Tomorrow is Christmas. That makes today Christmas Eve. (Duh. The ability to make that last statement shows that I am qualified to be a sports TV color commentators. But I digress.) Tonight, we celebrate a miracle – the virgin birth of Jesus. God started with a miracle and continued showing them, using them to reveal that he is real and his presence, character and power. His continuing to do so even in our time is more necessary than maybe ever before.
If the only foundation for my faith was Jesus’ virgin birth, then that is a very weak foundation. As a former student of my wife’s and a friend of ours pointed out recently, there are other stories of miraculous, virgin births. But the foundation of my faith is based on so much more than just a birth one night so many years ago. It is based upon many more times of God revealing himself through Jesus and his followers, of which I am one. The Apostle John wrote near the end of his gospel this: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
There are those for whom it is not necessary to see God’s power and presence demonstrated in order to believe. There are others, though, for whom it is necessary. Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, needed to see the hands and feet in order to believe. Jesus says that those who do not see yet believe will be blessed, but he does not belittle Thomas’ need to see for himself in order to believe.
And God didn’t stop demonstrating his power and presence after Jesus ascended into heaven. Throughout the Book of the Acts of the Apostles we see instance after instance of God revealing his presence and power through and in his people, ways that are mind-boggling and inexplicable by human means.
Over the last few years, I have become more and more convinced that those within the Christian faith family who declare that God no longer works in the types of ways found in Acts and the early church have really done a disservice to God and the Christian faith. When someone says that God no longer works in certain ways or spiritual giftings (what is commonly known as the sign gifts – prophecy, word of knowledge, healings, tongues, etc), that person is, for all intents and purposes, reducing the Christian faith to nothing more than a moral philosophy or code which now competes with all other moral philosophies and codes found in the world. What this person also forgets is that there are many today for whom it is necessary to see some proof before their eyes in order to believe. It is also common for this type of person to demean in some way this person’s faith as being weaker than one who believes without seeing any proof. It must be remembered, though, that Jesus didn’t belittle Thomas’ need to see in order to believe. Believing without seeing proof is asking a lot.
An article I just read this morning from ethicsdaily.com gave rise to this blog post. It talked about the “Nones” who is one of the fastest growing groups in the United States. “Nones” are those who list no religious affiliation whatsoever. There have been Christian leaders who have decried this reality. For me, though, I actually rejoice because, when combined with another study that shows the interest in things of a spiritual nature remains very high, I see a situation where people want to get away from religion as an institution. And that is what Christianity has become, in essence, in this country.
I believe that the removal of the church as a primary force in this country has actually freed us from the trap of that position. That trap is characterized by making Christianity out to be nothing more than a morally-guiding philosophy and a religion. The Bible was used to keep people, the masses, in line and under control. This trap is characterized by power and as has been said very well, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Christianity is not a religion. A religion is where humanity, through keeping a code or standard and performing certain rituals, attempts to reach up and attain God and his standard of perfection. THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO! That is a religion and that is into what many in the church have transformed the Christian faith.
Christianity is a story about how God, realizing that it was impossible for humanity to reach up and attain him (for according to Isaiah 64:6, even our best righteous acts are like filthy rags when compared to God), he reached down to us through his Son, Jesus. It is through Jesus that those who believe in and on him have been given all spiritual blessings. Nothing more can be earned because God has already given it all to us. Our response of gratitude to this incredible gift is to have his character, power and presence lived out in and through us.
People today, in this postmodern world, are interested in proof behind what is proclaimed. The “Nones” are part of this group. One of the reasons we are now living in the postmodern world is that the generations which grew up in the modern age heard promises about how modern advances (technology, education, etc) in different areas would solve all the problems of the world, promises made by people who expected them to be believed without any proof and which were not fulfilled.
And this is why I rejoice. People are looking for proof behind what is being proclaimed. I serve a God who is in the business of demonstrating proof. That is why my faith is not based only on a claim of a virgin birth over 2000 years ago. It is not even solely based upon the miracles that Jesus did while on this earth and his resurrection. It is not solely based upon how God revealed his power and presence in the early years of the church. Those are certainly part, and the resurrection is the keystone piece, but they do not equal the whole. God has continued to reveal who he is, his character, power and presence, to me in a variety of ways. And that is the reason why I proclaim as Graham Cooke does, “I no longer believe Jesus is Lord; I know it!” I have seen his Lordship demonstrated. And that is exactly what many today are wanting to see and they haven’t seen much of it.
What God started over 2000 years ago with an incredible display of his power and presence, he did not want to have transformed into nothing more than a philosophy based solely on a proclamation by word, one void of any true and real power being demonstrated. He still wants it proven by his power and presence today.
How will you seen his power and presence demonstrated this Christmas season and into 2013? I long to see more and more of my God revealing his character, presence and power in, through, to and around me. I pray it is the same for you.
Praising God for what he started in a dirty stable, in a rough-hewn manger on a night that for many was just like any other night.