|Joy to the World, Indeed!|
(by Chris Long)
In the Bible in Luke 2:10-11, as the angel is speaking to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus Christ, one of the statements the angel makes is this: "...I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (NIV 1984)
I'd like us to focus on a specific word today: the word "joy". Not only is the angel bearing "good news", but it is news of "great joy". And it is news of great joy for "all the people" - not just a select few.
Sometimes I think we really miss the significance of what transpired when God came to this world - and what He came here for. Oh, we may think we know it. We've maybe heard it a zillion times. But I still think sometimes we just don't get the depth of it.
From the time Adam & Eve disobeyed in the Garden and sin was introduced, this whole world - including all subsequent humans - have been under a horrific curse, which can still be seen all around us today. Death, hurt, pain, disease, sickness - all a result of sin. We've all felt and seen the effects of it. If you've watched a loved one die as their body wastes away (I have), suffered or know someone who has suffered childhood sexual or physical abuse (I have), or witnessed or experienced any of the other myriad horrible things that exist in this world (I have), then you've seen the effects of sin in the most brutal, ugliest way.
We try to hide it, put on a "happy face" and pretend all is well, but the reality is that it is HORRIBLE. Death is HORRIBLE! Cancer is HORRIBLE! Sicknesses and diseases of all sorts (and just about every part of the body can have any number of things wrong with it) are HORRIBLE! Starvation, hunger, loneliness, lies, hatred, fear, torture, murder, pain that cuts so deep - it's all HORRIBLE!
It's so BAD that most people spend much of their lives trying to live in pretend worlds where they can escape the reality of life, even if for just a little while. It's easier (we think - though usually not consciously) to avoid reality, because the reality HURTS. T.V., movies, music, surfing the Internet, and social networking are just examples of things that often we can become absorbed with in such a way that we really are avoiding living in reality as much as possible (and no, "reality T.V." is NOT reality...it is only reality for the people actually involved, not the ones watching it.) Spending hours watching t.v. and movies, sports, hours writing and posting superficial blurbs on social networking sites, scouring the 'net - all of these can easily be methodologies where, though we might not realize it, we're looking to escape having to deal with the real issues of our lives, because that means having to face real pain. Alcohol, pornography/sexual pleasure, drug use, overeating, and other addictions of all shapes and sizes, often (if not always) have roots in a desire to avoid pain and to "feel good", even if only temporarily.
Or then there's those that pour themselves into their work or fill up all their free time with a specific hobby. Underneath, it could just be that it's a subconscious attempt to stay so busy that they avoid having to face key realities of life.
Reality hurts. A LOT.
Because reality involves more than just the "good times" and "fun moments", it also involves death and hurt and pain. We're all going to die. We all know the stats: 1 out of every 1 people die. We can avoid it, we can ignore it, we can skirt and jump all around it, but it's always there in the corner. Taunting. Snickering. And on those rare occasions when we're forced to acknowledge its presence (say when we attend someone's funeral), we try to get back to avoiding it again just as soon as we can.
The second we're born into this world, we're moving towards death. And along the way, we experience and see all manner of the effects of sin in our world. We're born in sin, into a world steeped in sin and marred by sin's effects. We both commit sin ourselves as well as see and feel the effects of others' sins.
Yes, if we can ever get real honest with ourselves, we can only come to the following conclusions (without any "supernatural" intervention that would change them, that is):
1) We are going to hurt here
And this is the problem. This is what we don't want to face. Because, what hope is there in this??? Where's the "fairy tale ending" in this???
The best the world has to offer us for answers is "Evolution", which basically tells us there is no God and no hope: you're going to live here and die and that's it. Well, thank you Mr. Evolutionist for that GREAT news of joy! Or, if you want to add a "new age" touch to it, we get to come back and live in this horrible world again in another life ad-infinitum (until we finally evolve enough). Again, I'm just GIDDY with excitement at this thought, aren't you??
The best life philosophy we seemingly get offered by the world is "Believe in yourself" - how many movies, particularly Disney movies, have this as a central theme? If the best thing I've got to believe in is myself, then I'm in real, real trouble. And so are you. If we're honest, we know we're part of the problem. We're all sinners, living in a sinful world. I can "believe in myself" all day long, but death is still coming knocking. I can't completely control what is going to happen to me or those I love. And neither can you. "Belief in myself" does not help me with the conclusions that I'm inevitably forced to reach (if I allow myself to acknowledge them) that were raised above.
Then there's those that seek to address those inevitable conclusions by getting as far as believing that there is a God and perhaps a "heaven", but that what they need to do is do so much good - do enough works that please God - that He will have to accept them. That's how they try to make sense of everything. But, even in that, there's no assurance, because you never know if you've done enough good to outweigh the bad. And even if you could convince yourself you've done enough good, you still have nothing concrete to assure you that you were right in that assertion to begin with!
At the end of the day, try as we might, we just can't get away from the conclusions above.
There is no real hope.
Yippee. Thank you for playing this "game called life."
But WAIT!!! What was this thing the Bible says again? It says speaking of the birth of Jesus Christ, that there is "good news of great joy" that is for "all the people." That a "Savior has been born to you." (Luke 2:10-11)
This sounds like there might be some hope after all.
And indeed there is!!
Those inevitable conclusions above would be correct *IF* there were no supernatural intervention. But there was - and is.
When God created the world and the first humans, the Bible tells us that everything was created "good." Everything was perfect and beautiful. There was no death and pain and fear. There was no child molestation or murder or loved ones dying of cancer. But those first humans rebelled against a perfect, righteous God (when the devil, a "fallen angel" tempted them to do so). They sinned - they did what was wrong. And sin has existed ever since, because we all eventually trace our heritage back to them - the first 2 humans. It's in our DNA. We have likewise sinned by doing what was wrong. The Bible tells us that none of us are righteous (Romans 3:10), which means we're not perfect, either. Because of this sin, our fellowship with God is broken. Even if the only sin we did in our entire life was just tell 1 lie or hurt 1 person (and if honest, we know we've all done much more than this!), we could not live forever with a holy, just, righteous God without that sin being paid for - because sin has to be paid for. But we CAN'T pay for it because we are the imperfect sinners - we are the ones that have done the wrongs. But God provided the way whereby we all can be put back into a right standing with Him - where the sin has been paid for - and where He Himself will help us live rightly.
God Himself (as God the Son - 1 of the 3 "parts" that make up who God is) came to this world in the form of a little human baby named Jesus. And do you know why He was named Jesus? The Bible tells us: "...the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21). Jesus' whole purpose is defined in His very name.
He came to save us from our sins.
This IS "Good News!"
Jesus came to this world and lived the perfect life that we could not. Unlike us, the Bible teaches that Jesus never sinned. He then was unjustly put to death by sinful humans. But Jesus tells us that He chose to give up His life willingly (John 10:18) out of His love for us (John 3:16-18). By His death as a perfect human, He paid the penalty for our sin, so that we all can stand righteous before God by acknowledging our sinfulness and believing in and accepting His work to pay the penalty for our sin. See, Jesus died and satisfied the righteous requirements of God to atone for our sin (that we could never meet!). But there still is the element of choice in all of us. We must now choose to either accept His sacrifice on our behalf (His gift to us) or not. It was a global human act and yet, it is very personal in application. If we do not WANT Jesus to pay for our sin and/or won't believe, God will not force it because He allows us to choose. If we choose to try to come to Him in some other way, He will allow us to try, but we will fail.
Jesus alone (who rose from the dead after His death and is now in Heaven) is the bridge that closes the gap between sinful man in rebellion to God and a holy, just, righteous God who loves everyone and wants ALL to come to full repentance and live with Him forever where there is NO MORE DEATH, pain, hurt, tears, etc. Jesus Himself stated, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6).
Yes, Jesus came to save us from our sins.
But we can say that, and still miss the depth of what this means.
He came to free us from sin's curse in every way. He came to take away the power of death over us (after all, because of Him, we now HAVE HOPE and can KNOW where we'll be after we leave this world).
But make no mistake:
This world still hurts.
Anyone that implies that if you believe in Jesus and what He did for you, everything is going to go A-OK in your life is LYING to you!
Sin's curse still exists in the world because human beings are still in this world. And there are human beings (and plenty of them) that have chosen NOT to believe in Jesus and have their sins forgiven, and sins of others can still affect you. Someone might still hurt you, etc. And because sin's curse still exists in the world, death still exists, though the Bible refers to "death" for those who believe in Jesus as falling "asleep" to differentiate it from the horribleness of dying without receiving Jesus' gift. The effects of sin, including sickness and disease, are still rampant in the world.
You might wonder why God would even allow this - why He would allow this world to keep going on like it is. The Bible tells us that too. The answer is that although it hurts Him (He doesn't like all that "death, hurt, pain, disease" stuff, either!!), it is actually out of His love for humanity. 2 Peter 3:9 says "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
He wants all to come to Him. He wants as many as will come to Him and accept His free gift to do so. There will come a time though when that time will be no more. God has told us that this world will be destroyed and a new one will be created. Though it may seem like a long time, compared to all eternity, the amount of time here is very very short.
Jesus did indeed come to free us from sin's curse - He broke its power over us. Victory is ours because of our faith in Him. Our fellowship with Him is restored and He never leaves us. We have peace with Him (Romans 5:1-2) and in Him. Jesus told us in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Talk about being honest. And being real.
Ultimately it all gets righted. Jesus has overcome! And although He doesn't stop all the effects of sin here right now, sin & death & pain (and the devil!) will one day be no more. In Jesus it all gets made right. He has made the way possible. And in Him, while here, as we seek Him, He gives us all we need to be able to walk through this life with joy & peace, living in reality with Him.
And now, we get back to that angel speaking to those Shepherds that night of Jesus' birth into this world. You may recall the angel proclaimed "...I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)
The world likes to reduce Christmas to a celebration of a fictitious, magical "Santa Claus" and his reindeer that go around giving gifts. That's the best basis many people have for celebrating Christmas and throwing around words like "joy" and "love" and "cheer." Rather than accepting reality, they are content to celebrate and live in fantasy. But real joy, love and cheer comes when we acknowledge & accept the reality of the birth of Christ and its importance to our lives.
It is because Jesus came to this world to save us from our sins that we can have "great joy"! Because without Him, we would have no hope at all. It is His coming to this world and then dying for us that shows us what love REALLY is. Unlike magical Santa, who comes around squeezing into people's chimneys leaving gifts, this isn't just a nice thought or fictitious story. This is reality. There's "good news of great joy" of a "Savior" for all people - the ULTIMATE Gift by the ULTIMATE Gift Giver - God Himself! There is hope. There is a life to be had where we are restored to fellowship with the God that created us and loves us, for all eternity. He's proven His love. No man could make up such a story, and certainly not a cohesive story over hundreds and hundreds of years with dozens of people involved, as we find in God's Word to us.
This is reality.
Joy to the World, Indeed!
This is version 1.5 of this document (October 8, 2012).