The shops are again full of decorations, gift suggestions and piped Christmas music. Our colleagues and neighbours are making their annual plans for over-indulgence. And churches are once more beginning arrangements for carol services to mark the birth of Christ, because for most Christians Christmas is a highlight, if not the highlight, of the religious calendar.
It may be surprising to us, but in His wisdom God has given us little information about Christ’s birth and His word places little emphasis on it. It is bypassed completely by Mark and John. Luke gives us the fullest account. Matthew mentions it in passing while dealing with the events before and after it. This is very different from other events in Christ’s life which are described in detail in all four Gospels, such as the feeding of the five thousand. It is insignificant compared with the events leading up to and relating to Christ’s death and resurrection which occupy large parts of each Gospel.
“No Such Commandment”
Nowhere in the scriptures do we find commands to mark Christ’s birth, nor do we read of such celebrations being kept. Indeed, only two birthday celebrations are mentioned in the scriptures at all – those of Pharaoh and Herod. This is in complete contrast to remembering the death of Christ, which God’s word commands us to do and which records the early believers as doing.
Not kept by the early churches
We know that the death of Christ was celebrated from the beginning and that this evolved into the three days of Easter. But there is no mention of celebrating Christ’s birth in the many post-Apostolic writings which have survived. In AD 245 the theologian Origen described the Roman practice of celebrating birthdays as pagan, which strongly suggests that Christ’s birthday was not being marked at that time.
When was Christ born?
This idea that Christmas was probably not celebrated until the fourth century seems to coincide with the fact that for centuries there was considerable debate about the actual date of Christ’s birth. It is difficult to celebrate someone’s birthday without knowing when they were born!
The first contribution in early church writings to this discussion is found in a work by Clement of Alexandria in about AD 200. He mentioned several possibilities: March, April, and May – but not December.
“Be not conformed to this world”
The keeping of non-religious Christmas customs should be a matter of conscience: “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). But as for celebrating Christ’s birth:
- God does not want us to mark the birth of His Son once a year.
- If He had wanted this, He would have given us the date and told us how to do it.
- By doing so, we are copying a man-made festival from a false Church (the coming of which the apostles warned about), instigated for the wrong reason and at the wrong time.
Rod Hale (edited)
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come and let us walk In the light of the LORD.” (Isaiah 2:2–5).
How, when, where, why and whom do we worship? Whose example should we follow? Whose should we not? What was worship like in the time of Abraham? And what might it be like in the kingdom of God?
The Bible is full of examples of true and false worship. True worship exalts the God of Israel, whereas false worship exalts other things or other people above God, often to the extent of denying His power and existence altogether.
Throughout the Bible, we are warned to avoid such false worship, often called idolatry. For millennia, it was common practice among the nations to devise gods who ruled over specific things like the harvest, fertility, rain or sun. Although these gods were said to have power over the elements, worshipping them was ultimately about a human desire for power and control. If a nation wanted rain, they offered sacrifices to the god of the rain. If they wanted to win a battle, they offered sacrifices to the god of war. Far from seeking a personal relationship with their gods and serving them in love, the question on their minds was: “What can this god do for me?”
Our idols do not live on Mount Olympus, and we do not build household shrines for them into the walls of our living rooms. They are less obvious, more subtle, more insidious. They are hobbies and money, work and friends. They are the things that distract us from putting God first. Often, our biggest idol is our pride and our ego: “What makes me feel happy? How can I look after number one?”
True worship takes the focus off self and directs our attention towards God. The God of Israel, whom we love and serve, asks for a humble attitude of mind, a gentle spirit and a heart willing to seek out the truth. True worship exalts God and acknowledges that He is in control. Rather than demanding things of God, true worship is about thankfulness and praise for the gifts He gives us.
God is not asking you to build an altar and burn animals on it. Instead, He asks for your commitment, loyalty and love. So let us offer our lives as living sacrifices, and honour our God by trying to imitate Him in all that we say and do.
God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24
from Faith Alive
God uses suffering to help people grow. Incredibly, as we suffer, He does good––and the fact that we suffer is a testament to His love for us. He longs so deeply for His people to grow that He is willing to suffer with us. Suffering comes from God. Suffering is God’s tool. Suffering draws us closer to Him.
But where does Satan fit into all this? Didn’t God give Satan the power to torment Job? Wasn’t it Satan who was bringing adverse circumstances into the lives of the Israelites when they attempted to follow Him (Zechariah 3:1-2)? Didn’t Satan take the Lord Jesus into the wilderness to tempt him?
Indeed––Satan was involved in all of those things.
Because Satan simply means “adversary” (the word is actually translated as “adversary” 7 times in the King James Version). It’s a Hebrew word that came into Greek (and thus found its way into the New Testament), and subsequently into English––but its actual meaning is adversary. Thus, if we hold the traditional view of Satan, some of the uses of the word may surprise us:
- Numbers 22:22 - Balaam, a prophet who attempted to prophesy against the Israelites found himself confronted by “the angel of the LORD.” For Balaam, this angel was an adversary to his goal––prophesying against Israel. Thus, the angel is called Balaam’s adversary, or Satan (the word is שָׂטָן, Satan, in the Hebrew).
- 2 Samuel 19:22 - David, when speaking about his nephews, the sons of Zeruiah, stated that they were “adversaries” to him––or Satans in the Hebrew.
- 1 Kings 11:14 - Hadad the Edomite, one of the descendents of the king of Edom, was a Satan, or adversary, to Solomon.
- 1 Kings 11:23 - the same was said of Rezon the son of Eliadah––another adversary, or Satan, to Solomon.
In fact, consider one of the most surprising uses of this word:
“Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1).
David was moved by Satan to take a census of his people. While this might not at first seem surprising, the shock comes when the parallel record in Samuel is compared. Both records are about the same event––David’s numbering of Israel––yet note who provoked David to number the people in Chronicles versus who provoked him in Samuel:
“Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’” (2 Samuel 24:1).
Did you see what just happened there?
One record says that Satan prompted David to number the people, and another said that God prompted David to number them!
The Biblical record isn’t blasphemous––rather, Satan doesn’t mean what it is so often said to mean. It’s simply an adversary, and in fact, in the examples above, can actually be an adversary against us doing something wrong. The angel of the Lord was an adversary against Balaam when he was going to prophesy against the Israelites! Hadad and Rezon were satans against Solomon whom God raised up to bring him back to Him!
So what is Satan’s role? Well first of all, Satan isn’t a proper noun––it’s general and it means “adversary.” And, often these adversaries can be used by God to bring us to Him. Thus, much like suffering, Satan, or more properly, satans can actually help us grow.
Instead of being against God or undermining God (would God really even allow something like that?), a satan is often something that God uses to help His people grow! Thus, it was a satan to whom God gave the power to torment Job (Job 1:12). And it was the spirit of God that led Christ to be tempted of Satan (Mark 1:12-13).
And thus the apostle Paul could write the following: “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). Giving this believer over to satan would actually work for his salvation. Because Satan isn’t some supernatural being who is out to fight against the work of God. A satan is simply one who stands against someone else––and at times, as in the Chronicles and Samuel passages, can even be God Himself.
- Jason Hensley
The great and decisive question in life is not what we achieve, nor how good we become, and certainly not how much we acquire. It is, who is your king? It will do no good at all to be highly successful, seriously virtuous, and even ridiculously wealthy if you are on the wrong side of God at the judgement seat of Christ. Likewise, even if you achieve little, have a deeply flawed character, and lose everything, but have the right king, all will be well. This simple point is difficult for us to grasp because we hate the idea that we are weak, that we are sinners and that we are not masters of our own destinies. We love to pretend that we are in control. The truth is that we are utterly dependent on our King.
We need a king who is powerful for us, one who is able to save us from our enemies and one that can give us security. If we have such a king, all is well. If we do not, then our lives will ultimately end in failure. This does not mean that how we live is unimportant. On the contrary. But it does mean that what our King does is more important. The King of whom I speak is of course our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who belong to him know well that his powerful goodness is decisive. Of course, with Jesus as our King, how we live, what we do with our money and what we do with our life does matter. But it does not matter as much as having him as our King. [Read more]