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!

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The Incarnation – Promises and Prophesies – Part II

When we left Abraham and Sarah last time, God had miraculously-intervened to give them a son. Isaac had been born in their old-age, as God had promised. We are picking up where we left off.

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)

As the boys grew up, Isaac favored Esau but Rebekah favored Jacob, so when Isaac grew old and was ready to give the family-blessing to Esau, Rebekah intervened so that Jacob was able to weasel his way into getting both the birth-right AND the family-blessing from his father Isaac. On the run from his jealous-brother Esau, He encountered God, who would not only change him but give him a new name. That story is told in Genesis 27 through Genesis 28:5.

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)

Notice God’s promise to Jacob; “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.”

Did you notice the Messianic-promise? It was essentially the same promise God had given to Abraham; “in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

In spite of Jacob’s shenanigans, God chose him to carry-on the family-line. What was God thinking?

God’s Love for Jacob
1 The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.

2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob; 3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” 4 Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the Lord of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.” 5 Your eyes will see this and you will say, “The Lord be magnified beyond the border of Israel!” (Malachi 1:1-5)

The interlude
Was Jacob REALLY a changed-man? Not hardly, because in the next three chapters of Genesis, Jacob pulled even more shenanigans. After marrying Laban’s two daughters, Rachel and Leah, Jacob bilked Laban out of his best livestock after having a dozen children, and then he high-tailed it back home taking his stolen livestock with him. Never fear, God wasn’t done with him quite yet.

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)

Along with a wrenched-hip, Jacob got a new name, Israel. He became a man of faith after his second-encounter with God, but he was reminded of his shenanigans with every step he took. One of Israel’s sons was Judah. Does that name ring a bell?

When Israel was on his death-bed, he called each of his sons to him to give them their unique-blessing. It is here that we find the first specific-prophesy of the exact-line the Messiah would be descended from.

From the Tribe of Judah…
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.
9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches; he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 “He ties his foal to the vine,
And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine;
He washes his garments in wine,
And his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 “His eyes are dull from wine,
And his teeth white from milk. (Genesis 49:8-12)

This blessing promises an Eternal-Ruler who would ultimately rule over all the peoples.

The Son of David…
When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’” 17 In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David. (2 Samuel 7:12-17)

3 “I have made a covenant with My chosen,
I have sworn to My servant David:
4 Your seed will I establish forever,
And build up your throne to all generations.”
29 His seed also I will make to endure forever,
and his throne as the days of heaven. (Psalm 89:3-4, 29)

Both of these Promises speak of an heir to David’s throne who will reign forever. This brings us to three well-known Prophesies from Isaiah.

From Isaiah…
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Emmanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

6 For a child will be born to us; a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And He will delight in the fear of the Lord,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,
And faithfulness the belt about His waist. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

From Jeremiah…
‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the Lord is our righteousness.’ 17 For thus says the Lord, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; (Jeremiah 33:14-17)

Closing thoughts…
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. David, in spite of being called “A man after God’s own heart“, committed several atrocious-sins, including adultery and murder, yet God never rejected him. 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.

Our “grand-finale” will be to celebrate the Birth of Christ, as told in the Gospels.

Sola Deo Gloria!

The Incarnation – Promises and Prophesies – Part I

As we look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ, we are going to go back to where it all started, to the Garden of Eden, and over the next two weeks, we are going to look at the Promises and Prophesies which led up to the birth of Christ, “In the fullness of time“, culminating in the accounts in the Gospels of the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

This study will focus; beginning in Genesis, on the first Promises, given by God, to the people He had chosen to advance the lineage of the Messiah.

The Incarnation…
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us… (John 1:14a)

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 and spend some time contemplating the Incarnation and all it means to us.

The Promise…
Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, which God didn’t accept as the “new-normal“, evoked God’s promise to restore what had been destroyed, man’s relationship with God. 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 who would restore what had been lost.

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 “Plan-B“. 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 Promises and Prophesies which were fulfilled when “The Word became flesh”

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.

Promises to Abram…
The next Promise was given to Abram; however, there was one condition…

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

God was going to make him a great nation, and more importantly, all the families of the earth will be blessed through his offspring. God was also going to make Abram’s name great, however, there was a “fly-in-the-ointment“, Abram and Sarai were childless, and they were OLD

God’s covenant with Abram…
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.”

2 Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” 4 Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)

Notice what God told Abram; “but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” He and Sarai were going to become parents to a son, an heir. Even though their son would be a “miracle-baby“, this was no “immaculate-conception“. Naturally, Abram wondered how these things were going to come to be, so God made a covenant with Abram in Genesis 15:7-20. God, by making a covenant with Abram, “upped-the-ante“, was basically saying; “As I live, this WILL happen“.

The Sign of the covenant…
17 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. 2 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.”

3 Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.

6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

9 God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” 19 But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” 22 When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. (Genesis 17:1-22)

Birth of Isaac Promised
18 Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, 3 and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. 4 Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5 and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.”

6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” 7 Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. 8 He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.

9 Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. 12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” 13 And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ 14 Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.” (Genesis 17:1-22, 18:1-15)

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)

God, in His providence, always maintained a line of godly men and women down through the annals of time, men and women who were destined to be part of the lineage of the coming Savior. God hadn’t given up on His human image-bearers, and He was willing to do what it took to restore fallen humanity to a right relationship with Himself. We are privileged to be able to look back in time at these important events.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Christian Naturist Festival 2016 Lake Como Resort

We had another great weekend! Many kudos to Pam and her crew for putting together a delightful and inspiring weekend. While it was called a “Festival“, “Retreat” might be a better way to describe it. In spite of all the evil in the world, it was a time for us to “retreat“, to put aside the cares and concerns of what was going on outside, and concentrate on what the Lord was in our midst to teach us and encourage us with.

For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst. (Matthew 18:20)

We were certainly more than “two or three“, more like 20 to 25, and there was a lot of Christian unity and love in our gathering. Our featured speaker was Matthew Neal, author of The Biblical Naturist, and he came well-prepared. The theme for the weekend was “The Image Matters“.

Friday evening…
We gathered Friday evening for fellowship, ice-cream and to worship and adore our awesome God. Matthew introduced us to the need for Christian Naturists to impact the textile Christian Theology and Culture.

He asked five questions:
* What does the church say about porn?
* What does the church say about sexual-objectification?
* What does the church say about homosexuality?
* What does the church say about transgenderism?
* What does the church say about marriage?

The sad fact is that the church has lost its biblical understanding of mankind being created in God’s image, and replaced that with the Gnostic heresy that the body is “evil“. Thus, a “pornographic“, “hypersexualized” view of the body has arisen from that false doctrine. Is it any wonder that the church has lost its prophetic-voice in our culture, that porn consumption is rampant among church members and leaders, because if there is no “real” reason behind “Thou shalt not…“, why not; “If it feels good, do it“? If there is no “reason” for the rules, why not chuck them in the garbage?

The bottom line is that the church’s answers fall far-short of the truth of the Bible.

Saturday…
Our morning began with a catered breakfast provided by CNA (Christian Naturists of America). After a time for fellowship, we sang a couple of praise songs to get our hearts and minds ready to concentrate on God and His Word.

The topic for the morning session was: The Importance of the Imago Dei as a foundational Theological Concept and the culturally-relevent implications for reclaiming a Biblical understanding in the doctrine of the Church.

1) We have a hole in our Theology:
*We give lip-service to this doctrine
*Imago Dei – in the image of God
*We acknowledge “likeness” – moral, volitional, emotional, intellectual and relational.

2) We have neglected “image
*Image means “looks alike
*Our neglect has caused a big hole in our understanding of Imago Dei.

3) We have actively rejected “likeness
*God has no body??? God is “spirit“???
*We use anthropormorphisms to “explain” God’s appearances
*Imago Dei does NOT restrict God

4) God presents Himself:
*Walking in the Garden: 8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. ( Genesis 3:8)

*Talking to Aaron and Miriam: With him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?” (Numbers 12:8)

*Moses: 17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-32)

5) God reveals Himself in human form
*General, special and personal revelation
*If we deny the Imago Dei, we miss what our bodies mean.
*Our Theology is defective

6) We need a Biblical Theology of the Body
*What does the body tell us about God?
*What does the Imago Dei mean to the purpose of our bodies, mankind?

7) The Church does have a Theology of the Body, but it is wrong.

Is the body an aid, or is it an impediment to righteousness?

* Temple of the Holy Spirit: 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19)

* Glorify God with your body: 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:20)

* Present your bodies as living sacrifices: Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Rom. 12:1)

* Present yourselves to God: But present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. ( Rom: 6:13b)

8) What is the purpose of sex in marriage?
*Procreation
*Strengthening the marriage bond
*Recreation

9) What are we expected to think when we see the exposed human form?
*Disgust?
*Give glory to God?

10) “Modesty doctrine”
*The church has it all wrong.
*Biblical “modesty” refers to carriage and demeanor, not clothing

11) What is the source of the current Theology of the Body?
*Satan loves to twist and pervert the truth
*This Theology of the Body has failed the church
*It has been a failure for many generations

We are called to expose this lie!

12) We must recover the glory of God
*As revealed in our bodies
*We must proclaim this truth

13) Theology of the Body
*Our visible bodies reveal how God has proclaimed Himself

Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. (Psalm 96:6)

Strength and beauty are not mutually-exclusive, which is why God has revealed Himself in the strength of a man and the beauty of a woman. There is also a certain beauty in the strength of a man, because the physique of the masculine body has its own functional-beauty. While nobody will deny that women are the most beautiful of all of God’s creatures, they aren’t left out of displaying strength either. Men who tackle the job of being “Mr. Mom” marvel at how seemingly effortlessly women do what they struggle with. Why? Because God has gifted them with strength also.

Have you ever known any women who were both beautiful and strong? I have.

After the morning session, we had a time of prayer before lunch.

Lunch was provided by Garden of Eden Church, and while we ate, Cameron Bennett presented the Vision, Purpose and Mission of CNA. After his presentation, all of the pastors and ministry leaders who were present gathered around him to commission him to a new ministry at Rock Haven. He was commissioned by the laying on of hands and prayers, and then the pastors and ministry leaders offered him the right hand of fellowship.

The afternoon session focused on how we can impact others in our Christian Communities (without using the N-words), and how we can live the truth in a way that challenges other’s preconceptions.

How to influence the Church
1) Recognize that it is a Theological issue.
* Without a Biblical understanding of the Imago Dei, the Church can’t get its Theology straight.

2) Be alert for the many ways that the lie is expressed.
* “Modesty” rules – seeking to “protect” men from lust by laying the blame for men’s lust on women, and shaming them into “mitigating” men’s lust by dressing “modestly“.

* Double-standards – Men can dress almost any way they want, but women have to dress “modestly”.

* Jesus specifically refuted this false “modesty-dogma” in Mark 7:14-21, by teaching that lust and sexual sin come from the heart, not from what a person sees with their eyes.

3) We must remember that NO-ONE can convince ANYONE. That is the Holy Spirit’s job, so all we can do is present the Biblical “evidence“.

4) We must be ready to speak.

5) We must trust God with the results AND the consequences. There may be consequences for believing and proclaiming the truth.

Sunday…
A few hardy souls gathered early to walk come of the nature trails at Lake Como.

Morning worship…
We opened the service with several praise and worship hymns.

Pastor Dan shared some thoughts on 1 Cor. 1:26-31:
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

We were NOT wise, we were NOT mighty, we were NOT noble, and we were, in fact, FOOLISH, however God sees us as being “in Christ“, who is everything that we are not. We didn’t contribute ANYTHINGgood” to our salvation, God did it ALL, so our only boasting must be in the Lord.

The topic for the message was: The Body and Redemption
1) To be human is to have a body.

2) We will have a body for all eternity: 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:20-22)

3) Jesus was fully-human: 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, (Col. 2:9)

Why did Jesus need a human body to redeem us?

* Incarnation: 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

* Anticipation: 22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Hebrews 9:22-28)

* Substitution: 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me; 6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. 7 “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:4-7)

* Propitiation: 24 And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24), 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2), 19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19, 20)

* Intercession: 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:11-14)

* Resurrection: 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

* Ascension: 9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

* This is what Jesus did: 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ, who, 6 being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Communion:
While the Bread was being passed around, one of the ministry leaders served the Cup to each person. After everything was distributed, we all partook together.

We sang two more hymns before we were dismissed with prayer by Pastor Dan.

The worship service concluded another rewarding Christian Naturists Festival, and there is already talk about having another Festival next year.

Final thoughts…
Besides being able to spend two full days au naturel, it was a great weekend. The fellowship was wonderful, and being able to worship our God naturally was an awesome experience. That is the epitome of coming to God “Just as I am”.

Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

In Christ,
Steve

Do You Want To Be Humble? Emulate Christ!

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

He who is the eternal Word, very God of very God, entered into our humanity in much the same way we did, as a divinely-fertilized egg, a single cell, an embryo, totally-dependent on His young, teenage mother for His very existence. She wasn’t a princess, living in a fine palace; rather, she was a country-girl. He was born in the same manner countless babies have been born, through His mother’s birth-canal, not in a palace or even a hospital room, but in a stable. His incarnation began His descent from glory into the depths of Hell itself. He traded Heaven for a smelly stable. He traded His crown for a crown of thorns. He traded His throne for a cross, and ultimately He traded His life for ours, that we might be able to live with Him forever.

He was only eight days old when He experienced the pain of being circumcised. Circumcision wasn’t a clean, tidy hospital-procedure; rather it was done in the Temple with one of the crude cutting-implements of the day. He wasn’t dressed in cute little baby-outfits; rather, he was dressed in strips of coarse, hand-woven cloth. He wasn’t born walking and talking, potty-trained and able to feed Himself, rather, He was a baby with all its infant limitations. He and His parents became fugitives in Egypt from a ruthless king who had dozens of young boys slaughtered in hopes of “eliminating” Him. He grew and learned as any normal child does, and He experienced the trials of puberty as countless boys have since time began.

He was perfectly-obedient to His parents and to His Father, fulfilling all the requirements of the Law. A debate has been raging for centuries about whether Jesus could have sinned, and its answer has enormous-consequences on our salvation. If it would have been impossible for Jesus to sin, His righteous fulfillment of the Law would have been passive, because He could not do differently. If it was possible for Jesus to sin, His obedience was active and deliberate, which I believe the Bible supports. If Jesus could not sin, He has no righteousness to impute to us in our salvation, however, if He could have sinned, but didn’t, His perfect righteousness CAN be imputed to us in our salvation. We are the beneficiaries of His perfect righteousness, of His perfect obedience.

His humanity wasn’t just an “appearance“, He was, and is, as fully-human as you are, as I am. He had all the same physical “equipment” every male human has had or has. John the Apostle, in his Gospel, penned these beautiful words: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14a)

He felt all of our human-feelings and experienced all of our human-emotions. He hurt. He was hungry and thirsty. He felt anger, sorrow and even grief. He worked with His hands and didn’t have an entourage of Angels to cater to His every whim. He came not to be served, but to serve, and just before His crucifixion, He took upon Himself the lowliest position as a Servant, stripped naked and washed His disciple’s feet. Ultimately He served us by taking our sin upon Himself and taking the full-wrath of God for our sin on the cross.

Jesus didn’t just die-physically; He experienced the wrath of God, including being separated from His Father’s presence. He plumbed the depths of Hell, experiencing all of its horrors. As the first Adam began mankind’s descent into disobedience in a Garden, the Garden of Eden, so the second Adam, Jesus Christ, began His journey for our redemption in a Garden, the Garden of Gethsemane.

Before Jesus Christ was arrested, tried, tortured and crucified, God the Father gave Him a foretaste of what lie ahead. As He entered the Garden of Gethsemane, He started feeling the weight, the gravity of what was about to happen. He wasn’t just afraid, He was overwhelmed. As He clawed at the ground praying to His Father, He was staring into the gaping hole that is the abyss, Hell. He could see the never-ending flames, feel the heat, smell the acrid smoke, and hear the screams of those already trapped there. There was only one entrance, and there was no exit. That was where He was going, for you, for me.

His closest friends had all-but deserted Him, so He had no human moral-support. The question came down to whether He loved them, whether He loves us, enough to continue that journey. Had it been left totally up to Him, He might have avoided the cross, forsaking us and our salvation, but He had a job to do, a mission to accomplish. God’s whole plan of redemption was on the line. Ultimately, He never wavered. The mission went on final-countdown when He said Not as I will, but as You will“.(Matthew 26:39) The physical-agony of being tortured and crucified was a walk in the park compared to what He was going to endure in Hell, but He didn’t shrink back from those who came to arrest Him. He was totally-confident that He could, and would, accomplish His ultimate mission, our redemption.

As Jesus hung there on the cross, between Heaven and Earth, and saw the gaping-entrance to Hell open up, He cried out; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His Father had abandoned Him. He was utterly-alone. When He took His last breath, He fell head-long into Hell, the cosmic-incinerator of sin and evil, as the wrath of a Holy and Just God was poured-out on Him. He died, not for His own sin, but for OUR sin. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Our response…
As we consider what our Lord has done for us, how can we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think? How can we not serve Him and those around us in loving, gentle humility? I’ll leave you with the passage we opened with:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – John’s Testimony

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 1:14-17)

The core of the Apostle John’s Christology is that Jesus Christ is both the Eternal Word, who he affirms as being our Creator, and a man, displaying all the hallmarks of being human. No one was closer to Jesus than John. John had spent three years with Jesus. They may have been cousins, and Mary lived with John and his family after the crucifixion.

The most profound marvel of the Incarnation is that the sinless Son of God was able to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, fully-atone for our sins. If we die for our sins, we die, never to be raised again. Jesus died the death we could never die and was raised again so that we might be raised again also.
And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)

Jesus, in His incarnation, was Emanuel, God with us, and unlike previous times when God dwelt among His people, Jesus, God, was approachable, touchable, with no strings attached. He wasn’t separated by a curtain, approachable only once a year, and only by the High Priest with a blood-sacrifice. God, in bodily-form, dwelt among His people for several years. God came near. The Holy One of Israel got His hands dirty so that we might be made clean and new.

Only begotten” is one of the great mysteries in the Bible, because it would imply to us that the Word had a beginning, however He could not have been Eternal if He had a beginning. It is our language and word-usage which trips us up. If “unique” was substituted for “begotten“, it would give us a much clearer sense of what and who the Word was. Sometimes translation and our word-limitations make for less-than-clear understanding of the original thought.

Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I am frequently amazed by how many Christians have bought into lies, with pastors even preaching those lies from their pulpits. Just because colleges and seminaries teach it, and much of Christendom believes it, doesn’t make it true. The Protestant Reformation was started to confront and correct the rampant-heresy in the Roman Catholic Church. Lies enslave us, while truth sets us free. Jesus came to speak truth into our fallen world, to set us free.

Was John the Baptist demeaning himself by saying the Jesus Christ ranked higher than him? Absolutely not. He simply recognized that Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word, was God, and he wasn’t.

The author then contrasts Law and Grace by contrasting its authors. Moses was the great law-giver, but keeping the law never brought-about a righteous life. We have all experienced religious-legalism, and the Scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law had raised religious-legalim to a fine art. The problem was that even if a person kept 99% of the law perfectly, they were still condemned by that 1% they didn’t get quite right. Another problem was that the law only exacted penalties for failure to keep it but it didn’t have any rewards for compliance. A person may have a perfect driving-record for twenty years, but when they finally get a speeding-ticket, their otherwise-perfect driving-record doesn’t diminish the penalties for that ticket. Even though my only speeding-ticket was over thirty years ago, that ticket, and that I paid it, is still on record somewhere in Illinois. I would never get inducted into the “Safe-driver Hall of Fame” because I don’t have a perfect driving-record.

That is where Grace comes in. God gives us what we don’t deserve, a right-relationship with Him, rather than what we DO deserve, eternal-punishment. Christ has the perfect record we could never attain, and through His perfect life, shed-blood and finished-work, God gives us what He earned for us. Grace goes far-beyond just keeping us out of Hell. Grace also gives us a place in God’s eternal kingdom, with all the rewards that go with that blessed state. I get inducted into the “Safe-driver Hall of Fame” based on His perfect record, not kept out based on my flawed-record.

Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, came to reveal who God is in an intimate way. He didn’t merely “represent” God, He WAS God.

The Testimony of John
19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:14-34)

Why did the religious-authorities question John the Baptist? Didn’t he have the “right-stuff“? Didn’t he have the right “pedigree“? His father, Zacharias, was a priest, and his mother, Elizabeth, was a “daughter of Aaron“, so he certainly had the right “pedigree“, but our answer comes in the “who” that questioned him, the religious leaders. They didn’t believe that he had the “authority” to do what he was doing, specifically, baptizing people. John the Baptist had not graduated from the “Jerusalem Theological Seminary“, nor had he gone through the proper steps to become “ordained” by the “powers that be“. John’s “ordination” came from God, not from man. In a nut-shell, he was operating outside their “system“, and they didn’t like it.

John the Baptist did recognize that he was fulfilling the prophesy from Isaiah:
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

When John the Baptist said that he was not worthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal, he wasn’t demeaning himself, rather he was recognizing the greatness of the very Son of God.

Where have we seen the promise of God’s provision of a lamb before?
6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”

And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. (Genesis 22:6-8)

Abraham believed that God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice and his faith was rewarded with that provision. God’s provision of that lamb that day was a powerful symbol and foreshadowing of the perfect Lamb of God. Animal sacrifices could only cover-over sin, but could not take it away. Only the perfect Lamb of God could actually take upon Himself our sin and truly take it away.

Even though Jesus and John the Baptist were related, John knew very little about Jesus or His upcoming ministry until God revealed it to him. The clincher was when John baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit descend on Him in the form of a dove, combined with the Voice from heaven.

When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, all three members of the Godhead were revealed, Jesus, the Son of God, God the Father by His voice, and the Holy Spirit as represented by the dove. God had never revealed His fullness in this way before, which led John to say: I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34)

What a marvelous testimony!

Wishing you God’s richest blessings in 2016!
Steve

Bible Study – Promises

And the Word became flesh…

As we look back to the beginning of God’s relationship with His people, there is an unbroken chain of promises which were given to faithful men and women in the Old Testament. These are signposts which point forward to the culmination of God’s redemptive plan. Redemption is woven into the very fabric of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. The Incarnation wasn’t a “chance-event“, rather it was part of God’s plan from the beginning of time.

The first promise…
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Godly line of Seth…
25 Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, “God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord. (Genesis 4:25-26)

Enoch…
21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. 22 Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. (Genesis 5:21-24)

Line of Noah…
9 These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. 10 Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Genesis 6:9-10)

God’s covenant with creation…
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.

22 “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:20-22)

8 Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, 9 “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. 11 I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; 13 I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, 15 and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

18 Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated. (Genesis 9:8-19)

In the line of Shem…
24 When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. 25 So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.”

26 He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. (Genesis 9:24-26)

10 These are the records of the generations of Shem. Shem was one hundred years old, and became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood; 11 and Shem lived five hundred years after he became the father of Arpachshad, and he had other sons and daughters.

12 Arpachshad lived thirty-five years, and became the father of Shelah; 13 and Arpachshad lived four hundred and three years after he became the father of Shelah, and he had other sons and daughters.

14 Shelah lived thirty years, and became the father of Eber; 15 and Shelah lived four hundred and three years after he became the father of Eber, and he had other sons and daughters.

16 Eber lived thirty-four years, and became the father of Peleg; 17 and Eber lived four hundred and thirty years after he became the father of Peleg, and he had other sons and daughters.

18 Peleg lived thirty years, and became the father of Reu; 19 and Peleg lived two hundred and nine years after he became the father of Reu, and he had other sons and daughters.

20 Reu lived thirty-two years, and became the father of Serug; 21 and Reu lived two hundred and seven years after he became the father of Serug, and he had other sons and daughters.

22 Serug lived thirty years, and became the father of Nahor; 23 and Serug lived two hundred years after he became the father of Nahor, and he had other sons and daughters.

24 Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and became the father of Terah; 25 and Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years after he became the father of Terah, and he had other sons and daughters.

26 Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. (Genesis 11:10-26)

Promises to Abram…
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

Abram and Melchizedek…
17 Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all. (Genesis 14:18-20)

God’s covenant with Abram…
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.”

2 Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” 4 Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)

The Sign of the covenant…
17 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. 2 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.”

3 Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.

6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

9 God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” 19 But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” 22 When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.

Birth of Isaac Promised
18 Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, 3 and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. 4 Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5 and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.” 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” 7 Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. 8 He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.

9 Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. 12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” 13 And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ 14 Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.” (Genesis 17:1-22, 18:1-15)

God, in His providence, always maintained a line of Godly men and women down through the annals of time, men and women who were destined to be part of the lineage of the coming Savior. God hadn’t given up on His human image-bearers, and He was willing to do what it took to restore fallen humanity to a right relationship with Himself. We are privileged to be able to look back in time at these important events.

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – The Incarnation Foretold

And the Word became flesh…

Born of a virgin…
Jesus, while fully-divine, was also fully-human, which required a human biological-parent, a mother, and not just any mother, a virgin. Had His mother not been a virgin, there would have been the possibility of Him having a human-father also. That His mother would be a virgin was prophesied long before His birth.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Emmanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

18 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)

From the Tribe of Judah…
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.
9 Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 He ties his foal to the vine,
And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine;
He washes his garments in wine,
And his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are dull from wine,
And his teeth white from milk.” (Genesis 49:8-12)

The Son of David…
When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’” 17 In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David. (2 Samuel 7:12-17)

3 “I have made a covenant with My chosen,
I have sworn to My servant David:
4 Your seed will I establish forever,
And build up your throne to all generations.”
29 His seed also I will make to endure forever,
and his throne as the days of heaven. (Psalm 89:3-4, 29)

6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And He will delight in the fear of the Lord,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,
And faithfulness the belt about His waist. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the Lord is our righteousness.’ 17 For thus says the Lord, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; (Jeremiah 33:14-17)

To be born in Bethlehem…
2 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”
3 Therefore He will give them up until the time
When she who is in labor has borne a child.
Then the remainder of His brethren
Will return to the sons of Israel.
4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock
In the strength of the Lord,
In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.
And they will remain,
Because at that time He will be great
To the ends of the earth.
5 This One will be our peace. (Micah 5:2-5)

His lineage was foretold, His birthplace was foretold, and that His mother would be a virgin was foretold, but these are just the tip of the Old Testament promises “iceberg”. The first promise of a Savior was given by God to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and we will delve into the subsequent chain of promises in “Promises” and “Promises II”.

In Christ,
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

Mystery Of Mysteries

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.

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 1:1-5, 14)

The Mystery of Mysteries to me is not how Jesus, God, took on human flesh, but how Jesus perfectly combined both His humanity and His divinity into one person. I don’t have a problem understanding how Jesus became human, because I already have a good grasp on human reproduction, so it is no stretch for me to understand how God could have created one perfect human sperm, perhaps even emulating Joseph’s sperm so that Jesus looked like “one of the boys“.

We are born into space and time, so living in space and time is “normal” for us, but God isn’t constrained by space and time. God, in Jesus Christ, became constrained by space and time. He could not be in more than one place at a time, and yet there are instances in the Gospels when Jesus seemed to “dematerialize” and “reappear” somewhere else. This was most evident in the days following His resurrection, when He “materialized” on at least two occasions into locked upper-rooms, and when He “disappeared” from the dinner-table after breaking bread with the two disciples in Emmaus. Was His resurrection-body “different” than His pre-crucifixion human-body? He ate food in front of His disciples when He “appeared” to them in that locked, upper-room to prove that He wasn’t just a spirit, that He was real.

There were times when Jesus had “super-human” knowledge, and other times when He professed ignorance. He “saw” Nathaniel before he was introduced to Jesus, but asked where Lazarus was buried. He knew exactly what was going to happen to Him during His trial and crucifixion. He told His disciples that only the Father knows when He will return in triumph, and yet He said “I and the Father are one“. Were there limits to what He knew, or limits to what He was allowed to tell them?

Jesus turned water into wine, asked the Samaritan woman for a drink and then offered her “living water“, which was clearly spiritual in nature. He walked on water, calmed a storm with His command, and then said “I thirst” on the cross.

“35 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”” (Mark 4:35-41)

“Who can this be…?” so beautifully-illustrates this Mystery of Mysteries, because even though His disciples had been with Him for quite some time and had witnessed other miracles, this one blew their minds. Maybe everything else that He had done seemed trivial by comparison to Jesus calming the storm with a command. We see both His true humanity (asleep on a pillow) contrasted with His lordship over all of creation. One of those salty fishermen, John, who was probably trying to help hold the boat together in the storm, penned the marvelous words that I opened this with.

Prophets, hundreds of years before the Incarnation, said that Jesus would be called “Emmanuel“, which means “God with us“, and yet His favorite title was “Son of Man“. I sense that the more we get to know about Jesus, the deeper this Mystery of Mysteries will get.

Will you join me in exploring this Mystery of Mysteries?

In Christ,
Steve