Christmas in July

“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)

A few years ago my Nephew Eli and I were playing with Lego blocks. We had stacked them all into a giant tower. It was our creation.  We designed it and we put it together. When we were finished he leaned in close to me and with a mischievous smirk on his face whispered, “Let’s knock it down.” And we could have done that. We designed it. We created it. We put it together. We could do whatever we wanted with it. It was our creation. I suggested, however, that we show his dad what we made, so we did. And then I believe we knocked it over. It was a lot of fun.

I enjoyed my afternoon designing and creating block towers with Eli. However, if you were to ask me if I would ever willingly become a block in order to save other blocks (if I could ever do such a thing) I would think you were crazy. Never would I lower myself to the point of being a block to save other blocks. Why on earth would I ever do that – not a chance.

But this is exactly what Jesus did for us. We are told in John 1:14 that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He became one of us in order to save us.

Philippians chapter 2 tells us that Jesus (the Creator of the universe, who was God Himself) “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus humbled Himself and took on flesh in order to die for sinful humanity, and as Paul makes clear in Romans 5 “one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). Jesus didn’t die for a people who were warm and welcoming toward Him, but He died for rebels far from Him. When it comes down to it how often are we willing to help those who are against us? Typically not very. However, Jesus lays down His life for sinners like you and me.

He left heaven, and all its splendor, to dwell among us.  Jesus came to save sinners. What a gracious God we serve. I know we are right smack dab in the middle of the hot summer months and Christmas is over and done with until next December, but it is never a wrong time to consider what God has done for us in Christ. God left heaven to become a “block” in order to save other blocks.

Advertisements

Desire of Nations

As this time of Advent is quickly coming to a close, I would like us to take a second and remember the final verse of that great hymn that I have been walking us through the last few weeks, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. In the final verse we are reminded of one of the greatest gifts that Jesus would be and that is the desire of nations.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.

To fully appreciate the biblical significance of this closing verse we must remember that God was not a sectarian God and His desire for the nations to worship Him was not a new revelation only seen in the Birth of Christ.  In narrative form we see it throughout the Old Testament as men and women who are not from the Jewish people come and worship God. We see in the line of Jesus himself four women who have gentile origins. However, specifically when thinking about the nations worshiping God two sections of Scripture jump off the page. The first is in Haggai 2. Here the Prophet encourages the Governor and High Priest in Israel that there is coming a time where the glory of God will be truly revealed in the temple, and this is when all nations desire and worship Him alone. In this prophecy God declares that the nations are coming and will worship Him. If you are a believer in Christ today and are not of Jewish heritage this verse should be an encouragement to you. You were a part of the plan of God, your salvation was prophesied about long before you breathed a word in this life.

The other text which most evidently comes to mind is the celebration before the throne of God in Revelation 5. In this text a great song is sung before the throne of God, and in it His people and all the angels declare that the Lamb of God receives glory from people of every tribe, tongue and nation, through His death and resurrection. Here we see laid before us the clear truth that it is Christ who brought the nations back to God. It is through Jesus alone that the people of God following His resurrection begin to transcend their own geographical limitations. But even before the apostles go to the ends of the earth there is one final thing I think should be remembered about as it relates to seeing the Christ as the desire of nations and that is evidenced in Matthew 2.

In Chapter 2 we witness that Jesus’s birth narrative ushered in the beginning of this new global worship when it was not the rulers or religious establishment who came to Him in Bethlehem when he was a young child, no, it was Magi from Persia. For Matthew it seems very important for us to see that one of the key figures in the celebration and worship of the Messiah were men from the very nation that once held them captive. For out of Persia these men studied the stars and awaited a prophecy that was not from Jewish origin, that we are aware of, but one that pointed to a true Messiah who would save the nations. And so in the very opening to the first Gospel narrative written to a Jewish audience we have the nations gather to this Child to worship.

Now how does this affect us? There are several things that Scripture points to when we see God as being more than a 1st century sectarian deity. By understanding that He is the one and true God who rules over all nations and people, and that only in Him can true salvation be found, we become motivated to take the truth of this reality to others.  Therefore as believers it is our commission and honor to take the hope of Christ to the nations. For some that may mean traveling around the world preaching the gospel, others this could simply mean engaging with your neighbors from other cultures and backgrounds presenting them with the true meaning of Jesus. The commission to all of us is to go and make disciples, we see in the book of Acts the gospel goes forth beginning in Jerusalem with the people of Israel but then flows out across the nations to north Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, in Europe to the edges of Spain. The Word of God would continue and push forward to all people and in time to the ends of the earth. Today the call remains for us all to go and be lights in this dark world as we present the gospel and call people to worship.

So as you gather together this Christmas morning with the people of God to worship the birth of your Savior let it be a reminder as you look around the room at your brothers and sisters from many different lands that Christ is bigger than you, that His kingdom is global and eternal. 

Let us therefore worship the Desire of Nations and seek to join Him in calling the nations to worship. 

Born into a Hostile World

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

Most of us would agree that Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. We get to enjoy family and friends, lights and decorations, time off of work, vacations, gifts, and so much more. As much fun as Christmas is we need to remember that we celebrate because Jesus stepped into a world that was hostile towards Him in order to redeem us – sinners in need of a Savior.

Jesus Came Into the World To Save Sinners

Paul tells us that, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v15). Jesus left the splendor of heaven to come to earth to live as a carpenter. The God of the universe humbled Himself by taking on the form of a servant and came to dwell among us.  This is truly remarkable when you think about it.

There are people who will not go into certain places in the world because they regard themselves too highly to be seen there in public. There are people who will not go into certain venues because they know that the people there hold a grudge against them. There are people who will not go into certain parts of town because they feel the environment is too hostile towards them. Whenever someone’s ego or safety is in danger by entering a situation often times they will not enter.

However, that is not the case with Christ. He came into a world that was hostile toward Him. He had every right to regard Himself as the most High Being and to look down on us. He had every right to hold a grudge against rebellious humanity and not come to save them. He had every right to turn up His nose at the thought of entering into a world that was hostile towards Him, but He came anyway. Christ came into the world to save sinners. He did not come to earth because we were a people who loved and adored Him and had it all together – not at all! Christ came here to seek and to save the lost. He came to pursue a people who were far from Him. He came to rescue a people who could not rescue themselves. And He even came for the worst of us.

Jesus Came Even For The Worst of Us

Twice, in the above verses, Paul mentions that he was the foremost of sinners. In other words, he is saying that he was the worst of sinners. In fact, earlier in 1 Timothy Paul describes himself in this way in v13, “I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” He was not a believer in Jesus Christ nor was he a friend of the Christian Church. He was in violent opposition to them both. Despite this, however, Jesus came to save him – a blasphemer!

Jesus came to save even those that we think are too far gone. The power of the gospel can soften the hardest of hearts and open the blindest of eyes to the beauty of Jesus. Never underestimate the power of the gospel or Jesus’ willingness to save the lost. The same Jesus that saved Paul, the persecutor of Christians, is the same Jesus that saves the vilest of sinners today. Paul was shown incredible mercy and still today we can witness that same mercy.

Jesus Came To Display His Perfect Patience 

Paul tells us that he “received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life” (v16). Paul is shown tremendous patience as an example to us of how patient God is. God wants us to witness His patience. God could have wiped Paul out in an instant for his rebellion. But He showed tremendous patience with Paul in saving him. Let’s not test God’s patience by carrying on in sin, but let’s turn from sin and praise God for His merciful patience with us.

As we celebrate this Christmas season let us never forget the reason for the season – Jesus came to save sinners.

The Word: Fully Man, Fully God (Part 2)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.

These words from the prologue to John’s account of the Gospel are some of the most stunning and poetic words ever penned. Words like these above give us a sense about what was going on that first Christmas night and yet remind us that there is great mystery in the manger as well. In my first post, we examined the fully human, fully Divine nature of God’s Word. In this post, we’ll hone in on the fully human, fully Divine nature of Jesus, God’s Word made flesh.

Jesus, the Word made flesh, is fully human

It is vital that we understand the full humanity of Jesus as well as His Divinity. I think as Christians we tend to view Jesus as more God than human. But if Jesus were not fully human, He couldn’t truly save humans. It wouldn’t be fair if God just pretended to be a human and lived a sinless life without any temptations or struggles.

When I was a young boy, my science teacher told us to create a science project to be presented before the class at the end of the school year. I didn’t put forth the effort to complete the project and the night before it was due, I asked my dad for help. He began working on a project for me and I eventually went to bed (tired from all my worrying). When I woke the next morning, there was my perfect science project sitting in the garage, fully completed by my dad. I pretended I had done the work, but it was my dad who did it all. We must never think that Jesus cheated his way through life by depending on His Divinity.

Hebrews 4:15 states it this way, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” No short-cuts here. Just the hard stuff of real life, and Jesus passed the test Adam failed in the garden and Israel failed in the wilderness. Jesus also experienced the full range of human emotions: betrayal, rejection, loneliness, abandonment. And there is a reason the prophet Isaiah calls Jesus a “man of sorrows” who was “acquainted with grief.” There is no emotion we will ever face that Jesus didn’t face in a more concentrated form in His earthly life. Plus, Jesus didn’t face all these temptations and emotions in some vacuum-sealed suit that protected him from the elements.

Pastor Jeff Purswell points out that He who made the sun even got sun-burned. Jesus knew exhaustion (Mk. 4:38), hunger (Mt. 4:2), thirst (Jn. 4:6), and pain (Mk. 14:65). And Jesus felt the full-brunt of pain without any anesthesia. I think it says something of the extent of God’s love for sinners in the Gospel that He chose to be born into a world without the modern conveniences of travel (He walked everywhere), medicine (He never took an Advil), communication (He never used a microphone), electricity (He never used A/C), technology (He never used power tools or checked Facebook), and comfort (He never strapped on a set of Chacos or kicked back in a La-Z-Boy).

Jesus, the Word made flesh, is fully Divine

Yet there is wonder in the manger precisely because Jesus wasn’t just another man like all the other billions who have entered into this world the same way. Jesus is “very God of very God.” He was born of the virgin Mary, but He was also conceived of the Holy Spirit. He had His birth pronounced by multitudes of angels. How’s that for a birth announcement? Paul writes to the church at Colossae, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15-17).

No other human can say they’ve eternally existed with God and everything was created by them and for them. I can pay money to have a star named after me, but it would still have been created for Jesus’ glory. Jesus repeatedly spoke of His coming from His Father in heaven to do the work for which He was sent (Jn. 6:38-51). Also, throughout the life of Christ, He displays supernatural knowledge (Mt. 9:4, Jn. 21:17), miraculous powers (healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water, fed thousands with a small lunch, cast out demons, and stilled storms), authoritative teaching (Mk. 1:22), and clear statements that reveal His belief that He was truly the Messiah (Jn. 4:25-26; 14:6). Not to mention the fact that this Jesus turned up alive after being dead nearly three days.

This Christmas, stop and wonder a little while at the manger scene, and know: Jesus embraced your full humanity while maintaining His full Divinity, and because of that….

  • You can rest in His finished work on the cross to be enough to save your soul
  • You can rejoice that God has come to dwell with and in us
  • You can persevere in faith knowing that God is working out His sovereign plan
  • You can proclaim this message of God’s amazing grace to the world

The Rod of Jesse

As the Advent season quickly concludes its third week let us examine the third stanza of that great hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel:

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave

Here we trace the importance of the Christ being the Rod of Jesse promised to us in the book of Isaiah chapters 11& 12.

In this powerful prophecy  we are given a picture of a new king who will rule from the throne of David and usher in a new and lasting kingdom, one in which the people will, in joy and salvation, sing praises to the greatness of his name. This is the reason I believe the writer of O Come, O Come Emmanuel seems to focus on the victory that this king will bring, not over an earthly nation, but over the tyranny of Satan.

To help us to see the blessings of God in this text, we begin by observing the rod that would come from the stump of Jesse. Here is something so important and yet so often overlooked. Isaiah points to a future in which the line of Jesse (i.e. David) the great and mighty tree that ruled over the houses of Israel would become but a stump. To the rest of the world it would seem as if God had forgotten His people. The great house that was to be for all eternity, would become nothing. However the Lord reveals to Isaiah  something much greater, and that is that this great house would be restored, and His promise to David would be fulfilled. The coming Christ would once again grow from what looked like a deceased line. In the book of Matthew we get a picture of God’s faithfulness as Jesus’s lineage is traced back to the Royal family.

God never forgets His promise to his people. Isaiah hundreds of years before revealed to us the heart and plan of God. He revealed the love and desire that He had for His people and that He would never forget his promises. So too for us as we sing the song we reflect on the fact that His promises are secure and that though we wait, as Israel waited for the Christ, we way with the knowing hopeful expectation of Christ’s second advent with us.

The prophecy in Isaiah continues to look to a future complete fulfillment of the coming of Christ, and with this coming the bringing of a new and lasting kingdom. This new and future kingdom points to a time when the very natural world would be upended. Those who were enemies would become an everlasting family. He points to the peace and tranquility that will exist between God, man and creation. The reality of this kingdom began when Christ was crucified and resurrected, for in that day He brought reconciliation between God and man. In Him the wrath of God was absorbed against all who repent and believe. Those were once far-off, despised and hated by the religious rulers now found hope in the kingdom not set by human standards but declared and won by God himself.

This new Kingdom was like nothing that they could’ve imagined. It would be a kingdom not built by where you were born in this physical world, but rather it would be built by the power of the Spirit of God moving and changing hearts and lives through faith and repentance. This new Kingdom would be a kingdom of refugees and exiles; and yet it is a true kingdom of freedom and liberty. For its people have been saved from their sins, they have been given victory over death and are no longer bound by Satan’s tyranny, but rejoice in the love and greatness of their God. If you are in Christ this is the kingdom for which you truly live and breathe. The things of these earthly kingdoms of this day will pass away just as Rome fell, just as the British Empire shrank, just as Babylon stands no longer the kingdoms and countries of this world will not last, especially in comparison to the great and glorious kingdom of our God which will live forever. Therefore let us rejoice in the victory of our King Jesus who is the Rod of Jesse, who is the son of God, who is our King eternal.

 

What Child is This?

The advent hymn ‘What Child is This?’ is one of my favorites because it answers the question of who and what Jesus came to be and say. Taking the cue from this wonderful song, let’s ask a question today: according to Matthew’s gospel what child is this?

In Matthew 3:13-4:11 we see three answers:

a) Jesus came to bring New Creation:

In Genesis 1:2 the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation, and in Exodus 14:21 a ‘strong wind’ (‘wind’ also being ‘spirit’ in Hebrew) drove back the waters of the Red Sea making way for God’s people to safely go through. Here in this passage the Spirit of God similarly hovers over the Son of God at His baptism in the Jordan River. In each of these moments we see the Spirit hovering over water. It is not a coincidence that we find all of this same Genesis 1:2 and Exodus 14:21 activity at Jesus’ baptism. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of the creation of the world in Genesis and just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of the Red Sea in the creation of Israel in the Exodus, so too the Spirit hovered over Jesus in the waters of baptism to teach that Jesus came to, not to bring creation, but a to bring a new creation. Therefore it is no coincidence that when Paul is speaking of salvation in 2 Cor. 5:17 he states that those who repent and believe in the gospel become ‘new creations.’

b) Jesus came to be the True Israel:

In Exodus 4:22 God calls Israel His ‘firstborn son’ and in 1 Cor. 10:2 Paul calls Israel’s passing through the Red Sea their ‘baptism.’ Question: where did Israel, God’s son, go after they were baptized in the Red Sea? Into the wilderness. Second question: where did Jesus go after His baptism in 4:1? Into the wilderness, led by the Spirit. Is it a coincidence that we see the almost the exact same Holy Spirit activity at work in the Exodus and Jesus’ baptism? No, it’s not. God planned for it to be this way to teach us that with the coming of Christ not only comes a new creation, but that a new and greater exodus comes as well. An exodus in which God will once again save His people, not from Pharaoh, but from the greater pharaoh of ‘Satan, sin, and death’ and will take His people a new and greater promised land. So Jesus, by being baptized and going into the wilderness, replays the story of Israel in His own life. The difference shines through when we see that while Israel was unfaithful in their wilderness, Jesus is faithful in His. He is the true Israel. We also see echoes of this when we read in both Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15 “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

c) Jesus came to be the True Adam:

There are even more similarities between Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4 with Adam and Eve’s temptation in Genesis 3. Both Adam and Jesus are tempted to eat food God has forbid. For Adam it was fruit, for Jesus it was stones. In both tempting’s the devil used the same bait, ‘Did God really say?’ ‘Adam, did God really say you wouldn’t die?’ ‘Jesus, did God really say He would always care for You?’ Again Jesus, by being tempted by the devil with the same bait, replays the story of Adam in His own life. The difference shines through when we see that while Adam was unfaithful in his tempting, Jesus is faithful in His. He is (praise God!) the true Adam.

What Child is this? According to Matthew He is the One who will bring new creation, and the One who will be the True Israel and True Adam.

The Word: Fully Man, Fully God (Part 1)

The Christmas holiday brings with it questions of both the incarnation and the trustworthiness of its record.

Was Jesus just a man claiming to be God or God pretending to be a man? If the Bible was written by men, can we really trust it?

In this two-part post, we’ll see the fully human, fully Divine nature of both God’s Word (post 1) and Jesus, God’s Word made flesh (post 2). So this week, lets examine the reliability of the Bible, which bears the record of the God-Man, Jesus.

The Word of God is fully human

a) Human agents, with their own personalities and backgrounds, wrote the Bible

The Scripture was written over more than a millennium-long stretch of time by several dozen authors from various cultural backgrounds. Therefore to consider that God could speak one distinct message for His people through such different people in different times and different places is surely a miracle. Students of the Bible can tell you that the message of God’s Word, whether Genesis or Revelation (or anywhere in between) contains the same components of God’s holiness, man’s depravity, and God’s glorious plan to save sinners through the sacrifice of Christ.

b) The Holy Spirit inspired these human authors to write the very words of God

Peter, Moses, Ezra, and Paul wrote what they felt God wanted them to communicate to the people. It was their thoughts, their background that came out, their words and arguments to their various audiences. However, in the most amazing way, the Creator was moving upon them to write His words for His people throughout all generations. Only God could have written a book that would communicate the same beneficial truths to 21st Century Americans as to 6th Century exiled Jews. What is so mind-blowing is to think that God has communicated to us with letters and words and sentences and paragraphs and books. He has written so much to us that people must plan well to read the whole thing in a period of 365 days! Isn’t it amazing that the Creator of the stars and planets somehow, in His infinitely wise mind, created a way to communicate to us His creatures in language we understand? Who but God could have discovered a way to move the prophets and apostles to write His words with pen on paper and put it in a book? We ought to cherish our Bibles, for they are the very words of God in black and white. Also, lets not forget those, like William Tyndale, who gave their lives to get it’s message to us in our English language. Lets not be casual readers of God’s Word, but serious students.

c) Not dictation, like Allah did to Muhammed

Its important that we don’t confuse how God communicated His Word to the prophets and apostles. In other religions, like Islam and Mormonism, their sacred writings were communicated to them in dictation style. An angel or god spoke and the “prophet” quickly jotted down the words. Dictation then becomes a problem for future copies not being equally authoritative. One Muslim friend once told me proudly that Muslims have the original Quran, so where is our original Bible? He didn’t believe the Bible in my lap was the Word of God unless it was the parchment Paul wrote on and the ink was still wet. The Bible, however, was written by verbal, plenary inspiration. J.I. Packer states it this way: “When biblical inspiration is said to be plenary (as opposed to partial) and verbal (as opposed to the idea that God gives only inklings and insights, without determining in what words they should be expressed), this does not imply a Koranic view of inspiration, whereby translations of the original are precisely not the Holy Book. As Reformation theology used to say, it is the sense of Scripture that is Scripture, and all translations are in truth the Bible, at least to the extent that they are accurate.” 2 Peter 1:21 records things this way: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Kevin DeYoung remarks that it was basically as if God were dictating His words to the prophets and apostles (though He wasn’t) because He was able to say exactly what He wanted to say through them. Because of that, our Bibles are authoritative as they accurately communicate God’s message.

The Word of God is fully Divine

a) When the Bible speaks, God speaks

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Scriptures we possess in the Bible are literally the exhalation of God. This is why some have put it, “Where the Bible speaks, God speaks.” It’s as if when we read the Bible the Creator of the heavens and the earth is opening His mouth and uttering a command from the throne of heaven. This means that the Scriptures are the sole and perfect rule of faith and practice for every Christian. Perhaps this is why the author of Hebrews can say, “The Word of God is living and active” (4:12).

b) No errors in the original manuscripts

If God has indeed revealed Himself in a book, doesn’t it make sense that this book would be free from errors? After all, if our God couldn’t communicate to humans without making a mistake (doctrinally or otherwise), what does that say about Him? Maybe you’re thinking, “Yes, but what about all the translations we have today which do make the occasional error?” Of course translating words from one language to another, is not a mathematical equation. Translating Hebrew concepts like ‘chesed’ or ‘shalom’ into English is a very difficult task that requires skilled and knowledgeable translators. Not to mention the multiple word connections seen in the Greek New Testament that cannot be perfectly presented in the English. It is totally understandable that we will not have the exact, word-for-word text as the original, but we’re pretty darn close. There are translations that unintentionally or intentionally (New World Translation) present unbiblical doctrines, but most of our English translations are very reliable to the original. Also, of course, Bible printers may accidentally make a grammatical error, but we’re talking about the original manuscripts.

Maybe it worries you that we don’t have the exact text of the Bible. Maybe you’re thinking, “Whoa, so then what confidence can we have that we even have the words that God wanted us on the page?” Once again, if our God cannot keep communicating His word to people thousands of years into the future, then what kind of God is this? But our confidence in God also has external evidence. We have more than 5,500 manuscripts of the Scriptures in various different languages spread across the known world. Many dating to the first Century. To give you a hint of how astounding this is, the next closest would be Homer’s Illiad, with a mere 600, and even those are hundreds of years after the original. Even the most ancient manuscripts discovered align with our modern Hebrew and Greek copies to the 99th percentile. I do think pastors and teachers should learn enough Biblical Hebrew and Greek to become acquainted with the original languages, for there are jewels to mine in every text for the people of God and we ought to be doing the hard work of revealing these to them. This doesn’t mean your pastor should be regularly teaching you Hebrew or Greek words, but it does mean he should regularly say things like, “The original wording sounds more like this” or “There is something striking here that doesn’t transfer to the English.” Hearing a pastor say these things builds the confidence of God’s people in God’s Word and helps us all remember to study the text well.

c) The Bible is our sole source of authority

As I’ve heard it said, “God has spoken and He didn’t stutter.” The accounts of Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension are all accurate. This means we would do well to heed the voice of Him who speaks from heaven. Let us all read our Bibles with serious focus. SO now that we can trust the record of Jesus’ life, we’all look next time at how Jesus can be both fully human and yet fully Divine.

Advent and Immanuel

With the season of Advent coming into full bloom and the music of the season in the air I want to visit one of the most popular songs of the season: O Come, O Come Immanuel. 

It is a song rich with history, being originally traced back to the 8th century as a responsive reading, it is one of the oldest songs of advent we still sing in the modern Church. One of the reasons I believe it still holds a place so near and dear to most of us is its reliance on the biblical text to bring comfort, truth and grace through music to God’s children. This 1200 year old hymn points us straight back to Scripture and the truth and brings life and comfort to the weary soul. So over my next few blog posts I will walk through the biblical significance of this song’s verses and the comfort we can draw from the promise and fulfillment of Christ’s first Advent, and see how it brings greater joy and anticipation for His second.

So with that in mind we begin with the first verse of that classic song:

O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

This first verse has its origins back in  Isaiah 7 in the days of Ahaz king of Judah. In that day God offered the king a chance to ask of Him whatever he wished ask proof of God’s love and protection for His people, but rather than accept this gift of God, Ahaz spurned the gift and God in the process. Rather than trust in God for deliverance and protection for the people, Ahaz turned to political allegiance and military strength to find peace. It is in this setting that God brings forth the prophecy that a virgin will bear a son and he will be named Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). This sign was meant to be a reminder that God was the only hope for His people, because before this even would come to pass His people would suffer at the hands of the very alliance the king had established.

However, The king’s disobedience and sin would make a way in time for God’s ultimate blessing. For God didn’t leave His people in exile and suffering but rather brought forth in time the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah to king Ahaz in the giving of His Son to the world. In the midst of the great fear of the ages and the new captivity of Israel to the people of Rome, God would now dwell with His people. Immanuel was to be born to a virgin in the city of David.

Now before the Child would be born the Lord sent an angel to instruct her fiancé in the truth of what was to take place. We see this in Luke 1:18-23 where we see a picture of angel’s interaction with Joseph. In this vision he is instructed to name the child Jesus, for He would save the people from their sins, but not only would He be named Jesus, He would be Immanuel. In this short passage of Scripture the name Immanuel become intricately connected to the name Jesus. In Jesus we see that God’s presence with His people is linked with His love for them and the desire to set them free from the lasting pain of sin. He takes on the name that echoed back to the very founding of the nation in the land of Canaan as Joshua lead his people to political freedom. Now the new Joshua (the Hebrew name that Jesus comes from) will set them free from a far greater danger, that of sin and death, and the only means by which he could do this is if he was the Immanuel, God himself residing with His people.

For us we are blessed to know that God did keep His promise to the people of Israel and we are the humble recipients of His grace and mercy. God came to us and set us free form our sin and set us on the path of righteousness, but He did not leave us on that path alone. 

In both Narratives we see God’s faithfulness to His people in the midst of uncertainty. So too in this advent season we know that God is still faithful to His people, though it took over 700 years for the true fulfillment of Immanuel to take place, He was faithful. In our day and age we have the blessing of seeing and experiencing the gift of the first Advent. As believers we experience the grace of God daily, all the more if you are not born Jewish, for in Christ He brought us gentiles into the family of God.

Today, while we experience the great blessings of Christ, may we also look forward to the eternal blessing of His second advent. One of the great blessings of God being with His people is that it is more than a metaphysical reality of the past, it is a real present experience, and a future hope in His final return. So let us sing out with gladness not only because He has come and set free the first captive Israel from their sin, but that He shall return again to bring the true Israel to Himself for eternity.

Rekindling the Wonder of Christmas

So here we are again in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Churches are beginning to light Advent candles and schedule Christmas pageants. Radio stations are playing, “Silent Night.” People are climbing steep ladders and digging through stuffed closets to cover their homes with colorful decorations. Not to mention all the Christmas parties!

But can I ask that oft-repeated question on the lips of every toddler: Why?

What is the point of all this? Why do we put ourselves through this year after year after year? It is so easy in the hustle and bustle of the season to forget. And even when we hear the story of the manger and the shepherds and the angels, we miss it because of its familiarity to us. We’re numb to it; like a smoker who has gone nose blind and can’t tell that everything in their house reeks of smoke because they’ve been so accustomed to living in it. We’re no longer surprised about the story of Christmas, and that can be very dangerous. If you find yourself yawning or scratching your head as the Christmas story is being told again, then this is for you. My hope is that this post will help rekindle your wonder.

Christmas is the story of a how a big, holy God came to dwell with a little, unholy people. Don’t be fooled by the smallness of the baby in the manger or the insignificant place in which He was born. It may not look like much, but this is God. The God who lit the fire of a thousand blazing suns…with just His words. The God who parted a giant sea to save His people. The God who sent fire from heaven at Elijah’s prayer. This is that same God. If you and I could somehow hop on a time machine and travel back to the stable and look this baby in the face, nothing about his appearance would scream, “I am God!”, yet He was. That same being who cried for his mother’s milk and seemed so vulnerable would soon fast for forty days in the wilderness, walk on water, drive out demons, and still storms…with just His words.

One Christian artist has stated it like this:By faith we believe this amazing Jesus who made Uranus and Venus became a fetus. It’s such a secret that few, if anybody, knew it. Months later he’s covered in amniotic fluid. The subject of the gospels, praise of apostles; armed with eye sockets, armpits, and nostrils? Who is this Jesus? God clothed in human weakness, super sweetness and peace for the true believers. See the One who never tires knocked out sleeping; see the source of eternal joy weeping. Which one can explain how the Son, abundant with fame, who made thunder and rain now has hunger pains? See the Creator of water become thirsty on the cross when he saved from the slaughter the unworthy. My awe should be sky high, and I ought to just sigh with water in my eyes when the Author of life dies.”

Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, I agree. It is pretty astonishing. But what does it mean for me?” 

Here a just a few things I hope the Christmas story will do to your heart this season …

  1. It should lead you to awestruck wonder that God came not to destroy sinners, but to save them.

If God is so holy and we are so sinful, then the first Christmas Day should have been Judgment Day, but it wasn’t. Those who commit crimes are criminals and criminals should be punished. Likewise, those who commit sins are sinners and sinners should be punished. Yet God sent Jesus to take our punishment on the cross.

  1. It should lead you to joyful gratitude that this big God cares about little people like us.

Isaiah 57:15a states, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.'” This should be the end of all our wallowing in self-pity and the beginning of all our joy. The God whose presence fills the heavens promises to dwell with those who humble themselves before him. In Jesus He came to dwell among us.

  1. It should lead you to genuine repentance since our sins were so bad this was the only way to save us.

How could we live in a way that isn’t pleasing to God when he has gone to such great lengths to save us? Let’s turn from our sins of lying, pride, gossip, lust, envy, un-forgiveness, and whatever else, and let us fall in worship before God.

  1. It should lead you to confident trust in Christ, who left heaven on a rescue mission to save sinners like us.

There is no greater length God could go to secure our trust in Him. Let us lean confidently on the steady Rock of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. It should lead you to holy living since this God is so worthy of our heart’s affection.

When God opens a sinner’s eyes to the wonder of Christmas, He doesn’t tell them just to stop sinning. He fills them with energy to shine for Him in every area of life. May we show our amazement over Christ in our work ethic, school performance, the way we treat our spouse, raise our children, and even in our leisure time.

So this Christmas, as we’re running around picking up last minute Christmas presents and decorating our homes, let’s all stop and ponder the weight of what was really happening that first Christmas night. Then, let’s go express our joy and wonder in lives that please God and honor His Son’s sacrifice.

The Beautiful Advent Collision (from 1 Samuel)

The book of 1 Samuel contains collision after collision. Beginning with Eli and Hannah, moving onto Eli and Samuel, then to Saul and Samuel, and finally to Saul and David there is no shortage of drama, wisdom, and gospel grace to be gleaned in this wonderful historical account.

The book begins with the birth of Samuel and in a sad downward spiral it ends with the burial of Saul. In chapter 29 we see God deliver David from death, and in chapter 31 we see God deliver Saul to death. In chapter 30 we see David conquering his enemies the Amalekites, and in chapter 31, perhaps even on the very same day, we see the Saul being conquered by his enemies the Philistines.

What should we remember about this book? I want you to remember 1 Samuel 16:7.

1 Samuel 16:7 is the summary statement of the whole book of 1 Samuel. God had brought Samuel to Jesse to anoint one of his sons and after seeing his oldest son Eliab God told Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” All throughout the book we see this, what looks as tall and strong and faithful in the eyes of man isn’t so tall and strong and faithful in the eyes of God.

Hannah, a then barren woman, was more righteous than Eli the priest. David, a then young shepherd boy, was more righteous than Saul the king. An aware Bible reader will remember Isaiah 55:8-9 “God’s ways are not our ways, God’s purposes are higher than ours.”

But what about Advent? Do we not see the same things?

To the eyes of man the child of a young newly married couple born next to animals in Bethlehem was nothing worth mentioning. Yet, He was the long awaited One who would teach us the truth, who would fulfill all righteousness for His people in His perfect law-abiding life, who would atone for and pay the penalty as the substitute for His people’s law-breaking lives, and who would rise again from death to usher in a whole new kind of life.

The Gospel Transformation Bible picks up on this and says the following: “1 Samuel is about kings, but more importantly it’s about the great King, God Himself. In these stories we catch glimpses of who God is, what He does, what life is like with Him and without Him, and what life can become by the power His grace and the power of His Spirit. These stories are part of our family history as believers, they’re meant to instruct us, encourage us, and give us hope. These stories are gospel-filled stories, honest about sin and society, saturated with the hope of heaven.” (page 341).

To the world, nothing special happened that night in Bethlehem. But for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, this Child is both David’s Son and David’s LORD, the Prince of peace and the wonderful Counselor, the mighty God and everlasting Father. All of the collisions between the people in 1 Samuel were only a foreshadow of the greater collision to come, when the author of the play Himself, would walk on stage and change everything! When His divinity met our depravity, there was a beautiful collision.

Joy Joy!!

Bifrost Arts produced, what is to me, the best Christmas album of all time called: Salvation Is Created.  If you’ve never heard it, you’ll be strangely surprised at how much you like this album.  Using only minor keys, it sounds like a robust, theological, Christmas version of Edward Scissorhands.  For those of you looking get your hands on a quality, substantive, musically appealing Advent album, look no further.

Enjoy a sampling from it below:

Under the babyʼs head she held
Love, love, sing Emmanuel
Lending at His birth, peace on all the earth
See His mother Mary weeping Love, love, love.

Over the shepherds, angels tell
Joy, Joy, called Emmanuel
Born in Bethlehem, good will unto men
Bend before His cradle singing Joy, joy, joy.

Down from the throne of Heavʼn He fell
Light, light became Emmanuel
Covered in our flesh, swaddled in our dress
Wise men to His coming chasing light, light, light.

Onto the ground His blood He spilled
Peace! Peace! Cried Emmanuel
Sinners dark and vile, God to reconcile
Spilling love and joy and light and peace, peace, peace.

© 2009 New Jerusalem Music

You can sample and buy the whole album through Bandcamp.

Jesus Advented Among us For God – This is Good News For Us

Perhaps some of you are finding yourself rubbing up against this truth because you don’t see how something so God-centered could ever be good news for you. Is that you?

I really do believe that the reason Jesus came, underneath all other reasons the Bible gives us, is for God. But I also really do believe that it is good news for us that Jesus came firstly for God. Why? God gets the glory, we get the joy. Lets go back to Ezekiel once more to see what happens in the rest of the Ezekiel 36.

Read Ezekiel 36:25-27 to see the consequences of God having concern for His holy name…

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

When Jesus came to vindicate the holiness of God, He ushered in the New Covenant, and these verses describe in great detail the benefits of the New Covenant we receive when we place our faith in Christ. You see, you and I are people with a heart that is naturally stony and hard. Our only hope of salvation is for God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to remove our hard stony hearts and give us new hearts that are moldable and soft, fit for His forming and purposes.

What is needed is not merely a new ethical direction or a deeper resolve or decision to live a better life. What is needed is not a new set of clever strategies, or a spiritual retreat for rehabilitation seeking to make us live better lives from the same resources.

We need to become new in every meaning of the term or else there is no hope for change. The fall totally broke us, and now we find ourselves in need of a complete transformation from the inside out, and here in these verses God promises that He’ll do it. A new heart, a new Spirit, a new obedience. A change so deep in us that it effects what we desire. You know what Jesus calls this change in John 3? The new birth, being born again. This is a call for joy unspeakable – for all those who have placed their faith in Jesus have become new, and now we can say with utter confidence, “I am no longer what I once was, and by God’s work I am becoming something I never dreamed possible!

But why would He show such favor to such underserving sinners like you and I? Look at 36:32, “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you.” Again we see, this great work of God in the Incarnation, to clear His name from being profaned, to proclaim His holiness, to give sinners exactly what we need to salvation, God does for His own glory. “Let that be known to you.”

Christmas happened firstly for God’s glory, and because of that those who place their faith in Christ are given all they need for salvation and life in Him.

Advent Leads us Away from a “Seeker Sensitive” Church

ketchup_gospel

People often tell me that I ought to cater my church more to the visitors, seekers, and lost people who come to it rather than the members.  I always have a simple answer for such requests: no.  Why?  Because my role as pastor exist’s to ‘equip the saints (not the lost) for the work of ministry.’ (Ephesians 4:11-12) I do not avoid the visitors, I often speak directly to them during the sermon.

But think a bit deeper with me for a minute.  In reality there can be no such thing as a seeker sensitive church.  Why?  Because no one seeks for God.  That’s not my original thought, it is God’s.  Romans 3:10-18 says, None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.’

No one could be Biblically defined as a ‘seeker’ because no one seeks for God.  It is our nature to be against God, to hate God, to ignore God, to leave God, to want other things than God, and to think of ourselves as god in place of God.  We are a wicked people from head to toe.  Romans 3:10-18 is crystal clear about what man is and what we’re not.  We are sinful, we are not righteous.  Only one is righteous, Jesus.

This season of Advent ought to teach us something in light of this conversation about seeker sensitive churches and the nature of ‘seekers.’  Since man does not seek God, how can anyone then be saved?  What is the hope for mankind if we all together have become worthless?  Well, our hope isn’t in any one of us, but in God, who despite our sin and vileness came and sought us out.  You know what this means?  God is the only Seeker in our salvation.  The only thing we contributed to our salvation was the sin that made it necessary.  He came to us when we weren’t willing to come to Him.  He initiated our salvation when we weren’t looking for Him.  This is what love is.  He seeks, we are found.

Don’t be duped into thinking that a ‘seeker sensitive’ service is the proper practice, there is no such thing, there is no such person.  Those who do it want large numbers rather than disciples.  How then should we conduct services at church?  How should I preach?  By being clear on the one thing that matters: the gospel.  It is not comfortable, but it is life-giving.

Christ Emerges Out of the Shadow Lands

J.V. Fesko has written an article on the well known hymn “O Come, Emmanuel”.  In it he writes about how the song portrays the light of Christ emerging out of the shadow lands.  Here is the beginning:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is perhaps one of the better-known hymns that is typically sung during the Christmas holiday season. What some may not know is that it originated in the middle ages, around 800 ad as an antiphon, or anthem, that was restructured into verse form in the 1100’s, and was eventually published in Latin in 1710. The hymn was later discovered, translated, and published in 1851 by John Mason Neale, an Anglican minister. As people sing this hymn they assuredly know that they are singing about the birth of Christ. However, what is striking about this hymn is its approach to unpacking the birth of Christ. It moves from the shadow lands of the Old Testament into the light of the New Testament with the revelation of God in Christ. This hymn traces the themes of Israel’s exodus to the eschatological, or final, exodus that was to begin with the birth of the Messiah. We can see this progressive unfolding of God’s redemptive plan if we turn to the Old Testament and begin with Israel’s exile in Babylon.

Mourning in lonely exile

In Israel’s earliest days as a nation, God brought them out of Egypt, made a covenant with his people, and began to lead them to the land of promise—the land that he had sworn to give to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 15.18-21). Israel, of course, was a cantankerous nation and lacked the faith to enter the promised land, to believe in the gospel promise of God (Heb 3.18-4.2). When Israel had finished her forty-year wandering and stood at the threshold of the promised land, it was undoubtedly a time of excitement and hope. They were at last going to enter the land promised to their patriarch, Abraham, so long ago. On the eve of their entry into the land, however, Moses wrote an inspired prophetic song. This song was filled with praises for their covenant Lord, but at the same time foretold of Israel’s future disobedience and sin (Deut 32.20-24). Israel did fulfill these words and was carried off into exile because of their sin, idolatry, and rebellion. The northern kingdom was taken away by the Assyrians in the eighth-century bc and the southern kingdom of Judah was taken away into captivity by the Babylonians in the sixth-century bc.

Over the centuries there have been millions of people displaced by war—exiled from their home country. Yet, Israel’s exile in Babylon was unique. Israel was the only nation on the face of the earth with whom God had made a covenant. Like Adam, the first man and God’s son (Luke 3.38), God had given Israel, his firstborn son (Exo 4.22), a fruitful land, one flowing with milk and honey, one that was marked by God’s very own presence as in the garden-temple of Eden. In the same way that God once walked in the cool of the day with Adam in the beautiful garden-temple (Gen 3.8), so too God walked with Israel in the promised land by his presence in the tabernacle (Lev 26.11-12; 2 Sam 7.6; MT; LXX). Yet, like Adam before them, Israel sinned which caused the prophet Hosea to cry out: “Like Adam they transgressed the covenant” (Hos 6.7a).

Read the rest here.