December 26, 2008
Reason to Believe
The majestic Jesus Christ, the historical person by which all history is divided into B.C. and A. D. (knowing those dates to be a few years off) stands as the divine-human, the God-Man who came into the world to die for the sins of His people. We will either (1) turn to Him finding eternal life, or for those who already believe, (2) we will grow in both knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet.3:18). The exalted place of Jesus Christ is to you my believing reader, a given. But, dear questioning or unbelieving friend, it is crucial – a matter of eternal life or death – for the world at large which includes, among others in addition to the great religions of the world:
• Postmodernists (truth is whatever you want it to be)
• Pluralists (all religions are equally good, take your pick)
• New Age thinking (talk about the ‘christ-idea’, not about Jesus of Nazareth or His cross)
• Tolerance (the new definition, “you can’t negatively criticize another’s faith.”
• Loss of absolutes – esp. truth (the ‘its-true-for-me’ syndrome)
• Permissive individualism (whatever makes you happy)
Usually, the study of Jesus Christ is divided into two parts, (1) the Person of Christ and (2) the Work of Christ. In this brief study, we are concerned with the uniqueness of Christ’s death which accomplished our salvation. (The application of this salvation occurs when we by faith trust God to do as he has promised and saves us in our particular historical time and space situation).
Focus on the work of Christ for our benefit narrows down to focus on the cross of Christ. The incarnation (conception at Nazareth, birth in Bethlehem; His teachings, His miracles, His resurrection are all important and function as the ‘Christ event,’ but the watershed is the cross (Gal. 6:14). We begin to see the complexity of the cross as soon as we list words commonly used to explain it, such as atonement, expiation, propitiation, purchase, redemption, ransom, mediation, reconciliation, etc., (look these words up in a good Bible dictionary or encyclopedia) but three important words related to the cross in the Bible stand out and guide our interpretation of the meaning of the cross:
Anselm (@1073) wrote a book entitled “Why Did God Become Man?” (Cur Deus Homo?) He defined sin as “an infinite offense by man against God’s honor.” This was the exact opposite of the French atheistic philosopher Voltaire’s famous statement, “God will pardon; that’s his business!” Anselm said anyone who imagines that God can simply forgive us, “has not yet considered what a heavy weight sin is!” Martin Luther said,
“Since all of us, born in sin and God’s enemies, have earned nothing but eternal wrath and hell so that everything we are and can do is damned, and there is no help or way of getting out of this predicament . . . therefore another man had to step into our place, namely Jesus Christ, God and man, and had to render satisfaction and make payment for sin through his suffering and death.” Quoted in Boice, Whatever happened to the Gospel of Grace? p. 95.
Consider these verses: Isa. 53:10; 59:16; Mk. 10:45; Rom. 3:25-26; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:18-19
John’s opening words to the disciples make it clear that he understood Jesus to be God’s sacrifice, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” Jn. 1:29; Rev. 5:6. Other verses that point to the unique sacrifice of the Son of God Himself, Isa. 53:7; 1 Pet 1:19.
Apart from the truth of substitution, it makes no sense to talk of the love of God at the cross. Two things must be true for us to speak of God’s love in relation to the cross. First, we must understand that the activity there is something undergone by God Himself – not some creature volunteering to attempt the impossible task of paying for our sin. God Himself! And second, He must be doing something for mankind’s benefit, that is, dying in the place of sinful humanity. Some verses to consider include: Isa. 53:6 (the whole chapter!); Matt. 20:28; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18. Some theologians feel it sufficient to believe that Jesus is setting for us the moral example of just how far love may have to go for others. Jesus is our example (1 Pet. 2:21), but He is much more than that. He is our substitute, praise His Name! See Mark 10:45 where at the end of he verse He says, He came to serve and “to give His life as a ransom for many.” The preposition ‘for’ there is, in the Greek anti, which is definitely a preposition of substitution.
In Deuteronomy 4:32, 34 Moses asks concerning the deliverance from Egypt via the Red Sea,
“Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? . . . Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?”
So we might ask of the whole, wonderful ‘Christ event’, has any god ever done what has been done in the incarnation, the death and resurrection of our God for our sakes? What imagined god of our own creation could ever accomplish that of which Paul sings in Phil. 2:6-11:
“(Christ Jesus) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Buddhism certainly has no such truth; Hinduism has mythological stories, but fails to root them in history or reality; Islam would never dare say such a thing about their God Allah; nor does New Age teaching, Taoism, animism, or any other religious teaching on earth.
Christ alone is sufficient for such a salvation, bearing the penalty of our sin and giving us in exchange His righteousness. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Trust in the only One qualified and capable of saving you from your sin.
December 23, 2008
Reason to Believe
While we continue to think on the wonder of the incarnation of Jesus – God becoming a man, the God-Man, we also look to the other end of that marvelous life to find every reason to believe Him.
1. Prerequisite: The Stubborn Fact of Jesus’ death
1. The straight forward narrative of Jesus’ death
2. The replacement theory (another went to the cross instead of Jesus) will not
stand the examination.
3. The swoon theory fails for the same reason.
4. The theory that the scene was influenced by drugs also fails
5. Jesus was dead! The soldiers saw to it; the witnesses believed it; the disciples
went into a tail-spin of despair and hopelessness because “He was dead!”
6. Sympathetic followers removed his body, prepared and buried that body
2. The Amazing Fact of the Resurrection
1. Jesus prophesied His own resurrection
2. The stone was rolled away to let others in and see
3. There was no body
4. Yet the grave clothes were there
5. The soldiers were bribed to say (on pain of death) that they were asleep
6. The psychological transformation of the disciples could not be built on a
7. A false rumor was spread about that the disciples stole the body
8. He was seen by many different people at various times (one time by over 500!) A little to
difficult to blame this on hallucinogenic drugs.
9. The whole fabric of the disciples’ message was built on truth and could not be sustained
by a foundation of lies.
2. The Value of the Resurrection
1. The resurrection proves that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, Rom. 1:3-4.
2. The resurrection is the bedrock foundation of the Church, Eph. 1:20-22.
3. The resurrection is the foundation for the authority given to Jesus, Mt. 28:18
4. It is related to the truth of victory over death, Rev. 1:17-18; Rom. 6:9
5. The resurrection gives us confidence in our justification, Rom. 4:25; 5:10; 8:34
6. Through the resurrection we have new birth into a living hope, 1 Pet. 1:3
7. It is the foundation of Christian victory, Rom. 6:10; Eph 2:4-10; Phil. 3:10; Col. 3:1-4
8. It provides confident assurance in our own bodily resurrection, Rom. 810-11
9. The resurrection is one of the foundation stones of our preaching, 1 Cor. 15:14
10. It is instrumental in our forgiveness, 1 Cor. 15:17
11. If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, empty, 1. Cor. 15:17
12. If Christ be not raised, you are still in your sin, 1 Cor. 15:17
13. If Christ be not raised, those who have died have perished, 1 Cor. 15:18
14. It is the cornerstone of certainty for our whole faith, 1 Cor. 15:17
December 19, 2008
In the Bible from beginning to end, God stands eternal and majestic. He is neither inactive nor speechless. He, as the great and sovereign God who stands, is also the God who stoops, speaks, shows and stays. Not only He stands, but also His Word; He remains and His truth as well holds good and abides valid. Here are some thoughts with a lot of help from Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. 5, pp. 9 – 13.
Henry writes, “Contemporary man seems to have lost God’s address. But that is not all. He is unsure how to pronounce God’s name, and, at times, unsure of . . . whether, in fact God is nameable. . . . (W)hile man the spiritual vagabond may be confused about God’s identity and address, God in self-revelation confronts him continually. God stands eternal and majestic.”
The God who stands.
- God stands independent of all the created order. This word (from the Latin) means to stand under, the substance on which all else depends but which itself depends on nothing. God stands free of all dependence; intrinsically free of the created universe.
- Emboldened by God’s standing presence and Word, a stumbling church can take heart. God stands – and only those who stand in, with and under Him will withstand His judgment of and upon prodigal mankind and nations.
- God stands above and behind and under and in all created reality. Except for its preservation by God who stands and who stands by His creation, all creation is vulnerable to non-being.
- God stands fast. He is the steadfast God, not a vacillating sovereign. He stands and neither falters nor stumbles. He is secure in Himself; God who stands fast when all else seems or is insecure. God who stands is unfallen, is invulnerable to assault, and as even Satan knows, God’s standing or repute is beyond reproach.
- Not only does God stand under the universe, but in a classic sense, He alone understands it. God plans and decrees the world and man, and that because He ordains the future He knows all contingencies. He does not leave in doubt the final triumph of good and the final doom of evil. He does not leave in doubt the eternal bliss of the elect in Christ; in earthly political affairs human leaders may ‘stand for election’ but in the kingdom of God they stand by God’s election.
- God, in His omniscience withstands all and every form of evil. No man can escape God’s full comprehension of human thought, motive and act, nor escape responsibility for them when God stands in judgment.
- In the incarnation, death and resurrection of God the Son, God in effect becomes the stand-in for rebellious and helpless sinners. He took their place.
- God makes not simple a ‘one-night stand’ but a stand to the finish against evil.
- Someday the righteous Lord will summon each and every one of us into His presence and never will God stand taller than when the impenitent wicked stand trial and He acquits the penitent on the ground of Christ’s substitutionary death alone, while He condemns the perverse who have spurned the offer of redemption.
The God who stoops
- Built upon the truth of the incarnation, we hear announced that the standing God has become the God who stoops to speak and show Himself in self-disclosure. This God condescended to create a finite and real world inclusive of humans made in His rational and moral image. He also condescended to redeem a renegade humanity and a fallen cosmos. He condescended to make Himself known and through inspired envoys to republish His holy purposes to man in revolt. He condescended to provide redemption for sinners through the eternal Word become flesh. He condescended to go to the cross – to death on the cross – in holy covenantal love.
- His stooping was not to something beneath His dignity, not to something degrading or unworthy, but a stooping that manifested, in a single act, the outgoing justice and love of God who stands in moral and loving majesty. As of today He still stoops to save, and heaven’s glories remain accessible to those who repent. Man who has forfeited his standing by creation may still find new standing in Christ because the majestic stooping God proffers grace to contrite sinners.
And finally we understand that the God who stands in majesty and who stooped to redeem a fallen world is the God who stays.
- We may speak of a runaway generation or of a runaway world, but God is no runaway God. He is here to stay.
- God is the supreme Stayer. He stays with His creation though man flaws it. He stays Himself from destroying it when man falls in Eden.
- David can pray, “They came upon me . . . but the Lord was my stay.
- God supports, steadies and sustains man and the world, preserving His scarred creation for a redemptive purpose. Were it not for his staying power, man and the world would crumble into dust and disappear into nothingness.
- God stays with the fallen world, maintaining a settled presence and preserving activity it.
- The God of patience often stays the hand of judgment.
- Fallen man who overstays his opportunity for grace will find the righteous God staying to judge human presumption no less than human rebellion.
December 19, 2008
Wise men (kings? astrologers? from Persia or Iran?) came searching for one born to be “King of the Jews” and expressly to worship him – so ancient prophecies hinted at such.
The logical place to find him would surely be the royal palace of Herod. Troubled at the very thought of another ‘king’ set him on the path to end this rumor before it started. He told these ‘wise men’ that he too wanted to go and worship. But Herod’s purpose was not to worship him – he said it was to worship but he lied. Can men lie about religious things? Yes. Can men say worship when they mean destroy? Our actions betray it every day. Can men be found who will put up a church for Christ built with stones of unbelief? There is a possibility of destroying Christ, under the guise of worshipping him, while more or less unconsciously commercializing Christmas, by shifting the focus to fictitious characters, by stressing the selfish (what do I get out of this?), by redefining his words to fit our politically correct culture – by a thousand such ways we destroy Christ’s influence in the world. . . .
Know ye not that Christ is a Sun which cannot be touched, a light that touches every class of society, every kind of person, every age, every color? He is a Sun not to be clipped by your instruments or rearranged by your eager fingers; He is a light that will bless you, but must never be trifled with. (Adapted from Joseph Parker, The Inner Life of Christ)
There are others who do not come to worship Christ, nor to destroy him, but simply come to speculate (as the religious men did when Herod called for their advice).
There are some that patronize Christ, belittling the absolute wonder of the incarnation; speaking of him as a great teacher or a great prophet, but “certainly not God in any sense.” He was a very excellent man in all his purposes; his motives were unquestionably good – so they say. My Buddhist friends in Thailand made so little of His Lordship that they thought themselves capable of believing both this new faith (saying, Jesus, humm, ‘not bad’) while maintaining their commitment to long held Buddhism. But if he is not more than that, he is the crowing hypocrisy of history. As C. S. Lewis said, such an interpretation of Jesus puts him on the level of a megalomaniac who thinks of himself as a poached egg.
And there are people (imitating the Magi) who come to worship. They persist in their seeking; they come with great joy; they bow in quiet humility; they bring costly gifts; they leave with changed attitudes and purposes.
The Magi searched for Him following a star. Was it ‘they found the mother with her child’ (see Matthew 2:11, 13, 14, 20 and 21) or is that order reversed? The Holy Spirit did not inspire a ‘slip of the tongue’ in these verses. The order was exactly as God intended it to be.
For whom and where are we to look for this Child? Joseph Parker has an answer for us:
Christ is not here nor there; He is not to be found in signs or symbols now. . . . He Himself is with us; He is to be found in our consciousness and in His Word. He is to be
the answer to our sin;
the satisfaction of our hunger,
the light of our intellectual firmament,
the glory of our spiritual hope and
the assurance of our eternal life.
December 17, 2008
The Birth of Jesus — the Incarnation of the Son of God.
While Christmas lessons tend to focus on the persons and events surrounding the birth of Jesus, I would like to emphasize the wonder of the incarnation, the truth that brings all thought to a halt and leaves us in mouth-dropping wonder and awe.
Jesus, the biblical witness says, is God the eternal Son, Creator of all, “a Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth,” quoting the Shorter Catechism’s grand description of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
This did not alter with the Incarnation (a big word referring to God’s becoming flesh). The Son personally took human nature at its earliest stage. He truly and personally “became” a pinpoint fetus in the body of a young Hebrew woman.
But (a huge word!), but though He became what He was not, He did not cease to be what He was.
Think about that.
He who continued to fill all things and to sustain all things, also became contained in a virgin’s womb, and was sustained by a mother’s human body. In the words of 4th C. theologian Athanasius:
The Word was not hedged in by His body (or Mary’s womb!), nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well. . . . At one and the same time – this is the wonder – as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father.
Here is the mystery and message of the Incarnation as we study it this week: In Jesus, God acquired manhood and the Deity became a member of the human race!!!
An ancient creed, one formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. has it very well:
“. . . as regards His manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized IN TWO NATURES, WITHOUT CONFUSION, WITHOUT CHANGE, WITHOUT DIVISION, WITHOUT SEPARATION; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and substance . . .”
Concerning the four negatives (in upper case above) to paraphrase one writer: the four negatives are the riches – not the poverty – of a modest believing church. Its pronouncement is comparable to a double row of landing lights at an airport which mark off the landing strip from dangers that threaten on the right and the left. These boundary lines, he says, “are a matter of life and death for the church of Christ.”
There is no adequate human analogy to this or explanation of it, for in the world and in all the universe there is no greater mystery. Only the infinite intelligence of God can grasp it, only the supreme wisdom of God can devise it and only the omnipotence of God can achieve it.
How can we ever teach it? 100% God and 100% man – visible in history at Bethlehem, along dusty streets and finally outside Jerusalem on the cross.
Need more? Think about this: A Human Being (in light of His ascension) now sits at the
right hand of the Father on the Throne of Heaven!
In contrast to the thoughts about the marvel of God becoming flesh, is the birth narratives which shine a bright light on the human characters surrounding the miracle of the incarnation. Joseph Parker (1830 – 1902) summed up the Matthew and Luke passages, noting that while we have (in the whole Gospel) a Gospel bringing hope and peace and good news to the world, we read how this gospel was introduced:
• A young Jewish girl faces ridicule, obvious ostrasization because of a pregnancy outside the bounds of marriage. And later – a far away, lonely place to have her baby.
• Joseph, an honorable man takes his wife and child and runs away as if he were a common criminal.
• Herod, already ruthless, is troubled about his security as king in his tiny corner of the world and sets himself to protect his selfish interests, whatever the cost.
• Many, many homes are left in near total despair when horsemen from Herod come through and kill all boys under the age of two. What wailing went up at that time.
Look at the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, bringer of peace, love, expectation of good to come. Nothing but sadness in all the above scenarios. And we remember that this great story which began so miserably, ended with an excruciating, cruel, vengeful death on a cross. How can a story of peace have such a beginning and/or ending. Is this how God deals with the woes of a sinful, rebellious world?
But (there is that huge word again) wait, there are two more thing – (1) God’s triumphant act of raising His Son and our Savior from the dead, and (2) the promise of His return one day. It is only a word of promise but the Maker of that promise has always kept His word. One day He will return, triumphant to claim His own. Glory!!!
We should not be surprised that the walk on the way and in the faith will have more that its share of difficulties and heartaches. I’m not sure I can begin to understand all this. What is God doing? And is this the way the “good news” begins its march down the pages of history?
Lets pray with and for one another as we set our small brains to the task of expounding the message good news throughout this wondrous season.
December 16, 2008
Mary’s Role in the Coming Birth of Jesus
We have another delightful, amazing story this week. I hope with you all that this old, old story never gets old!
Verses 26-33 tell us that God chose this particular young Jewish girl. The day previous to that day she had not the slightest inkling of what was about to turn her life upside down. Pregnancy during the engagement period (sometimes lasting a year and often as binding as marriage itself) could bring at best being ostracized, or at worst being stoned to death. He innocent question (unlike the unbelief of Zacharias, Luke 1:18) demonstrated the sheer impossibility of what the angel announced. The angel’s explanation ends with those assuring words, nothing will be impossible with God.
Consider Mary’s response (v. 38): Behold the (female) servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word. In the face of the possibilities mentioned above, we marvel at her instant and positive reply. Here is a good place to see the order of choices. It would be rather foolish to think Mary chose to ask God to be this honored virgin and so God in response chose her. Rather God chose her and she chose to respond in humble faith. So it is with ourselves. God has chosen us (based solely on His mercy and grace) and we have chosen to respond positively. As the hymn And Can it Be? puts it, “Amazing love; how can it be, that thou my God should die for me?”
And so Mary sings her song which closely resembles Hannah’s song in 1 Sam. 2:1-10. I quote here the commentary by Ridderbos, (Luke, New International Commentary New Testament):
In this hymn of praise Mary sings gloriously of the all-excelling perfections of God: His divine power (49, 51), His holiness (49), His mercy (50), his faithfulness (54, 55). In the fact that He is engaged in fulfilling His promises concerning the Messiah King and Redeemer she sees all these divine perfections revealed. For it is only through the incarnation of Jesus that we learn with full certainty to know God in His omnipotence, holiness, mercy and faithfulness. Without this, we all would live forever in the pitch-dark night of spiritual ignorance. . . . Without Him, individual and social life is based on principles which are totally opposed to the right foundations for true life. (p. 87)
The phrase “to fear Him” means “to cherish reverence and respect for Him – not to be afraid, but to honor Him lovingly by avoiding what is contrary to His will and by striving after what pleases Him.”
Because God’s work of redemption has not only begun in this announcement, and is absolutely assured through the promises, Mary throughout uses the past tense (in the sense of prophetic perfects) in these verses. This grand reversal in human relationships (verses 51-53) has been partially fulfilled in the past 2000 years, but only at the final consummation will they find their perfect accomplishment.