Advent 2022 — December 10

25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he would see the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus so that they could do for him according to what was customary under the law, 28 he took him in his arms and praised God and said,

29 “Now dismiss your slave in peace, Lord,
according to your word.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all the peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and mother were astonished at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed—35 and a sword will pierce your own soul also, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed!”

Luke 2:25-35


“Simeon’s Song: How Did God Do It?”[1]
by Alistair Begg

Of all the things that are said when someone takes a little baby into their arms, many are quite silly and said out of embarrassment. We don’t know what to say and so we just come out with, “My, he has his mother’s nose” or, “Can you believe how much hair he has?” or whatever else. Older men are often the worst at knowing what to say in this situation (I know, because I am one of them).

But our fourth and final “singer” was in no doubt about what he would say when he held the infant Jesus in his arms the first time Jesus was brought to Jerusalem, the capital, and to the temple, the center of Jewish religious life. His name was Simeon. He was a devout believer in God. He was patiently waiting for the promises God had made to be fulfilled. And not only that, but God’s Holy Spirit had told him that he wouldn’t die until he saw these promises begin to unfold on the pages of history.

The angels had brought the news that a Savior had been born. Likewise, Simeon announces the truth that he is looking at God’s salvation, lying in his arms. And Simeon understands that this Savior has come to save not only “your people Israel”—the ancient people of God, the descendants of Abraham—but he has also come “to the Gentiles”—everyone else. If you carry on reading Luke’s Gospel, you find the adult Jesus living this out. People think he’s going to go for the religious folks, and he doesn’t—he hangs out with the irreligious folks. People think he’s going to go for the people who are doing their best, but he doesn’t—he welcomes the people who have done worst. That’s because he has come to bring to light and then deal with their greatest problem, whether they are religious or irreligious, good or bad—their sin. As the angels promised, this child would be good news of great joy for all people. There is no one who does not need Jesus to offer them salvation, and no one to whom he does not offer that salvation.

So this old man is now content to die. He has been waiting his whole life for this one sight, and now he has seen it—the Sovereign Lord’s salvation, in the shape of a human, lying in his arms.

Your Heart will Break

But Simeon did not only speak of salvation. He spoke of suffering too. He had more to say to Mary…. He was explaining, or rather hinting at, what was to come—not just announcing that this child would bring salvation, but hinting at what it would cost him to bring it. He was the child who would cause many to fall, and others to rise. He would reveal the deep secrets, and the true attitude towards God, that lies in every human heart. He would be opposed verbally; and one day, his mother’s soul would be torn apart emotionally. Imagine taking a newborn child in your arms, then looking at his mom and saying, One day, your heart will break because of this child. That is what Simeon is warning of here. He does not tell Mary what will happen; but he does tell Mary how it will feel.

Easter at Christmas

My guess is that Mary never forgot Simeon’s words, nor that she really understood them, until the other end of her child’s life. As an adult, the one who had lain in the devout Simeon’s cradling arms was hung from a cruel Roman cross. But this is Easter—and isn’t this a book about Christmas?! Yes, but unless you understand the events of Easter, you’ll never grasp the heart of Christmas. Simeon understood that—which is why he pointed forwards to Good Friday even as he welcomed the baby at the center of Christmas. Simeon is pointing us to how God redeemed his people….

And this is why the wooden food trough led to the wooden cross, and why you will never get to the heart of Christmas if you don’t grasp the meaning of Easter. Christianity is not good advice about what we should do. It is the good news of what Christ has done. Christianity does not proclaim that you are worth saving or able to save yourself. It announces that God is mighty to save.

Paid

Do you like paying bills? I actually love it—I think it is because of the satisfaction and relief of getting it dealt with. I don’t like that I have to pay the bill—but I do like getting the bill paid. And it is especially satisfying to pay a bill in person. You walk over to the counter and you pay for it, and then you have the joy of seeing someone take your bill and write PAID. I prefer it actually when it is a stamp that stamps PAID in red with double circles.

As long as I have that bill marked PAID, no one can make me pay again. It’s been settled. It is all over, paid for, in the past.

And three days after the events that must have pierced Mary’s soul, God stamped PAID unmistakably against all the sins I have committed, all the debt I owe to him. After all, the death of Jesus could have been merely a tragic incident. The afternoon darkness and the ripped-apart curtain could have been sheer coincidences. Within hours, his corpse lay cold in a tomb. But three days later, God the Father left no one in any doubt that he had accepted Jesus’ payment for sinners’ debts—that the price to free sinners had been paid:

1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” (Luke 24 v 1–7)

Luke’s Gospel finishes in a very similar place to where it began. We began with angels appearing, and we finish the same way. We began with an angel announcing the presence of life where it is, humanly-speaking, impossible—in the wombs of a woman who was infertile and a woman who was a virgin. We finish with angels announcing the presence of life in a tomb—the resurrection of a crucified criminal to eternal glory.

And between the events of the first Christmas Eve and the first Easter Sunday, Simeon’s words had come true. Jesus had reached out to those who were outsiders, excluded. He had been opposed. He had revealed what people really believed. Physical nails had pierced his hands as an emotional sword pierced the soul of his watching mother. And, as he hung on the cross, he had redeemed his people—he died the death that tore the curtain and he paid the price that bought the salvation that Simeon had spoken of all those years before.

He died on that cross because Simeon, Mary, Zechariah, the shepherds, you and I are sinners—and because he loves them, and us, anyway.


[1] Alistair Begg, Christmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas (The Good Book Company, 2016), 51–64.

Advent 2022 — December 11

And there were shepherds in the same region, living out of doors and keeping watch, guarding over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord stood near them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terribly frightened. 10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring good news to you of great joy which will be for all the people: 11 that today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 And this will be the sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace
among people with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:8-14


“The Angels’ Song: How Did God Come? (Part 1)”[1]
by Alistair Begg

Birth announcements are big business. There are so many ways to announce the entrance into the world of your little one—Pinterest, Shutterfly, WhatsApp, Tiny-Prints.com. You can take hundreds of pictures, magnify and crop them, and send them round the world. It becomes a competition. “Here’s our new arrival in her crib. Here she is in her first nappy. Here she is having her first bath. Here are her footprints.”

Well, if you happen to have a baby next year, here’s how to outdo everyone else. Forget emails. Forget a photograph on Facebook or an entry in the New York Times. Here’s how to win the announcement competition: have an angel announce the birth. Have an angel coming down the street in the middle of the night, waking your neighbors to tell them what’s just happened, and then follow that up with a whole choir of angels providing celebratory backing vocals.

That’s how to win. And (although sadly the angels aren’t taking bookings right now) that is how the arrival of Mary’s baby was announced on the night he was born….

God’s Name

The angel told these shepherds who it was who had been growing in Mary’s womb, and who was now “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” He described the baby’s job—“Savior”: Redeemer. He announced the baby’s title—“Messiah”: God’s King promised for centuries to his people, promises recorded for us in the Old Testament. And he revealed the baby’s identity—“the Lord.”

And that word, “Lord,” is making a staggering claim, because it is the word that was used by Greek-speaking Jews to translate the Hebrew word “Yahweh”—the personal name of God, by which he had introduced himself to his people for centuries. “God” is not God’s name, any more than “Pastor” is mine. My name is Alistair, and my friends call me that. God’s name is Yahweh, and it’s what he told his friends, his people, to call him. In other words, here’s the deal: good news, great joy for all the people, has come because a Redeemer, the ultimate Ruler, has been born. And he is God Almighty.

Every so often at Christmas, we hear about a wealthy businessman who’s gone and served in a soup kitchen, or about a very successful athlete who spends some time on Christmas Eve in the children’s hospital. And everyone says, “That’s great—what an amazing and kind and humble thing for him to do.” And it is. But now see what this angel is saying: The God who made you, who gave you your DNA, who woke you up this morning, who has sustained your life—that God, in the person of Jesus, stepped down into time, making himself accessible.

On the first Christmas night—and this is the heart of the Christmas story, and the heart of the Christian faith—God took on flesh. The voice that made the cosmos could be heard crying in the cradle. The hands that placed each star in its place grabbed hold of Mary’s fingers. Her son was fully human, and fully God. In this man, divinity met humanity.

So, unlike every other conception and birth, this was not the beginning. God the Son had always existed, equal with and eternal with the Father and the Spirit—one God in three persons, what often is called the Trinity. God the Son—the “Word”—predates his birth; he is older than his conception, or what is often called his incarnation:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. (John 1 v 1–2)

I remember my daughter when she was young once asking me, “Where was I before I was born?” And the answer is, “You did not exist before you were conceived and born.” (I avoided mention of the conception part when I answered my daughter.) But that’s not what happened with Jesus. He did exist before he was conceived and born. What happened that night was the birth of God the Son as a human. But it was not the beginning of the person God the Son.

This is unparalleled. It is unique. It is mysterious. And Luke is claiming that it is historical.

A Virgin Birth—Really?

Perhaps this is where you struggle with the Christian faith. You are prepared to accept Jesus as a great teacher, a religious leader, or a brilliant philosopher. You are prepared to accept that he spoke for God, perhaps. But you struggle to accept that he is God—that as Mary and Joseph peered into the manger, they were looking at the eternal Son of God. You struggle with the idea of a virgin birth and a miraculous incarnation.

Well, if your starting point is that there is no God, then the incarnation question is irrelevant. If there is no God, he could not have been born as a baby in Bethlehem. But if your starting point is that there is (or even that there might be) a God who created the entire universe, then surely he is capable of entering his universe. Why would we be surprised that he can do what he wants to do? After all, in the last century or so humanity has worked out how to bring about conception without sexual intercourse. A hundred years ago, that idea would have seemed impossible and not worthy of being believed. Now it seems plausible and obvious. If doctors can do it in their way, do we really want to say that God cannot do it in his? God the Son taking flesh is a mystery that we will never understand. But not being able to understand how God became one of us is not proof that he did not become one of us.

Of course God’s ways are mysterious and at times inexplicable to us! He would not be much of a God if our limited minds could reason out everything about him. No, this is mystery, because it is divinity; it is God—but it is also history. Heaven is breaking into earth. The shepherds would find the Creator of the universe wrapped in strips of cloth. Here is the answer to the human predicament, the solution to our slavery to sin and our separation from God. God bridged the gap by coming from heaven to earth. This is how much the mighty God cares about us. Love was when God spanned the gulf. Love was when God became a man. Love was when God surprised those he had created by being born as one of them—as a baby.


[1] Alistair Begg, Christmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas (The Good Book Company, 2016), 39–44.

Songs for Sunday, December 11, 2022


Below, you will find the Scripture passages and songs for worship tomorrow at Christ Community Church in Grenada, MS. You’ll also find our daily advent readings!


Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • Scripture | Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

  • Song | O Come All Ye Faithful
  • Song | Adore Him
  • Scripture | Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

  • Song | Noel
  • Song | Your Great Name
  • Invitation | God With Us
  • Offertory | Light of the World

If you have not been gathering, consider gathering with your church family again. We have a 10:00 Bible study where Jamie Harrison is walking us through the book of Revelation. If you are at-risk, this Bible study would be perfect for you so you can spread out (and even dip out the side door before the 11:00 worship gathering begins).


Advent 2022 — December 9


15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” 17 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 16:15-17

37 Turn away my eyes from looking at what is worthless;
revive me in your ways.
38 Fulfill your word to your servant,
which is to bring about a reverence for you….

Psalm 119:37-38


“Get Your Eyes Ready for Christmas”[1]
by John Piper

The absolutely indispensable work of God in revealing the Son—both then to Peter and now to you and me—is not the adding to what we see and hear in Jesus himself but the opening of the eyes of our hearts to taste and see the true divine glory of what is really there in Jesus.

When people have doubts about the truth of Jesus, don’t send them away to seek special messages from God. Point them to Christ. Tell them what you have seen and heard in his life and teachings. Why? Because this is where God breaks in with his revealing power. He loves to glorify his Son! He loves to open the eyes of the blind when they are looking at his Son!

God does not reveal his Son to me by coming to me and saying, “Now, John, I know that you don’t see anything magnificent in my Son. You don’t see him as all-glorious and divine and attractive above all worldly goods. You don’t see him as your all-satisfying treasure, and you don’t see his holiness and wisdom and power and love as beautiful beyond measure. But take my word for it, he is all that. Just believe it.” No!

Such faith would be no honor to the Son of God. It cannot glorify the Son. Saving faith is based on a spiritual sight of Jesus as he is in himself, the all-glorious Son of God. And this spiritual sight is given to us through his inspired Word, the Scriptures. And the eyes of our hearts are opened to recognize him and receive him not by the wisdom of flesh and blood but by the revealing work of his heavenly Father.

The apostle Paul said, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

How shall you prepare your heart this Christmas to receive Christ? Fix your gaze on him in the Bible. Look to Christ! Consider Jesus. And pray. Look beyond your own flesh and blood, and ask that God would give you eyes to see and ears to hear that you might cry out with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

Application & Challenge

How can you fix your eyes on Jesus? Maybe, outside of these Advent readings and devotions, you have not been spending time in God’s Word, or maybe there is something you need to stop looking at – an ungodly TV show, inappropriate websites, etc. If you are a smartphone user, look at your screen time. On an iPhone, it will tell you how many hours – that’s right hours – you have spent that day and week on various apps and/or websites.

Challenge yourself to:

  • Repent of fixing your eyes on worthless things and pray to God to turn your eyes from worthless things from worthless things and that He revive you.
  • Delete apps that you have allowed to eat up too much of your time, and find an accountability partner to help you monitor your phone use and help find healthy balance.

[1] John Piper, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

Advent 2022 — December 8

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68 “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has visited to help and has redeemed his people,
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 just as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from earliest times—
71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all those who hate us,
72 to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to Abraham our father,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,
could serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76 And so you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the merciful compassion of our God
by which the dawn will visit to help us from on high,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to direct our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child kept growing and becoming strong in spirit, and was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

Luke 1:67-80


“Zechariah’s Song: Why Do You Need God? (Part 2)”[1]
by Alistair Begg

Somebody’s Going to Pay for This

A few years ago I was driving my brother-in-law’s car round the streets of Glasgow in Scotland with my nieces in the back seat. Suddenly one of them said, “Uncle Alistair, you’ve gone wrong!” And while I was trying to rectify the situation, I crashed into a van. I’ll never forget—this fellow jumped out immediately, and he looked at his van and he looked at me, and he said, “Somebody’s going to pay for this.”

That was the first (though not the only) phrase out of his mouth, and he was right. A wrong had been done. A hurt had been caused. The mark had been missed. And somebody was going to have to pay in order for things to be put right. Someone would have to bear a cost.

And someone will have to bear the cost for our sin. The mighty God who is really there does not just wink at sin. He cares about how our sin spoils the world he made, and spoils the lives of those he made. He cares about how we reject his authority and seek to sit in his place. It makes him justifiably angry. He does not just let people off. He is a God who loves justice and brings justice, and so there is a punishment to be faced—there is a price to be paid.

The problem that confronts us is that we are unable to rectify the situation. We must pay the price—unless someone comes from the outside who does not share our predicament and who can pay the price to free us from the consequences of our actions; as if my brother-in-law had turned up as that fellow in the van said, “Somebody’s going to pay for this,” and had dug into his wallet and paid what it would cost to restore that man’s van and satisfy his justified anger. When it comes to our sin, that someone can only be God himself. We need God to come and we need God to help.

And this brings us back to Zechariah, because he is singing about the truth that God has done just that. He has turned up. And he has turned up to redeem us—to pay the price, bear the cost, of freeing us and restoring us so that we can know him and live with him again, forever.

A Question of Definition

At the heart of understanding the first Christmas, and why it is such good news, is an understanding of the nature of your predicament. And that involves accepting the nature of sinfulness—your sinfulness; and the seriousness of sin—your sin.

In other words, it involves letting God, not contemporary society, define sin. I read in a survey recently that only 17% of the American population refer to God in any way when asked to define “sin.” 83% see sin as merely something negative that’s had an impact on their life that they need to get cleaned up. And so they’ll never understand what God was doing at the first Christmas. He did not come merely to help us put the bits and pieces of our lives together in a way that gives us wholeness and stability. He did not come to provide a little religious Energizer battery that would make us nicer people. He did not even come just to make your life happy.

He came because you were drowning, pulled down by the weight of your sin and miles from the shore. If you’re drowning, it doesn’t help you for someone to come along in a boat and say, Come on now, thrash a little more. Try a little harder. Swim a bit better. You’ll be able to get yourself out of that mess. No, you need someone to reach down their hand, grasp yours, and pull you up to safety and take you to the shore. And if you know you are drowning, you don’t refuse the person whose hand is offered to you. You grab it, and you splutter your gratitude.

And that is what Zechariah is doing. He knows that his son, John, will “go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation”—of rescue—“through the forgiveness of their sins.” He knows that John will spend his life saying, Hold on. God is coming. And God will rescue you. And so Zechariah sings, just as everyone who grasps what God was doing at the first Christmas sings:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.” God was moving into the neighborhood to free people from their sins and to fill up the space between himself and sinful people—sinful you and me.


[1] Alistair Begg, Christmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas (The Good Book Company, 2016), 35–38.

Advent 2022 — December 7

67 And his[1] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68 “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has visited to help and has redeemed his people,
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 just as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from earliest times—
71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all those who hate us,
72 to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to Abraham our father,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,
could serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76 And so you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the merciful compassion of our God
by which the dawn will visit to help us from on high,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to direct our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child kept growing and becoming strong in spirit, and was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

Luke 1:67-80


“Zechariah’s Song: Why Do You Need God? (Part 1)”[2]
by Alistair Begg

Song lyrics seem to have a way of embedding themselves in our memory, so that as soon as we hear the first line, we know the song. Growing up in the sixties, my memorable first lines include:

“When I get older, losing my hair …

“Hello darkness, my old friend …

“Hey mister, that’s me up on the jukebox …

“There is a house in New Orleans …

How did you score on knowing the songs? (If you’re young enough to be struggling with these classics, google the first line to give you the song.)

When it comes to first lines, the opening words of the song of Zechariah deserve to be in anyone’s list of memorable ones. While Mary’s is the first song recorded in Luke’s Gospel, hers was not the first miraculous pregnancy to be described in Luke’s Gospel. That belonged to her relative Elizabeth. She and her husband, Zechariah, had been “childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old” (Luke 1:7). But before the angel Gabriel visited Mary, he had visited Zechariah to announce that his wife would fall pregnant, and that their son, John, would grow up “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (v 17). John would be the warm-up act for the main event.

And that’s what Zechariah sang about as his son lay in his arms. It’s a song whose first line contains two words that lie at the heart of the Christmas message…. Here are the two words: “come” and “redeemed.”

A Visit with a Purpose

God has come to visit. He is moving into the neighborhood. But why? To redeem. If you want to understand the first Christmas—if you want to grasp the purpose of God’s visit—you need to understand redemption. So what is that about?

“Redemption” is the act of providing a payment to free someone. And Zechariah is explaining God’s work in his present situation by referencing God’s work in the past—in the time of the exodus, a millennium and a half before. It was the time when (to give an extremely cut-down summary!) God’s people Israel were stuck in Egypt, enslaved by Pharaoh. Despite Pharaoh’s resistance, God freed them through a series of plagues sent against the inhabitants of Egypt. The last plague was the worst—death. The oldest son in each family would die, God warned. But God also provided a way out—through the death of a lamb. The lamb died, the people who trusted God lived, and Pharaoh, devastated by what his decision to resist God had done to his nation, let them go. God had “redeemed” his people.

Well, that is great, and it is an exciting historical story—but what does it have to do with Zechariah, and what does it have to do with you and me?! Everything, actually—because, Zechariah says, God is redeeming people all over again. Not from enslavement to an Egyptian king, but from enslavement to their own sin—to our own sin. We need, he says, “forgiveness of [our] sins.”

What Zechariah is referring to here is not being freed from a material plight, but a moral plight. “Sin” is an unpopular word, but it is a word the Bible unashamedly uses, and it is a word which explains both what we see within us and what we see around us. Sin is essentially me putting myself where God deserves to be—in the place of authority and majesty, running my own life, charting my own course. It is saying to God, whether very politely or extremely angrily, I don’t want you, I won’t obey your commands, I will not listen to your word. I will call the shots.

Literally, to “sin” means to miss the mark. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the World Darts Championships. One of the main competitions is held in England each Christmas. Two competitors stand nearly eight feet from a board 18 inches wide and throw darts at it. Thousands turn up to watch them. And the worst thing the players can do is to miss the board—to throw short or to throw wide. These contestants are wonderful at it, and it sounds very easy—but if you’ve never tried it, have a go. It’s not as simple as it looks!

And the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Everyone throws and misses when it comes to glorifying—to recognizing, pleasing, loving and following—the God who made us, who sustains us, and who gives us everything we have. You can miss the target by an inch, or by a mile, but no one fails to miss. Often, we don’t much care whether we miss or not—we are not even aiming at living in a way that pleases God, but rather one that pleases ourselves. But even when we do care and do try to obey God, we still miss. Even on my best day, I miss the mark, the target. I sin. Sin is something we choose, and yet sin is also something that traps us. We can’t stop, even if we want to. Like a bad habit that proves impossible to break, we’re enslaved to what we’ve chosen.

Spoiled and Separated

And sin is not merely a bad habit. In fact, sin is our greatest problem. People suggest that our greatest problem is a lack of education. Or a lack of social welfare. Or a lack of self-esteem. But if that’s the case, then why are family gatherings at Christmas so often occasions of discord and conflict, even for the most academically gifted, well-off, personally confident people? Why is this not all fixed by now? Why is it not all sorted out? It is not fundamentally a lack of education or welfare or self-esteem that spoils things. It is sin. Sin causes alienation from others. It causes brokenness at the hands of others—and perhaps you are a victim of something that has been done to you. It causes conflict with others—not only wars on a world stage, but closer to home, conflict within our hearts, our houses, our marriages. The lies we tell. The envy we feel. The anger we show. Each time we miss the mark, we spoil our own lives and the lives of those around us.

But this “spoiled-ness” is not the most serious aspect of sin—because my sin has crippled my ability to know God and to live with God. I can’t know God. I can’t make my way back to God because I am trapped in my sin, enslaved by my sin. I’m stuck with being separated from God—both in my present and in my eternal future. We’re cosmically stuck, hopelessly separated.

The singer, Sting, once sang:

Everyone I know is lonely And God’s so far away
And my heart belongs to no one,
So now sometimes I pray
Please take the space between us
And fill it up some way.

I often hear people say that death is the great equalizer. The idea is that in eternity, all bets are off and, no matter what we believed or how we lived, the scale is reset. The Bible has a very different view. One early Christian, Paul, put it this way: “[God] has set a day when he will judge the world” (Acts 17:31). It will be absolutely fair and it will be completely final. There will be no redos. We have separated ourselves from God’s love because we have sinned. And so we will be separated from God for all eternity, suffering the punishment of eternity in the place Jesus called “hell”—a place separated from God and everything that is good.

Actually, this view of eternity—one that includes judgment—is the one that best fits our sense of justice. Whenever we hear on the news about some terrible human act and think, Why doesn’t God do something about that? we are asking him to judge. The Bible says that he will. All sin will be judged, and all sin will be punished by separation. That is very good news when we suffer at the hands of sinful people, and deeply troubling news because we ourselves are sinful people. Sin is our greatest problem, because it separates us from the God whom we were made to know and designed to enjoy. But in another sense, the truth about sin is also our greatest insight, because it explains life as we experience it. There is a mighty, loving God who made us—and so we are capable of acts of greatness and kindness. But we reject that God’s authority—and so we are capable of selfishness and evil. We were made to enjoy life with God eternally, but we all choose to live in defiance of him. Hence the flatness, the “blues” that come after Christmas as once again we get beyond the busyness and distraction of the festivities and think deep down, I don’t have the answer. There’s not a gift I could buy or a gift I can receive that seems to satisfy. There’s not a vacation I could enjoy, there’s not a book I could read, or a piece of music I could listen to that will actually fill the hole. When we feel this, we are really saying, God, please take the space between us, and fill it up some way. We are asking God to redeem us from the sin we have chosen—from the slavery we cannot escape and the debt we cannot repay.


[1] Zechariah was John the Baptist’s father.

[2] Alistair Begg, Christmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas (The Good Book Company, 2016), 27–35.

Advent 2022 — December 6

17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 And all these things are from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore we are ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as if God were imploring you through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made the one who did not know sin to be sin on our behalf, in order that we could become the righteousness of God in him.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21


“December 6”[1] by Paul David Tripp

That baby in the manger came as our ultimate substitute.
Everything he would do, he would do on our behalf, for our salvation.

For once I was excited to go to Spanish class. Word had gotten out that our regular Spanish teacher was sick, and we would have a substitute. I had also heard something about the substitute: she wasn’t a Spanish teacher. I thought I had hit the jackpot. We would probably do nothing in class and would surely be assigned no homework. For the first time in my life, I rushed to Spanish class.

My apologies to any substitutes who may read this, but I grew up expecting very little from the substitute teachers who filled in for our regular instructors. They tended to be unprepared (probably because they were called at the last minute) and not very knowledgeable (probably because they were filling outside of their area of expertise), and because of these things, they were often nervous and ill at ease.

The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus came as our substitute, but in hearing that, you can throw out all experiences you have had with substitute teachers. Jesus came as the ultimate substitute to stand in our place, but he came to live infinitely better than any of us could ever live on our own. One of the ways the Bible talks about this is to call Jesus the “second Adam.” It is a provocative title, worth examining.

The first Adam was created by God and placed in a perfect world, in perfect relationship with God. Adam literally had it all: no earthly needs unmet and no separation between him and God. But in an act of outrageous rebellion against God, he took his life into his own hands, stepped outside God’s boundaries, and did exactly what God had warned him not to do. He had it all, but he miserably failed, and when he did, sin, sickness, and suffering entered the world. Like fine china thrown on the pavement, the perfection of the world shattered. Adam now lived under God’s judgment, and the world groaned in brokenness.

What the world cried out for was a substitute, but not any substitute would do. This substitute needed to be special in every way, so that he would not fail the test as the first Adam had. He had to be perfect in righteousness and mighty in power, or he too would fail. No one on earth could meet the requirements, so God sent the only One who was up to the task, the only One who would not succumb to the pressure and fail the test. God sent the one person whom he knew was qualified to be the second Adam: his Son.

Everything Jesus did, from the first moment of his birth until his ascension to the right hand of his Father, he did as our substitute. What he did in every situation, location, and relationship, he did in our place. Every decision he made, every temptation he faced, every trial or moment of suffering he endured, was on our behalf. But this is vital to understand: he never failed one single test. He faced all the ravages of life in this fallen world without sinning in any way. He was the perfect substitute. And because Jesus was the perfect substitute, on the cross he made the perfectly acceptable sacrifice, and because he did, he satisfied God’s requirement, and the penalty for our sin was lifted. Jesus, the second Adam, is our first and only hope in life and death. Because of his substitution we are redeemed. God sent One in our place who would do infinitely better than we could ever do, because our salvation depended upon it. The Christmas story is the most glorious stand-in story ever!


[1] Paul David Tripp, Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).

Advent 2022 — December 5

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:2-7


“Sermon on Christmas”[1] by Augustine of Hippo

He, through whom time was made, was made in time; and He, older by eternity than the world itself, was younger in age than many of His servants in the world.

He, who made man, was made man; He was given existence by a mother whom He brought into existence; He was carried in hands which He formed; He nursed at breasts which He filled; He cried like a babe in the manger in speechless infancy – this Word without which human eloquence is speechless!

Application & Challenge

For some people, the Christmas season is full – full of family, friends, joy, activity, and so on. But, for others, it feels empty. If we have the hope that comes from faith in Jesus, we know what it is to have “walked in darkness” and the hope that comes from having “seen a great light” – we know what it is to receive “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10).

Pick at least one of the following ways to reach out to those who need the Light shined in their lives:

  • Send a Christmas card with a hand-written note to someone who needs some encouragement or who may be feeling alone. Include a Bible verse to point them to Jesus.
  • Call or text someone who has lost a loved one over the past year. Let them know you love them and that Jesus loves them, too. If they feel like sharing, listen more than you talk.

[1] St. Augustine, Thomas Comerford Lawler (translator, editor), Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany (The Newman Press: Mahwah, NJ, 1952).

Advent 2022 — December 4

16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel

to the Lord their God.

17 And he will go on before him

in the spirit and power of Elijah,

to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,

and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous,

to prepare for the Lord a people made ready.”

Luke 1:16-17


“Prepare the Way” [1] by John Piper

What John the Baptist did for Israel, Advent can do for us. Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready!

That you might be prepared…

First, meditate on the fact that we need a Savior. Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. It will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Savior. Let these short Advent meditations help awaken in you a bittersweet sense of need for the Savior.

Second, engage in sober self-examination. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) Let every heart prepare him room… by cleaning house.

Third, build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home—especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children. Fourth, be much in the Scriptures, and memorize the great passages! “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord!” (Jeremiah 23:29) Gather ‘round that fire this Advent season. It is warm. It is sparkling with colors of grace. It is healing for a thousand hurts. It is light for dark nights.


[1] John Piper, Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent 2013 (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2013).

Advent 2022 — December 3

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:45


“What Advent is All About”[1] by John Piper

Christmas is about the coming of Christ into the world. It’s about the Son of God, who existed eternally with the Father as “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,” taking on human nature and becoming man (Hebrews 1:3).

It’s about the virgin birth of a child conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit so that he is the Son of God, not the way you and I are sons of God, but in an utterly unique way (Luke 1:35).

It’s about the coming of a man named Jesus in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

It’s about the coming of the “fullness of time” that had been prophesied by the prophets of old that a ruler would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); and a child would be born called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6); and a Messiah, an anointed one, a shoot from the stem of Jesse, a Son of David, a King, would come (Isaiah 11:1–4; Zechariah 9:9).

And, according to Mark 10:45, Christmas is about the coming of the Son of Man who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” These words in Mark 10:45, as a brief expression of Christmas, are what I hope God will fix in your mind and heart this Advent. Open your heart to receive the best present imaginable: Jesus giving himself to die for you and to serve you all the rest of eternity. Receive this. Turn away from self-help and sin. Become like little children. Trust him. Trust him. Trust him with your life.


[1] John Piper, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).