Each December, billboards appear around my hometown of San Diego that say, “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season.” While this statement may seem trite, it reminds passersby that, if we’re not careful, we can get so caught up in the festivities, parties, shopping lists, gifts, and budgets that we forget the real story of Christmas. I’ll be the first to admit that I love the trappings of the season, but I love the truths of Christmas even more. The real meaning of Christmas is so much more powerful than any substitute.
When we don’t get caught in the trappings—when we remember what Christmas is truly about—something changes inside of us. Finding a parking space at the mall becomes less critical. The pageants and songs suddenly grow in significance. Fleeting feelings of happiness give way to deep, soul-satisfying joy. Our entire perspective changes.
Week One: The Portraits of Jesus
Week Two: The Purposes of Jesus’ Life
Week Three: The Prayers of Jesus’ Heart
Week Four: The Promises to Jesus’ Followers
How to Have a Red-Letter Christmas
The surest route to understanding the true meaning of Christmas is through the pages of Scripture. From beginning to end, it reveals the mind of Christ to us. Nowhere is this more evident than in the words of Jesus Christ Himself.
Do you want to know what Jesus is like? Do you want to see Christmas through His eyes? Do you want to know why He came? This Christmas season, I invite you to join me on a journey through some of the red-letter words of Jesus Christ. They give us insights into how He describes Himself, His purpose, His prayers, and His promises.
When the red letters of Jesus become the read letters of Jesus, our soul is enriched. The world will one day end, but His words will never pass away.
Week One: Portraits of Jesus
Day 1: Jesus Is the Bread of Life
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”
When Israel traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land, God led them Himself. But their focus was on food instead of fellowship. They were more interested in what God might provide than spending time with Him. Fifteen hundred years later, their focus was still blurry. As Jesus walked in their midst, they asked Him to perform signs for them—as Moses had done by providing manna in the wilderness. Jesus’ answer was, “I am the bread of life.” That is, Jesus was the sign they had long-awaited. Instead of arguing about what Jesus might do for them (as their forefathers had done with Moses), they should have embraced Him.
If you have a need, look first to the Giver, not to the gift. It was Moses who said, and Jesus who confirmed, “Man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3; See also Matthew 4:4). It is His Word that sustains us. The sweetest reminder of God’s provision is the gift of His living Word, the Bread of Life. Don’t look for anything sweeter until you have tasted His goodness.
Day 2: Jesus Is the Light of the World
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life…. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.”
John 8:12; 12:46
Jesus spoke the words of John 8:12 in the treasury—the part of the temple where the offerings were placed, and candles burned to symbolize the pillar of fire that led the people of Israel through the wilderness. In this context, Jesus called Himself “the light of the world.” The pillar of fire—God’s Shekinah glory—symbolized God’s presence, protection, and guidance. Now, Jesus declared, the light of God’s glory had returned. Today, those who call on the Name of the Lord continue to have access to God’s presence, protection, and guidance through Him.
Jesus’ identity as “the light of the world” is not to be considered just a one-time acknowledgment. Rather, He is a Light to be followed. When two people are walking in the dark of night with only one flashlight, the one without the light must closely follow the one with the light. So Jesus as the Light must not only be acknowledged and embraced, He must be followed! Only by following close behind Him can we avoid wandering into the darkness.
Is He the Light of your world?
Day 3: Jesus Is the Door
“Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
In biblical times, sheep and goats were a primary source of wealth, food, and trade. The owner of a small flock counted his sheep, searched for any that were missing, and protected them at night in a corral or enclosure. Such an enclosure had a gate, or doorway, through which the flock would enter in the evening and go out in the morning. Therefore, pasture during the day and protection during the night was only made possible by passing through the gate.
Jesus took advantage of that familiar cultural image by describing Himself as the “door.” Through Him, His sheep—His followers—would find abundant pastoral provision, and through Him, they would be protected. There had been gateways before Him, Jesus said. But they were “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8) who left them spiritually hungry and unprotected. While the thief comes “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy,” Jesus came that His sheep “may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus’ sheep have provision and protection through Him. He, and only He (Acts 4:12), is the doorway to both.
Day 4: Jesus Is the Good Shepherd
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
One characteristic of sheep is their desire to follow a leader. They are known for flocking behavior and their social tendencies, so the others will usually follow when one sheep moves in a particular direction. Shepherds have recounted instances of sheep falling to their death because they followed a leading sheep over a cliff or into a ravine.
It’s not just because sheep were common in the biblical culture that Scripture mentions them often. It is also because humans display some of the same tendencies as sheep. One of the most poignant moments in Jesus’ life came when “He saw the multitudes, [and] He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The Jews’ spiritual shepherds had abandoned them in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 34), and this broke Jesus’ heart. God spoke through Ezekiel and promised that He would take on the responsibility of shepherding His people (Ezekiel 34:1-16). And He did when Jesus came and said, “I am the good shepherd.”
Every human being needs the shepherding care of God, who is willing to give His life for His sheep. There is no shame in wanting to be shepherded by God.
Day 5: Jesus Is the Life
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die…. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”
John 11:25-26; 14:6-7
By the time he died at the age of ninety, Sir Winston Churchill had carefully arranged his own funeral. The ceremonies at St. Paul’s Cathedral would include the playing of stately hymns and an impressive liturgy.
A man known for his profound messages, Churchill also arranged for two buglers to be perched high on opposite sides of the cathedral dome. The first bugler played “Taps,” the universal melody signaling the end of the day. After an extended pause, the second played “Reveille,” the bugle call which ushers in a new day. Without a word, Churchill reminded those who had come to honor him that, while death means “Good night” on earth, it proclaims “Good morning” in heaven! 1
This is the hope we have in Christ Jesus. In John 11, Jesus performed His signature miracle and the most powerful demonstration of His deity recorded in the Bible: He raised Lazarus’ physical body from death to life. As spectacular as this miracle was, it only points to the greater miracle of Christ Jesus’ ability to raise those who trust in His Name from spiritual death to eternal life.
Day 6: Jesus Is the True Grapevine
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
What if our life had a single purpose—to stay connected to Christ, and we kept it at the forefront of our minds every moment of the day? It’s easy to make our connection to Christ complicated by a long to-do list: pray more, go to church, read the Bible, serve others, practice patience. We can get lost in tasks instead of focusing on the Creator. This leads to shame over items forgotten or under-performed. We forget that Jesus is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
When we focus fully on connecting and less on performing, spiritual practices become stepping stones to Him. Spiritual practices without love are empty, but when they are practiced with the single desire to draw closer to God and hear His voice, our faith grows stronger.
Abundant life comes from God’s work in and through us. As we use spiritual practices to express our love for Christ, our hearts and desires become entwined with His. Everything we seek is found in God’s presence. Which stepping stone will you choose to draw close to Him today?
Day 7: Jesus Is the Son of God
“I and My Father are one.”
Irenaeus, a second-century Bishop of Lyons, had this to say about heresies: “Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest being thus exposed it should be at once detected. But it is craftily decked out in attractive dress so as by its outward form to make it appear to the inexperienced more true than truth.” In other words, Satan is too crafty to make heresy appear ugly or dangerous. He goes to great lengths to present it as appealing and non-threatening.
If you engage a member of another religion in a conversation about Jesus, you will find that they often make surprisingly positive remarks. Muslims acknowledge Him as a prophet, and Hindus appreciate His focus on peace and love for the poor. The Mormons exalt Him, and Jehovah’s Witnesses say He is a god (though not the God). But, the conversation will quickly come to a crossroads if you point them to the biblical record: Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and He alone provides access to God the Father.
Have you reached that crossroads in your own life? Don’t be captivated by an imitation of Jesus who cannot take you to heaven. Make sure you have embraced Him as the Son of God.
Week Two: The Purposes of Jesus’ Life
Day 8: Jesus Came to Do God’s Will
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”
An advanced student asked famed martial arts expert Bruce Lee to teach him everything he knew about martial arts. In response, Lee held up two cups, both filled with water: “This cup represents all I know, and the second cup represents all you know.” Lee continued, “If you want to fill your cup with my knowledge, you must first empty your cup of your knowledge.”
Many Christians struggle with finding their purpose in life because they fill their minds with their own ideas about what they should be doing. If we had asked Jesus Christ what His purpose in life was, He would not have hesitated to answer: “My purpose is to do the will of My Father and complete His work on earth.” And to do that, Christ emptied Himself (Philippians 2:7) of His plans and desires and humbled Himself before the Father. He prayed, “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). If you want to know your purpose, follow Jesus’ example. Humble yourself before the Father, empty yourself of your ambitions, and ask Him to fill you with the knowledge of His will for your life. In order to do the will of the Father, one must seek Him out and know Him personally.
Day 9: Jesus Came to Define Authentic Faith
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them…. Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:12-17, 33-35
In the first century, there were many religious groups with which one might identify—and they were all known for something different. The Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to the Torah, the laws of Moses. Sadducees were known as the political party among the Jews. Zealots advocated for the overthrow of Rome by violent means. Samaritans would worship only on Mount Gerizim and considered only the five books of Moses to be from God.
And then came Jesus and His followers. They had no geographical, political, or zealous agenda; they were primarily lower-class people. At first, they were known only as “the Way” (Acts 9:2); later, they were known as “Christians” (Acts 11:26). Was that their only distinction—a name? No, Jesus told them they would be known by the love they had for one another. This was totally new! A religious movement based on love, like the love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. That “brand” of love still applies today.
What ought to distinguish Christians from the world? Authentic love—love for one another, for enemies, and for neighbors.
Day 10: Jesus Came to Testify to the Truth
“You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
Winston Churchill once quipped, “Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.” That’s certainly true as it relates to the One who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus came to tell us the truth, but more than that—He is the Truth! We can place our full faith and confidence in Him.
Some years ago, Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek wrote a book entitled I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, in which they discussed the concept of truth: Truth is discovered, not invented. It is transcultural, valid for everyone, everywhere, and all the time. Truth is unchanging; it’s immune from shifting human opinions. Truth is absolute, for it comes from an absolutely supreme Creator-God.2 This world has a bad case of truth decay. But we hold the absolute Truth within us through the presence of Jesus, who came to sanctify us by His truth. His word, His truth—purifies and cleanses us—preventing spiritual truth decay (John 17:17).
Day 11: Jesus Came to Free Us From Spiritual Bondage
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.…Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4:18-19, 21
Shortly after he found freedom in Christ, Charles Wesley wrote a personal hymn of testimony, the fourth verse of which famously says: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature’s night; thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”
Imagine a prisoner wanting to stay locked up when he could be free. Yes, that sometimes happens. But why live behind bars when we could be romping in the fresh air?
Christ died to set us free from sin, death, and hell. He can instantly release us from gloom, despair, and hopelessness. He redeems and liberates us. He proclaims liberty to the captives and the opening of prison doors to those who are bound.
Why stay guilty when you can be free? As John 8:36 says: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (NIV). Trust Christ today. Believe His Word and accept His grace.
Day 12: Jesus Came to Fulfill Prophecy
“These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me…. Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.”
Luke 24:44, 46-48
“Why?” is one of the first questions toddlers instinctively ask. And we continue to ask “Why?” throughout our life. Perhaps there is no realm in which “Why?” is asked more often than when referring to God and the Bible. For instance, “Why did Jesus leave heaven and come to earth as a Man?”
Entire books have been penned in an attempt to answer that question, but we can answer it partly this way: because the Old Testament prophets said God would become incarnate on earth. In other words, if Jesus had not been born as a Messiah-Man, the prophets would have been wrong. There are hundreds of predictions in the Old Testament concerning the first advent of Jesus of Nazareth— all fulfilled by Him. In fact, Jesus Himself told His disciples that the Law, the prophets, and the Psalms all spoke of His coming. And they were right.
Why did Jesus come as a Man? To keep God’s promise to send a Savior into the world (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Day 13: Jesus Came to Save the Lost
“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
It’s called “slippage”: Grain falls off trucks, manufactured parts don’t measure up, machines don’t run at peak efficiency, oil leaks out of car engines, and so on. In other words, there are no perfectly efficient systems on earth. Something, somewhere, is always falling through the cracks.
But slippage never occurs in regard to salvation. Jesus used the familiar example of a flock of one hundred sheep. When the shepherd brought his sheep into the sheepfold for protection at night, he would count them one by one. If he counted only 99, what would the shepherd do? One sheep out of one hundred is only a one percent loss, it could be argued. Perhaps it is just the cost of doing business. But not to Jesus. The Good Shepherd would go into the mountains and find his missing sheep and bring him safely home. Not one sheep will ever be lost (John 10:27-29).
If you belong to Jesus Christ by faith, you are one of His sheep. You can never be lost; He will seek you and find you to bring you safely back to the fold.
Day 14: Jesus Came to Warn Against Empty Religion
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
Documentation—it’s everywhere. Your workplace may require you to wear an I.D. tag. If you are traveling to a foreign country, you must show a passport. Many businesses and some governments are even beginning to require proof of vaccination for entry. You can’t just tell a policeman, “I’m licensed to drive”—you have to show your license.
In other words, in much of life, your word is insufficient. Likewise, it will be insufficient at the gates of heaven. In a discussion of false prophets and bad fruit, Jesus stated that simply saying “Lord, Lord” will not provide access into the kingdom of heaven. You must have documentation—evidence that you have lived a life consistent with the will of God. That doesn’t mean a life of sinless perfection; it means a life of continuing on a path leading to Christlikeness. We must provide evidence that the old, carnal man is being replaced by the new, Spirit-filled person.
Does your spiritual walk document your spiritual talk? Let your life prove the power of the Gospel today.
• Why Do We Celebrate Christmas on December 25?
• Why Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?
• 5 Christmas Promises to Build Your Faith
• Children and the Joy of Christmas
Week Three: The Prayers of Jesus’ Heart
Day 15: Jesus Praised the Father for Revealing Truth to Ordinary People
“I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.”
Jesus was honest and straightforward. He made it clear that not everyone would listen to the Good News. He and His disciples would face rejection—and worse. Many who considered themselves well-read, and religious scholars would persecute them, while many others—often with little or no formal religious training—would receive them.
As Jesus’ impact increased, so did His scrutiny by the Pharisees. An itinerant rabbi with delusions of grandeur was one thing. But, One with the power to perform miracles and garner broad support among the Jewish people presented a real threat to their status and position in society. Thus, they tried to trick Him with loaded questions and accusations of violating their religious law. They failed. In every confrontation, Jesus exposed their hypocrisy. He made them look foolish, which only strengthened their resolve to take more drastic measures against Him.
Jesus’ message and actions not only confused the Pharisees, but they also created questions among His followers. For centuries, the Jewish people had anticipated the Messiah, but no one thought He would look, sound, or act as Jesus did. Today, people still want Jesus’ wisdom without His authority, His love without His correction, His teaching without His deity. What about you? How are you trying to fit Jesus into a box of your own making? How will you thank Him for revealing the Truth to you?
Day 16: Jesus Prayed Aloud for the Benefit of Others
“Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?… Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”
What would happen if we lived as if we really believed the truths of the Bible? If we really believed Romans 8:28, that God works all things together for good, we’d be considered optimists. If we really believed in the power of the blood, we wouldn’t keep beating ourselves up over sins that were forgiven long ago. If we really believed that Christ is always with us, we’d be hard-pressed to recall a lonely hour. If we really believed the world was lost and hell-bound, we’d be shouting the Gospel from the rooftops. And if we really believed Christ was coming soon, we’d live every day in anticipation of His imminent arrival.
Yes, we do believe. But sometimes, we act as if we didn’t. Faith is more than vague intellectual assent, and hope is much more than wishful thinking. Jesus wasn’t just a bearded, white-robed Character in a picture Bible, and heaven isn’t just pie in the sky.
These are realities, as true as can be. It’s time we live consistently with our beliefs. The world can only be set aflame by those who live out their faith every day.
Day 17: Jesus Prayed for the Father’s Glory
“If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”
John G. Paton, a missionary to the South Sea Islands, often lived in danger as he worked among the hostile aborigines who had never heard the Gospel. At one point, three witch doctors devised a plan to kill Paton. To carry out their threat, they said they needed some food he had partially eaten. He took a bite out of three plums and gave them to the men plotting his death.
On Sunday, the missionary entered the village with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. The people looked at each other in amazement, thinking it couldn’t possibly be Paton. Their “sacred men” admitted that they had tried by all their incantations to kill him. When asked why they had failed, they replied that the missionary was a sacred man like themselves, but that his God was stronger than theirs.
God honors those who are willing to take risks in His Name. Missionaries are not the only examples. When Jesus approached Jerusalem, He knew the Pharisees thirsted for His blood, yet He did not enter the city under the cover of darkness. In an act of supreme courage, He rode into the city amid great fanfare, knowing it would seal His doom and send Him to the cross.
You might take a risk by inviting a neighbor to Christmas Eve services or talking to an unsaved relative about the Good News. Whatever the step of faith may be, God is your refuge and fortress, your very present help in a time of need. If you step out of your comfort zone for the glory of His Name, call to Him, and He will be there.
Day 18: Jesus Prayed for Himself
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
Imagine this: An employer takes a trip out of town and leaves her assistant with a list of tasks to accomplish in her absence. If the employer returns and finds the tasks only partially complete or completed unacceptably, what does that mean? It means the assistant had little respect (fear, honor, awe) for the employer. The assistant’s performance did not glorify the employer. But what if the assistant completes the tasks above and beyond the employer’s expectations? The employer is honored by the way the assistant values the employer’s assignment. The assistant may not have agreed with or enjoyed the tasks, but to honor the employer, the tasks were completed.
Jesus acted as the faithful assistant. When He was on earth, He accomplished the work that the Father had given Him to do. Our Lord “set [His] face like a flint” (Isaiah 50:7), letting nothing keep Him from glorifying the Father. He “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) and died for the sins of the world.
Whatever tasks the Father has given you—spouse, parent, team member, friend—commit them to prayer and let nothing stop you from accomplishing them to God’s glory.
Day 19: Jesus Prayed for His Disciples
“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.
I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”
Most young children eventually encounter the “heads I win, tails you lose” trick. It’s a coin flip that can only benefit one party—and it’s not them! Eventually, they learn that the best kind of negotiation is one in which everyone gains: a win-win situation for all.
Christ’s final prayer for His followers would result in a win for all involved. First, He asked the Father to protect His disciples from the world in which He was about to leave them. He asked that they might “be one as We are [one].” Surely, Christian unity would be a win for believers: peace, harmony, love, and fellowship. But secondly, the unity of the Church would benefit the world. Christ said that through the Church’s loving unity, the world would come to see the character of the Savior who came to save the world—a win-win for the Church and the world.
Do all you can to be part of God’s answer to Jesus’ prayer. Do all you can to strengthen the unity of the Body of Christ.
Day 20: Jesus Prayed for All Believers
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Although Jesus no longer walks beside us in the physical realm, His concern for us is no less real. And the Bible tells us that one of the ways He chooses to care for us is through prayer. Being at the Father’s right hand on the throne of heaven, He’s also in the best place to advocate for us, intercede for us, and to pray for us.
The Jeremiah Study Bible includes a quotation from Richard D. Phillips that sums up the intercessory ministry of Christ: “Because he lives forever, there will never be a time when this great priest cannot show forth his blood that was shed for you, when his prayers will not pour forth effectual blessing upon your life. When you die and are presented before God’s throne, He will be there, pointing to the wounds he earned upon the cross, charging your debt to the account he has already paid. His priesthood is eternal, never-ending, securing eternal life to give to you.”3
The holiday season can bring feelings of stress, discouragement, or even loneliness. But take heart! Jesus loves you. And if you are one of His children, He declares your name to the Father and dwells within your heart.
Day 21: Jesus Prayed From the Cross
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Three-year-old Holland was arguing with her mom during bedtime. Finally, her mother, Mary Katherine Backstrom, tucked the girl in, saying firmly, “I love you, Holland, but not another word tonight. You are going to sleep now. I’m done fussing over stuffed animals.” But Holland had one more thing to say: “Mommy, I forgive you.” Mary Katherine wasn’t sure that Holland even knew the word forgive, so she asked what she meant. The girl said, “It means you were wrong, and I’m tired of being mad, and now I’m going to sleep and my heart won’t have a tummy ache.”4
That’s just about it, isn’t it?
When we forgive someone, we aren’t condoning their actions. We’re saying we’re tired of being mad, and we’re ready to let go of the fury so our heart won’t ache. That’s only possible through the work of Christ on the cross. When Jesus asked for forgiveness for those who nailed Him to the cross, He demonstrated compassion and forgiveness.
Take His example to heart. Be Christlike in your interactions with others today—show His compassion by forgiving those who may have wronged you.
Week Four: The Promises to Jesus’ Followers
Day 22: Jesus Promises Rest for Our Souls
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
When the Interstate Highway System began in 1956, commercial interests (gas stations, food stores, motels) were not allowed except at exits. To provide access to facilities along the freeways, rest stops were built. But the rest provided was only temporary; once refreshed, it was back on the highway again until the next rest stop.
All of us need rest. So when Jesus invites us to come to Him—saying He will give us rest—exactly what kind of rest is He offering? Like the Samaritan woman who wanted to be cured permanently of thirst (John 4:15), we might desire for Jesus to give us perpetual rest so that we will never grow weary again. But that is not the rest Jesus offers us. His rest is the same as described in Genesis 2:2-3. God rested from His creation, not because He was tired, but because He had finished creating an environment where He and mankind could fellowship together. Our union with God, through Christ, offers that same type of rest through a renewed fellowship with Him.
Have you accepted Jesus’ invitation to enjoy eternal rest with Him? His spiritual rest is never-ending and always available.
Day 23: Jesus Promises to Provide for Our Needs
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?”
Studies have found that many Americans subsist in the grip of worry, which can have long-term chronic health consequences, including cardiovascular disease. No surprise there. But how do we reduce worry? Researchers recommend more sleep, periods of deep breathing, walks in the forest, chocolate, and smelling grapefruits. That’s right—grapefruit. A study at James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, found that the pleasant-smelling essential oils of grapefruit tended to reduce tension and boost the body’s energy.5
Those ideas may have merit, but the true answer to anxiety is spiritual. We must learn to meditate on God’s goodness. We must ponder His power. We must drill into His promises. We must focus our minds on Him, for Isaiah told us, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You” (Isaiah 26:3).
Day 24: Jesus Promises Peace of Mind
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.”
Pastor Franklin Logsdon told of an elderly friend who was rushed to the hospital for an emergency operation. The man’s son arrived just as the father was wheeled into the operating room and asked, “How are you, Dad?” The father said simply, “Even though the storm is raging without, Son, there is always calmness when the Prince of Peace is in the vessel.”
Recalling the incident, Pastor Logsdon later wrote, “The peace which our Savior gives is exclusive in its origin, for it is a peace which the world cannot give. It is exceptional in its character, for it is not what the world speaks about, fights and dies for…. No, it is something real, something restful, something refreshing.”6
The Bible says, “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, You still them” (Psalm 89:9). During difficult times, we find strength in God’s faithfulness. During emergencies, we find strength when the Prince of Peace is captaining our lives.
Day 25: Jesus Promises the Help of the Holy Spirit
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you…. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you…. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”
John 14:16-18, 26; 16:7-8, 13-15
Why do future pastors and missionaries study New Testament Greek when preparing for ministry? For reasons best illustrated by the Greek word that Jesus used to describe the Spirit God would send to the disciples after He departed from earth.
Four times Jesus referred to the Spirit by the Greek word parakletos (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). Understanding parakletos reveals the role the Spirit would play in the Church. Parakletos is a compound word. Para means “along, alongside, among, beside, in the sight of,” and more. Kaleo means “to call or summon.” Put the two together, and you have parakletos—someone who is called alongside or among others. For what purpose? To help (NKJV), to counsel (ESV notes), to intercede (NASB notes), to befriend (MSG), to comfort (AMP), to advocate (NLT, second edition), and more. As modern translations reveal, it is hard to choose one English word that captures everything the Holy Spirit came to do.
In short, the Holy Spirit came to be for us what Jesus was for His disciples (John 14:26). When we are full of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), we are full of Christ Himself.
Day 26: Jesus Promises to Return
“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other…. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Matthew 24:30-31, 35-44
Noah’s Ark has popped up all over the place. A group of carpenters spent four years constructing a full-sized replica in the Netherlands called Johan’s Ark, which opened to the public in 2012. In 2016, another full-sized model opened in Kentucky— the Ark Encounter. There’s a life-sized fiberglass copy in Hong Kong. And smaller-scale versions sit on sites all around the world.
Perhaps in the providence of God, we need to be reminded that we’re living in the days of Noah. Both Jesus and Peter compared the days before the flood to those preceding the return of Christ. Jesus said, “They ate… drank… married wives… were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27). Peter said, “The world that then existed perished, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3:6). In the same breath, Peter said that the earth was facing imminent judgment by fire (2 Peter 3:7).
As Christians, we are like Noah—preachers of righteousness in an evil age, warning others of the judgment to come. Noah was different in his day, and we must be the same. Let’s flood the world with the Truth of the Gospel this holiday season!
Day 27: Jesus Promises Us His Joy
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”
According to CBS News, the top toys for Christmas 2021 include the LEGO Elf Club House, the Disney Princess Dress-Up Trunk, and the Play-Doh Slime 30-Can Pack. Thanks to an abundance of generous parents and grandparents, several items on CBS’ list were out of stock at the time of this writing.7 As Christmas draws near, children around the world are giddy with anticipation for what the day will bring. And loving adults look forward to delighting them with carefully wrapped surprises.
Of course, the children will quickly use up the slime, outgrow the dresses, and box up the LEGO bricks. While things can bring temporary happiness, they are unable to produce everlasting joy. True joy only comes from Christ living in us. As part of the promises of Jesus, it exists in all believers, but we need to cultivate it.
Developing your relationship with God and spending time in His presence enables your joy to grow and mature. If joy is missing from your life, it might be the result of a breach in your relationship—anger, bitterness, or distrust. These emotions stand in the way of anything good that God has for you. Today, take the time to mend your relationship with Him. God longs to fill you with His joy.
Day 28: Jesus Promises the Hope of Heaven
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
In 1964, singer Dionne Warwick recorded one of her hits, “A House Is Not a Home.” The lyrics say that an empty house—no matter how beautiful—is not a home if the one we love isn’t there.
Think of the glories of heaven! The Bible speaks of its mansions, streets of gold, foundations of jewels, luminescent glow, the river of life, and endless fellowship untouched by sorrow, death, pain, or tears. But think of this—what if Jesus were not there?
What would heaven be like without the Triune God?
Our priority after death isn’t so much heaven as it is our Lord—being with Him forever!
When we think of heaven, we should consider all the biblical descriptions of the wondrous environment. We should think about our blessed reunion with our loved ones. We should enjoy thinking about the endless riches we’ll enjoy.
But most of all, we should remember Jesus! At Christmas, we commemorate His arrival into our sinful world. And upon His return, we will spend eternity with Him in His perfect world. As you go through your day, think about Him—and pray: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
How to Make This a Red-Letter Christmas
Surrounded by the trappings of Christmas, it is easy to forget that the Son of God became flesh and fulfilled the redemption story before man’s eyes. Indeed, God orchestrated this great salvation drama to restore His people. While some welcomed Jesus as their Savior, many missed the message. Simply put, they attended the main event, yet walked away unchanged.
The same choice faces us today. You can read the verses, watch reenactments of the Nativity, sing some songs, and forget about Him until next year. Or you can make it a red-letter Christmas by asking Jesus Christ to open the door of salvation, illuminate your life, and be your Savior. If you would like to make that decision, I encourage you to offer this simple prayer:
Dear God, I know that I need You. I believe that You sent Jesus to be my Savior. And today, I receive Jesus into my life. I acknowledge Him as the Lord and Savior of the world. I also trust Him now as the Lord and Savior of my life. Lord Jesus, come and live within me. Set up Your residence in my heart and change me from the inside out. And, Lord, make me the person that You created me to be. I give my heart to You with thanksgiving. Amen.
Wherever you are, if you have prayed that prayer, God has heard you. The Bible promises that when you commit your life to Him, you become a new creation, and you will receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord. It even tells us that the angels in heaven rejoice!
Thank you for taking this journey with me through some of the red-letter words of Jesus. Whether you are new to the faith or a long-time believer, I pray that these words will transform your celebration of Christ’s birth.
1 Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 190.
2 Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 35, 37-38.
3 Richard D. Phillips, Hebrews, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2006) cited by David Jeremiah, The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version, (Franklin, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013), 1752.
4 Augusta Statz, “This 3-Year-Old’s Explanation Of ‘forgiveness’ Is Brilliant,” Simplemost, July 17, 2019, https://www.simplemost.com/this-3-year-olds-explanation-of-forgiveness-is-brilliant/.
5 Stephanie Vozza, “7 Surprising Things That Can Help You Stop Worrying,” Fast Company, January 14, 2015, http://www.fastcompany.com/3040809/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/7-surprising-things-that-can-help-you-stop-worrying.
6 S. Franklin Logsdon, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1949).
7 Leah Groth and Fox Van Allen, “Here they are: Amazon’s hottest toys of the 2021 holiday season,” CBS Essentials, November 17, 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/essentials/amazon-hottest-toys-holiday-season-2021/.