The Big Little Word “If”

If

Definition of if

a – in the event that
b – allowing that
c – on the assumption that
d – on condition that
Doing a study on 1 John in the Bible, I noticed how many times John used the word “if.”  That started me thinking about all the “ifs” in the Word of God.  It seems to me that there are many promises of God that we claim without taking into account the “if” that is associated with it.
It is clear that we can never earn our salvation.  We can never do enough good on our own to earn that gift of eternal life.  John 3:16 makes it clear that if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, he grants us forgiveness and eternal life.  Paul the Apostle also stated very plainly in Ephesians 2:8-9 that:
 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
But once we begin that walk with the Lord, it is clear that if our relationship is to grow and we are to develop as true disciples, there are conditions to be met.
The “ifs” seem to indicate that there is something required from us.  How we respond to these “ifs” will determine our receiving from God what He has offered.
Here are just a few for you to consider:

For IF you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you…Matthew 6:14

forgiveness

We talk a lot about how God forgives us if we ask.  But we must remember that forgiveness is tied to our forgiving others.

IF you are faithful to what I have said, you are truly my disciples…John 8:31

OObeying Word

So — if we are not faithful to God’s Word, how can we claim to be His disciple?  And how can we be faithful to His Word, if we never read it, never study it, never really know what it says?

 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, IF you love one another…John 13:35

 

One another

Interesting – the mark of a disciple according to Jesus is not all the great sacrifices we might make, the many talents we might use, but the love that we have for others.

IF anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our abode with him…John 14:23

obeying

We love to talk about desiring the presence of the Lord in our life, in our family, in our church.  Many of our worship songs are all about how much we love God.  But again, that big little word “if” says we only really love God and we only can expect His presence, if we keep His Word.

One of the biggest IF’s I think is found in Matthew 16:24

IF anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.

cross

Again, we love to talk about our commitment to Christ, but we are only committed when we truly deny our-self, take up the cross and follow Christ.  The idea about a cross is really lost to most in our society.  To us a cross is a decoration on the wall of the church or on the steeple.  It is a piece of jewelry we wear or hang on the wall of our home.  But to the society to which Jesus spoke these words, the cross represented death.  To truly follow Jesus requires a willingness to die to our own desires and be led by Him.

But one of the greatest “ifs” in the Bible is found in Revelation when Jesus said

Behold I stand at the door and knock.  IF anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and sup with him.

jesus_christ_image_117

What a great promise!  To open the door – to invite Him into our life, that is all we have to do and He will be glad to come in, to have a relationship with us.  Notice that we are the ones to open the door.  He is a gentleman and does not force Himself on us.  But he extends that wonderful invitation.

If you have not done so, I encourage you to open the door.

 

 

 

 

 

The First Christmas – Mary’s Story

mary-learns-of-christs-birth-from-angel-gabriel-300

Christmas!  What a magical time!

We decorate our homes with trees, candles, wreaths.  We put out a nativity set and hang up an angel or two.  We plan gatherings with family and friends where there will be presents and lots of delicious food to eat.  Everything is so neat and tidy – so beautiful.   It’s truly a joyous time as we celebrate our Savior’s birth.

Our Christmas cards show scenes of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and they look so beautiful and so peaceful.  Even our Christmas carols speak of a little baby who makes no crying and of a night where all is calm.

But how far from that first Christmas have we come?  Was it really beautiful, calm and peaceful to Mary and Joseph and those who played a role in that first Christmas?

What about Mary?

How must Mary have first felt when the angel appeared to her with those amazing words:  “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Because we know how the story ends, we think “What an honor to be chosen to bear the Son of God.  What great news this was.”

But put yourself in Mary’s place for a moment.  How frightening it would be to say, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I’m pregnant but I’m still a virgin.  This child I bear has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  Can you imagine the response of her parents to that announcement?

And how would she face Joseph?  He would know he was not the father.    What would he say?  Certainly he would have questions.  Would he still marry her?  Would he bring her before the community to be stoned?

What about the child?  Would gossip follow him as he played and grew in the village?

Mary’s dream of marriage to Joseph and a wonderful life suddenly looked as if it would be shattered.

Do I trust God?

Mary had to decide.

Her decision was a matter of trust.  She  responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

The trip to Bethlehem

How appropriate that the One who would say “I am Bread of Life” would be born in a city whose meaning is “house of bread.”  And in Micah, 5 the prophet foretold that the Messiah would journey-to-bethlehem-1062729_jpg_1418849826391_journey-to-bethlehem-1062729come from this small and insignificant town of Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,  are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past,  will come from you on my behalf.

Imagine traveling 90 miles over unpaved, hilly trails with Mary in the late weeks of her pregnancy riding on a donkey and Joseph leading on foot.  Bible scholars estimate that they would have probably only been able to make 10 miles a day because of Mary’s impending delivery.  There could be threats of bandits along the trail.  They had to carry their own provisions.

The hardships did not end when they arrived in Bethlehem.  We think of Mary and Joseph alone in the stable  but it is possible that they shared that stable with others.  In an overcrowded Bethlehem they were probably not the only ones who could find no room in the inn.

What a place to give birth!

I can’t imagine giving birth in a cold stable with possibly no help in delivery except my husband who is a carpenter and maybe some strangers who offered help.  To lay my new-born baby in a feeding trough for animals.

Baby Jesus did not cry?????

I find it hard to believe that baby Jesus just laid there quiet and calm.  After all, the Bible tells us that He came to “be like us,” to understand our weakness and frailty.

  • As He began His ministry, He experienced temptation just like us.
  • We see Him falling asleep after an exhaustive day ministering to the multitudes.
  • In the Garden of Gethsemane He cried out for deliverance from the cross.
  • He felt the agony of feeling forsaken by the Father on the cross.

One of the main points the writer of the book of Hebrews makes is that Jesus experienced human life as we know it, so why would He as a baby not have felt the cold, the hunger?  Why would He not have cried as all new-born babies do?

Enter the shepherds!  Wake up Mary!

Imagine Mary, worn out from giving birth, quieting her baby and watching Joseph tenderly lay him in the manger.  Perhaps she thought about the visit from Gabriel and his words about this son she just gave birth to.  Perhaps she wondered why, if this boy was the savior of the world, they were sleeping in a stable and he was laying in the place where animals took their meals.

Finally, she leans back on the hay to try to get a little sleep when suddenly the stable is invaded by a group of shepherds straight from the hills where they had been tending their sheep.  Pos002-christmas-shepherdssibly they did not smell all that pleasant.  They no doubt were very excited and loudly proclaiming what they had seen and heard.  As they shared the stories of the angels, no doubt Mary remembered her visit from Gabriel.  What reassurance to know that others now had heard the wonderful message that this child was sent from God.  She and Joseph were not alone in knowing the wondrous news of this birth.

The visit to the temple

Soon it was time to take the little baby to the temple and present the sacrifices required after giving birth.  We can see from the gifts they brought of two turtledoves or two young pigeons that Mary and Joseph were among the poor of the land.  Leviticus 12 tells us requirements for this offering.

“These, then are the procedures after childbirth.  But if she is too poor to bring a lamb, then she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigoens.

Standing in the temple still reflecting on all the events of the past few days, Mary was again reminded of the importance of her son when a man named Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God, saying

Lord, now I can die content!  For I have seen him as you promised me I would.  I have seen the Savior you have given o the world.

But Simeon’s next words must have given Mary pause as he told her

A sword shall pierce your soul, for this child shall be rejcted by many in Israel, and this to their undoing.  But he will be the greatest joy of many others.  And the deepest thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed.

Mary’s first Christmas

How different Mary’s experience of Christmas is from ours.  But as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, may we go beyond the bright lights, the food, the music – may we, like Mary, experience the wonder of this miracuous birth.  May we trust this Savior and like Mary, may we say

I am the Lord’s servant.  May everything You say about me come true!