Faith: Does Jesus Make Any Difference?

Clutch & Grab Shopping

jesusShopaholism is a serious malady that has become socially accepted and expected—we live in a land populated by raging shopaholics. Advertisers hold out the carrot, peer pressure applies the stick.

The idol of consumerism promises happiness and fulfillment, yet there is a near hollow-eyed emptiness in the crowds milling along the decked out halls. Masses move through the malls like lemmings blindly chasing after the latest fad, fashion, gimmick or wizardry.

jesus2Unless there’s an extreme change in behavior, in the current Christmas marketing season, shoppers will purchase 28,497,464 rolls or sheets of wrapping paper, 16, 826,362 packages of tags and bows, 372,439,684 greeting cards, plus 35,200,000 Christmas trees.

That doesn’t include all the toys, trinkets and treasures we’ve become convinced are required to jesus3celebrate the birth of Jesus. It’s tragically easy for believers in Jesus Christ to surrender—we have largely bought into the seductive lie that we are to give our children and loved ones the Christmas they deserve. And apparently to accomplish that involves extravagant spending and debt.

If we seriously believed what we say we believe, we would model humility, grace, and servanthood for our children and loved ones. Kingdom values would dominate our motivations, instead of being the lipservice tacked onto trappings that so frequently entangle us. Providing the Christmas they deserve would be to demonstrate by our lifestyle choices that the babe in the manger—the One present at creation—embodied the principle of giving not getting. There’d be no wish lists or offerings made to the false god of consumerism.

Many have said that they would enjoy Christmas more if there were no presents, so here’s a crazy idea for Christ-followers: Why not set a radical example? What about graciously resisting the cultural norms? What if instead of tracking down the hottest bargain we overwhelmed our circles of influence by giving of ourselves in word and deed?

What if we intentionally gave away our time to be active listeners and encouragers? In the midst of the madness of clutch and grab shopping, could we calm others by deliberately blessing them with peace?

Jesus certainly has proven to have an annual effect on the bottomline for merchants, but if that’s all there is to it, what’s the point? Does Jesus really make a difference in our lives?

jesus4Matthew 1:18-25 – NIV – This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Jesus

Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus with a focus on Joseph.

We see noble qualities in Joseph—his tender consideration for Mary, his willingness to bear ridicule. Little else is known about Joseph, for it is his adopted son who is the primary interest in Matthew’s gospel.

jesus5The word gospel means good news. Hints of just how good that news is occur in this passage, especially when one contemplates the nuance of the names by which the son of Mary was to be called—Jesus and Immanuel.

jesus6You are to give him the name Jesus. It was a common Jewish name, often used in memory of Joshua, which is the Hebrew form of the name Jesus. It’s interesting to compare these two figures of history.

Joshua led the nation of Israel into the promised land of Canaan—Jesus leads the people of God into the promised land of Heaven. What is the significance of this name, Jesus? Jesus means God is Savior. The son of Mary was rightfully called that—the angel said that he will save the people from their sins. This was accomplished because Jesus freely sacrificed his life—his shed blood is the atonement for sin. Jesus saves the people from their sins by saving us from the guilt and penalty of sin.

Jesus rescues us from the power of sin by sending the Holy Spirit to help us break sin’s dominion; he delivers us from the consequence of sin which is the wrath of God to come; he removes us from the presence of sin when we depart our earthen vessels to be with the Lord. So the name of Jesus should be invigorating to heavy-laden sinners—all those who desire salvation may draw near to the Father with confidence through Christ. It is the office Jesus holds—it’s his function, work and purpose to show mercy.

Take a long, meditative look with fresh eyes at some words Jesus spoke to a high-ranking religious leader named Nicodemus.

John 3:16-17 – NIV – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Immanuel

As Matthew recounts what the angel told Joseph, he adds that the birth of Jesus also fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah in which it is said, they will call him Immanuel.

jesus8What is the significance of this name, Immanuel? Immanuel means God with us. This name describes the Messiah’s nature. He is Diety—he is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is God, possessing the glory of God. He is the great I AM, the eternal Word who shared in the glory of the Father prior to his arrival as a newborn at Bethlehem. Consider the bold declaration of the opening of John’s gospel, followed by the essential theology of the Incarnation as proclaimed by Paul of Tarsus in a letter written while he was imprisoned in Rome.

John 1:1 – NIV In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Philippians 2:3-11 – NIV Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Consequential Effect

“The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.”          ~J. I. Packer~

There is scholarly evidence that the Philippians passage was a common hymn or litany of the first-century church, being used possibly as early as 35 to 40 AD. The theme of it jesus5cannot be mistaken: Jesus was equal with God, but willingly humbled himself—he chose to set his Godhood aside and step down to cloth himself in flesh. He put eternity behind him to be subject to the rules of time and space.

Our human minds are finite and feeble—we wrestle with this enormous mystery: Jesus of Nazareth was God manifested within the confines of being human. What difference does Jesus-Immanuel make in our lives? Jesus means God is Savior—Immanuel means God with jesus9us. What influence do those weighty facts have on our lives? Truth is marvelous, but truth must be applied—if not we’re simply shucking and jiving. Truth that is not put into practice is merely poetic sounding words describing some powerful concepts. Jesus means God is Savior—Immanuel means God with us. If we believe this good news gospel message and implement it in our lives, it must make a difference—we cannot live willfully, haphazardly or complacently. Putting God is Savior and God with us into action must have a consequential effect on our response to life—otherwise we’re just spouting pretty words.

God Gets It

There can be rough patches in life that knock us off kilter—moments or even seasons when we feel entirely abandoned and forsaken. We grind our way through the troublesome vicissitudes of life, and when we find ourselves on the verge of a free fall, we cling to faith jesus10by our fingernails. In those heart-wrenching times of hardships and difficulties we can become desperate, with our emotions all over the map. Yet the significant implications of our Savior’s name beckon us. Immanuel—God with us—God with you—God in the midst of our distress, discouragements and defeats.

For having become flesh, God understands our human plight—God comprehends what it means to be fully human. The highs, lows, frustrations, brokenness, futility—God gets it.

The unfairness, despair, betrayals, broken relationships—God is fully acquainted with it all. Emotional turmoil, the sense of aloneness and of being cut loose from it all—God thoroughly grasps it. jesus11There is nothing—no emotion, no feeling—that any one of us ever experiences that can surprise God. He has been sick, tired and hungry; he has been worn out and exasperated by people. God has extraordinary empathy for our limitations, our fragility, our aspirations, our falling short, which is why we ought to always make every effort to utilize the truth personified in the name Jesus.

God is Savior. . .God With Us—what sweet comfort to keep in constant view. In Christ, God is our Savior because he sent his Son to pay the price for our salvation—in Christ, God is with us hour by hour, minute by minute. Jesus. . .Immanuel—thus they called the child born of a virgin and raised by a carpenter. By his resurrection from the dead he proved true to his name; this reality sincerely applied will be transformational stitches on the warp and weave of our lives.

Does Jesus make any difference? Yes, he is the One through whom God is Savior and who is God with us. May that marvelous difference flow from the well of our heart to spill into our day by day routines.

Amen—so say we all.

 

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