Archive for the ‘Christmas/Advent’ Category
Posted on December 26th, 2014 by Jonathan
If December 26 gets you feeling down, here is a good reminder…
Posted on December 22nd, 2014 by Radical
Our contemporary cartoonish, two-dimensional picture of Joseph too easily ignores how difficult it was for him to do what he did. Imagine for a minute that one of the teenagers in your church were to stand behind the pulpit to give her testimony. She’s eight months pregnant and unmarried. After a few minutes of talking about God’s working in her life and about how excited she is to be a mother, she starts talking about how thankful she is that she’s remained sexually pure, kept all the “True Love Waits” commitments she made in her youth group Bible study, and is glad to announce that she’s still a virgin. You’d immediately conclude that the girl’s either delusional or lying.
When contemporary biblical revisionists scoff at the virgin birth of Jesus and other miracles, they often tell us we’re now beyond such “myths” since we live in a post-Enlightenment, scientifically progressive information age. What such critics miss is the fact that virgin conceptions have always seemed ridiculous. People in first-century Palestine knew how babies were conceived. The implausibility of the whole thing is evident in the biblical text itself. When Mary tells Joseph she’s pregnant, his first reaction isn’t a cheery “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” No, he assumes what any of us would conclude was going on, and he sets out to end their betrothal.
But then God enters the scene.
When God speaks in a dream to Joseph about the identity of Jesus, Joseph, like everyone who follows Christ, recognizes the voice and goes forward (Matt. 1:21-24). Joseph’s adoption and protection of Jesus is simply the outworking of that belief.
In believing God, Joseph probably walks away from his reputation. The wags in his hometown would probably always whisper about how “poor Joseph was hoodwinked by that girl” or how “old Joseph got himself in trouble with that girl.” As the states get higher, Joseph certainly walks away from his economic security. In first-century Galilee, after all, one doesn’t simply move to Egypt, the way one might today decide to move to New York or London. Joseph surrenders a household economy, a vocation probably built up over generations, handed down to him, one would suppose, by his father.
Again, Joseph was unique in one sense. None of us will ever be called to be father to God. But in another very real sense, Joseph’s faith was exactly the same as ours. The letter of James, for instance, speaks of the definition of faith in this way: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27). James is the one who tell us further that faith is not mere intellectual belief, the faith of demons (2:19), but is instead a faith that works.
James show us that Abraham’s belief is seen in his offering up Isaac, knowing God would keep his promise and raise him from the dead (2:21-23). We know Rahab has faith not simply because she raises her hand in agreement with the Hebrews spies but because in hiding them from the enemy she is showing she trusts God to save her (2:25). James tells us that genuine faith shelters the orphan.
What gives even more wight to these words is the identity of the human author. This letter is written by James of the Jerusalem church, the brother of our Lord Jesus. How much of this “pure and undefiled religion” did James see first in the life of his own earthly father? Did the image of Joseph linger in James’s mind as he inscribed the words of an orphan-protecting, living faith?
The above excerpt is from Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches, by Russell Moore.
Posted on December 19th, 2014 by Jonathan
When people uses the term “incarnational ministry” today, what do they mean? Most likely, they’re referring to patterning our lives after Jesus, who came to us as a servant, lived among us (in our flesh and on our turf), and made disciples. In these ways, yes, may we all be incarnational ministers.
However, there are some things we should never mean when using the word incarnational. Jesus literally condescended to us, a vertical move from heaven above. As humans moving laterally to one another, we are all beneficiaries of this amazing grace: the one, true God became flesh, lived a perfect life, and made a way for mankind to be saved through his death and resurrection. So, unlike Jesus’ ministry, which was centered around being crucified, our ministry is centered around proclaiming Christ crucified.
We can physically go to a particular group of people, we can dwell among them as servants in their community, and we can stay there, making disciples until we die. But we cannot redeem. As God, Jesus’ blood – and only his blood – atoned for our sins and reconciled us to himself. In that sense, he’s the only to whom we can attribute the (capital I) Incarnation.
Posted on December 17th, 2014 by David Burnette
It seems natural as we hear the Christmas story each year to try and imagine how we might have responded had we been Mary, Joseph, or even one of the shepherds.
Of course, there’s a danger in focusing on these characters if we lose sight of the central point of the nativity scene – Christ and his salvation. And we can’t forget that any faithfulness on the part of these individuals is owing to God’s grace. Still, there is much to imitate in their examples. Mary gives us a picture of humble submission. Joseph puts selflessness and courage on display. The shepherds, at least in the few words we have about them, model an implicit trust and an eagerness to proclaim the good news. There is, however, a man who held the child Jesus but who is often left out of our Christmas stories.
His name is Simeon, and he provides for us a beautiful picture of what it means to embrace the Messiah.
Luke’s Gospel tells us that Simeon was righteous and devout, and that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel (Lk 2:25). But that wasn’t the only distinctive thing about him. Simeon was given a supernatural guarantee about the length of his time on earth. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before he had a chance to lay his eyes on the Lord’s Christ (Lk 2:26). We can only imagine what ran through Simeon’s mind as he waited expectantly. When Mary and Joseph brought their eight-day old son into the temple, Simeon, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, took the child and blessed God saying,
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)
Simeon had held the hope of the world in his arms.
In one sense, Simeon’s actions and words can’t be imitated. The baby he held is no longer a baby – he is the crucified, risen, and exalted Son of God. But the question at Christmas still remains: Will we see in this child what Simeon saw? Will we look with the eyes of faith to an unimpressive manger, and beyond that to a cruel cross and an empty tomb, and find rest for our souls? Can we, like Simeon, “depart in peace” (Lk 2:29) because we have embraced the incarnate God by faith and found salvation in his name? Let us ask the Holy Spirit to give us such eyes. And may we rejoice with the Puritan who prayed,
Let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart, embrace him with undying faith, exulting that he is mine and I am his. In him thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more. (1)
(1) – “The Gift of Gifts,” Valley of Vision, 29
Posted on December 11th, 2014 by Jonathan
This time of year, the Incarnation is brought from its mysterious shadow into the Christmas spotlight. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still mysterious. In fact, it’s plain mind-boggling. God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). The King of the universe was born to a teenage woman. Immanuel, God with us. Although never fully fathomable, this is the glorious good news of Christmas. We would do well to contemplate and treasure this doctrine, especially during a season in which it is assailed by the incomparably lesser allure of a certain red-suited gentleman’s presents. Here are a couple points to ponder.
The Incarnation is the amazing gift of God’s love. In Colossians 1, Paul says of Jesus that “all things were created through him and for him” (v. 16). However, “though he was in the form of God, [Christ Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-7). The Creator became like his created. Dwell on that. Our nativity scenes pretty-up the picture; Mary gave birth to Jesus in a dirty, crowded stable and placed him in the animals’ feeding trough. The author of the story stares into the eyes of the characters he created. Never has there been, nor will there ever be, a more humble act.
Why did our majestic King leave his heavenly courts above for the sinners’ fallen world . . . where his subjects would ultimately murder him? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son . . .” you know the rest. God doesn’t need our approval or our company, but so that we might experience eternal life with him, he sent us his Son. On our behalf, in the greatest act of love known to man, Jesus came.
The Incarnation is the glory of God. Isn’t this the refrain of the herald angels? Glory to God in the highest! Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and subsequent death in Jerusalem was, at once, the ultimate act of condescension and the supreme display of God’s glory. Such is the dumbfounding wisdom of God, whose foolishness is wiser than men and whose weakness is stronger than men (1 Cor 2:25).
This Christmas, may our hearts be glad as we think about our loving Creator taking on the humble robe of his creation; and may we extol Jesus in the surpassing glory of his condescension. The Incarnation is literally gospel truth, the Word made flesh.
Posted on December 24th, 2013 by David Burnette
What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,
Thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
his self-emptying incomprehensible,
his infinity of love beyond the heart’s grasp.
Herein is wonder of wonders:
he came below to raise me above,
was born like me that I might become like him.
Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to him he draws near on
wings of grace,
to raise me to himself.
Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
he united them in indissoluble unity,
the uncreated and the created.
Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
and no intellect to devise recovery,
he came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me.
O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face,
and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child
to my heart, Embrace him with undying faith,
exulting that he is mine and I am his.
In him thou has given me so much
that heaven can give no more.
— The Valley of Vision, pp. 28-29
Posted on December 23rd, 2013 by Jonathan
For Christians all over the world, today is a day to celebrate the coming of our Savior. And most of us are free to do that openly. Right now, many are gathering together with loved-ones, singing songs about the coming of the Messiah, feasting, celebrating. In fact, for many of us Christians, taking advantage of this religious freedom doesn’t stop at personal worship in our homes or churches; Christmas is an opportunity for gospel proclamation. We “tell it on the mountain” as we strike up gospel conversations using our seasonal surroundings, from our front yard nativity scenes featuring baby Jesus to our “Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper stickers. However, there are many believers who pay a high price for associating with Jesus during Christmas.
Last Christmas in Nigeria, 36 Christians were killed between December 24 and December 30, 6 of those deaths occurring at the hands of gunmen during a Christmas Eve service. Christmas 2011 saw the death of 44 Christian Nigerians.
These tragic killings happened in a place where people are often murdered for following Jesus, but Nigeria is just one of many places where such atrocities occur. And most instances of persecution don’t end up in believers’ deaths. Sometimes worse, their persecutors often make their lives miserable. So they limp on, repeatedly counting the cost and, with joy, daily taking up their cross.
Today, let us pray for these dear brothers and sisters. Whether they find themselves homeless and outcast in the Middle East or face-to-face with violent opposition in places like Nigeria or the Central African Republic, they need our prayers for God’s strength in their lives.
Over 2,000 years ago, when thousands of baby boys were murdered at the hands of King Herod, it was made clear that suffering and death were not to be strangers to Christmas. After all, Christ was born in the manger to die on the cross. And as encouraging confirmation to our brothers and sisters suffering this Christmas, let us remember Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 15:20: “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” God fulfilled His glorious purposes through Christ’s suffering, and in Jesus, we can be sure that God will do the same for Christ’s followers.
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” – Romans 8:16-18, 28-29
This post can be found at the Secret Church blog. Be sure to check it out for updates and information on Secret Church and the persecuted believers around the world.
Posted on December 23rd, 2013 by David Burnette
You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a greater and more glorious mystery than the incarnation. That God took on human flesh is a truth worthy of our deepest gratitude, wonder, and adoration. However, as we reflect on this mystery, my guess is that most of us haven’t spent much time thinking about why God took on flesh. Sure, He was demonstrating his infinite love, but why did he do it this way?
The Bible answers this ‘why’ question from different angles, but I want to point you to four reasons for the incarnation from a book we don’t normally associate with Christmas – Hebrews. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus shared in our “flesh and blood” (2:14), and it gives us four purposes for this glorious reality in Hebrews 2:14-18:
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
According to this passage, the Son of God came in the flesh…
1. To Destroy the Devil (v. 14)
Ever since the Fall, the devil has tempted men to sin and led them down a road of destruction. But Christ broke the devil’s stranglehold on death by dying. This sinless man took the punishment for sin that only a man could take (14). He destroyed the devil, and the cross was his weapon. One day that destruction will be evident to all (Rev 20:10).
2 To Deliver Lifelong Slaves (v. 15)
We are enslaved by the fear of death and the coming judgment. Whether we admit it or not, we know our sin will find us out. But Jesus removed that enslaving fear by tasting death for us (Heb 2:9). Because he has absorbed God’s wrath, the devil can no longer hold this harrowing fate over our heads. For those who belong to Christ, the tables have turned: death is gain (Phil 1:21). We are free.
3. To Be a Merciful and Faithful High Priest (v. 17)
By being made like us, Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15). He knows what it is like to be tempted and to suffer as a man. He was also able to demonstrate his faithfulness by his unswerving and glad obedience to the Father while on earth (Heb 3:2). As his people, we have every reason to trust such a high priest.
4. To Make Propitiation for the Sins of His People (v. 17)
A propitiation is an atoning sacrifice, and that’s exactly what Jesus offered when he died on the cross. He removed our sin and the wrath we had incurred. Making sacrifices is what all priests do, but this high priest gave his own life for the sins of his people. Christ’s death provides for us the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.
Much more could be said from Hebrews and from other places in God’s Word about why Jesus came in the flesh. But for now, these four reasons from Hebrews 2:14-18 should give us enough to be thankful for to last a good while. Understanding not only that Jesus came in the flesh but also why he did gives us all the more reason to love and worship him.
Posted on December 19th, 2013 by Eric Parker
Note: The following excerpt was adapted from a sermon delivered by Pastor David Platt on 12/27/09 titled “To Give God Glory.” Visit the media page in order to access the sermon in it’s entirety.
We’re going to close out a month of looking at specific verses in the New Testament that outline why Jesus came, and what we ultimately celebrate at Christmas. We have seen that Jesus came to destroy the devil, to serve the helpless, and what we’re going to look at here is the ultimate reason Jesus came. This is the reason that really sums up all the other reasons. Jesus came to do all these things for us, but the question is, “Why did Jesus do all of that for us?” What I want to show you is that he did all of that for us to glorify God. The ultimate reason behind his coming is the glory of God.
We have a dangerous tendency to begin to view Christianity and the gospel through a man-centered lens. Always thinking about what this means for ourselves. What can Jesus do for me and my wants, desires, and needs. This is good to a certain extent, because Jesus came to serve us, and to seek us, and to save us. But if we stop there, then we start to think that we are the end for which Jesus did all of these things. We begin to think that everything in God’s universe centers on us. And that is simply not true!
Everything in God’s universe centers on God. Even his most wonderful acts of mercy and grace toward us are ultimately not intended for us to be the end, but are ultimately intended for God to be the end.
So, what I want to show you is a God-centered perspective of Christmas. The intent of Christmas is to leave us walking out of this month thinking about how great God is, because that’s, more than anything, what Jesus is pointing us to in his coming.
A God-Centered Christmas…
In Romans 15:7-12, verse 8 is the key verse I want to look at. Verse 8, “I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews (ultimately) so that,” the nations—“the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:8-9). I want to show you how Christ’s coming brings glory to God in five different ways based mainly on Romans 15:8 and the beginning of verse 9.
Jesus Came to Certify God’s Integrity
First, Jesus came to certify God’s integrity. Paul says, “Christ has become a servant of the Jews” (Rom. 15:8). That’s the same picture we saw in Mark 10 last week when it says, “Christ came not to be served, but to serve.” Then I love this phrase, “on behalf of God’s truth” (Rom. 15:8). Literally, Christ came “to show the truthfulness of God.” So the picture of Christ coming is Christ pointing to the integrity and the truthfulness of God.
Christ points to the truthfulness of God in his character and attributes. See Christ on the cross and the justice of God. Sin is severe, and it deserves punishment. See the wrath of God being poured out, and at the same moment, see the mercy of God, and the love of God towards sinners. In the picture of Christ, we see a demonstration of the truthfulness of God. He came on behalf of God’s truth to show us God’s truthfulness. The fact that God is true to his character, Christ comes to show us this.
Jesus Came to Vindicate God’s Word
Second, he came to vindicate God’s Word. He came “on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs” (Rom. 15:8). So Jesus came to show us that God is true to his character, and also that God is faithful to his Word. Paul says Christ came to confirm these promises that God had made, and the whole picture in Christ’s coming shows us that when God makes a promise, he keeps his promises. Those promises are sure. In 2 Corinthians 1:20, Paul says, “All the promises of God find their yes in [Christ].” Christ is a picture of the fact that God is faithful to his Word. Jesus came to certify God’s integrity, and to vindicate God’s Word.
Jesus Came to Demonstrate God’s Mercy
Third, Jesus came to demonstrate God’s mercy. Here’s where it gets even more wonderful because the promise is not just for the Jewish people. Through the Jewish people, all the nations of the earth will be blessed. So Paul says Christ came “to confirm the promise made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles” – the nations – “may glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:8-9). And the beauty of it is that from the very beginning God had promised to bless the people of Israel so that all nations of the earth would be blessed.
Jesus Came to Unify God’s People
Which leads to the next part, Jesus came to demonstrate God’s mercy, and in so doing Jesus came to unify God’s people. As a result of what God was doing among the Gentiles, now Jews and Gentiles were united together in a way they never had been before. There had been glimpses of this throughout the Old Testament, but now in the Church we see a picture of the unity of peoples, and tribes, and nations – Jews and Gentiles – together as one.
God gets great glory, not just when he is worshipped by one type of people, but God gets great glory when a multiplicity of peoples come together, accepting one another, united in the gospel. This resounds to the praise of his name. That’s the picture: Christ came to unify God’s people.
Jesus Came to Fulfill God’s Purpose
All of this leading to this reason why he came: Jesus came to fulfill God’s purpose. This has been God’s design from the very beginning. God’s design was to call a people out, to send his son to purchase a people from every tribe, and language, and nation – Jew and Gentile alike – who would unite together in praise and glory to him. And Jesus came to fulfill that purpose. Jesus came to make that purpose a reality. Revelation 7 reminds us that there is coming a day when every tribe, every people, every language, and every nation will gather around the throne singing praise to God for the salvation that has come through Christ.
It’s what we sing in that carol—“He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness, and the wonders of his love.” The whole purpose of God was to send Christ so that all the nations would glorify him for his righteousness and love.
This is why Christ came. A God-centered meaning behind Christmas. Jesus came to show us that God is true. He came to show us God is faithful to his Word. He came to demonstrate the mercy of God. He came to unify the people of God. And ultimately he came to fulfill the purpose of God.
Posted on December 15th, 2013 by David Burnette
Was Jesus fully human? Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) offers the following Scriptural evidence:
Promised under the Old Testament as the Messiah who is to come as a descendant of a woman of Abraham, Judah, and David, he is conceived in the fullness of time by the Holy Spirit in Mary (Matt 1:20) and born of her, of a woman (Gal 4:4). He is her son (Luke 2:7), the fruit of her womb (Luke 1:42), a descendant of David and Israel according to the flesh (Acts 2:30; Rom 1:3; 9:5), sharing in our flesh and blood, like us in all things, sin excepted (Heb 2:14, 17-18; 4:15; 5:1); a true human, the Son of Man (Rom 5:15; 1 Cor 15:21; 1 Tim 2:5), growing up as an infant (Luke 2:40, 52), experiencing hunger (Matt 4:2), thirst (John 19:28), weeping (Luke 19:41; John 11:35), being moved (John 12:27), feeling grief (Matt 26:38), being furious (John 2:17), suffering, dying. For Scripture it is so much an established fact that Christ came in the flesh that it calls the denial of it anti-Christian (1 John 2:22).
…Scripture clearly states that Jesus was completely human and ascribes to him all the constituents of human nature, not only a body (Matt 26:26; John 20:12; Phil 3:21; 1 Pet 2:24), flesh and blood (Heb 2:14), bones and a side (John 19:33-34), head, hands, and feet (Matt 8:20; Luke 24:39) but also a soul (Matt 26:38), spirit (Matt 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 13:21), consciousness (Mark 13:32), and a will (Matt 26:39; John 5:30; 6:38; etc.).
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, 296-297
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