The Hunger and Longing for Heaven

                      NE PLUS ULTRA or PLUS ULTRA?

“The ‘Strait of Gibralter’ is a narrow body of water connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The closeness of the southernmost part of Spain and the northern coast of Africa creates the Strait. In ancient times, there were two rocks – one on each side of the Strait. Greek legend said that Hercules had placed the rocks on either side of the Strait. People called these rocks ‘the Pillars of Hercules.’ The Spanish drew the Pillars on their fifteenth century coat of arms. They put scrolls across the Pillars. The artist wrote three Latin words on the scrolls. The words were ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ – No More Beyond. These words were a warning to sailors not to enter the Atlantic Ocean. Then, Christopher Columbus voyaged to the New World and returned to Europe. The Spanish government changed the inscription on the coat of arms. The artist removed the Latin word ‘Ne’ from the scroll. Now the inscription read, ‘Plus Ultra’ – More Beyond.

When have you truly desired for something more beyond what this life has to offer?

Describe a time when you truly desired to be with God in Heaven?



“Our hearts are restless until thy rest in Thee, O Lord”                                                                                                                                                                       Augustine

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.                                                                                                                                                       Pascal

Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality (Official Transcription)

Narrated by Gabriel Byrne (Usual Suspects, Vanity Fair, Miller’s Crossing), this seven-time Best Documentary award-winning film (Silver Lake Film Festival, Beverly Hills Film Festival) is the most comprehensive and mind-blowing investigation of humankind’s relationship with death ever captured on film. Hailed by many viewers as a “life-transformational film,” Flight from Death uncovers death anxiety as a possible root cause of many of our behaviors on a psychological, spiritual, and cultural level. Following the work of the late cultural anthropologist, Ernest Becker, and his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Denial of Death, this documentary explores the ongoing research of a group of social psychologists that may forever change the way we look at ourselves and the world. Over the last twenty-five years, this team of researchers has conducted over 300 laboratory studies, which substantiate Becker’s claim that death anxiety is a primary motivator of human behavior, specifically aggression and violence.


Here are some quotes from this phenomenological view of death.

Narration: To have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression—and with all this yet to die.” (Ernest Becker).


Humankind has always been restless. Never satisfied with our physical limitations, we have always strived for more. With machines we conquer gravity and travel faster and farther than any other animal. We explore the heavens—the last great frontier—and we manipulate our own biology through medical science. In defiance of nature, we have manufactured the means to become rulers of the natural world. What is left to conquer… and are we satisfied? Since time immemorial we have battled our greatest limitation—one which seems to render our efforts to overcome and conquer…insignificant.  Every day we participate in a multitude of activities to distance ourselves from harm and death, but beneath the surface we are aware that these day-to-day strategies are doomed to fail. We will die eventually, and all of this will come to an end. Human beings find themselves in quite the predicament. We have the mental capacity to ponder the infinite; seemingly capable of anything, yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping, decaying body. We are godly yet creaturely. Death is the end of the self. It is perhaps the ultimate mystery. We may never know what death really is and whether it marks the end of everything or, as many believe, the beginning of something else. Yet we do know that death is something to be avoided.


Sam Keen: At the gut level, my feeling is “death is unacceptable.” I did not sign that “contract.” I looked at the “small print” and everything else—it’s unacceptable. And that’s just sort of a gut feeling in the sense that we love life. Death is a… death is an insult to our spirit. Added to that, of course, is the fear of the process of dying—which is different—of the indignity of it, of the loss of control, of the pain associated with it.


Dan Liechty: We then recognize that death happens to us, and I have to live with the knowledge that I will die. All organisms have a life instinct—an instinct to live. Our species has as much of that as any other species, but we also have the intelligence to know that we are doomed.


Merlyn Mowrey: Our survival presents a problem for us because we have the kind of consciousness that makes us aware, from a pretty early point in life, that our desire to live—to feed and live and survive—is ultimately going to fail.

Dan Liechty: That creates a cognitive problem for us. It creates a potentially enormous amount of anxiety that we have to do something with.  We carry a burden of anxiety that no other species carries.


Narration: …….. In every corner of the world, myths of immortality and the means to achieve it have been at the heart of people’s most cherished beliefs. From magical elixirs to elaborate tombs furnished with spectacular treasures, there was no limit to humankind’s imagination, and no possibility left unexplored. So how are things different today? While many of these antiquated methods still exist in some form or another, our technologies are advancing exponentially by the year, yet our death anxiety is still as present as ever. In our efforts to combat death and the aging process, scientists have now developed the means to reverse certain aspects of aging, while others claim to be on the verge of solving the problem of death altogether. Despite our technologies and desire for miracle cures, the reality of death has not changed. Infectious and parasitic disease will claim the lives of approximately 18 million people this year. Heart disease and other circulatory diseases will kill 16 million. Another 5 million will die in traffic accidents. In total, 54 million people alive this very moment will be dead in the next 12 months.


Some interesting tombstone sayings……………..


Sir John Strange; Here lies an honest lawyer, And that is Strange.
— Tombstone in England


John Brown is filling his last cavity.
— Dentist’s Tombstone


I told you that I was sick!
— Georgia Cemetary, USA


Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake; Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.
— Pennsylvania Tombstone, USA


Remember man, as you walk by, As you are now, so once was I, As I am now, so shall you be, Remember this and follow me.
— Tombstone in England


To follow you I’ll not consent, Until I know which way you went.
— Written on the tombstone in reply to one above


                      Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done                                            from beginning to end.

  1. 1.  God has set eternity in the hearts of man.

What does it mean that God has set eternity in our heart?

  • It means that God has given to us a sense of eternity – a sense of      thinking of and imagining life beyond our own short lives.
  • It also means that man desires this eternal life.
  • It means that man has a desire to understand God’s entire program.      This is why man has pursued science and philosophy as well as theology. We      have been gifted with a desire to understand all of creation.
  • It also means that man has a hunger for God Himself.

  “Our Heavenly Father has provided many delightful inns for us along our journey, but he takes great care to see that we do not mistake any of them for home.” (C.S. Lewis).

There is a longing for home – a call deep in the human spirit for more than life can provide. This itch which we cannot scratch is part of God’s plan.

Augustine: “Everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being: You have           made us for          Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

Pascal:  “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man that only God can fill.”

  1. 2.     People cannot fathom or understand the mystery

What does this mean in your life?

          We cannot get the full picture. We have only the scaffolding and see only glimpses of           the finished product. We cannot see clear results from our efforts.

We cannot be completely confident to know all aspects of anything. We still see                   through a glass darkly.

We are in the middle of a grand story that had had an incredible beginning and will have a glorious conclusion.  But we do not know how all the pieces fit together.

  What do people search for? What do people long for?
























 Does your view of life and afterlife give you satisfaction?


What do people you know search or long for?


What do you long for?


What does each verse say about our desire for God and Heaven?


Psalms 27:4





Psalms 37:4





Psalms 42:1-2





Psalms 63:1





  Psalms 73:25





  Phil.  1:23





2 Cor. 4:17-18





 Hebrews 11:13-16




 Great quotes from C. S. Lewis about our desire for Heaven


All the things that have ever deeply possessed your souls have been but hints of heaven-tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear…If I find in myself a desire which no experience this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world…Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

        Problem of Pain

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

          Weight of Glory

Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want    acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise….Now there are two wrong ways of dealing with this fact, and one right way,

(1)                        The Fool’s Way–he puts the blame on the things themselves, he goes on all his life thinking that if only he tried another woman, or holiday, or whatever, then this time he would really catch the mysterious something…


(2)                        The Way of Disillusioned “Sensible’ Man–he soon decides that the whole thing was moonshine, And so he settles down and learns not to expect too much and represses the part of himself which used to as he would say, “to cry for the moon.”


(3)                         The Christian Way–Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim: well there is such a thing as water. We feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanations is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only arouse it, to suggest the real thing.  If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death: I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside: I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.

                                                                                                                          Mere Christianity


The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that.  The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.  I can’t describe it any better than that: If you ever get there you will know what I mean. It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling.  He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed and then cried: I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here.  This is the land I have been looking for all my life.

                               The Last Battle


There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.

        Problem of Pain

Aslan turned to them and said: “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”
Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”
“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.                                                                                                                            The Last Battle



We were made for a person. That being God.


We are made for a place.  That being heaven.

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Questions about Heaven

27 Common Questions about Heaven

All these questions are addressed in Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven (Tyndale, 2004). Most of them have clear, though not comprehensive, Biblical answers. The others that don’t have clear answers can be intelligently speculated upon, based on what Scripture does tell us.

Circle the ones you would like to pursue?

  1. Is Heaven a realm for disembodied  spirits, or a physical place where we’ll have bodies?
  2. Is there a difference between the Heaven we go to when we die and the Heaven we’ll live in after the resurrection?
  3. What is the new earth? Will it be like Eden? Will it have natural wonders? Will some of the same places of this earth be on the new earth?
  4. Won’t it get boring? What will we do? Will we work? Rest? Play?
  5. What will it be like to see  God’s face and worship him? How will our relationship with God change?
  6. Will we be the same people? With the same personalities and emotions? Will we become angels?
  7. What will we look like? What age will we be?
  8. Will we eat and drink?
  9. Will there be continuity between our past lives and our future ones? Will we remember our old lives, family and friends?
  10. Will we be conscious immediately after death, or will we sleep until the resurrection?
  11. Will we know everything? Will we learn? Will there be books and libraries?
  12. Will there be races? Nations?  Earthly civilizations?
  13. Will there be culture? Art? Music? Sports? Entertainment? Technology?
  14. Will we laugh, celebrate and have fun?
  15. What will it mean to reign with Christ?
  16. What kind of rewards will there be? If some have greater rewards than others, will they be happier?
  17. Will there be animals? Might our pets be there?
  18. Will we have our own places to  live?
  19. Will we travel? Explore? Journey to other planets? Go back in time?
  20. Do people in Heaven know what’s presently happening on earth? Do they pray for those on earth?
  21. Will we be married and have families? Will we have sex?
  22. Do babies who die go to Heaven? Will they remain babies in Heaven, or will they be “grown up”?
  23. Will we grieve over loved ones  not there?
  24. Will there be time?
  25. Will we be capable of sinning?   Could there be another fall?
  26. Will be we able to meet and talk  with past historical figures and Bible characters?
  27. Who will be in Heaven? Can we be sure we’re going there?

 Here are some preliminary questions to add to our study about heaven…..


1.  Why should the brevity of this life make us hunger for Heaven?


2.  What does it mean that God has set eternity in our hearts?


3.  How does Heaven give this life meaning?


4.  How does desiring Heaven satisfy our unfulfilled sense of justice?


5.  How does studying Heaven give us consoling assurance that we shall again see our loved ones that have died in the faith?


6.  How does studying Heaven fulfill our purpose to see God and to be like Him?


7.  How does studying Heaven help us distinguish the Biblical view from secular views?


8.  How does a proper view of Heaven influence how we live?


9.  How does Heaven fulfill the desires that this earth cannot provide?


10. How is looking toward Heaven evidence of true salvation?


11. How does looking toward Heaven produce Christian character?


12. How does looking toward Heaven direct us away from temptation and sin?


13. How does looking toward Heaven maintain our vigor for spiritual service?


14. How does looking toward Heaven honor God?


15. How does a greater understanding of future resurrection cause Christians to rejoice?


16. How does the doctrine of the future resurrection give Christians hope and comfort now?


17. How can a discussion of afterlife and Heaven be used in witnessing?


18.  How does studying Heaven increase our knowledge of God?


19.  How does studying Heaven purify our daily walk?


20.  How do our thoughts of Heaven increase our motivation for evangelism?


21.  How does Heaven encourage our generosity in giving?

22.  How does Heaven multiply joy in our lives?


23.  How does the study of Heaven counteract Satan’s plot to slander the place of God?


24.  How does studying Heaven obey to Scripture’s command to set your mind on things above?


25.  How does the correct view of Heaven put substance to Christian hope?


26.  How does our thought of Heaven put the proper perspective on this life?


27.  How does the proper view of Heaven give us understanding for God’s future intent for this earth?


28.  How does an accurate study of Heaven increase our love for God?



A.W. Tozer once said,

“When the followers of Jesus Christ lose their interest in Heaven they will no longer be happy Christians and when they are no longer happy Christians they cannot be a powerful force in a sad and sinful world.  It may be said with certainty that Christians who have lost their enthusiasm about the Savior’s promise of Heaven-to–come have also stopped being effective in Christian life and witness in this world.”

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Eternal Rewards for the Believer: Introduction

 Eternal Rewards for the Believer: Introduction

Introductory concepts to consider:

A. Why do you think that rewards for the believer are controversial and often ignored?

B. Does working for rewards make our life self-centered?

C. Is it correct to speak of meriting a reward, when salvation is by grace?

D. Would eternal rewards lead to comparison and jealousy in heaven?

How would you respond to this Blog found on the web?

Eternal Rewards vs. the Gospel


Many Christians hold to such a belief, which suggests that our salvation by grace through faith gets us into heaven, but does not affect how good we have it when we get there. Our eternal rewards, crowns or jewels in our crown, direct access to God (an “inner court”), etc. are said to be based on our obedience to God after we come to faith, on the quality of our walk with Christ, and/or on the good works we perform. Is this biblical?

Bottom line, I would say that the doctrine of rewards, as commonly understood in typical mainstream conservative evangelical circles, is a pernicious doctrine. It nullifies grace, nullifies the doctrine of imputation, nullifies the active obedience of Christ and ultimately decimates the gospel. The gospel is reduced to something that can only get you in the door of heaven, but doesn’t enable you to share the joy of your master, at least not until you have gone through a purgatorial time of remorse over all of your failures to live the Christian life.

            What is the purpose of your Christian life? Are you living to earn rewards, to be good enough in God’s eyes that you will earn a spot in His inner court, or a shinier crown, or a bigger mansion? I suggest to you, good reader, that this is not Christianity at all. Even more hideous than works-based righteousness, this kind of belief suggests that one’s individual and eternal happiness is what is ultimately at stake in life.  It is no surprise that the belief is prevalent in the twenty-first century West, where individualism and self-satisfaction are the idols of highest praise.

            The truth is that the Gospel and the faithful Christian life are not about you; they are about Jesus Christ. He is the Word of God spoken, and it is you who must do the hearing, not the speaking. The matter has nothing to do with the final state of your soul, but with the Father’s good pleasure. Our obedience is required in order to worship Him, not in order to impress Him. That distinction is subtle, and it must not be overlooked: Your salvation by grace, your obedient Christian life and eternity with God, exist solely for the glory of God.

There is an eternal reward for those who trust in Jesus Christ and hold fast to their eternal election, and that reward is the same for every man, woman, and child. The rewards of heaven are not powers and privileges beyond those of other residents, but Jesus Christ Himself. If God has such grace as to say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” then you may enter into your heavenly reward — everlasting service to Him.

       How would you respond to this?


Share these verses with your group and write down insights:

Regeneration is:

Past (I John 3:2) ___________________________________________________________

Free (Eph. 2:8-9) ___________________________________________________________

Can’t be lost (John 10:28-29) __________________________________________________

Same for all Christians (Rom.3:22) ____________________________________________

For those who believe (John3:16) _____________________________________________

Rewards are:

Future (Rev.22:12) __________________________________________________________

Earned (1 Cor. 3:8) __________________________________________________________

Can be lost (2 John 8) ________________________________________________________

Differ between Christians (1 Cor.3:12-15) ________________________________________

For those who work (1 Cor.9:27) _______________________________________________


Basic Clarifications:

Saved by Faith                                        Rewards for Works

Ephesians 2:8-9                                        Revelation 22:12

Romans 4:5                                               Matthew 16:27

Romans 3:28                                             Romans 2:6; 2 Cor.5:10

How is it possible that we are saved by grace and rewarded for works?


-As a sinner,

…I was under condemnation for my sin until I accepted the provision of Christ, who took this condemnation on himself.


-As a son,

…I presently make choices that are either righteous or sinful. When they are sinful, my Father disciplines me for my own good to make me more holy and fruitful.


-As a steward or servant,

…My works will someday be evaluated by my Master.


“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28-29)

1. Scripture teaches first a judgment of faith, then a judgment of works, both for believers and   unbelievers.

2. All true believers will pass the judgment of faith in Christ-their names are written in the Book of Life.

3. All unbelievers will fail the judgment of faith at the Great White Throne, since their names are not written in the Book of Life (Revelation20:11-15).

4. The judgment of works follows the judgment of faith. Scripture states all men, not just unbelievers, will be judged for their works (Prov. 24:12; Eccles.12:14).

5. The unbeliever’s judgment of works comes at the Great White Throne (Revelation20:12).

6. The believer will not be condemned at the Great White Throne, but nonetheless still faces a judgment of          works himself, at the “Judgment Seat of Christ.”


1. Jesus watches and evaluates the churches, keeping score, giving grades. (Revelation 2-3)

2. To Christians Jesus says, “I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” (Revelation 2:23)

3. At the end of our lives all believers will give an account of their lives to their Lord.  “We will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12)

4. We will be judged by Christ according to our works, both good and bad (2 Corinthians5:10).

5. The result of this judgment will be the gain or loss of eternal rewards (1 Corinthians 3:12-15;  2 Corinthians 5:9,10; Romans 14:10-12).

The Bible treats this judgment with great sobriety. It is not a meaningless formality, but a monumental event in which things of eternal significance are brought to light and things of eternal consequence are put into effect.


1. Some Christians will and others will not hear Christ say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

2. Some Christians will be ashamed when they meet Christ-“Dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” (1 John 2:28)

3. Some Christians in heaven will “suffer loss” when their lives on earth are evaluated at the judgment seat of Christ.

“If any man builds on this foundation [the foundation of Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood hay           or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

4. Christians at the judgment seat will experience certain consequences of good they have failed to do and bad they have done:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad”                                           (2 Corinthians 5:10).

“Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism” (Colossians3:25).

The believer’s judgment is of works, not sins. But apparently the commission of sins results in the omission of righteous works. Hence, the loss of reward that we would have had if we hadn’t lived in sin. There is no indication that rewards missed by virtue of lack of service on earth      (1 Cor. 3: 13-15) will be later achieved in some other way.                                  In heaven, how we have lived on earth will have eternal effects.


“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

“Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Revelation 14:13).

“The wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)” (Revelation 19:7-8)

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. . . . You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:17-26)

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James3:13).

“If you do these things [then] you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter1:10-11).

“Let us live, then, in the light of eternity. If we do not, we are weighting the scales against our eternal welfare. We must understand that ‘whatsoever a man soweth’ must be taken in its widest meaning, and that every thought and intent of the heart will come under the scrutiny of the Lord at His coming. We can be sure that at the Judgment Seat of Christ there will be a marked difference between the Christian who has lived his life before the Lord, clearly discerning what was for the glory of God, and another Christian who was saved in a rescue mission at the tag end of a depraved and vicious life, or a nominal Christian saved on his deathbed after a life of self-pride, self-righteousness, self-love, and self-sufficiency. All will be in heaven, but the differences will be eternal. We may be sure that the consequences of our character will survive the grave and that we shall face those consequences at the Judgment Seat of Christ.”

Donald Gray Barnhouse


What on Earth are you doing for Heaven’s Sake?

  1.   If we really took the doctrine of eternal rewards seriously what would change in our lives?
  2.   How do rewards in heaven motivate you?
  3.  Read all you can about eternal rewards and ponder why you have not heard much about it at church.

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The Theology of Christmas Music

Dr. Robert A. Pyne

Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Most radio stations play some type of Christmas music during the holiday season, but many of the songs have become so familiar to us that we no longer consider their content. In between the secular songs like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Up on a Housetop,” you may hear the strains of an old hymn by Charles Wesley called “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” It was written in 1744, and it reads,

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver, born a child, and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.

By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by Thine own sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne.

“Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus” is a little heavier than most of the music we are used to hearing today, and if we are not careful we will miss much of the meaning. The first verse focuses on the fact that the coming of Jesus Christ fulfilledIsrael’s longing for the Messiah. As the one whose coming was prophesied in the Old Testament, He is the “long-expected Jesus.”

A few of the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled are Isaiah 7:14, which spoke of a virgin giving birth to a child whose name would mean “God with us;” Isaiah 9:6, which told of a child whose name would be called “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, eternal Father, the Prince of Peace;” and Micah 5:2, which said that from Bethlehem would come a ruler whose “goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”

These and many similar prophecies looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, and many devout Jews prayed earnestly for the day when He would arrive. Luke 2 tells of Simeon, a man of faith who was “looking for the consolation ofIsrael” (v. 25). When he saw Jesus as an infant, Simeon knew that this Child was the fulfillment of his messianic hope. Charles Wesley was borrowing from this passage when he described Jesus in this song as “Israel’s strength and consolation.”

Although He fulfilled Israel’s prophecies, Jesus came to bring salvation to the entire world, which is what Wesley was referring to when he described Christ as the “hope of all the earth” and the “dear desire of every nation.” More than that, He is the “joy of every longing heart.” He alone is the one who can satisfy every soul.

The second verse tells us why Jesus can meet our expectations: He was “born a child and yet a King.” As the One who is both God and man, Jesus was able to satisfy God’s wrath completely by dying on the cross for our sins. When Wesley wrote about Jesus’ “all sufficient merit,” he was referring to Christ’s ability to bring us to salvation.

“Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus” is a great song for Christmas, focusing on the “long-expected Jesus” who was born to set us free from sin and to bring us salvation by His death.

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

Charles Wesley’s best-known song is probably “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” It has been altered slightly by editors, but most of it remains just as Wesley intended when he wrote it over 250 years ago.

As we generally hear it today, the song begins with a triumphant proclamation of Jesus’ birth, describes the fact that He is both God and man, and then praises Him for the salvation He was born to provide.

The first verse reads, in part,

Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”

Talking about peace on earth is popular at Christmas time, and appropriately so, for Jesus did come to bring peace. Primarily, however, He came to bring us peace with God, which is what Wesley meant when he wrote, “God and sinners reconciled.” We have all sinned against God; we have broken His commandments and thus made ourselves His enemies. When people become enemies, they cannot go back to being friends until their differences are set aside. Sometimes reconciliation involves the payment of reparations, and which is essentially what Jesus did when He died on the cross. He paid the price necessary to reconcile us to God. The price was really ours to pay, not God’s, but Jesus was able to pay it because, though He was God, He became also a man, being born as a baby on that first Christmas day.

Charles Wesley described Jesus’ birth in the second verse of this song. He wrote,

Christ by highest heaven adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.

Though He was the everlasting Lord, the second person of the Trinity (which is described in the song as “the Godhead”), fully equal in nature with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus became the “offspring of the Virgin’s womb.” He was “veiled in flesh,” the “incarnate Deity.” He was God, having become also a man. The name Emmanuel means “God with us,” which is what Wesley was referring to when he wrote that Jesus was “pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.” He became a man, but in the process did not lose His deity. He was “God with us.”

The idea that Jesus would lay aside His divine privileges for any reason is nothing short of incredible, but He did so in order to provide us with salvation. Wesley focused on this amazing occurrence in the third verse, where he wrote,

Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.

Jesus laid aside His own rights, coming to this earth and dying for our sins, that those who trust in Him might have eternal life. He was born that we might be born again, and that is good reason to sing “glory to the newborn King.”

O Little Town ofBethlehem

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” was written in 1867 by Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal pastor fromPhiladelphia. He had been inIsraeltwo years earlier and had celebrated Christmas inBethlehem. This song describes the city not so much as it was when Brooks observed it, but as he thought it might have appeared on the night of Jesus’ birth.

The first verse reads,

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

The streets of our own cities are quiet on Christmas day; stores are closed and most people are at home. It is possible that Bethlehem was quiet on the night that Jesus was born, but we know that the place was full of people from out-of-town, and chances are that there were even more people on the streets than usual. But this song does not say as much about the level of activity inBethlehemas it does about the fact that very few people even noticed the Baby who was born. One line from the second verse reads, “While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love”–a situation that is true even today. The world goes on about its business, working, eating, sleeping, and playing, utterly oblivious to the spiritual realities around it. As Brooks wrote in the third verse of the song,

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

When Christ came into this world, He came quietly. The angelic announcement to the shepherds was the only publicity that accompanied Him. He was born in a stable and laid in a feeding trough; He did not arrive with the pomp that one would expect of a King. For the most part, He still does not. When people today place their faith in Jesus Christ, the Bible tells us that He comes to live inside them through the indwelling Holy Spirit (John14:16-23;Rom.8:9-11). There is not a lot of flash associated with an entrance like that, and some of your friends might not even notice the difference at first, but when you trust in Jesus Christ an incredibly significant event takes place. Your sins are forgiven and you are made a new person (John 5:24; 2 Cor. 5:17).

Jesus’ coming means that Christmas does not have to be the lonely time that it is for so many people. We can experience His salvation and enjoy His presence as individuals, even though the world around us does not understand what is really going on. As the last verse of the song reads,

O holy Child of Bethlehem! Descend to us we pray,
Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.

O Holy Night

The carol “O Holy Night” by John Dwight begins by describing the night Jesus was born. It reads,

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

The coming of Jesus Christ should make us feel valuable, and it should make us feel loved. John3:16tells us that Jesus came because “God so loved the world.” First Peter 1 reminds us that God has actually purchased us out of our slavery to sin, not with something perishable and comparatively worthless like silver and gold, “but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (vv. 18,19). The fact that Jesus gave Himself for us should cause our souls to feel their worth to God.

The second verse of “O Holy Night” calls us to consider the incredible fact that the King of kings was born as a human infant and placed in a manger. Most of us cannot relate to that kind of birth–our children are usually born in hospitals and nurtured in the most sterile of environments. Jesus was not. He was born in a stable. More than that, He lived a life of poverty, experienced severe temptation and persecution, and died a brutal death, abandoned by His friends and wrongly condemned by His enemies. Thus, although we cannot always relate to His experiences, He can relate to ours. This empathy is what Dwight was describing when he wrote,

The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend.

It must have seemed ironic for grown men to bow down before a baby, but no act of worship was ever more appropriate.

Considering our Lord’s birth should cause us to worship Him, and it should cause us to respond to one another with humility. The third verse of “O Holy Night” reads,

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

We no longer have slavery in this country, but we have many other forms of oppression, and Dwight was correct in writing that the oppression of human beings is inconsistent with the worship of Christ.

The Bible tells us that we are to model the humility that Jesus demonstrated when He voluntarily laid aside His rights as God and became also a man in order to suffer for our salvation. Based on Christ’s example, Paul writes,

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil. 2:3-4).

Paul tells us that we are wrong when we put our own interests ahead of someone else’s, whether through the slavery that John Dwight spoke against or simply through insensitivity toward others.Because He loved us, Jesus chose not to exercise all of His rights. May we follow that pattern of humility as we love one another, even after Christmas.

Joy to the World

“Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts and published for the first time in 1719. The song is a paraphrase of the 98th Psalm, and it has become one of the most popular Christmas carols of all time. The popularity of “Joy to the World” has resulted in a number of revisions designed to fit the theology of those singing it. For example, in 1838 the song was revised by a group of religious skeptics, who apparently liked the song but did not want to sing about the coming of the Lord. They changed the words from

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing,”

to “Joy to the world! The light has come [a reference to reason], the only lawful King. Let every heart prepare it room, and moral nature sing.”

Several years ago the song was used by a marching choir in a major televised parade. But the choir only sang the first four words, “Joy to the world,” and then just hummed the rest of the song!

People who do not believe in Jesus often do not mind singing about a baby born in a manger, but it is a little more awkward for them to sing about Him being the Lord of heaven and earth. And this song makes it very clear that Jesus did not just come to be an inspiring infant or a gentle teacher. He came as the Lord, the King of kings, fully deserving our praise.

“Joy to the World” continues with the words,

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.

This verse alludes to Genesis 3, where God told the first man that the ground itself would be cursed as a consequence of his sin. Instead of abundant crops, the ground would now produce thorns and thistles–weeds that would cause humankind to labor intensively in order to survive. With this verse of the song,Wattsanticipates the day when the blessings of salvation in Christ will overturn sin’s consequences “as far as the curse is found.”

That day has not come yet, but someday Christ will return to reign in His glory and judge the nations. As the last verse of “Joy to the World” reads,

He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.

When Jesus came to this earth, He did not remain in the manger, where He might have been easily controlled. He did not even remain on the cross, where He might have been honored as a martyr. He rose from the dead, that He might reign over all creation. Whether people enjoy singing the words or not, Isaac Watts was right. “Joy to the world! The Lord is come.”

© 1991 Probe Ministries

About the Author

Dr. Robert A. Pyne is a former associate speaker with Probe Ministries, and currently serves as Professor of Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. He received the B.A. magna cum laude in communication fromArizonaStateUniversity. He received the Th.M. with honors, and the Th.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary, where he also was awarded the William M. Anderson Scholarship Award.

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The Truth Behind the Tinsel—The Christmas Story

In the book, God with Us, John MacArthur gives two philosophies that are stealing Christmas. One danger is the tendency to secularize Christmas; to make it an excuse for parties and self-indulgence and not consider at all the significance.  The other danger is the effort to mythologize Christmas by embellishing the simple Christmas story with legends of talking animals and confusing fantasy.  If you were from a foreign land or from another planet, what message would you gather on the meaning of Christmas?  Could you get the story straight, even from Christians?

We must remember that Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, Herod, and the Magi were real people.  They were real people playing significant roles in the story of God becoming man.  But truth has always been more surprising than fiction or fantasy.  The truth behind the tinsel of Christmas is that the best gift was wrapped in an unexpected package.  Behind the tinsel of Christmas is the simple truth – that amidst the noisy shoppers, past the glitter, beneath the candy canes and colored stockings, under the printed foil wrappings, shadowed by the jolly smile of Santa and even behind the spirit of giving – behind the tinsel – is the truth of a simple story of a child born in a straw-littered stable.


The truth is profound in its simplicity.  Within it lies the miracle that all our hearts yearn.  God chose to visit us in a form that we could understand.  God revealed Himself in a human being.  God revealed the secrets of heaven and accomplished the mission of salvation in an unexpected way.  God visited us in an unexpected way (in a manger) and accomplished salvation in an unexpected way (on a cross).  God came as a child. He humbly left His throne to die to be our Savior.  This is the simple and profound truth behind the tinsel.


What if we could return to that first Christmas, to the time of the birth of Jesus?  Would we be disappointed?  We can piece a lot of the story together from Scripture and other historians.  From the books of Matthew and Luke and other historians I would like to share the simple story of Christmas.  You may be surprised that the truth could be more exciting and profound than the tinsel.


Listen to the truth behind the tinsel . . .


The labor pangs of pregnancy were at their final stages.  The long awaited arrival was causing anxiety.  It was the fullness of time – time itself was pregnant.  God has prepared the whole of history like the stage of a cosmic theater production for His own physical birth.  God chose the time He would be born on earth.  He chose the proper time when history was ready.  The language was common, travel was easy, peace ruled but hearts were begging for a Redeemer to save them from the hollowness of pagan religions.  And so it was that God had set the stage to prepare for the curtain to open and for God Himself to make His entrance.


The Roman Empire had stretched its control to become one of the largest empires this world had ever seen.  It had proudly announced that the entire known world was within its grasp.  This powerful empire had little concern about a tiny finger of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, the land of Palestine.  The only concern was to make this land called Judea part of the Empire – to swallow it up into the power of Rome.  Two of the most important steps to take Judea into the grip of the Emperor Caesar Augustus were these:


The first was that Caesar would heavily tax the people to press them in line with the rest of the Empire.


The second was to transfer the power of judicial execution (the power of life and death) from the Jews to the Roman Empire. To the world these steps seemed unfair or perhaps insignificant.  But from the decrees of this godless emperor, God’s plan would be accomplished.


Because of those two decrees Christ would be born in prophesied city and would die in a prophesied way.  Caesar had no way to knowing that his decrees would fulfill the 800-year-old prophecy that Bethlehem was the city where the Messiah would be born and crucifixion on a cross would be the manner in which this Messiah would die.


History would take a peculiar twist.  Few would remember Caesar Augustus who was worshiped as a god in Rome.  His name would forever be shadowed by a child to be born during his reign, in a rundown section of his more obscure providence behind an old inn among some cow flops and moldy hay.


So Caesar Augustus sent his decree from Rome to the distant land of Palestine which was governed by the self-acclaimed Herod the Great.  Now this was a strange sort of man.  He called himself a Jew, but he hated the Jews and the Jews hated him.  He had an extravagant hobby of architecture and even had the great Jewish temple rebuilt in Jerusalem.  This was to promote himself rather than the Jews, and obviously not God.  He probably reinterpreted Caesar’s edict of taxation to make it sound like a patriotic duty instead of a foreign order.  To return to one’s hometown and see relatives was probably Herod’s idea to make the order more attractive and more easily obeyed.


So it was that the roads were busily crowded with travelers returning to their hometown.  A poor carpenter and his pregnant fiancée traveling from Nazareth now enter the story.  It was a three-day journey to Jerusalem and then a two-hour walk to the obscure town of Bethlehem.

If you were Joseph, what might be on your mind?


Joseph had endured a deep inner struggle.  He had just finished making the most difficult decision of his life.  The sequence of events is unclear from Scripture as to whether Joseph heard that his fiancée was pregnant before or after her visit to her cousin, Elizabeth.  The shock was the same – his fiancée, the woman he loved, was pregnant.  He must have thought the story of a Holy Spirit causing conception was a bit too much!


Joseph was a righteous man and this whole situation was a very embarrassing dilemma.  To marry her now would dishonor God.  The ancient law in Deuteronomy prescribed that a woman pregnant outside of marriage should be put to death by stoning.  Had they been living in the time of Moses, Mary would have been immediately stoned.  But because of the laxness in the Jewish theocracy and the infiltration of Roman law, Joseph had two other options.  He could make her an example in a public court.  Thus, she would be shamed and have a destroyed reputation the rest of her life.  The other choice was to quietly write a bill of divorce.


You see, every Jewish couple desiring marriage would be betrothed for a 12-month period to prove their fidelity.  If any unfaithfulness or problems surfaced, these problems could be resolved before the marriage was consummated.  Evidently Joseph had discovered Mary’s unfaithfulness but still deeply loved her.  Joseph chose the more merciful way to sever the relationship – a quiet divorce.


And then an angel appeared to Joseph and gave him an unexpected and unheard-of command.  This command would break tradition and probably cause both Mary and Joseph to be the brunt of mockery for the rest of their lives.


The angel said to take Mary as his wife because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit.  The angel even told him the child would be a boy, what the child’s name would be, and what this child would do with His life.

If you were Mary, what might be on your mind?


Mary had just returned from a three-month visit with her cousin, Elizabeth.  Both Mary and Elizabeth had a common situation.  Elizabeth was a barren old woman disgraced and humiliated all her life and suspected of some hidden sin because she could not have children.  As you can imagine Mary was also the object of gossip.  You see, both Mary and Elizabeth had something in common.  Both were surrounded by the chatter of gossip and both were miraculously pregnant.


The writer, Doctor Luke, tells of their time together.  It was a time of consoling each other, praising God and waiting for their husbands to understand that the Lord works in unconventional ways.  To make matters more unbelievable, to the Jewish mind God did not work through women.


But God’s plan weaved four other surprising women into the genealogic listing of the Messiah:


Tamar – who dressed as a prostitute and conceived two sons (Perez & Zerah) from a shameful act of harlotry and incest.

Rahab – a Canaanite prostitute who helped Joshua win the battle of Jericho.

Ruth – A Moabite who became a Jew.

Bathsheba – the woman who David committed adultery with.


And now Elizabeth is pregnant with the one who will announce the coming of the Messiah. And Mary, a pregnant fiancée of a poor carpenter, is ready to give birth to the Son of God.  God is saying; “Watch out, for I work in unexpected ways.”


But strangely enough, the prophet Isaiah spelled out how the Messiah would enter this world.  “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and His name shall be called … Emmanuel.”


This was a clarification of a previous prophecy made outside of the Garden of Eden.  God pronounced the curse on the serpent by saying; “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed.”  The only time in Scripture where the seed of a woman is mentioned … hinting something special.


Perhaps Mary and Joseph were mulling and pondering these events as they traveled the road to Bethlehem.  We do not know how they traveled.  Tradition says she was on a borrowed donkey as he walked.  It would be common for a poor family to borrow a donkey, especially for a woman almost in her labor. But the irony of this is that a few hours before birth Jesus would humbly enter the city of Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey and that a few days before death Jesus would enter triumphantly into Jerusalem on another borrowed donkey.


So this couple with hearts filled with wonder passed through Jerusalem and then south to Bethlehem.


Why Bethlehem?


Yes, it was the decree by the proud emperor in Rome reinterpreted by the Jew-hating Herod. Possibly Joseph and Mary desired to escape the gossiping tongues of the people of Nazareth.  But more importantly, it was to fulfill an obscure prophecy made eight centuries earlier in the book of Micah foretelling that this was the place the Messiah would be born.


Without knowing it, all these people were running an errand for God – the most important errand for the Lord of Heaven.


Bethlehem means “house of bread.” and Bethlehem was, indeed, as insignificant as a dry loaf of bread.  But this unexpected town was the place God chose to accomplish His will.


Ironically, 1500 years later this small village would run an insane asylum at the Monastery of St. Mary’s.  For a small admission price people would actually go to heckle the inmates.  In time, the name St. Mary of Bethlehem would be shortened to Bethlehem and pronounced….bedlam.  And in time the word “bedlam” came to refer to the noise and confusion that symbolized the insane asylum.  The name that once explained the peaceful village where Jesus was born now described the anxiety, stress and mindless scurrying around people feel at Christmastime.


It might have been bedlam in Bethlehem that night since many travelers crowded the streets.  As Joseph and Mary entered Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown, why did they seek an inn?  There is a possibility that Joseph had rented out his house or that his family had died or could not be found in all the bedlam.   But most likely Mary was in her final stage of labor and they needed a place quickly.


An inn during that time was most undesirable – a low-class tavern and flop house.  It could have just been a house opened by its owner to take advantage of all the census travelers.  The Bible makes no mention of an innkeeper, but apparently Joseph asked someone.  Perhaps the owner thought a woman giving birth was not good for inn business.  In any case, the couple was rejected.  There was no room for the presence of God. It should not strike us strange because even today most people do not have room for God in their preoccupied lives.


They found refuge in a nearby stable – a rough wooden lean-to or small cave – just basic protection from the elements, fit for animals.  No hot water, no heat, no light, no pain killers, no doctors, no midwife.  While most in the city were enjoying the reunion of families, Joseph sat in a corral which reeked of manure.  As most were rejoicing, Mary was suffering in a hay-filled stable giving birth to a baby.


Then in the darkness of the stable a new sound was heard.  For the first time deity expressed sounds directly through a human body.  The sound of crying is the natural sound from a baby that is fully human.  It was the sound of a baby that God chose to speak through.  And those hands that had fashioned the universe were now the tiny helpless hands of a newborn baby.  God packed in a baby.  God in a manger.  They laid Him in swaddling clothes.  Those strips of cloth were probably one of the few comforts this child had as the couple laid there on coarse straw.


If you were a mother you may wonder why Mary stopped holding her newborn.  In a dark, smelly stable one might have held the newborn.  But the reason why she put Him in a feeding trough was to be a sign – a clue – for a group of people soon to enter the scene.


You see, that same night there were shepherds watching their sheep.  The sheep near town were raised for only one purpose – for sacrifices.  Little did they know that a baby born that night would be The Sacrificial Lamb that would take away the sins of the world.  This would fulfill their heart’s desire and also ruin their occupation.  You see, raising sacrificial sheep was the most worthy activity shepherds could do.  Otherwise shepherds were seen as despised, untrustworthy, incompetent, and personified filth.  To buy wool, milk or anything from them was forbidden because it was assumed it was stolen.  They were unclean people.  The rabbis constantly struggled with the dilemma of the despicable nature of shepherds and why God was called “My Shepherd” in Psalm 23.



But it was to these outcasts, in the context of religious snobbery and class prejudice that God again broke his 400-year silence.  God spoke to Zechariah to tell him of the son he would have; God spoke to Mary, to Joseph and now to shepherds.  And fitting it was to have shepherds first hear of the birth of the Savior.  For the Prophet Micah foretold that out of Bethlehem would come a ruler who would shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord and in the majesty of the name of the Lord.



And so it was that an angel appeared to these shepherds and told them the Savior had just been born.  The angel was joined by a heavenly army of angels who praised God by saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”


There is no mention of angels singing here.  In fact only twice in the Word do angels sing.  They sang at creation before Adam sinned, mentioned in the book of Job and they will sing when history culminates, mentioned in the book of Revelation.


The angel gave the shepherds only one clue to find the Christ “He would be wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.” The shepherds were so excited they left their flock and hurried off to find this treasure.


Could it be that these filthy people disgusted the city people?  Or could they have just blended in the crowd?  But they entered the city seeking their Savior with little thought of what they left behind and what people thought.  How they found the infant with the clues they received is difficult to imagine.  But they found Mary and Joseph and the baby.  They found what they sought because they sought with their whole heart.


The shepherds left and spread the word around the city of what they had found.  They praised God, excited about what they had seen.  But Mary treasured these things in her heart.  That little town of Bethlehem was probably so busy in their activities that even the voices of the shepherds were given no mind to.


Eight days later, when it was time to circumcise the child, He was properly named.  It was then that He was given the name that Joseph had been told to give Him.  The name was a testimony to God’s salvation.  He was called Joshua, Jehoshua (Jehovah will save) … Jesus.  This child would save the people from their sins and would restore fellowship with God.


Joseph and Mary were devoted Jews who followed all the legal customs of the Law.  Perhaps it was because they had a high priest, Zechariah, and a godly woman like Elizabeth in the family. So about a month later they traveled to Jerusalem for Mary to be purified after giving birth and to offer a sacrifice as a consecration of their first-born.


It was then that two elderly people spotted Him.  Years before, Simeon was told that he would not die till he had seen the Messiah, and time was running out.  When the moment came, one look through his cataract lenses was all it took.  He saw in this child the fulfillment of the promised salvation … and pain.  The old widow, Anna, also recognized this Messiah wrapped in a baby.


While most did not realize what was happening, two devout people recognized and worshiped God even when He was packaged as a baby.  And there were others yet to come.


Mary and Joseph and the God-child journeyed back to Bethlehem and found lodging in a house.  Little did they know that an incredible incident would happen in Jerusalem.


About two years later a parade of Magi entered the city of Jerusalem.  These men were masters of science, religious disciples, and astrology.  Their teachings became known as “the law of the Medes and the Persians.”  They were the mathematicians, philosophers, doctors and legal authorities of their culture.  From their name, Magi, comes the term magic (representing the wizardry, sorcery and soothsaying they performed) and the term magistrate (representing the authority and power they had).  These Magi, government officers from Persia, had the duty to choose and elect the King of the realm.  These Magi were not kings but, rather, King-makers.  They entered the city on Persian steeds or Arabian horses with the force of all the imaginable oriental pomp and adequate cavalry escort.


Herod’s small army was probably still on duty with the census so this was no time for an invasion.  And worse, Herod was on his deathbed.  He had long feared that the oriental forces were planning a revolt against the Empire.  All of Jerusalem was probably alarmed by their presence. They came to see Herod to ask him a question.  “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews?  We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”  Being wise astrologers and knowledgeable in Jewish Scripture they followed the star.  No one knows what this star was, but it was most likely a manifestation of the Shekinah glory of God directing these Magi just as Moses was led by a pillar of fire to the Promised Land.


Herod’s paranoia was legendary.  He had killed two of his ten wives, three of his sons, and a brother for fear they desired to steal the throne from him.  Herod was insulted that another would seek to take his throne.  In agitation he asked all the Jewish priests where this Messiah King was supposed to be born.  It took a crazed pagan King to get these so-called holy priests to search the Scriptures.  They discovered that Bethlehem was the place.  He told the Magi to check things out so he could worship this king.  Even the priests could see through this lie.


These Magi entered Bethlehem and found the house where the child was.  They gave Him gifts – strange gifts for a child and strange for a king.


Gold – Something valuable, showing great honor.

Frankincense – Incense used in medicine, healing, and to

preserve the potency of other perfumes.

Myrrh – A liquid used for embalming purposes.


The gold for the valued life, the frankincense for the healing He would bring, the myrrh would be given again later mixed with vinegar when He would die on a cross and also to use as glue in the burying process.


Amazingly this King was recognized and worshiped by foreign astrologers and rejected by His own.  When the Magi did not return to Herod, he was angered.  He sent an edict to slaughter all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or younger.  Fortunately Joseph had a dream that warned them to flee to Egypt which would yet fulfill another prophecy made hundreds of years earlier.


The streets were filled with tears and wailing as children were slaughtered to please the desperate, paranoid Herod. Little did Herod know that he again fulfilled the words of the prophet Jeremiah when he spoke of the Babylonians who captured the people of Jerusalem and marched them past Rachel’s tomb in the area called Ramah. There was great sorrow in each incident.  Rachael died giving birth to Benjamin, but her death was not without purpose – Israel would rise again.  There was hope even during this time of sorrow.


These slaughtered children in Bethlehem were the first casualties of a cosmic war that would focus around one person – the person of Jesus Christ.  It would be 30 years later that Herod’s son would meet this Christ face to face.  But again God’s purpose would be accomplished when Jesus would die and rise again to become the Savior.


After Herod the Great died, Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth.  Nazareth was a crude, small town which had the reputation that nothing good could come from it.  The Messiah was raised here to further place Him under the scorn of His own people and thus fulfill the prophecy that said He was despised by His own.


So behind the tinsel of Christmas is the truth of…..


A peasant carpenter father


A woman pregnant out of wedlock


A moldy shelter as a birthing room


A motley group of despised shepherds



An army of pagan astrologers


A fugitive family running from a crazed King


A child raised in the slums of Nazareth



But God chose to enter history as a fragile human child who later, in the prime of life, would suffer and die for the sins of the world.  It all started in a manger, a surprise package – the love of God wrapped in a baby named Jesus.  Matthew says, “You shall call Him Immanuel which means God with us.”


So you see, the truth behind the tinsel is not the presents under a brightly lit tree, but God’s presence in a dim-lit stable.  The truth behind the tinsel is that the secret of Christmas is not giving but receiving the gift of salvation.



Next Time It Will Be Different

The First Time Jesus Came:

He came veiled in the form of a child.

A star marked His arrival.

Wise men bought Him gifts.

There was no room for Him.

Openly a few attended His arrival.

He came as a baby.

The Next Time Jesus Comes:

He will be recognized by all.

Heaven will be lit by His glory.

He will bring rewards for His own.

The world won’t be able to contain His glory.

Every eye shall see Him.

He will come as sovereign King and Lord of all.

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Do we earn crowns in Heaven?

Crowns are a common symbol of ruling authority. Five crowns are specifically mentioned as rewards:

1. Crown of Life (James 1:12, Rev. 2:10)

The Crown of Life-given for faithfulness to Christ in persecution or martyrdom.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer . . . Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)

2.  Crown of Righteousness (2 Tim. 4:6-8)

The Crown of Righteousness-given for purifying and readying yourself to meet Christ at his return.

“The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:6-8)

3.  Incorruptible Crown (1 Cor.9:25)

The Incorruptible Crown-given for determination, discipline and victory in the Christian life.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)

4.  Crown of Rejoicing (1 Thes.2:19)

The Crown of Rejoicing-given for pouring oneself into others in evangelism and discipleship.

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19)

“. . . my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown . . .” (Philippians 4:1)

5.  Crown of Glory (1 Peter 5:2-4)

The Crown of Glory-given for faithfully representing Christ in a position of spiritual leadership (1 Pet. 5:1-4).

“To the elders among you, be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)

At least five different crowns are given as heavenly rewards:

The crown of life (James1:12; Rev. 2:10), the incorruptible crown (1 Cor.9:24, 25), crown of rejoicing             (1 Thes.2:19; Phil. 4:1), crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:1-4), and crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:6-8).

The crowns may relate to positions of ruling in heaven (Luke 19:17; Rev. 2:26-28), but in any case they are lasting reminders of our work on earth, and Christ’s faithfulness in enabling us to do that work. Ultimately these crowns put at Christ’s feet, to recognize him (Rev. 4:10). Our rewards are given not merely for our recognition, but for God’s eternal glory. However, Scripture sees no contradiction whatsoever between God’s eternal glory and our eternal good.

Note: While heaven will be wonderful for all its inhabitants, not every believer’s position and experience in heaven will be the same. As hell has different punishments (Matt .11:20-24; Luke 20:45-47), so heaven has different rewards. Perhaps it will be a matter of differing capacity. Two jars can both be full, but the one with greater capacity contains more. Likewise, all of us will be full of joy in heaven, but some may have more joy because their capacity for joy will be larger, having been stretched through their trust in and obedience to God in this life.


1. God will reward greater service on earth with greater responsibility in heaven.

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.'” (Matthew 25:21)

2. God will reward faithfulness in the “small things” of this life with leadership over big things in heaven.

“Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'” (Luke 19:17)

3. God will make Christians rulers over the earth.

“They will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:6)

4. God will make Christians rulers over angels.

“Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” (1 Corinthians 6:3)

5. God requires certain conditions be fulfilled in order for us to serve as rulers.

“If we endure, we shall also reign with him.” (2 Timothy 2:12)

“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne.” (Revelation 3:21)

“To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations . . . just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star.” (Revelation 2:26-28)

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What does Scripture say about becoming angels?

by Randy Alcorn

No. Angels and human beings are entirely different creatures (Heb.2:14). Jesus said after our resurrections we will be like angels in that we will not be married (Matt.22:30). But this was a specific limited comparison. It wasn’t an indication we’ll become angels, or a statement that we will in general be angel-like. Angels will always be angels and people will always be people. Humans are eternally human. Death involves relocation to a different place and transformation into better humans (Rom.8:23), not into nonhumans.

The Bible describes a number of meetings of people with angels on Earth. Further, the Bible shows us that people and angels also exist together in heaven at the same time. Our primary source of such information comes from the book of Revelation, at the very end of the Bible. Revelation chapters 4-7 are a lengthy passage showing that angels are not the only creation in heaven. Those that appear in this single passage include the following:

  • Twenty-four elders (chapter 4, verse 4).
  • Four living creatures (chapter 4, verse      6), whose descriptions are similar to the cherubim by God’s throne in      Ezekiel chapter 10.
  • A “strong angel” (chapter 5, verse 2).
  • Jesus Christ (chapter 5, verses 5-10      obviously refers to Jesus).
  • Tens of thousands of angels (chapter 5, verse      11).
  • “The souls of those who had been slain      for the word of God and for the testimony which they held” (chapter 6,      verses 9-11). It is clear that these are human martyrs who died for the      cause of Christianity (and also clear that more will be joining them).
  • “A great multitude which no one could      number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” (chapter 7, verses 9      and 10).

Notice that not everyone is an angel, although everyone is by the throne of God in heaven. Reading this passage, you also discover that although white robes were given to the martyrs (chapter 6, verse 11) that there is no description here (or anywhere else) of anyone being changed into an angel after they go to heaven. People and angels are different here on Earth, and they remain different in heaven.

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