As my read through the Bible in a year comes to a close again, I’ve been reflecting more and more about how no matter how many times I read all the way through God’s Word, there is always SO MUCH MORE that I learn. This is probably my seventh time reading from start to finish, and I think I’ll wind up doing it again in 2014, though I’m thinking about just reading through the Old Testament in 2014 and through the New Testament in 2015 (this mirrors what our pastor is planning to cover in the next couple years so there’s an ulterior motive to it). Part of my thinking is that even though I love reading cover-to-cover there can tend to be a rote aspect to it. That is, I read to make sure I read, rather than to read with a deeper sense of purpose. Maybe slowing down a little will give me a chance to appreciate what I read a little more. We’ll see.
With my reading last week, I covered Philippians 1 – 4, 1 Timothy 1 – 6, Titus 1 – 3, 1 Peter 1 – 5, and Hebrews 1 – 13. Given we celebrate CHRISTmas tomorrow, I wanted to camp out on one of Paul’s most significant statements in his letters. It’s Philippians 3:12 – 15 …
I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize. My friends, I don’t feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done. All of us who are mature should think in this same way. And if any of you think differently, God will make it clear to you.
We all realize, albeit today to varying degrees, that CHRISTmas is a celebration of Jesus’s birth. We put out manger scenes, sing songs, and give gifts to one another. Too often, what we do in this annual recognition comes from tradition rather than a true appreciation for the magnitude of what really happened over 2,000 years ago (though remember that while we celebrate Jesus’s birthday on December 25, His actual birthdate would be pretty different … some calculate in September, some as late as November).
We must first realize that Jesus was FULLY God. In John’s Gospel, he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The way the Greek is written, it is clear that what we translate as “the Word was God,” is referring to Jesus’s nature and His essence as God. In other words, He was in all ways, always God. We also know from further reading in John’s Gospel that Jesus was the person of the Godhead responsible for creation … something only God could do. Hence, He was not just present at creation, He did it. He was there, then, in the garden as Adam and Eve chose to disregard God’s instruction, in their pride, and listen to Satan’s temptation and bring sin into the world, revolting and perverting God’s intention for our world and existence. He was also present before then at Satan’s prideful betrayal and treason.
What did Jesus, God, do in response? He took on human flesh to serve as not just an example of the perfect life, but to go WAY beyond that and to sacrifice that flesh for us. But think more about the manner in which He took on the flesh. Let’s face it, He could have come back as an adult, as a King, as whatever He wanted. He chose to be born as a baby. The most helpless form of human there is. He chose to be born in the lowliest, dirtiest location in a fully insignificant, virtually nameless part of Israel, after no one would take His parents in. Huh? Only God would do this. But WHY on earth would God do this? I think it’s because of a very underused word during CHRISTmas … LOVE. As one of my favorite unknown country CHRISTmas songs says, “He had the birthday, we got the gift.” That gift is love.
So, what in the world does all this have to do with Philippians 3:12 – 15? Glad you asked!
That gift that God gave us is what Paul’s referring to in this famous passage. It’s when he says, “I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done.” Because of what Christ Jesus has done. This is what we celebrate on CHRISTmas … yes it also has all to do with His sacrificial death and conquering of that death in Easter, but we’ll deal with that in a few months. 8-)
Paul reminds us of the enormity of Jesus’s love by His birth and life. Without Jesus’s birth those 2,000-plus years ago in Bethlehem, Paul points out that we’d have NO hope of the prize of heaven. Not only that, but he reminds us that we would lack the motivation and propulsion to go through the hazards of life that we all experience. Paul went through prison, stoning, near-death multiple times … certainly worse than many of us go through … but similar to what some of us have to endure in life. Without Jesus’s love expressed in His incarnation, the realities and inevitabilities of life would have ZERO meaning, purpose or reward. WITH it … it has all meaning, purpose, and reward.
Our lives have context because of Jesus’s birth. I’ve said it before, I don’t know how people who don’t know Him make it through life. The pain, struggles, disappointments, etc., would seem overbearing but for the promise of heaven that Jesus availed to us. I think that’s what Paul is saying.
So this is my overly-simplistic way of reminding us that CHRISTmas is way more than what we typically make of it. Even when we think we realize what it means, I still have to wonder if we really, really do, me included. CHRISTmas is everything. It’s the ONLY reason we have hope. It’s the ONLY reason life makes sense. It’s the ONLY reason we can celebrate anything in life.
And probably the most amazing thing … to me … is that it’s the ONLY thing that a fully loving creator could have done in response to an unloving, unlovable creation. Man, is that ever a head-scratcher.
So, tomorrow, let’s ALL try to take into full account the meaning and implication of what our loving God did. The more we think we understand it, the more we’ll realize it defies understanding.
Thank you JESUS! Happy birthday!
In His powerful, loving, eternal Name,