04/01/17Where I live in Uganda, December is a month when almost everyone gets into a celebration mood. And the climax of it all comes during the last week of the month, from Christmas day, December 25th to end of year, December 31st. On Christmas day, the country literally shuts down as Ugandans get together with mostly family and friends to celebrate, and in a few cases, to cause mayhem as well. Uganda is over 80% Christian (the count includes nominal Christians who are the majority) and so Christmas is big. And on the night of December 31st, people gather in huge crowds all over the country to welcome the New Year. In Kampala, every stadium and open ground, and churches too get packed to capacity with jubilating crowds waiting for the clock to strike midnight, and then fireworks, ululations, prayers, and all kinds of noises rock the city as Ugandans enter into another year. And the good news of it is that the majority of these gatherings, maybe 90% of them, and the largest ones too, are organized and conducted by pastors and leaders of Evangelical/Pentecostal churches. That means a lot of people have God on their minds as they enter the New Year. That is something positive.
I do not believe there is any spiritual value in celebrating Christmas itself, but neither do I see any harm in it, especially when we keep in mind the reasons for the celebration. For many people, Christmas is merely a cultural tradition associated with giving gifts, merrymaking, etc. Nothing wrong with giving gifts but 2,000 years ago when the Lord Jesus was born, it was big in heaven and on earth, bigger than any gift any man can ever give anywhere! And that there was a celebration, a celebration eternally bigger and loftier than any we have yet seen.
Scripture states that on the night the Lord Jesus was born, a multitude (i.e. thousands) of angels burst forth from heaven celebrating and singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’ - Luke 2:14. This was after another angel had just announced to a few shepherds watching over their flock by night, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord’ - Luke 2:10-11.
God is not angry
The birth of Jesus was good news, full of great joy and it was for the benefit of all humanity. The birth of Jesus was not like that of any other baby before or after Him, because it was the birth of a Savior for mankind.
Prior to Jesus’ birth, God and man had been at enmity over sin. This enmity was made most apparent after God gave the Law to the children of Israel. God came down heavy on His people, unleashing judgments and punishments when they broke His Law. God dwelt in the Holy of Holies which was not accessible to anyone except the High Priest and that only once a year for a few minutes when he went in there to offer blood sacrifices to secure atonement for the people (Hebrews 9:6-7). The system of worship under the Old Testament showed loud and clear that all was not well between God and mankind. There was a distance, a separation, hostility between the two.
But when Angel Gabriel came to a young virgin girl named Mary and told her that she was to give birth to a Son, it was the beginning of a new era. Speaking in a dream to Joseph who was engaged to be married to Mary, an angel said, ‘Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sin’ - Matthew 1:20-21. Jesus’ mission was to save us from our sins so that the enmity between God and mankind would be removed, and peace would be ushered in. That was the message the angels sang out in Luke 2:14: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’.
Since the birth of Jesus, Papa God is of good will toward all mankind. He has declared peace where there was enmity. That means right now as you read this, God has only good intentions towards you! God has no ill-will towards anybody. He wants all men to be saved (1Timothy 2:4). God loves people. He sent Jesus to bring life, not death (John 10:10). This festive season, remember that Papa God is not mad at you over your sins anymore. In Jesus, He is offering you reconciliation, not war. If you have not yet received His offer of salvation, do it. Accept Jesus Christ today as your Lord and Savior. He was born to save you. Ask Him to come into your life. He will never say no.
And if you have already accepted Christ, God is now your very own Dad. You have become one with Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:17) and Papa God loves you as much as He loves Jesus (John 17:23) because you are as much a child to Him as Jesus is. Papa God is not your enemy. Papa God is not angry with you. Even when you fail in your performance, He loves you just the same. His relationship with you is not based on how well you do things but on the fact that you have accepted His Son. He sees you in Christ, not in yourself.
A new covenant
For 1,500 years under the Old Testament, God was strong and strict in punishing His people when they sinned but in-spite of all these, the people kept sinning. No matter how hard God came down on them with pestilences, famines, curses, deportations, mass killings, etc, the people kept on rebelling. All the judgments did not change their hearts. Punishment may change people’s behavior but it does nothing to their hearts, and until a person’s heart is changed, behavioral change is only temporary.
So even as God punished His people under the Old Testament, He also promised that a day would come when He would make a New Covenant under which instead of punishments for sin, He would offer forgiveness, and He would go further and do a work in the hearts of people so that they would begin to obey Him right from within:
‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: … this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people….: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more’ - Jeremiah 31:31-34
‘Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them’ - Ezekiel 36:25-27
Jesus was born to save us from our sins, but for this to become a reality, He had to die. Speaking to His disciples at the Last Supper, the Master said that His blood was soon to be shed for the remission of sins (Mathew 26:28). Papa God had promised through the prophets that under the New Covenant He would not remember the sins of His people anymore, and that He would cleanse them from all their filthiness. However, this forgiveness wasn’t to be because God would simply ignore people’s sins. God is just and He had pronounced that every soul that sinned must pay for their sin with death (Ezekiel 18:20), and therefore mankind was supposed to suffer for their sins. But then if people paid for their sins, they would be lost forever. Yet Papa God loved mankind and didn’t want them to be eternally lost. He thus had to put a way that would ensure that man’s sin would be fully punished, satisfying God’s justice and holiness, but yet people wouldn’t get eternally lost. The only way for this to happen was for Him to clothe Himself in a human body and be born on earth as a Man so He could die as our substitute. You see, the Man Jesus as actually God clothed in humanity. Jesus was born to be the Lamb of God that would die in our stead, thus taking away our sins, and giving us a way to be reconciled to God and live forever in union with the Lord.
If you have received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are forgiven of all your sins eternally, because Jesus paid the full penalty for your sins. This alone is reason enough to celebrate the birth of Jesus, even if there wasn’t any other. Because Jesus was born and later died, you are forgiven. You are not going to hell. You have access into God’s presence, and therefore His blessings, without you doing anything to deserve it. What a victory! You get to enjoy blessings that you never paid for! Praise Jesus! He is the reason for the celebration.
A new heart
Not only is the believer in Jesus forgiven of all sins, but in Christ, the believer has a new heart of flesh that is responsive and sensitive toward God (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26). Under the Old Covenant, the people had hearts of stone. Their worship of God was only outward, made up of physical sacrifices, feasts, places, etc, because their hearts had the sin-nature that could never be accepted by God. Under the New Covenant, God gives us new hearts, new spirits that are acceptable to Him. This is what the Lord Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:23-24: ‘But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth’.
We are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Under the Old Covenant, David could only prophetically long and pray for this re-created heart and spirit: ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me’ - Psalms 51:10. We have the reality of this. We have clean hearts. And because we have these new hearts of flesh, we obey God because we want to. It is natural for us to love the things of God. Old Testament saints longed for this kind of heart but we have it, and it is all because Jesus was born, died and rose from the dead. We celebrate because we are new creatures in Christ.
Indwelt by the Holy Spirit
Ezekiel prophesied that under the New Covenant, Papa God would place His Spirit within us and cause us to walk in His statutes (Ezekiel 36:27). Under the Old Covenant, the people had to struggle to try to obey God in their own human ability which was impossible. Human nature cannot obey God.
When our Lord was preparing to return to heaven, He promised that He would ask the Father to send to us another Comforter, the Holy Spirit: ‘And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you’ - John 14:15-17. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit left heaven and came to earth to represent and manifest Jesus to us, and He has never gone back. Many of us think and pray as though the Spirit is still in heaven, or He comes and goes in our lives, but that cannot be true because Jesus said He would come and abide in and with us forever, not just for a bit.
Child of God, you are not alone. You are not out here trying to live for God in your own strength wondering whether you will make it. Your victory is guaranteed because what Papa God promised He has fulfilled. He has placed His Spirit within you, and the Spirit is now causing you to walk in His ways. The Holy Spirit is in you as your Superior partner in life. All you have to do is cooperate with Him by believing that He is doing what the Father sent Him to do in your life – teaching you all things, guiding you, revealing to you mysteries of the Kingdom, empowering you to be a witness for Jesus, etc.
A winner because of Jesus
In Christ, we are winners in life. Jesus was born to put us over. This is why we celebrate. The Master came into this rotten world on a mission of love, to get rid of our sins and take us to the bosom of the Father. God is now for us, not against us. God is not mad at us! Papa God is of good will toward us. In our earthly journey, He is for us, with us, in us, all over us. He loves us. This festive time, let us celebrate Jesus and the victory He has purchased for us with His very life.