Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Census of Caesar Augustus

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register” (Luke 2:1–3, NIV).

Sadly, too many read those words and overlook the importance of Caesar Augustus’ role in the birth of Christ. Yet it is an excellent example of how God works through the will of man to accomplish his own purposes. Because of Caesar Augustus, God the Father’s plan for the entry of his Son into this sin-cursed world happened exactly on schedule.

This pagan king considered himself to be a god. He ruled the entire Mediterranean world from Parthia to Britain and ushered in the Pax Romana or Roman peace. As a result he had the power to enforce his will on the Jews.

Rulers usually demanded a census so that they would know how many able-bodied men were available for military service. In the case of the Jews, Augustus wanted to know how much tax money he could exact from them. Why he insisted that they travel to their hometowns is a mystery. He did not realize that, by enforcing his own will on the Jews, he was carrying out the sovereign will of God.

From eternity past God determined to put his marvellous plan of salvation into action by sending Jesus as a little baby at that particular point in time (Galatians 4:4). Six hundred years before Jesus’ birth, Daniel prophesied that in the time of the fourth kingdom, God would set up an eternal kingdom (Daniel 2:44). The fourth kingdom was the Roman Empire. Moreover the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem according to Micah 5:2.

How wonderful are God’s plans! He would accomplish his plan of salvation in history as promised from the beginning of time (Genesis 3:15). Jesus, who is the promised Seed, came to earth to die for sinners. Caesar Augustus played a pivotal role in this plan.     

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Case of the Missing Tree

Powerful winds often topple entire trees. Other times the wind only blows the top off a dead tree and leaves the base standing. That happened a few years ago at the lake. Usually the top of the tree ends up lying close to the decapitated trunk. Not this time.

The wind drove its top across the lake until it landed near the shore of our cottage. I thought we were stuck with this huge tree grounded firmly on our beach forever. I tried to be positive about the situation by dreaming of my grandsons straddling that dead wood and pretending to be driving a boat. But I was wrong.

This year the top of that dead tree disappeared in another wind storm. Curious, I searched for it in the canoe. My husband thought it had likely drifted out into the middle of the lake and sunk to the bottom.

Thinking of that missing tree reminded me of the sins of a believer. God promised, “As far as the east is from the west, so far he has removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12, NIV). Likewise Jeremiah writes, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34, NIV). Then Micah states, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19, NIV).

How reassuring! Our sins are just like that missing tree. God will never confront us with our sins and demand payment because the precious blood of Jesus paid the price. His blood covers the sins of believers. As far as God is concerned your sin is lost in the depths of the sea. Of course, this implies true repentance and not a license to sin.      

Friday, August 16, 2013

Red-winged Birds

Perhaps this seems unlikely, but sometimes I wonder if birds have the ability to claim a small piece of real estate as their own. Once, on my way to church, I noticed several red-winged black birds. Perched on electric wires, they sat evenly spaced along the side of a country road.

God cares for birds and knows they need space to live. Some birds, like blue jays, are aggressive, however, and steal the nests of others. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed out that God feeds and clothes birds. If God takes care of birds, he will certainly watch over us.

Paul told the Athenians, “From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26, NIV).

Once, King Jehoshaphat of Judah had a disturbing problem. The Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites united to try to conquer Judah. Years before, the Lord would not let the Israelites invade the land of those nations. Instead he promised them safety. Jehoshaphat did not think this was fair. God had reserved land for those relatives of Israel long ago. Yet they wanted to invade Judah in his day (2 Chronicles 20).

God plants everyone in a particular neighbourhood. Do you find comfort knowing that the Lord has placed you where you live?   

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Blessings of Spring

In Canada everyone knows the difference between winter and spring. Until I spent a lot of time in southern California, I did not realize that people living there also see a difference in the seasons. Last January my three-year-old grandson in California wondered why some plants in his dad’s garden were dead. I told him that they would come back to life in the spring.

This cycle of life and death reminds me of a similar spiritual principle in the Bible. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24, NIV). In saying this, Jesus was trying to prepare his disciples for his death and resurrection.

When Jesus did die and was buried in the tomb, the disciples were confused and sad. Three days later their grief turned to unspeakable joy at Jesus’ resurrection. By dying without sin, the Lord Jesus was able to take our place. The sinless Son of God took the punishment for sinners. Therefore Jesus the God-man received life through death.

 Unlike Jesus, we were born spiritually dead, but we may receive life by faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10, NIV).

Have you accepted this priceless gift of God—eternal life—by trusting that Jesus paid the penalty for your sins? The blessings of spring could not come without the reality of winter.

Friday, March 08, 2013

My Trojan Horse

I watched in surprise as ants marched into the kitchen from the dining room. Later on I found more in the living room. When I saw even more by the picture window in the living room, I thought that they must be getting in there. So I asked my husband to caulk outside. I even stuffed a small wad of steel wool into a hole.

A week passed. I had emptied several boxes of Kleenex to pick up dead ants. Drops of liquid ant killer lay scattered all over the living room, dining room, and kitchen floors. “What am I going to do? I can’t figure out where they are coming from,” I moaned.

Discouraged and frustrated, I knelt down in front of the fireplace to gather up more carcasses. At that point my eyes wandered toward a huge log stored on a brass basket. Then I saw it. An ant was crawling out a tiny hole in the log —then another—and another.

“Oh, no!” I yelled to my husband. “Get that log out of here!”

However he was in the bedroom and did not hear me at first. To my relief, he finally heard me and dumped the heavy log onto the front porch. Shortly afterward he carried it to the woods far behind our backyard.

Just like the fictional Trojan horse, my husband had carried that log into the house unaware of the ant nest inside it. Nevertheless the principle of the Trojan horse has been in force since the beginning of time. Satan appeared harmless to Eve. Yet he convinced her to eat fruit from the forbidden tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden. The result was devastating for humanity because now all of us are born in sin and spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1–3).

The Lord told Cain that sin was crouching at his door and desired to have him. Likewise, all of us are tempted to sin. Sadly, Cain gave in to the temptation and murdered his brother, Abel. James writes:
When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13–15, NIV).

My husband unwittingly brought an army of ants into our house. In the same way, yielding to temptation leads to a multitude of sins. Refusing to repent of those sins results in deadly consequences—everlasting punishment in hell, the place prepared for Satan and his demons (Matthew 25:41).