covetousness, greediness, makes us small of heart and small of soul. The angels rejoice with Mary – they who long to know the things we know and cannot; Elizabeth rejoices with Mary – she who was chosen to give birth merely to the forerunner, not the Messiah; Anna rejoices with Mary – she who had never had a child and whose husband had been taken from her when a young woman. They were large of soul, rejoicing in the good gifts that God had given to Mary. God chose Mary – and they rejoiced!

So Christmas is here – rejoice, give thanks, and sing. Put away guilt; put away petty jealousy; rejoice in the good gifts of God, sing of His mercy, and share His kindnesses with others.