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Want to Read the Bible More in 2016? We Can Help

Do you want to read the Bible more in 2016? Do you spend as much time reading the Bible as you want?

Most people wish they read the Bible more than they do, but there are a lot of reasons why that doesn’t happen. Maybe you’ve tried reading the Bible through but got bogged down. Maybe you’ve never really tried reading the Bible and don’t know where to start. Or maybe you’ve read the Bible for years but have never felt like you’ve truly connected with it.

If any of those describe you, this is a perfect time to take a step forward in your relationship with the Bible. You can make 2016 the year that you finally spend more time with the Bible.

We’d like to help you do that with our free Read the Bible in the New Year resources. We’ve hand-picked some choice Bible reading plans and devotionals from our library that will make your Bible reading in 2016 much easier. We’ve picked Bible reading plans that cover all Bible experience levels, so whether you’re totally new to the Bible or have been reading it all your life, there’s a plan for you. Click here to choose one and get started.

We want 2016 to be the year that you take a fresh step forward in your engagement with God’s Word—and we want Bible Gateway to be a resource you can lean on while you do so. If your understanding of the Bible isn’t where you want it to be, make a commitment to spend some extra time reading the Bible in the New Year!

To Us a Child is Born

Christmas is here! Today we remember and celebrate the fulfillment of a promise that God made to humanity many thousands of years ago. Long before Jesus Christ was born in a manger in Bethlehem, God’s prophets predicted the arrival of the Messiah:

Isaiah 9:6-7

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. — Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)

…and hundreds of years later, God kept his promise:

Luke 2

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. — Luke 2 (ESV)

Merry Christmas from your friends at Bible Gateway!

The Other Miraculous Christmas Birth

While our focus at Christmastime is naturally on the birth of Jesus Christ, it might surprise you to learn that Jesus’ was not the only miraculous birth associated with Christmas!

Jesus was preceded by John the Baptist, whose life and ministry would be defined by his role as a messenger announcing the promised Messiah. John’s birth was nearly as unusual as Jesus'; his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth got the good news from an angel, much as Mary would:

Now while [Zechariah] was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Elizabeth was a comfort and encouragement to Jesus’ mother Mary throughout the latter’s pregnancy. In fact, the angel who announced Jesus’ birth pointed to Elizabeth’s surprise pregnancy as a reassuring example that God could accomplish the impossible:

…Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

Tomorrow, our attention will rightly be on the birth of Jesus Christ. But Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy—forshadowing Mary’s pregancy, just as Elizabeth’s son would point to Mary’s later in life—is an important part of the Christmas narrative. Praise be to God, who does the impossible!

The Saint John’s Bible Christmas Illumination

The Gospel of Luke Frontispiece: The Birth of Christ. Artist: Donald Jackson. The Saint John's Bible, 2002

The story of the gospel as depicted in The Saint John’s Bible (@SaintJohnsBible) frontispiece to the Gospel of Luke: “The Birth of Christ.” Read Luke’s description of the birth of Jesus from Luke 1-2.

“By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Luke 1:78-79 NRSV

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
Luke 2:14 NRSV

Read our blogpost: The Saint John’s Bible: A Work of Art

See various editions of The Saint John’s Bible available to purchase in the Bible Gateway Store.

See illuminated pages from The Saint John’s Bible that were simultaneously displayed at institutions across America over seven days in 2015: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 (#7Days7Pages)

[See our blogpost: CNN: A Catholic Reads the Bible.]

[See our blogpost: Reflections from Pope Francis: An Interview with Susan Stark and Dan Pierson.]

[See our blogpost: The Tweetable Pope: Catholic Resources in the Bible Gateway Store.]

Inspiring Christmas Week Reading: The Best Holiday Devotions from Our Library

Over the past weeks, we’ve talked a lot about our Christmas devotionals—special seasonal devotionals focused entirely around the Advent season. And we hope you’ve checked out one or two of them! But those aren’t the only place you can find inspirational Christmas content. Many of the “regular” devotionals in our library have been sharing insights about Christmas lately.

I’ve gone through our devotional library and identified some of the best Christmas-related writing from devotionals that aren’t Christmas-season devotionals. Here are some of the best examples:

Charles Spurgeon’s Christmas Sermons

spurgeonCharles Spurgeon’s best-known devotional is Morning and Evening, but we’ve actually got two other Spurgeon collections in our library: Spurgeon at the New Park Street Chapel and at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Both collect excerpts from sermons that Spurgeon delivered at those churches—and both have a good collection of Christmas sermons worth reading.

Both sermon collections began focusing on Christmas starting this last Sunday, December 20; I recommend starting there and walking through the week to read all the Christmas sermons. Here’s December 20 in the Metropolitan Tabernacle sermon collection, and December 20 in the New Park Street Chapel collection.

Between them there are about a dozen Christmas-related readings. Here are a few of the best:

Christmas Videos by Sheri Rose Shepherd

Speaker and author Sheri Rose Shepherd creates the Chocolate For Your Soul and His Princess Every Day devotionals. Chocolate For Your Soul is a video devotional, and two of them are focused on Christmas. Here’s a recent one:

The other one, Unwrap the Gift Inside Your Loved Ones, is also worth watching.

Encouragement for Today and Girlfriends in God

The Encouragement for Today and Girlfriends in God devotionals both dedicate much of Advent to Christmas-related reflections. While not every devotional in December is Christmas-related, many of them are; it’s worth browsing through this month’s entries for both of them. Here are a few particularly good ones:

Women of the Christmas Story

220px-Eustache_Le_SueurAnn Spangler’s Women of the Bible devotional highlights the major female characters of the Christmas story, with writeups about each woman’s life and reflections on what we can learn from them. Here are the entries for Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and Anna, among the first to bear witness to the newborn Christ.

These are just some of the Christmas-related devotionals lurking in our devotionals library in “non-Christmas” devotionals. The links above should give you plenty of inspiring reading material over the next few days, but if you like these, I encourage you to spend some time browsing through the many other free devotionals in our library this week!

A Prayer for the Christmas Season

howtostudythebible

We will return next week with the next lesson in “How to Study the Bible.” For this week, a Christmas blessing for personal or church use (including printable PDF version link below). Christ has come!

ChristmasPrayer

Lord God,

In these weeks leading up to Christmas we long to know the meaning, the power, and the mystery of that great mission whereby you came to save us from our sins.

Help us to focus on the good news that has caused great joy for people around the world and across the ages. We are in awe that the coming of the Lord Jesus has shaped the history of the world and has changed untold millions of lives. We need this gospel in troubled times lest we become cynical, doubtful, fearful, or vengeful. Strengthen our faith during challenging times.

We rejoice in the proclamation of Immanuel, God with us. As Isaiah said, “to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” [Isaiah 9:6]

We need the governing of the Lord Christ because humanity is so out of control.

We need the “Wonderful Counselor” because we wander in ignorance and foolishness so much of the time.

We need the savior who is “Mighty God,” able to save and preserve.

We need an “Everlasting Father” who protects us and provides not what we think we need but what we truly need.

We need the “Prince of Peace” because of the tensions between the nations of the world, because there are thousands of people whose hearts are dark with thoughts of murder and terrorism, and because even friends and family members so often battle with each other.

We have always needed a savior. Now more than ever.

In the name of the Jesus the Christ, Son of God, Savior. Amen.


Download a PDF of this prayer.

Mel Lawrenz trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a Ph.D. in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, the latest, How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.

Planning your New Year’s Resolutions? Take a Sneak Peek at our New Year’s Resources Page

Yes, I know that Christmas hasn’t come and gone yet… but have you started thinking about the New Year? Are plans or goals for 2016 starting to take shape in your mind?

At Bible Gateway, our favorite New Year’s resolution is—surprise, surprise—reading the Bible. You don’t need to commit to reading all of it in a year, but making an effort to consistently read the Bible—even in very small doses!—is one of the best ways to deepen your relationship with God. We’ll be talking more about that once Christmas is past, but if you’re already plotting out your New Year’s resolutions, take a sneak peek at our New Year’s page for a few resources to help you spend more time in 2016 with the Bible!

Reverend Fun’s Top Five Christmas Cartoons, 2015 Edition

Admit it—you could use a little light-heartedness amidst the stress of holiday preparation! We’ve looked through many years’ worth of Reverend Fun cartoons and picked out the five highest-rated Christmas-themed cartoons, as rated by Reverend Fun readers. Here they are:

1. Proper Christmas Tree Setup

2. The Coolest Thing

3. The Hardest Person to Buy Gifts For

4. A Bit Much?

5. The Guy Who Made Everything

This year’s list is interestingly different from last year’s top five. If you enjoyed these, there’s much more where these came from! Take a look through Reverend Fun’s Christmas archives and rate your favorites.

Who Was Where at Christmas? A Christmas Story Timeline

Chances are you’ll be reading or hearing the Christmas story sometime this week! As a companion to your reading, here’s a timeline that shows where the myriad characters of the Christmas story were during events surrounding the first Christmas (click on the image below to enlarge):

Christmas Story timeline visualization

(Also available: high-resolution image and PDF.)

This visualization traces the Christmas story as told in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, showing you who is with whom throughout the story. Verse references are provided so you can look up each event in the Bible for details.

Each line represents a person, and the narrative unfolds as you follow from left to right. When character lines meet up and run alongside each other, those characters were together during that event. It starts with the angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah and ends with the return to Nazareth of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

The following detail shows the most famous part of the story, the birth of Jesus:

A detail of the Christmas story timeline focuses on the birth of Jesus.

In this part of the story, Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem and find no room in the inn, so Jesus is born in a stable. Angels appear to nearby shepherds, who seek the newborn child and then depart, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

This visualization is a companion to our Holy Week Timeline, which takes a similar visual approach to the Easter story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Bible News Roundup – Week of December 20, 2015

Read this week’s Bible Gateway Weekly Brief newsletter
Bible Gateway Weekly Brief
Newsletter signup

Support Bible Gateway—Browse the Bible Gateway Store
BibleGatewayStore.com

Cru Co-Founder Vonette Bright, 89, Died Dec. 23
CBN News
Cru’s tribute website
See books by Vonette Bright and Bill Bright in the Bible Gateway Store

Winnie Rorheim, 97, wife of Awana Co-Founder Art Rorheim, Died Dec. 22
CBN News
Tribute website

Incredible Proof for Why You Should Have Faith in the Bible
CBN News
The Undeniable Reliability of Scripture: An Interview with Josh McDowell

Academic Says He’s Proven the Star of Bethlehem Happened
Belfast Telegraph
Learn about The Great Christ Comet in the Bible Gateway Store

Bible Verse Part of Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas Day Message
BBC World Service
Read John 1:5 on Bible Gateway

Beaumont, Texas Will Allow Police Officers To Use Station For Bible Study
Beaumont Enterprise

Kentucky School Play Audience Members Recite Bible Passage Deleted from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’
Lexington Herald-Leader
‘That’s What Christmas is All About, Charlie Brown’
Peanuts gift collection section in the Bible Gateway Store.

1957 Time Capsule With a Bible In It Found at Madison, Wisconsin Public Middle School
Wisconsin State Journal
WEAU-TV

School Employee Moved by Bible Verse Painted on Stone
Startford Beacon Herald
Read Psalm 34:15 on Bible Gateway

Good Samaritan Succeeds in Finding Owner of Lost Bible
FOX 5

Respected New Testament Scholar Ian Howard Marshall Died December 12
InterVarsity Press news release
See books by Ian Howard Marshall in the Bible Gateway Store
A Tribute to John R. Kohlenberger III: Guest Post by Dr. Stan Gundry

$1 Million Bibles & Books Collection Donated to Liberty University
Lynchburg News and Advance
Liberty University news release
A Collection of Bible Museums & Exhibits

Bible Society of Nigeria to Donate 100,000 Bibles to Less Privileged Nigerians
AllAfrica
The Bible in multiple languages on Bible Gateway

The Social Conscience of the Saint John’s Bible II—On Syrian Refugees and the Reversals of Christmas
Huff Post Religion
The Saint John’s Bible: A Work of Art

Heavenly Fun: Bible Quiz Teams Celebrate Fellowship, Study Word of God
The Daily Courier

Israeli Chef Cooks Food Inspired by Bible
CCTV

What Would Jesus Drink?
CNN

6 Trends Redefining the American Church
Facts & Trends

Unbelief As A Belief System: Core Tenet For Christians’ Fight For Religious Rights
NPR

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts