A Weak Man’s Strong Tribute, Part 5

By James Boice

Theme: Amen and Amen

In this week’s lessons we see that there is a connection between how we treat other people and what we want the Lord to do for us.

Scripture: Psalm 41:1-13

Verse 12, the last verse of Book 1 of the Psalter, is a final outbreak of praise. Significantly, it is how each of the five books end. Books 1, 2 and 3 end with the phrase “Amen and Amen.” Book 4 ends with the words “Let all the people say, Amen! Praise the LORD” (or “Hallelujah”). Book 5 ends with a double “Praise the LORD.”

How can it be any other way? As we have made our way through these first psalms in this great book of psalms, we have been reminded of all the Lord has done and does for his people. Psalm 1 tells us that God blesses those who root themselves in his word, and he watches over them. Psalm 2 assures us of the final victory of the divine Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Psalms 3 and 4 teach that God is with us in the morning and evening. Because he watches over us. we can lie down and sleep in peace, and we can rise up rejoicing. Psalms 6 and 32 tell us that God is willing and able to forgive sin. Psalm 7 speaks of God’s justice, and Psalm 8 of his majesty. Psalms 9, 20, 34, 35 and 40 speak of deliverance from enemies and of the preservation in trouble of both the king and nation. Psalm 14 exposes the folly of spiritual fools.

The sixteenth psalm is a prophecy of the resurrection. Psalm 22 is a prophecy of the cross. Psalms 22-24 are shepherd psalms, Psalm 22 being the psalm of the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep; Psalm 23 the psalm of the great shepherd who guides and protects his sheep; and Psalm 24 the psalm of the chief shepherd who will return in righteous judgment to reward his sheep.

Psalm 27 teaches that God is our light and salvation. Psalm 28 tells how he answers prayer. Psalm 29 emphasizes God’s glory. In Psalm 30 God is our joy. In Psalm 31 he is our refuge. Because of this, Psalm 37 affirms that we can rest secure in God in all circumstances, and Psalms 38 and 41 explain that God is our help even in sickness or in other trying moments of our lives. No wonder we say, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.”

Study Questions:

  1. What is the significance that each of the five books that make up the Psalter end with a declaration of praise?
  2. Review some of the major themes we have studied throughout Psalms 1-41. What have you learned about both yourself and the Lord?

Application: Praise God for his mercy toward you in the Lord Jesus Christ, and pray for ways to show mercy to others in need.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Weak Man’s Strong Tribute, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: The Psalmist’s Confidence

In this week’s lessons we see that there is a connection between how we treat other people and what we want the Lord to do for us.

Scripture: Psalm 41:1-13

Yesterday we looked at three things people were doing against David. Today we begin by looking at the fourth.

The worst thing of all was that David has been betrayed by his close friend (v. 9). This may have happened more than once in David’s life and no doubt did. But the situation in the psalm is adequately accounted for or at least well illustrated by the betrayal of Ahithophel, David’s trusted counselor, at the time of Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam. 16:15-17:23).

Part of this verse was used by Jesus to explain the betrayal of Judas, saying that it was to fulfill Scripture (John 13:18). This has led some commentators to regard the entire psalm as messianic. But there is no reason to regard the whole of Psalm 41 as messianic, just because the sixth through eighth verses of that psalm are applied to Jesus by the author of Hebrews.

Verse 10 has also been a problem for some people, since David is asking to be raised up so “that I may repay them [his enemies].” The words have a vindictive ring, which is startling and seems inconsistent with David’s conduct toward his enemies elsewhere. We also know the entirely different standard for Christians modeled by the Lord Jesus Christ, who prayed even for those who were crucifying him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). However, there is a difference between the standards binding upon David as the king of Israel and those applying to him as a private person. If the speaker is David and he is conscious of his divine appointment to be king, he might well pray to be restored to power in order to punish traitors as they deserve, while in other cases as an individual he would leave vengeance to Jehovah (cf. 1 Sam. 25:33; 2 Sam. 3:39). Leupold says, “It may be added that punishment of treason is among the duties of a faithful ruler. Our soft age has largely overlooked this responsibility in its overly sympathetic attitude toward all miscreants.”2

Verses 11 and 12 express the psalmist’s confidence in God even in the midst of his sickness and the taunts and ill will of his enemies. Here the tone of the psalm reverts to that of the beginning, where David expressed his persuasion that in the times of their trouble the Lord delivers those who have regard for the weak. David had lived by that standard; therefore, he is assured that the Lord will not abandon him now.

As a matter of fact, his expression is even stronger than this since it is in the present tense, saying not “you will be pleased with me, my enemy will not triumph over me, and you will uphold me,” but rather “you are pleased with me,” “my enemy does not triumph over me,” and “you uphold me and set me in your presence forever.” This means, “You are pleased with me even though my sickness causes many to think you are not, my enemy does not triumph over me even though I am sick and he is in health and working against me—you are keeping him at bay—and you are upholding me even in this low period.” This is a great testimony, but it has been the testimony of the saints down through the ages since believers maintain that they triumph not only when things go well, but in defeat also.

The saints have their share of victories. But they also triumph at other times, times that the world would call defeats. They are always victorious. As for the world, its defeats are unmitigated by any breath of triumph, and even its triumphs are tarnished by the specter of God’s sure and pending judgment of sin.

Study Questions:

  1. What objection has been raised concerning verse 10, and how is it best understood?
  2. Describe the attitude of a weak person who has seen God’s mercy.

Application: Perhaps you are trying to cope with having been betrayed by a close friend, or you know someone who is. How can this psalm help you to address it in a biblical way? 

2H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 334.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Weak Man’s Strong Tribute, Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: A Plea for Mercy

In this week’s lessons we see that there is a connection between how we treat other people and what we want the Lord to do for us.

Scripture: Psalm 41:1-13

What were his enemies and false friends doing? The psalm specifies four things.

His enemies were hoping for his death (v.4). It is hard for us to imagine such ill will on the part of anyone toward David, because we have such a good impression of him from the account of his life given in the Old Testament. But David did have enemies. At the beginning of his reign he had enemies from the family and house of King Saul, his predecessor. Later, even his own son Absalom turned against him, and when Absalom did that there were many in the palace and army who followed him.

Why should David have had so many enemies if he was actually a good king and a moral person? The reason was jealousy as well as a desire for power on the part of those who were jealous. This is instructive for us, because jealousy is undoubtedly a major cause of strife within the church. Those who attack others usually cloak their intentions with pious language. They say they are merely contending for the truth. But actually they are usually just jealous of someone who has greater popularity or greater influence than they do, and they hope that by toppling the other leader they will be able to acquire his influence for themselves.

His supposed friends paid proper courtesy to him while saying quite contrary things to others (v. 6). When they visited the king his courtiers said the right things: “We were so sorry to hear that you were sick…. We have been praying for you and will continue to pray…. We hope you are going to be better real soon. Everything is being taken care of…. Is there anything we can do?” The words were sheer hypocrisy. These people were not hoping that David would get well at all, and once they had left him they said, “Didn’t he look awful?… I don’t think he’s going to make it, do you?… Well, not to worry. He hasn’t been handling things very well lately anyway, and it’s time for a change.” They said one thing to David and an entirely different thing once they left his presence.

Instead of sympathizing with David in his illness, some attributed the illness to God’s judgment on him for some moral failure (vv. 7, 8). The phrase translated “a vile disease” is literally “a thing of Belial,” which suggests a moral evil. It is a vague expression, of course, which is why the translators render it in different ways: “some shocking thing” (Perowne), “an evil disease” (KJV), “a deadly thing” (RSV), “a wicked thing” (NASB), “an evil spell” (NEB), “a vile disease” (NIV). But the vagueness is exactly to the point. In slandering David there was nothing specific to point to, even though David himself was conscious of sin. His detractors were saying only that God must be punishing him for some unknown failure.

Christians also tend to do this with other Christians, though not always with malicious intent. We need to remember that illness and other forms of suffering come to God’s people for various reasons. Some suffering is merely in the nature of what it means to be a human being. Job said, “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Some suffering is sent by God to develop Christian character. Paul wrote, “Suffering produces perseverance” (Rom. 5:3). Still other suffering is intended for the glory of God. This was Job’s situation. Job suffered greatly, but it was to prove to Satan that a person can love God for himself alone and not merely for what he can get out of him. Only a portion of suffering is for chastisement.

So if a Christian is suffering, it is far more likely that this is a good thing given to him or her by God for God’s glory rather than a punishment for some wrong done or sin committed.

Study Questions:

  1. Review the first three things David writes his enemies and false friends were doing.
  2. What are some reasons why suffering comes to us?

Reflection: Did you ever experience some of the malice David describes in this psalm? How did you deal with it? What did you learn about the Lord as you were going through it?


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Weak Man’s Strong Tribute, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: Blessed Are the Merciful

In this week’s lessons we see that there is a connection between how we treat other people and what we want the Lord to do for us.

Scripture: Psalm 41:1-13

The composition begins with the word “blessed”. There are two ways the blessing can be taken. It can be understood as an encouragement to show compassion for the weak or as an objective statement implying that the speaker is one who did so and was therefore cared for by God.1 No doubt it is both. As the rest of the psalm will make clear, David was in the position of being a weak person due to his illness, and he wanted people to show mercy to himself and those like him, which his enemies were not doing.

At the same time, he is turning to God for mercy and his chief claim on God’s mercy is that he had been merciful himself. This may be the first time in biblical history in which the issue is formulated as sharply as this, though it is certainly elaborated later. It is the meaning of Jesus’ beatitude mentioned above, namely, that God will show mercy to those who show mercy. He will bless those who bless other people.

There are seven things that the psalmist says God will do for the one who shows mercy. The Lord will: 1) deliver him in times of trouble; 2) protect him; 3) preserve his life; 4) bless him in the land; 5) not surrender him to the desire of his foes; 6) sustain him on his sickbed; and 7) restore him to health.

Since the psalmist is sick and being mocked by enemies, it would seem that this list of things the Lord will do for the one who is merciful moves from the most general (deliver him in times of trouble) to the more specific (sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from illness). This is worth noting. For it is not merely that the Lord cares for us in a general way, though he does. The wonderful thing about the Christian life is that God cares for us in specific ways. It is when we are sick that he provides comfort. It is when we are discouraged that he lifts us up. When we are not sure what decision to make he gives clear guidance. Such is the personal interest and care provided by our God.

Verse 10 is a plea for mercy in view of the merciless treatment the psalmist has been receiving from his foes and friends alike. We need to take this plea for mercy at full value and allow it to help us interpret the opening stanza. Without it we might think that the psalmist somehow thought himself deserving of God’s protection and favor because he had protected and helped others. It is true that he had done this. He is also expressing the principle, “God shows mercy on the merciful,” which is a true principle. But this is not the same thing as claiming a right to mercy because one is merciful. By its very definition “mercy” is undeserved. In fact, it is God’s favor shown to those who deserve the precise opposite. So when David asks God for mercy, he is acknowledging that he is at best an unprofitable servant and can be blessed only if God for his mercy’s sake chooses to be merciful. In fact, he is even worse than an unprofitable servant. He is a sinner, which he makes clear in verse 4 by confessing his sin to God.

Study Questions:

  1. In what two ways can the idea of blessing be understood in verse 1?
  2. Why can no one claim a right to God’s mercy?

Reflection: List some specific ways the Lord is demonstrating his care for you.

1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), pp. 330, 331.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Weak Man’s Strong Tribute, Part1

By James Boice

Theme: Regard for the Needy

In this week’s lessons we see that there is a connection between how we treat other people and what we want the Lord to do for us.

Scripture: Psalm 41:1-13

Psalm 40 ended with the confession that the psalmist was “poor and needy” (v. 17). Psalm 41 picks up at this point with a promise of blessing for the one who has regard for just such needy people. “Weak” is the word used. And that is what the psalmist is! He is in an extremely low point in life. He is sick, slandered by malicious enemies, surrounded by false friends, even betrayed by one of his close friends, whom he trusted. Besides, he is aware, as we should all be, that he is a sinner and therefore not without guilt of his own. These conditions have been preying on his mind and have distressed him.

The theme of the psalm is mercy. The word is found in verses 4 and 10 in an impassioned plea to God for mercy. But the idea is also present in the opening stanza in the blessing pronounced upon those who have regard for the weak, that is, upon those who show the weak mercy. It is also present by contrast in the description of the poet’s enemies and false friends in the middle portion of the psalm, since his complaint is that they have not been merciful to him in his sickness, as he has been to others.

The summary of Psalm 41 is in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7). The exposition is in the Olivet Discourse: “Come, you blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt. 25:34-36).

Like so many of the psalms, this one falls into three easily discernable parts: 1) a statement of the psalmist’s theme (vv. 1-3); 2) a plea for mercy in which he states his sad condition (vv. 4-10); and 3) a final expression of his very firm confidence in God (vv. 11-13). It is an appropriate ending to the first book of Psalms.

Study Questions:

  1. Where do we see the teaching of Psalm 41 in the New Testament?
  2. From the study, how does Dr. Boice outline this psalm?

Reflection: Have you ever felt what the psalmist is expressing here? How did God show mercy to you during this time?

Application: What are some very practical ways you can show mercy to others?


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

First Christmas, Part 5

By James Boice

Theme: Have You Responded?

From these Christmas lessons, we look at how God’s promises were fulfilled at the first Christmas, and what everyone must do in response to them.

Scripture: Luke 2:6, 7

This brings us to the last of the four categories of those to whom the promises were made, as I presented them. It brings us to the human race at large and particularly to ourselves. The issue is: Have you accepted the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Savior who came to deliver you from your sins? Have you put your trust in him?

The problem here is that there are so many competing “saviors” in our world and that we are constitutionally disposed to trust anything other than Jesus, because we are in rebellion against God. This was the problem in the Eastern bloc countries for the last seventy years. It was not that communism worked. Communism was a terrible political system, a lie, cruel, destructive, barbarous and humiliating. But people did not want God and therefore chose communism as a defense against God and as a substitute. It took seventy years for the truth of the failure of communism as a system to break through to people, and even yet it is only some people, not all, who are discovering true deliverance from sin and true freedom in Jesus Christ.

And what about the Western world? We have been spared the horrors of communism. We should praise God for it. But has our society as a whole moved to embrace the fulfillment of God’s promise and believe on Jesus as the Savior in recent years? Hardly! On the contrary, in recent years our society has moved increasingly away, and today most Americans would rather trust anything else than Jesus. They would rather bow before any false savior than kneel at the manger, acknowledging Jesus to be both Lord and God.

What holds us back? Our materialism certainly. We love things. That is why we have turned Christmas into a commercial binge rather than a time of worship. We trust our bank accounts and homes and cars and retirement programs more than we trust God. We are thankful for them, but it is ourselves we thank.

Our love of pleasure, too. Kneeling on the floor of a dirty stable with some bad smelling shepherds is not our idea of fun, and we want fun above all. In fact, we are willing to sell our souls for fun. We want parties and gifts and jokes and laughter, not worship, not God, not a Savior. We like our sins. We do not want to be rescued from them.

And that is the real problem, of course. In the final analysis, it is our sin that holds us back. To come to Jesus we must confess and forsake our sin. We cannot kneel before that One who is purity itself while clinging to impure thoughts and planning impure acts. The very act of looking upon him exposes our sin to us, which is why we turn away. Do you want a description of our American culture as we come to the end of the twentieth century? It is a culture that has turned away from God. It is a culture that rejects the first Christmas because it prefers a Christmas of its own, a Christmas where sin is no longer mentioned and no one ever has to repent of sin, believe on Jesus and do the right thing. It prefers family rather than faith, gifts rather than God, decorations rather than discipleship. It is willing to have the Christmas story as long as no one takes it seriously.

Yet there are always those who do come to Jesus and do believe, for God always has his people. He had them in that far-off day, and he has them in our time too. They are people like Joseph, who believe against great odds. They are like Mary, who may not have understood fully all that was involved in Jesus’ birth but who respond to God, saying, “May it be to me as you have said.” They are like the shepherds, who heard the angels and left their sheep to worship Jesus. They are like the wise men who left their far-off homes to seek “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). When they found him they presented him with their treasures.

I encourage you to become part of that great company and help to bring that first Christmas back, freeing it from the distortions with which it has been encumbered. I invite you to find and worship God’s promised Savior from sin, even Jesus Christ.

Study Questions:

  1. What other “saviors” exist today that seek to draw our focus away from the Lord Jesus Christ?
  2. Are there any things in your own life that are hindering your discipleship?

Key Point: Yet there are always those who do come to Jesus and do believe, for God always has his people. He had them in that far-off day, and he has them in our time too.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

First Christmas, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: The Promise Accepted and Believed

From these Christmas lessons, we look at how God’s promises were fulfilled at the first Christmas, and what everyone must do in response to them.

Scripture: Luke 2:6, 7

Yet there was another reality to that first Christmas that I also want you to see. Chiefly, it was the fulfillment of God’s promises made to Joseph and Mary, Israel and the entire human race, to you and me. But it was also the acceptance and belief in those promises by those God called. Without that acceptance, the conception and birth of Jesus might well have occurred, but it would have gone unnoticed, unobserved. And it certainly would not have resulted in the accounts of that first Christmas as we know them.

Joseph was a model of acceptance and belief, which means that he must have been a very devout and spiritual man. He was asked to believe that the woman to whom he was engaged and who was pregnant, was pregnant by the Holy Spirit of God and that this was necessary if God was to come among us and the one to be born of her was to save us from our sins.

It was a great challenge to faith. But Joseph believed that, took Mary under his sheltering care in what was certainly a time of great danger for her, and was present with her in Bethlehem on that long-ago-day when Jesus was born. According to the story, Joseph proved his belief by doing “what the angel of the Lord had commanded” and by naming the child Jesus as he had been told (Matt. 1:24, 25).

Mary also accepted the promise and believed God. Her belief involved the danger of public disgrace and even death, for stoning was the punishment for adultery and her condition could hardly be explained in any other way by those who had not seen or heard the angel. Mary’s reply is beautiful. She answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

What about the masses of Israel to whom the promises were also made and who were expecting a Messiah even in the time of John the Baptist? We know the problem here. These people had not read the Scriptures carefully and were therefore looking forward to a Messiah who would fulfill their felt needs and expectations, not the deliverance from sin that God promised. They wanted a Messiah who would drive out the Romans. But a Savior from sin? Not that. In time they would crucify that kind of Savior.

And yet, there were some who accepted the promise and truly believed in Jesus when he came. The earliest ones are among my favorite characters of the story: Joseph and Mary, of course, but also the shepherds, who received an announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ from the angels. They left their sheep in the fields and went by night to Bethlehem where they found the child and returned “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).

After the birth, when his parents took him to the temple for the official presentation of the firstborn, Simeon, an old and devout man, came forward and greeted them, and taking the child in his arms he praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

A short time later an old woman named Anna also came up to them and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). These were the elect of Israel, true Israel, who waited for the promise, saw it, believed and praised God for its fulfillment. There would have been no “first Christmas” without the fulfillment of the divine promise followed by this human response.

Study Questions:

  1. Of the characters in the Christmas story, who believed God’s promises? How did they demonstrate it?
  2. What kind of reactions did people have who did not accept and believe what was told them of God’s promises in the birth of Jesus Christ?

Application: Pray for the salvation of those who are very religious and who consequently hold the Christmas story in high regard, and yet are not truly converted.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

First Christmas, Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: The Fulfillment of God’s Promises to Israel and Beyond

From these Christmas lessons, we look at how God’s promises were fulfilled at the first Christmas, and what everyone must do in response to them.

Scripture: Luke 2:6, 7

The promise to Israel. The first Christmas was also a fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. We must not forget that. Mary and Joseph were ones to whom God’s final promises were made. But long before those promises were given, God had begun to prepare the Jewish nation by many promises of a Messiah who should come.

The Jews lived by the expectation of the fulfillment of those promises. The proof is seen in their questions to John the Baptist not long before the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry. John was such an unusual person that some people began to think that he might be the Christ. So the Jewish leaders sent a delegation to John to ask who he was.

“Are you the Christ?” they asked.

John denied it.

“Are you Elijah?” was their next question. They asked if he was Elijah because the very last verses of the Old Testament said that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah. If John was not the Messiah (by his own denial), perhaps he was this prophesied forerunner.

John denied even this.

“Are you the prophet?” they asked next. This was because in Deuteronomy 15:15 and 18 there were promises to Moses that in the last days God would send the people a prophet like himself. Maybe John was that prophet.

John denied being the prophet about whom God had spoken. Instead, he said, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” It was a reference to a prophecy found in Isaiah 40:3, a prophecy we often speak of at Christmas since it speaks of one who would announce Messiah’s coming. John claimed to be that one. And when Jesus eventually came to him to be baptized by John in the Jordan river, John identified him directly, saying, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:19-29).

This happened thirty years after the events we call Christmas. But Christmas was their fulfillment, since the one born in the stable was indeed the Lamb of God who later died to remove the sin of all who believe on him and trust him. He was the Savior who had been promised to Israel, whom many Jews were expecting.

The promise to the entire human race. But even more than this, the birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of promises God had made to the entire human race. In the garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve had sinned, God came to our first parents to pronounce a judgment for what they had done, but also to promise a deliverer. The promise was included in God’s words to Satan, the instrument of their fall. God said: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15).

These words, standing at the very dawn of human history, have been the sole hope of a sinful and rebellious race. A race in rebellion against Almighty God is a race on the path to ruin. It is a race headed for the most complete and terrible of judgments. It is a race unable to save itself. But in these words God promised a deliverer who would do just that, a deliverer who would destroy the works of Satan, crushing him in the process, and thereby restore to Paradise Adam and Eve and all their posterity who believe on the Savior and trust him to do what has been promised.

The first Christmas was the fulfillment of that great and universal promise. It was the fulfillment of the promise God made to you and me in the person of our first parents.

Study Questions:

  1. How did God’s promises to Israel differ from what many Jews were expecting?
  2. Where is God’s promise first given to the human race? What does it mean?

Application: How can you rejoice in those promises this Christmas?


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

First Christmas, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: The Fulfillment of God’s Promises to Joseph and Mary

From these Christmas lessons, we look at how God’s promises were fulfilled at the first Christmas, and what everyone must do in response to them.

Scripture: Luke 2:6, 7

Well, then, what was the first Christmas if not a time of laughter and family fun and decorations? Do you know what it was? It was the fulfillment of a promise. It was the fulfillment of God’s promise to send his Son, a Savior, to the world.

The promise to Joseph. It was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Joseph, first of all. Poor Joseph. He had discovered that the woman to whom he was engaged was expecting a child, and because he was not the father of the child he decided that the only proper thing was for him to break off the engagement quietly. He would have done it if God had not sent an angel to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20, 21).

Matthew, who tells the Christmas story from Joseph’s point of view, points out that this was to fulfill what had been prophesied beforehand by Isaiah: “‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us’” (v. 23).

This promise was of a child to be conceived by the Holy Spirit, thus having God as his Father. He was to be a unique combination of man and God, what theologians later came to call the “God-Man” and expressed in technical language. He was to deliver his people from their sins. The two names given to the child summarize this teaching: Immanuel, which means “God with us,” and Jesus, which means “Jehovah saves.”

What was Christmas? Christmas was the fulfillment of this promise, for the one born of Mary was indeed Immanuel and Jesus. He was God come to save us from our sins.

The promise to Mary. Joseph was not the only one who received a promise from God fulfilled in Jesus’ birth. Mary received a promise too. God sent the angel Gabriel to her. Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

When Mary asked, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:30-35).

What a great promise this was! A virgin’s conception by the power of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Son of God, and the assurance that this divine child would reign on David’s throne forever. The promise of the conception was fulfilled almost immediately. The birth was fulfilled on the first Christmas. As far as his reign is concerned, it is true that Jesus has not yet assumed the throne of his great ancestor David. But my understanding of prophecy is that this will happen eventually at his second coming, just as literally as the promises of his conception and birth were fulfilled at his first advent

years ago.

Study Questions:

  1. How did God fulfill his promises to Joseph?
  2. Describe how God’s promises were fulfilled in the life of Mary.

Reflection: Read the Old Testament passages that have bearing on the angel’s appearance to both Joseph and Mary. What do you learn from them?


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

First Christmas, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: What the First Christmas Was Not

From this week’s Christmas lessons, we look at how God’s promises were fulfilled at the first Christmas, and what everyone must do in response to them.

Scripture: Luke 2:6, 7

Not long ago I received a funding letter from one of the large American relief organizations. It was trying to raise money for Albania, and it pointed out that for the first time in an entire generation the birth of Christ will be celebrated openly in that country. It said, “For many Albanians this is literally their ‘First Christmas.’”

That really is a remarkable thing. We know that the church has never really died out in any of the former Communist countries. In fact, what we don’t hear from the American media is the role Christians had in turning public opinion and eventually bringing about the death of communism in Poland, East Germany, Romania and the other Eastern bloc countries, at last even in the Soviet Union itself. Christmas was certainly observed quietly by these courageous believers. But it wasn’t an open celebration, because officially Christianity no longer existed. For the vast majority of the population, most of whom were not even born when communism and its atheistic philosophy took hold over seventy years ago, this year’s celebrations will literally be their “first Christmas” ever.

That got me thinking about others for whom this will be a first Christmas. It will be a first Christmas for many children, of course. As I grow older I am more and more delighted with children for whom the delights of human life are fresh, and I find myself smiling with satisfaction when I see their eyes open wide at the beautiful Christmas decorations in their homes, on the streets of our cities and in the stores.

There is another group for whom this Christmas is a first Christmas, though in an entirely different way. It is those who have become Christians during this past year and for whom this will be their first Christmas as a Christian. For them earlier Christmases were mere family times. This year they will be observing Christmas as what it really is, the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came from the glory of heaven to become like us, die for us, and so save us from our sins.

I am sure that for most of you this is merely one Christmas among many. Yet I would like to think about the very first Christmas and see if we cannot recapture some of the wonder of that important day.

We will never see Christmas as it was unless we brush away some of the traditions that have attached themselves to it like barnacles over the centuries. For one thing, the first Christmas had no decorations. I suppose it is decorations more than any other single thing that most characterizes our public celebrations of Christmas—trees and bells and angels and holly and candles and countless other red and green and glittery things. There was none of this in Bethlehem on the first Christmas. In fact, the opposite was the case. In that day most of the world was a very drab place. To be sure, the palaces of the mighty may have been decorated somewhat, though not with Christmas finery. The temple in Jerusalem was a decorative masterpiece. Its gilded surface could be seen from miles around.

But this was not the case with peoples’ homes. They were simple, often rude shelters with very little furniture. There were no pictures, no works of art. And the cities were likewise drab. Especially stables! There was nothing at all festive or attractive about the place where Jesus was born.

Next to decorations we probably associate Christmas most with gifts. We spend most of the time between Thanksgiving and the 25th of December thinking about and buying presents for the dozens of people on our lists. This is not bad. It is a reflection of Christmas, since Christmas marks God’s gift to us of his Son. As Paul says, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15). But there was no exchange of presents among human beings on that first Christmas. Mary and Joseph were exhausted after their long trip to Bethlehem—especially Mary—and they were happy just to have a place to rest and for her to give birth to Jesus.

And what about families? We think of Christmas as a family time, and it usually is. But there was no family time for Joseph and Mary. They had left their families behind in Nazareth in order to obey the decree of Caesar Augustus to be registered for taxation in their ancestral home.

No, over against all the things that we associate with Christmas and probably think we could hardly do without, we see a poor couple, far from home in an indifferent crowded city, tired but extremely thankful that at least they had found overnight accommodation in a stable. It was in a time and in conditions like that and not in a season of celebration and decoration that the Lord of glory was born to us.

Study Questions:

  1. How does the general culture view Christmas?
  2. Even for Christians, what are some of the traditions which can distract us from the true meaning of Christmas? How can you make these traditions reflect the first Christmas?

Application: How can you encourage someone you know to pursue a proper celebration of Christmas—whether a new believer or someone who has been a Christian for a long time?


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.