Save the Paper

“[Jesus] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 2:7

Above the joyful sounds of Christmas morning, as children open their presents in attack mode, you can usually hear someone older and wiser saying, “Don’t rip the paper. Save it for next year!” It’s a Christmas thing as deeply embedded in Christmas tradition as jingle bells and holly. The point is that valuable wrapping paper is worth keeping.

Jesus, God’s ultimate gift, came in wrapping paper that is worth keeping. In Jesus’ case, it’s the wrapping that makes the gift so valuable.

When God decided to come to earth as a gift to all mankind, He could have wrapped the gift in a far more spectacular way than He did. Imagine how mind-boggling it would have been for Him to light up the sky with His presence in a celestial show of brilliant power and might. But instead, He chose to come to our planet by wrapping Himself in the likeness of common folk like you and me. As our text says, He chose to take on the form of human likeness—and that of a servant to boot!

So why is this wrapping so important? It shows that He understands what it’s like to be human. He is no stranger to your struggles. He knows your joys and sorrows. Because He has experienced every aspect of being human, he has a clue about you and your needs. When we come to Him, He never says, “I don’t get it,” because He does get it. He’s been there before! As the writer of Hebrews tells us: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).

As a boy, I would snoop under the Christmas tree ahead of time. I could usually spot gifts for me by the designs on the paper. Those with dolls and lace were certainly for my sisters. But I knew that the ones wrapped in trains and planes most likely were for me!

One glance at the wrapping on God’s gift of Jesus reveals that this gift was meant for you. The scars in His hands and feet reflect His commitment to serve you and save you—all the way to the cross. As Paul tells us in Philippians 2:7-8, Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

As I think about the wrapping on Jesus, I’m reminded that all of us are wrapped in some kind of paper. We spend most of our lives wrapping and rewrapping ourselves in clothes, cars, houses, positions, social networks, and other symbols we think will enhance our appearance.

If the wrapping we choose is made only of these earthbound things, we miss something vital about the meaning of Christmas. If, as Paul instructed, I am to have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5), it means that I too must wrap myself in the spirit of servanthood. Those of us who have received God’s gift are called to recycle His wrapping paper into our own lives by giving ourselves as a gift to others just as He gave Himself as a gift to us.

I guess “save the paper!” is pretty good advice after all.


  • Write down some of the ways that you have benefited from the servanthood of Christ.
  • Do you know anyone who is “wrapped” in servanthood like Christ? How has their example influenced you?
  • When it comes to Jesus, there is something terribly wrong with taking the gift and throwing the wrapping away. If you have received the gift of Jesus, in what ways can you display the “wrapping” of His servanthood to others today?

His Birth and Our New Birth

’Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ’God with us’ —Matthew 1:23

His Birth in History. “. . . that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from it. He did not emerge out of history; He came into history from the outside. Jesus Christ is not the best human being the human race can boast of— He is a Being for whom the human race can take no credit at all. He is not man becoming God, but God Incarnate— God coming into human flesh from outside it. His life is the highest and the holiest entering through the most humble of doors. Our Lord’s birth was an advent— the appearance of God in human form.

His Birth in Me. “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you . . .” (Galatians 4:19). Just as our Lord came into human history from outside it, He must also come into me from outside. Have I allowed my personal human life to become a “Bethlehem” for the Son of God? I cannot enter the realm of the kingdom of God unless I am born again from above by a birth totally unlike physical birth. “You must be born again” (John 3:7). This is not a command, but a fact based on the authority of God. The evidence of the new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that “Christ is formed” in me. And once “Christ is formed” in me, His nature immediately begins to work through me.

God Evident in the Flesh. This is what is made so profoundly possible for you and for me through the redemption of man by Jesus Christ.

Like Ephraim and Manasseh

“He blessed them that day and said, ‘In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.”’ So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.”—Genesis 48:20

This Torah portion for this week, Vayechi, is from Genesis 47:28–50:26 and 1 Kings 2:1–12.

Every Friday night, when Jewish families gather around the table to celebrate the Sabbath festive meal, parents bless their children. To the girls we say, “May God make you like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah.” To the boys we say, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.” It’s easy to understand why we choose to bless our girls to be like the great Matriarchs. But why don’t we bless our sons to be like the holy Patriarchs? Why do we choose Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, instead?

Ephraim and Manasseh accomplished something that no one else in the covenantal family had. Isaac and Ishmael were brothers, but they weren’t able to live together. Ishmael was banned from Abraham’s home. Jacob and Esau were twins, and they, too, had their share of sibling rivalry. At one point, Esau wanted to kill his brother. Next came the twelve sons of Jacob, and as we know, their relationship with Joseph wasn’t perfect either. Their jealousy of Jacob’s favorite led them to sell Joseph into slavery.

Finally, Ephraim and Manasseh arrive on the scene. Joseph placed the older son, Manasseh, under Jacob’s right hand. The right hand is considered the stronger of the two, both physically and spiritually. Manasseh, the older brother, was deserving of that privilege. Ephraim, the younger brother, was placed under Jacob’s left hand, the weaker hand. But to Joseph’s surprise, Jacob switched his hands by crossing them over and placing his right hand on the younger brother’s head and the left one on the older brother. Was this a mistake?

Jacob explained that he had seen in prophecy that great men will come from Ephraim, the younger brother, and so he needed the greater blessing to help those descendants. Amazingly, Manasseh doesn’t protest. He was not jealous and he was not resentful. Ephraim and Manasseh were the first brothers who loved each other unconditionally and did not fight.

This is why parents bless their sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh. Because, as great as it is to be righteous and holy like the Patriarchs, it is so critical to be able to live in harmony with our brethren. As it says in the Psalms: “How good and pleasant it iswhen God’s people live together in unity!” (133:1). Few things make the Lord happier then when there is unity among His children. It is this principle upon which I founded The Fellowship, building bridges of understanding and harmony between Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters.

Let Ephraim and Manasseh be your example in your daily life. Be happy for the successes of your friends and support them in their times of difficulty. When we are spiteful or jealous, we end up hurting ourselves and each other. We are all our best when living in unity together.

Gideon’s Brave Band

In course of time the Midianites conquered the Israelites. To escape them the Israelites made for themselves dens in the mountains and caves and strongholds. When the Israelites had sown their crops, the Midianites would come up and leave nothing for the Israelites to live on, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass; for they came up with their cattle and their tents. The Israelites were so robbed by the Midianites, that they cried to Jehovah for help.

Then the angel of Jehovah came and sat down under the oak which was in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezerite; and his son, Gideon, was beating out wheat in the wine-press to hide it from the Midianites. The angel of Jehovah appeared to him and said, “Jehovah is with you, able warrior!” Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if Jehovah is with us, why then has all this overtaken us? Where are all his wonderful acts of which our fathers told us, saying, ‘Did not Jehovah bring us from Egypt?’ But now Jehovah has cast us off and given us into the power of the Midianites.”

Then Jehovah turned to him and said, “With this strength which you have go and save Israel from the rule of the Midianites: do I not send you?” But Gideon said to him, “O Jehovah, how can I save Israel? See, my family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Jehovah said to him, “I will surely be with you, and you shall overthrow the Midianites as if they were only one man.”

Then the spirit of Jehovah took possession of Gideon, and he sounded the war trumpet, and the Abiezerites assembled under his leadership. He also sent messengers throughout all the land of the Manassites, and they assembled under his leadership; and he sent messengers to the Asherites, the Zebulunites, and the Naphtalites, and they went up to join him. But Jehovah said to Gideon, “You have too many people with you; if I give the Midianites up to the Israelites they will boast, ‘We have saved ourselves!’ Therefore, proclaim to your people, ‘Whoever is afraid may go home.'”

Then Gideon separated them, so that twenty-two thousand of the people went back home, but ten thousand stayed. But Jehovah said to him, “The people are still too many; take them down to the water, and I will try them out for you there. Every one of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you; and every one of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.”

So Gideon brought the people down to the water. And Jehovah said to him, “You shall put by themselves all who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, and all who kneel down on their knees to drink by themselves.” The number of those who lapped with their tongue, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men; but all the rest of the people knelt down on their knees to drink. Then Jehovah said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you and deliver the Midianites into your hands. Let all the rest of the people go home.” So they took the food that the people had in their hands, and their trumpets; and Gideon sent home all the other Israelites, keeping only the three hundred men.

Then Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed it, and the three hundred men were with him, faint yet pursuing. And he said to the men of Succoth, “Give, I beg of you, loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are faint and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” But the rulers of Succoth said, “Are Zebah and Zalmunna already in your power that we should give bread to your band?” Gideon replied, “When Jehovah has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my power, for this insult I will thrash your bare flesh with desert thorns and briers.” He went on from there to Penuel and made the same request of the men of Penuel, but they made the same answer as the men of Succoth. To the men of Penuel he also said, “When I come back victorious, I will break down this tower.”

Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their forces were with them, in all about fifteen thousand men. Gideon went up by the caravan road and surprised the horde as it was encamped with no fear of being attacked. He divided the three hundred men into three companies. Into the hands of all of them he put horns and empty earthen jars. In each jar was a torch. He also said to them, “Watch me and do as I do. When I reach the outside of the camp and those who are with me blow a blast on the horn, then you also shall blow your horns on every side of the camp and cry, ‘For Jehovah and Gideon!'”

So Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the outside of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when guards had just been posted; and they blew the horns and broke in pieces the jars that were in their hands. The two other companies also broke their jars, took the torches in their left hands and their swords in their right, and cried, “The Sword of Jehovah and of Gideon.” And as they stood where they were, about the camp, the entire horde awoke, sounded the alarm, and fled. Zebah and Zalmunna also fled; but Gideon followed and captured the two kings of Midian and threw all the horde into a panic.

When Gideon returned from the battle, he captured a young man who lived at Succoth. At Gideon’s request he wrote down for him the names of the rulers of Succoth and its leading men. There were seventy-seven in all. When Gideon came to the men of Succoth, he said, “See, here are Zebah and Zalmunna about whom you mocked me, saying, ‘Are Zebah and Zalmunna already in your power that we should give bread to your men who are weary?'” Then he took desert thorns and briers, and with these he thrashed the leading men of Succoth. He also broke down the tower of Penuel and put to death the men of the town.

Then Gideon said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men were those whom you killed at Tabor?” They replied, “They were just like you; each of them looked like a prince.” Gideon said, “They were my own brothers, the sons of my mother. As surely as Jehovah lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you now.”

Then he said to Jether, his oldest son, “Up and kill them.” But the boy did not draw his sword, because he was afraid, for he was only a boy. Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Get up yourself and fall upon us; for a man has a man’s strength!” So Gideon rose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescents that were on their camels’ necks.

Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, and not only you but your son and your son’s son after you, for you have saved us from the power of the Midianites.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; Jehovah shall rule over you; but let me make one request of you: let every man give me the ear-rings from his spoil” (for they had golden ear-rings, because they were desert dwellers). They answered, “Certainly, we will give them.” So they spread out a blanket and each man threw into it the ear-rings from his spoil. The weight of the golden ear-rings for which he had asked was nearly seventy pounds of gold. Then Gideon made of the gold a priestly robe to wear when asking questions of Jehovah, and placed it in his own city, Ophrah.

Gideon died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash, his father, in Ophrah of the Abiezerites.


Where to Go at Christmas

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem–Luk 2:15

Bethlehem Did Not Know What God Was Doing in Its Midst

Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, that we may see the unobtrusiveness of God. How little the great world knew that night of all that was happening at the inn! The inn itself was crowded; every corner of it housed a traveler. Men were talking excitedly and eagerly on a hundred subjects of the hour. And the great subject of eternity–the birth that was to alter all the future–unobserved, was at their very hand. Nobody was discussing that. The innkeeper would wish to keep it quiet. A few might wonder what was going on in the manger, but they would give to it only a passing thought. And it was thus that the Redeemer came, for the King is really the Kingdom, and cometh not with observation. The old Greeks used to say that the gods come to us on feet of wool. It was thus that God came when His Son was born, in the greatest moment of all history. Men were trafficking, and little children playing, and women gossiping beside the well–and lo! the kingdom of heaven was among them.

No One Expected Christ to Be Born in a Manger

Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, that we may see the unexpectedness of God. Here was the heavenly purpose of the ages, fulfilled in a Babe lying in a manger, it was a common dream that the Christ would come in power, breaking into the world of time magnificently. Even if born (as prophecy had hinted), there would be visible splendor at His birth. The last thing that anyone expected, was that the Christ would be a manger-child, unable to find housing in an inn. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isa 55:8). The manger is forever preaching that, and we are forever slow to take it in. When we are tempted to dictate to heaven, and to “limit the Holy One of Israel,” let us instantly turn our steps to Bethlehem.

They all were looking for a King

To slay their foes and lift them high:

Thou cam’st, a little baby thing

That made a woman cry.

In Their Obedience the Shepherds Found God to Be Faithful

Let us now go again even unto Bethlehem, that we may see the faithfulness of God. That was what the shepherds found that night. When the shining angels went away, everything would be darker on the hill. Often in life the very darkest hours follow hard on the splendor of the vision. And one pictures the shepherds, in that enfolding darkness, no longer “chatting in a rustic row,” but wondering if it all had been a dream. It is characteristic of these honest souls that they put things to the proof at once. They did not discuss the vision; they obeyed it. And so obeying, when everything was dark, and when the night had swallowed up the glory, they discovered the faithfulness of God. Was there a scoffer, I wonder, in their company? Did he warn them that they were self-deceived? Did he bid them “tarry by the sheep-folds,” for that they would go to the city and find nothing? Then, with a wisdom that learning cannot give, they disregarded him, and made for Bethlehem, and found their proof of the faithfulness of God. That is how we always find it. It is not enough to have the hour of vision. Visions unacted on and unobeyed never authenticate high heaven, it is when the vision goes, and through the following darkness we carry on, though with a sinking heart, that we find He is always better than His word. To act instantly on what has been revealed to us, though there be nothing round us but the familiar pastures; to obey, when the voices of heaven are all silenced, and we hear only the bleating of the sheep, that, for us, as for these simple shepherds, is the way to discover the faithfulness of God in the unspeakable gift of the Lord Jesus.

God Uses Human Hands to Dispense His Higher Gifts

Let us now go yet again even unto Bethlehem, that we may see how God needs human service. The shepherds came to the Baby in the manger–and Joseph and Mary were both there. When God sends rain, man cannot interfere. It is the unaided ministry of heaven. When God sends sunshine, He does not ask our help. It comes quite independently of man. But one mark of all the higher gifts of God is that something is always left for man to do, and he is summoned to be a fellow-worker. The gift of the corn demands the farmer’s aid. The gift of the olive-trees demands the gardener. The precious gift of the little crying infant demands the love and watching of the mother. And the Babe at Bethlehem, the greatest gift of all, was not alone when the shepherds reached the manger–even for that gift, human hands were needed. The infant Christ demanded loving service. Without that service He could not have lived. May I not say that He demands it now as imperiously as He ever did at Bethlehem? All which does not decry the great word gift, for always, the nobler be God’s gift, the more it claims the toil of human hands.

God’s Gifts Reveal His Thoughtfulness and Understanding

Let us now go once more even unto Bethlehem, that we may see the thoughtfulness of God. For that gift, though few might have known it then, was exactly what all the world was needing. Sometimes, even at Christmas, we get gifts which do not speak of thoughtfulness. We feel that the giver has never really known us, or he would never have given us a thing like that. But love and thoughtfulness and perfect understanding (which is always one of the sweetest fruits of love) are mingled in that Christmas gift at Bethlehem. “Thou, O Christ, art all I want, More than all in Thee I find.” The cultured Roman and the savage African were all to agree that this was true. I think as years roll on, and hours of triumph reach us, and shadows fall, and days of heartbreak come, one of the most wonderful of life’s discoveries is the all-sufficiency of Christ.