In his Preface to the Geneva Bible of 1550, titled Christ the End of the Law, John Calvin gave one of the most succinct and powerful explanations of the great exchange that occurs in the Gospel because of what Christ has done for believers. He wrote:
He humbled Himself, to exalt us; He made Himself a servant, to set us free; He became poor, to enrich us; He was sold, to buy us back; a Captive, to deliver us; Condemned, to procure our pardon; He was made a curse, that we might be blessed; the Oblation for sins, for our justification; His face was marred, to re-beautify ours; He Died, that we may have life. In such sort, that by Him, hardness is softened; wrath appeased; darkness made light; iniquity turned into righteousness; weakness is made strength; despair is consoled; sin is resisted; shame is despised; fear is emboldened; debt is paid; labor is lightened; Sorrow is turned into joy; Misfortune into blessing; Difficulties are made easy; Disorder made order; Division into union; Ignominy is ennobled; Rebellion subjected; Threat is threatened; Ambush is ambushed; Assault assailed; Striving is overpowered; War is warred against; Vengeance is avenged on; Torment tormented; Damnation damned; Destruction destroyed; Hell burned up; Death is killed; Mortality changed to immortality; In short, pity has swallowed up all misery; and Goodness all wretchedness; For all those things, which used to be the arms with which the Devil combated us, and the sting of death, are, to draw us forward, turned into instruments from which we can derive profit.1
1. John Calvin Christ the End of the Law (London: William Cegg and Co. pp. 29-3, 1850) pp. 29-30
The virgin birth cannot be considered in abstraction from the triumphant consummation of Christ’s life in his resurrection, for it is there that the mystery of his person is revealed. In fact the birth of Jesus of the virgin Mary and the resurrection of Jesus from the virgin tomb (‘where no one had ever yet been laid’) are the twin signs which mark out the mystery of Christ, testifying to the continuity and the discontinuity between Jesus Christ and our fallen humanity.
The incarnation is not only a once and for all act of assumption of our flesh, but the continuous personal union of divine and human nature in the one person of the incarnate Son, a personal union which he carried all the way through our estranged estate under bondage into the freedom and triumph of the resurrection.
Thus it is in the resurrection that we see the real meaning of the virgin birth, while the virgin birth has much to tell us about the resurrection. These are then the twin signs testifying to the miraculous life of the Son of God within our humanity, the one at the beginning and the other at the consummation of the earthly life of Jesus.
— Thomas F. Torrance Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 96
(HT: Of First Importance)
In Sinclair Ferguson’s book, In Christ Alone, he shares the sad reality that many Christians have a Christology that is more informed by Santa Claus than Scripture. For them, the message of the incarnation has been so twisted or diluted that they have in fact created for themselves a savior who is nothing more than aSanta Christ.
As you prayerfully read Sinclair Ferguson’s words, ask yourself the following question this Christmas season: “Do I believe in a Santa Christ?”
1. A Pelagian Jesus is a Santa Christ
Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been “good enough.” So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners.
2. A Semi-Pelagian Jesus is a Santa Christ
Or Santa Christ may be a Semi-Pelagian Jesus — a slightly more sophisticated Jesus who, Santa-like, gives gifts to those who have already done the best they could! Thus, Jesus’ hand, like Santa’s sack, opens only when we can give an upper-percentile answer to the none-too-weighty probe, “Have you done your best this year?” The only difference from medieval theology here is that we do not use its Latin phraseology: facere quod in se est (to do what one is capable of doing on one’s own, or, in common parlance, “Heaven helps those who help themselves”).
3. A Mystical Jesus is a Santa Christ
Then again, Santa Christ may be a mystical Jesus, who, like Santa Claus, is important because of the good experiences we have when we think about him, irrespective of his historical reality. It doesn’t really matter whether the story is true or not; the important thing is the spirit of Santa Christ. For that matter, while it would spoil things to tell the children this, everyone can make up his or her own Santa Christ. As long as we have the right spirit of Santa Christ, all is well.
But Jesus is not to be identified with Santa Claus; worldly thinking — however much it employs Jesus-language — is not to be confused with biblical truth.
Who is the Biblical Christ of Christmas?
The Scriptures systematically strip away the veneer that covers the real truth of the Christmas story. Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil (Matt. 1:21; 1 John 3:8b).
- Those whose lives were bound up with the events of the first Christmas did not find His coming an easy and pleasurable experience.
- Mary and Joseph’s lives were turned upside down.
- The shepherds’ night was frighteningly interrupted, and their futures potentially radically changed.
- The magi faced all kinds of inconvenience and family separation.
- Our Lord Himself, conceived before wedlock, born probably in a cave, would spend His early days as a refugee from the bloodthirsty and vindictive Herod (Matt. 2:13-21).
There is, therefore, an element in the Gospel narratives that stresses that the coming of Jesus is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions. It had to be thus, for He did not come merely to add something extra to life, but to deal with our spiritual insolvency and the debt of our sin. He was not conceived in the womb of Mary for those who have done their best, but for those who know that their best is “like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6)—far from good enough—and that in their flesh there dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). He was not sent to be the source of good experiences, but to suffer the pangs of hell in order to be our Savior.
Adapted from In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson.
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” – Luke 1:35
Really, the Advent season runs from Genesis 3 onward, and Christmas Day is when the miracle prophesied in Luke 1:35 is fulfilled. For those of us who believe personhood can be derived from Psalm 139:13-15 and Job 31:15, we believe the Incarnation did not begin at Jesus’ birth but at his conception. And if this is so, when Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” we know that the fullness of deity dwelled in fertilized ovum.
Will the Empire State Building occupy a doghouse? Will a killer whale fit inside an ant?
And here we are told that omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, utter eternalness and holiness dwelled in a tiny person. This makes Santa coming down a chimney seem a logistical cakewalk.
This miracle of addition is important. We must hold it tightly or lose the bigness of the Incarnation. God came as unborn child so that Christ would experience all of humanity. And he experienced all of humanity so that we might receive all of him for all of us.
If God came as a vulnerable, needful, weak baby, we have no need to fear for our own vulnerability, needfulness, and weakness. He emptied himself (Phil. 2:7) so that we would not see our own emptiness as a hopeless cause. “As you received him” — desperate, helpless, desirous — “so walk in him” (Col. 2:6). The miracle of the God-Baby proclaims the gospel’s speciality: rescue of the helpless.
Why do you exist? What energizes your actions? How do you account for your life and behavior and the choices you make throughout the course of a day? My answer to those questions, and I hope yours as well, is that it’s all for his name’s sake.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus commended the believers there for “enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake” (Rev. 2:3). People all over the world endure pain for any number of reasons, some of which are noble and others not. Some persevere for profit and others to elicit compassion for themselves. But Jesus makes it clear that, for the Christian, endurance under duress is never an end in itself. Suffering for suffering’s sake is stupid, if not a sign of mental illness. Jesus commends the Ephesian believers because their motivation was the fame of the name of Christ. That is to say, they endured with a view to making known, especially to their persecutors, that Jesus was a treasure of far greater worth than whatever physical or financial comfort their denial of him might bring.
This same passion to see and savor Jesus alone accounted for Paul’s unqualified and otherwise inexplicable decision to turn his back on earthly achievements: “whatever gain I had,” said Paul, “I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:7-9). Did you see it? It was for his sake, as it also was for the Ephesians.
In the case of the Ephesians, undoubtedly some suffered unto death while others experienced the blessing of deliverance. In both instances it was “for his name’s sake.” As John Piper has pointed out, in dying, some declared, “Jesus is more precious than what I’m losing.” In living, others declared, “Jesus is more precious than what I’m gaining.” In both cases, Jesus is treasured above everything and thus magnified above all.
That is why you and I exist. We exist for his name’s sake. As lead pastor of Bridgeway, I can say that this is why we as a body of Christian men and women exist. It is why we serve and suffer; it is why we live and love; it is why we study God’s Word and make known his praise; it is why we sing and celebrate; it is why we give and go. It’s all for his name’s sake. That’s why we exist. If you know Christ, that’s why you exist.
That’s why you serve. May all that we ask, do, or think be for his name’s sake.
By David Burnette:
As you reflect on the significance of Christ’s coming this Christmas, allow me to make one suggestion that may actually add to your holiday cheer: Don’t begin in Bethlehem. That may sound scrooge-like, but hear me out.
Bethlehem looms large in our minds during Christmas, and rightfully so. The prophet Micah had predicted centuries earlier that a ruler would hail from this obscure town (Mic 5:2). As King David’s birthplace, Bethlehem would also be the scene of the Messiah’s birth. In that sense, it’s difficult not to think of Bethlehem this time of year. That’s fine, but don’t forget that the Christmas story was set in motion long before the nativity scene.
Bethlehem wasn’t the beginning.
Jesus spoke of the glory he had with the Father “before the world existed” (Jn 17:5). As the Second Person of the Trinity, He was in communion with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity. We’re even told that the world was created through Him (Jn 1:1; Col 1:16). To be sure, He took on flesh at a point in time, but His role in God’s plan of redemption did not begin in a manger in Bethlehem nearly 2000 years ago. Christ was not thrust on the scene unexpectedly. Out of His own free grace He set His sights on rebellious sinners like you and me before the foundation of the world. The eternal Word became flesh for us and for our salvation (Jn 1:14). This is the infinite grace of the Incarnation. And the nativity scene was our first glimpse.
As you reflect on Christ’s birth this Christmas and as you talk about it with others, be sure to include the little town of Bethlehem. But don’t start there: go back, much further back, and marvel at the One who planned the nativity scene from the beginning in order to rescue us from the judgment we deserve. Marvel at the grace of the Son of God who, as Paul says, “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
Give thanks that in those dark streets of Bethlehem shone the Everlasting Light.
A word in season from Jared Wilson:
There is a great danger this Christmas season of missing the point. And I’m not referring simply to idolatrous consumption and materialism. I’m talking about Christmas religiosity. It is very easy around this time to set up our Nativity scenes, host our Christmas pageants and cantatas, read the Christmas story with our families, attend church every time the door is open, and insist to ourselves and others that Jesus is the reason for the season, and yet not see Jesus. With the eyes of our heart, I mean.
I suppose there is something about indulging in the religious Christmas routine that lulls us into thinking we are dwelling in Christ when we are really just set to seasonal autopilot, going through the festive and sentimental motions. Meanwhile the real person Jesus the Christ goes neglected in favor of his plastic, paper, and video representations. Don’t get distracted from Jesus by “Jesus.” This year, plead with the Spirit to interrupt your nice Christmas with the power of Jesus’ gospel.
Can you imagine if you had been there? What would it have been like to be with our Lord Jesus face to face? To walk with him and to listen to him for hours on end. To hear the tone of his voice. To ask him any question you want.
What if, instead of just being one of the disciples in the outer circles, you were one of the key players: Mary the humble mother of God; Peter the exuberant bumbler turned repentant leader; John the Baptizer, who leaped for joy at Jesus in Elizabeth’s womb and then was able to baptize his cousin and Lord.
But if you are in Christ, the reality is that things are better for you know than it would have been to be any of these folks who knew Christ in the flesh.
For example, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt 11:11; cf. Luke 7:28).
Peter, recalling the Transfiguration and hearing the voice of the Father expressing pleasure in his Son, goes on to say that “we [including you and me] have the prophetic word more fully confirmed. . .” ( 2 Pet 1:17-19).
And at the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus tells his disciples, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7).Jonathan Edwards, in his landmark sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13, comments on this theme with a particular view to the blessed virgin Mary:
Great was the privilege which God bestowed on the blessed virgin Mary, in granting that of her should be born the Son of God; that a person who was infinitely more honorable than the angels, who was the Creator and King of heaven and earth and the great Savior of the world, should be conceived in her womb, born of her, and nursed at her breast, was a far greater privilege than to be the mother of the child of the greatest earthly prince that ever existed. But yet, surely that was not so great a privilege as it was to have the grace of God in the heart, to have Christ, as it were, born in the soul, as Christ himself does expressly teach us.
Edwards here cites Luke 11:27-28:
As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
And once when some told him that his mother and brethren stood without desiring to speak with him, he thence took occasion to let them know that there was a more blessed way of being related to him than that which consisted in being his mother and brethren according to the flesh, viz. in having grace in the heart, and bringing forth the fruits of it in the life.
And here he cites Matt. 12:46-50:
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
—Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits: Living in the Light of God’s Love, ed. Kyle Strobel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 74-75.
Ronnie Smith was shot and killed in Benghazi, Libya, on Thursday. He was 33. He was a husband and father. The leaders of his home church have given me permission to respond to his death publicly and carefully. You can read the fuller story at World or in themainstream media.
One of the reasons I want to respond is because Ronnie wrote to us at Desiring God last year and told us that one of my messages was significant in leading him and his family to Libya.
Now Anita is a widow, and his son Hosea has lost his father.
Weep with Those Who Weep
How do I feel about sharing in the cause of his going to his death?
I came to tears this morning praying for Anita and Hosea. Weep with those who weep was not a command in that moment; it was a sorrow rolling over me. I remember being 33. That’s how old I was when God called me to the pastorate. I was starting my ministry at the age Ronnie’s ministry ended. And Jesus’s.
After sorrow and sympathy, my response was (and is) prayer. “Lord, give Anita great faith. Help her to weep — but not as those who have not hope. Make that little fellow proud of his daddy. May he grow up thrilled to be in the bloodline of such a man. May they live on the glories of Romans 8 — the groanings of this fallen world of waiting (Romans 8:23), and the rock-solid assurance that, though we are being killed all day long, nevertheless, in all these things we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:36–37).”
Something Worse Than Death
Then I am sobered. Ronnie is not the first person who has died doing what I have encouraged them to do. He won’t be the last. If I thought death were the worst thing that can happen to a person, I would be overwhelmed with regret.
But the whole point of Ronnie’s life is that there is something worse than death. So he was willing to risk his own life to rescue others from something far worse. And he could risk his own life because he knew his own risking and dying would work for him “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And he knew God was able to meet every need of his wife and son (Philippians 4:19).
We are not playing games. When I preach that risk is right, I know what I am doing. When I say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him — especially in suffering,” I know what suffering may mean. When I say, “Fear not, you can only be killed” (Matthew 10:28), I take seriously the words of Jesus: “Some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16, 18).
Flood the World with Replacements
Finally, I call thousands of you to take Ronnie’s place. They will not kill us fast enough. Let the replacements flood the world. We do not seek death. We seek the everlasting joy of the world — including our enemies. If they kill us while we love them, we are in good company. Jesus did not call us to ease or safety. He called us to love for the sake of his name. Everywhere. Among all peoples.
Anita and Hosea, I love you. I am sorry, so sorry, for your loss. I admire you and Ronnie profoundly. Hold fast to this: “God has not destined you (or Ronnie) for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10).
It is a great sin to think any sin little; but it is a greater sin to think the righteousness of Christ is not above all sin. Our disobedience is the disobedience of man; but Christ’s obedience is the obedience of God: therefore, our believing in Christ doth please God better than if we had continued in innocency, and never sinned. The least sin is unpardonable without this obedience and righteousness of Christ; and the greatest is pardonable by it. Therefore, O seek in to Christ, to be clothed upon with this righteousness.
— Ralph Erskine “And Walking in Him, Opened” in The Works of Ralph Erskine, Vol 24332
(HT: Of First Importance)
Tim Keller shares this illustration in his new book, Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (Dutton; 2013), 28–30:
Everybody has got to live for something, but Jesus is arguing that, if he is not that thing, it will fail you.
First, it will enslave you. Whatever that thing is, you will tell yourself that you have to have it or there is no tomorrow. That means that if anything threatens it, you will become inordinately scared; if anyone blocks it, you will become inordinately angry; and if you fail to achieve it, you will never be able to forgive yourself.
But second, if you do achieve it, it will fail to deliver the fulfillment you expected.
Let me give you an eloquent contemporary expression of what Jesus is saying. Nobody put this better than the American writer and intellectual David Foster Wallace. He got to the top of his profession. He was an award-winning, best-selling postmodern novelist known around the world for his fierce and boundary-pushing storytelling. He once wrote a sentence that was more than a thousand words long. And, tragically, he committed suicide. But a few years before that, he gave a now-famous commencement speech at Kenyon College. He said to the graduating class,
Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god . . . to worship . . . is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before [your loved ones] finally plant you. . . . Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they are evil or sinful; it is that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
Wallace was by no means a religious person, but he understood that everyone worships, everyone trusts in something for their salvation, everyone bases their lives on something that requires faith. A couple of years after giving that speech, Wallace killed himself. And this non-religious man’s parting words to us are pretty terrifying: “Something will eat you alive.”
Because even though you might never call it worship, you can be absolutely sure you are worshiping and you are seeking. And Jesus says, unless you’re worshiping me, unless I’m the center of your life, unless you’re trying to get your spiritual thirst quenched through me and not through these other things, unless you see that the solution must come inside rather than just pass by outside, then whatever you worship will abandon you in the end.
(HT: Tony Reinke)
But Christ has done for Christians even far more than that. He has given to them not only a new and right relation to God, but a new life in God’s presence for evermore. He has saved them from the power as well as from the guilt of sin.
The New Testament does not end with the death of Christ; it does not end with the triumphant words of Jesus on the Cross, ‘It is finished.’ The death was followed by the resurrection, and the resurrection like the death was for our sakes.
Jesus rose from the dead into a new life of glory and power, and into that life He brings those for whom He died. The Christian, on the basis of Christ’s redeeming work, not only has died unto sin, but also lives unto God.
— J. Gresham Machen Christianity & Liberalism
(HT: Of First Importance)
After spending 11 chapters magnifying the grace of God shown to us in Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul broke out into a hymn of praise:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).
Have you come to this place before? A place of awe before an all-knowing, all-wise God?
Whenever we study the big questions of life, the big debates of our world, and the development of a biblical worldview, we can easily become smug and confident in what we know. We put God in a box and assume we have figured out His ways and His plans.
Reacting against this arrogant overconfidence, some Christians make everything about the Scriptures a mystery. They wonder whether we can know anything with certainty about who God is and what He has done.
The apostle Paul struck the right balance. Paul believed he knew things about God, and he held these truths with confidence. At the same time, the more Paul knew, the more he realized he didn’t know everything. In other words, though Paul could know many things about God with absolute certainty, he understood that he didn’t know God exhaustively.
So what was Paul’s response? He bowed his knees in worship. He proclaimed what he knew about God based on God’s revelation of Himself, and then he knelt in worship, fully recognizing his own limitations of knowledge. That’s where intellectual growth should lead us, not to overconfidence in our ability to figure God out but to our knees in worship, in awe of His goodness to us.
If you have ever tried to read about the story of Jesus’ birth from one of the Gospels in the New Testament, you will have already discovered two things. First, no one Gospel tells you everything about the birth of Jesus. And second, some Gospels do not tell youanything about the birth of Jesus.
What do we make of this reality?
One takeaway should be that the significance of Jesus’ birth is best understood in the totality of his life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Whether you have just begun to consider Jesus or already consider yourself a believer in him, let me encourage you to read through the four Gospels this Advent season to gain a fuller appreciation for the significance of his birth.
Here’s a brief description of each Gospel’s unique contribution to our overall understanding of Jesus, followed by a calendar for reading through them this December.
Matthew: The story of Christmas is rooted in history.
Matthew’s account begins with a genealogy, demonstrating the birth of Jesus is not an isolated event but one rooted in history. In other words, the birth of Jesus is not the beginning of the story. To properly understand Jesus’ birth, one must understand the history from which he came.
If we were to consider the birth of Jesus as an isolated event, we could conclude that Jesus is powerful. Surely the virgin birth would require divine power. When we learn from Matthew that the virgin birth was rooted in history and anticipated in prophecy, we learn that Jesus is not only powerful, but also faithful to promises made in history.
Mark: The story of Christmas requires our repentance.
When you turn to Mark you notice that he begins with the ministry of John the Baptist, not the birth of Jesus. John’s ministry was a plea for Israel to repent. In Mark 1:14-15, we are told that John was arrested and Jesus began to preach the same message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Repent is the key word for Mark. John preached it, Jesus preached it, and Mark wants all of us to remember it. Why?
We cannot properly celebrate the birth of our Savior until we acknowledge the reality of our sin. Until we are willing to repent, all the details that surround Jesus’ birth and life are rendered inconsequential. Otherwise who cares if it was three wise men or wise men bearing three gifts? Or whether he was God incarnate or an angel in human form? Mark tells us news he believes can change our lives. So are we willing to be changed? Are we willing to acknowledge that we are not as we should be? According to Mark, we cannot properly celebrate the birth of our Savior until we acknowledge our need to be saved.
Luke: The story of Christmas invites our worship.
As you turn to Luke, you notice that he gives us the most details of any of the Gospel writers surrounding the birth of Jesus. When people announce that they will read the Christmas story, they are more often than not reading from the second chapter of Luke. It’s striking about Luke’s attention to detail how often he focuses on the worship that surrounded the birth of Jesus.
For example, in Luke 1:46, Luke could have simply said that Mary worshiped God. Instead he records for us details of how she expressed her worship in what we now commonly call the Magnificat. You will notice this detail again in verses 67-79 when Zechariah worshiped God. Then Luke tells us of the heavenly host praising God in 2:13-14 and the shepherds praising God in 2:20. When Jesus is presented in the temple, Luke tells us of Simeon’s worship. Before, during, and after the birth of Jesus there is worship!
Much like the Psalms of the Old Testament, the details of these expressions of worship are not given to simply inform us of past events, but to invite us to join in their expression. When all the facts are considered, as Luke claims to have compiled them, one discovers that the Christmas story is not only true but also glorious.
John: The story of Christmas restores our relationship.
John does not begin with the birth of Jesus, the ministry of John the Baptist, nor does he begin with the history of Israel. John writes, “In the beginning.” The beginning of what? The beginning of everything! According to John, Jesus was with God and was God from before time began. These verses are key the church’s understanding of the Trinity.
As it relates to the Christmas story, we affirm that Jesus was sent from God. The Creator is the Redeemer; the Judge is the Savior. John’s account is similar to Mark’s in that he makes the story immediately personal. Jesus is the unique Son of God who came into the world, so that you and I could become children of God as well (John 1:12-13).
Four different Gospel accounts and one conclusion—Jesus is sufficient. Intellectually, according to Matthew, the Christmas story is rooted in history. Morally, according to Mark, the Christmas story requires our repentance. Emotionally, according to Luke, the Christmas story invites our worship. And relationally, according to John, the Christmas story restores our relationship with God.
Just started Mike Bird’s superb ‘Evangelical Theology’. In the front-piece he quotes John Calvin:
Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness,
and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.
But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom
the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,
and slaves free.
It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.
It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.
For, he was
sold, to buy us back;
captive, to deliver us;
condemned, to absolve us;
made a curse for our blessing,
[a] sin offering for our righteousness;
marred that we may be made fair;
he died for our life; so that by him
fury is made gentle,
darkness turned into light,
sadness made merry,
misfortune made fortunate,
force forced back,
war warred against,
the abyss sunk into the abyss,
mortality made immortal.
mercy has swallowed up all misery,
and goodness all misfortune.
For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.
If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.
And we are
comforted in tribulation,
joyful in sorrow,
glorying under vituperation,
abounding in poverty,
warmed in our nakedness,
patient amongst evils,
living in death.
This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.
From the preface to Pierre Robert Olivétan’s French translation of the New Testament (1534).
Posted by Tullian Tchividjian and arranged by Justin Taylor.
The Holy Spirit is often described as light. He shines into the dark places of the heart and convicts us of sin (John 16:7-11). He is a lamp to illumine God’s word, teaching what is true and showing the truth to be precious (1 Cor. 2:6-16). And the Spirit throws a spotlight on Christ so that we can see his glory and be changed (John 16:14). That’s why 2 Corinthians 3:18speaks of becoming more like Christ by beholding the glory of Christ. Just as Moses had his face transfigured when he saw the Lord’s glory on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:29; 2 Cor. 3:7), so will we be transformed when, by the Spirit, we behold God’s glory in the face of Christ.
The Spirit, then, is a light to us in three ways: by exposing our guilt, by illuminating the word of God, and by showing us Christ. Or to put it another way, as Divine Light, the Holy Spirit works to reveal sin, reveal the truth, and reveal glory. When we close our eyes to this light or disparage what we are meant to see by this brightness, we are guilty of resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51), or quenching (1 Thess. 5:19) or grieving the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). There may be slight nuances among the three terms, but they are all speak of the same basic reality: refusing to see and to savor what the Spirit means to show us.
There are, then, at least three ways to grieve the Holy Spirit—three ways that may be surprising because they correspond to the three ways in which the Spirit acts as light to expose our guilt, illumine the word, and show us Christ.
First, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we use him to excuse our sinfulness.
The Spirit is meant to be the source of conviction in the human hearts. How sad it is, therefore, when Christians try to use the Spirit to support ungodly behavior. We see it when people—whether genuinely deceived or purposeful charlatans—claim the leading of the Spirit as the reason for their unbiblical divorce, or for their financial impropriety, or for their new found sexual liberation. The Holy Spirit is always the Spirit of holiness. He means to show us our sin not to excuse it through subjective feelings, spontaneous impressions, and wish fulfillment disguised as enlightened spirituality. If the Holy Spirit is grieved when we turn from righteous into sin, how doubly grieved he must be when we claim the Spirit’s authority for such deliberate rebellion.
Second, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we pit him against the Scriptures.
The Spirit works to reveal the truth of the word of God, not to lead us away from it. There is no place in the Christian life for supposing or suggesting that careful attention to the Bible is somehow antithetical to earnest devotion to the Holy Spirit. Anyone wishing to honor the Spirit would do well to honor the Scriptures he inspired and means to illuminate.
Sometimes Christians will cite the promise in John 16:13 that the Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” as reason to expect that the third person of the Trinity will give us new insights not found in the Scripture. But the “truth” referred to in John 16 is the whole truth about everything bound up in Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. The Spirit will unpack the things that are to come, insofar as he will reveal to the apostles (see v. 12) the significance of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation. The Spirit, speaking for the Father and the Son, would help the apostles remember what Jesus said and understand the true meaning of who Jesus is and what he accomplished (John 14:26).
This means that the Spirit is responsible for the truths the apostles preached and that in turn were written down in what we now call the New Testament. We trust the Bible—and do not need to go beyond the Bible—because the apostles, and those under the umbrella of their authority, wrote the Bible by means of the Spirit’s revelation. The Bible is the Spirit’s book. To insist on exegetical precision, theological rigor, and careful attention to the word of God should never be denigrated as stuffing our heads full of knowledge, let alone as somehow opposed to the real work of the Spirit.
Third, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we suggest he is jealous of our focus on Christ.
The Holy Spirit’s work is to serve. He speaks only what he hears (John 16:13). He declares what he is given; his mission is to glorify another (John 16:14). All three persons of the Trinity are fully God, yet in the divine economy the Son makes known the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Son. Yes, it is a terrible thing to be ignorant about the Spirit and unwise to overlook the indispensable role he plays in our lives. But we must not think we can focus on Christ too much, or that when we exalt Christ to the glory of God the Father that somehow the Spirit is sulking off in the corner. The Spirit means to shine a light on Christ; he is not envious to stand in the light himself.
Exulting in Christ, focusing on Christ, speaking much and singing often of Christ are not evidences of the Spirit’s dismissal but of the Spirit’s work. If the symbol of the church is the cross and not the dove, that’s because the Spirit would have it that way. As J. I. Packer puts it, “The Spirit’s message to us is never, ‘Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,’ but always, ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.’”
Again, to know nothing of the Holy Spirit is a serious mistake (cf. Acts 19:2). But when Christians lament an over-attentiveness to Christ or moan about too much emphasis on the cross, such protestations grieve the Spirit himself. The Holy Spirit is not waiting in the wings to be noticed and lauded. His work is not to shine brightly before us, but to shine a light on the glory of Christ. To behold the glory of God the Father in the face of Jesus Christ the Son is not to sideline the Holy Spirit; it is to celebrate his gracious work among us.
Whether we are talking about holiness, the Bible, or Jesus Christ, let us never set the Spirit against the very thing he means to accomplish. We do not honor the Spirit by trying to diminish what he seeks to exalt. And we do not stay in his step by pushing others (or ourselves) in the direction of the very things that grieve him most.
While Halloween can often be a time associated with ghosts, devils and darkness, this video is designed to share the good news that Jesus is the light of the world!
We are making this film available for free and encourage you share it with your friends via social media as well as showing at church events. Please feel free to download the video for use however you like.
This is the script used on the video:
Vast armies undead do tread through the night and
In hordes march towards hapless victims to frighten.
They stumble in step with glass-eyes on the prizes;
Bunched hither, hunched over in monstrous disguises;
In sizes not lofty but numb’ring a throng;
To unleash on their prey the dreaded DING DONG.
Small faces with traces of mother’s eye-liner,
Peer up to the resident candy provider.
And there to intone ancient threats learnt verbatim;
They lisp “TRICK OR TREAT!” Tis their stark ultimatum.
Thus: region by region such legions take plunder.
Does this spector-full spectacle cause you to wonder?
Just how did our fair festive forebears conceive,
Of this primeval practice called All Hallows Eve?
The answer, if anyone cares to research,
Surprises, it rises from old mother church.
On the cusp of the customary All Saints Day
The Christ-i-an kinsfolk made mocking display.
These children of light both to tease and deride;
Don darkness, doll down as the sinister side.
In pre-post-er-ous pageants and dress diabolic,
They hand to the damned just one final frolick.
You see with the light of the dawn on the morrow,
The sunrise will swallow such darkness and sorrow.
The future is futile for forces of evil;
And so they did scorn them in times Medieval.
For this is the nature of shadow and gloom;
In the gleaming of glory there can be no room.
What force is resourced by the echoing black?
When the brightness ignites can the shadow push back?
These ‘powers’ of darkness, if such can be called,
Are banished by brilliance, by blazing enthralled.
So the bible begins with this fore-resolved fight;
For a moment the darkness…. then “Let there be Light!”
First grief in the gloom, then joy from the East.
First valley of shadow, then mountaintop feast.
First wait for Messiah, then long-promised Dawn.
First desolate Friday and then Easter Morn.
The armies of darkness when doing their worst,
Can never extinguish this Dazzling Sunburst.
So… ridicule rogues if you must play a role;
But beware getting lost in that bottomless hole.
The triumph is not with the forces of night.
It dawned with the One who said “I am the Light!”
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
Define “Christian”. What does it mean? Shift your mind out of neutral for just a moment and think. What is the essence of Christianity? When the secondary issues are set aside, when the extra baggage is eliminated, when all the superficial junk so often associated with Christianity is done away, what is left? What does it mean to be a Christian? Define it in the purest, simplest, most basic and foundational terms.
I suspect that if we actually did that and you each turned in your answer on a piece of paper, we’d have an incredibly enlightening experience reading them aloud. More than enlightening, it might even in some cases prove shocking.
I ask this question of you simply because I believe Peter provides an answer in the passage before us. I have a theory about v. 8 of 1 Peter 1. I believe that what is being described here is quintessential Christianity. Don’t you just love that word: quintessential! Love it? Sam, I don’t even know how to spell it!
If you look it up in a dictionary, quintessential means “the pure and concentrated essence of a substance,” or “the most perfect embodiment of something.” So, what is quintessential Christianity?
Going to church? Tithing? Not getting drunk? Being baptized? Praying? Is that the purest and most concentrated essence of Christianity? Is that “the most perfect embodiment” of what it is to be a Christian? I certainly hope not. That’s not to say those things aren’t important, but there has to be something more basic and fundamental in being a Christian.
And Peter tells us what it is, right here in v. 8. Now, why do I say that? Where do I get off making such a grandiose claim? My justification for making this claim is the context in which v. 8 is found, more precisely, vv. 6-7. Let me explain.
The recipients of this epistle were enduring “various trials” (v. 6): persecution, oppression, slander, and affliction. One need only glance at 1 Peter 1:6; 2:20-21; 3:17; and especially 4:12-18 to see this is true. He makes it clear here in chapter one that our ability to rejoice simultaneously with the anguish of trials and troubles is based on several things.
Peter first reminds his readers of the duration of trials and suffering. He says in v. 6 that they are “for a little while.” In other words, they are temporary, not eternal. Trials and pain will pass. No matter how bad it gets here on earth (and yes, it can get incredibly bad), one day it will give way to the glory and pleasure of heaven (see 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Knowing the duration of trials and suffering gives us strength to endure without taking offence at God.
He then points, secondly, to the design of trials. In v. 7 he says that suffering works to purify our faith. His point is that God never wastes pain, and therefore neither should we. The trials and tribulations of this life serve to sanctify us and to conform us to the image of Jesus himself. 1 Peter 1:7 thus reminds me of two verses in Psalm 119.
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy word” (119:67).
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes” (119:71).
Such experiences have a unique capacity to highlight the differences between what is true and sincere in the heart of a person as over against what is false and hypocritical. They cause the genuine beauty of true spirituality to appear more clearly. Do you not find it to be true that when you suffer you either become embittered toward God or press into his heart more fervently? In other words, it’s really hard to be a hypocrite when you are hurting. Pain and suffering and hardship tend to expose the true state of your soul. They expose your heart and its affections and your faith for what they really are.
A close look at v. 7 indicates that Peter wants us to envision the parallels between the effect of fire on gold and that of trials on faith. His point is that just as fire burns away the dross and alloy from gold, leaving it pure and solid, so also the flames of trials and tests and oppression burn away the dross of our faith. Hypocrisy and superficiality and self-confidence and pride and reliance on money and achievement do not easily survive the flames of persecution and tribulation (see Psalm 66:10; Malachi 3:3; Isaiah 48:10).
If we follow the logic of Peter’s thought in vv. 6-7 we discover that v. 8 describes what is left of Christian faith that has passed through the furnace of afflictions. In other words, v. 8 is Peter’s portrayal of the end product of persecution and pain. This is Christian experience in its purest and most pristine form. This is quintessential faith, first-rate faith, faith that is as free as it can be, this side of heaven, of sinful additives and preservatives! Peter has no illusions of perfection, but he does envision a relationship with Jesus absent the peripheral elements. This, says Peter, is the very essence of authentic Christianity.
Let me illustrate what Peter means. Formulate a mental picture of a solid block of granite, untouched by human hands. When a master sculptor approaches such an object, he takes hammer and chisel and, in effect, begins to chip away everything that doesn’t look like a human. He cuts, hammers, and pounds away until the finished product stands before us in all its glory. In a sense, that’s what God does with us through our trials and oppressive circumstances. He uses them like a spiritual hammer and chisel to chip away from our lives everything that doesn’t look like Jesus! The result is what Peter describes in 1 Peter 1:8.
Or consider the athlete who fails to maintain a strict training regimen. He becomes a couch-potato, eating and drinking and refusing to exercise. Over time his muscles suffer from atrophy. He gains excessive weight. His reflexes aren’t as sharp as they used to be and his lung capacity is greatly reduced. When he runs (if he ever gets off the couch), his legs feel heavy and lifeless. Then he recommits himself to a rigorous exercise program. Over the next few weeks he burns away body fat and strengthens his muscles. His endurance level increases and he returns to his former shape. The result is a finely honed body, ready for competition. The physical effect of exercise on his body is analogous to the spiritual effect of trials on our faith.
So what am I saying? Simply that 1 Peter 1:8 portrays for us what Christian faith looks like when refined and shaped and purified by the fire of hardship and tribulation. Here is Christian faith in its preeminent expression. And of what does it consist?
What is quintessential Christianity? Loving Jesus. Trusting Jesus. Enjoying Jesus.
Jesus never apologized for getting on the inside with outsiders. It was his mission. What kind of doctor refuses to see patients? What kind of farmer refuses to get his hands dirty? What kind of church has no place for sinners?
People reviled Jesus. They called him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Have you ever been called names like this? Have I? Do we fear contamination from the world more than we have confidence in Christ’s power to cleanse?
Of course, I’m not encouraging people with drinking problems to go hang out in bars. I don’t expect new Christians to keep all their same friends who lead them into the same temptations. I’m not saying that if you really want to be relevant you have to watch sleazy movies so you can talk about them with the sinners in our lives. We need to use wisdom.
And we also need guts. We must not think of relationships with non-Christians primarily as dangers but as opportunities. Do we go out into the world hoping for conversion or expecting contamination?
Greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). Do we believe that?
The gospel–if we are talking about the true gospel–works through repentance and relationships. We need both. Jesus had relationships with sinners and tax collectors. And through those relationships what did he call them to do? He didn’t say call them to self-expression, or invite them to despise religious people, or summon them to eat, drink, and be merry (in our language: eat, drink, and be tolerant). He called them to repentance. One commentator says, “Jesus neither condoned sin, left people in their sin, nor communicated any disdain for sinners.” Jesus was not passive, just waiting for people to get their act together. And neither was he passive about confronting sin.
No one in the history of the world has been more inclusive of the broken hearted than Jesus. And no one has been more intolerant of the impenitent. A friend of sinners and no friend of sin.
In his booklet, Leadership: How to Guide Others with Integrity, Stephen Viars asks these instructive, recalibrating questions:
- Do people understand more of God’s mercy because of the way I respond to their mistakes?
- Do people understand more of God’s holiness because of my high ethical standards?
- Do people understand more of God’s patience because of the time I give to grow and develop?
- Do people understand more of God’s truthfulness because of the way I communicate honestly?
- Do people understand more of God’s faithfulness because they see me keep my promises?
- Do people understand more of God’s kindness because of the tone of my voice?
- Do people understand more of God’s love because I go out of my way to help and serve them as I lead?
- Do people understand more of God’s grace because I avoid being harsh and unreasonably demanding?
To what extent does my leadership actually model and teach something about the character of God?
(HT: Justin Taylor)