Christ At The Center Of Christmas


Whatever else Christmas once meant in another culture at a different time, and no matter what it means to those today who don’t know Jesus, the reality is, He has made such a big impact on the world that there’s hardly a place that doesn’t acknowledge His birth at Christmas.

In truth, His coming changed the world. We are right to give Him praise.

Great is the LORD and highly to be praised,
And His greatness is unsearchable. (Psalm 145:3)

For He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1Peter 1:20-21)

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20)

May God richly bless you this Christmas.

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Published in: on December 25, 2017 at 5:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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God Started It – Reprise


Nativity_Scenes004When I was growing up, my brother, sister, and I had . . . disagreements from time to time. We squabbled about silly things—whose turn it was to do the dishes, who got to sit in the front seat of the car (or if Mom and Dad said we all had to sit in the back, who got the window seats), what TV program to watch, who got the Sunday funnies first, who got to sit where at the dinner table—silly things.

Inevitably our disagreements would escalate, and Mom or Dad would intervene, scolding whoever had caught their attention. Just as sure was the response from whichever one of us was in the hot seat: But he started it! Or she. We were not the instigator. Ever. At least as we saw things.

In truth, there is one time when in fact that line is true. When it comes to our relating to God, He started it.

In the grandest scheme of things, of course, He started it because He started everything! But specifically in relating to Humankind after the first man and the first woman turned away from Him, He started it. And on a personal level, with me, He started it.

The grand scheme refers to the cosmos. God created. The specific dealing with humanity refers to God’s plan of salvation—sending His Son as the sacrifice to expiate our sins. The personal refers to His work to bring me to Himself.

At no time did I or anyone else initiate with God.

He started everything by making Man in His image, after His likeness. Like any child, Adam was helpless when it came to deciding what color hair he’d have or how tall he’d be or how smart he was. He didn’t decide to be like God, with a will and emotions, with the capacity to create and to communicate. It was God who wanted us to be like Him, and so He made us.

It was also God who loved the world, who determined to love us while we were yet sinners, who chose to express His love by His actions. He gave His Son, and His Son died that He might cancel out the certificate of debt we each owed.

And speaking of “each,” God chose me, called me, rescued me. It’s very personal—not some generic salvation, as if he tossed his net into the sea of humanity and scooped up the ones who couldn’t get away, so I was caught along with a myriad of others.

The point is, I wouldn’t be here, there wouldn’t be a Church of which I am a part, and I wouldn’t be His child if it weren’t for the fact that God started it. John said it plainly in his first letter: “We love Him, because He first loved us” (KJV, 1 John 4:19).

Paul spelled out God’s initiating activity more fully. First our condition:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Eph. 2:1-3)

Pretty hopeless—if God didn’t enter the picture. There was no way for dead people to be made alive without a miracle. There’s no way for sons of disobedience to become righteous and holy, apart from God transforming our lives. There was no way for children of wrath to become children of peace and reconciliation except by the power of God to cause us to be born again.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:4-10, emphasis added)

Love is the fourth and final quality our church is emphasizing as part of the Advent season, and certainly love seems to be a part of Christmas. We are reminded of the love of our families—some traveling many miles in order to have a few days together with loved ones; most spend hundreds of dollars and precious hours shopping in order to give gifts to those we love.

We even include a “love” tradition—the hanging of mistletoe—as part of our Christmas celebration. And the holidays aren’t complete without at least one Christmas romantic comedy or classic story with romance.

Then when we look at the events of that first Christmas, we’re aware of Mary’s love for her newborn child, of Joseph’s love for his little family, of the wisemen’s love and devotion that took them far from home to worship the king.

But none of it would have happened if God hadn’t started it. He formulated the plan before the foundations of the earth, Peter said:

you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18b-20)

And Paul verifies the plan:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:4-6).

There was no salvation until the kindness of God and His love for mankind appeared. There were no deeds we could do to earn a righteous standing with God. The great change from dead men walking to alive in Christ came because God started it. And He did so as an expression of His great love.

This post first appeared here in December 2014.

Published in: on December 19, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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God Come Down-Reprise


This article, excluding a few revisions, first appeared here in December 2010.

On Sunday, the USA Weekend magazine that comes with my newspaper splashed the word GOD across the front cover. The lead article was “How Americans Imagine God.”

I have a problem right there. God is not formed by our imagination. Consequently, what person A “imagines” about God has no relevance whatsoever as a means of actually knowing Him.

I could say that I imagine the core of the earth is stuffed with daisies, but that would not make it so.

Oh, but someone may say, scientists know about the core of the earth. They’ve done science to prove that it’s most certainly not filled with daisies. However, no one can know about God, so we have to imagine him.

Actually, we can know about God more certainly than we can about the core of the earth. That’s where Christmas comes in. Yes, this actually is a Christmas post.

The whole point and purpose of the first Christmas was God coming to us, like us, so we can know Him.

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; … And His name will be called … Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6).

Paul explained in Philippians 2 that Jesus, who existed in the form of God, “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men.”

Then in 2 Corinthians 4:4 he said “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (emphasis mine).

Not your typical Christmas verses, I realize (except perhaps Isaiah 9:6). But here’s the point. Jesus—God Himself—came to earth that we might know Him.

He walked the roads that other men and women walked, debated Scripture with scholars, touched and healed beggars and blind men, preached to crowds of thousands and counseled a single woman. He shared Passover with His followers and blessed a number of little children.

In other words, He didn’t live His life incognito. He rubbed shoulders with people of all economic and social strata and was open about Who He was.

So there were eye witnesses who talked with God, face to face, because they talked with Christ. Some of these eye witnesses, then turned around and wrote down what they had experienced, so the rest of us have their eye witness accounts of some of the more memorable words and acts of God Incarnate.

Let me ask you. Of late have you talked to anyone who has visited the core of the earth?

Me either.

Yet we Americans are so sure of what’s at the core of the earth, but we can only imagine God. I find that ironic and sad.

In reality, we can know God through Christ. Not all there is to know about Him, certainly. But we can know Him.

Someone who says they imagine God is this, that, or the other, is missing out on a real relationship with a real person. We can’t change Him by what we wish Him to be. He is who He is, and He hasn’t kept His identity a secret.

Published in: on December 14, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Trappings Of Christmas


I love Christmas decorations. I love the lights in particular, but I love wreaths and mistletoe, presents under decorated trees, bells, and candy canes, manger scenes, all of it. I even like Santa and his reindeer, the elves, too, and Frosty, to a lesser degree. I’m not sure how Snoopy has insinuated himself into Christmas, but he has. I don’t hate him there. Or the Grinch.

What I’m not so crazy about is the need some people seem to have to find or create a Christian meaning behind every bit of tradition. The Christmas tree, for instance, can remind us of a cross because it’s made of wood, and because the cross provides life, which the evergreen tree suggests. Couldn’t it just be a pretty tree decorated with lights and ornaments?

The funny thing is, I love symbols. I love them. So when Jesus said He is the Light of the world, I think the metaphor speaks volumes. When He said He’s the door to the sheepfold or the Good Shepherd or Living Water or the Vine, the Bridegroom, even the Temple, I think there’s so much to discover and to think about with each comparison, I never tire studying them.

And of course I love fantasy, which is pretty much one gigantic symbol of the inner workings of the human heart.

So what’s my problem with the Christian explanation of the Christmas traditions?

Well, I said it, didn’t I. I have a problem with the “explanations.” If a symbol works, it doesn’t really need to be explained. It stands on its own. But if someone explains a symbol, it reduces it somehow. It becomes a thing more than a concept, an idea, an event.

At the same time things are occasionally just those things. Not every frog is a prince. Sometimes a frog is just a frog. And sometimes a bit of holly garland is just a nice decoration to liven up a room, to add a bit of festive.

But maybe that’s just me. I personally like the fun things of Christmas—the stuff that makes little kids squeal with delight. I remember trying to memorize ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas when I was a kid. I remember wanting and wishing and hoping for snow. I remember the year someone gave us an Advent calendar and we got to open one of the little windows each day in December. I remember trying to stay up until midnight to see if Santa Claus would really show up and drink the milk and eat the graham crackers we left for him. I remember hanging stockings and waking up as early as I could to come into the living room Christmas morning.

These were fun things. And anticipating the fun the other 364 days only enhanced the joy. Every time a Christmas song came on the radio, the anticipation ramped up.

I’m pretty sure that if I were still a kid, all the same fun and anticipation and joy would be there as part of Christmas.

But now, as an adult, I have a deeper joy, a greater anticipation, not of Christmas morning, but of Christ. I know now what Christmas means. Not because someone has explained the red and white stripes of the candy cane or taken away all the Santa things that “compete with Jesus.”

I don’t worship Santa. I know he’s pretend. I know that Christmas Day came into being as a way to counter pagan celebrations. I realize no one knows the actual date of Christ’s birth.

But so what?

So what that we have fun on Christmas and so what that we celebrate Jesus’s birthday without knowing when it really occurred?

The important thing at Christmas, as far as I’m concerned, is this: God gave us His Son and made a miraculous announcement of his birth to a group of lowly angels. Before they even saw the sign which the angels told them would verify this Child’s birth, they said, Let’s go see this thing that’s happened. They didn’t need any more explanation. They only needed to believe the announcement: For today there has been born for you in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

That’s the story of Christmas, right there.

The fun things, are just fun, and we can take or leave them. But shepherds saying yes to God’s message, that’s the symbol that ought not be explained, that means what it means and more. That is filled with a wealth of truth that we can study all our lifetime and never reach an end to the richness of what occurred.

Published in: on December 12, 2017 at 5:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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God And The Impossible


At Christmas, it’s more common to talk about Jesus as a little baby, as the Incarnate Christ who came to humble living circumstances, even noting that putting on flesh was perhaps the most humble of circumstances that He faced. But all the while, we kind of forget that Jesus, as God, rules and reigns supreme.

One of the mysteries of the trinity is Christ’s “dual identity.” He is God and He is a baby in a manger, wrapped up in cloths, and in all likelihood, fast asleep when a group of shepherds stop by.

How can this be?

Well, the Trinity, Christ’s divinity, are not the first hard things that confront us mortals. There’s prayer and how it “works,” free will and how it co-exists with God’s sovereignty, creation and the whole idea of speaking everything into existence from nothing.

Atheists often think Christians are fools, as if we don’t see the difficulty in these beliefs. Ironically many atheists also claim that Christianity came out of the imagination of some humans who simply made it all up.

Made it up?! Who would think up some idea of Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit actually being One? Crazy talk. Anybody who can count can read that sentence and arrive at three, not one. But no. The Bible is clear. Jesus said He and the Father are One.

And the God-Man thing? Really? Jesus had two natures? Well, no, but kind of, yes. So He had a split nature? Definitely no. Then what? Well, all God and all man, but not two. Uh, the math isn’t adding up again.

This makes no logical sense, the atheist says. Which does call into question the idea that some finite mortal dreamed it up. Wouldn’t it seem more likely that if someone was coming up with a new religion, they make it seem clear and reasonable and easy to grasp? That’s what I’d do.

But instead we have a God who is both just and merciful, Judge and Savior, King and carpenter. How can this be?

There’s really only one way. All these claims can only be true if God is more than we are. If He is transcendent. If He can do the impossible.

And as it happens, that’s precisely what the Bible says about Him. The statement comes as part of the pre-Christmas story.

An angel appeared to the not-yet-married young girl living in Nazareth to tell her that she was going to have a baby, that this boy “will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Just one problem, Mary said. I’m a virgin. She was not some dumb brunette, that one. She understood all about how babies were made.

No worries, the angel responded. God’s power is at work here. And just so you know, your cousin Elizabeth, who is barren, who is past childbearing years, she’s pregnant. Has been for six months. Because, you see, Mary, “nothing will be impossible with God.”

So, if nothing is impossible with God, what in the Bible does not make perfect sense? A cataclysmic world wide flood? Yes, God can do that. Stopping a river and making a dry path to the other side? God can do that too. Closing the mouths of hungry lions? Yes, that’s on the list of impossible that God can do.

If nothing will be impossible with God, the most logical position to take is that some impossible things are going to take place.

Mary got that right away. Her response was, I’m God’s servant. I’ll do whatever you say. She accepted the impossible. She wasn’t pinching herself or trying to wake up. She wasn’t questioning what bit of bad cheese had she eaten the night before.

Granted, later she would have her moments of uncertainty when Jesus began His public ministry, but there, before His birth, she knew—God’s in charge, and I’m not. His ways are not my ways. And I’m not going to pretend mine are better. Because He, not I, can do the impossible.

Published in: on December 7, 2017 at 5:08 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven – Reprise


christmas-family-07-674069-mChristmas can be hard for some people because of who they so recently lost. A husband died of brain cancer this year. This will be his wife’s first Christmas without him. Another wife lost her husband of 62 years right when she thought he was on the mend and would be home soon. A sister’s older brother died. A friend’s aunt passed away.

I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.

The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.

There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.

And it is.

But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here.

Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.

The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.

If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.

The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.

The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.

Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.

Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.

In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the generosity, the creativity, the activity–none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.

Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.

One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And that is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmas time, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas.

We of all people have the joy of looking forward, beyond the temporary merryness of the season, to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

This article first appeared here in December 2013.

Published in: on December 6, 2017 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More About Jesus


Nativity_Scenes015As I’ve said, at Christmas time it’s appropriate to ask who Jesus is since the day set aside to commemorate His birth has become such a big deal.

Some undoubtedly don’t think past the manger scene. To them Jesus was, is, and always will be that infant wrapped up and lying amid a bunch of animals. The thing is, the baby didn’t stay in the manger any more than the man stayed on the cross or the resurrected Christ stayed in the tomb.

Others have re-imaged Jesus to be a good teacher. Sort of a Hebrew Gandhi, I think, one of the gurus who gave us quotables and an example to follow. This view is similar to the one held by a certain rich member of the Jewish ruling class who sought Jesus out.

In his exchange with Jesus, the young guy addressed Him as “good teacher.” In Jesus’s response, He separated Himself from all other teachers or examples. It defines who He is: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”

The young ruler immediately dropped the “good.”

Quite apparently he did not think Jesus was God. Otherwise he might have answered something like, “I understand completely that no one is good except God alone. Good teacher, what must I do to be saved?”

Instead he said, “Teacher, I have kept all these things [the Law] from my youth up.” In other words, he did not acknowledge Jesus as God. In addition, he did not acknowledge his need. I’m not sure what he expected … an “atta boy,” maybe, a “keep on keeping on.” I don’t know.

In so many ways that Jewish law-keeper is like people today who identify with Jesus but who don’t realize He is God. Some have “re-imaged” him, describing all the things he did and said that fit in with 21st century sensibilities of love and brotherhood and tolerance.

What they do not look at or acknowledge are the “God things” Jesus did and said. And here I’m not referring to the many kind and seemingly miraculous interventions Christians experience today. (A good number of people have come to call such occurrences, “God things.”)

I’m actually thinking of something quite different. I’m thinking of the things Jesus said that ticked off the Jewish establishment. The things He did that made them ask, Who does he think he is?

Things like healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, or telling the paralytic his sins were forgiven, then to pick up his bed and walk–also on the Sabbath. Or how about the time when His disciples picked grain on the Sabbath because they were hungry. When the Pharisees confronted Jesus, He gave them a Bible lesson, ending with this:

“Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt 12:5-8; emphasis is mine)

The big one that got the Jews worked up, of course, was His God claims. John records one of these:

“I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” (John 10:30-33)

Then, too, they didn’t like it much when He told them that they were of their father the devil. In that conversation, Jesus ended with another statement identifying Himself as God, and sure enough, they tried to kill Him on the spot.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:58-59)

I don’t know how people today who imagine this metro-sexual Jesus with the cool sandals and trendy long hair have missed the controversy the real Jesus brought. To His family. To the Jewish people. To the world.

He said there will be a day of sorting–sheep on one side, goats on the other. He said there is a narrow road leading to life and a wide road heading to destruction. He said guests at the bridegroom’s feast will be turned away if they’re not wearing the proper wedding garments.

And in the end, He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” That’s who Jesus is.

A version of this article originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction December, 2010, then again December, 2013.

Published in: on December 4, 2017 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Name Above All Names – Reprise


christmas-star-1430243-mIt’s Christmas season, and I want to take some time to think about the person at the center of it all. Of course I can hardly think of Christmas without thinking of Christmas music. One song, not particularly known as a Christmas carol, came to mind immediately:

Jesus, name above all names
Beautiful Savior, glorious Lord.
Emmanuel, God is with us.
Blessed Redeemer, Living word.

But then the question: Why is Jesus’s name above all names?

The quick and easy answer is that Jesus is above all others—both in the heavens and on earth. This, of course, is true. But what precisely does “above all others” mean?

Clearly Jesus is not “#1” the way sports teams are or hit songs or bestselling books or box office hits. MVPs or highest grossing movies are at the top only until another MVP is chosen or another movie earns more money. Their rating is tenuous at best.

There’s nothing tenuous about Jesus being the name above all names. His position at the top is for all time. He will not be supplanted by another, by someone greater who will take away His title. His greatness is permanent.

Another thing that puts Jesus’s name above all other names is that at the name of our soon and coming King, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Phil. 2:10). Those in the heavens and on earth and under the earth will recognize His authority, even those who have denied Him, hated Him, or rebelled against Him in the past. That’s not to say they will change their tune and embrace Him with love and acceptance, but they will not be able to ignore His place as ruler of all. So He holds a role that sets Him above all others.

Thirdly, He cares like no other. Some might die to save a friend or risk their life to save a stranger, but Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, while we were walking away from Him, even while we were spitting in His face. He, the just, died so that He might bring the unjust to God (1 Peter 3:18).

This relationship Jesus makes possible brings up another way in which He is above all others: Jesus forgives. All other gods or world systems are built upon Humankind’s striving to do good, to be better. Only Jesus takes us as we are. We don’t need to clean up for Him. He’ll take care of the clean-up in time, just as He takes care of the welcome as we run into His open arms (Col. 2:6). It is by Jesus’s grace, not my efforts, that I am His child (Eph. 2:8-9).

“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:4-5a).

Jesus is also like no other because He is God, come down, and He is Man, resurrected and ascended. He is not a hybrid but is a miraculous one-of-a-kind.

Which reminds me. Some claim Jesus is the first of His “spirit brothers,” as if He is just like us, only better. There’s some truth to this idea, but a lot of untruth. Jesus is eternal. He didn’t have a beginning. He’s not created. He is the Creator because uniquely He and His Father and the Holy Spirit are One. Not simply one in purpose or some spiritualized meaning. God is One, not three. He is a Tri-unity. Jesus is a Person of this Triune God. Not “part” of God. There is no “part.” Jesus is God. The exact representation, Deity in bodily form.

Some also use Jesus’s name as if it were magic. They want to speak His name and get whatever they want just as surely as if they’d waved a magic wand or made the thing appear with some incantation. It’s a travesty at best. The idea of reducing Jesus to wait staff is despicable as well as misguided.

Jesus loves to give good gifts to His children. James tells us that all good gifts are from above (1:17). And Jesus has told us to ask whatever we will, in His name. But that doesn’t mean He is therefore forced to give us whatever we decide we want.

Like any good father would, He will not hand us something dangerous—spiritually dangerous—just because we ask. He disciplines us and sometimes ignores our requests because, as James explains, we ask with wrong motives (4:3).

One last point. Jesus is above all others because He has triumphed over the grave, and over sin which brought death into being. No other person or god or world system can offer us newness of life. Newness. Not the reincarnationist’s belief in a recycling of life here on this dying planet. Not some spirit existence in the great Other in which we lose our personhood.

Jesus has conquered and will conquer, and in doing so, He has made us new creatures. He sees us as righteous and will clothe us with His righteousness. He is preparing a place for us and will raise us up in newness of life to live with Him there. Not to live and die once again. To live.

His promises are unique and sure—because He’s gone before to show us how it’s done.

Jesus, name above all names, because the baby who bore that name is in fact the Person who is above all others.

Apart from some revision, this article first appeared here in December 2013.

God In The Flesh


Why does it matter that God came down to earth in the form of Man? That event, after all, is what Christmas celebrates. But why the big deal? Was it really necessary? I mean, couldn’t God forgive sins without coming to earth in bodily form?

These kinds of questions are a little mind-boggling because we are presuming to know why God did what He did. But here are a few things that Scripture tells us.

First, Jesus made it clear that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father. In other words, by coming to earth, Jesus answered, for all time, the question of whether or not God existed. Not that people were atheists all those years ago. They weren’t. But God knew what the mind of twenty-first century humans would be dealing with, so He answered the question before anyone posited it.

Jesus also came in the flesh to teach. That’s what He told His disciples. Yes, He healed the sick, but they would get sick another day. Yes, He fed the hungry, but their hunger would return. Yes, He raised more than one dead person, but alas, they would face death again some day. While Jesus used His time on earth to do these other awesome things, He plainly told those who hung with Him that His mission was to preach.

He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” (Mark 1:38)

What exactly did He preach? I think it can be summed up in His answer to the question, What is the greatest command? Love God, He said. And the next command is like it: love your neighbor.

Jesus used a lot of stories to illustrate what He was saying—a landowner and his servants, a woman and a lost coin, a father and his two sons, a man left for dead by a bunch of robbers, an unjust judge, and on and on. Each of these in some way were illustrations of His two-pronged message. What did it look like to love God, or the opposite? What did it look like to love your neighbor, or not?

But Jesus didn’t merely teach. He also lived a pure and holy and sinless life. He did what no man had done before. He resisted temptation. He said no to Satan, to the world system, to desires of the flesh that would take Him into sin. His greatest temptation, of course, was to use His power to save Himself at the cross instead of saving sinners. But this too He resisted.

And of course that’s the ultimate reason Jesus came in the form of Man. He came to save the lost. He came to be the offering that would bring an end to the need for offerings. He came to condemn sin and to be the means by which we can sit at the heavenly banqueting table.

I can imagine Jesus as the honored guest and those of us who follow Him arriving for the great party. Do you have an invitation? we’ll be asked. Don’t need one. Jesus invited me personally. I’m with Him.

In short, Jesus came to be the mediator which makes friendship with God possible. Without Jesus, what are we left with? Idols. Atheism. Humanism. Nothing of substance. Nothing eternal. But because Jesus came we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.

Published in: on November 30, 2017 at 5:52 pm  Comments (14)  
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The Constancy Of Christ


Of all the things we talk about at Christmas, my guess is that the constancy of God is not high on the list. But maybe it should be.

First, what do I mean by “constancy”? Nothing tricky. I’m not trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat here. I mean just what the good ol’ Oxford American Dictionary has to say about the word: “the quality of being faithful and dependable.
• the quality of being enduring and unchanging”

Second, we need to understand who we’re talking about. “Christ” is another word for “Messiah,” the one promised by God. And in fact, Jesus and His followers identified Him as the Christ. But more than that, they proclaimed Him to be the Son of God. And more. They stated that He “existed in the form of God,” that in Him “all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form,” that He “is the head over all rule and authority.”

We could write it like this: Messiah=Christ=Jesus=Son of God=God. Consequently, in declaring the constancy of Christ, it’s really another way of saying the constancy of God.

God, though a triune being, is One in purpose, One in essence, One in nature. In other words, we can’t divide God and say, well, the Father is like xyz but the Son is like abc. No. Jesus Himself stipulated, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.

There are several reasons why the constancy of Christ matters. First, some “progressive Christians” and atheists claim that the God of the Old Testament was all kinds of evil things: misogynist, genocidal, selfish, and more. But Jesus, they say, was better. The supposed Christians imagine that God learned from His mistakes, or that the writers of the Old Testament got it wrong, or some other inane explanation. Because, you see, they like Jesus; they just can’t stomach His Father.

Enter the constancy of Christ.

“Jesus is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). What God reveals about Himself in the Old Testament is true about Jesus and what Jesus said about Himself in the New Testament is true about the Father. There is no “good cop, bad cop” here.

Here’s the important point: Jesus self-identifies in John 10 as “the good shepherd.” Good. He doesn’t do evil. In fact, James says, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (1:13b) and, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (1:17).

In other words, God is all about good. He’s also holy and pure, spotless and unblemished. All that adds up to the fact that God isn’t anything like the description put out by those who oppose Him or who criticize Him.

The problem largely stems from God’s authority and His sovereignty and His omniscience. These are traits His opponents don’t recognize. Instead, they want to be the ones in charge, and they want to depend on their own finite knowledge. Consequently, they want to judge God. They want to determine that the people who died in the flood, for instance, were innocent, and not the guilty, wayward, wicked people the Bible describes.

More than that, they want to deny the fact that “the wages of sin is death” and that “there is none righteous, no not one.” This is somehow a horrible thing to tell people, even though the nightly news confers the truth of it, and as yet no one in modern times has escaped death.

Ironically I had a crisis of doubt in my life when I was in my 30s or so, and it centered on the goodness of God. I looked around at the things that were going on in the world, in the lives of people close to me, and I asked, right out loud, “Are you good, God? Are you really good?”

All this came to a head when I drove past a convalescent hospital where an old woman sat on the sidewalk out front, alone in a wheelchair.

God didn’t tell me that of course He was good, how could I ask such a thing. He didn’t bring Scripture to mind that told me He was good. Instead, He spoke into my spirit: “You think you’re sad about these hurting people? I know each one by name.”

In other words, because God is good, the evil and pain and suffering of this world grieves His heart. Sin did this, not God. Sin made a mess of the world, not God. Sin brings retribution down on those who run from God.

And that’s precisely what we can see in Jesus:

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Jesus didn’t bring judgment because that was already in place—the wages of sin didn’t start when Jesus showed up. It’s right there in the genealogy of Genesis 5:

So . . . Adam lived . . ., and he died. Seth lived . . ., and he died. Enosh lived . . ., and he died. Kenan lived . . ., and he died. Mahalalel lived . . ., and he died. Jared lived . . ., and he died.

On it goes with the exception of Enoch, demonstrating the truth about sin. It leads to death.

But Jesus came to set us free from the “slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” He did this because He is good, He is love, He is merciful, He is compassionate, He is kind.

“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us.”

And here’s the startling fact: salvation was something God planned before the foundation of the world.

So, no, He hasn’t changed. And Jesus isn’t a different iteration of the Father. In fact, we can count on the constancy of Christ.

Published in: on November 29, 2017 at 6:08 pm  Comments (28)  
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