God Incarnate


Nativity_Scenes015

“And I will put enmity
Between you [the serpent] and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Rev. 12:9)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus, not just because Christmas is approaching, though there is that, but also because on the Facebook atheist/theist group I visit from time to time, something came up about pretend Santa and “pretend Jesus.”

Jesus is not pretend, though it’s become more and more popular for atheists to say He wasn’t. However, there’s a great deal of scholarship that makes this fact clear—more even than I realized. If you’d like some specifics on that, listen to Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace discuss the subject.

But the fact that Jesus lived doesn’t of itself mean that everything else Christians believe, is true. The central point of the Good News is that Jesus, God’s Son, is the Seed God referred to in Genesis, Who will bruise the head of Satan. He did that by taking the form of sinful man, though He Himself knew no sin, and by bearing the punishment—death—which humankind earned. In the perfect triumphal twist, He rose from the dead, and will return at some unknown future time to claim His rightful throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

So. A lot going on as far as what Christians believe about Jesus. Was He a real person? Yes. Is He the Son of God? The Gospels say He is and the rest of Scripture confirms it, but they also say He IS God.

Both facts are true.

So is the fact that Jesus wasn’t pretending to be a man. He actually was a man. He ate and drank, cried, got tired, slept, wept, and ultimately died.

So God, but also man.

As if those claims weren’t hard enough of themselves, throw in the fact that Jesus’s mother was a virgin at the time she birthed Him.

Anyone who dismisses the supernatural must freak out at Christmas time because of all the outside-the-box facts about Jesus. Add in the angelic announcements—to Mary that she was going to have a baby, to Joseph that he should still take Mary as his wife, even though she was pregnant, to the shepherds that the Messiah was born that very day—and the star that served as a heavenly sign declaring the birth of a King in Judea, and there’s a lot of supernatural activity connected to the birth of Jesus.

The thing that seems so obvious but so overlooked is that all these claims could so easily have been debunked if they weren’t true. Take pregnant Mary, for example. If some guy had slept with her, how hard would it have been to disprove the idea that she was a virgin.

But say he had personal reasons for keeping his indiscretion to himself, what about the shepherds and their claim to have seen angels? How else could their decision to leave their flocks be explained? Or that they “just happened” upon a baby in a manger, as they’d been told?

What about their story made people believe them? And if they didn’t believe the lowly shepherds, why wouldn’t they come forward and expose this band of frauds? If someone else made up the story about them, why didn’t they stand up and clear their name?

Well, of course, none of this was written down until years after the fact, someone could argue. But without doubt the account of Jesus’s birth was not new information when the gospels came into being. Luke, for example, who wrote one of the two birth narratives said he investigated carefully in order to compile an account “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2)

The implication is that people who knew what happened were still talking about what they’d seen and heard at the time of Luke’s investigation.

The more I dialogue with people who reject God and Jesus and the Bible, the more I realize that what we believe is dependent upon who we trust. Atheists trust “the scientists” and Christians trust the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the people who have also come to faith in Christ.

The odd thing is, Christians don’t dismiss science as not true. In fact, many Christians played significant roles in advancing our scientific understanding. We trust science, but we trust the Bible more.

Atheists, on the other hand, have no place in their understanding for the supernatural. They don’t believe it exists because it’s beyond their scope of study. They’ll all believe in DNA and genome sequencing and black holes and the god particle, however. Not because they’ve seen any of those things but because someone else they trust says those exist and are real.

I’ve had discussions with atheists on line before, who say, If God really exists, why doesn’t He simply show Himself—end of discussion. But the fact is, He has shown Himself. And the very people He came to, did not believe Him. In fact they tried more than once to kill Him because He claimed to be God.

I have to admit, I’m baffled by unbelief. Christianity makes sense of so much. The one problem, the only real problem, is whether or not God exists as He says He does. The only way God can “prove Himself” is by revealing Himself. He has done so in as many ways as possible, culminating in His incarnation—He took on flesh to live among us that we might know Him.

Christmas provides we who believe in God Come Down the opportunity to explain what all the ruckus about the birth of a Jewish baby over 2000 years ago is all about.

Published in: on December 15, 2016 at 7:23 pm  Comments Off on God Incarnate  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Son, the Child


Christmas presentsI confess that there have been years when I feel a little jaded about Christmas. No, not because of the commercialization of it all, though I’ve had years like that, too. More it has to do with hearing Christmas sermons that seem … less than enlightening.

I suppose some pastors do struggle with what to say five or ten years into their ministry when they’ve already delivered messages about the shepherds, the angels, the wisemen, the innkeeper, Joseph, Mary. What’s left?

Well, the Son is, and it seems to me there is limitless material for sermons about Jesus Christ. I have to say, I’ve had years when my former pastors hit homeruns with their special Christmas series. I’m thinking of one particular year when his sermons were timely, Christ centered, enlightening, Biblical. Good, good stuff.

But one of the new insights I gained some years ago came from a sermon I heard on the radio, delivered by Alister Begg (Truth for Life). The particular message came from a series based on the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9:

The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light …
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

A familiar passage, to be sure, not unusual for a Christmas time sermon or series. So what new thing did I learn? Not a new thing, really, but something I didn’t realize this passage upholds.

It has to do with the line, For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us. I’ve always looked at that as an example of Jewish poetic redundancy (also known by it’s actual name, parallelism), something you often see in the Psalms and in Proverbs (ie, “Do not let kindness and truth leave you/Bind them around your neck”).

But here’s the point I was reminded of: When God inspired the writers of Scripture, He delivered exactly the words He wanted that would communicate truth, nuanced truth that allows us to uncover layers and layers and layers of His revelation throughout our whole lives.

In the verse above Pastor Begg pointed out that Scripture does not say, “For a Son will be born to us, a child will be given.” The Son is preexistent. He was with the Father in the beginning. He was not born that first Christmas day. But a Child was—God incarnate, the Son, come down.

A small word order, but it carries a wonderful truth!

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in December 2008, when I used to write short posts. 😉

Published in: on December 5, 2016 at 7:03 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , ,

Signs And Wonders


Feeding_the_5000009God is powerful and does amazing things, never more clearly demonstrated than when He sent Jesus, God incarnate, to live on Earth with those He created. God’s greatest feat, yet the one that a great many people deny. This miracle is the line of demarcation that divides humanity.

The thing is, Jesus came with proof.

Recently as I read the book of John, I noted how many times that gospel referred to the signs Jesus did. And yet, do you know what the Pharisees asked for as proof He was the Messiah? Yep, signs.

As I look at it, Satan seems to be most concerned with calling into question Jesus’s identity. I’ve studied and analyzed the record we have of those three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, comparing them to the classifications of sin mentioned in 1 John (“the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life,” – 2:16), and to the specific doubts Satan stirred in Eve (“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” – Gen. 3:6, emphasis mine).

But more recently I began to see these temptations as a direct challenge by Satan demanding that Jesus prove His deity—(“If you are the Son of God…,” “If you are the Son of God …,” and then turning it on its head, “If you worship me…”) This “prove it” demand was the same one the Pharisees hounded Him for, all the way to the end. Even as He hung on the cross, they were saying, If you’re the Christ, get yourself down from there.

The real issue with Jesus throughout history is whether He is who He said He is.

Toward the end of his gospel, John gave a clear statement of his purpose for writing—an explanation for his preoccupation with signs:

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

John also recorded Jesus’s own statement about the witnesses He had. In the Jewish context no fact was established without two or three witnesses. Jesus came in with three several times, one being the signs and wonders He performed—things like feeding the five thousand from a few loaves and fish or walking on water, healing a blind man and raising a child from the dead.

The point is this. The signs and wonders in Jesus’s day had a specific purpose. They established His identity.

They also served a definite purpose in the early Church—they established the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. First in the disciples, then in the other Jewish converts, and later in the Gentile believers.

So what about signs and wonders today?

I have no doubt God can do signs and wonders today. He can multiply bread, move mountains, heal the blind, raise the dead. He is still God, after all.

But what’s the point?

Part of me thinks, Well, need, for one thing. There are people who need food and who can’t see and who have died. But just like the fact that Jesus didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom, He didn’t come to set up a utopia either. All the people Jesus healed eventually died of some other cause. They didn’t stay cured. Not physically, anyway.

The signs and wonders, though, point to the real reason Jesus came. He conquered death. He defeated sin. He triumphed over Satan. His signs and wonders were the precursor to the ultimate victory He enjoyed, breaking the bonds of sin and establishing the Way to reconciliation with the Father.

Signs and wonders are not the gift. A magician named Simon discovered that. He of all people, who presumably had trafficked in the dark arts, was amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit, released when the apostles laid hands on people. Simon wanted that power.

But it wasn’t for sale. The power was nothing more than the evidence of that which Simon could have–the indwelling Holy Spirit who would seal him for salvation.

Signs and wonders? They aren’t the big thing. They are merely the evidence of He who is Bigger, Grander, Mightier than we can imagine, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He’s given us all the signs we could ever want to believe that He is who He says He is.

This post originally appeared here in June 2012.

Published in: on April 23, 2015 at 5:30 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,