Well, we are half way through December now, and there is no denying it... Christmas is coming! So to warm up into the festive season, I'll start with a traditional Christmas Bible verse:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)
... and combine it with a less traditional one!
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:50-51)
We all know, and are reminded frequently at this time of year, that Christ was born in Bethlehem. Probably not so many know that Christ left to go back into heaven at Bethany. Even fewer, I would imagine know what these names mean. Bethlehem means "House of Bread" and Bethany means "House of Dates" or "House of Affliction".
These are not accidental details but are highly significant. Christ came to the House of Bread to meet our needs. He is the bread of life that came down from heaven. He meets our needs in a way that no-one else could or can. And unless we eat of this bread, which is his body, and drink of his bood - receiving the sacrifice he made on our behalf - then there is no life in us.
When Jesus came to the House of Bread, he did not just come to meet our needs in a frugal and economic way. His arrival was and is good news. Super-abundant good news! He did not just meet our needs up to the line and no further, but he abundantly provided for us in every way. Our cup overflows. To eat of the bread of life is to be blessed. Christ came not only to save us, but to bless us. That we might have life and have it to the full.
Of course the story does not end there. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with pain. A man who paid the price and took up the cross for us. One who said that all who follow him must also take up their own crosses daily. Not indulging the flesh, but dying to self and living for God. Jesus led his disciples to the House of Dates. We are not just saved to live a blessed life and then get into heaven, but to be fruitful for God. Embracing the self-denial and the afflictions of Christ as well as his blessings in order that we might bear fruit for him.
But it was never intended to be an either-or! Christ coming to the House of Bread does not distract in the least from the fact that he left from the House of Dates, nor vice versa. So why do some believers have problems reconciling the blessings of God with the life of laying our lives down on the altar?
It's not a message of to be blessed or to be a blessing, but both! We are blessed so we can bless others. Christ came as the bread of life in order that we might bear much fruit for God. Even as we give sacrificially, God still pours in more. Even at the House of Dates, as he left them and sent them out into the world to be fruitful... "lifting up his hands he blessed them."
To preach about the blessing of God is not to deny the cost of following Christ. Nor is to preach the endurance of trials and the necessity of bearing fruit in keeping with our faith to deny what Christ has done on our behalf. The two go hand in hand.
The Gospel is a message of blessings, prosperity and abundance, and it is a message of laying our lives down and following Jesus whatever the cost. Receiving God's abundant blessing and bearing fruit.
To remove the blessings, the joy and the abundant life from the message of Christ is as grievous as removing the cost.
"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."