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Merry Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas 2018

by Rick Shrader

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The secularization of our society over the last twenty five years is nothing short of amazing.  I remember vividly traveling to Russia during Christmas of 1991 with my father-in-law and brother-in-law.  The old Soviet Union had fallen and that country was trying to pull itself out of a communist economy that had failed miserably.  The biggest change was the legalization of religion back into government, schools, and the public place.  We were invited to come into the government schools and present the Christmas message.  The churches could again worship openly with freedom.  To them it was truly a merry Christmas.

At the same time America was outlawing nativity scenes on public or government property.  Schools were banning anything having to do with religion, at least the Christian religion.  The display of the ten commandments was beginning to be an issue though no one was yet pulling down statues or monuments.  It was the first gulf war that infused some patriotism back into America and with it a little reprieve from atheistic activism.

In those days traveling back and forth between Russia and America showed an ironic contrast between freedom and oppression.  Perhaps it takes seventy years of oppression for a people to realize how precious religious freedom is.  Yet now, in America, we take for granted the secularization of Christmas.  We hear Christmas songs but they are not religious songs or songs about the birth of God’s Son.  We see decorations but they are Santa Clauses and reindeer and Christmas trees.  The biggest moment in the season becomes the lighting of the tree and drinking eggnog.

Christians don’t mind the “extra-curricular” things.  We could have or not have the trees, the lights, the presents, or even the silliness of Santa Claus.  What Christians can’t do without is the truth of what happened two thousand years ago in Mary’s womb and in Bethlehem’s manger.  We also enjoy other holidays related to our country: its independence, its presidents, its war heroes, or Labor Day or Thanksgiving.  But what history has labeled “Christmas” and “Easter” represent two religious facts that Christians will never give up regardless of how their particular country allows them to be remembered.

The fall of the former Soviet Union showed that a nation cannot survive without a recognition of God.  When secularization of a nation devolves into chaos and selfishness, only a belief in man’s Creator will pull it back up.  But in this area of truth, Christianity alone puts all the pieces of the puzzle together.  “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  This is why all human societies must have some rule of law.  But it is not just that humans have some flaws that need correcting, humans have sinned before a holy God and stand in jeopardy of eternal punishment unless that sin is forgiven by God.  Why do we say that and how do we know it?  God has graciously told us so in His Word, the Bible.  It has proven itself to be the one infallible book from God.

So what did God do about this situation?  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  This is the most well-beloved verse in the Bible because it tells us that God loved us enough to let His Son die for us and to invite us to believe in Christ for eternal life.  But that same chapter in John also tells us, “And this is the condemnation that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (vs. 19).  Yet John 1:12 has said, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”  The greatest Christmas gift was the gift of His own Son so that we might escape eternal judgment for our sins.

We must dig a little deeper into our understanding of the Bible in order to set the Christmas message straight.  Jesus wasn’t merely a good man who set a good example of giving and sacrifice so that we would be able to go out and do the same.  The secularists call a “Christmas miracle” something that takes place because people do good things or give nice gifts or help helpless people.  These are right things for people to do for each other but they are not the miracle of Christmas.  No, a substitution had to take place.  Someone would have to do what mankind could not.

The Bible teaches that man does not have the ability within him to do anything good enough to merit God’s forgiving grace.  “For by grace are ye saved though faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any many should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  Since this is true, there is not a person born of human parents who can save himself much less save others.  There was only one way left for humans to have forgiveness of their sin, that is, for God to become a man Himself and take the sinner’s place.  This is what happened at that first Christmas.

It is often in the later verses of Christmas carols where the real truth of Christmas is explained.  Charles Wesley penned this miracle so well when he wrote,

 

 

It was by becoming a man, or incarnation, that God could Himself take our place as a worthy Substitute and live and die for us.  The reason the angels sang and the heavens rang was because this miracle took place.  But the irony is that the miracle had to be done in a natural manner.  That is, Jesus had to really become a man yet remain really God.  Sin had to be atoned for by a perfect man, but the only perfect man would also have to be God in flesh.  “Hail the incarnate Deity!”  This was the only hope for humans left, the only way for us to be rescued from a sinner’s hell.  No celebration of any religious fervor can equal the joy brought to the world at that glorious moment.

Consider carefully how God accomplished this miracle.  “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son” (Isa. 7:14).  “But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4).  Gabriel said to Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 2:35).  God became a man at the moment of Mary’s virginal conception.  That was divine incarnation, something that had never happened before and will never happen again.  The birth which happened nine months later in Bethlehem was part of the natural process that humans go through.  The conception in Mary’s womb was the miracle, not the birth in Bethlehem’s manger.

The Christmas story is the most simple, plain, touching drama in all of literature.  From this point on the God-man Jesus would live every natural experience that humans live and He would do it without sin.  “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22).  Joseph and Mary would suffer through one of the most difficult birth circumstances, escape the wrath of a jealous king, travel back home to take up a simple carpenter’s trade, and raise a unique son as well as give birth to other natural born sons and daughters (Matt. 13:55).

This natural life that Jesus the God-man lived would be both natural and miraculous.  He suffered, cried, hungered, felt sorrow and joy, popularity and opposition, love and hatred.  He showed that He was completely human and yet displayed miraculous power showing that He was completely divine.  These miracles proved to the Jews that He was their Messiah and that their time of refreshing had come.  But they did not believe Him.

Perhaps the most unique thing about Jesus’ life was the claim that He often made that He was God’s Son, the Messiah, the Incarnation of God in the flesh.  “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).  “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).  As many have noted, no one talks like this unless one of two things is true.  Either He was delusional or He was truly God.  You can’t have it both ways.  This is what all humans have had to decide.  Is He the One Who came from heaven to take my place and carry my  sins to the cross, to die for me and resurrect so that I may also live forever, or is He a fraud and a deceiver.

C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”1  Alister McGrath added, “In the [Apostle’s] creed, stating that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’ amounts to saying that Jesus is God. . . . If Jesus were just another human being, a creature like the rest of us, the New Testament writers would be guilty of worshiping a creature!”2

Then came the death.  “He came unto his own and his own received him not” (John 1:12).  “Crucify him . . . We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).  How sad was the Jewish unbelief when their own Scriptures declare, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).  Yes, Jesus bore the sins of the whole world upon Himself.  “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).  Faith is accepting Him as your substitute in His death.

Jesus died but He rose again, bodily from the grave, and ascended back into heaven and is seated at the Father’s right hand.  Death had no power over a righteous Man, and His resurrection showed that God had accepted His sacrifice on the cross for our sins.  What is the gospel, the “good news”?  “How that Jesus died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  Because of Christmas, the way is opened for us to escape eternal judgment and to live forever in heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Oh, here is the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s Son.  “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).  You may receive Him now as your Savior if you believe Who He is and what He has done for you.  Christmas, in its most basic truth, is not a time of giving but a time of receiving.  It all started two thousand years ago when God broke into our natural world by miraculous birth and became one of us.  So it is true,  “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).

O holy Child of Bethlehem!

Descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in,

Be born in us today!

 

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us,

Our Lord Emmanuel!

 

Notes:

  1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1960) 56.
  2. Alister McGrath, I Believe: Exploring the Apostle’s Creed (Downer’s Grove, IVP, 1997) 41.

 

 

Is Christmas Hateful?

Is Christmas Hateful?

by Rick Shrader

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Have you wondered why Christ has been banned from the holiday which bears His name, Christmas?  Or why Christianity alone is banned in a country which bears the insignia, “In God we trust?”  Never mind the fatal inconsistency that in America everything is tolerated except what can’t be tolerated.  And what can’t be tolerated?  Anything that disagrees with what is tolerated.

How did we get here?  A generation ago we were talking about a post-modern, post-Christian culture that was creeping into our society.  Well, as Jude says, it has crept in unawares.  We are now experiencing what a few years ago we were merely speculating about, and it is impacting our society with a vengeance.  My hard files and electronic files are packed with evaluations which were made in the 1990s and beyond.  At the time it was interesting, even intriguing, to think that America could lose its Christian identity in our own life time.  It was In 1984 that Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Finally, we must not forget that the world is on fire.  We are not only losing the church, but our entire culture as well.  We live in the post-Christian world which is under the judgment of God.”1

Soon afterward books began to appear that linked Schaeffer’s expression with the term “postmodern” derived especially from the French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida (1930-2004).  By1990 other Christian writers were flooding the book stores with warnings about this coming phenomenon.  One specific factor of which Christians warned was that there would be no absolute truth in a postmodern culture (a view they insisted was absolute). To insist on one’s belief being true would make another’s false, and this would  be bigoted and even hateful.

While living and pastoring in Ft. Collins, CO, the local paper printed an article by a liberal Rabbi which read, “‘It is not sinful to be a gay and lesbian,’ said Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, ‘It is sinful to have these prejudices and act out on them.’”2  About the same time Dan Story had written,

This post-Christian and postmodern world holds to the premise that there are no absolute truths that apply to everyone equally.  Christianity and Christian ethics are no longer relevant.  In fact, orthodox Christians are seen as bigoted, narrow-minded, and anti-intellectual because we refuse to accept other religions as ‘paths to God’ or to consider homosexuality, pornography, or abortion as permissible in a moral society.3

Consider just a few other warnings sounded by prominent Christian writers at the time.  John MacArthur wrote:

Think about it:  pronouncing anything ‘true’ and calling its antithesis ‘error’ is a breach of postmodernism’s one last impregnable dogma.  That is why to a postmodernist nothing is more uncouth than voicing strong opinions on spiritual, moral, or ethical matters.4

Alister McGrath wrote:

In a postmodern context, questions are likely to be raised about the New Testament’s emphasis on Jesus Christ being the only way to salvation (which is held to be inconsistent with postmodernism’s positive appraisal of diversity).5

Alan Wolfe, writing in the Atlantic Monthly wrote:

Postmodernism exercises such a fascination over the evangelical mind, I believe, because of the never-ending legacy of fundamentalism.  In one sense evangelical scholars have moved away from Billy Sunday and in the direction of French poststructuralism: they cast their lot with those who question any truths rather than those who insist on the literal truth of God’s word.6

The result of all of this has been a new century where Christianity is feared because of its grand narrative of redemption exclusively through Jesus Christ and its commitment to the absolute truth of a written document, the Bible.  Because of these, Christianity must not be allowed to speak in the public arena because these views are hateful by proclaiming other views false (that is, they came to wrong conclusions which is to say they were less intelligent, and that is a hateful thing to say).  The Christmas holiday must only be allowed to display folk tales and seasonal things, in an effort to bring it down to the level of all other religious days.  To speak of the unique Son of God becoming incarnate to provide the only way to God is, in a postmodern world, bigoted and hateful.

The postmodern view of the world, however, is unrealistic and false.  In fact, it is itself unloving and uncaring.  It substitutes obvious reality with destructive word games like deconstructionism, finding an evil intent behind all history; semiology, changing the usage of simple words into unintended meaning; and social constructivism, turning each person’s version of reality into their own reality.7  This is seen so clearly in today’s view of gender identity which dreams up a false identity for oneself, when, in fact, nothing could be more clear than that God made us male and female and in His own image.

 

The Reality of Christmas

The facts

First, a few facts need to be faced.  The word “hate” is an easy tool to use against someone with whom you disagree.  We like to attach “phobic” to anything opposed to cultural mores.  If you disagree with homosexuality you are homophobic.  If you disagree with another culture you are xenophobic.  Postmodernism extends this supposed “fear” to “hatred” and then to “racism” (because everything from gender identity to sexual preference is now a “race”).  These have become the worst crimes for humans to commit.  Christians (and Christmas) are accused of these simply because they disagree.

But disagreement is not fear, hatred, nor racist.  Disagreement is one’s assessment of right and wrong, something all of us do throughout each day of our lives.  I disagree with eating dirt and I disagree with murder and for correct reasons.  Historically, it can be shown, disagreement more often becomes a catalyst to discovery of the truth, not to hatred or fear.  But when the truth is not allowed because it limits, forbids, or labels something as wrong, that is social totalitarianism, not freedom.

God labels many things wrong and, of course, He is right and has every right to say so.  God made us in His image and that is our true identity regardless of how we may want to identify ourselves.  It is for this reason that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16).  God doesn’t tell us what is right and wrong because He hates us but because, loving us, He explains to us what is good and bad for us.

A difficult reality

God has told us something that is very difficult to accept but is absolutely necessary for us to know for our own good.  That is that all human beings, though each one is made in God’s image, have sinned in Adam and are themselves sinners.  The reality of our sinful nature is so obvious that it takes the sleight of postmodernism to deny.  Why do we have to teach children to do right?  Why do we have a rule of law in every society?  Why does every person have a conscience?  All of these things exist, and must exist, because of the reality of our fallen nature.

It does no good at this point to blame God for our sinfulness.  As they say, “it is what it is.”  God made us with a choice and holds us accountable for it.  Sin is real and God is still holy.

An even more difficult reality

There is an everlasting punishment for sins called hell, and for two very good reasons.  The first reason is that God Himself is absolutely holy and good and will deal with anything contrary to Himself.  This doesn’t mean that He deals with it immediately.  In fact, God is very longsuffering with us so that we have time to respond to Him (2 Peter 3:9).  The second reason is that unrepentant sin will be dealt with in a very harsh way, a way that equals God’s goodness and holiness.  “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  It’s not that the holy God knew this and did not care, for even that would be uncharacteristic of holiness.  Rather, the holy and good God has not only revealed the truth about this, but has done something magnificent to remedy the situation.

A divine moral dilemma

That may not sound right since whatever is truly divine is never caught in any moral compromise, but the apostle Paul, in the third chapter of Romans (verses 21-31), presents it as if it were.  There is no way for fallen human beings to become right with God again on their own.  “There is none righteous, no, not one” (3:10); “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (3:23).  God cannot simply place a waiver on sin.  For to ignore sin and leave it unaddressed would make Him guilty, less than holy.  Something must be done that does not impugn God’s holiness in this way.

You may have noticed that Christmas carols are also avoided in public.  One reason is that they also display this difficult reality and moral dilemma.  “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.”  “No more let sins and sorrows grow,” the Christmas carols record.  Yet right here is the postmodern dilemma also.  The reason for the Christian’s Christmas message is because we have found ourselves helpless and sinful and in need of divine deliverance.  God has said that we are wrong!  He has said that He disagrees with us!  By postmodern creed He would be hateful to say such a thing to us.  You may try to find your way out of the dilemma by going that way, or you may, in humility, see God’s way out.

Joy to the World

The righteousness which we all need has come from God Himself, and from Him alone.  If just one man could live righteously before God, God could be satisfied in him, but none can.  So God, being Himself Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sent His only Son into the world to be that perfect man.  But will He save only Himself, and let all the world perish?  No, rather He will give Himself to die in their place and then let whosoever will accept Him as their substitute.  Then salvation is by grace, that is, we are not saved by our works, but by the righteousness of the One Who lived without sin and died in our place.  “To declare,” Paul says, “I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).  Dilemma solved!

No more let sins and sorrows grow;

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings known

Far as the curse is found, far as the course is found,

Far as, far as, the curse is found.

O Holy Night

Now we see why Christmas is so loved by the humble and so hated by the proud.  That miracle, that divine moment, God became a man to do for man what man could not do for himself.  The condemnation of eternal hell was upon all of us.  We were without hope and without God in a sinful world.  But at that moment of incarnation, when the angels sang and the heavens rang, the only possible hope for all mankind was born.  “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4).

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth,

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn,

Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices,

O night divine, of night when Christ was born!

O night, O holy night, O night divine!

 

O Come All Ye Faithful

The Christian’s Christmas message is both narrow and broad.  It is narrow in that God declares loudly that it is the only way to Him.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).  “There is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  In this day of multi-everything, this road is too narrow, too exclusive.  In the world’s terms it is “bigoted” to exclaim that one has the only truth.  But God’s Word (and therefore the Christian’s Christmas) says it!

But it is also very broad.  “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  The real blessing of Christmas, the real joy to the whole world is that salvation is made possible for every man, woman, boy and girl.  This is God’s Christmas gift to the world.  The only condition, as with any gift, is to receive it.  So it is good news that we can’t earn it or pay for it.  The whole world is in the same lost condition so God solved the universal problem with a gift.  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  Only the giver of a gift had to pay the price and Jesus did when He died for us.  The receiver is only the recipient.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem!

Come and behold Him, born the King of Angels!

O come, let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

And So . . .

Is Christmas hateful?  Is God hateful?  To many this seems to be the case.  They cannot find it within themselves to admit their need of a Savior.  They will not accept a gift (and the love of God!) that is given because of the incapacity of the receiver.  Such would make a person humble, it would make him necessarily thankful, and this the prideful human heart is averse to admitting.

But you may this very moment.  “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).  It is a promise from the Giver.  When you do, the light of heaven will open to you and Christmas will be Christmas again.

Notes:

  1. Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1992, copyright 1984) 90.
  2. “Reform Rabbis Get OK to Sanction Same-Sex Unions,” Ft. Collins Coloradoan, 3-30-00.
  3. Dan Story, Engaging The Closed Mind (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999) 9.
  4. John MacArthur, The Truth War (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) 189.
  5. Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012) 158.
  6. Alan Wolfe, “The Opening of the Evangelical Mind,” The Atlantic Monthly, October, 2000, p. 73.
  7. These terms taken from my seminar notes on Postmodernism.

 

 

The Virgin Birth of Christ

The Virgin Birth of Christ

by Rick Shrader

There is no more precious doctrine in the Scripture than the virgin birth of Christ.    The truth that the God of all creation, the Holy One of all eternity, the One Who loved us and became a man in order to redeem us from our sin, is the greatest thought of the human mind.  The fact that the world will not receive it and shuts out all testimony to it, especially at this time of the year, is a testimony to its truth.  If we were not sinners there would be no need for such an incarnation, and the lost world knows this and would prefer it to be that way.  But fact is fact, and there is no ignoring it—Jesus Christ came from heaven to redeem us.  “And thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

Christ’s incarnation is testimony to the fact that life in the womb is precious.  Human life begins at conception and is a living, eternal soul from that moment on.  Christ, however, existing from all eternity, entered the womb as the eternal Son of God without ceasing or beginning to be.  Gabriel said to Mary, “thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.  He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest . . . . Therefore also, that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:31, 35).  Son of God, of course, is a term for deity, the second Person of the Godhead.  One of the attributes of God is eternality, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending.  For Jesus to be our Savior, He had to be divine, and to be divine He had to be eternal, and to be eternal, He had to exist before, during, and after the birth in Bethlehem’s manger.  The life in Mary’s womb was the Eternal Life that would light the world!

The Pre-incarnate Christ

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2).  Jesus is the Word because He speaks God’s thoughts to mankind.  ”Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (Heb. 1:2).  “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).  The “Word” of verse one is the “Him” of verse four.   Three things are said in this magnificent introduction to John’s gospel.

The Word was eternal.  This Word “was.”  The imperfect tense means an ongoing action, what L.S. Chafer called “the eternal present.”1  Luther said, “Something was before the world and the creation of all things.  That must be God.”2  In that familiar Christmas verse from Micah it is said, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2). 

The Word was preexistent.  This Word was “with God.”  Eternality goes hand in hand with preexistence but they are not the same.  The Son and the Father (and the Spirit) dwelt together in perfect unity, three persons but one God.  The Word was “with” God.  This little word, pros, means to be face to face with someone.  The word for “face” is pros?pon.  F.B. Meyer wrote, “The face of the everlasting Word was ever directed towards the face of the everlasting Father.”3  This was the Angel of the Lord of the Old Testament, the One Who met Moses at the burning bush and Who conversed with Abraham on the plains of Mamre.  The Angel never appears again after He became flesh in Mary’s womb. 

The Word was deity.  This Word “was God.”  It cannot be translated any other way, as unbelievers attempt to do.  The article goes with the subject in the nominative case, and for emphasis the Greek puts the predicate noun first, “and God was the Word.”  That is like saying, “the boy was a good student, and David was the boy!”  But the proper meaning is, “the boy was David.”  This is what caused Charles Wesley to write,

Christ by highest heav’n adored,

Christ the everlasting Lord:

Late in time, behold Him come,

Off-spring of a virgin’s womb.

Veiled in flesh the God-head see,

Hail th’incarnate Deity!

Pleased as man with men to dwell,

Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hark! The herald angels sin,

“Glory to the new-born King.”

 

The Prophesied Christ

The Old Testament prophecies of Christ leave no doubt that the baby in Mary’s womb was the eternal Son of God.  The angel quoted Isa. 7:14 to Mary that a virgin would “conceive.”  Whereas humans pass on their seed through a woman and a man so that it is impossible for a virgin woman to conceive, the eternal Son of God came into Mary’s womb through “the power of the Highest” overshadowing her (Luke 1:35).  She was just the channel for the Word to take on human form from a preincarnate state to an incarnate state.  The Son that the virgin would conceive is Immanuel, which, Matthew interpreted, means “God with us.”  He had no beginning and will have no ending.  He is Alpha and Omega.  He did not begin life at conception, much less at birth!

Isaiah’s prophecy in 9:6 includes the wonderful news that this baby is the “Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”  Again we read that the eternal God simply took up residence in the womb of a human girl for a period of time. 

He is the Mighty God of creation as John had also said of the Word, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).  Paul said to the Corinthians, “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Cor. 8:6).  He upholds all things that He made by the word of His divine and almighty power (Heb. 1:3).  He is also the “everlasting Father,” not that there is any mixture of the persons of the Father and the Son, but, as the older writers term it, “the Father of eternity, as if even everlasting duration owed itself to his paternity.”4  The prophet is clear, the eternal Being was in the womb of the virgin and would soon be born into the world.

The Psalmist revealed that God had called Jesus “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psa. 110:4).  Whereas the Old Testament priesthood was served by priests humanly born of parents and therefore serving only a life-time, this Priest has no such limitations.  The writer of Hebrews uses this powerful argument for the ending of the law, and describes Melchisedek, king of Salem, as “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” (Heb. 7:1-3).  This of course is applied to Christ literally when he writes, “And it is far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedek there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life” (7:14-15).  

In the last and great prophecy of the book of Revelation, Jesus appeared to John on the Isle of Patmos in His eternal splendor and said, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, said the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).  It is not enough to say that He is the Omega without saying that He is also the Alpha.  These terms mean that He has neither beginning nor ending.  And if He has no beginning, He was existing eternally at His conception in Mary’s womb waiting to be born nine months later, taking upon Himself the garment of human limitation.

The gospel of Christ

“But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).  The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a gospel of example from one human to another.  Jesus was not a good man who showed us how to live and die.  If that is the case, we need not bother ourselves with sin and hell, or with a divine Savior and redemption by His blood.  But if we are sinners by birth and face an eternal punishment in hell, then we need a Savior Who is more than we, a Savior Who is human but divine, a Savior Who knows our humanity but rises above it in sinless perfection.  We need an eternal Savior. 

Lenski writes, “The Son’s going out from God on his mission is seen in his becoming man.  He did not cease to be the Son of God when he became man.  He did not drop his deity, which is an impossible thought.  He remained what he was and added what he had not had, namely a human nature, derived out of a woman, a human mother.  He became the God-man.”5  Paul’s description is that of Isaiah’s, a virgin born Son, “made of a woman” and not of a man.  And note that this all happened “in the fullness of time.”  “Late in time behold Him come,” not early in time, not the beginning of His existence, but late, when time was at its fullest, when this eternal One took up residence in Mary’s womb. 

Why do we have no gospel without a virgin birth?  Because we do not need a human-only savior who is but a good example.  We need a Savior Who can be the sacrifice for our sins, accepted by a holy God as our Substitute.  When the Pharisees were accusing Jesus of having an earthly father He replied, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).  He meant that they must believe that He is the I AM, the eternal Jehovah, the Angel of the Lord, Who met Moses at the burning bush.  John uses this expression again in 18:5 at His arrest in the garden.  At the mere mention of this title, the soldiers fell backward to the ground.  He had said before, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).  This Jesus can be your Savior.  This Jesus is God in the flesh.  This Jesus died, was buried, and rose again for you, coming out of the grave with the same eternity with which He came into this world.

And So . . .

Jesus said “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). 

If words like these came from the greatest, holiest, best of men, we should fling them back with indignation.  But they are the words of Him by whom and for whom we were created; of Him who spoke from Sinai, and knows the guilt and penalty of sin; of Him to whom all judgment has been committed, and who can anticipate the decrees of the Great Day; of Him-let us not forget-who ‘took part of flesh and blood,’ and knows our burdens and our toils.  And when spiritual men dwell upon His words, with thoughts like these filling their hearts, they do not sit down to frame a Christology; they cast themselves at His feet and worship Him.6

Notes:
1. L.S. Chafer, “The Preexistence of Christ,” Vital Christological Issues, R. Zuck, Gen. Ed.(Grand Rapids:  Kregel, 1997) 13.
2. By Hengstenberg, The Gospel of John (Minn.:  Klock & Klock, 1980) 16.
3. F.B. Meyer, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, nd.) 14.
4. Albert Barnes, Isaiah (Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1980) 193.
5. R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of Galatians (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961) 199.
6. Sir Robert Anderson, The Lord From Heaven (Grand Rapids:  Kregel, 1980) 51.

 

A Nativity Scene

A Nativity Scene

by Rick Shrader

It was Christmas time in 1992 when I first visited Russia and Ukraine.  In America battles were raging over nativity scenes on government property.  It was a startling realization to find that in Russia, the former Soviet Union, nativity scenes were going up all over the place and government schools were inviting Christian ministers to speak to the classes about the birth of Jesus.  Churches that were underground for years were now meeting openly and even building church buildings.  As an American who grew up fearing the “We will bury you” rhetoric of Soviet leaders, it seemed like the world was backwards.  In America we couldn’t mention God or religion on government property, but in Russia there was freedom to do that and more.

Sadly, such freedom in Russia and Ukraine is being challenged and no one knows where Russia (especially) will end up with regard to freedom of religion.  Ukraine seems to be fairing better.  I have spent time in Ukraine in 2011 and 2012, teaching in a conservative Baptist seminary and speaking in local churches.  Things hardly seem any different than in our country for doing these ministries.  In fact, the school that was started by BIEM under Peter and Sam Slobodian in the mid-90s in Kiev is going strong and students are starting churches all over the former Soviet Union.  Some of the greatest Christian workers I have met are there faithfully serving the Lord and standing for the faith.

To be truthful, nativity scenes have never been my favorite thing, but we all understand the truth behind the images.  I prefer a church scene with carolers singing Christmas songs.  But I certainly sympathize with the battles for nativity scenes because those are battles for religious liberty.  What I don’t like is the display of nativity scenes, or any other decoration, for personal merit or display.  A Christmas decoration can be a witness for Christ if done in the right way, and many carry specific messages about Christ, but none should be done selfishly.

In our politically correct society, everyone is afraid to mention anything that might offend someone, and aren’t we all tired of people trying to make something spiritual out of everything from Santa Claus to giving gifts!  “After all,” they say, “isn’t the real meaning of Christmas to give?”  Forget speaking of Christ or incarnation, doing the good work of giving is what is important, and if we give in some way we are finding the real meaning of Christmas.  So we are flooded with commercials and programs that never mention what God did in Bethlehem but make a saint out of anyone (of any lifestyle) who works in a soup kitchen.  One wonders why human beings are so willing to make personal redemption a task rather than a gift from God.  But I guess if they can reduce that task to a simple deed at Christmas time, it soothes the conscience!

My thoughts go back to that Christmas in the former Soviet Union.  Does it take seventy years of oppressive atheism and communism to make a people long for the REAL meaning of Christmas?  Does a nation have to give up freedom, allow perversion within, and persecution without, and perhaps even wait for a generation to die off, just to learn what is really true and important?  Russia did.  I hope and pray America will not.  But at this time it seems we have no tolerance for belief in God, or revelation from His Word, or a message that says we need a Savior who is God incarnate.  I’m not remembering only church life.  What happened to a whole nation, conservative and liberal, cults and societies, religious and nonreligious, who allowed for God and His Word, respected church, honored public prayer, and fought for everyone’s right to have it that way?

It is an interesting fact that we do not find a lot of “holiday traditions” in the New Testament.  We do not see the believers keeping a special day for the birth of Christ, much less reconstructing a little artifact of what that scene in Bethlehem looked like—and there may have been some there who would have known!  It seems that Easter (as we and all the pagans call it) was celebrated every Sunday morning and not just once a year.  There is a real silence in the New Testament about such things.  Even Jewish feasts are only mentioned incidentally as the disciples (especially Paul) happened to be going to Jerusalem during that time.  The churches, it seems, were busy going about their business in another way.

Now I have never objected to using religious or secular artifacts that remind us of good things.  We have a Christmas tree at our house.  We bake birthday cakes and blow out candles.  We do not, however, keep Halloween in any form because these kinds of things have gone way beyond any worthwhile function.  I certainly have no objection to being deeply patriotic or celebrating other national memorials such as Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, or the fourth of July.  To the believer, however, these things are symbolisms that may have little or no real substance, including Christmas and Easter paraphernalia. 

My proposition is this.  The incarnation of God in the flesh (Emmanuel, God with us) must be believed and accepted (along with Christ’s death and resurrection) by simple faith in the heart.  That faith, will create the real nativity scene.  I am not saying that such faith takes the place of the original nativity.  That fact cannot be changed.  God became a man (actually at His divine conception nine months before His birth) and that is an undisputed fact of history.  Whether anyone believes it or not cannot change what happened.  A whole country may decide to outlaw its public mention and discard every memory of the fact.  It is fact nonetheless.  But even a scientific interest in Bethlehem’s manger or the arrangement of the stable will not fulfill the purpose for that event.  Only a reception of the truth of it will truly represent the first nativity scene.

I think the apostle John was highly sensitive to this when he wrote his three epistles.  Repeatedly he underscores the need to believe that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh.  “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?  He is antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 Jn. 2:22).  “”Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist” (4:3).  “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.  This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 Jn. 7).  John had no patience for a hypocrite who went through the motions of Christianity while denying truth of Christianity.  We would really be politically incorrect  today if we called a non-Christian who puts up Christmas decorations an antichrist!

Let me go back again to that Christmas in the former Soviet Union.  That nation had rejected the truth of God’s incarnation for seventy years.  It had robbed its people of the gospel and hope of eternal life for generations.  But the reconstruction of nativity scenes after the fall of the iron curtain was not the meaning of Christmas again in that dark land.  The reception of the truth of the incarnation was the real nativity scene.  That image that I carry with me of my father-in-law preaching again to his own people; the hungry soul that, when he had received a New Testament, said, “Ah, bread!”  that was the real Christmas.  So now, the thriving churches that gather each Lord’s Day to worship the true God, this is the real nativity scene that is reconstructed anywhere and anytime the truth of the incarnation is received.

There was a time in America when not even nativity scenes were necessary to display the real meaning of Christmas.  Believers gathered together, preached the gospel to friends and visitors, baptized their converts in a watery grave, solemnly memorialized the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and lifted their voices to God in praise and worship.  For me, that is all the nativity scene I need.  That is the real representation of the incarnation of Christ.

There was a time in America when nonbelievers allowed such nativity scenes without fear and animas.  They too realized the great benefit that was gained living in a country with that kind of a foundation.  No one was forced to believe it, but all benefited from it.  Alexis de Tocqueville once said that America is great because America is good.  When America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.  That is the spiritual cliff we are on.  Americans have lived on the capital of a spiritual and good nation.  But that capital is about gone.  Contrary to atheistic dreamers, the true nativity scenes cannot be expunged here anymore than they can in countries like the Soviet Union.  They will thrive in every corner where the gospel is preached.  And it will be preached because that will always be given unto God and not to Caesar.

May we all create a real nativity scene in our hearts by true belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior.  And may that scene be displayed throughout our needy land where ever true Christianity is found.

Our father’s God, to Thee, Author of liberty, to Thee we sing:

Long may our land be bright, with freedom’s holy light;

protect us by Thy might, Great God our King!

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. 

We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!

 

The Son of God

The Son of God

by Rick Shrader

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35).

 

 There are no more powerful words than these for Christmas.  This is as close as we come to a description of how “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  We can all identify with Mary’s question, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34).  We may even beg the question here, or actually two questions: how did God become fully human and remain fully God; and how, if that happened, did He remain sinless?  I say beg the question because we know He did both of those!  He did become fully man and He did remain the sinless Son of God.  Without both of those things being true, the substitution of Jesus Christ for our sins could not have taken place.  If He did not fully become a man He could not identify with the fallen race of Adam and become its Redeemer.  If He did not remain sinless He would have to die for His own sins, not ours.  “How shall this be?”

We know before we approach this verse that Jesus Christ was sinless.  Charles Ryrie writes,

Our Lord was announced as a holy child (Luke 1:35).  He challenged His enemies to show that He was a sinner which they could not do (John 8:46).  They failed in their attempts to trap Him by using something He said (Matt. 22:15).  During the trials and Crucifixion He was acknowledged as innocent eleven times (by Judas, Matt. 27:4; by Pilate six times, 27:24; Luke 23:14; John 18:38; 19:4, 6; by Herod Antipas, Luke 23:15; by Pilate’s wife, Matt. 27:19; by the repentant thief, Luke 23:41; and by the Roman centurion, Matt 27:54).  Furthermore, there is no record of our Lord ever offering a single sacrifice, though He frequented the temple.  This silence speaks of the fact that He did not need to since He was without sin.1

We know also that Jesus Christ was fully human.  Rolland McCune writes,

For instance, Jesus refers to himself as a man (John 8:40).  Peter announces that Jesus of Nazareth was ‘a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs’ (Acts 2:22).  Paul similarly asserts, ‘The free gift is not like the transgression.  For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many’ (Rom. 5:15).  In another place, Paul says, ‘By a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead’ (1 Cor. 15:21; cf. Heb 2:14).  Later he says that ‘there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 2:5-6).  Additionally, references to Jesus’ Davidic descent further point to Jesus’ humanity (cf. Matt. 1:1; Acts 2:30; Rom. 1:3), as does reference to His Jewish lineage (Rom. 9:5).2

And so, again, letting Scripture speak for itself, before we approach Gabriel’s explanation in order to answer Mary’s (and our) question, we know that the divine method of virgin birth will produce a God-man, the theanthropic person, a hypostatic union between God and man.  One person, Jesus Christ, with two natures divine and human.  We also know the virgin birth will produce the sinless Son of God, “that holy thing” called “the Son of God.”  But, “How shall this thing be?”

Two extremes must be discarded before any sense can be made of it.  One, we must not exalt Mary beyond what she was, a sinner saved by grace.  And, two, we must not make the miracle less than it was, a divine intervention into the natural birth process.

“Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this thing be, seeing I know not a man” (Luke 1:34).  G. Campbell Morgan beautifully responds,

I have seen that question translated differently in the interest of softness, and what is falsely called delicacy: ‘How can this be, seeing that I am an unmarried woman?’  I hate this kind of false delicacy.  Leave the question as it is.  It is the cold, scientific, biological difficulty, bluntly stated.  It is the question being debated hotly today.  It is at least interesting, then, to observe that according to the historic record, the first person to raise the difficulty was Mary herself.3

Mary’s sinful humanity

That Mary was sinful is left without question in the text.  “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).  Some have tried to get around this difficulty by posing that Mary’s sinful nature was enough to make Jesus sinful even with a virgin birth and therefore Jesus was a separate creation within but apart from Mary’s humanity.  But this would detach Jesus from any real humanity.

The Catholic Church tries to solve this problem by claiming that Jesus was sinless because Mary was sinless.  This doctrine is called the immaculate conception, not of Jesus but of Mary!  Of course this only puts the problem back a generation:  How, then, did Mary remain sinless?  They are not claiming a virgin birth for Mary, only a sinless human conception (Give me the problem of a virgin birth over that).  The Catholic Catechism quotes Pope Pius IX from 1854, “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”4

They claim that Gabriel said, “Hail, Mary, full of grace” (Luke 1:28) by which they claim Mary was, “redeemed from the moment of her conception.”5 Actually, of course, he said nothing of the kind.  “Highly favored” is a beautiful translation of the greeting.  Many margins have simply, “much graced,” or “having been graced.”  The Catholic doctrine goes on to make Mary the mother of all and who, through the Church, brings “virginal” grace to all through baptism.

Christ the sinless God-Man

We know both that Mary was sinful and that Jesus was sinless.  Gabriel said, “Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”  John wrote, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  The Word (Logos) is the eternal second person of the God-Head, eternal, fully God, perfect, and sinless.  He never was tainted with sin and never could be whether in eternity past, in His incarnation, or in eternity future.  This Word “became” flesh, that is, His fleshly humanity started at this miraculous conception and will continue for all eternity as the God-man, Jesus the Christ.

Charles Wesley said it most famously when he wrote,

Christ, by highest heaven adored;

Christ, the Everlasting Lord!

Late in time behold Him come,

Offspring of the Virgin’s womb:

Veiled in flesh the God-head see;

Hail the Incarnate Deity,

Pleased as man with men to dwell,

Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new-born King.”

The virgin birth

The problem of a miraculous, supernatural birth is solved by the fact that “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”  Those who doubt the validity of Biblical miracles simply doubt God.  “Anyone who affirms that a virgin birth is impossible, is just confessing his or her own unbelief in the God of the Bible.”6 “Overshadow” (episkiazo) means to envelop in darkness.  It is the same word used of the cloud that overshadowed the disciples on the mount of Transfiguration when they were made privy to Christ’s essential deity.  This is not unlike the Shekinah Glory that overshadowed the tabernacle in the wilderness when God’s glory appeared in the holy of holies.  The Word “dwelt” (tabernacle) among us.

Who can really explain how this miracle took place?  Or any miracle?  If we knew it would not be a miracle.    We can only know what resulted.  “Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”  William Kelly added,

and not merely Son of man.  This is exceedingly important.  ‘Son of God’ is a title that belongs to our Lord both in His Divine glory before He became a man and here; for, in this place when He became a man, he did not cease to be Son of God.  As incarnate He was still the Son of God.  So, again, when he rose from the dead, the same thing was true; He was the Son of God as risen again. . . He was the Son of God when He was purely and simply a Divine Person; Son of God when He became a man; Son of God when risen from the dead and gone out of this world to heaven.7

Though a man-woman conception did not take place (a thing necessary for all normal births, and necessary for sin to be brought forward from Adam and Eve), a conception did in fact take place; a conception somehow blending the divine and the human; a conception that kept in place the full humanity of the man, and the full deity of the divine; one person—two natures; Son of God, who can also now be called Son of man.

The take-back has begun

When the first man Adam sinned, the whole human race fell into sin and was taken captive by Satan at his will.  What was rightfully God’s was stolen by the usurper.  But on that eventful day of the virgin’s conception, God landed on our shores and began taking back what is rightfully His.  One day He will return Himself, bodily, and in great glory, to bring about “the restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21).  The usurper will be bound and kept in the bottomless pit while the whole earth enjoys its long-awaited millennial Jubilee.

Most people who have lived on this earth, however, have already died or will die before that event takes place.  Their only hope is to participate in the one-on-one recovery that is now taking place: the gospel preaching offer of personal faith in Jesus the Christ.    Their salvation is dependent, at least in part, on this miraculous virgin birth.  The only way for human beings to be redeemed by God is to accept the salvation provided for by the substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection of the sinless God-Man.

The “bad news” of the book of Romans is that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (3:23).  But the “good news” is that we can be “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24).  This isn’t done by God declaring sinners excused as if God could “look the other way” (which is what I think many people believe grace is).  He could not do that and remain a just and holy God.  No.  There has to be a way for God to declare sinners justified and to remain just Himself.

This is why God became flesh and dwelt among us as the God-Man.  “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (3:25-26).

A sinless, just, divine, man, would be the only hope of the world.  A God-Man, Who could remain just Himself and bring the unjust to justification. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).  That began at that special moment of conception in Galilee, continued in that still and lonely night in Bethlehem, and was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead,” (Rom. 1:4) that morning outside Jerusalem.  “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.”

For Christ is born of Mary

And gathered all above,

While mortals sleep,

the angels keep,

Their watch of won-d’ing love.

O morning stars,

together proclaim the holy birth!

And praises sing to God the King,

And peace to men on earth.

 

The Case for Christmas/Easter

The Case for Christmas/Easter

by Admin

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I read these two booklets to determine if they were presenting a case for the celebration of Christmas and Easter.  There are those who sometimes question whether or not we, as Christians, should participate in the commemoration of those two holidays given their somewhat pagan beginnings and their worldly celebration today.  However, that was not Strobel’s intent.  Both booklets are primarily excerpts from his book The Case for Christ, with The Case for Easter primarily extracted from “Part 3” of that book.

Each book basically assumes the celebration of Christmas and Easter and reviews portions of Strobel’s own journey to faith slanted towards the reality and proof of each event as well as the validity and veracity of the scriptural accounts surrounding those two events.  If you have read his book, The Case for Christ, then you have read the content of these two booklets and more.  While these two booklets do not contain the depth and wealth of evidence that demands a verdict (to borrow from Josh McDowell) which The Case for Christ and its companion book The Case for Faith contain, they very well could serve as an inexpensive door opener to convince an unbeliever to at least investigate the claims of Christ further.  In his conclusion to The Case for Christmas, Strobel invites the reader to “further investigate the evidence for yourself.”  And, he challenges the reader in The Case for Easter to “pursue the truth about Jesus enthusiastically and honestly,” noting further that, “there’s a lot riding on your verdict.”

 

Christ the Incarnate Word

Christ the Incarnate Word

by Rick Shrader

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

 

Christ, by highest heaven adored;

Christ, the everlasting Lord!

Late in time behold Him come,

Offspring of the Virgin’s womb:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

Hail the incarnate Deity,

Pleased as man with men to dwell,

Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Hark! The herald angels sing

“Glory to the new-born King.”

(“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”—Charles Wesley)

We ought to remember that Christmas and Easter are distinctively Christian holidays.  We know that there have been various pagan customs mixed in over the years, but we are able to remove what is foreign to the Christian message and keep what is vital. Satan’s attacks today remain as subtle and yet ferocious as ever.  The great imitator of Christ has exalted the many world religions to equal prominence with Christianity even in (so-called) Christian countries like America.  But with even greater subtlety he has created great antipathy toward the Christmas and Easter message by redefining tolerance into intolerance for anything that claims to be absolute truth.

Christianity, of course, specifically and uniquely proclaims that it is the  only way to God and heaven.  It claims that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God and that no one comes to God but by acceptance of Him as the only Savior and His atoning work on their behalf.  Christianity’s claim of Christ’s incarnation through virgin birth as well as His death, burial, and bodily resurrection makes it an “all or nothing” belief system.  No other religion rises or falls on specific miracles.  Theirs is based on moral teaching and good works.  Christianity is based on whether or not God became a man.

To the postmodern mind this is as narrow and bigoted as you can get! How can Christianity claim to be the only belief system that can take one to heaven?  Many think this way of thinking should be a hate crime in America.  If you claim to be right and someone else wrong, then you are setting yourself up as better than the other person and therefore think you are superior to them.  As illogical as it may seem, claiming to have absolute truth, especially in religion, is equal to hate in many peoples’ minds.

Each year Christmas and Easter force this issue.  Saying that God became a man only once in the Person of Jesus Christ; and that Jesus Christ is the only Person to have risen from the dead (thereby proving that He was indeed the God-man), is the exact equivalent to John 14:6, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me, or to Acts 4:12, Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.  It is this exclusivity about Christianity that our generation simply cannot tolerate.

Of course, Christianity is actually both inclusive and exclusive.  It is inclusive in its provision, offer, and application of salvation.  Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16); For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).  But it is also exclusive in that no one can come to God except through Jesus Christ.  This is the factual and historic Christmas and Easter message.

No biblical statement is clearer about the uniqueness of the Christian message than John 1:14.  Westcott said that this verse is “absolutely unique.  The phrases which point towards it in St. John (1 John iv.2), in the Epistle to the Hebrews (ii. 14), and in St. Paul (Rom. viii.3; Phil ii.7; I Tim. iii.16) fall short of the majestic fullness of this brief sentence.”1 Here, by this one verse, all religions fall short, all religious leaders fade into oblivion, all spiritual thought becomes dumb before the infinite divine Word who became flesh on that first Christmas morning.

 

The Word

The subject of the sentence has been John’s subject from verse one.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).  From eternity this Logos was; without beginning, without ending, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting (Mic. 5:2).  His name is Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).  Throughout eternity He existed with God.  He was preexistent because He was eternal.  But most startling and unique, this Logos was God!  Charles Ryrie wrote,

Without the Incarnation we would have no Savior.  Sin requires death for its payment.  God does not die.  So the Savior must be human in order to be able to die.  But the death of an ordinary man would not pay for sin eternally, so the Savior must also be God.  We must have a God-Man Savior and we do in our Lord (Heb. 10:1-10).2

The fact of Christ’s deity has been offensive to Satan from the beginning and will be offensive to his antichrist yet in the future, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God (2 Thes. 2:4).  And this is why the truth of Christmas is still offensive to non-Christians today.  The mere fact of the Word existing eternally before becoming a man is absolutely unique.

Was Made Flesh

What did begin on the first Christmas morning was the humanity of Jesus Christ.  The eternal Second Person of the Godhead made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:7).  Whereas in verses 1 and 2, speaking of the eternal Logos, four times we read that He was, now, speaking of His humanity, we read egeneto, He became.  Arthur Pink wrote,

The Infinite became finite.  The Invisible became tangible.  The Transcendent became imminent.  That which was far off drew nigh.  That which was beyond the reach of the human mind became that which could be beholden within the realm of human life.  Here we are permitted to see through a veil that, which unveiled, would have blinded us.  ‘The word became flesh:’ He became what He was not previously.  He did not cease to be God, but He became Man.3

Without ceasing to be divine He became human.  No less God and no less man.  Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing, and yet Jesus Lord at thy birth.  Isaiah felt no contradiction in proclaiming, For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and calling Him The mighty God, The Everlasting Father (Isa. 9:6).  Neither did Wesley feel a contradiction in singing, Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity!

Never will the world understand this hypostatic union apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit of God.  The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).

 

And Dwelt Among Us

For a short time the God-Man dwelt on the earth.  He tabernacled among us; lived a tent-life during His brief trip away from Home.  The Royal Son had no pillow for His head, was touched with the feelings of our infirmities; and was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).  It’s not that the humanity itself was a temporary tabernacle.  Christ had a body after His resurrection too, one fit for the next life.  We also temporarily have flesh fit for this life.  But mortality will one day be swallowed up of life, corruption will put on incorruption, mortal will put on immortality and we shall be changed!  (1 Cor 15:53-54).

Jesus took His humanity back to heaven with Him at His resurrection and ascension.  But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.  Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.  For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens (Heb. 7:24-26).  Our humanity will go into heaven with us too.  But whereas the God-Man could raise Himself from death and take His humanity to heaven by His own power, we must attach ourselves to Him by faith if we are to be raised.

For a while Christ’s tent looked like our tent.  It was fit for folding also.  It was given to Him for the purpose of dying!  Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared for me . . . we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all (Heb. 10:5, 10).

 

And We Beheld His Glory

Now and then His followers caught a glimpse of the body to come!  When we were with him on the holy mount, Peter says, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16, 18).  No one, having seen such Christmas truth, could desire this life over the next.  Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance (vs 13) became Peter’s message.

John was on that mount.  He was also in the boat when Jesus came walking on the water, and when He commanded the storm to obey Him, when by miracle He brought heaven close to earth, His glory shining through from the inside of the tent.  John beheld it all.  It was a theomai, a “theater” of spectacular sights like a display of shooting stars against the still dark night.

 

The Glory as of the only begotten of the Father Full of Grace and Truth

This is the first time John calls the Word the only begotten.  Luther wrote,

In this thou hearest clearly and distinctly that the Word which was from everlasting with the Father, and is the light of men, is called the Son, yea, the only begotten Son of God. . . . God has many other sons and children, but only One is the only-begotten, of whom it is said, that all was made by Him: the other sons are not the Word, by which all things were made; but they were created by this only-begotten Son, who, like the Father, is the Creator of heaven and earth.  The others all become sons by this only-begotten Son, who is our Lord and God, and we are called many-begotten sons: but this is alone the only-begotten Son, whom He was begotten in the Godhead from everlasting.4

John does not use the word “grace” very often.  His emphasis is much more on “truth.”  We worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  Though we call this the age of grace, and surely it is, John sees it as an age when truth has been fully revealed.  Darkness is past and true light is now shining.  And Jesus, the Word, the God-Man is the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John 1:9).  By this incarnate Deity, as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (vs 12).  As one writer put it, “He is entirely what He is; as it were, thoroughly God; therefore is never behind the expectations which His own cherish of Him—gives no promises which He does not keep, awakes no hopes which He does not satisfy, never forsakes His own in times of difficulty.”5 What grace!

 

And So . . . .

Let the world’s religions say what they will but envy what we say:

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this   happy morning,

Jesus, to Thee be all glory given;

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;

Oh come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

 

Notes:
1. B.F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964) 11.
2. Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton:  Victor Books, 1987) 245.
3. Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1971) 32.
4. Quoted by E.W. Hengstenberg, The Gospel of John (Minneapolis:  Klock & Klock, 1980) 46.
5. E.W. Henstenberg, Ibid., 47.
 

 

The Holy and the Profane

The Holy and the Profane

by Rick Shrader

As long as man lives in this world and in his present condition, there will be the struggle between the holy and the profane.  We can no more rid ourselves of it than we can of heaven and hell, of God and men, or of sin and salvation.  No sooner had God given the Law at Sinai than we see Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10) offering strange fire in the holy place.  This was no trifling act with God for He struck them dead immediately and then instructed Moses and Aaron to teach the people to put difference between the holy and unholy, between unclean and clean (Lev 10:10).

The history of Israel (and of the Church also) is a history of understanding the holy and the profane.  Uzzah was killed for putting unclean hands on God’s ark; fifty thousand people died in Beth-shemesh for treating the ark in an unworthy manner; Ananias and Sapphira died before the church for lying to the Holy Spirit.  When the Israelites went into captivity, Ezekiel wrote, Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shown difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them (Ez. 22:26).

The good news is that God will remedy the antipathy in the end.  Even Ezekiel describes the kingdom of God on the earth when Christ will reign in righteousness, And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean (Ez. 44:23).  God’s goodness is superior to (and prior to) Satan’s evil and will reign victorious after all sin and evil has been judged and put away forever.

In our present time, we must deal with the conflict between good and evil by following God’s instructions carefully.  That is why parents teach manners to their children, or why governments make laws, or why wars are fought.  There must be constant vigilance on all levels in this battle between the holy and the profane.  God has often revealed specifics for His people to follow:  the Temple was His house and it was not to be made a den of thieves; the Church is God’s body and it should not be given offense; and our bodies are the Temple of the living God, and they are to be holy and acceptable to Him.

When the unholy is brought into the holy

God protects those areas where He places His glory and holiness and so should we.  We have a number of words and expressions that the Bible uses to describe this transgression.

Profane.  But refuse profane and old wives’ fables (1 Tim 4:7); But shun profane and vain babblings (2 Tim 2:16); Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright (Heb 12:16).  In English our word “profane” means “before the temple” or to bring something into the holy place that doesn’t belong.  That is translated from the Greek word beblelos, which means “to cross the threshold.”  To profane something is to bring something unholy across the threshold into the holy place.

To use profanity is to let words come out of our mouths that shouldn’t be crossing our lips.  James rebukes those who praise God with their tongue but turn around and curse men who are made in God’s image (Jas 3:9-10).  The name of God is never to be used in “vain” or in such a profane way.  We will be held accountable for every idle word that proceeds out of our mouths.

Obscene.  Though not used in our English Bible, the English word means “off the scene” or “off-stage.”  This is something that would not be worthy to be spoken in front of others and would be banned in any public speaking.  Gene Veith, Jr., in discussing the pathetic state of contemporary television and films, explains, “In ancient Greek drama, certain actions could not be performed onstage for fear of violating the decorum, the appropriate aesthetic effect, of the play.”1

Today it seems nothing is obscene, for anything at all may be said in any public place.  Even among Christians there seems to be little or no difference from the world.  As a pastor I am often shocked at the words Christians will use in my presence or in the church without so much as a blush.

Vulgar.  This word has to do with the language of the common man.  It means “of the mob” or “of the common people.”  The Latin Bible is called the “Vulgate” because it was first made in the common language.  Our Greek New Testament is “Koine” or “common” Greek.  In language it is the opposite of manners or politeness.  It even seems snobbish by today’s standards to speak of language that, though it is used in the street or locker rooms, has no place in public.

The current rating system for television (G, PG, etc) supposedly keeps younger people from watching something vulgar, but unwittingly only allows older people to do so with impunity!  How sad that Christians have followed the world’s standard of decency by following these instructions.  The truth is, if something is vulgar for one human being, it is vulgar for every human being.

Pornography.  This word is made up of two Greek words, porn? from porneia meaning “fornication,” and graph? meaning “to write.”  In most dictionaries the English word will be broken down as “the writing of harlots.”  It is the writing out, or making public, what is private.  It is not that nakedness is itself evil, but rather that it is private!  Marriage and its behavior is between a husband and his wife.

Blasphemy.  Blasphemy is the overt denigration of God and His name.  This word is a combination of “evil” and “speaking.”  “Blast” used to be a vulgar word by itself, but when such things are directed toward the holy God of heaven, it is truly “blas-phemous.”

Jesus was often accused of blasphemy by the Scribes and Pharisees because He said things that, if said by a mere human, would denigrate God’s name.  If you or I proposed to be equal with God, it would be blasphemous; if you or I claimed to be able to forgive sins, it would be blasphemous; but if Jesus was God and therefore could forgive sin, it was revelation!  Those who claim to speak in God’s name but say they are divine, or equal to Jesus Christ, or can become a god through some process, are guilty of this blasphemy before Him whose name is above all names!

When the holy is brought into the unholy.

It is hard for us to see the outside of the bowl when we live on the inside, but the larger picture of the holy and the profane is that the universe is filled with God’s holiness and has penetrated our little unholy world from time to time.  Oh, it is true that all of God’s creation declares His glory, but the truly miraculous has been a rare event in this world.  When it has happened it brings light and life to all it touches.  We also have words to describe this phenomenon.

Incarnation.  Something that  eats the flesh is “carnivorous,” or that is fleshly is “carnal,” or that is entertaining is a “carnival.” Yet something that takes on flesh, or becomes flesh, is an “incarnation” embodied, personified as a human being.  The only time this has happened was when God became a man.  Humans can’t be said to have experienced incarnation because we were nothing before we existed in our flesh.  But, The Word was made flesh, and dwelt  (“tabernacled”) among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14).

Revelation.  The manifestation, appearance or enlightenment of God to man is a “revelation.”  The biblical word is “apocalypse” or apo-kalupt?, to “un-cover.”  The Book of Revelation was an uncovering of information that had been withheld from us.  So the coming of Christ into our world was a revealing of things we did not know.  No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared (“exegeted”) him (Jn 1:18).  In these last days [God] hath spoken unto us by his Son (Heb 1:2).

Transfiguration.  There were times in Jesus’ life that His deity burst through into the darkness.  No time was so stunningly obvious than on the mount of transfiguration.  There Jesus was transfigured, meta-morph?th?, a “metamorphosis.” It is true that the deity of Christ shown through from the inside to the outside, but this was also a glimpse of the outside world bursting through to the inside.  Moses and Elijah were there, talking with Jesus about His own departure back to the outside world.  How could there not also be a radiant light, as on the Damascus road, when such a thing occurs?

Emmanuel.  In the Old Testament the name is spelled with an “I” in Isaiah 7:14 and 8:8; a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel . . . . The stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel.  Once in the New Testament the name is used, quoting Isaiah, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Mt 1:24).

Never was there a moment like that moment!  God with us!  The Holy One coming into the world of the unholy and profane, the obscene and blasphemous.  Christ by highest heaven adored; Christ the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb: Veiled in flesh the God-head see; Hail the incarnate deity, Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.

Christmas.  Though not used in our Bible, this common description has been lost to commercialization and bad theology.  It is easy to see the Christ in “Christmas,” but it is not so easy to see the incarnation, the coming of the Holy One into the unholy world.  The Roman church uses the word “mass” to describe its sacrament of Eucharist.  Christmas is the “Christ-mass.”  In the mass, or Eucharist, they believe that Christ has again become incarnate, the bread and wine becoming His literal flesh and blood and (“blasphemously”) they crucify His flesh and blood again and again.

I am not for forfeiting the word Christmas because of bad theology on their part.  Though we do not believe in sacraments, and therefore do not participate in a mass, we certainly do believe that, when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Gal 4:4).  When we say “Christmas” we are glad we can still use a word that has “Christ” in it!  The commercialization of the season of our Lord’s birth has caused our avaricious country to sell its Christian birthright.  We will take the word “Christmas” and place no other meaning on it than what we believe: that God was incarnated into human flesh, revealed as the true God to a lost world, transfigured in light before our eyes, understood as Emmanuel, miraculously and eternally known as God with us!

And So . . . .

One of my favorite writers from a generation ago described the birth of our Lord in a similar way, when the sacred broke into the profane:

He was the earthly child of a Heavenly Father and the heavenly child of an earthly mother.  If men had arranged His birthplace they might have chosen a palace; God chose a barn.  Men might have prepared a royal crib; God prepared a feed trough.  Men might have provided silken robes; God chose the swaddling clothes of a poor peasant.  Men might have selected choice perfumes and spices; God came in the malodors of a stable.  Think of it!  The Prince of Glory couldn’t find room in a Bethlehem boarding house!  The King of kings, the son of a carpenter’s wife!  What a rebuke to our pride that He Who was so rich became so poor, when we who are so poor pretend to be so rich!2

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Fall on your knees, Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine, O night when Christ was born!

O night, O holy night, O night divine!

 

The Right Time, The Right Place, The Rig...

The Right Time, The Right Place, The Right Savior

by Rick Shrader

One of the most concise and powerful explanations of the Christmas history is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Gal. 4:4).

The Chronology:  The fullness of the time.

God knew what He was doing when He sent His Son into the world two thousand years ago!  The middle east has always been the cross-roads of the world, but it was also the cross-roads of the time of the world.  The Lord’s command to take the gospel into all the world is good for every generation, but none has done it so quickly and efficiently as that first Christian generation.  There is no doubt that the human gifts of apostles and prophets helped in the preaching of the message, but the gospel also went around the world best in its purest verbal (and therefore human) form.  The message is meant to be incarnated, not only by the Son of God Himself, but also by the messengers.  Face-to-face, mouth-to-mouth, person-to-person is the way God first sent the message, and it is the best way for effective witness.

The Genealogy:  Made of a woman.

Many of the ancient writers wished that God had said, “made of a virgin.”  But He did!  Not only in the prophets (Isa. 7:14) but also here.  He did not say, “made of a man and a woman,” or simply, “made into a human,” but specifically “made of a woman,” that is, made of a woman only.  What is that but virgin born?  And what is that but sinless in nature?

Though Mary was “highly favored” and “blessed among women” (Lk. 1:28), she also was compelled to confess, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (Lk. 1:46-47).  Christ was the Son of God and the Son of Man, fully God and fully man.

The Nomology:  Made under the law.

Jesus was an Old Testament Saint!  But only in time.  He was Lord of heaven and of earth, and of the law also.  Mankind was held captive under the law, in bondage under its elements until the time appointed by the Father.  But Christ came into the time of law to fulfill its every demand and to condemn, not man, but the law itself.  It had no right to judge the Perfect One but it did!  Christ bore the penalty of all mankind in the only dolorous passion possible for our redemption,  being put to death in the flesh, but justified in the Spirit.  In this Christ judged the law for its mistake, nailing it to His cross and eradicating its ordinances that were against each of us.  Therefore, we are no more servants but sons.

The Soteriology:  To redeem them that were under the law.

The true message of Christmas is redemption!  We could not be redeemed with silver or gold or with any works of our own hands, but only with the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world!  When it comes to being justified before God, the law was powerless, not because it was less than holy, but because man was fallen and unable to keeps its demands.  The law did its job, “For by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).

Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins.  “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).  The only way out from under the curse of the law is the admission of our own helplessness and the acceptance of His worthiness:  “That the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3:22).

Guilty, vile and helpless we, spotless Lamb of God was He;
full atonement! can it be?  Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

We Beheld His Glory

We Beheld His Glory

by Rick Shrader

John the Apostle always brings us close to heaven, especially as he reveals to us the glory that was in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Both in his gospel and his first epistle he graphical portrays what it was like to behold the Son of God in the flesh.  In two short parentheses, he lets us behold Him:  (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) John 1:14; and (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us), 1 John 1:2.

Christ, by highest heav’n adored

Christ, the everlasting Lord:

Late in time behold Him come,

Offspring of a virgin’s womb.

Veiled in flesh the God-head see,

Hail th’ incarnate Deity!

Pleased as man with men to dwell,

Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hark the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new-born King!”

John boldly tells us that when he looked at Christ, he was seeing the Father’s glory.  A.T. Robertson, in commenting on Colossians 1:15, Who is the image of the invisible God, wrote, “God is invisible to man, as even Moses learned when he asked to see the glory of God pass by.  God dwells in light unapproachable, whom no one has seen or can see (1 Tim 6:16).  But we see God in Christ. ‘He that has seen me has seen the Father’ (Jn 14:9).  God is like Christ.  In the face of Jesus Christ God has given the light of the knowledge of his glory (2 Cor 4:6).  Jesus is the Shekinah glory of God for those who have eyes to see.”1

We should not be surprised at the absence of holy things in the Christmas of the commercial world.  The real glory of the Son of God always causes the darkness to flee.  People would rather spend their time and thoughts on the temporal glories of Christmas tree lights, silver tinsel and brightly decorated packages than on even the veiled glory of the God of heaven.

I have wondered when our culture might do away with the word “Christmas” altogether.  After all, it is a constant reminder of the Person who brings the real meaning to this season.  Even the word “holiday” reminds us that the day of our Savior’s birth is “holy” and that our commercialization of God’s incarnation is a desecration to His personification.  Christian hymn writers help us see this better.

There’s a tumult of joy

O’er the wonderful birth,

For the Virgin’s sweet Boy

Is the Lord of the earth!

Ay! The star rains its fire while the beautiful sing, For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!

We rejoice in the light,

And we echo the song

That comes down thru the night

From the heavenly throng.

Ay! We shout to the lovely evangel they bring, And we greet in His  cradle our Savior and King!

Wise men, whether pious or mildly religious, have recognized the awesome truth of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth.  C.S. Lewis, in a famous statement, says:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.2

Similarly, and a half century earlier, G.K. Chesterton wrote concerning the identity of the Jesus Christ:

It can be found, not among prophets and sages and founders of religions, but only among a low set of lunatics.  But this is exactly where the argument becomes intensely interesting;  because the argument proves too much.  For nobody supposes that Jesus of Nazareth was that sort of person.  No modern critic in his five wits thinks that the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount was a horrible half-witted imbecile that might be scrawling stars on the walls of a cell.  No atheist or blasphemer believes that the author of the Parable of the Prodigal Son was a monster with one mad idea like a cyclops with one eye.  Upon any possible historical criticism, he must be put higher in the scale of human beings than that.  Yet by all analogy we have really to put him there or else in the highest place of all.2

John says he beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father. He says he saw that glory in Jesus.  His eyes looked upon it, his hands handled it, his ears heard it.  He beheld His glory!

Come to Bethlehem and see, Him whose birth the angels sing;

Come, adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the new-born King.

See Him in a manger laid, Jesus, Lord of heav’n and earth;

Mary, Joseph, lend your aid, With us sing our Savior’s birth.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!  Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

At this season of our Lord’s birth, let us also behold Him who is the glory of God and of Heaven!  For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased (2 Peter 1:17).

Notes:
1. A.T. Robertson, Paul and the Intellectuals (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1959) 41.
2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Collier Books, 1984) 56.
3. G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993) 203.