Three Benedictions for Christmas

Hectic. Busy. Frantic. Rushed. These are just a few words that describe the Christmas season for most. What we could all use is a little endurance, encouragement, hope, and peace. The good news for us is that our God is all about giving us these very gifts, but not in a detached sort of way. God gives us something far better than hope or peace…He gives us Himself, the God of hope and peace.

The book of Romans is the Bible’s theological tour-de-force. Paul paints for us a picture of God’s impeccable holiness, our utter depravity, and the splendor of the Gospel to save such wretches. But there is a threefold benediction that is easy to miss in the last pages of this epistle. In Romans 15, Paul prays three benedictions over the church and each of these highlight a different aspect of God’s gift of Himself to His people.

Join me as we behold our great God…

The God of Endurance and Encouragement…

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Romans 15:5-6

Paul had just mentioned these two words in the previous verse. He told the church in Rome that the Old Testament was, “Written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Then Paul turns his focus from God’s revealed Word, to God the Revealer. He literally stops mid-sentence and prays this over them. But Paul doesn’t just pray for us to endure and have encouragement. His prayer hinges upon God, the source of endurance and encouragement for His people. Endurance and encouragement are two things God knows a little something about. Our God alone has endured from the beginning and has always been the source of encouragement to His people. But why does Paul pray this aspect of God’s nature over Christ’s church? It is not for their individual benefit, but their corporate unity and worship as a church. Endurance and encouragement are things that show up in relationships among fellow church members. Even as we celebrate the peace of Christmas together, we can be at odds with each other. We easily give up on one another and get discouraged by these relationships. Spouses in the church throw in the towel on their marriage too quickly. Once strong friendships in the church dissolve over harsh words said in a meeting or outside the worship gathering. This is why we need God’s endurance and encouragement. All that we need to relate well with one another in harmony and love is found in our God Himself. He will empower us to love as we have been loved. After all, God has shown much long-suffering in dealing with our sins, so we should in dealing with the sins of others. Along with endurance and encouragement, we need hope…

The God of Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13

Paul had already said the Old Testament was written so that, “we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Then Paul said of Christ that, “in Him will the Gentiles hope” (Rom. 15:12). Now he once again turns this into a benediction for the church. Our God is not only the enduring One and the source of all encouragement. He is also the source of hope for His people. Verse 13 is packed with significance for us as it mentions hope, joy, and peace; these are realities Christ came to give us. Paul prays for God to fill us with all joy and peace, which comes through believing the truth of God’s Word. He is praying that through faith in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we might abound in joy, peace, and hope. There is no greater hope than that which was accomplished through Christ for the believer. We who once were in a hopeless predicament because of our sin have been given the greatest hope of all. I love how the author of Hebrews describes it: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Heb. 6:19). The hope of the Christian is not wishful thinking, but a fixed reality that awaits consummation. People say all the time they hope this or that will happen, but the believer’s hope is as secure as the ground under their feet and as certain as God’s faithfulness. God is the enduring source of encouragement for His people and gives them abounding hope, but these would not help us if there was no peace…

The God of Peace

“May the God of peace be with you all. Amen…the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet…” – Romans 15:33, 16:20

Octavius Caesar or Caesar Augustus was known for his “reign of peace”, but it was more fear than anything. In his commentary on Luke 2, R. Kent Hughes points out, “There was “peace,” but it was a dark peace—a Hitler’s peace—and no man or woman or boy or girl could say a word against it without fearfully looking over their shoulder.” The true reign of peace was announced by the angels at the birth of King Jesus. He was the Prince of Peace Isaiah had foretold who would also rule the nations. Our God is the God of peace because He has never known a rival. His reign is one of endless peace because there is nothing outside of His power and everything is dependent on Him for life. Another instance where Paul refers to “the God of peace” is found in Philippians 4. Paul says, “the peace of God…surpasses all understanding” and “will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Php. 4:7). He also says this peace is granted to us through prayer (Php. 4:6). But you can’t enjoy the peace of God until you are at peace with God. How? Jesus was God’s peace treaty to man. God in Christ was reconciling a world of enemies to Himself and doing so by means of Jesus. Christ endured the wrath of God so that the children of God might be at peace with God for all eternity. This is the peace that was foretold back in Genesis 3:15. God warned the snake that a son born of woman would crush his head even as the serpent bruised his heel. At the cross, God made peace with His people by taking their punishment on the cross and defeating Satan’s power of accusation. Now, we await the day when the enemy of our peace is decisively defeated. But we do so with the certain hope that this peace is ours by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and all to the glory of God alone.

May the God of endurance and encouragement, the God of hope, and the God of peace grant you to enjoy His gifts as you enjoy Him in the person of His Son Jesus.

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The Announcement of Advent: Repent and Believe

He had come up from the wilderness of His temptation and testing faithful, obedient, and fully prepared for His ministry, tempted in all ways we are yet without sin. John the Baptist had been arrested, and when Jesus came into Galilee Mark 1:15 records the message He preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Since this is the sum and substance of the message Jesus Christ came to preach, let us therefore, give heed to this advent announcement. It is four things.

First, an Authoritative Command

When He says, “Repent and believe in the gospel” He isn’t suggesting, He is commanding. “Repent” is as much a command as “You shall not murder” and “Believe in the gospel” is as much a command as “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Jesus didn’t come to present the world with another option of spirituality. No. The same God who thundered and shook Mt. Sinai, the same God who will sound the trumpet from the heavens at the end of all things, is now commanding the whole world to “Repent and believe.”

I am aware that the words ‘command’ and ‘authority’ sound jarring, severe, abrasive, and harsh to the modern ear. But one of the glorious things about the Bible is that, unlike ourselves, it’s not subject to any generation’s cultural anathemas. We are modern people, and we may truly feel that authority and those who have it are inherently suspect because authority has so often been abused. So naturally when Jesus comes into our modern sight many see a skewed view of Him thinking that He is little more than a soft-spoken, lovey-dovey, Galilean hippie who preached a message of grace and love. We have a need to be corrected. When we come to the Jesus of the Bible we do not find a Jesus who is safe, but a Jesus who’s authority is unlimited.

This is a sweet severity of Jesus. Let it jar you. Let it bother you, feel the abrasiveness of His command, only let it jar and bother you out of your modern sensibilities and lead you to obey this command and not run from it.

Second, this is a Two-Fold Command

When Jesus said “Repent and believe in the gospel” he gave us a two-fold command. But upon hearing this two-fold command people of various dispositions and personalities run off in two equally unhelpful directions. On the one hand we find people spreading a message centered on repentance, and on the other hand we find people spreading a message centered on faith. The former will cry out all day long at sinners to repent from their sins and speak boldly of the judgment to come, while the latter will cry out all day long to sinners promising that all sorts of wonderful things will flow forth into the soul of man from believing. The former can seem somewhat threatening and overly pessimistic, while the latter can seem somewhat shallow and overly optimistic. The former try to harden the gospel by avoiding the reality of belief, while the latter try to soften the gospel by avoiding the reality of repentance. Both of these directions are equally unhelpful because they ignore each other. Jesus did not come to only say ‘Repent!’, and He did not come to only say ‘Believe!’ He came with a two-fold command, “Repent and believe.”

So wherever the gospel is preached the core of the message must proclaim this two-fold message that Jesus came to say.

Third, this is a Sensible Command

Some people, perhaps even some of you, think it is entirely inappropriate for Jesus (and anyone else for that matter) to call someone else to ‘repent and believe.’ Because by doing so Jesus would be stating that the one being called to repent and believe is currently living and believing wrongly. This, they say, is the height of arrogance. When Jesus says someone else is doing religion wrong He is thought to be narrow-minded, unreasonable, and intolerant. But I think all men would betray themselves if they got punched in the face. Think of it like this: let’s say you and I were talking about current events around the world and because of something you said I grew angry and out of my anger I then punched you in the face. How would you feel? You can bet that you won’t be feeling warm fuzzy inside! 100% of you would become angry in response. And before ever letting me back into your good graces wouldn’t you demand an apology from me? Not only so, wouldn’t you only be satisfied with a sincere apology? One where I fully and clearly acknowledged the error of my ways, understanding how deeply I hurt you, and recognizing the need to make up for it anyway I can? Wouldn’t you require this of me? Of course you would! You wouldn’t be satisfied with a surface level apology, you’d want me to have genuine sorrow over what I had done to you.

All men, without exception, would react this way. And because all men would react this way, it shows what we really believe, and since we believe this way why do we then reject the same reality when it’s applied to God’s dealings with man and say it’s arrogant for Jesus to call us to ‘repent and believe?’ Charles Spurgeon once urged this point and said, “Do you expect to be saved while you’re in your sins? Are you to be allowed to love your iniquities, and yet to go to heaven? What, you think to have poison in your veins, and yet be healthy? Be stained, and yet be thought spotless? Harbor the disease the yet be in health? Ridiculous!”

Though many today say the gospel call to repent and believe is against or contrary to reason. I say it is above reason, and if we we’re reasonable people we would repent and believe in the gospel. No, the command to repent and believe the gospel is a sensible command, and all men know it.

Fourth, this is an Urgent Command

Do not be tricked. One of the greatest deceptions the devil has ever done is not keeping us from repenting and believing in the gospel, but tricking us into believing we can repent and believe in the gospel tomorrow. As the frog slowly and comfortably boils to death in a pot of warming water, so too, modern man reclines in the water of worldliness unaware that he too is submerged and slowly warming to death in sin. Perhaps we sit so comfortably in the church during sermons that call us to repent and believe in the gospel because we’ve become numb to the things of God. We don’t tremble when we approach the throne, we don’t fear the God we’re coming before even though He is a consuming fire in His holiness. We are far too casual.

Do not be tricked, give up your intentions, and put yourselves to action, not tomorrow, not January 1st, but today!

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Behold the King!

You have probably had the experience that I have often had, where you are looking for something in the closet or garage, but you couldn’t find it because you had the wrong concept of what you were looking for. You thought that it was in a square brown box, but it really was in an oblong yellow box.

So you stared right at it, and perhaps even moved it out of the way, but you missed it because your mental picture of it was wrong.

Most Jews in Jesus’ day missed Him as their Messiah and King because they were expecting a different kind of Savior.

They thought that Messiah would be a mighty political deliverer, who would lead Israel to military victory over Rome. They were not looking for a lowly Savior, riding on the foal of a donkey. They could not conceive of a suffering Savior, who offered Himself as the sacrifice for sinners. And so, tragically, they missed the coming of their King.

Many people still miss Jesus because of wrong expectations. They’re looking for a Savior like Aladdin’s Genie, who will grant their every wish, but it hasn’t happened.

They want a Savior who will instantly solve their deepest problems, but those problems have not gone away. Or, they expect a church where everyone always loves one another. But a church member treated them wrongly, so they dropped out in bitter disappointment.

In order joyously to welcome Jesus as our King, we need to understand properly who He is. Our text is one of the great Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Even most Jewish commentators down through the centuries have agreed that this is a prophecy about the Messiah.

Zechariah 9:9-10 teaches us that…

Because Jesus Christ is King and He is coming to reign, we who are subject to Him should rejoice greatly.

The news that a king is coming is not necessarily a cause for great joy. The first part of this chapter predicts the coming of Alexander the Great, who ruthlessly conquered Israel’s neighbors.

The news of his coming would have struck terror into the hearts of those in his path. He often slaughtered all the men in a city and sold the women and children into slavery. He was not concerned about the well-being of his subjects, but only about his own power and dominion.

It is also difficult to accept the news of a coming king because there is a sense in which all of us want to rule our own lives. We can accept governmental interference to a limited degree, as long as it doesn’t get too close.

But if a king started trying to control every aspect of our lives—how we do business, how we relate to others, including our families, and even how we speak and think—we resist the very thought! We certainly would not rejoice at the news of the coming of that kind of king!

But that is precisely the kind of King that Jesus is! He is rightfully Lord of all people and of all aspects of all people’s lives. Regarding this King, Zechariah exhorts, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you.”The rest of verses 9 & 10 describe this King and explain why His coming gives cause for great joy. If we understand who this King is and what His coming will mean for all the earth, we will rejoice greatly at the news of His coming.

Jesus Christ is King.

The phrase translated, “your king is coming to you” can also be translated, “your king is coming for you,” that is, “for your benefit”. To receive the benefits that this King brings, we need to recognize our need. Israel was under the domination of powerful foreign rulers. They were incapable of freeing themselves. But this King had the power to deliver them and He had their best interests at heart. Spiritually, we must admit that we are under the domination of sin that will destroy us and that we are unable to free ourselves. Then we will welcome the promised King and the benefits that He offers. He comes for you! But who is he?

JESUS CHRIST IS KING OF AUTHORITY.

Authority is bound up with the idea of kings, at least in the ancient world.

Today, some monarchs, such as the Queen of England, have almost no authority. They function as official state dignitaries. Their wishes may have some weight with those who run the government. But they don’t have much authority.

But even in His first coming when He came as the humble, suffering Servant, Jesus Christ possessed a quiet but total authority over all people and events. Although the Jewish leaders hated Him because He threatened their authority, they could not lay hands on Him until His time had come (John 7:30; 8:20).

The chief priests and the Sanhedrin had given orders that if anyone knew where Jesus was, they should inform them so that He could be arrested (John 11:57). Jesus’ bold action of riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, to the cries of “Hosanna” led to His arrest and crucifixion at the very moment that the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in Jerusalem, in fulfillment of Scripture.

The uniform picture of all four gospels is that Jesus was firmly in charge of all these events. Jesus was not a helpless victim. No one took His life from Him. He laid it down on His own initiative (John 10:17-18). The point is, Jesus was clearly in charge of the events surrounding His death, including the triumphal entry, the betrayal by Judas and the death plots of the Jewish leaders. None of it took Him by surprise. He is the King of authority who controls all things according to His purpose, even the events of His death (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).

Before we move on, we need to personalize it: Is Jesus the King your King? Does He rule in your heart and life? The idea that you can choose Jesus as your Savior now and consider whether you want Him to be your lord later if you wish, is nonsense!While submitting to His lordship is a lifelong process, it begins at salvation, and if it has not begun in your life, you have reason to question whether you are truly saved.

JESUS CHRIST IS THE KING OF JUSTICE.

Zechariah says that Israel’s king is just (some translate “righteous,” but the sense is justice).

The primary reference in this context is to a king who administers justice in his kingdom. He is not corrupt, like so many world rulers. I recently read a news article of a former president of a Central American country who siphoned off over $100 million into personal and family bank accounts. That story could probably be repeated in dozens of countries. Much of the poverty and suffering around the globe stems from corrupt leaders who have no regard for justice.But Jesus Christ will be just in the administration of His kingdom because He is righteous in His person.

He is not out to take advantage of His subjects for personal gain. He has their best interests at heart.

JESUS CHRIST IS THE KING OF SALVATION.

He is “endowed with salvation” (NASB). Jesus came to bring salvation to His people. For the Jews, the salvation that Messiah would bring had national political overtones.

For centuries, the Jews have been threatened by hostile nations that have sought to annihilate or enslave them (Ps. 129). Thus when God promised them a deliverer, they thought of one who would reign on David’s throne and bring “salvation from all our enemies, and from the hand of those who hate us” (see Luke 1:69-71). Yet at the same time, salvation for the Jew also had a personal dimension related to the individual’s deliverance from God’s judgment on his sins. Thus the father of John the Baptist prophesied that he would go before the Lord’s coming “to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). Or, as the angel told Joseph, “you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Zechariah 9:10 refers to Messiah’s second coming, when He will fulfill the national sense of salvation by ruling over all the nations.

But the New Testament makes clear (in conjunction with several OT prophecies) that in His first coming, Messiah came to bring spiritual salvation by offering Himself as the sacrifice to satisfy God’s justice against sinners. If God dismissed our sin without the penalty being imposed, He would not be just. God has declared that the penalty for sin is death, not only physical death, but also spiritual death, eternal separation from the holy God (Rom. 6:23). Through Jesus’ death as the perfect substitute, He paid the penalty we deserved, which allows God to be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).

There are two wrong notions that will keep many people out of heaven, and they usually go together. First, people wrongly believe that God is too loving to send decent, moral people to hell. But that kind of thinking grossly underestimates the serious nature of our sin. A single sin in thought, word, or deed is enough to condemn a person to hell! And it compromises God’s justice in favor of His love, which compromises His holiness. The second wrong notion is that most of us are good enough to qualify for heaven. Sure, we all have our faults, but we’re not like murderers, terrorists, and child molesters.

So we figure that the scales will tip our way when we stand before God because we were sincere and we meant well. Many Jews made this mistake. They thought that since they were descendants of Abraham, they observed the ritual law as prescribed by Moses, and they were better than the Gentiles, that God would not judge them. But their error was that it requires perfect righteousness to get into heaven.

That’s where Christ and the cross come in. On the cross, the perfect Son of God offered Himself as the substitute for sinners. He came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Some day you will stand before God either clothed in your own goodness, which will condemn you, or clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. God credits that righteousness to you the instant you renounce all trust in your own righteousness and put your trust in Jesus as your sin-bearer (see Rom. 3 & 4).

Jesus came the first time bringing salvation, but He will come the second time as the judge of all the earth. If you have trusted Him as your personal Savior, then you can rejoice at the thought of His coming as the judge, because He has borne your sins.

JESUS CHRIST IS THE KING OF HUMILITY.

“King of humility” sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Perhaps we should say that He is the humble King. In contrast to the proud Alexander on his war horse, Jesus came as a servant on not only a donkey, but the foal of a donkey. The donkey was a lowly animal, used for peaceable purposes by those who were of no rank or position. By riding the foal of a donkey, Jesus was showing Himself to be the King, in fulfillment of our text, but not the exalted political king that the people expected. In His first coming, Jesus was the suffering Messiah who offered salvation and peace with God through His death.

The Hebrew word for “humble”can also mean poor or needy in an economic sense, and that was also true of Jesus, who had no earthly wealth or possessions (Luke 9:58). The word also includes the meaning of a righteous man afflicted by evil men. Jesus willingly laid aside His rights and took the form of a servant, becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8). Charles Spurgeon pointed out that no false Messiah has ever copied Jesus in this taking the low place of a servant (Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia [Baker], 3:129). But our Savior commanded us to follow Him in this regard. After He took the towel and basin and washed the disciples’ feet, He said, “I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you”(John 13:15).

There are numerous commands in Scripture warning us not to think too highly of ourselves and to think more lowly of ourselves (Rom. 12:3, 16Phil. 2:3). I cannot find any verses that tell us to build our self-esteem. So we should learn humility from our Savior. He is the King of authority, justice, salvation, and humility. Finally,

 JESUS CHRIST IS KING OF CREATION.

This is evident from the fact that He rode into Jerusalem on an unbroken colt. I am no expert on horses, but I know enough not to climb onto an unbroken colt! Jesus’ riding on this colt shows His miraculous power over the creation that He spoke into existence by the word of His power. There was also a spiritual significance in the fact that the colt was unbroken. In the Old Testament, when an animal was put to sacred use, it had to be one which had not already been used for common purposes (Num. 19:2Deut. 21:3). Since this animal was now to be used for the Messiah, it had to be an animal that had never been ridden by man.

Only the Lord of creation could do what Jesus did.

If Jesus is the Creator, then certainly we should obey Him. This colt, like Balaam’s donkey, was smarter than people are. The colt received Jesus on its back without bucking, but He came unto His own people, and they cast Him off. If we see Jesus correctly for who He is, we will submit to Him as the Almighty Creator.

If Jesus Christ is the King of authority, justice, salvation, humility, and creation, then it makes sense that He is coming to reign.

Church, behold your King.

The Magnificat

Mary’s song of praise is typically a passage read, studied, and preached during the Advent season. However, for those who are committed to expositional preaching the Magnificat is glorious trove to be mined in the course of preaching Luke, regardless of the time of year. In it we find invaluable nuggets of timeless Truth concerning the nature and character of God, the soul’s response when God’s glory is revealed, and even a panoramic presentation of historical redemption. Mary, I believe, deposits a model of praise for believers in all times as she identifies the Person of her praise and fills the air God-honoring exaltation.

The Person of Mary’s Praise

Mary’s heart erupts in elation toward the One in whom she trusts, namely, the Lord God her Savior. As a young Jewish girl, Mary clearly knew the Scriptures and recognized that she not only needed a Savior to redeem her but also that the only Deliverer who could ever accomplish such a task would be none other than Yahweh, Himself. God identifies Himself, in Isaiah 43, as Yahweh, the only God, Israel’s Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator, their King, and the only Savior.

After having received the overwhelming news from God’s messenger, Gabriel, that she would be carrying the Messiah, the Redeemer, the One who “would save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), Mary’s heart burst with joy, adoration, and praise toward the One who was fulfilling what was promised to her people. Notice that the focal point of Mary’s praise was directed to where it belongs, upon God alone. In the ESV the phrase “he has” is either clearly stated or directly implied nine times in six verses. Mary sought no attention for herself, no honor for her role, nor did she see herself as anything other than a recipient of the grace of God as a vessel to accomplish His plan of salvation.

The Person of Mary’s praise was none other than the One, True, Living God, the Only God, the Savior of Mankind. The God of Heaven came to man, taking on flesh & infirmities; the Omnipotent Creator was a defenseless baby, in utero, dependent for sustenance upon this teenage girl who carried Him & praised Him for His coming salvation.

Believers today would find themselves in great company if our praise were to focus on God alone. But that is not always the case.

Too often, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an add-on to our busy conversations that center around us, our feelings, and our responses to the Gospel. Clearly, everyone responds to the Gospel and I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water but wouldn’t our praise be more appropriate if there was less conversation about “me” and more conversation/praise directed toward Him?

Can you tell me about your conversion without telling me what you do now that you’ve been saved? Can you tell me about God, your Savior, without telling me about when you were baptized, how often you attend worship, or what your Bible reading and prayer life look like? Can you tell me of His glory in creating you? Tell me of His mercy when He didn’t destroy you in your sin? Tell me of His grace in sending His Son? Tell me of the preservation of His Word that you might know who Jesus is? Tell me of Christ’s perfection and beauty and splendor in obeying God’s Law? Tell me of His substitutionary atoning sacrifice? Tell me of His resurrection, His saving you, sanctifying you, and promise to complete this work?

In other words, is your testimony of God’s work in your life more about your work in your life or more like Mary’s hymn of praise for the One who sees His people’s need, does great things for them and to them and through them, and who humbles the proud but exalts the humble through His Arm, His Servant, His Offspring? Oh that Christ would be preeminent in our praise!

May we, as Mary was, be found with our lips full of His praise as we “Praise Him, praise Him, tell of His excellent greatness…” (Fanny Crosby).

The Fullness of Time & the Focal Point of All Things

“…Christians of all times and places have professed that Christ himself is the center of our preaching, our gospel, and our theology. Christianity is Christ…Our first allegiance is not to a set of eternal truths, as in Buddhism or Platonism, but to a person who lived in history to save us and who lives eternally as our heavenly High Priest.”[1]

Christianity is Christ. Every passage, every person, and every exploit from “Let there be light…”[2] to “And night will be no more…”[3] was either working toward this thirty-three-year window or pointing back to it. At least that is what the Apostle Paul believed when he penned “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”[4]

The angel Gabriel’s announcement, in Luke 1:26-38, concerning the conception of the Christ has this same end in mind; namely, the baby to be born is the Christ promised from long ago, the Center of Things. The point of God’s announcement is not Mary, it’s not Christmas, but Christ. Packed into the announcement is God’s pronouncement that this child is the Christ as seen in 1) The timing of His birth, 2) The location of His birth, 3) The means of His birth, 4) The family tree of His birth, & 5) the method of His Conception

The Timing of His Birth

As provided for us in the passage preceding, there would be born before Him a forerunner who would “make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (vs. 17). So, when Gabriel visits Mary to inform her of God’s intentions it should be no surprise that we find God declaring His intentions “In the sixth month…” (vs 26). Given the prophetic fulfillment of Malachi 3 & 4 concerning this forerunner, believers can take confidence in the timing of Jesus birth.

The Location of His Birth

A red-flag should rise when we hear that God sent Gabriel to virgin in Nazareth (Luke 1:26). The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and this young teenage girl was almost 100 miles north of God’s designated place of birth for the Christ. Of course, having Luke 2 we read how God moved the desires, intentions, & plans of Rome’s emperor and by His divine hand the Christ from Nazareth would be born exactly where God required. God Almighty moves the heart of the kings and turns it as He wills; He needs not the king’s approval or cooperation.

The Mean of His Birth

In spite of liberal theologian’s attempts to discredit the virgin-birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, Luke, Matthew, and Mary herself confirm that God’s intended meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy was that the impossibility of virgin birth would meet the Omnipotent King of Creation. “This took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet…” (Mt. 1:22). If God declared it would be, of course, it would come to be for who could “thwart his plans?”

The Family Tree of His Birth

Gabriel announces that the virgin-born boy would be “the Son of the Most High” and the offspring of “his father David.” This multi-layered proclamation assures the Christian that this Messiah would be both God and man. That Jesus’ family tree would be of divine origin and yet still retaining true humanity. He would need to be both “God-with-us” (Immanuel) and “us” so that “He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”[5] God’s announcement given through his messenger Gabriel confirms, both, Christ’s deity and humanity, permitting Christ to become both the Just and the Justifier.

The Method of His Conception

Luke 1 provides for us a trinitarian movement in the conception and incarnation of Jesus the Christ. Believers can take great confidence as they see the Father’s plan (vs. 26), the Spirit’s power (vs. 35), and the Son’s presence (vs. 32,35) all working in perfect harmony bringing us to “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). Reminiscent of God’s creative majesty in Genesis 1, the Spirit of God overshadows the emptiness of Mary’s womb, much like He hovered over the emptiness of a formless world, and from the Father’s eternal plan, the Eternal Son takes on material being. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). From creation ex nihilo to conception in a virgin from Divine origin, nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27).

God’s word to Mary, from Gabriel, is a repository of faith-strengthening truth that encouraged and emboldened both the original recipient, Mary, and generations of believers for 2000 years. May we feast upon God’s faithfulness and he strengthens our faith in His Truth, Jesus Christ.

Citations:

[1] John Frame, Systematic Theology

[2] Genesis 1:3

[3] Revelation 22:5

[4] Galatians 4:4-5

[5] Hebrews 2:17

The Advent of God’s Faithfulness

Hear the Word of the Lord:

“The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all the beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel…”

“Now the Lord said to Abram…’I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’…And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a Ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.”

“Then Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in the days to come…’Judah, your brothers shall praise you…[and] the scepter shall not depart from you, nor the ruler’s staff from between your feet until [Shiloh] come…and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples…’

Your Lamb shall be without blemish…take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses…They shall eat the Flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with Unleavened Bread…[This] is the Lord’s Passover…The Blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the Blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you…This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast…’

“…and the Lord said, ‘I will raise up for them a Prophet like you, [Moses], from among their brothers. And I will put my words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I commanded Him. And whoever will not listen to my words that He shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him…”

“…say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of Hosts…I took you…I have been with you…I will make for you a Name…I will raise up your Offspring after you, One of your own sons, and I will establish His Kingdom…and I will establish His Throne forever. I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to me a Son…I will confirm Him in my House and in My Kingdom forever, and His Throne shall be established forever…'”

“…the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel…and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…”

“…But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah [of Judah]…from you shall come forth for me One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days…And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their Peace.”

“And the Angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end…And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger…And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all 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…Glory to God in highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

“Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

Amen.

As surely as God’s faithfulness delivered to us the Promised Messiah, He is coming again to take all those who eagerly await Him to be with Him. “And so we will be with the Lord, forever…Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

Little House of Bread – A Christmas Time Rhyme

Little House of Bread

 When it comes to Sunday morning expositions,

making rhymes is not normally my disposition.

 

Before you raise an eye of suspicion,

let me explain my intention.

 

When hearing stories you’ve been told before,

it’s important they never become a bore.

 

These Christmas poems are a gift to you

and a gift I’m offering the King of the Jews.

 

I pray your eyes open to the greatest gift ever,

while I offer this gift to the greatest gift giver.

 

Tis the season when we savor,

the good news of a coming Savior.

 

Parties, cantatas, and festivities fill the calendar.

The Candlelight Service grabs the biggest chatter.

 

Hear familiar carols and a Christmas hymn.

The choir sings “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

 

Remember the humble place of Jesus’ birth?

Remember the day God came to earth?

 

How did Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem come to be?

Let us never forget Caesar’s decree.

 

A worldwide taxation secured by registration

would somehow fit into God’s plan of redemption.

On the surface all sounded just part of Caesar’s decree,

later we see the deeper story was God’s decree.

 

So, Joseph and Mary embarked on a journey so taxing.

Making their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, 70 miles they would be passing.

 

Imagine traveling that far by car, train, or a plane.

You could easily arrive in just one day.

 

But Joseph and Mary slowly made their way,

traveling by foot took a total of 6 days.

Do you see the burden of this registration?

This experience resembled no picnic or vacation.

That’s a long way to traverse by foot through desert dirt.

The trip feels longer when you’re great with child and about to give birth.

 

Arriving at Bethlehem and ready to call it a day,

Imagine discovering there’s no place to stay.

 

Whispering to each other, “I’m so ready to hit the hay.”

Such a simple expression became literal that day.

 

They either slept outdoors, in a stable, or a cave

all because there was no room in the inn that day.

 

Bedding down beside sheep and cattle,

for Mary’s sake appeared to be only half the battle.

 

The tears Joseph saw and the groans he heard

clearly indicated Mary was about to give birth!

 

The time to give birth finally arrived,

the promised messiah came to Bethlehem that night.

 

With simple details the Scriptures share,

the loving nature of Mary’s maternal care.

 

Keeping baby Jesus warm lest he catch a crude cough,

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a warm feeding trough.

 

This baby Jesus was Mary’s firstborn son,

the Scriptures record her cherishing what God’s done.

 

Soon shepherds stood bedside,

answering the call from a choir on high.

 

Swiftly they appeared from their sheep pasture;

catching a glimpse of baby Jesus was all they were after.

 

But visit Bethlehem today,

and your eyes will absorb quite the display.

Years ago Constantine flexed his macho bravado

by erecting a church over Christ’s grotto.

 

You can debate if such an elaborate building is fitting,

because this structure contrasts Jesus’ humble beginning.

 

Greeted by shepherds and born near a pasture,

Jesus called himself the good shepherd and his followers the sheep of his pasture.

 

But Before Jesus came along,

Bethlehem was simply the hometown of a shepherd boy who wrote songs.

 

This young shepherd boy, David, grew up to become king,

and from his family tree would come the greatest king.

 

No need to fear. We’re not simply reminiscing.

The Bible makes important connections like these you might have been missing.

 

Stop! Look around Bethlehem. Take it all in. Ask yourself this question.

 

Why? Why was Jesus born here? What was God’s intention?

 

Matthew provides a helpful clue.

He quotes Micah 5:2.

The messiah would come from the tribe of Judah.

Conveniently, Bethlehem resides in the land of Judah.

 

Bethlehem never topped the list of vacation stays.

Only 200 residents lived there in Jesus’ day.

 

One never visited Bethlehem to stay,

unless one was on their way to Jerusalem the next day.

 

A little town like Bethlehem could be considered a fail or a flop,

but God would make this town the cream of the crop.

 

“How would God do this?” You say.

Bethlehem would give birth to the Messiah someday.

 

The Messiah would rule, protect, and care.

Shield his people like sheep from a lion or bear.

 

Hear this promise to King David in 2 Samuel 5:2.

See this promise fulfilled in King Jesus too!

“You shall be shepherd of my people Israel,

and you shall be prince over Israel.”

 

God’s people knew all these prophecies were clues.

They quickly mention them in John 7:42.

 

The Scriptures proclaim the Christ comes from the offspring of David

and from Bethlehem the village of David.

 

To the skeptic accusing Jesus of devising a prophecy fulfillment plan,

securing the place of his own birth was clearly out of Jesus’ hands.

 

May this clear truth never be forgotten.

Jesus is God the Father’s only begotten.

 

Can’t you see? Can’t you see? Can you see God’s intention?

 

Bethlehem fulfilled important prophecies in God’s plan of redemption!

 

This little town of Bethlehem revealed important clues.

Matthew shares, “This is what God was up to!”

 

Wait! A random thought about Bethlehem just popped in my head.

Did you know Bethlehem means a “house of bread”?

 

If you knew this too,

I will trust another fact to be true.

 

I trust you do not dabble in voodoo,

But rather you know a dash of Hebrew.

 

If you care, there are lots of random facts about Bethlehem I could share.

Like how Rachel was buried by her husband, Jacob, on the way there.[1]

 

Or how David sent his mighty men near there to fetch him some water.

An interesting story, but from the look on your face, right now we won’t bother.[2]

 

But there’s one big morsel of food for thought.

Savor this one crumb of truth, and a lot you will be taught!

 

Now peer through Scripture’s window pane,

set your eyes on God’s covenant lane.

 

The word covenant may sound weird to you,

but this word describes an excellent truth.

 

A covenant could describe an agreement between you and me.

Its fulfillment would depend partly on you and partly on me. You see?

 

But when God informed King David, “Here is what I will do for you.”

We find this simple definition of covenant will not do.

 

I’m not trying to be difficult or technical.

This covenant God made with David was purely unconditional.

 

God’s promise made no mention of a mouse in a house,

but it had everything to do with a house.

 

One day David considered his own great palace built brick by brick.

David thought to himself, “Meanwhile, God you live in a shack that’s not so terrific.”

God informed David, “Building me a house is not a project for your hands to tackle.

For now I’m quite content with my tabernacle.”

 

God added, “David, building me a house is not a job for you.

Instead, David, I will build a house for you!”

Today, I make a covenant with you, my son.

I will establish your kingdom for generations to come.”

 

Not getting to build God a temple was no longer a tragedy.

God just promised to establish through David an eternal dynasty.[3]

 

One day this promise seemed to go down in shambles.

Jerusalem found herself destroyed in battle.

 

From this point forward there was no Davidic king.

No heir of David ruled in Jerusalem after 586BC.

 

All hope hinged on a victory the Messiah would bring.

But to secure this victory the Messiah must first feel death’s sting?

 

So, for now Bethlehem, this is all we will share.

Because Jesus’ most important work took place 6 miles south of there.

 

One Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, the promised Messiah arrived.

Less than a week later, Jesus was sentenced to die.

 

The disciples scattered because they could not bear to see,

their promised Messiah dangling from Calvary’s tree.

 

Good Friday remembers the day Jesus died.

There ruthless Roman soldiers heard his dear mother cry.

 

Three days later, a few women would visit his tomb.

What their eyes viewed removed all doom and gloom.

 

Confused by what was not in this old carved out rock,

these Mary’s ran away scared and in shock.

 

Jesus’ tomb was empty! Enough of a reason for shock.

But also an angel had rolled back the rock!

 

The angel declared, “He is not here! He is risen!” Just as He said.

Christ Jesus, Your King, has resurrected from the dead!

Now, we know God’s covenant promise to David is true.

We now know the how and even the who.

 

King David’s line will reign forever,

because death could not keep King Jesus buried forever.

 

Jesus proved Himself the promised, messianic king.

Every Christmas He provides the reason we sing.

 

My friend, no longer put up a fight.

Remember how all the hopes began being fulfilled in Jesus the first Christmas night.

 

The promised Messiah who secured salvation by resurrecting from the dead,

Began His victorious rescue mission in a little place called a “House of Bread.”

 

“O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend on us, we pray.

Cast out our sin, and enter in; Be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels. The great glad tidings tell.

O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord, Emmanuel.”

 

[1] Genesis 35:19.

[2] 2 Samuel 23:13-17; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19.

[3] 2 Samuel 7:8-16; Psalm 89:3-4.

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.

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.