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A prayer for the persecuted church


Lord Jesus,

You warned us that your church would be a persecuted church.  You promised your ultimate blessing upon those of us who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and promised us a coming sky kingdom where justice remains.

You reminded us that the prophets who came before us were also persecuted because they took a stand for the God of the Bible in the face of political and cultural opposition.

Like the prophets of old, you are sending your church out today into nations and communities which arrest, deport, wrongfully punish, and even murder them. Indeed, you warned your disciples that they would be hated by all nations because they accept you, and seek to serve you.

But you told them not to return violence for violence, hatred for hatred. Instead, you told them to pray for their persecutors. We are to follow your example, because you prayed even on the cross “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”

If possible, Lord, we ask you to grant your church and your gospel favor among the nations in this generation. But if not, we ask for courage for our brothers and sisters who face persecution because of their loyalty to your name.


Jefferson Vann

Tuesday, 26 September 2017



thoughts at a baptism


36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?”38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.”40 With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation!”41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:36-42 NET).


Today we have some candidates who have come forward in this special service to be baptized.  I want to share a few thoughts with you based on this passage in Acts chapter 2, which records the fact that after Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, some three thousand people decided to be baptized and were added to the church fellowship.  My thoughts are addressed directly to the candidates.


  1. You are not being baptized because of who you are. You are being baptised because of who Jesus is. This baptism is not a reward for being good or faithful or obedient. People who are clean do not need to be washed. The three thousand people on the day of Pentecost learned that Jesus was God’s Christ and their Lord but that they had been responsible for putting him to death on the cross.  It is a horrible thing to think that you are responsible for someone else’s death. Every culture on the planet condemns its murderers – particularly if they kill someone who is innocent or important. Here at these waters we all come to the realisation that we are responsible for killing the most innocent and most important person who ever lived.
  2. You are not being baptized because someone else needs it. Peter told the three thousand “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” This baptism is not a family ritual that you participate in as a rite of passage, or to show your appreciation for your parents’ or grandparents’ faith. No, on that Pentecost Sunday, there were three thousand individual decisions to testify of their personal need for forgiveness.  They were being added to the church, but the church was not the reason they were being baptized.  Each of them had made a choice to die to their old life, and live a new life for Jesus. When they were buried in that water, they chose to bury their old lives in it. When they were raised from that water, it was to live new lives for Jesus.
  3. You are not being baptized because you are promising to give yourself to God. The promise for today is coming from someone else. On the day of Pentecost, Peter told the people gathered about what had happened to Jesus. He died, was raised to eternal life, ascended to heaven, and was “exalted to the right hand of God, … having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father” (Acts 2:33).” They had just experienced a miracle in which large crowds from many different areas had heard the gospel being proclaimed in their own languages. This miracle was the result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Peter told the three thousand that day that God promised them the same Holy Spirit. I am telling you the same thing. Don’t expect to be the same after today. You are not just giving your life to God. He is giving his life to you.


LORD, thank you for these who have decided to testify of their faith in you today by being baptized in water.  Thank you for your decision to cleanse them from their sins, raise them to new life, and empower them with your Holy Spirit. Amen.

celebrating new things- marriage

BH55H0 Rings

Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”  That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family (Genesis 2:23-24 NET).

who asked for that?

who asked for that

Who Asked for that?

Isaiah 1:7-15a

7 Your country is deserted, your cities have been burned up with fire; your land: aliens are devouring it in your presence, and it is desolate, as if devastated by foreigners.
8 And the daughter of Zion is left like a hut in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a city that is besieged.
9 If Yahveh of armies had not left us survivor, we would have been as few as Sodom, we would have become like Gomorrah.
10 Hear the word of Yahveh, rulers of Sodom! Listen, the teaching of our God, people of Gomorrah!
11 What is that heap of your sacrifices to me? says Yahveh. I have had enough burnt offerings of rams and fat, fattened animals and I do not enjoy blood of bulls and ram-lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me, who asked for this from your hand: you trampling my courts?
13 You must not keep bringing useless offerings, incense—which stinks to me; each new moon and Sabbath, each calling of a convocation– I cannot endure iniquity when you assemble.
14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become to me like a burden I am not able to bear.
15 And when you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many a prayer, I am not listening. (Isa. 1:7-15a JDV)

Isaiah had just revealed to Judah that they were not as healthy as they thought they were. In the next few verses ISAIAH DESCRIBES THE CONDITION OF JUDAH in his time (7-10).


a deserted country
burned cities
land devoured and desolate
left like a guard hut after harvest
like a besieged city
almost like Sodom & Gomorrah

This is a challenge from God for us to evaluate our true condition. We must stop deceiving ourselves by claiming normalcy. We need to see beyond the veneer, past the facade.


Slide5He calls this religious people rulers of Sodom and people of Gomorrah, and indicates that their religious practices are negatives, rather than positives.

He has had enough offerings
He does not enjoy the blood
He calls it trampling his courts
He calls the offering useless
He says the incense stinks
He says the assemblies are for iniquity
He hates the festivals because they burden him

This is a challenge from God for us to evaluate what wev are doing and why we are doing it. We must stop pretending that if we just do the right thing, that our condition will somehow get better. We need to see beyond what we do.

I once visited a city and did a seminar there. I heard someone describe that city a being full of SEMINARians. In other words, all the church people did was go to seminars. They believed that the key to their success was doing the right thing more often than others. That is not how success is measured in the kingdom.

Thirdly, ISAIAH REVEALS WHAT GOD IS DOING as a result of Judah’s current approach to him through their organised religion (15a).

  • He is hiding his eyes
  • He is not listening to their prayersThis is a challenge from God for us to stop doing business as usual. If we think God only responds to our prayers and worship, what happens when we discover that God is no longer listening to our prayers and watching our worship?

    There is nothing wrong with prayer and nothing wrong with worship. But both of these can become worse than useless when coming from the heart of the rebellious and unrepentant. So, Isaiah goes on to reveal the way for Judah to get back on God’s good side. We will explore this next section more in the next sermon in this series. But let me summarise verses 15b-17 here.

    15b Your hands are full of blood.
    16 Wash up! Make yourselves clean! Remove the evil of your actions from before my eyes! Stop doing evil!

    = REPENT

    To repent is to seek God’s cleansing by grace and resolve to stop rebelling against God’s moral law.

    17 Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue an oppressed one! Defend an orphan! Plead for a widow!

    = REFORM

    To reform is not to add more rituals to your worship, but to focus on meeting the needs of those around you, and so begin to act like your Father in heaven.

    Without true repentance and reformation, all the religion and prayers and worship in the world is worse than useless.

How to welcome revival

Slide1Luke 1:1-25

Luk 1:1 Considering the fact that so many have tried to put together a record of the prophecies that have been fulfilled among us,
Luk 1:2 attempting to be just as accurate as the original eyewitnesses and officers of the word were who told us about them,
Luk 1:3 I also thought, after carefully reviewing all these works, to write a historical account for you, Dr. Theophilus,
Luk 1:4 so that you may know well about the reliability of the things you were taught.
Luk 1:5 In the days when King Herod was ruling Judea, someone named Zechariah became a priest of Abijah’s division, and his wife was also among the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
Luk 1:6 And they were both in right standing before God, because they were walking blamelessly according to all the Lord commanded and required.
Luk 1:7 And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well matured in their days.
Luk 1:8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,
Luk 1:9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priestly office, to enter the temple of the Lord and offer incense.
Luk 1:10 And the whole crowd of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering.
Luk 1:11 But an angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the incense altar.
Luk 1:12 And Zechariah was deeply disturbed when he saw him, and fear landed on him.
Luk 1:13 But the angel said to him, “Do not fear, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth is going to give birth to your son, and you will name him John.
Luk 1:14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,
Luk 1:15 Because he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or beer; and he will be filled from the Holy Spirit, while still in his mother’s uterus.
Luk 1:16 And he will restore many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.
Luk 1:17 And he will precede before him, in the same Spirit and power as Elijah to restore hearts of fathers to children, disobedient ones to right standing wisdom, to prepare a people who have been built for the Lord.
Luk 1:18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I actually know this? Because I am elderly, and my wife is well matured in her days.”
Luk 1:19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and announce these good things to you.
Luk 1:20 But, notice! you will be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things happen, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their appointed time.”
Luk 1:21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering why he was delaying in the temple.
Luk 1:22 And after he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realised that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.
Luk 1:23 And when his days of service were completed, he went to his house.
Luk 1:24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she kept herself hidden for five months, and this is what she said:
Luk 1:25 “this is what the Lord has made, in the days during which he looked on, so he could take away my shame among men.”

How to welcome revival

Dr. Luke was a scientist. He believed in what worked, and what could be proven. He was a man of faith, and that faith did not resist scientific knowledge, it welcomed it. That is why I think Luke’s Gospel and his companion history (the book of Acts) are very important for this modern generation. Generally, our generation has swallowed the lie that any kind of religious talk is empty talk, and really insignificant. As a result, we are paying less and less attention to the Bible, and more and more attention to what the “experts” are telling us, and assuming that these experts are telling us the truth because they also ignore everything religious. That is stupidity. So, I have decided to do what Luke did. I decided to go back and carefully investigate the events and teachings of and about Jesus, and use Luke’s Gospel to do so. My reason is the same as Luke’s reason. He wanted his friend, Dr. Theophilus, to know well about the reliability of the things he had been taught (4). As Christians, we owe it to ourselves to know the same thing.

The first thing Luke investigated was the story of the birth of John the Baptist. Until John was born, most Jews in the first century had become convinced that the Holy Spirit had totally abandoned them. They believed that God existed, but they did not believe he would ever interfere with their lives again. They had no hope. They believed that God’s Holy Spirit had departed the temple, flew up into the sky, and essentially disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.

That sounds a lot like the church of this generation, doesn’t it? I think this passage of scripture gives us some good advice if we want to stop living like that. I think we all want to welcome the Holy Spirit’s active intervention in our lives, and be involvement in our circumstances. Follow with me in the text as I explain how to welcome revival in this generation.


The Jews in Zechariah’s day had some good reasons for being pessimistic about life. The whole nation was back in bondage. They had been rescued from slavery in Egypt so many centuries before, but now they were in bondage again — this time to Caesar in Rome. They didn’t even have their own king. Luke identifies the date on the calendar by saying that Zechariah lived in the “days when king Herod was ruling” (5). Herod was not a Jew; he was an Idumean, a descendant of Esau, not Jacob. Herod’s entire rule was a total embarrassment to the Jews. His name meant “hero” but he was no hero. He was a corrupt, conniving, brutal puppet of an even more corrupt, conniving and brutal dictator in Rome.

Nothing saps the strength and life of a nation like disappointment and lack of trust in its political leaders. These days, I have to admit, I understand more and more how those Jews in Zechariah’s time felt. I feel like that — a lot. But the word I get from reading today’s text is that the Holy Spirit can still intervene — even in days like this. He is not hindered by a less than favourable political environment.

I have determined to start really praying for revival, and expecting the Holy Spirit to make a difference — even a political difference.



The Jews in Zechariah’s time had not forgotten how to pray. They prayed regularly, ritualistically. We can see this in Luke’s description of the temple worship. While Zechariah enters the sanctuary to offer incense, “the whole crowd of people were praying” (10) just on the other side of the curtain. We could learn a thing or two about prayer from that generation.

But, you say, didn’t Jesus condemn ritualised praying? He condemned a certain type of ritualistic praying, yes. He said “And when you pray, do not pile up repetitions like the Gentiles do, because they think that they will be heard because of the volume of their many words. Do not be like them, because your Father already knows what you need before you ask him. (Matt. 6:7-8 JDV).” Prayer that just says a lot of stuff because it is trying to get God’s attention and force him to respond is pagan prayer, and that is always wrong. But prayer that regularly, even ritualistically asks for the same things because we choose to declare our trust in God to supply those things, that is faithful prayer. That’s why Jesus taught us what we call the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).

One of the things Zechariah had been regularly and ritualistically praying for was a son. That wasn’t an empty request from him and Elizabeth. They really wanted a child. And the older they got, the more they wanted it. The less possible it seemed, the more fervently they prayed. All the couples around them had kids, and raised those kids. They kept praying. No kids. Their hair started getting a bit grey on the edges. They kept praying. No kids. Elizabeth went through menopause. They kept praying. No kids. Their neighbours’ kids started giving them grand-kids. Zechariah and Elizabeth kept praying. No kids. So, I am not surprised to read that Zechariah was a bit sceptical when he heard the angel say “your prayer has been heard” (13). But, sceptical or not, I want to remind you that John came to Zechariah and Elizabeth because they had kept praying.



One of the true tests of our faithfulness to the Lord comes after we get what we initially ask for. That was the case with Zechariah and Elizabeth. Our Lord chooses to bless us, but he holds us responsible for properly utilising those blessings for his kingdom. That is why some people pray to God for healing, get their healing, but then they disappear and you never see those people in church. That is why some people go through the twelve steps, pray to God for their deliverance from alcohol, sober up, and then go on to either relapse or find some other substance to abuse. The really big test of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s faith was not how long they waited for John, but how they parented this gift.

They recognised John as a gift from God’s grace. The angel told Zechariah “you will name him John” (13), which is derived from a Hebrew name that appears a few times in the Old Testament. Yohanan means either the LORD’s grace, or the LORD’s gift of grace. This little gift would brighten the lives of a lot of people in the village where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. The angel said “he will be a joy” (14) to them.

But this little bundle of joy also came with huge responsibilities to this elderly couple. They had to parent him in such a way as to make sure this little guy became “great in the sight of the Lord” (15a). They had to make sure that he would “drink no wine or beer” (15b) no matter what kind of peer pressure he experienced from others.

They had to trust the angel’s promise that John would be “filled from the Holy Spirit” (15c), but they had to parent him just the same. Anyone who wants to be a godly parent has got to keep that balance. We have to pray for the child, and trust God to answer those prayers, but we also have to do our part. The same is true of our children in the faith. To properly disciple people, you have to pray for them, keep them from making wrong choices, and keep feeding them wise counsel from scripture. Those are the kind of people who are going to make a difference.



John was going to have a ministry of revival and restoration. The angel said that “he will restore the sons back to the Lord” (16), that “he will restore hearts of fathers to children” (17a)and that “he will restore disobedient ones to right standing wisdom” (17b). But the interesting thing was that John did not try to bring revival the way his parents did. Zechariah and Elizabeth were both descendants of Aaron, and their lives and ministries were all centred on the priesthood and the temple worship.
But the angel predicted that John was going “to prepare a people built for the Lord” (17c). He broke all the rules. He didn’t go to the temple, he went out into the desert. He called people to go out to the desert and meet him there. He challenged them not to conform to their past, but to repent, because the kingdom from the sky was coming, and he had to get a people ready to live in that kingdom.

If we are going to see revival in this generation, we have got to stop asking people to conform to us. We all have a great church heritage, but what if God wants to do something even better in this generation? In every generation, the church has to keep reforming and transforming so that the eternal gospel can take root.

How do we welcome the revival in this generation? Don’t allow the dismal secular and humanistic political environment to discourage you. Pray regularly for God to intervene. Trust that God is going to answer your prayers, and some of those answers are going to come in the form of children and others that you can disciple. Disciple them by getting them ready for God’s eternal kingdom instead of insisting that they conform to your memory of the good old days. The coming kingdom is going to be much better that those good old days ever were.

LORD, thank you for being real and for giving us a real hope for revival. Challenge us to stop complaining about our present, and start preparing for the future we can have once your Holy Spirit begins to revive this generation.

destroy this!


John 2:13-22

Joh 2:13 And the Passover that the Jews celebrate was coming, so Jesus travelled to Jerusalem.
Joh 2:14 And He found in the temple the sellers of oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers sitting.
Joh 2:15 And after he made a whip out of cords, he threw them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and flipped their tables;
Joh 2:16 and he said to the dove sellers, “Take these away; stop making my Father’s house a market house.”
Joh 2:17 His disciples remembered that scripture says, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Joh 2:18 The Jews responding asked him, “What sign will you show to us, proving that you have the right to do these things?”
Joh 2:19 Jesus responded by telling them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it back up.”
Joh 2:20 To that the Jews responded, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it back up in three days?”
Joh 2:21 But he had been referring to the temple which is his body.
Joh 2:22 So, after he had been raised from the dead, his disciples had remembered that He promised this; and they believed both the scripture, and the prediction which Jesus had made. (Joh 2:13-22 JDV)

What does the resurrection really prove? I mean, we Christians make some bold claims about our Jesus, being raised from the dead, and the eternal difference that his resurrection makes. Do we really have any basis for such claims? I want to examine that question this Easter morning, and I have brought along a text of scripture which I think is relevant to the question.

Let me set the stage for the drama we read about in today’s text. The events described in John 2:13-22 take place early in Jesus ministry. It can be a bit confusing, because there was a similar event where Jesus chased out the moneychangers just prior to his crucifixion. But today’s text records Jesus doing this years earlier, when he was still relatively unknown except to his disciples.

Behind the worship in the Jewish temple in Jesus’ day, there had been a long history of a kind of symbiotic relationship between the ministers who worked in the temple and the merchants who kept the system going by providing a means for people to purchase animals for sacrificing — at a tidy profit. The system had worked for a long time, and nobody wanted to change it — except Jesus.

An insult (2:16)


Jesus saw the temple market system as an insult to his heavenly Father. The temple was supposed to be a place where people could go and find the glory of God, not the greed of humanity. It was supposed to be a place where God’s covenant loyalty could be seen clearly in spite of the sinfulness and and coveting of the people that he had chosen to save by his grace. Putting a market in the temple was an insult to the character of the God who had chosen to reside there.

Jesus felt that insult more than anyone else because he was the only begotten Son of the Father. He was offended by the audacity of these people and their blasphemous approach to worship. He could not stand there and just take it in. He had to respond, and his violent response was absolutely appropriate. It was appropriate not because violence is always appropriate. No, it was appropriate because of who God is, who Christ is, and what worship is supposed to be.

An insight (2:17)


It was also appropriate because of the response it triggered in his disciples. It was a visual demonstration of Christ’s devotion to his Father’s house, and his Father’s plan. When the disciples saw their teacher flipping tables and chasing away the businessmen from the place they should not have been, they remembered scripture.

Particularly, they remembered this scripture: “Because for your sake I have been disgraced; Dishonour has covered my face. I have become estranged from my brothers, And I am like a foreigner to my mother’s sons. Because zeal for your house has consumed me, And the disgraceful acts of those who embarrass you have fallen on me. (Ps. 69:7-9 JDV)” These words were originally part of a psalm in which David admitted that he had sinned, and that his sin had embarrassed God. David repented, and his prayer in Psalm 69 was that his act of stupidity would not cause true believers to lose their faith in God. Notice the prayer in Psalm 69:6 “Do not let those who put their hope in You be disgraced because of me, Lord Yahweh of armies; do not let those who seek You be embarrassed because of me, God of Israel (Ps. 69:6 JDV). After repenting, David’s only purpose in life was to restore the reputation of his heavenly Father. Now, Jesus’ disciples see him as the coming Messiah David predicted, who would never sin, and whose only purpose in life is to ultimately restore the reputation of his heavenly Father.

Another insult (2:18)


The self-proclaimed experts in scripture miss that insight entirely. Instead of seeing what Jesus had done as a fulfilment of scripture, they saw it as a challenge to their own authority. How dare this upstart young prophet come in here on our area of expertise and pretend to tell us what to do! They demand a miraculous sign to prove that Jesus is the Son of the Father he claims to be.

Before we criticise these Jews too much, I want us to be fully aware of what is happening here, because I think we are often guilty of the same thing. The difference is that except for the disciples, these Jews did not know who Jesus really was. They demanded a sign because only the Messiah would have had the authority to come into the temple and change the system.

What is our excuse? I am talking about those times in our lives when things are not going right with us, and we are tempted to just stop believing what we know is true about Jesus. We say he is the saviour of the world, but we often find ourselves coming to him in prayer and saying “just one more sign, Lord.”

Remember what Jesus said about his generation?

“An evil and adulterous generation is asking for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. Because just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the ground. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached, and see, something much more than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the land to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something much more than Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:39-42 JDV).

I know how hard it is when you keep praying for something and you do not get your answer. But I also know that it is an insult to God to effectively say to Jesus “You died on the cross for me, but I will refuse to believe you until you fix my present problem.” It is better to pray,”Lord, since you died on the cross for me, I know you love me, and I will trust you to bring me through this problem too.”

Another insight (2:22)


Jesus knew that the temple officials did not have that kind of trust in him. So he challenged them to “destroy this temple” — something he knew they had no intention to do. He said he could raise it back up in three days. They knew he could do no such thing. It was only years later that the disciples, reflecting on Jesus being raised back to life after three days dead –they finally got it. I can imagine them sitting around talking about the amazing revelations they had seen, and somebody said “Oh, and remember when he challenged the temple officials? He said destroy this temple. He was talking about his body then!

Today we celebrate Easter — the season when we remember that Jesus died on the cross, and then was miraculously raised to eternal life.

Destroy this!


What does the resurrection really prove? I am asking again that question I started with. We make some bold claims about our Jesus, being raised from the dead, and the eternal difference that his resurrection makes. Do we really have any basis for such claims? Yes, we do. We have the scriptures. They testified for thousands of years that Jesus would appear, that he would die, and that he would be raised again. When people saw what Jesus did, they recognised him as the fulfilment of those scriptures.

But those scriptures go on to say that the one who was raised from the dead would return to this earth as its rightful king. We have every reason to believe and expect that this same Jesus whom the disciples saw ascend to heaven will return in the same way. After reflecting on the resurrection of Christ, the world is left with only two choices. We can either saw “Now we get it, come Lord Jesus” or we can stubbornly say “prove it again.” May God give us the wisdom to make the right choice.

Rescuing Christmas


Philippians 2:5-16 ESV

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.


I want to begin with a story that is found in the prophet Zechariah:

Zechariah 7:1-3 NLT “On December 7 of the fourth year of King Darius’s reign, another message came to Zechariah from the LORD. The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech, along with their attendants, to seek the LORD’s favor. They were to ask this question of the prophets and the priests at the Temple of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies: “Should we continue to mourn and fast each summer on the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction, as we have done for so many years?””

This was an important question. We should ask ourselves this questions about all the traditions that we are following.


This was God’s reply: Zechariah 7:4-7 NLT “The LORD of Heaven’s Armies sent me this message in reply: “Say to all your people and your priests, ‘During these seventy years of exile, when you fasted and mourned in the summer and in early autumn, was it really for me that you were fasting? And even now in your holy festivals, aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves? Isn’t this the same message the LORD proclaimed through the prophets in years past when Jerusalem and the towns of Judah were bustling with people, and the Negev and the foothills of Judah were well populated?’ “”

God reminded his people that those traditions were part of the problem, not the solution, because they were being followed for selfish reasons.


God’s prescription for the problem was this:

Zechariah 7:8-10 NLT “Then this message came to Zechariah from the LORD: “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.”

God said if they really want to follow a tradition, they should make a tradition of being good to others. They could rescue the fasts by showing mercy and kindness to one another.


Christmas is a tradition that needs to be rescued as well.

Until Christ returns, there will always be two Christmases. There will be the Christmas of this “crooked and twisted generation.” That is a Christmas that people celebrate for celebration’s sake. The world will continue to pile tradition upon tradition on top of that Christmas, because they do not know about the true Christmas. They will enjoy the show, then pack it up until next year.

But for us believers, there is another Christmas. It is a story that we cannot pack away, and we cannot afford to forget. It is a story of a loving God who gave his only son so that we might have everlasting life.

Paul’s words to the Philippian Christians are about authentic Christian living. It is by authentic Christian living that we can rescue Christmas.


Paul said that Jesus was in the form of God, so he deserved a crown in heaven. Instead, he took upon himself the form of a man, and chose to serve. He served us as no other being could ever do. He served us by being obedient to God’s will and going to the cross. His service meant dying as our substitute in order to pay the price that we owed. The wages of sin is death, so Jesus had to die for us or we would all die in Gehenna hell.

God probably will not ask you to die for someone. But he does ask us as believers to humble ourselves like Christ did and serve others. Having the mind of Christ means wanting to serve others in Christ’s name. Wouldn’t Christmas be different if every believer went out of his way to serve others during this season?


Paul said that God is working in the Philippians to make them desire and do that which pleases him. He encouraged the Philippians to cooperate with God by working out their salvation with fear and trembling.

These verses have been adopted by those on either side of the sovereignty/ free will debate. But Paul was urging believers to live up to what God had begun in them. Here we see both sovereignty of God in giving us new life and our responsibility to cooperate with him and work out the details of that new life.

How does this relate to Christmas? Christmas is one time of year where everyone tends to socialize. This is a time when the real us is probably more visible because there is more stress. That makes it especially important that we live up to the Christian principles we profess.


Paul said that believers are to shine as lights in the world. What better time to shine than when the world is claiming to celebrate the birth of our Lord?

In many places this time of year neighbourhoods will have competitions to see if they can outshine each other. What would happen if we Christians would make a concerted effort to outshine each other in the sense that Paul uses the word?

What does Paul mean by encouraging the Philippians to shine?


Listen again to verses 14-16.

• 14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning. Wouldn’t it be a brighter Christmas for everybody if we decided to go about our business cheerfully instead of turning into Ebenezer Scrooge?

•15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. Wouldn’t it be a brighter Christmas if we decided to act with integrity. It is not the Grinch who stole Christmas. It is the Devil. This Christmas, let’s shine by doing the right thing.

•16 holding fast to the word of life. Wouldn’t it be a brighter Christmas if we used this holiday as an opportunity to share the Gospel?


One of my favourite Christmas traditions is “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in which Linus told Charlie Brown about the true meaning of Christmas.

Linus Van Pelt (Lucy’s brother) just quoted the story of Christ’s birth from Luke 2, King James Version. But something magical happened. Suddenly Christmas was not about putting on a show. It was about Christ.


The Vann family wishes you and your family the happiest of times this Christmas. God bless you.


LORD, help us this year to tell the world around us about the Christmas that we know. Help us to confess the name of Christ, who is no longer a babe in a manger, but is now the Lord of the universe. Every tongue will soon confess his name. Help us to confess his name now.