The “Otherization” Of Jesus

I read an article recently in a well-respected publication that was trying to explain why Mary and some of Jesus’ other disciples didn’t recognize Him immediately after His resurrection. Aside from the obvious fact that they still didn’t understand the Old Testament prophesies concerning His death and resurrection quite yet, that author attributed their lack of recognition to some kind of “physical changes” in His body, as if He had suddenly become some kind of “other“. Did that mean He was no longer “completely-human“? WHAT???

Docetism“, the belief that Jesus was not truly and fully-human, has been around for almost two millenniums, and our churches are frequently infected with “docetism-lite“, such that, while not outrightly-denying His true and full humanity, they have trouble handling the “details” of His humanity. While Docetics would prefer a body-less resurrection, they will accept a bodily-resurrection, as long as God leaves the parts they don’t like behind. SO, what parts would they “leave-behind“? The parts they like to cover with “fig-leaves“?

This insidious “otherization” of Jesus even shows up in our Christmas carols where we don’t even give it a second-thought. Do you recognize these lyrics?

The cattle are lowing the baby awakes

But little lord Jesus no crying he makes.

I love you lord Jesus; look down from the sky

And stay by my side until morning is nigh.

That is the second stanza of “Away In A Manger“. Am I being overly-picky, or not? What our kids hear and learn growing-up becomes part of the building-blocks of their theology later in life, so if they grow up accepting this “otherization” of Jesus, that there might have been some “changes” to His body when He was resurrected doesn’t raise any red-flags, but it does for me, because I have been studying Christology and realize how important it is.

Maybe Barbie and Ken are their ideal-prototypes…

I have found the Heidelberg Catechism quite helpful in its concise explanation. In question 16, we read:

Q: Why must he be a true and righteous man?

A: He must be a true man because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin. He must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner he cannot pay for others.

The answer here is focusing on the need for a real human nature. Why? Because the penalty for sin requires suffering in body and soul. And only a human can do this (cf. Heb. 2:14; John 12:27). Jesus did not only share in our nature, but also he had to identify with us in the experiences of the fall (Heb. 2:17-18). But it was essential that Christ himself did not sin in this identification with us. Otherwise, how could he pay for our sin? Berkhof writes, “Only such a truly human Mediator, who had experimental knowledge of the woes of mankind and rose superior to all temptations, could enter sympathetically into all the experiences, the trials, and the temptations of man (Heb. 2:17, 18; 4:15-5:2) and be a perfect human example for his followers (Matt. 11:29; Mark 10:39; John 13:13-15; Phil. 2:5-8; Heb. 12:2-4; 1 Pet. 2:21). L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 319.

In short, the answer is Jesus had to be a man so that he could identify with us, suffering in our place and sympathizing with us in our weakness.

We don’t need for Jesus to have undergone some kind of “changes” during His resurrection to be able to explain why Mary and some of His disciples didn’t recognize Him immediately. When Mary went to the tomb, she was looking for a BODY, a DEAD-BODY, not her living Lord. She had seen Him die and be buried, so she was still convinced that He was as dead as a stone. People didn’t survive crucifixion. Period! The same was true of His other disciples. They knew that He was DEAD. STONE-COLD-DEAD! John and four women, including His mother and Mary, were at the foot of the cross when He breathed His last, so when He appeared to them, that He could possibly be alive was a TOTALLY-LUDICROUS.

Shortly before Jesus’ own death, burial and resurrection, John, in John 11:1-44, recorded the death, burial and resurrection of Lazarus. Why does this matter? There were two people present at all three events, Mary and Martha. They had nursed him while he was sick, they had prepared his body for burial, and they had buried him, so if there was something “different” about after his resurrection, they would have been the first to notice it, but there wasn’t. The Lazarus who was raised from the dead was the same Lazarus they had buried just a few days earlier. Why would Jesus’ resurrection have been any different? Jesus’ disciples knew Him as intimately as Mary and Martha knew Lazarus, so they would have been the first to notice that there was something “different” about Him, but they didn’t record anything.

It isn’t until later in the New Testament that we read about “glorified-bodies“…

When I lost my first wife in 1997, I did NOT know unequivocally whose body was in that casket. I did not witness her death, even though I saw evidence that something had happened in our home, and I never saw her dead-body because it was a closed-casket funeral, for which I had no hand in making the arrangements. All I had was a piece of paper, a “Death Certificate“, which already had fraudulent-information on it that I had to have corrected. I lived with the nagging question of whether her “death” was a cruel-hoax for many years, particularly since I continued to receive mail addressed to her for several years even after I had moved over a thousand miles away. That was NOT the case with Jesus. His death was witnessed by many people, including the Roman soldiers who crucified Him. Joseph and Nicodemus had prepared His body for burial and buried Him, events that were witnessed by others.

We DO affirm that there WAS a certain “otherness” about Jesus, because He IS the incarnate Son of God, the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14), very God of very God, Creator-God, but that did NOT diminish His humanity. No other person in all of history has been BOTH God and Man, but His favorite title for Himself was “Son of man“.

We also know, from the Gospels, that Jesus, after His resurrection, exhibited capabilities He had not displayed before, such as the ability to appear and disappear at-will. Did that make Him any less human. Absolutely-not! He still ate and drank…

Does it REALLY mater?

In a word, YES, because His resurrection body was His ascension body, and the rest of the New Testament makes it very clear that we have our own flesh-and-blood in Heaven, with all His parts intact. making intercession for us. SO, we either do our own flesh-and-blood, with all His parts intact, or we don’t. If part of that “change” was that He no longer has all His parts intact, then Jesus is no longer HUMAN. He is an “other“, a “changeling“, and is a worthless mediator, and our “salvation” is worthless.

What we believe concerning Jesus Christ DOES matter, because, unless we have a fully-qualified Savior, we have no Savior at all, which required that His humanity be genuine.

Sola Deo Gloria,

Steve

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Christ The Savior Is Born

The Word became flesh…

As we close-in on Christmas, we come to the most important event in human history, the birth of Jesus, because without His birth, there would have been no crucifixion, and thus no redemption. The birth of Jesus Christ was the hinge-pin of redemption-history, tying the Old Testament to the New Testament and the promises to their fulfillment.

Mary’s visitation…
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary’s reaction to this announcement isn’t surprising, considering that she was young, perhaps 12 to 14 years-old, and she still wasn’t married yet. Yes, she was engaged, but she was still living with her parents, as was the custom. This was Gabriel’s second earthly-visit in the last few months. He had visited Zachariah just six months earlier, and now Elizabeth, who had been unable to have a child, was in her sixth month of pregnancy. God had done the impossible for Zachariah and Elizabeth, and He was going to do the same for Mary. Once Mary was assured that this was of God, she responded with faith and trust.

The song of Mary…
And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

When Mary visited Elizabeth, she was with her own eyes that God had enabled Elizabeth to get pregnant. In response to God’s goodness, she praised God in this very beautiful song. God, in His covenant-love for His people, was providing a Redeemer and fulfilling His promises given long ago.

Joseph’s visitation…
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Betrothal was much more binding than mere engagement. The only way a betrothal could be annulled was by divorce. Mary was pregnant, but they weren’t married yet. If he divorced her, she could be charged with adultery and potentially be stoned, because that was the penalty for adultery. The baby wasn’t his, as a check of her virginity would verify. Of course a check of her virginity would also show that she was pregnant even though she was still a virgin. God didn’t have to break her hymen to make her pregnant.

Joseph was in a sticky-situation. Would anyone actually believe Mary’s story of being visited by an angel? Did he actually believe it? All he knew was that his decision would be life-changing. Did he already have hopes and dreams for their future together? We are told that Joseph was a “righteous man“, so he didn’t want to make a rash decision. He had probably had several nearly-sleepless nights before finally falling falling asleep in exhaustion. It was then that God visited him through an angel.

The angel reminded Joseph of the long-awaited prophesy that Immanuel, God with us, would be born, and he was going to be the “father” of the Messiah. Whatever doubts Joseph had were quickly put to rest, and he responded in faith and took Mary home to be his wife.

How hard was it for Joseph to not have sex with Mary, his right, for the next nine or so months, particularly since a marriage wasn’t “official” until it was consummated? Even though Mary would still be a “virgin” after the baby was born, Joseph would not have the honor of “deflowering” her. We are simply told that Joseph kept her a virgin until after Jesus was born.

The birth of Jesus
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 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, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 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. (Luke 2:1-7)

Mary and Joseph had a “divine-appointment” in Bethlehem and the Romans unknowingly arranged it. That must have been an arduous journey for them because Mary was “due” any day. Even though this was Mary’s first baby, she was still a “little girl” by modern-day standards, barely old enough to get pregnant, let alone have a baby. Bethlehem was packed with travelers, so it was no wonder that the local Inn was full. All that was left for shelter was a stable, maybe the innkeeper’s stable.

We can’t imaging a more humble “delivery-room“, but the coming King wouldn’t ever live in a palace. There had been no “baby-shower“, so all Mary had to wrap her baby in was strips of cloth. She may have brought them along just for that purpose. There were no doctors or nurses, and probably not even a mid-wife. Joseph, who had never helped deliver a baby, had to help her with the delivery. Maybe he had swept some of the manure out of the stable and put some fresh hay in the manger, but there was nothing “sanitary” about this delivery. They may have not even had a “clean” knife to cut the cord with. The baby’s first bed was a manger, a feed-trough for animals, but it was better than if Mary had delivered her baby on the road.

Immanuel, God with us, was born that night. The Word, who had taken on human-flesh entered into our world, and the world would never be the same.

Celebration!
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 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; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

15 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.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:8-20)

Even though Jesus was born into humble-circumstances, God orchestrated a celebration of His birth. Angels serenaded a bewildered group of shepherds who were camped nearby for the night. I wonder if anyone else saw the heavenly-show? The shepherds didn’t waste any time checking out the marvelous news, and with the shepherds, we should glorify and praise our wonderful God.

Glory to God in the highest! Thank you for your indescribable gift!!!

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and a healthy and productive New Year!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Steve

Promises II – Take Two

And the Word became flesh…

As we saw last week, the coming of a Savior – the Messiah, was foretold through promises given to Godly men and women beginning in the Garden of Eden. We saw how God preserved a holy line, beginning with Seth, up to and through the great flood, establishing the house of Shem as the lineage from which the Savior would come. We are now up to the promises given to Abraham, that Isaac would be his heir, and that all nations would be blessed through him. As we pick up there, we will see how God selected certain families to carry the guide-on towards the coming of the Savior.

Isaac Is Born
21 Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. 2 So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. 4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

8 The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. (Genesis 21:1-8)

The conception and birth of Isaac was a supernatural-event which had little to do with Abraham’s abilities but everything to do with Sarah’s abilities. A survey through the Old Testament will reveal that it was not uncommon for “old” men to father children with much-younger women, but Sarah was NOTmuch-younger”. She was ninety years old, well-past her child-bearing years. This should cause us to pause and reflect on the fact that the coming of Christ, the Messiah, was God’s doing from beginning to end. It was God’s plan to send a Redeemer, and He caused everything necessary to happen according to His plan, even the “most-unlikely” events.

The Offering of Isaac
22 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” 13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:1-19)

Why did God test Abraham? Could it be that Abraham had come to trust the “promise”, Isaac, more than the “promiser”, God? Could it be, that in a culture that valued having an heir so highly that Abraham had tried to short-circuit God’s promise of an heir by having a son through Hagar, that he almost “worshiped” Isaac?

Having graciously committed Himself to Abraham, God tested Abraham’s obedience. In his obedience, Abraham displayed his full commitment to the Lord, symbolically receiving Isaac, the son of promise, back from death. God’s provision of the ram the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who died instead of the elect so that they would live. In taking an oath to bless Abraham, and all nations through him, God guaranteed the promise to Abraham’s offspring.

The command to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God is perplexing at first. Without know what God really had in mind, the command seems to contradict God’s moral law. As the narrative unfolds, however, it is evident that the test was whether Abraham would proceed with the preparations for sacrifice while holding steadfastly to the promise of 21:12, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” Abraham knew that God was obliged to keep His promise and he knew that if Isaac died, he could not continue the covenant line. Hebrews 11:19 unveils Abraham’s secret; he concluded “that God was able to raise Isaac up, even from the dead.

5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” Notice that Abraham DIDN’T say “We will worship and I will return to you…” Abraham had every expectation that they would both return.

Isaac’s Sons
19 Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger.”

24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. 28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:19-34)

Esau was a profane, rough-and-ready man of the field who shortsightedly gratified his appetite and despised the family’s future inheritance. Despite his dishonesty, Jacob had the farsightedness to value the inheritance. Do you think God might have had something to do with that (v. 23)?

Jacob’s Deception
27 Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 2 Isaac said, “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; 4 and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.”

5 Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, 7 ‘Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the Lord before my death.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you. 9 Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves. 10 Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.” 11 Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.” 13 But his mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me.” 14 So he went and got them, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made savory food such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 She also gave the savory food and the bread, which she had made, to her son Jacob.

18 Then he came to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Get up, please, sit and eat of my game, that you may bless me.” 20 Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the Lord your God caused it to happen to me.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come close, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob came close to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. 24 And he said, “Are you really my son Esau?” And he said, “I am.” 25 So he said, “Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son’s game, that I may bless you.” And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Please come close and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said,

“See, the smell of my son
Is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed;
28 Now may God give you of the dew of heaven,
And of the fatness of the earth,
And an abundance of grain and new wine;
29 May peoples serve you,
And nations bow down to you;
Be master of your brothers,
And may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be those who curse you,
And blessed be those who bless you.”

30 Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 Then he also made savory food, and brought it to his father; and he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” 32 Isaac his father said to him, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 34 When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35 And he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.” 36 Then he said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” So Esau lifted his voice and wept.

39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him,
“Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling,
And away from the dew of heaven from above.
40 “By your sword you shall live,
And your brother you shall serve;
But it shall come about when you become restless,
That you will break his yoke from your neck.” (Genesis 27:1-40)

Though Isaac knew God had chosen Jacob, he had intended to give everything to Esau. Esau finally broke-down after he realized that he had lost both his birthright and his blessing.

41 So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 Now when the words of her elder son Esau were reported to Rebekah, she sent and called her younger son Jacob, and said to him, “Behold your brother Esau is consoling himself concerning you by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban! 44 Stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury subsides, 45 until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?”

46 Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (Genesis 27:41-46)

Unlike Abraham, who had taken the initiative to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24), Isaac dropped the ball. As a result, Esau married Hittite women, “daughters of Heth” against his parent’s wishes. Perhaps, hoping to somewhat get back in his father’s good-graces, he married one of the daughters of Ishmael, his uncle.

Jacob Is Sent Away
28 So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.” 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau. (Genesis 28:1-5)

Isaac finally “got-it”. He finally realized that Jacob was God’s chosen-heir, and heir to the covenant God made with Abraham. His first blessing to Jacob determined the patriarchal succession (27:27-29); this one explicitly linked Jacob with the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant (17:1-8).

Jacob’s Dream
10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Genesis 28:10-22)

As we read the stories of Jacob, it is easy to wonder which “side” he was really on, his or God’s? So, the Lord appeared to Jacob and gave him promises at critical points in his life; during his flight to Padan Aram (28:10-22), on his return to confront Esau (32:1, 2, 22-23), and when Jacob faced threats from Laban’s sons (31:1-3), and the Canaanites (35:1-15). God knows that we too have short memories and are easily side-tracked, and so, as He reminded Jacob of His promises, He also reminds us that He is ever-present and ever-faithful.

Jacob Wrestles With God
24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” 31 Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. 32 Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip. (Genesis 32:24-32)

In wrestling with Jacob, God appeared in human form and deprived Jacob of his natural strength, but Jacob emerged the victor by clinging to God for blessing. Jacob emerged from that encounter with God a changed-man, with a new name, Israel. Jacob, deprived on his natural strength and in pain, and would have to continue on in faith, faith that God was still “for-him” and would keep His promises.

The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah
1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king.

6 David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa. 8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. 9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah. 11 Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. 13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor. 14 Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud. 15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. 16 Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:1-16)

Tracing Jesus’ genealogy, we find something that was NOT common in Hebrew genealogies, the presence of women in the genealogy. Women aren’t usually named in Near Eastern genealogies, but they are intrinsic to God’s purpose in sending Christ into this world. The five women named in Jesus’ genealogy all remind us that God often does the unexpected and chooses the unlikely. Tamar (v. 3), reminds us of Judah’s failures (Genesis 38:6-30). Rahab (v. 5), was a harlot (Joshua 2). Ruth (v. 5), was a Moabite (Ruth 1:4), and thus subject to a special curse (Deut. 23:3-5). Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife (v. 6), was David’s downfall (2 Saumel 11). Mary fulfills Isaiah 7:14 (v. 23), and the even more important promise of Genesis 3:15 (Gal. 4:4-5).

Tamar
Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. It is said that “Bad apples don’t fall far from the family tree”, and Judah proves that point. In Genesis 38, we find that Judah left the family community and married a heathen woman. They had three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. Er married Tamar,but he was an evil man, so God took him. As was the custom of the day, Judah gave Tamar to Onan, but Onan refused to impregnate her, so God took him too. After Judah refused to give Shelah to Tamar, she tricked Judah into having sex with her, so that she could have an heir. (Genesis 38:12-30) How could this mess be part of the family-tree of the Messiah? Never fear, it gets even “juicier” from here.

Rahab
Do you remember the story of the fall of Jericho? Rahab was part of that story, beginning in Joshua 2. She hid the spies who went to check things out before the conquest of the Promised Land, and in return, she received a promise that she and her family would be spared when the children of Israel conquered Jericho. Jericho was destroyed in Joshua 6, but Rahab and her family were spared, as promised, in Joshua 6:22-23. Yes, even Rahab, a harlot, became part of the Messiah’s family tree. She was the mother of Boaz, who we will meet next in Ruth. This should remind us that God moves in mysterious ways…

Ruth
1  Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. 2  The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. 3  Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. 4  They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. 5  Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5)

13  So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14  Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15  May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

The Line of David Began Here
16  Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. 17  The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

18  Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez was born Hezron, 19  and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, 20  and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, 21  and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, 22  and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David. (Ruth 4:13-22)

Boaz stands-out in stark-contrast to Onan, who refused to be Tamar’s “kinsman-redeemer”, by truly fulfilling the role of the “kinsman-redeemer” for Naomi and Ruth. The beauty of Boaz’s selfless-act in becoming Naomi and Ruth’s “kinsman-redeemer” is that he became a “type” of Jesus Christ, our “kinsman-redeemer”.

Bathsheba
Bathsheba WAS David’s downfall. His first mistake was staying behind while he sent his troops out to war. (2 Samuel 11:1) David had time on his hands. How often do WE fall when we have time on our hands? David saw Bathsheba bathing and lusted for her. How many times had David seen Bathsheba naked before? How many times had he lusted for her before? Was it because David didn’t have an “available” woman to take to bed? I doubt it, because he already had several wives and concubines. Was Bathsheba a “temptress”? That is not how Nathan the prophet portrayed her in 2 Samuel 12:1-4. She was the innocent-victim of David’s sinful-choices. Even though their first child would die (2 Samuel 12:14-23), Bathsheba would bear David another son, Solomon (2 Samuel 12:24-25), through whom the Messiah would come. Solomon also built the first Temple.

Mary
God chose a poor, young girl from a backwater village to bear His Son. Mary was young – quite-likely no more than fourteen, and may have been as young as twelve when she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. BUT, she had great faith, faith that God would keep His promises.

Joseph
While most of the emphasis in the Christmas story is placed on Mary and her role in the Incarnation, we must not forget Joseph. Whatever hopes and dreams he had for their family got dashed big-time when Mary became pregnant before they got married. It was a huge “leap-of-faith” for Joseph to accept the responsibilities for being Jesus’ earthly-father. He couldn’t know how it would turn out.

Closing thoughts…
At this point, you may be wondering; “Where are all the “godly” people in this story? It sure appears that there are more “scoundrels and scumbags than saints””, and you are right. Sure, a few “saints” appear amid the “scoundrels and scumbags”, but they are few and far between. This story is about the God who keeps His promises, regardless of who He has to use. God can, and is using me, even with my “checkered-past”, because, in some ways, my story isn’t any “prettier” than theirs.

As much as we would like to think that all the patriarchs were “saints“, they weren’t. When God didn’t provide the promised son soon enough to suit Abraham, he took matters into his own bedroom with another woman. Jacob was a master of dirty-dealing, bilking Esau out of both his birthright AND his father’s blessing. While we didn’t look at the chapters dealing with Jacob’s marriages and his dirty-dealings with his father-in-law, he was no “saint” there either. These things should remind us that “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called“, and as inadequate as we may feel to do the work of the Lord, we have His sure-promise that He will be with us all the way.

In Christ,
Steve

The Incarnation – Jesus is Born

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…

As we gather here on Christmas, we have come to the most important event in human history, the birth of Jesus, because without His birth, there would have been no crucifixion or resurrection, thus no redemption. The birth of Jesus Christ was the hinge-pin of redemption-history, tying the Old Testament to the New Testament and the Promises to their fulfillment.

Mary’s visitation…
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary’s reaction to this announcement isn’t surprising, considering that she was young, perhaps 12 to 14 years-old, and she still wasn’t married yet. Yes, she was engaged, but she was still living with her parents, as was the custom. This was Gabriel’s second earthly-visit in the last few months. He had visited Zacharias just six months earlier, and now Elizabeth, who had been unable to have a child, was in her sixth month of pregnancy. God had done the impossible for Zacharias and Elizabeth, and He was going to do the same for Mary. Once Mary was assured that this was of God, she responded with faith and trust.

Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39-45)

When Mary visited Elizabeth, she saw with her own eyes that God had enabled Elizabeth to get pregnant. In response to God’s goodness, she praised God in this very beautiful song. God, in His covenant-love for His people, was providing a Redeemer and fulfilling His promises given long ago.

The song of Mary…
And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Joseph’s visitation…
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Betrothal was much more binding than mere engagement. The only way a betrothal could be annulled was by divorce. Mary was pregnant, but they weren’t married yet. If he divorced her, she could be charged with adultery and potentially be stoned because that was the penalty for adultery. The baby wasn’t his, as a check of her virginity would verify. Of course a check of her virginity would also show that she was pregnant even though she was still a virgin. God didn’t have to break her hymen to make her pregnant.

Joseph was in a sticky-situation. Would anyone actually believe Mary’s story of being visited by an angel? Did he actually believe it? All he knew was that his decision would be life-changing. Did he already have hopes and dreams for their future together? We are told that Joseph was a “righteous man“, so he didn’t want to make a rash decision. He had probably had several nearly-sleepless nights before finally falling asleep in exhaustion. It was then that God visited him through an angel.

The angel reminded Joseph of the long-awaited prophesy that Emmanuel, God with us, would be born, and he was going to be the “father” of the Messiah. Whatever doubts Joseph had were quickly put to rest, and he responded in faith and took Mary home to be his wife.
How hard was it for Joseph to not have sex with Mary, his right, for the next nine or so months, particularly since a marriage wasn’t “official” until it was consummated? Even though Mary would still be a “virgin” after the baby was born, Joseph would not have the honor of “deflowering” her. We are simply told that Joseph kept her a virgin until after Jesus was born.

The birth of Jesus
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 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, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 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. (Luke 2:1-7)

Mary and Joseph had a “divine-appointment” in Bethlehem and the Romans unknowingly arranged it. That must have been an arduous journey for them because Mary was “due” any day. Even though this was Mary’s first baby, she was still a “little girl” by modern-day standards, barely old enough to get pregnant, let alone have a baby. Bethlehem was packed with travelers, so it was no wonder that the local Inn was full. All that was left for shelter was a stable, maybe the innkeeper’s stable.

We can’t imagine a more humble “delivery-room“, but the coming King wouldn’t ever live in a palace. There had been no “baby-shower“, so all Mary had to wrap her baby in was strips of cloth. She may have brought them along just for that purpose. There were no doctors or nurses, and probably not even a mid-wife. Joseph, who had never helped deliver a baby, had to help her with the delivery. Maybe he had swept some of the manure out of the stable and put some fresh hay in the manger, but there was nothing “sanitary” about this delivery. They may have not even had a “clean” knife to cut the cord with. The baby’s first bed was a manger, a feed-trough for animals, but it was better than if Mary had delivered her baby on the road.

Emmanuel, God with us, was born that night. The Word, who had taken on human-flesh, entered into our world, and the world would never be the same.

Celebration!
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 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; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.

15 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.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back; glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:8-20)

Even though Jesus was born into humble-circumstances, God orchestrated a celebration of His birth. Angels serenaded a bewildered group of shepherds who were camped nearby for the night. I wonder if anyone else saw the heavenly-show. The shepherds didn’t waste any time checking out the marvelous news, and with the shepherds, we should glorify and praise our wonderful God.

Glory to God in the highest! Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!!!

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and a healthy and productive New Year!

Sola Deo Gloria!

2015 In Review

WOW! What a year it has been! How did it slip away SO quickly? They say “Time flies when you are having fun“, but have I really had THAT much “fun“? I must say that the older I get, the faster time seems to fly. So, what happened during 2015?

Writing…
As of today, December 28, 2015, I have posted seventy-eight articles to this blog this year. Of that seventy-eight, eight have been weekly Bible studies, which is an ongoing ministry. I have also started almost fifty articles which I haven’t finished and aren’t ready to publish. I have some series in mind, including a series on the book of Ruth. Stay tuned!

Ministry…
This blog is an ongoing ministry, and early this year, I was given the vision of starting a ministry at Cypress Cove Nudist Resort. The organized church does many things well, but ministering to nudists isn’t one of them. My article, “The Role Of Nudists In The Church“, explains why. God isn’t happy with the “status-quo“, so He has commissioned Christian nudists to minister to fellow-nudists.

When I presented my vision of a ministry at Cypress Cove during the Christian Naturists Festival, I received a very positive response. I also had an “Here I am, Lord, send someone else” moment. Could or would God actually use me for that ministry? I didn’t have to wait very long for that answer, because Cameron Bennett, one of the board-members of CNC, promised to partner with me on it. I am not free to give details about his partnership, but I really appreciate what he has done and is continuing to do.

I invite you to go back and read “Even Me…“, “Getting Out Of The “Boat”…” and “Out Of The Boat“, because these articles chronicle my journey from “call” to actually beginning the ministry. Yes, I still have some heebie-jeebies.

Distribution/promotion…
I decided from the git-go that I wasn’t going to be a self-promoter, and I haven’t. I have left promoting this blog up to God for Him to do with as He chooses. As a result, I am continually-amazed at how many and where links show up to this little corner of the internet. This isn’t about me. It is about what God is doing in building up His kingdom in His world. As of this writing, this little “boat” has docked in 84 different countries, and only God could have taken it to several of those countries. I am thankful for every “hit“, every “like“, every comment and every re-blog, because every one of those things encourages me to keep going, to keep writing and to keep posting.

Personal…
My personal high-point was the weekend I spent at Lake Como for the Christian Naturists Festival. We had an incredible time of fun, fellowship, encouragement and worship, and we also consumed no small-amount of ice-cream over the weekend. I made some new friends and met several people in person who I had only met online before. Pam and Lee, the “spark-plugs” at Garden of Eden Church are wonderful people, and hosted the event. Rev. David Hatton, the main speaker, is a dear Brother in Christ, and Cameron Bennett is my fellow-laborer in the ministry at Cypress Cove. Tom and Marilyn Pine are excellent writers and super-people. I don’t mean to slight anyone who was there, but my rememberer isn’t what it used to be.

I have had several other significant events this year, but not all of them have been good. Kicking-off the ministry at Cypress Cove was another high-point, and I am looking forward to our first “public” meeting January 3rd.

Our Senior Pastor resigned abruptly this past February to pursue other interests, and in spite promises to “stay in touch“, he might as well have moved to a different galaxy. We weren’t left in a total-lurch, because we had a very-capable Associate Pastor, who we quickly called to be our Senior Pastor. We also lost our Director of Music and his wife this year, but our Senior Pastor’s wife is a wonderful musician and has stepped into the gap.

Liz, my neighbor-gal, lost her mother back in September, and as her primary emotional-support person, it was a tough time for me also. Liz was up at her parent’s place for the last month her mom was alive. Unfortunately, one of her brothers was there also. Liz was adopted after her parent’s older children were already gone from home, so she has never really been acccepted as part of the family by them. I went up for the funeral, and spent the night in a motel so I could also go to Florida National Cemetary for the committal service. Only one other person she knows from here went up for the funeral. We were the only ones who were actually there for HER. The rest of her “friends” were “too-busy“.

I hate to call Christmas a “non-celebration“, but I have been sick for over a week and didn’t even feel like going to my church’s Christmas Eve service, let alone go somewhere Christmas day. Unlike the previous two years, I didn’t even have an invitation to join anyone for Christmas.

Unfortunately, when even Christians think about “family” for the holidays, they forget about their church-family and those who have no other family to celebrate with. Not all of us have “family” close-by to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with. Christmas isn’t about me or what I want, it is about celebrating the birth of our Savior.

The Apostle Paul, in 1st Timothy 3, lists “hospitable” as one of the qualifications and characteristics of Elders and Deacons, but if my experience is any indicator, “hospitable” is the most widely-ignored of those qualifications. Paul knew that casual-contact between those who had been called by God to lead His church and their flock wasn’t enough. Being “familiar-strangers” doesn’t get the job done. That is the point of hospitality, so that people can get to know each other.

Many years ago, we had a pastor and his wife who took hospitality very seriously. As I recall, their dining-room table seated about a dozen people, and they filled it up for Sunday-dinner EVERY Sunday. Newcomers to the church were invited first, and then others to fill their table up. They considered hospitality to be an integral-part of their ministry to the church. This was brought more forcefully to my attention by the fact that I didn’t have anywhere to go for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. Is this part of why many Christians feel disconnected from their church “family“? Has the 21st-century church lost its sense of being a “family“?

Finis…
I have learned over the last three years that my best-laid-plans are likely to go awry, so all I “plan” to do next year is to keep on keeping-on. As Paul counselled Timothy, his counsel applies to me as well. I must stay the course, living my life for Christ and doing what I can to help the spread of God’s kingdom. I have a charge to keep.

Wishing you God’s richest blessings in the New Year, and a Happy Nude Year!
Steve

Bible Study – The Birth Of Christ

The Word became flesh…

As we close-in on Christmas, we come to the most important event in human history, the birth of Jesus, because without His birth, there would have been no crucifixion, and thus no redemption. The birth of Jesus Christ was the hinge-pin of redemption-history, tying the Old Testament to the New Testament and the promises to their fulfillment.

Mary’s visitation…
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary’s reaction to this announcement isn’t surprising, considering that she was young, perhaps 12 to 14 years-old, and she still wasn’t married yet. Yes, she was engaged, but she was still living with her parents, as was the custom. This was Gabriel’s second earthly-visit in the last few months. He had visited Zacharias just six months earlier, and now Elizabeth, who had been unable to have a child, was in her sixth month of pregnancy. God had done the impossible for Zacharias and Elizabeth, and He was going to do the same for Mary. Once Mary was assured that this was of God, she responded with faith and trust.

The song of Mary…
And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

When Mary visited Elizabeth, she was with her own eyes that God had enabled Elizabeth to get pregnant. In response to God’s goodness, she praised God in this very beautiful song. God, in His covenant-love for His people, was providing a Redeemer and fulfilling His promises given long ago.

Joseph’s visitation…
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Betrothal was much more binding than mere engagement, and the only way a betrothal could be annulled was by divorce. Mary was pregnant, but they weren’t married yet. If he divorced her, she could be charged with adultery and potentially be stone, because that was the penalty for adultery. The baby wasn’t his, as a check of her virginity would verify. Of course a check of her virginity would also show that she was pregnant even though she was still a virgin. God didn’t have to break her hymen to make her pregnant.

Joseph was in a sticky-situation. Would anyone actually believe Mary’s story of being visited by an angel? Did he actually believe it? All he knew was that his decision would be life-changing. Did he already have hopes and dreams for their future together, dreams that this turn of events might change? We are told that Joseph was a “righteous man“, so he didn’t want to make a rash decision. He had probably had several nearly-sleepless nights before finally falling falling asleep in exhaustion. It was then that God visited him through an angel.

The angel reminded Joseph of the long-awaited prophesy that Emmanuel, God with us, would be born, and he was going to be the “father” of the Messiah. Whatever doubts Joseph had were quickly put to rest, and he responded in faith and took Mary home to be his wife.

How hard was it for Joseph to not have sex with Mary, his right, for the next nine or so months, particularly since a marriage wasn’t “official” until it was consummated? Even though Mary would still be a “virgin” after the baby was born, Joseph would not have the honor of “deflowering” her. We are simply told that Joseph kept her a virgin until after Jesus was born.

The birth of Jesus
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 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, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 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. (Luke 2:1-7)

Mary and Joseph had a “divine-appointment” in Bethlehem and the Romans unknowingly arranged it. That must have been an arduous journey for them because Mary was “due” any day. Even though this was Mary’s first baby, she was still a “little girl” by modern-day standards, barely old enough to get pregnant, let alone have a baby. Bethlehem was packed with travellers, so it was no wonder that the local Inn was full. All that was left for shelter was a stable, maybe the innkeeper’s stable.

We can’t imaging a more humble “delivery-room“, but the coming King wouldn’t ever live in a palace. There had been no “baby-shower“, so all Mary had to wrap her baby in was strips of cloth, which she may have brought along just for that purpose. There were no doctors or nurses, and probably not even a mid-wife. Joseph, who had never helped deliver a baby, had to help her with the delivery. Maybe he had swept some of the manure out of the stable and put some fresh hay in the manger, but there was nothing “sanitary” about this delivery. They may have not even had a “clean” knife to cut the cord with. The baby’s first bed was a manger, a feed-trough for animals, but it was better than if Mary had delivered her baby on the road.

Emmanuel, God with us, was born that night. The Word, who had taken on human-flesh entered into our world, and the world would never be the same.

Celebration!
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 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; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.

15 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.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:8-20)

Even though Jesus was born into humble-circumstances, God orchestrated a celebration of His birth. Angels serenaded a bewildered group of shepherds who were camped nearby for the night. I wonder if anyone else saw the heavenly show? The shepherd didn’t waste any time checking out the marvelous news, and with the shepherds, we should glorify and praise our wonderful God.

Glory to God in the highest! Thank you for your indescribable gift!!!

Wishing you a blessed Christmas and a healthy and productive New Year!
Steve

Bible Study – The Word Became Flesh

The Word Made Flesh
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:14-18)

The Incarnation…
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…

I believe that the Incarnation is the hinge-pin of redemption-history, and since we are coming into the Advent season, I think that it is appropriate to pause our forward-march through John’s Gospel and spend some time contemplating the Incarnation and all it means to us.

The Nay-Sayers…
There are some who call themselves “Christians” who deny or denigrate this important event. There are three principal schools of thought among the nay-sayers, the Gnostics, the “minimizers“, and the “Christmas isn’t “Christian”” proponents. There are also several cults which pose as “Christian” but really aren’t, which have a very distorted and un-biblical view of Jesus Christ.

The Gnostics…
The Gnostics believe that Jesus only “appeared” to be human, that He was really only a spirit-being. John goes into great detail, both here in his Gospel, and also in 1st, 2nd and 3rd John to show and prove His full and true humanity. Even though that form of Gnosticism is rare among professing-Christians, a much more insidious form of Gnosticism is quite common, even among those who call themselves “Evangelical” or even “Reformed“. The latter form of Gnosticism denies that we are bodily God’s image-bearers, thus denigrating and denying the goodness of our bodies.

The “Minimizers”…
The “minimizers” believe that because the birth of Christ doesn’t seem to receive much “coverage” in the Gospels, it must not be very important. Some would go so far as to believe that it was essentially a “nonevent“…a mere ripple on the timeline of history. As a result, they don’t celebrate Christmas, other than to perhaps give it “honorable-mention“. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Christmas isn’t “Christian”…
There are some groups which do everything in their power to pick-apart our celebration of the birth of Christ. They point to our use of Christmas trees and other decorations to claim that we have “Christianized” pagan symbols. They equate the Christmas tree with idol-worship. They also claim that we have “Christianized” a pagan holiday, and that Jesus Christ couldn’t have been born in December, let alone December 25th.

Unfortunately this train of belief has infiltrated some of our Christian nudist groups on Facebook. They also tend to be Sabbaterians, believing that we should worship on Saturday rather than on Sunday. The Seventh Day Adventists are one such group.

Cults…
The two most dangerous and visible cults are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, and while they purport to be “Christian“, they really aren’t. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ is NOT God, and that He was just another “created-being“, albeit a “special” one. The Mormons believe that Jesus Christ also is a “created-being” and the brother of Lucifer, Satan. They also believe that God was once a man, born to human-parents, and that through a period of “self-improvement” became God. They believe that “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.“, that is if a person goes through all the right “steps“. What is so insidious about both groups is that they claim to believe the Bible, and they use all the right “buzz-words” even though they give them very different meanings.

The Promise…
God could have “rebooted” His “human-project” after Adam and Eve sinned by simply annihilating them and starting over, but He didn’t. Instead, in His grace and mercy, He promised them a Redeemer.

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

Contrary to what some people believe, God’s promise of a Redeemer was NOT some “PlanB“. God didn’t simply “react” to what Adam and Eve did, because in His infinite foreknowledge and wisdom, He knew exactly what would happen on the fateful day before He breathed life into them. When He asked Adam “Where are you?“, that question was for Adam and Eve’s benefit, not His. God wanted Adam and Eve to realize that they mattered to Him, and that even though they had broken their intimate relationship with Him, He would do what it would take to restore that relationship.

The Prophesies…
Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, God gave periodic word through His prophets about the coming Redeemer. In the coming weeks leading up to Christmas, we will look at some of the Messianic prophesies which were fulfilled when “The Word became flesh…“, and right before Christmas, we will read about the birth of Christ from the Gospels.

Dwelt among us…
Throughout the history of the children of Israel, God’s “Presence“, His Glory, dwelt periodically in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle or Temple, but it was not a “touchable“, physical presence, and only the High Priest could enter that sacred space, and only once a year. A huge change in God’s “Presence” occurred when the Word became flesh, because God became visible and touchable. It also wasn’t just an “appearance“, because God, in the person of Jesus Christ, walked this earth for over thirty-three years. The Infinite became touchable and the Almighty became breakable when the Promise of Genesis 3:15 became reality.

And we saw His glory…
John, along with Peter and James, were the disciples Jesus chose to witness His transfiguration, so when Johns speaks of seeing His glory, it was in a very real sense. They saw His glory with their own two eyes. We will get more into that event when we inject the account of that event from Matthew 17 at the appropriate place in His ministry.

Footnote:
Many cults insist on adding “works” or “law-keeping” to salvation-by-grace in order for a person to be “saved“. We must not fall victim to that mentality, because all it is is SLAVERY, not true freedom in Jesus Christ.

In Christ,
Steve

And The Greatest Of These Is Love

The Way of Love
13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Love: Everybody wants it, everybody needs it, but far too few know how to do it. Do it…what do you mean “Do it“? Did you think that love was simply a warm, fuzzy emotion? Yes, love can be a warm, fuzzy emotion, but it is a whole lot more. The second great commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself“. If you say that you love your neighbor, but never do anything to show it, your “love” is pretty hollow. “Love” is a call to action, a call to show by your actions that you love your neighbor.

Love” requires boots on the ground. “Love” requires that you get your hands dirty. “Love” often requires sacrifice, and the ultimate example of “love” in action is the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

We will start with our Lord’s example, and then I will give you some “boots on the ground” and “dirty-hands” examples from my own journey and others I am acquainted with.

Jesus Christ…
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

The Incarnation, God becoming a human, a man, was no “accident” or “Plan B“. It was perfectly-planned and perfectly-executed, and the Plan was “on the books” before God even began creation, let alone before Adam and Eve’s first sin. When Jesus Christ was born, a cross-shaped shadow loomed large over His manger. From the moment He took His first steps, He walked in the shadow of the cross. Jesus was born to die, and He knew it. As much as He agonized about His pending crucufixion, He wouldn’t have had it any other way. He would have nailed Himself to that cross if it was necessary.

That, my friends, is “LOVE” in action.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

Our turn…
It is three AM. You are sound asleep after already being up too late, and the phone rings. It is a neighbor, gasping for air, gasping out “HELP!”. She is having an asthma attack. She lives alone, and you are the only person with a key to her door, who also knows how to set up her nebulizer. Will you get up and help her?

Three friends are taking a red-eye international flight to another country. Two are staying there, and one is coming back home. They could leave the car at the airport, but… Are you up to being up most of the night to make sure that they get to the airport safely and on-time, so that you can bring their car back home, rather than leaving it at the airport?

She is in excruciating pain, and badly needs to go to the Emergency Room, but it is almost midnight. ER’s are NOT your favorite places to “hang out“, but she needs you. Are you willing to forego maybe the whole night’s sleep to make sure that she is taken care of properly?

She needs a series of three back surgeries, but all of her “friends” are “too busy“. These surgeries will require that you drive her to a hospital which is an hour away, and wait all day until she is released from the hospital. Oh, she also has to be there at six AM. She is also going to need extensive after-care, because these are out-patient surgeries. Part of that after-care is being available at all hours of the day and night to help her out of bed, into the bathroom, and back into bed. She also needs something to drink, medications and food. What if she pukes up everything she eats and drinks? Are you up to it?

They don’t have anywhere to go for Christmas, and you have already invited a house-full of family for Christmas dinner. If you open your home to them, it is going to mean more mouths to feed, and more, more, more of everything else. Are you up to it?

The stress had been piling up, and you need a break, a “mental-health” day. Half-way to your favorite resort, the phone rings. A friend is calling to tell you that a mutual friend had just been taken into emergency surgery, and she doesn’t really want to sit in that hospital waiting-room alone. Other plans that you had made for that weekend didn’t pan out either. Will you turn around and go back home so you can go to the hospital with her and help keep vigil and provide moral support?

You are ready for bed, and the phone rings. A friend went to a party, drank some liquor, and then took a pain pill, so she is wasted, her head is spinning, and she doesn’t even know where she is at. She is trying to drive home, but has gotten turned around and nothing looks familiar. She is lost, and you are her only life-line, because all of her other friends have gone their own separate ways. Will you help her get home, and go find her if necessary?

It is almost midnight and time for bed, but the phone rings, again. She has gone to a party, and even though she hasn’t drunk too much, someone else has, and needs a ride home. That person lives on the opposite side of town and in a bad neighborhood to boot. She has already dropped her passenger off, but now she has to get home, and she is scared out of her wits. Will you stay on the line with her, helping to calm her down, until you see her car pull into her driveway?

Do you know someone who has had to reschedule an important surgical-procedure because everyone they know is “unavailable“? That person is going to have to be at the hospital before six AM, they live forty-five minutes from you, and the hospital is an additional hour away. It is going to be a very long day. Will you be their designated-driver?

Thoughts…
Do you see a common thread throughout all of these stories? They all are related to a need, a need for care, concern and compassion, a need for “boots on the ground” LOVE. This is more than just warm fuzzies. It is action, and some of these actions require some self-sacrifice. I have been on one side or the other of every one of these stories, and when I have been the “giver“, it hasn’t always been easy, and when I have been the “receiver“, it brings moments of profound gratitude. It doesn’t matter which is which, because God is the score-keeper, not I, and He always keeps perfect score.

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself“, and our responsibility is to follow His example. When we asked God how much He loves us, Jesus spread His arms out and was nailed to a Roman cross on our behalf.

When we “signup” to be part of God’s “love task-force“, He doesn’t promise that all of our tasks will be easy. He also never promised that they would be at convenient times, or would have definite start and end dates, because need doesn’t keep a schedule. The work may be tiring and difficult, but the “retirementpackage” is out of this world. Have you “signed-up” to be part of God’s “love task-force“?

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Steve

How Human Was Jesus?

Throughout the history of the church, there has been a faction in the church that believed that Jesus only appeared to be a human – a man, and the question of Jesus’s humanity has serious implications for both our life and for our salvation.

This question was so important to the Apostle John, that after he proclaimed Christ’s full deity, he also proclaimed His full humanity. John also devoted large sections of 1st John to Christ’s humanity, and then reiterated it in 2nd John. Let’s start by looking at these pivotal Scriptures:

The Eternal Word

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

The Word Becomes Flesh

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

What Was Heard, Seen, and Touched

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (1 John 1:1-4)

Could He have been “the King of the Jews” if He hadn’t been fully-human? So, just how human WAS Jesus?

Christ’s Birth Announced to Mary

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

His Conception…

The mystery of the Incarnation, God, in Jesus Christ, taking on human flesh, begins with His miraculous conception. If order for Him to be fully and truly human, He had to have a human parent, who was His mother. In order for Him to be human, yet sinless, required that His Father be divine. We aren’t told anything about the mechanism of His conception, except that it was by the Holy Spirit. Did God create one perfect sperm with human genetics, but without a human source? If so, did God create that sperm to replicate His earthly “father’s” genetics, so that He looked just like “one of the boys“? During His earthly ministry, those around Him had no problem matching Him up with His siblings. What we do know is that His mother Mary was a virgin, and that He had no human biological father. Those are questions which will have to wait for Heaven. Mary knew that what was going to happen was not humanly-possible, since she was a virgin and not yet married.

Christ Born of Mary

2 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

His Birth…

Jesus came into the world the same way every other human has, with the exceptions of Adam and Eve. The only thing out of the ordinary was His conception, and the fact that His mother was a virgin. She was a young Jewish peasant girl, who had gotten pregnant out of wedlock. His step-father was a Jewish carpenter.

The “Bethlehem Maternity Center” was a stable, a place where animals could retreat from the weather. We are not even told that Mary and Joseph had a mid-wife to help with that special delivery, let alone doctors and nurses. His first “crib” was a feeding trough (manger), and His first set of clothes were “swaddling cloths“, whatever was handy to wrap a baby in.

His life…

Jesus was circumcised eight days after He was born, as all boys who were born into Jewish society were. Circumcision was no sterile medical procedure with all the conveniences of the modern hospital. Knives were crude at best, not exactly Wilkinson Sword quality, so they did more tearing of the flesh, rather than cutting it cleanly. He bled, He cried when it was done, and it hurt. Yes, Jesus was born a fully-equipped male baby, and that fact would become important during His crucifixion.

While we have little information in the Bible about His early life, I believe it is safe to assume that He grew up like any other Jewish boy of His day and time. He played in the dusty streets of whatever town they were living in when He wasn’t in school or learning to be a carpenter. How many times did He skin His knees up? Did He ever trip and fall? Was He a real child…

As a teen, did He ever have a “wet-dream“, or as He grew into adulthood, did He ever wake up with a “morning-glory“? Those things sound too “crude“, too “vulgar” for the Incarnate Son of God, but as the architect and creator of our male bodies, He gave us those physiological responses to help keep ours AND His equipment in good working-order. Have we forgotten that His favorite title for Himself was “the Son of Man“? He called Himself “the Son of Man” more times than all of His other titles combined. I seriously doubt that He ever said “Why, Oh why, did I create men this way?”.

How often did He smash His thumb while learning to drive a nail? How many splinters did He get from the rough-cut wood that they used? We see many references throughout His teachings to things relating to construction and His trade as a carpenter. As He hefted one of those crude, rough nails, could He almost feel it tearing through His flesh? Was His shadow shaped like a Cross, knowing that He created the tree He was going to be crucified on?

Our problem…

Our “Jesus” is too “clean“, too “sanitary“, too “unearthly” for Him to really have been “one of us“. We can’t imagine a “Jesus” with diaper-rash when He was a baby, or that when He was young, He ran around “naked as a jaybird” like real children do if they get the chance. He ate, He drank, He pooped, He peed, just like we do, but those things just don’t seem “God-like” enough for Him. He got tired, He got hungry, He got thirsty, and He even cried. How “unmanly“, and yet Scripture affirms all of these to be true. He experienced the complete “human experience” while He walked this Earth. He was tempted, but He never succombed to temptation. He was sinless, although He always attracted a crowd of sinners around Him, and He certainly enjoyed a good glass of wine.

We have strapped our own body-shame issues to Jesus, as if He had the same kind of body-shame that we carry around. We can’t imagine a “Jesus with a penis” because we have been taught to be ashamed of our own sexual equipment, and yet, had He not been born “fully-equipped“, penis and all, Pilate could not have declared Him to be “The King of the Jews” when He was crucified. No penis=no “king“, not circumcised=not a “Jew“.

Why does His humanity matter?

The short answer is that, if Jesus wasn’t fully-human, He could not have brought salvation to us. His death, burial and resurrection would have been a fraud if He wasn’t fully-human, and we would be miserable, hell-bound idiots for believing this fairy-tale. If Jesus wasn’t human, I, and my fellow Christian bloggers, writers, pastors, teachers, missionaries and evangelists are perpetuating a hoax, a lie, but we aren’t. Jesus was, and still is, as human as you and I, and as we prepare to celebrate His Incarnation, God taking on human flesh, this is the greatest story of the most wonderful event in human and redemption history.

I invite you to kneel before the manger, and bow before the KING of Kings and the LORD of Lords, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. He is worthy of ALL of our worship and adoration.

God bless and Merry Christmas!
Steve