The Magi Visit Bethlehem

December 19, 2008

Matthew 2

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.

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Incarnation Thoughts

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.

 Merry Christmas

Mary’s Song

December 16, 2008

Luke 1:26-56
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.