Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Eve of the Circumcision of Christ:
The First Shedding of Atoning Blood

As I'm writing this, neighbors are out buying fireworks and snacks to herald in a new year with family and friends.

Excitement abounds as we're given another opportunity to let go of the past and start on a clean slate.

Many Christians however, acknowledge tonight as the eve of the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ as recorded in Luke 2:21: It, too, promises a new start--not by the resolve of man, but by divine will.

"And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb."

The foreskin on the male child was removed, signifying that he was placed in covenant with God under His parents' obligations to the Law until he was old enough to assume responsibility for his own behavior (at age 12). The child also received his name--publicly proclaimed by the father to the priest and all in attendance. Do you remember the dramatic story of Zechariah naming his son, John? (Luke 1:57-66)

A great article at AnglicansOnline starts out by rightly noting "The Circumcision of Christ is elided (omitted) by Bible-readers and many preachers today because it strikes us as culturally inappropriate, strange, unfamiliarly Jewish, or something we just don't want to talk about. (The day probably passes unnoticed on the calendar for most.)"

This is so true! I never heard of this observance until I was over fifty years of age, although I had often seen it listed on calendars. I naively assumed it was Roman Catholic in origin, but the Feast was well entrenched by the 500s A.D. in the early, undivided church. It is even mentioned by St. Augustine.

Thus, does this ancient feast hold any significance for modern Christians?

Yes, for it was not at the scourging and the Cross where Jesus first shed His blood for us, but at His circumcision!

"Gentle Jesus meek and mild, as a son of Abraham, become a son of the law through the ritual cutting of his flesh. This was a favourite text for medieval and renaissance preachers, and as the pioneering, fascinating research of Leo Steinberg has shown, it was a common motif in pre-modern and early modern Christian art. It cemented the seriousness, the completeness, the costliness, of God's incarnation as a Jewish boy. It clarified beyond all question that God really was here to be with us in every aspect of our lives as a real human being." (Ibid.)

God, the Son assumed human flesh and voluntarily placed Himself under the tyranny of the Law and its salvation by works. He had to obey it perfectly, not relying on the blood of bulls and goats but His own.

The purpose of the Law of Moses has been greatly misunderstood, and thereby misused in the Church. It was implemented ONLY when the Israelites would not trust God by faith, as did their father Abraham. It was designed to be a temporary, external restraint until another Adam would arrive (Jesus) to undo the curse brought on by the disobedience of the first Adam.

Given the name JESUS (Savior), Christ lived an obedient life in fulfillment to all the Law requires. He passed the three tests Adam failed--lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. In other words:

1) Self-gratification (command the stone to turn into bread)

2) Self-promotion (worship the devil for power and fame)

3) Self-protection (jump presumptuously off the pinnacle of the Temple to "prove" Himself)

(All temptations faced by humanity today still fall into one of these three categories)

Jesus, fully God and fully Man, did not need the eternal benefits of the righteousness He won. He gives it, completely and freely, to those who receive what He did by faith as an act of grace in their lives. He earned it so you don't have to; He pleased the Father for all in Adam who cannot be good--in all ways and at all times--no matter how much religious will power is exerted.

Let's look at it this way:

Jesus' redemptive work was two-fold: the way he lived and the way he died. Both aspects were ratified in blood.

Christ could not morally give you good standing with the Father while your sins were on the books; therefore, though innocent of any original or personal sin, He claimed yours, along with all of humanity's as His, and became "as sin" (bearing the consequences). (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Until Christ came, bulls and goats had to be continually sacrificed to cover, but not cleanse the sin problem. At the Cross, Jesus Christ was the final sacrifice for all time; His blood was powerful to ransom corrupted humanity's past, present, and future.

With the bondage to human self-righteousness broken, Christ made His unblemished standing before God available in its place...not just so we could be cleared of all charges, but restored to an intimate, ongoing relationship with the Godhead.

Based on Christ's active and passive obedience--in life and death--man is not only forgiven and justified (declared not guilty), but loved, adopted, and wonderfully parented by God!

"Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11 The Message)

In His presence, we are not only clean but also filled with His grace and goodness; we experience healing from the dysfunctions of being born in Adam and receive the sufficiency of being born again in Christ. And we keep ourselves spiritually clean through daily repentance and forgiveness.

Did you know the number "8" in Jewish symbolism represents new beginnings? That's why eight days after his birth, on the day of His circumcision, God, the Son incarnate was given his earthly name, JESUS. It means "Savior".

Our given names come from various people and places--aunts, uncles, celebrities--even flowers. We often get teased and ridiculed as a result. Our parents can do things to shame the family name. So much of our identity is shaped in childhood by other descriptive names we are called based on appearance, ability, or social standing.

In Revelation 2:17, the Holy Spirit reveals that all of us who have become God's adopted children by grace have a special name known only to Him. The day will come, however, when He will make that name known to us face to face--a name so suitable because it was chosen by the One who knew us before we were placed in our mothers' wombs!

I am an adopted child who was legally transferred out of an abusive and poverty-stricken identity into one of safety and abundance. My adoptive parents changed my first name and gave me their last name. The court decreed that from that moment on, I was to be treated and legally acknowledged as if I were their natural child.

Jesus made it possible for all in Adam who desire a new life to be adopted by God with all of the same benefits He enjoys as the begotten Son! As joint-heirs, we have a new name, identity, and family status that can never be taken away from us.

Do we live in the vibrant reality of that truth? If not, we can begin right now as we approach the first day of 2014!

Christmas is the biggest celebration of the year for most people, but God assuming human flesh was not enough to secure our redemption. He had to personally right the wrongs that man could not. He began the day He was placed UNDER the Law in order to OVERCOME its curse. Jesus did not fail, but fulfilled the Law.

Therefore, I can resolutely face what's ahead with joy and hope. How? Because I stand before the Father as one who has already fulfilled, not failed the Law, for I have imputed to me (as genuine ownership) the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST!

Whatever I need is in His limitless supply; whatever I need to BE in the coming year as I grow in grace is found in Him and His power, not the ghostly Adam of my past with its sabotaged resolutions.

"With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

"The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us." (Romans 8:1-4 The Message) 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Incarnation of Christ: Part Four
Christ in You!

The day is winding down and you're exhausted. There are dishes to wash and wrapping paper to clear from around the tree. You'll conserve what little energy remains in order to take advantage of all the "After Christmas" sales around town. Before you have a quiet moment to absorb the true meaning of Christmas, the decorations will be gone.

Don't let this happen to you again. Determine to take quality time to embrace the miracle of the Incarnation as a living reality inside of you that will sustain you beyond December 25 and its external signs.

"Emmanuel, God with us!" was heralded to the inhabitants of the world when Jesus was born.

He lived among us then died on the Cross. He was Resurrected and afterward ascended to the right hand of the Father. He was the exact representation of God. We were able to see, hear, touch and fellowship with Him as He shared in our humanity.

Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."

"Jesus replied, "...Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:8, 9 NLT)

After returning to Heaven, Jesus sent His Spirit to make the finished work of redemption a reality in the lives of people who would receive Him by faith. Each surrendered heart invites the Lord back to earth, so to speak, to continue His message and ministry through them.

Modern day Philips are asking more than ever, "Show us Jesus!"

What is our response? Is Jesus still available for humanity to see, hear and touch?

"So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son."
(John 1:14 NLT)

Is the glory of the Lord visible on earth today? The "glory" is not a spooky mist or goose bumps, but unfailing love and faithfulness; in other words, manifested glory is the character of Jesus, the fruit of a Holy Spirit empowered life.

"Man fully alive is the glory of God!" (St. Irenaeus)

You see, the Incarnation didn't end in the Manger. The Church is the ongoing, visible manifestation of Christ until the Lord’s return!

"When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" (Matthew 11:2, 3)

People today ask, "Is your Jesus the one or should we look elsewhere?" For too long, we've left all the Philips unsatisfied with our lofty answers and disgusted with our hypocrisy. Jesus didn't respond to John's disciples with "Of course I am"! He replied, "Go tell him what you see me doing as proof!"

Are our lives proof enough?

"But we have this wealth in vessels of earth, so that it may be seen that the power comes not from us but from God" (2 Corinthians 4:7)

If Christians ever grasp the truth of the Treasure we carry, people will no longer have to ask for proof of the deity of Christ.

"...As He is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17) Do you believe this?

We hear many sermons about us being the "light of the world" and the "salt of the earth", but do we realize that the light is not generated by our will power, nor do we produce the salt that savors the world? It is Christ within that shines THROUGH us and flows OUT of us...despite our imperfections!

Jesus was the perfect reflection of God. At best, we only refract that light through our humanness; yet, that is exactly what produces vivid colors--bent light!

So what is the key to being a "Christ bearer" in the earth? The same heart attitude of the first one.

"And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her." (Luke 1:38)

Rather than an immaculate conception, I am convinced that what made Mary's womb a suitable dwelling for God was not her sinlessness, but her surrender! Is it not the same for us today?

In the early Church (and still in the Orthodox), Mary was called the Theotokos--Greek for "God Bearer". To address heresies, the church fathers made it very clear that from the moment of conception, Mary carried God in her womb--not a man that would become divine nor part divinity/part man--but fully God AND fully man.

Being born again is also an overshadowing of the Holy Spirit to bring divine life to that which is barren within. Our "yes" to God regenerates us by grace into what we could not be by nature--a child of God, making a temple in which God is pleased to dwell.

Here is the Scripture passage that gives us insight into Incarnational living

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men.

"And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death on the Cross." (Philippians 2:5-8)

You rarely hear a sermon on the Incarnation of Christ in many churches today --even at Christmas--that proclaims the deity AND humanity of Christ as perfect, complete, and eternal. Chances are even less you will hear a sermon on how to personally walk out the Incarnation. That path leads to some convicting truths that we may not want to hear.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus...(We are commanded from the beginning to "take on" the mind of Christ, but how?)

...who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation...

Christ left the highest position in Heaven for the role of a servant on earth. He did this to fulfill the will of the Father (Heb. 10:5-7).

The Revised King James Version says, "He emptied Himself."

This translation has caused some to think that when He came to earth, God the Son set aside His divinity. It means, however, that still fully God, Christ chose "to empty" Himself of self-interest.

He did not attempt to hold on to His previous exalted estate, which was rightfully His. He still possessed all the divine attributes; however, He operated in self-restricted use of them.

When God the Father has a plan for your life that requires a "self-emptying"--perhaps of your status, your honor, your plans or your riches--what is your response? Can you take on, not just the form of a "servant", but the lowliest of servants, called a "bondservant" (slave)?

Paul and Timothy considered themselves bondservants of Christ (Phil 1:1) even though the Scriptures clearly tell us we are no longer slaves but sons (Gal. 4:7).

Subordinationism was a heresy that arose in the early Church from an incorrect understanding of our Philippian text. The belief stated that the Son was eternal and divine, but inferior to or "subordinate" in being or attributes to God the Father.

In the economy of the Trinity, there is at times a subordination of persons; thus, God the Son becomes the suffering Servant (Isa. 53) who gives His life in obedience to the Father as a ransom for many.This subordination of God the Son is a subordination of action, not of being. He is of one substance, nature, and being with the Father and the Spirit.

Although we are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus and have been given "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3)...can we voluntarily offer ourselves to step into the role of a servant, suffering if need be, to fulfill our Father's plan for hurting humanity?

Can we acknowledge that the Christian life is not about our rights, but all about the Crown Rights of Jesus Christ, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords?

There are no inferior members of God's family. We are all eternal priests and kings (Rev. 1:6). We are all equal and one in Christ (Gal. 3:28-29), yet we are also commanded to prefer one another in honor (Romans 12:10).

In the world--in times, places, and roles chosen by the Father--we MUST "subordinate" our actions one to another for His higher purposes, not just living for our own reputations or interests.

Just as Christ is the exegesis of God to man and man to God, so now this exegesis continues through the Church, which is a living image of eternity within time. In other words, the Church as the Body of Christ is the extension and the "fullness" of the Holy Incarnation. Christianity from the very beginning existed as a corporal reality--a body indeed--a living organism, not an organization.

"And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:23)

"He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)

Jesus humbled Himself. James 4:10 says that if we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, He will lift us up, just as the Son was highly exalted (Phil.2:9-11). It is much easier to humble ourselves in obedience, than to be humbled, isn't it?

HUMBLE: tapeino - "to depress"; meaning not just the action of "pressing", but the results of such action which causes something to go lower or become smaller

"...For you loved Me before the foundation of the world...and I have declared to them your Name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:24b, 26)

Jesus' self-humiliation and resulting obedience flowed from total submission. One can be obedient (going through the motions) without begin submissive.

Submission (hupotasso) looks at the attitude and the motive of the one performing the action versus just the act of obedience (hupakoe-compliance). Obedience without a submissive heart cannot last long.

Through his agonizing Gethsemane experience Jesus cried: "Nevertheless not My will, but Yours be done." (Luke 22:42)

True submission cannot be achieved outside of a genuine love - the Agape kind - found only in God, which was demonstrated by the Incarnate Christ and then given to us who believe.

Religious man seeks to please God through His performance in order to win Divine love, but God loved us first! Therefore, "We love Him because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

How do we love God?

"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." (1 John 5:3)

Immersed and living in the extravagant love of God causes us to want to fulfill the desires of His heart-- wherever that may lead, whatever that may require.

Whenever I teach on obedience and submission, I hear from believers who have been abused by immature or wounded leaders in the Church. So many are trapped in "performance Christianity" that strives grimly to please God. Consequently, these wounded individuals cannot get past their experience to truly hear in their hearts what I'm saying.

First, God is already pleased by the performance of Jesus Christ, which is credited fully to each of our accounts when we believe. We are as righteous now as we ever will be!

However, displaying that right standing with God does take progressive, life-long yielding to the will of God. That is called sanctification...and that's what living the Incarnation is all about.

Was Jesus righteous? Yes. But look at this Scripture:

"Although Jesus was the Son [of God], he learned to be obedient through his sufferings." (Hebrews 5:8)

The Greek word for "learned" is more accurately translated "mastered". Did Jesus' divinity have to master obedience? NO. His humanity did--day in and day out. He faced the same choices we do in terms of the privileges, comforts, time, possessions, status, wealth, and reputations we'll lay down in order to accomplish the Father's will.

I found these words of wisdom in Andrew Murray's With Christ in the School of Obedience:

"Men connect obedience with the idea of absolute perfection. They put together all the commands of the Bible, they think of all the graces these commands point to in their highest possible measure, and they think of a man with all those graces, every moment in their full perfection, as an obedient man.

"How different is the demand of the Father in Heaven! He takes account of the different powers and attainments of each child of His. He asks of him only the obedience of each day, or rather, each hour at a time.

"He sees whether His child has indeed chosen and given himself up to the wholehearted performance of every known command. He sees whether His child is really longing and learning to know and do all His will. And when His child does this in simple faith and love, the obedience is acceptable."

Often, the Church sadly demands more from its members than God does!

"God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6)

This divine grace is called "sufficient" (2 Cor. 12:9) - arkeo, meaning "able to raise a barrier, ward off; avail". It also implies "satisfactory, enough." In this definition, we see that grace carries the enabling force of the Holy Spirit...bearing down, into, and around our lives.

Even when following the Father results in some form of death to our dreams, plans, or relationships, the will of God can become "a joy set before us" just as it was to our elder Brother. (Heb. 12:2)

The Incarnation makes it possible for us to respond to the Father: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthen me." (Phil 4:13)

"One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.

"When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!"

"So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."

"Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

"When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

"While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon's Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

"The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.

"You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see." (Acts 3:1-16)

Look again at the various phrases I highlighted in the above Scriptures. Is this typical of what unbelievers see of the church today as we go about our daily lives in the marketplace and in the 'temple"?

Are we confident enough to tell people to "Look at us"?

Are they running astonished to Christ or away from Him because of what they see?

Do you want to know Peter and John’s secret...and the secret of the myriad of men and women--known on earth and not--that walked in the character, joy and power of Christ that affected everyone around them?

"And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory!"(Colossians 1:27b NLT)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Of Mirth and Martyrdom: The Twelve Days of Christmas

Are you enjoying these Twelve Days of Christmas? Do you know how the popular tradition started?

Christians sincerely wanted to find the accurate birth date of Christ, but they faced challenges once they separated from Judaism. The religion followed a twelve month/thirty day lunar calendar that had to be adjusted every so often with a new month by the Sanhedrin's decree.

Greek Christians in the East followed their own solar calendar, which put observance days at odds with their brethren in the West who followed the calendar of the Roman Empire.

In 300 A.D., the Roman calendar superseded the Greek. However, the Eastern churches still marked the birth of Christ on January 6.

Although Christians in the Roman Empire began celebrating the Nativity around 380 A.D., Eastern Christians considered Epiphany to be a greater feast. To them, the day commemorated two Incarnational appearances--at the beginning of Jesus' life and at the beginning of His ministry (the day he was baptized and His divine Sonship proclaimed--Matthew 3:13-17).

By the way, though most manger scenes portray the Magi worshiping Jesus right along with the Shepherds, Scripture points to a later time (up to two years) when they arrived. The Bible
does NOT mention the number of Magi who visited Jesus, but only three gifts.

"And when they had come into the house they saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and fell down and worshiped Him..." (Matthew 2:11)

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men." (Matthew 2:16)

Christians in the West eventually embraced the Feast of the Epiphany. However, since December 25 was already an established date to honor the birth of Christ, churches in the region commemorated January 6 as the appearing of the star that guided the arrival of Gentile Magi.

Hence, the Twelve Days of Christmas from The Nativity (evening December 25) to Epiphany (the evening of January 6).

This is traditionally a season of great rejoicing for Christians--full of merriment, food, games and music. Children dress up and put on plays, gifts are given on each of the days (better than Santa's one night, huh?) and don't forget the delicious Wassail!

Amid this festive time, however, there are three days that call believers to what seems a contradictory somberness...observances that at first seem awkward and out of place.

December 26--The Feast of Stephen, honoring the Church's first adult martyr
(Remember the song, Good King Wenseslaus? He looked out "on the Feast of Stephen".)

December 27--The Feast of St. John, honoring the beloved disciple

December 28--The Feast of the Holy Innocents, honoring all the male children of Bethlehem and surrounding regions, two years old and younger, who were slaughtered by order of Herod--Christendom's first martyrs.

Church tradition tells us that John was the only disciple to die a natural death at a ripe old age. So why is he included?

The early Church tied them together this way:

Stephen- a martyr in blood, will, and love
John-a martyr in will and love
Innocents-martyrs in blood

The Church notes John's imprisonment, banishment to Patmos, and the unsuccessful attempts to first poison then burn him alive in a vat of searing oil. Yet toward the end of his life, his message remained the same: "Love one another". He was a living martyr!

In other words:

All believers are called to die UNTO Christ every day (like John).

Many persecuted Christians die FOR Christ everyday around the world (like Stephen).

Some people die BECAUSE of Christ (like the Bethlehem children).

Dying because of Christ is often not an act of one’s will. It falls upon a person(s) in a certain place under extraordinary circumstances because evil attempts to destroy what is good and innocent in the earth.

Innocent people, such as the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, suffer and die because of the wickedness that for now, works through sick people who assume power—whether it’s through a parent’s gun or a corrupt government.

But God knows and loves every victim, and He keeps records of each deed. At the end of human history, when not only these acts but the consequences of each one has rippled through time, He will execute flawless justice on their behalf for all the world to see.

Still…why are Christians called to mingle martyrdom and mirth during this season?

Look at the gifts brought to the Christ child--gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The Christian life is not either/or but both/and---meaning we experience joy and suffering, triumphs and tragedies. Christian author and Pastor Rick Warren once described life as having two train tracks--opposite, yet always running parallel. Both are necessary or the train will derail.

We may be celebrating in one area of our life, only to be deeply afflicted in another at the same time. Life is a blend of the divine gifts to us of gold (victory and gain), frankincense (joy and peace), and myrrh (bitterness and loss).

These feast days were not spent in quiet introspection, though.

On St. Stephen's Day, it was--and remains in many parts of the world--a day for giving food, money, and other items to service workers and the needy. In some places, it is known as "Boxing Day" since gifts are boxed up and delivered. The custom follows the heart of a deacon, like Stephen, to serve.

The blessing of wine is associated with St. John's Feast. The head of each household takes home a portion of consecrated wine and shares it in the name of St. John with members of the family. Each person receives affirmation in the form of a spoken blessing. The wine is then taken to the sick and distressed.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents is also called Childermas (Mass of the Children).

It honors our children as little brothers and sisters in the Lord. A fun custom is for the youngest child to be "in charge" for the day. He or she decides the day's foods, drinks, music, and entertainments. (If you have more than one child, it may be wise to divide these honors!) The classic Coventry Carol, speaks of the Bethlehem sacrifices.

Christians who still observe this feast often include the millions of aborted babies with the Holy Innocents in their prayers, acknowledging that the dynamics that drove Herod to infanticide--along with the likes of Pharaoh (Exodus 1)—still rise up against all that is honest, just, pure, lovely, good, and virtuous in the earth. (Philippians 4:8)

It is a time of intercession and spiritual warfare against the forces that seek to weaken each new generation…robbing a needy world of its future healers, inventors, musicians, and philosophers.

It saddens the heart to think of the deaths of these innocent children, but we can be glad that they are now in the presence of God and nurtured by the Church at rest. One day they will return to earth with Him in glory!

Until then, let's be thankful for the bitter and the sweet! God works all things out for our good and His eternal purposes. A young man who was one of the chief persecutors of the church attended the stoning of Stephen and even held the coat of one of the executioners. He later converted and wrote most of the New Testament. His name was Paul.

Throughout our lives, we will drink from many cups, but the love of Christ can overcome the "poison" as it did for John. Therefore, go ahead…dare to rejoice through the bitter and the sweet! Sing the silly "Twelve Days of Christmas" and try to remember who leaps, who pipes, and who dances.

And don’t forget to raise a Wassail toast for me!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Incarnation of Christ Part Three:
Son of God AND Son of Man

The Incarnation of Christ Part Three:
Son of God AND Son of Man

Years ago I taught a series for our church on the Incarnation of Christ,
which covered such difficult subjects as the Trinity and Jesus being both God AND Man.

To appreciate the astonishing message of Christmas--"God with Us"--we must first attempt to better understand (better, but not fully, of course) the Trinity.

Part I addressed the Trinity, and how Jesus
represents God to man.

Part II--His representation of Man (Adam II) to God
Part III--Son of God And Son of Man

Part IV--Christ in You, the Incarnation Continues!

"For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."  (Colossians 2:9)

Church teaching interpreted the above verse to mean that the divine nature penetrates and perfects every aspect of the human; and the human is diffused by the divine. (John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, 111.8)

Jesus' conception was supernatural--exceeding natural explanation. His birth was natural.

Thomas Oden, Methodist theologian and author, comments: “The deity participated in the Passion of the humanity and the humanity in the majesty of the deity without blurring or confusing either.” (Systematic Theology, Vol. II, the Word of Life)

Lewis Sperry Chafer, evangelical theologian, stated in his Systematic Theology: "The Incarnation introduced the unique situation in which God and man became one without depriving either of their essential qualities...Jesus Christ was perfect God and became perfect man--being all that God in His deity and all that man is apart from sin."

"Jesus did not temporarily become man, but his divine nature was permanently united to his human nature...

"And He lives forever NOT JUST as the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity...but also as Jesus, the man who was born of Mary, and as Christ, the Messiah and Savior of his people. Jesus will remain fully God and fully man, yet one person, forever." (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)

Theologians call these two natures of Christ occurring together in one Person the Theandric Union.  Theandric is a contraction of theanthropos or "God-man".

Christ is one person, two natures. God is three persons, once essence!

His union, contends Oden, was not like a physical union, as when form and matter are united. Nor is it like a union of friends. "It is a more profound union than two people in marriage, for the unity of marriages leaves husband and wife, even after their union, two persons, nor is it one nature being mingled and absorbed by the other.

"Rather, Christ's personal union is a union that can only exist in one distinctive person in who there is an intimate and perpetual conjunction of divine and human natures in one individual, wherein the human nature was ASSUMED by the Logos so as to be the WORD IN PERSON." (Systematic Theology, Vol. II, The Word of Life)

As mentioned in previous notes, many heresies arose that either rejected Christ's humanity or deity, or dualized the one person. Here's a simple breakdown:

Heresies against Christ's humanity:

Docetists-Christ as not fully in flesh

Apollinarians-Logos replaces human spirit

Eutychians-Christ as a single mixed nature

Heresies against Christ's divinity:

Eutychians-Christ not fully divine, but mixed nature

Ebionites-Jesus as the natural son of Joseph and Mary

Arians-Christ as creature, not eternal

Heresy that rejects Christ's person union:

Nestorians-Christ as two persons

Early Church Father Novatian warned, "He is a man who is of man and He is a God who is of God...however, when you read about both these truths, there is a danger that you will believe not both them, but only one." (Trinity 11)

In order to attempt to solve the problems raised by the controversies over the person of Christ, a large church council was convened in the city of Chalcedon near Constatinople (modern Istanbul) in A.D. 451.

The result was the Chalcedon Creed, which has been taken as the standard, orthodox definition of the biblical teaching on the person of Christ since that day by Catholic, Protestant, and most Orthodox branches of Christianity.

The Chalcedonian Definition declares that our Lord Christ is to be acknowledged in two natures:

Inconfusedly--no mixing of the two natures, which remain distinct even while they are in communion

Unchangeably--the deity is not transmuted in humanity, nor humanity into deity

Indivisibly--unable to be divided--the personal union is never at any point split apart

Inseparably--undissolved through eternity and perpetual

(We must rigorously examine what we believe about Christ in the honest light of Scriptures and in the clarity brought forth from the early church fathers. These heresies are STILL around--parading under different names, of course, and deceiving many well-intentioned converts!)

"And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52)

"Much discussion has arisen in theology over the question of Christ's self-consciousness. How could He know and sense the infinite might and wisdom of God, and at the same time appear with normal human weaknesses and limitations apart from complications with immorality?

"How could He know and not know? How could He be the source of all power and yet be prone and exposed to human frailty?

"The answer to the problem is that Christ operated in the human sphere to the extent it was necessary for Him to accomplish His earthly purpose, but at the same time continued operating in the divine sphere to the extent that it was possible in the period of His humiliation." (Chafer)

As God, the Son knew He was human. As human, He knew that He was God.

Thomas Oden further explains: “The Logos is united not with an individual person that existed prior to the God/man, but with a human nature that had no separate identity before union with the divine, for Jesus' human body had not existed eternally, but was born in time.

“Hence, there are not two conscious persons, but a single conscious person uniting the divine and human natures. It is not one or the other nature that speaks when Jesus Christ speaks, but one person bearing the harmonious imprint of two natures.”

I do not think of Christ as God alone, or man alone, but both together.

For I know He was hungry, yet I know that with five loaves He fed 5,000.

I know He was thirsty, and I know He turned water into wine.

I know that He was carried in a ship, yet I know that He walked upon the sea.

I know that He died, yet I know that He raised the dead Himself.

I know that He was set before Pilate, and I know that He sits with the Father in His throne.

I know that He was worshiped by angels, yet He was scourged by man." (John Chrysostom)


"The questions of sin and temptation in Christ from an orthodox point of view should be answered by the statement that He could not sin. As far as the divine nature is concerned, it is clear that God could not sin and that God cannot be tempted.

"On the human side it is obvious that Christ could be tempted, and the human nature by itself could sin. But when the human and divine natures were united in Christ, that left the person of Christ in a situation where the Person can be tempted but where the Person cannot sin because of the presence of the divine nature.

"The doctrine is not simply that Christ was able not to sin but that Christ was not able to sin because He is God." (Chafer)

"Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but  what He sees the Father do; for whatever he does, the Son also does in like manner'." (John 5:19)

At the sixth ecumenical council (Constantinople III in 681), the undivided Church confessed that Christ possesses two wills and two natural operations, divine and human; and they are not opposed to each other, but cooperate in such a way that Christ's human will submits to His divine will.

Oden comments that the divine will always went before (lead the way) for the human will, so that the human will chose freely in accord with the divine will. The pattern is the Gethsemane prayer, in which is faced and resisted in a way fitting to the human nature and then freely offered up to God.

"...And so, the Lord's soul was freely moved to will, but it freely willed those things which His divine will willed." (John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, 111.18)

"For I have come down from Heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day." (John 6:38-39)

Although Christ has retained His human body, He has not added to the Godhead, but simply enriched it forever.

Part IV will show us how to take the truths of the Incarnation out of the theology book and into the practicalities of everyday life as Christians.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Incarnation of Christ Part Two:
Declaring Man to God

The Incarnation of Christ Part Two: Declaring Man to God

Several years ago, I taught a series for our church on the Incarnation of Christ. It covered such challenging subjects as the Trinity and Jesus being both God AND Man.

To appreciate the astonishing message of Christmas--"God with Us"--we must first attempt to better understand (better, but not fully, of course) the Trinity.

Part I addressed the Trinity, and how Jesus represents God to man.

Part II--His representation of Man to God

Part III--Son of God AND Son of Man

Part IV--Christ in You, the Incarnation Continues!

"For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous." 
Roman 5:19

The Word became incarnate not only to manifest God to man, but man to God!

Adam failed in the stewardship of his humanity but the last Adam, Jesus Christ, is the all-satisfying ideal of what mankind should be--perfectly tuned to God's will and living in unbroken, joyful fellowship with Him.

God, the Son arrived legally into the world through a human birth canal and first shed His blood UNDER (or to) to Law, served it flawlessly throughout His life, and then shed His blood one final time to gain our freedom FROM the Law.

You see, Jesus had no need to earn righteousness for Himself. He did so out of love as our representative.
He gave us the benefits of His obedient life and substitutionary death. The sins of all men were paid by one Man…and He did it in a way where justice could still be served.

His payment cleansed and continues to cleanse us from sin; His unblemished life covers us before the Father.
No longer estranged, we can enter into God’s family by grace…"that He (Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29b).

"For it was fitting for Him, for whom all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

"For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren."
(Hebrews 2:10-11)

The l
reformed theologian R.J. Rushdoony observed in his Systematic Theology that the most common title of and reference to Jesus Christ in Scripture is LORD, "Kurios".

The term is used perhaps 6,700 times; it means absolute property owner, God, and sovereign. St. Paul ties the Lordship of Jesus Christ to His office as covenant man, and as head of the new humanity which He, as the second Adam, generates by grace. (Romans 14:7-9)

Here's the bottom-line meaning: We are born in the earth of Adam I, but he does not own us nor is he our lord. We are born again in Adam II.

"By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God." 
  (1 John 4:2-3)

In contrast with today, the early church had more difficulty believing in the full humanity of Christ than in His deity.

The Fourth Council of Chalcedon censured the claims of Apollinarius, who taught that Christ had no human soul. The Scriptures clearly reveal a Savior who experienced a whole range of human emotions.

Therefore, the council affirmed that Jesus was true God, truly human, with soul and body, of one essence with the Father as touching His Godhead, and of one essence with us as touching our humanity--like us in all things except sin.

The Creed of Epiphanius in A.D. 374 declared that the Logos "assumed a perfect man--soul and body and mind (spirit), and all that belongs to man, without sin."

"The mediator between God and humanity would have to be nothing less than God and nothing less than fully human; otherwise, this mediatorship would have been impossible. How can one mediate in a conflict in which one has no capacity to empathize with one or the other side?" (Thomas Oden, Systematic Theology, Vol. II-The Word of Life)

Church Father Ambrose stated that since God, the Son was standing in legally as Adam again..."If He lacked anything as man, then he did not redeem all (that pertains to our humanity)..." (Letters 48)

Indeed, Church Father Gregory Nazianzen remarked, "For that which He has not assumed He has not healed, but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half of Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole." (Epistle 101)

Hebrews 4:15, 16 tells us:
"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

Rushdoony cautioned that stressing only the deity of Christ--His sovereign being, His eternal decree, His magnificent glory and eternity--can result in an indifference to history and a lack of cultural consciousness. Similarly, focusing only on Christ's humanity results in a loss of perspective and a rapid decline into humanism.

We must realize there is a delicate, divine balance. Jesus is not just a good man or wise prophet, nor is He an unapproachable, distant deity. A correct understanding of the Incarnation helps us worship the Lord in spirit and truth.

"Remember, Christ was not a deified man, neither was He a humanized God. He was perfectly God and, at the same time, perfectly man."  
Charles Spurgeon

Regardless of postmodern attempts to diminish the deity of Christ while overemphasizing His human nature, it is still important for us to acknowledge and rejoice in the full humanity of Jesus Christ.

"...For the MAN will not rest until He has concluded the matter this day."
Ruth 3:18b 

The Old Covenant beautifully spoke of our coming Kinsman-Redeemer through the lives of Boaz, a type of Christ, and Ruth, a stranger in need of a God, a new life, and a home. She represents fallen humanity.

As Kinsman-Redeemer, Christ fulfilled what the Old Testament required:

1. The Redeemer must be a kinsman (Lev. 25:48-49; Ruth 3:12-13).

2. The Redeemer must be able to redeem (Ruth 4:4-6).

3. The redemption must be accomplished by the Redeemer paying the righteous demands involved (Lev. 25:27)

Gnostics, whose beliefs were condemned in the early church, believe that Jesus did not have a physical body. Rather, his apparent physical body was an illusion; hence, His crucifixion was not bodily.

They consider the human body evil and strive for higher, spiritual enlightenment that can "free" them from such a prison during their earthly existence. Most sects practice strict asceticism (body denials and punishments), while others defile their bodies, believing such indulgences do not matter since the body is already corrupt.

During the Dark Ages, even the Church-at-large sadly developed a negative view of the human body. Many leaders taught that one must tame its God-given passions and appetites through extreme measures of neglect or abuse.

This focus on dualism led to a perceived "split" from that which was done in the body as natural (and therefore considered ungodly) versus the spiritual (godly). Man was not viewed holistically. Akin to Gnostic thinking, Christians believed they were shamefully imprisoned in weak, sinful bodies that could not possibly please God. All the attention, therefore, was focused on Heaven and the future promise of perfection in a glorified body. Gradually, the Church returned to a more Biblical view of human existence.

"Flesh" and "spirit" are not two parts of man, but the whole man seen from two different aspects. All that man does in his natural state is "flesh" and is not necessarily associated with sin. It's the normal, day-to-day functions of mind, body, and soul which make us human. All that which man does under the control of the Spirit is "spiritual". Therefore, even the mundane things can be raised to a spiritual level if done for the glory of God.

"Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.  (I Corinthians 6:15, 19-20).

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Think upon this magnificent truth:
It pleased the Son of God to live in His human body--not only on earth, but forever!

Yes! The Son of God determined to identify eternally with humanity. In this, He enhances the glory of being human...for "He chose to be what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies)

"The glory of God is a human being fully alive"! (St. Irenaeus)

Part III is the apex of the series."Son of God AND Son of Man" will examine the expressions of Christ's humanity and divinity during His earthly life and ministry, and attempt to clear misconceptions about His self-knowledge and the genuineness of His earthly temptations.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Incarnation of Christ Part One:
Declaring God to Man

The Incarnation of Christ Part One :
Declaring God to Man

Several years ago, I taught a series for our church on the Incarnation of Christ. It covered such challenging subjects as the Trinity and Jesus being both God AND Man.

To appreciate the astonishing message of Christmas--"God with Us"--we must first attempt to better understand (better, but not fully, of course) the Trinity.

Notes on Part I will address the Trinity and how Jesus represents God to man.

Part II-His representation of Man (Adam II) to God

Part III-Son of God AND Son of Man

Part IV- Christ in You, the Incarnation Continues

"...He who has seen Me has seen the Father." John 14:9

 John 1:18 says that Jesus Christ has "declared God the Father".

Basic version of the "Shield of the Trinity" or "Scutum Fidei"
with translated English-language captions (in place of original Latin).
The Greek word "declared" is exegeomai, related to our word exegesis.

We have seen the love, holiness, and goodness of the Father animated and demonstrated directly for our benefit in the Person of Jesus Christ (1 John 4:9).

Therefore, Jesus Christ is the "line by line, precept upon precept" of God--the full and perfect exegesis (declaration, revelation). 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God.” (John 1:1)

John testified about Him and cried out, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has priority over me, for He was before me. (He takes rank above me, for He existed before I did'...)".  (John 1:15) 

"Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham I AM." (John 8:58)

Dr. Thomas Oden puts it beautifully: "God cannot be fully comprehended, but He can be apprehended." Aren't you glad? Would you really want to trust your well being and eternity to a deity that you--being finite and fallen--had totally dissected and understood?

Although the word, "Trinity" is not in the Bible, the doctrine is taught from the beginning in the first chapter and verse of the Bible. The early church had to grow in its understanding of this majestic truth. Church Father Tertullian was the first to use the word "Trinity" (three in one) in reference to the Godhead in the first century. 

Here are two amazing verses: 

Job 33: 28, 29: "He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light. God does all these things to a man--twice, even three times--to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him."

Proverbs 22:20: "Have not I written to thee excellent (In Hebrew--"three-fold") things in counsels and knowledge, that I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth... 

Indeed, God has communicated to us throughout creation with the counsel and knowledge of "three-fold" things:

Objects have three dimensions--length, breadth, and height--that are distinguishable, but inseparable, unified in a single object, yet three-dimensional.

We live in three dimensions--time, space, and matter--unified, yet distinguishable.

Humans are body, spirit, and soul.

Our "soul realm" is the mind, emotions, and will.

Our world is full of "three's" in God's symbolism and instruction:

He created time with a past, present, and future.

"The Spirit, the water, and the blood," is the divinely perfect witness to the grace of God on earth (1 John 5:7).

In Hebraic tradition, a blessing is recited THREE times.

Jesus was made a Prophet, Priest, and King.

The Tabernacle had THREE compartments.

The Ark of the Covenant contained three objects--a jar of manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the Ten Commandments on stone.

Heaven is divided into THREE realms (Paul went to the THIRD Heaven).

There is also Gehenna, Hades, and Sheol.

The angels cry, "Holy, Holy, Holy!"

Jesus was tempted three times--the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

The husbandman gives the plant three years to bear fruit (Luke 13:6-9).

Spiritual man is fed with manna, milk, and meat (of the Word).

The three gifts of grace are faith, hope, and love.

God expressed Himself in the Old Covenant as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Three Major Jewish Feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles

Three parts to the Feast of Tabernacles: Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Tabernacle

Jesus was raised on the THIRD DAY.

Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days.

The Christ Child was given three gifts-gold, frankincense and myrrh.

When God said, "Let US make man in our image" (Gen. 1:26), God was speaking in the first person in plural form. In fact, God clues us in from the beginning: In Gen. 1:1, at the beginning of creation, Elohim (God) is a plural noun, linked to a singular verb.

Genesis 3:22: And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Genesis 11:6-7: The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

Isaiah 6:8a: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

Look at the Shema: "Hear, O, Israel, the Lord is our God"—literally, "Our Gods" is "Elohenu...one Lord! (Deuteronomy 6:4)

"Remember your Creator in the days of your youth (Ecclesiastes 12:1) is literally "Remember your Creators" (Eth-bor-eka).

2 Corinthians 4:6 tells us that God, the Father created the world by direct address.

The Holy Spirit was hovering (brooding) over the face of the waters, dark and deep.

Then, God the Father released His Son (The Word-Divine Logos) over the void and empty waste.

John 1:3 tells us "All things were made by him (God, the Son); and without him was not anything made that was made. He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the Cross." (Colossians 1:15-20)

God, as one Being, expresses Himself through three Persons who have never changed or ceased, nor been divided or diminished in any time or space.

All three Persons of the Trinity are represented in Scripture as:

being addressed by name
possessing divine attributes
engaging in actions that only God can accomplish
being worthy of divine worship

God, wholly and simultaneously presents Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet meets us in human history as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.

The Son fulfilled the Father's plan of Redemption for all of mankind. The Holy Spirit now continues to work conviction in the earth in order to impart Salvation to willing hearts, equip and mature believers for service in the world, and prepare the faithful for eternal life.

At Jesus' Baptism, the Holy Spirit descended from above and the Father spoke from Heaven. (Matthew 3:16)

Jesus is called God: Matthew 1:23, Romans 9:5, Titus 1:3, 2:13, Hebrews 1:8

Thomas Cried, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28)

The Holy Spirit is called God: Acts 5:3, 4:1 Corinthians 2: 10b, 11

Our baptismal formula, commanded by Jesus, is to baptize in the NAME (not names) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

Beliefs against the Trinity that were rejected in the early church:

1)  Jesus was an ordinary man who, through obedience and devotion, became the Christ at his baptism, having been adopted by God.

Other adherents believed Jesus became the Christ at His resurrection. This belief, called "Adoptionism", was rejected church-wide by the third century.

2) Only one being is presenting himself in different aspects or roles.

This is the most common error regarding the Trinity, and it still lingers deceptively in some components of Christianity, despite the fact that Sabellius, who first suggested the concept, was quickly excommunicated from the undivided church in A.D. 220.

"Modalism", as it's often called, fails to account for greater than 70 passages in Scripture where the Father, Son and Spirit are mentioned together as distinct persons interacting with one another.

3) The Son is not God, but like God...existing before creation, but still a creature and different from God in essence.

A man named Arius first promoted this idea. His solution proposed that the Son (Jesus) was somewhere between God and man.Today, two major religions, self-aligned with Christianity, teach that Jesus was a created being, not God incarnate.

In overcoming this particular heresy, the undivided Church in A.D. 325 said:  "He (the Son) is begotten, not made...of one being with the Father. (Nicene Creed)

Michael Houdmann, graduate of Calvary Seminary and founder of the popular gotquestions.org, clearly explains the phrase "only begotten":

"The phrase “only begotten Son” occurs in John 3:16, which reads in the King James Version as, "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."
The phrase "only begotten" translates the Greek word monogenes. This word is variously translated into English as "only," "one and only," and "only begotten."

It's this last phrase ("only begotten" used in the KJV, NASB and the NKJV) that causes problems. False teachers have latched onto this phrase to try to prove their false teaching that Jesus Christ isn't God; i.e., that Jesus isn't equal in essence to God as the Second Person of the Trinity. They see the word "begotten" and say that Jesus is a created being because only someone who had a beginning in time can be "begotten."

What this fails to note is that "begotten" is an English translation of a Greek word. As such, we have to look at the original meaning of the Greek word, not transfer English meanings into the text.

So what does monogenes mean? According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BAGD, 3rd Edition), monogenes has two primary definitions:

The first definition is "pertaining to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship." This is its meaning in Hebrews 11:17 when the writer refers to Isaac as Abraham's "only begotten son" (KJV). Abraham had more than one son, but Isaac was the only son he had by Sarah and the only son of the covenant. Therefore, it is the uniqueness of Isaac among the other sons that allows for the use of monogenes in that context.

The second definition is "pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind." This is the meaning that is implied in John 3:16 (see also John 1:14, 18; 3:18; 1 John 4:9). John was primarily concerned with demonstrating that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31), and he uses monogenes to highlight Jesus as uniquely God's Son—sharing the same divine nature as God—as opposed to believers who are God's sons and daughters by adoption (Ephesians 1:5). Jesus is God’s “one and only” Son.
 This truth is reinforced in John 10:30, making it very clear that the Father and the Son are a monad (single entity) who have been there from the very beginning, Micah 5:2; John 1:1, 18; 17:5

Jesus spent forty days instructing His Apostles in the "things of the Kingdom of God" (Acts 1:1-3). They pastored the early church with this knowledge and the help of the Holy Spirit. Their protégés were the men who encountered, confronted, and judged these early heresies-- based upon the Apostles' doctrine rooted in the instructions from Jesus. Since a spring is clearer at its source, we must study what the early Church had to say about the seductions that attempted to diminish the Lordship of the Trinity.

Beware! As I said before, these ancient anti-Trinitarian doctrines are still around under different names.

"Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either."
  1 John 2:23

Jesus was God BEFORE, DURING and AFTER the Incarnation!

The Trinitarian unity (substance) of the Godhead continued without interruption...even when God, the Son assumed human flesh, entered earth's history, and was given the name Jesus. Read what Jesus said while conducting His ministry on earth:

"If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the SON OF MAN who IS in heaven." (John 3:12, 13)

He is God NOW as He sits at the right hand of the Father, while the Spirit dispenses grace to and through the Church. He has chosen to enrich (not add to) the Trinity by remaining in His human body--the God/Man Jesus Christ. One day, He will physically return to earth in that glorified body to rule and reign!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Ol' St. Nick: Servant of God?

Yes, children. St. Nick IS real!

On Friday,  December 6, the Church honors this man who loved Jesus; and from whom the modern day legend of Santa Claus sprang.

Nicholas lived from 270-346 A.D. He was imprisoned and tortured for his faith under Diocletian. He also attended the historical Council of Nicea in 325--the first worldwide council of Christian bishops called to settle the controversy regarding the divine nature of Jesus Christ.

Nicholas is reported to have argued aggressively against Arius, who claimed Jesus was not equal to God, the Father. Tradition claims that at one point, Nicholas arose and slapped the heretic--an act that landed him in jail for a season under Constantine.

Here’s the account of how Nicholas was chosen to be a bishop:

After the death of the area bishop, the local priests gathered for a time of prayer and fasting regarding God's selection of a new leader from among them. However, one of the older priests said that God had spoken to him in a vision and proclaimed, "The first person to enter the church tomorrow for Morning Prayer is your bishop."

Everyone revered the Elder and knew his words to be seasoned and accurate. The next morning, they gathered discreetly outside to watch. Nicholas was that person! What makes this story so amazing is that he was not even a priest; however, against all protocol, the men ordained the reluctant young man to the highest office in that area. This account reminds me of the Old Testament story of Joseph--a young man, faithful to God, who was suddenly promoted out of persecution and obscurity to the highest office in Egypt.

Before he was ordained, Nicholas was faithful in the little things. Rather than squander his  inheritance after the deaths of his wealthy parents, Nicholas gave the bulk of it to the needy.

The famous story, from which sprang the legend of the gift-giving "Santa", recounts a distraught father who bemoaned how he was unable to provide a dowry for his three daughters.

People who lived in Europe and Asia during Nicholas’ time faced famines, ravaging diseases, and wars. Such deadly scourges put a premium on continuing family lines. As a result, young girls of lesser status often married into noble families.

A dowry was something of value brought into the marriage contract by the bride’s family. Although abused through the centuries, its intent was to ensure the wife against poverty if the marriage was dissolved for any reason. In those days, there was no such thing as alimony. Poor girls whose families could not produce token dowries were often sold into slavery.

During his evening walk, Nicholas heard the poor man's prayers from the open window of his small cottage. Family members in those days hung their washed stockings to dry overnight on the mantle of the fireplace. Nicholas quietly returned later that night. As embers from the dying fire softly illumined the room, he tossed three gold coins through the window into the stockings.

Over the years, various cultures have taken this story and made their own adaptations, resulting in distortions of the real Nicholas. From the more accurate "Father Christmas" to the commercialized "Santa Claus"--derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas--St. Nicholas has been transformed from the symbol of a benevolent Christian into a magical entity who is conditional in his giving. He is also portrayed as:

Omniscient (all knowing about the behavior of boys and girls)

Possessing supernatural powers over created elements (reindeer, gravity, time)

Having non-human servants (elves)

Being immortal…no real beginning or end

Honestly, the above list seems to be referring more to a deity rather than a very simple, very real servant of God.

I've never been one to spoil the imagination and play of children, but I also don't lie to them--particularly about spiritual things in the name of "fun". Emphasizing the true story of the man St. Nicholas and his good works, while downplaying the god-like morph of Santa, seems a healthier choice for Christians who desire to influence their children toward a life of compassionate giving.

Keeping St. Nick's Day enables Christian children to still enjoy the fun associated with the Santa "legend" in a diverse culture. They can fully participate in the play-making, while remaining aware of the richer, truer origin of the festivities.

Traditionally on this night--St. Nicholas Eve (December 5), families would prepare baskets of food, toys, and other items for the needy. They would wait until dark to place the gift on the doorsteps. The fastest child would then linger behind to knock on the door, running away before someone answered.

After returning home, the children would hang stockings along the fireplace mantle or place a pair of shoes by the hearth. The next morning, they would find them filled with fruits, chocolate, and candy.

The festivities continued on St. Nicholas Day (December 6). Families often held parties, where the children competed for prizes by tossing coin-wrapped chocolates into stockings and decorating handmade Father Christmas ornaments. In many homes, the children would then receive their “Father Christmas” gift—usually one item they had asked for all year.

Our  parish in Spartanburg, SC included a yearly visit from "St. Nicholas" on the Sunday prior to his feast day. He would gather the children around and tell them why he loved to bless others, and how excited he was to celebrate the greatest gift of all--Jesus! (John 3:16 IS the Christmas story.)

All the kids knew it was Mr. Ron behind the bishop's garb and woolly beard, but it never dulled their anticipation to hear once again the bells and a hearty "Ho!" from St. Nick, who always brought a good story and treat-filled stockings.

If you’re thinking this tradition can’t compete with Santa’s glut of gifts on December 25, just remember that in earlier times, gifts were given DAILY among families and friends during the Twelve Days of Christmas that followed Christmas Day. (Soon, I'll post more about how it's celebrated.)

What's important is that children were taught, through the festivities on St. Nicholas Eve, first to give rather than receive...to remember the needy ahead of their own wants. But oh, how they bountifully received throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas!

The St. Nicholas Center
is a wonderful site full of recipes, coloring pages, crafts, pictures, and stories of how this feast is observed around the world. It also contains an informative timeline as to how the image of Saint Nicholas evolved into the jolly old elf we see today in America. 

Repeat many of the stories about St. Nick to your children or grandchildren, emphasizing his courage under persecution, his bold defense of the faith before emperors and detractors, and his deep compassion for the hurting and needy while coveting no personal recognition or reward.

You may also want to start collecting "Father Christmas" ornaments and dolls. I started this delightful tradition years ago. Displaying one on your desk at work during the holiday season makes for a great conversation piece, and paves the way for you to light-heartedly explain the real history of St. Nick and contrast it with his modern counterpart.

My tradition centers on where I place my Father Christmases--on the mantle, tabletops, and around the tree. You can find these collectibles in all sizes from the simple to the regal. However, an authentic Father Christmas will always be adorned in a long cloak with a hood. Some will bear a bishop’s mitre or some adaptation around the head (such as a wreath), and they will often carry a staff (crosier).

George and I decorate much later than mainstream America. We follow the earlier Christian tradition of lighting the tree on December 24 and celebrating throughout the Twelve Days. Accordingly, I'll update this post later in the month with a picture of my Father Christmas collection.

Here's a prayer for this wonderful day from a church in Holland:

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: grant us to perfectly know thy Son Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life, and that, following in the footsteps of friends like Nicholas who loved the poor, the weak and the young, and who gave what he had to enrich those who had but little, we may faithfully walk in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

So how are you celebrating the real St. Nick this year?