When Jesus was born, it was nothing short of extraordinary. For one, he was conceived by a virgin girl. How does this happen? Furthermore, he was born in a stable and laid in a manger—a place that would have been dirty and filled with the stench of animal waste. To top it off, he was wrapped in swaddling cloths. That’s not exactly a fleece from Neiman Marcus. The whole story is an unbelievable reality that we should spend time rejoicing in. the reality of Christ’s birth.
Beyond the details of his birth, the way in which it was announced is stunning. It wasn’t a fancy postcard in the mail of Mary and Joseph and their baby positioned in Bethlehem for everyone to see. It was the greatest birth announcement in the history of mankind. In fact, it was more than a birth announcement—it was the announcement of hope.
The angel appeared in to a group of unlikely people, the shepherds who were in the fields keeping watch over their flocks. Shepherds were considered to be unclean and on the low end of the Jewish social class ranks. That’s just like God to announce the birth of the King of all kings to a group of shepherds.
The angel announced the birth of Jesus by saying:
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2:10–12).
Savior: Jesus’ Saving Name
The angel referred to Jesus as Savior. Closely related to Jesus or Joshua from the OT—Jesus means, Jehovah Saves. This is only one of 3 times where Jesus is referred to as Savior. Therefore – this is a significant title for it shows His mission in coming to earth. In fact, this title of Savior falls in line with the prophecy of the prophet said in Isaiah 9:6 and what the angel said to Joseph in Matthew 1:21.
Notice that the angel didn’t come to announce:
- Mohammad is a savior
- Buddha is a savior
- Joseph Smith is a savior
- Charles Taze Russell is a savior
- Mary Baker Eddy is a savior
- Confucius is a savior
- Ron Hubbard is a savior
Only Jesus can save sinners and this truth is abundantly clear in John 14:6 and Luke 19:10.
Christ: Jesus’ Special Name
Jesus is also called the Christ by the angel. Christ is not Jesus’ last name (surname). Christ is a title that means “anointed One of God.” All throughout the Jewish history, when the families would gather in their homes to celebrate Passover and the Day of Atonement—they would talk about how God saved his people from Egypt and how one day the Messiah would come.
Finally, the darkness was broken and the silence came to an end when Jesus was born. The long awaited Messiah had been born—although in an unlikely place (for animals). The promised Deliverer had come and this is certainly good news as the angel stated—not just for the Jew, but for all peoples.
Lord: Jesus’ Sovereign Name
The angel also pointed out that Jesus is Lord. This is points to his sovereignty. The fact that Jesus is Lord means he is Master—and points to his Kingly attributes. This was no ordinary baby in the manger—it was the Lord himself. Think of the fact that Isaiah’s enthroned Lord of hosts in Isaiah 6 was also the promised baby of Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6. That very One who was high and lifted up on his majestic throne nine months earlier was now clothed in human flesh in a stable for animals—and the angels were standing in awe!
When Jesus was born, the angel announced that he is Lord, which is to say he is:
- The Prophet greater than Moses
- The King greater than David
- The Priest greater than Melchizedek
Often when you walk into a Christian bookstore, you will find more pictures of angels and figurines of angelic beings than you will find books of theology about the deity of Jesus. That should shock us when we consider that the angels in the night sky on that evening when Christ was born were not announcing the greatness and splendor of the angels—they were amazed and announcing the greatness of their Lord.
As the angel made the announcement, soon a multitude of angels appeared and celebrated the birth of Jesus by saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14)!
Do you have a reason to celebrate on Christmas?
Do you have peace with God?
Only in Jesus can a person experience the peace of God, because only in Jesus can a person be brought to a place of peace with God. Jesus came to save sinners, and he will save his people from their sins resulting in reconciliation between the sinner and our sovereign God. Do you have peace with God? If not, call out to him today and cast yourself upon the mercy of God. Believe that Christ came to die for you, and through his brutal death your sins are washed away. Call out to him with confidence that he alone can save you, and this is verified by the resurrection on the third day—Jesus has defeated death itself and proves he is God! For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13).
Is it absolutely necessary for the freedom and vitality of the United States for a president to lead the people? While there may be many opinions on that very subject, it would not be necessary for our nation to be led by a president. If our nation decided to change the way we structure things and be led by a plurality of presidents, it would not be wrong to move in that direction. Neither one is mandatory. When it comes to professional baseball, must the team be led by a coach who is often referred to as a general manager? The fact is—there is no absolute answer to that question. A new management process could be developed that may do away with the general manager position and the owners of the baseball team would not be in error if they went in that direction. We have freedom in politics and the world of athletics.
When it comes to the local church—we must remember that everything we do should be evaluated through the lens of Scripture. If the Bible provides us with the necessities of both life and the practice of our faith—how the household of God functions really matters. Therefore, if God established a specific system and we choose to operate under a different model simply because of pragmatic rationale or a commitment to some form of modern trends or historic traditions—it must be noted that we don’t have such freedom to make those alterations.
There are great benefits to a church being led by elders (a plurality of pastors). Some of those benefits to the church as a whole would include a shared oversight through multiple men rather than just one man. Such shared authority protects the church from the cult of personality and bad decisions that could harm the church for years to follow. This shared oversight provides support for the lead pastor who serves as one of the pastors in the group. This shared authority includes shared responsibility and accountability. However, the main reason for organizing the leadership of the local church with a plurality of elders is not based on the benefits since this is not a pragmatic decision. The reason a plurality of elders is necessary is because of the fact that it’s clearly modeled in Scripture as the God-ordained pattern of leadership for a local church.
Alistair Begg writes, “Leadership in the church should always be shared – that is one reason that the apostolic pattern was to appoint a plurality of elders rather than a solitary elder in all the churches (Acts 14:23).”  God has a purpose in all that he does, and we must honor his plan for church government. We see a plurality of elders in individual local churches throughout the New Testament:
- James 5:14
- Acts 11:30
- Acts 14:14; 21-23
- Acts 15
- Acts 20:17-38
- 1 Timothy 5:17-20
- Titus 1:5-11
According to 1 Peter 5:1-4, the pastor’s responsibility is to provide food, protection, discipline, and love. That task is utterly impossible to accomplish alone regardless of the size of the local church. Pastors need assistance from other pastors within the context of the local church family. For a pastor to think that he has all of the gifts necessary to oversee, equip, discipline, and lead the church is beyond arrogance. Needless to say, such a man has an elevated opinion of himself. Far too many local churches are self-governed or led by a group of deacons while the pastor simply preaches on Sunday. That’s not the biblical model.
When a church is led by a plurality of elders it not only provides joy for the pastors—but it should provide joy for the church as a whole as they become encouraged by the intentional oversight and care for the body of Christ. In short, true shepherds of God’s flock understand that the church belongs to God and they are merely appointed leaders to do the work of God. Therefore, the church should be established and organized to follow the biblical pattern.
Having staff positions who serve beneath the pastor and work alongside him is not the same as having a plurality of pastors who are equal in position. The pastors and the church both should be under authority. Mark Dever provides a helpful explanation as he writes:
So the Bible clearly teaches that New Testament churches are to be led by elders. At the end of the day, this question is just another way of asking whether or not we are going to allow the Scriptures to be the sole authority in the life of the church. For though there are lots of pragmatic reasons to have elders, from the perspective of a pastor, there are more pragmatic reasons not to have them. Elders can slow a senior pastor down, they can disagree with him, they can even tell him on occasion that he’s wrong. Pragmatically speaking, who would want that? 
When we ask if a plurality of elders is necessary it’s like asking if the Bible is sufficient? Interestingly enough we don’t argue with the organization of a plurality of deacons in a single local church, but we often have people who intentionally avoid having a plurality of elders in a local church. While there is biblical evidence to support a plurality of elders and a plurality of deacons in a local church—there are far more passages that discuss a plurality of elders than discuss a plurality of deacons.
If you are moving to a new town or looking for a church home—consider looking for a local church that has intentionally organized their church government to include a plurality of elders (pastors) who lead, oversee, care for, and equip their local church and a plurality of deacons who serve the church.
- Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor, (Chicago: Moody Press, 2004), 218.
- Mark Dever, “Should a Church Have Elders?“
Many things are important in life, and when assessing the value of material and immaterial things—we must not forget the immense value of words. Consider how people fight over the meaning of terms found in the Constitution of the United States of America. At times, political leaders from polar opposite ideological backgrounds fight over words and the meaning of those words. This is not only true of the world of politics—it’s likewise true of the religious world. Political skirmishes will have an affect upon a society, but none is greater than religious skirmishes over the definition of words.
The very word theology comes from two Greek words (Theos meaning “God” and logos meaning “word”). Therefore, theology literally means words about God. That’s why words matter—especially in the study of God. Some have suggested that we “preach the gospel and use words if necessary,” but that statement is flawed from the start. For, God’s Word is made up of sixty-six books which are comprised of thousands of paragraphs, sentences, and individual words. It was John Gerstner who once said, “[We] may have knowledge of God and not be saved, but he can never be saved without knowledge of God.”  It was Theodore Beza who described the preaching of John Calvin by saying, “Every word weighed a pound.”
Words matter, but often words change. Read through the King James version of the Scriptures and you will likely run across many terms that are antiquarian—and in some cases nearly completely dead altogether. Consider the term, filthy lucre as an example. Who uses that phrase to describe greed for money in our present day? As it pertains to the morphology of specific terms, one can hope for the best as modernity consistently presses the limits on language and adds new vocabulary each year. However, when it comes to theology, words matter. Such words must be guarded. This is why a commitment to the single meaning of the text is essential when interpreting the Bible. The author’s original meaning matters. Unless carefully guarded—the words of Scripture will be redefined and such a process of change will lead to an assault on the theological foundation of the word which is an assault upon God himself. Take the definition of marriage and family as an example of this truth.
Take for example the word evangelical. As we see the rise and fall of this term, it finds it’s roots in the rise and fall of another term, fundamentalism. When skepticism was popular in the early 1900s, the Christian community rallied behind the term, fundamentalism as a means of intellectually defending the veracity, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. However, over time that very term morphed into a banner for legalism and still to this day if you call someone a fundamentalist—it’s likely used as a term of derision rather than a compliment.
During this time period, Carl F. H. Henry used his platform with Christianity Today to promote an alternative term that could be used to describe faithful, conservative, and intellectual Christianity that did not blush at the authority and inerrancy of the Bible. That term was evangelical. The term itself is rooted in Scripture and derived from the “εὐαγγέλιον” which is a Greek term meaning “good news” and is often translated “gospel” in the English translations. The Latin term evangel meaning “gospel” is also derived from this term. While Carl F. H. Henry and other religious leaders didn’t coin the term, they popularized it at the time when many Christians were in the midst of an identity crisis and fundamentalism had morphed into a narrow movement that isolated itself and marginalized many believers.
Through time, evangelicalism grew to encompass many believers from across denominational lines. While many good things have come out of the evangelical movement, today the term has been redefined so much that it has lost its original meaning and attractiveness. When evangelicalism became so wide that it lost its distinction, it likewise lost its meaning. Today, much of what we call evangelicalism encompasses the teaching of John MacArthur to Sarah Young. Beneath the umbrella of evangelical, you will find studies from Banner of Truth and Beth Moore. People who voted for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both claim to be committed evangelicals. The term is certainly stretched and in many cases—completely broken.
Words are representatives of truth. This is especially true and vitally important in the world of theology. Such terms serve as stakes in the ground to mark what God says and how we as God’s people must live, worship, and serve. If God’s Word regulates what we believe and how we live out our faith—God’s Word likewise regulates the boundary of vocabulary. The boundary of theological all terms must be carefully examined from God’s sufficient Word. Since God’s Word is indeed sufficient for every age and every people group in human history—the terms and boundaries of such theological terms should not shift and change with the winds of culture. Pastors of local churches and members of those local assemblies are called to guard the truth. Any attempt to accommodate the culture is a recipe for theological disaster. Unfortunately we are living in such times.
Years ago, a term was introduced in order to help us understand the distinct roles of men and women in the church, home, and society. This term is complementarianism. It served as a weighty word that put a line in the sand and sought to reveal the boundaries of God’s Word on the calling, responsibilities, and roles of both men and women. Such boundaries are necessary in order to see how one must function within the household of faith. These God-ordained boundaries are likewise necessary to establish the governance of God’s church in local assemblies around the world. Therefore, it’s clearly an important subject and complementarianism remains an important term.
The problem arises in our present evangelical culture when modern definitions of complementarianism are being offered. Such new definitions seem to stretch the boundaries set forth in God’s Word and it’s causing a rift among many who claim to be evangelical. Once again, when the tent of evangelicalism encompasses such diverse groups of people across denominational lines with such sweeping theological convictions—it’s no wonder that a shared term such as complementarianism would eventually find itself in the crosshairs of religious attack. When a group of people claim to be complementarian in their positions, they could likewise be using several different definitions.
Undoubtedly there is a battle for the dictionary in our day. We are all bound by words and definitions. This is not true for the professional theologian alone. It’s also true for the pastor-theologian. It’s true for the homeschool-mom-theologian, the mechanic-theologian, the father-theologian, and the academic-theologian. Every Christian has a responsibility to rightly divide the Word of Truth—in the teaching of women’s Bible studies and while writing systematic theology textbooks. Words matter, but unless carefully guarded, they will morph, change, and be redefined to accommodate a liberal devil-glorifying culture.
When we see new terms surfacing within the Christian community such as “woke Christianity” or “woke church”—we should pause and carefully examine the agenda. To redeem a word such as “woke” that found its origins in the Black Nationalist Movement and seek to use it within evangelicalism to push the social justice agenda is another example of how words matter. Sometimes one word is introduced in order to help shift a people’s understanding of another word. So, what does justice actually mean these days? Must a person be woke in order to be just?
Read the Bible. Think. Exercise discernment. Words are the building blocks of meaning and serve as foundational components of representing the social, religious, and political views of human beings. Fight for the true meaning of words.
- John Gerstner, Theology for Everyman, (Chicago: Moody, 1965), Chapter 1.
The world around us is broken and filled with sin. We are surrounded by human depravity at every level (from childhood relationships to political leaders). Yet, we long for the day when God will make all things new and our broken world will be renewed, changed, and filled with the glory and splendor of God. In short, we await the second coming of Christ.
As we await the second coming of Christ, we celebrate his first coming. This was something the prophets wrote about and pointed to even as Isaiah did some 700 years before Jesus was born. Isaiah records one of the most eloquent prophecies of Jesus that is filled with hope. Read it and think of the already and not yet aspects of how Jesus fulfills (and will fulfill) this glorious verse of Scripture.
Isaiah 9:6 — For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The prophecy of a child to be born and a son given was not a reference to just any child. It was a reference to the most glorious birth that has ever occurred in human history. It’s a reference to Emmanuel. When God took upon himself human flesh and entered his very own creation, what a glorious hope. Isaiah longed for the day and yet that day has come and gone and we live on the other side of this prophecy. We celebrate the birth that has already occurred.
There is no doubt about our corrupt political system in America and while can see such depraved political strategies here, around the world in various other nations the corruption is far worse. Like Isaiah, we long for the sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords to rule visibly. Every part of Isaiah’s words in this single verse has already been fulfilled except this reference to the government being upon his shoulder.
In actuality, this has been partially fulfilled, but we long for the visible reign of Christ. Some believe that Jesus will rule in the future and the government will be upon his shoulder in the future, but in actuality, he is ruling now from heaven’s throne. In supremacy he sits on the throne and he is unchallenged and unflinching at all of the marching armies of this world. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” As Jesus rules now, we await his second coming where he will rule in our visible presence.
Because of sin, we have to navigate the broken road of human depravity on a daily basis. For that reason, we need good counsel. We seek the counsel of close friends, family members, parents, pastors, and fellow church members. However, there is none who can provide greater counsel than our Lord. We come to him in his Word, we seek him and look into the great wisdom of his teaching, and we follow him as we submit to his commands. Not one time has Jesus given bad counsel or provided for us failed promises. We can trust him and we should find hope in his words (words of comfort, hope, and truth).
The central truth of the gospel is that Jesus is more than a gifted rabbi. When you examine the cults around the world, often they want to attack the deity of Jesus. They want to relegate him to the level of a prophet or a good moral teacher, but that cannot be so if Jesus isn’t God while he made such lavish claims to be God (see John 8:58 and John 17). In John’s prologue, he writes, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1).” The grand truth we celebrate at Christmas is that far greater than angels appearing to shepherds in a field was the reality that God had clothed himself in human flesh and was lying in a manger. He came to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21), and it was only possible if Jesus is very God of very God.
As “Everlasting Father” Jesus is not the Father. Isaiah is not suggesting that the Son is the Father in the sense of confusing the persons of the Trinity (which is a heretical position). He is using the tern “father” in perhaps two ways in this statement. First, Jesus can show compassion as a father shows compassion to his children (Ps. 103:13). Secondly, Jesus is the everlasting father of the universe and he upholds everything but he word of his power (Col. 1:15-20).
Finally, Isaiah speaks of Jesus as the “Prince of Peace.” Only in Jesus can rebel sinners find peace with God (Rom. 5:10). Only in Christ can a world that is filled with sin, brokenness, murder, and violence find peace. It’s only in Christ that God’s children can navigate this broken world with peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7). While we as believers live in a world of sin and experience the peace of God, we will one day live in a peaceful world. We long for that day to come. As we celebrate the first coming of Jesus we anticipate the second coming of Jesus. As John said, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
As we are in full swing of Christmas festivities, what exactly is Christmas about? How much do you know about Jesus’ birth? Take time to answer these questions and share it with your friends to see how well they do!
I received an e-mail from a friend yesterday who serves as a chief of police in Tennessee. He was writing to tell me that he has been struck by how little the average church member knows about God’s Word. As I read his message and listened to his heart, I couldn’t help but think about what has caused this through the years. We have consistently dumbed down worship which should be designed for sheep in order to attract goats. The local church is a true anomaly when you consider the fact that college football teams are never satisfied with lowering standards for their team goals. In like manner, businesses are never satisfied with lowering business goals for their corporation, but local churches adopt an attitude that expects pastors to lower standards of what’s expected for membership, decrease the seriousness of worship, and make worship fast, easy, and comfortable. This approach has radically changed the way in which we worship.
Over the past two years, I have been working through our order of worship and revisiting the need for change based on convictions and the need for a more healthy worship service. Recently, the elders discussed this issue and we continue to work through some of the needed alterations as we prepare for 2019. It is our desire to arrange our worship in such a way that will honor God with the most healthy worship service as possible. That requires intentional design that arranges worship based on knowledge rather than feeling.
Far too often, worship services are arranged to meet the felt needs of a congregation or to attract the seeker who might be in attendance. The seeker sensitive model of church growth plagued evangelicalism with light duty worship services that were superficial, short, shallow, and non-offensive to unbelievers. In many cases this approach has left us with large megachurches filled with unbelievers who gather for reasons that do not square with the purpose of the Lord’s Day and worship services across evangelicalism that are based on feelings rather than knowledge.
All through the Bible we see an emphasis placed on what we know to be true about God. In 1 Peter 1:18, the apostle uses the word “knowing” to encourage the discouraged believer and help them to base their worship of God on the firm foundation of what they know to be true about God. As we approach 2019, we are preparing to make necessary changes to the worship order within our local church so that our weekly worship will become more healthy.
Healthy Variety of Scripture Reading
Many Protestant churches have very little Scripture read in their weekly worship compared to the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. When you consider the fact that once upon a time people were being burned at the stake for possessing the Bible in English—you would think that we would have a healthy dose of public Scripture readings, but that simply isn’t the case across the board.
We begin each service with a call to worship from God’s Word. Throughout 2018, we read through the Gospel of Matthew as we took a portion of Matthew’s Gospel in both the morning and evening worship services. As we prepare for a new order of worship, we will be incorporating several Scripture passages in each service as follows:
- Reading from the Psalms
- Reading from the Law
- Reading from the Gospel
- Reading from the Sermon Passage
It is our desire to have both the Old and New Testament read in each service. We desire to show the importance of all Scripture and to show how Christ stands at the center of all of God’s Word. This approach will enable us to be very intentional in connecting how we pray with what the Bible actually says since our prayers will be arranged near Scripture readings.
In a typical worship service, prayers are often generic in approach and sadly is the case that they are used as transitions between different stages of the worship service. It’s not uncommon to have a prayer in a specific place merely to allow musicians to get into place for the next song. The prayer is offered by the pastor and is typically a transition and has no intentional design to it whatsoever.
As we rearrange our order of worship, we will arrange intentional prayer times that will enable the church to be specific in how we pray each time we enter into a time of prayer. We will arrange internal prayers such as:
- Prayer of Adoration
- Prayer of Confession
- Pastoral Prayer
- Prayer for Missions
We believe this will enable us to focus on God in a vertical prayer at the beginning of the service which will set the focus for our gathering. We are not gathering for entertainment or for selfish reasons. We are gathering to meet with our God. Following in the worship service will be a time of internal personal introspection and evaluation. We will be ver intentional about praying and confessing to God our known sin and pleading for forgiveness. The pastoral prayer will be focused on the needs of the congregation—and much of it will be based on the need to know God and to allow our knowledge of God to drive our worship of God. Finally, we will end with a time praying for missions around the world and focusing in on the commission to our local community. Each prayer will have a specific intentional design.
One of the joys of my life has been to watch our church embrace the biblical model of shared pastoral leadership. The plurality of elders leading a local church is a beautiful thing. I have the privilege of serving with a Godly group of men who love the Lord and have a passion to serve our local church.
As we continue to grow as elders, it is my desire to see more shared leadership in the weekly worship. As we incorporate these intentional public Scripture readings and prayers into our weekly worship—we will have the privilege of sitting under the shared leadership of our elders on a weekly basis. This will not only provide opportunities for the elders to serve and lead, but it will enable the church to see the elders serving and leading each week. This approach is intentional and for the good of our whole church.
When was the last time you paused and evaluated how you worship each week? Do you believe that your worship service is healthy and robust or lacking in substance and depth? If you’re a pastor, you can work to change this pattern if you feel that your worship service is unhealthy. If you’re a church member, you can always talk with your pastors about this problem and pray that they will make the necessary changes for the glory of God.