I can still remember my dad standing there, coat on and hat in hand on Christmas afternoon asking me, “Joe, do you want to come with me?” His question made me uncomfortable because I knew I should say yes, but being deep into playing with my Christmas presents, going with him was not my idea of a great way to spend Christmas afternoon.
My idea of Christmas was a time to celebrate Christ’s birth by giving and getting gifts, eating some of Mom’s all-time best cooking, and lots of play time with my new toys!
My dad liked all that kind of stuff too. But every year he had something else in mind. He knew that Christmas was more than a celebration of Christ’s birth. For him, the spirit of Christmas had a deeper meaning. He knew that the highest form of honoring Jesus is more than celebration—it’s imitation.
In fact, seeing Christmas as merely celebration can have a selfish bent to it. It can end up being primarily about days off from work, parties, family, friends, games, football, gifts, and lots of great food. But imitation—not celebration—pays a higher compliment to the one whose life we celebrate.
For Jesus, Christmas was not warm, convenient, or comfortable. In our modern-day materialized blur of Christmas, we must keep reminding ourselves that the birth of Jesus put into motion the central act of God’s redemptive plan, and it came at a cost. Not only did Jesus temporarily relinquish the glorious privileges of heaven, He ultimately gave His life on a blood-stained cross where His sinless body bore the weight of my sin—and yours. Jesus presented our world with a costly redemptive gift. Which is precisely why my dad was on his way out the front door.
His mission? To visit an elderly widow who lived down the street. With no children and no family, she spent every holiday alone. And every Christmas my dad, in the midst of celebration, gave the gift of himself, sharing a few moments of companionship to help ease her lonely heart.
I learned a valuable lesson from my dad. Around all of our lives there are people who long for a touch from heaven through some caring, even sacrificial, act of love on their behalf. Who are the people you could call on Christmas day? Check your party lists. Is there someone who will go nowhere if not invited by you?
Indelibly etched on my memory are those two or three times when I stood up from my toys, grabbed my coat, put my hand in Dad’s, and walked down the street to spend an hour imitating Christ’s gift of Himself.
This year, let’s do more than celebrate Christ. Let’s honor Him by imitating the grace of His selfless and sacrificial love for us.
- What are some ways you can imitate Christ this Christmas? Read Ephesians 5:1-33 for a list of ideas.
- My dad’s imitation of Christ made a big impact on me as a kid. What can you do to set an example for the young people or young believers in your life? If you were to say, like Paul, “I urge you to imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16), what kinds of Christlike qualities would others see in your life to imitate?
- We’re in the final countdown to Christmas. Narrow your ideas down to one action point and then, as the commercial says, “Just do it!” Who knows, your act may make this a Christmas to remember.
And I, if I am lifted up . . . will draw all peoples to Myself —John 12:32
When you find yourself face to face with a person who is spiritually lost, remind yourself of Jesus Christ on the cross. If that person can get to God in any other way, then the Cross of Christ is unnecessary. If you think you are helping lost people with your sympathy and understanding, you are a traitor to Jesus Christ. You must have a right-standing relationship with Him yourself, and pour your life out in helping others in His way— not in a human way that ignores God. The theme of the world’s religion today is to serve in a pleasant, non-confrontational manner.
But our only priority must be to present Jesus Christ crucified— to lift Him up all the time (see 1 Corinthians 2:2). Every belief that is not firmly rooted in the Cross of Christ will lead people astray. If the worker himself believes in Jesus Christ and is trusting in the reality of redemption, his words will be compelling to others. What is extremely important is for the worker’s simple relationship with Jesus Christ to be strong and growing. His usefulness to God depends on that, and that alone.
The calling of a New Testament worker is to expose sin and to reveal Jesus Christ as Savior. Consequently, he cannot always be charming and friendly, but must be willing to be stern to accomplish major surgery. We are sent by God to lift up Jesus Christ, not to give wonderfully beautiful speeches. We must be willing to examine others as deeply as God has examined us. We must also be sharply intent on sensing those Scripture passages that will drive the truth home, and then not be afraid to apply them.
There’s an old joke that poses the question: Why did Moses and the Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years when the actual distance between Egypt and the Promised Land was very short? The answer: Because men refuse to ask for directions! While this may be true of some men, Scripture tells us that as Jacob and his family approached Egypt, he sent Judah ahead “to get directions to Goshen.”
So it’s true — wise men do ask for directions!
But other than proving this point, why was this detail included in the Bible? We know that not one detail mentioned in Scripture is superfluous. Every word and every letter has meaning and a message for us. What’s the message in this?
The Sages point out that the Hebrew word for ‘get directions,’ ‘l’horot,’ is related to the word ‘Torah’ (our directions for life). Therefore, say the Sages, Jacob wasn’t just sending Judah ahead to get directions; he was sending him to prepare a place to study Torah. Such is the importance of learning to the “the people of the Book.” No place can be called home unless it is a place where people will study the Word of God.
Every morning, Jews read a selection from the Talmud which lists what a person can do to earn reward in this world and the afterlife. Among them are honoring one’s parents, doing acts of kindness, visiting the sick, praying with fervor, and several other honorable actions. Yet the passage ends with this: “ . . . . and the study of Torah is equal to them all.”
How can that be? Is sitting inside a study hall pouring over ancient texts really better than visiting the sick?
The answer is yes. Because the more we study the Bible, the more we will engage in all those virtuous deeds. Torah is often compared to water. Just as water makes everything grow, Torah study makes us grow. It turns us into more caring, kinder, godly people. As the psalmist wrote, “The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalms 19:7). Scripture enlightens us and teaches us how to live.
This verse reminds us of how important it is to make Bible study a consistent and integral part of our lives. We may already know this, but implementing it is something else. Life is busy with many things to do. But as this verse teaches, the more we study, the more we will be busy with the right kinds of “things.”
Moses sent certain men to explore the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the South Country and on into the highlands, and see what the land is and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land in which they live is good or bad, and what kinds of cities they live in, whether in camps or in strongholds. See whether the land is fertile or barren, whether there is wood in it or not. Be courageous and bring some of the fruit of the land,” for it was the time when the grapes first begin to ripen.
So they went up to the South Country and came to Hebron. When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down from there a branch with one cluster of grapes and brought it away on a pole carried by two men. They also took some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the valley of the Grape Cluster because of the cluster which the Israelites cut down there.
Then they returned to Moses and Aaron and all the Israelites at Kadesh and brought back word to them and showed them the fruit of the land. They reported to Moses, “We went to the land to which you sent us; and it indeed is full of milk and honey; and this is some of its fruit. But the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are very large and have high walls about them.”
Then Caleb quieted the people and said, “Let us go up at once and take it, for we are well able to conquer it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to conquer the people, for they are stronger than we, and all the people whom we saw there are very tall and large. There we saw the giants; we were as grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we seemed to them.”
All the people wept that night and cried out, “Why did Jehovah bring us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be taken captive. Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and return to Egypt.”
Then Moses and Aaron bowed low before all the Israelites who were gathered there, and Joshua and Caleb, who were among those who explored the land, tore their clothes and said to them, “The land which we went to explore is a very good land. If Jehovah is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land which is full of milk and honey. Only do not rebel against Jehovah. Fear not the people of the land, for they will supply us with food. Their defense is taken away from over them, and Jehovah is with us; fear them not.” But the people would not trust Jehovah.
Then Jehovah said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? How long will they refuse to trust me in spite of all of the wonders which I have performed before their eyes? I will send sickness upon them and destroy them, and I will make you and your family a nation greater and mightier than theirs.”
But Moses said to Jehovah, “When the Egyptians hear it, they will say, ‘Jehovah has killed them in the wilderness because he was not able to bring this people into the land which he solemnly promised to them.’ Forgive, I pray thee, the guilt of this people, because thy love is great, even as thou hast forgiven them from the time they left Egypt even until now.”
Jehovah said, “I have forgiven as you have asked; but as surely as I live and as surely as the whole earth shall be filled with the glory of Jehovah, none of the men who have seen my glory and my wonders which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not listened to my voice, shall see the land which I have solemnly promised to their fathers, neither shall any of those who despise me see it. But I will bring my servant Caleb to the land to which he went, for he has shown a different spirit and has faithfully followed me, and his children shall possess it. But your little ones, who, you said, would be captives of war, I will bring in, and they shall possess the land which you have refused. Your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and your children shall be wanderers there forty years and shall suffer for your unfaithfulness until your bodies have all decayed in the wilderness.”