Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bible Reading

Five reasons for reading through the Bible in a year:

1) All Scripture is ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
2 Timothy 3:16-17 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Many of us have Bibles where in the New Testament the words of Jesus are written in red. These Bibles can be helpful tools, however there is one misleading danger: they can imply that the letters in red are more important because Jesus spoke them. The reality is that the entire Bible is spoken by God. It is breathed out by His very voice. The whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation is God’s Word—spoken by God and written through the hands of men. Yet it bears the authority of God himself.

Some passage of Scripture deal with more important issues in the sense that you must believe in Jesus before you understand the significance of Levitical purity laws for the Christian today. You must understand the death and resurrection of Christ before you understand the ministry of Jeremiah. Some passages are also harder to understand than others—even Peter tells us this about Paul’s writings.

Even with these differences all of Scripture is giving for our good—all of it is spoken by God. There is no portion of God’s Word that can be set aside by the believer as if to say “I do not need this” or “this passage will not instruct me like another one over here.” The whole Bible is for our benefit. All of it brings instruction, correction, rebuke, and training for how to live righteously. If we really believe this we should not neglect any of Scripture in our regular reading.

The tendency of the Bible student is to read the parts he or she likes. We read the parts that are easy to understand. We read the parts that won’t challenge our thinking or possibly expose our sin. We do not like this section because it talks about sin and well “I’m forgiven in Jesus”—so we deny that the Bible still needs to rebuke us. This part is too hard, or too boring, or too mean, or too irrelevant. If we skip around in the Bible like this, we are in effect cutting out God’s Word. We deprive ourselves from the benefits of the whole counsel of God.

2) We are sanctified by God’s truth (John 17:17; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23).

John 17:17 17 "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
James 1:18 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
1 Peter 1:23 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

God’s Word is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word actually creates the new birth in us. We are “brought forth by the word of truth”, our Christian faith springs from the word of truth. The whole reason we are born again is because of a imperishable seed that gets planted in us—God’s Word. God causes that seed to grow in our heart as evidence by our confession and belief in the doctrines or teachings of the Bible. And so—God works through the word to make us holy.

Not only does God begin the work of conversion in us through the power of the Word of God, he also continues to enable us to grow and be transformed into the image of Christ. They way God does this is through the Word of God—both the reading of God’s Word and especially the preaching of God’s Word.

In our day and age, many people in the church are seeking spiritual growth in all the wrong places—it is like the song “looking for love in all the wrong places”. The methods of new “spiritual” practices have become idolatrous in our day. People in the church look to yoga for spiritual healing of their mind—nothing wrong with exercise and stretching, nothing wrong with take a moment of peace and quite; there is everything wrong with looking to it for ‘spiritual’ peace.

The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to communicate God’s grace to us, to transform us, and to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit within us. In this respect, the Word of God is like your survival kit for expedition into the wilderness. It will quench your thirst and feed your hunger. It will bandage you when you are wounded. It will guide you when you are lost. It is even like a knife to fight of wild animals or build a shelter with it.

Consider a Swiss army knife. Notice how it has all kinds of tools on it for the right job. It has a large knife, a small knife, a serrated knife, a scissors, maybe even a screw driver. There is a knife for cutting cans open. All the right tools in one package. The Bible is much the same way. There are passages that are hopeful, there are passages that rebuke the vilest of evils. There are laws that give careful instruction, there are poems that make us sing. There are books that are letters and books that are narrative adventures. It is all the right tools for the right job to transform us and make us holy. Do not neglect any portion.

3) Reading through the Bible in a year pays attention to the way Scripture was given (Hebrews 1:1-2).

NAU Hebrews 1:1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

a) The writer of Hebrews recognizes the diversity of the Word of God. The Old Testament records multiple messages. They come in various sizes—from long Isaiah to short Obadiah. They come in many forms: psalm, poetry, proverb, law, narrative, judgment oracles, and salvation oracles. There is a large diversity in the revelation God has given us. Hebrews says that “God spoke” in this way.

b) Hebrews recognizes the climax of Christ. The most important way that God has spoken is by sending His Son. The work of the Son is the climax of God’s revealing Himself. The whole Bible as a written revelation points us to the “word made flesh”.

Christ is the apex, the climax, the height of God’s revelation. You will not understand the height of this height until you see all the “many portions and various ways” God spoke in preparing for the coming of Christ. This highpoint of revelation in Christ rest upon a foundation that God was preparing through the Old Testament. The supremacy of Christ cannot be seen unless you understand those things Christ is superior to.

For example: spending time studying the sacrifices in Leviticus and specifically the “day of atonement” prepare you to understand the supremacy of Christ. Christ work is “once for all time”. His work bears a sufficiency (as it is done one time) and an efficacy (as it takes away sins) that far exceeds the Old Covenant. But you cannot understand this, as Hebrews 9 illustrates, without understanding the Old Covenant. You must read all of Scripture.

4) Reading through the Bible in a year allows you to see the flow of God’s plan to save His people (Luke 24:27).

Luke 24:27 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
Luke 24:44-47 44 Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

All of the Bible is like one giant series of little books that points to Jesus Christ. It is a series of events and revelations, a record of God’s dealing with humanity. This record of events has a climax. The Old Testament is not a random collection of ‘good ideas’ or ‘good things for healthy living’—it is a record of events and prophecies that center on the coming of Jesus Christ. To borrow a phrase: Jesus is the ‘Climax of the Covenant’.

Jesus himself, in his teaching, start with Moses and the prophet and explain how these things must be fulfilled by Him. Understanding all the Scriptures brings us the see the center: “that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations,”

It is very easy to read the Bible to get what we want out of it. We want a few tipes for good living, for conflict resolution, how to be successful for life. We want the Bible to be like an owner's manual—if the car has a warning light come on you flip to the index under “warning light” and then you go to the right page and read what to do. You generally don’t read an owner’s manual from cover to cover. You read the chapters that interest you most or are for the right moment.

The Bible is not an owner’s manual. The Bible is about God revealing Himself in Christ because of our great sins. First and foremost the Bible tells us what God has done to redeem us. If it was a car owners manual it would spend its time describing how the manufacture built the car and how the manufacture fixes the car… not a ‘how-to’ manual in the common sense of the term.

5) The Christian is to delight in God’s Word (Psalm 119:16, 47; Ezra 7:10).

Psalm 119:16 16 I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word.
Ezra 7:10 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.

We are to delight in God’s Word—the whole of God’s Word. You and I will not delight in God’s Word if we do not spend time in it. We will not delight in the whole of God’s Word if you do not spend time digging into those sections that are unfamiliar to us. We need to be like a treasure hunter who digs into the dark corners and shines his light in the caves where few travel so that he might bring back a treasure to share with others. My point is this: read all of God’s Word—especially those portions you are unfamiliar with—those sections that are like ‘dark caverns’ to you. Read carefully those section where in the past you’ve just look at from afar asking: “what is going on in there?”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Christmas Message?!

Check out this excerpt from a Christmas message:

All prophets called for the worship of God, for love and brotherhood, for the establishment of justice and for love in human society. Jesus, the Son of Mary is the standard-bearer of justice, of love for our fellow human beings of the fight against tyranny, discrimination and injustice.

All the problems that have bedevilled humanity throughout the ages came about because of humanity followed an evil path and disregarded the message of the Prophets.

Now as human society faces a myriad of problems and succession of complex crises, the root causes can be found in humanity's rejection of that message, in particular the indifference of some governments and powers towards the teachings of the divine Prophets, especially those of Jesus Christ.

If Christ was on earth today undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers.

If Christ was on earth today undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over. If Christ was on earth today undoubtedly he would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems, as He did in His lifetime.


Who said this? Any guesses... These days everybody is jumping on the emergent bandwagon, right? Is this someone else dedicating himself to following 'the way of Jesus'--not quite... Have a look at who said it. Maybe he he got his talking points from "Everything Must Change" or this could be the latest inception of 'incarnational ministry'--but I'm guessing not.

File this illustration away as a mark of how easy it is to coopt the message of Jesus for our own agenda and gains. Even those of us who don't want to loose the 'evangel' in 'evangelicalism' or the 'good news' in 'gospel' have to be wary of making Jesus look just like us so that he supports our agenda instead of vice versa.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Hook-Up Culture

Last week Tim Challies linked to this article in the New York Times about the increase of 'hooking up' and the decrease of dating. The article defines 'hooking up' as a one night stand with friends, a sexual encounter with a friend but with no obligations for emotional attachment. The article is careful to point out that even with the rise of 'hooking up' the number of young people having sex is decreasing according to the Center for Disease Control.
Here were my immediate thoughts:
  1. Does this really surprise us? Relationships and love are truly defined by a self-giving that involves selflessness. In a day and age where narcissism manifest in immediate self-gratification is the nor, it will inevitably flow over into our view and practice of "relationships."
  2. We have diminishing attention spans flowing over into all areas of life. And while I'm not sure there is data correlating the issues--dating in a serious relationship takes devoted attention. The best dates take listening.
  3. 'Hooking up' involves instant gratification--in this respect it is seen as a 'win-win'. We live in a culture unable to delay gratification. The good things don't come to those who wait but those who grab them now. So why not gratify my desires without the baggage of emotions and relationships.
  4. This generation has few good examples of real healthy relationships--the kind of love that involves commitment. Those who endeavor to live committed are either (a) portrayed as naive, (b) portrayed or experience real hurt and (c) often experience disasterous results often experience the side-effects of other relationships exploding.

In short, relationships take work. Relationships take covenant committments. Those kind of comitments take sacrifice and a willing to put aside my inherant selfishness of the good of the other. The "pay-off" seem neglegable in comparison. When the sole aim of a culture is to etertain and seek a temporal hapiness from the immediacy of our circumstances of course the 'hook-up' culture will appeal.

It would be interesting to see studies on the true psychological effects of this culture. We may think that the non-emotional attachments have no effect on relationship but not only does it culturally redefine ethics and relational health, it also comes with supressing God's truth in our hearts. We still bear God's image and that image was designed to be united in covenantal unions. The consequences in the lives of these young people will be more far-reaching than we realize.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Romans 1:18-32 in light of 3:19 and 5:13

Paul begins the first major section of his epistle which is to convince us that all are under sin—both Jew and Gentile. (1:18-3:21). His first focus is on Gentiles (1:18-32) but this must be read in light of Paul's later explication.
  • Jew and Gentile are equally sinful (3:9ff). Paul is making that point in the flow from 1:18-32 (Gentiles) and Jewish (2:1-24)
  • The pattern of gospel is Jew--Gentile while the condemnation goes Gentile--Jew. We see this in the OT in terms of the nations in the land first, then the Jews getting condemned. (the prophets expect eschatology of judgment-salvation to play out: Jew--Gentile)
  • The Law brings condemnation on all under the Law (Jews) so that “every mouth is closed and silenced” (3:19) –while the Law has a salvation-historical scope to the Jews in terms of gift to and immediate condemnation of, it functions in a manner that by holding the Jew accountable all are shown to be accountable. The Law may speak to Jews but its speaking to Jews is a function of a larger condemnatory role.

ESV Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God

  • Romans 5:13 may illuminate why it is that Paul uses Genesis 1 as the background to Gentile’s sin, while at the same time arguing for universal scope of the Law. If a covenant of works (so-called in sys. theo.) is republished in the Law—then it is natural for the creation mandate to hold all creation guilty while it is explicated in more detail under the Law. Thus, Paul can see a universal function to the law in 3:19-20—it serves to silence not just the Jew (its immediate target for issuing condemnation) but also the Gentile.
    Romans 5:12-14 12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned-- 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
  • Paul immediate argument it to explain how death has reign prior to Law. It is based upon the headship of Adam and his one act imputes death to all--even though there was no law spelling out sins and condemnations. Sin like Adam and sinning under the Law are the same type of offense.
  • If Paul envisions the Law for Jews to bring condemnation to them and if Paul connects the Law to Adam in terms of the nature of "condemnation". Paul may then see the Law transgression and condemnation connected to Adam's transgression/condemnation via a role of the Law to condemn Jews in a manner that publicizes and pronounces the greatness of offense (against God) which all have done by virtue of there sin of Adam.
  • Either way: (1) Romans 3:19--Paul expands the role of the Law in light of Christ and (2) the immediate focus of the Law is not to vindicate Jews but to condemn them.
  • We are saying Paul makes good theological sense in light of the relationship of what he says elsewhere (Romans 1:18ff with allusions to Genesis 1; and Romans 5:13-14 with the Adam-Law connection) to argue that the Law itself can and does condemn more than merely those under its covenant stipulations (i.e. Jews).

Comments? Thoughts?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Jesus' Birthplace

The Old Testament tells us explicitly where Jesus was to be born.

1) The enemies of Jesus knew where Jesus was to be born.
NAU Matthew 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'"
The Targum for Micah 5:2 “before me the anointed One, to exercise dominion” –Anointed one is a clear reference to the Messiah. We also have some post-Christian Rabbinic material where it was recorded that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Many Jews during Jesus’ time and beyond did not believe Jesus was the Messiah—but ancient Jews all agreed that Micah 5:2 promised the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

2) Micah has told us where Jesus was to be born.
NAU Micah 5:1 "Now muster yourselves in troops, daughter of troops; They have laid siege against us; With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek. 2 "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity." 3 Therefore He will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel. 4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.

Micah writes during the same time as Isaiah. The fear at the time was the Assyrian army which was raging destruction in the regions of Syria and Damscus, as well as the northern kingdom of Israel. If Jerusalem and her king were destroyed the issue arises: what happens to the promise made to David?
2 Samuel 7:12-16 2 "When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 "Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever."'"
There really is little to look forward to if the line of David is destroyed. What happens if the David line is cut off? The threat around Jerusalem was a threat upon the very promises of God. But what we have here is a promise to trust—a promise that we need to trust God. There are three elements of the promise we are given.

a) First, the birthplace of the king.

Micah 5:2 2 "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity."


Boaz and Ruth came from Bethlehem. Jesse lived in Bethlehem. It was the city of David’s birth. Yet Bethlehem was a small city, not very significant. The son of David would be connected to his ancestor by being born in the same place. We are reminded that not only was Bethlehem small—not the city of great kings, not noble heritage or grand lineage; but David himself was small and tiny. He was un-warrior-like in his stature. He was a meager shepherd—the lowest, most humble of jobs. God uses the weak to shame the strong. God uses the foolish to shame the wise. And in the gospel, God uses a weak little baby to display His glory apart from all the wisdom of man that seek’s glory in nobility, philosophy, intelligence and power.

b) Second, the uniqueness of the king.
NAU Micah 5:2 "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity."
There is a debate about the precise meaning of this passage. For example the phrase: “days of old/eternity” typically speaks of historical events that happened a long time ago. It speaks of a definitive point in time that has past (cf. Deut. 32:7; Ps. 77:6; Isa. 51:9; 63:9, 11; Amos 9:11; Micah 7:14; Mal. 3:4). It is possible the mention of Bethlehem refers to David’s childhood, and so “the times of old” corresponds to ancient times and points to the royal heritage in the line of David.

However, the overall context, I believe, points to the deity of the Son. First, we see this person “will go forth for me”—the Lord speaking. By itself, this does not prove deity, since the Davidic King is a representative of God. This does point out though that the Son is not merely a representative of God’s people—He is a representative of God, and agent who acts on His behalf. Second, we have the phrase “his going forth are from long ago.” The phrase “from long ago” can mean eternity. In Deut. 33:27, God is called, the ‘God of eternity’. Habakkuk 1:12 describes ‘everlasting’ using this same word. It is word that speaks of “primeval time”. Third, although the final phrase may be rendered ‘days of old’ the word ‘old’ can also be rendered “eternity”. Finally, Proverbs 8:22-23 does use the two words “everlasting” and “eternity” to speak of a time before time.

If this is true, then Micah not only sees the birthplace of Jesus—He is alluding to the divine origin of Jesus Christ.

c) Third, the leadership of the king.
Micah 5:3-4 3 Therefore He will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel. 4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain,
i) The king leads by bring his people back to God. This is a theme in the OT that ties into the return from exile. It is why, when John the Baptist comes, he preaches a message of repentance: “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand”. This is the great hope of the ‘return from exile’ and the ‘return of the glory of the Lord’. The gospels begin with referencing these themes from Isaiah. Jesus comes to bring the people of Israel back to God. There coming back bring the ‘good news’ to the Gentiles. The hope is that the nations will come. This is where Jesus leads: he leads a repentant people back to God. He accomplishes this through His own death on their behalf. Only when the child is born can the people return to the Lord.

ii) The king shepherds His people. David in his commission was to shepherd God’s people. God is often described as a shepherd. Shepherds had to gently care for the sheep. They provided food, water, shelter, protection. Without these things sheep will die—they cannot survive on their own.

3) Reflections for Christmas:

a) Christ’s birth in Bethlehem fulfills prophecy and as such is symbolic. This year when President Elect Obama is sworn into office, he will hold his hand on the same Bible on which President Lincoln was sworn into office. No other President has taken the oath of office on this book. Why? Because it is symbolic. The act points us to something greater. It says: Obama as the first African American president fulfills the great dream of Lincoln. In a similar way, Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem not only point us to fulfilled prophecy—but allows us to see that the promise son of David—the ultimate heir to the throne in a line of heirs is finally here. In such a lowly town comes the greatest of all kings. He enters this world under the most meek of circumstances.

b) Christ’s true origin did not begin in Bethlehem. The baby had the most royal of human ancestors. In Jewish culture, one did not get more regal or kingly than king David himself. However, the little baby is more regal than even David. His origins are from eternity. He has no beginning. The baby who was born is the son of God. Bono the singer in U2 writes it like this:

“The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in shit and straw . . . a child . . . I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry . . . Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came streaming down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this.”
c) Jesus comes as our shepherd. In His humanity, Jesus comes to lead us as a king. He comes to bring us back to God. The God who made heaven and earth did not stay far off from us, but assumed our nature so that he could bring us back to God. We were all lost and wandering in darkness—no human king, no leader, no representative since the fall of Adam could ever gather up God’s people, provide redemption, and lead us back. We needed a shepherd, one who could get down with us and guide us with a gentle hand. When no human could do it—God became human like us, partook of our flesh and blood in order to bring us to God’s glory (cf. Hebrew 2:10-18). God is to be forever praised. Not only did our shepherd come, but our shepherd came and died like sheep—a lamb on the slaughter.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Here are just some Christmas thoughts. I hope you have a blessed day.

a) Christmas is truly a season of peace. We are to rely upon the Savior who makes peace for us. At Christmas, we should be attuned to the fact that as a Christian you are a peacemaker even with your worst enemies. You are to be a peacemaker because of the sufficient and complete work of Christ. Christ has made peace: therefore as much as it is possible for you live at peace with all people. You are to live at peace and part and parcel of your being united in a relationship to the king of peace.

b) Christ’s birth is blessed. It is a wondrous thing to remember that the Son of God because man in the virgin Mary and was born. His true origin was from old—His personhood never had a point in time where he ‘began’. He was born in Bethlehem but he existed from all eternity past.

c) At Christmas we see God keeping His covenant promises to us. God keeps His covenant promises in sending Jesus Christ to be our representative. If Christ is not God—He cannot save. If Christ is not man—He cannot save us, human beings. As Athanasius said in the Incarnation of the Word: “What is not assumed cannot be redeemed.” The Son of God takes on true humanity so that He might redeem His people. In the Son, God keeps His promises to the house of David. The kingdom truly comes. God extends those promises into all the world—so that everyone sees and knows that God’s name is great. The plan and purpose of God is to extend His glory into all creation so that His name is renowned everywhere. As this name gather renown, people from every tongue tribe and nation come and worship at the feet of Jesus.

d) Christmas is more than the here and now. Christmas should draw our focus to the things that matter. You and I often take Christmas and make ourselves the center of the world. Christmas should be about making Christ the center of the world. It should be about making His plan our focus—it is his acts of redemption that should draw our attention and joy. We have a tendency in this season to focus on the trival and the transitory. We trade the treasures of the eternal kingdom for treasures that moth and rust can destroy. What is more important to you this Christmas: God’s gift or your gift giving? Receiving the gift of the Son or receiving gifts from earth?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Trekmas?!


You can find these photos and more by Star Trek fans who upload them on Flickr.





And if you are looking for something to do with all those extra Christmas lights, here's an idea:

(HT: Trekmovie.com)

This year my wife didn't let me put the ornaments on the tree, but we found a spot for them anyway:



Micah 5:2

The Messiah would have ancient origins.

NAU Micah 5:2 "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity."

There is a debate about the precise meaning of this passage. For example the phrase: “days of old/eternity” typically speaks of historical events that happened a long time ago. It speaks of a definitive point in time that has past (cf. Deut. 32:7; Ps. 77:6; Isa. 51:9; 63:9, 11; Amos 9:11; Micah 7:14; Mal. 3:4).

Micah 7:14 14 Shepherd Your people with Your scepter, The flock of Your possession Which dwells by itself in the woodland, In the midst of a fruitful field. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead As in the days of old.
Amos 9:11 11 "In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, And wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins And rebuild it as in the days of old;

For some, then this phrase “from long ago, from days of old/eternity” means simple that the human lineage of the Messiah has ancient roots. It would connect the Messiah to the house of David and say in effect, ‘this Messiah was promised long ago’. This is possible as a fully Christian interpretation—it does not deny any Biblical doctrine. It would point to the promise of an heir given to the house of David in 2 Sam. 7:14. Bruce Waltke holds this interpretation: “The reference to the house of David in Amos 9:11, a close parallel to Micah 5:1[2], also refers to the founding and rebuilding of David’s house. The mention of Bethlehem refers to David’s childhood, and so “the times of old” corresponds to ancient times.

However, the overall context, I believe, points to the deity of the Son. First, we see this person “will go forth for me”—the Lord speaking. By itself, this does not prove deity, since the Davidic King is a representative of God. This does point out though that the Son is not merely a representative of God’s people—He is a representative of God, and agent who acts on His behalf. Second, we have the phrase “his going forth are from long ago.” The phrase “from long ago” can mean eternity. In Deut. 33:27, God is called, the ‘God of eternity’. Habakkuk 1:12 describes ‘everlasting’ using this same word. It is word that speaks of “primeval time”. Third, although the final phrase may be rendered ‘days of old’ the word ‘old’ can also be rendered “eternity”. Finally, Proverbs 8:22-23 does use the two words “everlasting” and “eternity” to speak of a time before time.

If this is true, then Micah not only sees the birthplace of Jesus—He is alluding to the divine origin of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Pharisee in Me

It is no secret that in the gospels, Jesus loves sinners. It is important that we pay close attention to the actual accounts of the gospels before we construct our theology and ethics based upon the life of Jesus. Uncritical readings of the text tend to fall into two categories. One the one hand, we fail to love sinners the way Jesus does--we are critical of even repentant sinners or we are critical of sinners without making clear the redemption, reconciliation and acceptance that is available for those who repent. On the other hand, we assume loving, accepting and non-judgmental attitudes are only represented in those who affirm and endorse all behavior in the person. Here is an irony I see: It is often assumed that the first interpretation is like the Pharisees and the second interpretation is more loving and more Christlike.

Let me suggest that both views are Pharisaical. The big problem with the Pharisees is not just that they did not love others; it is also that they did not themselves repent. So yes, on the one hand it is Pharisaical to assume the other guy is bad and you aren't but it is also just as Pharisaical to love, affirm and accept your niche group (no matter how "down and out" or "marginalized" you might make them--often a sign of victimization rather than truly accessing the situation). You see the fault of both perspective is at its heart that of the Pharisees: not realizing that sin resides in the heart and that this sinful heart pervades us all.

When we see that sin resides in the heart, we see that only repentance cures sin. Repentance does not cure sin as a mere ritual. It is not my act of repentance that curry's favor with God--it is Christ's blood and offering for me that secures my redemption and forgiveness. I come as nothing more than a beggar. You see this understanding cures us from the first great error mentioned about.

However, true repentance cures us from the second great error. We cannot assume that Jesus loves and accepts people just as they are. We must distinguish: in the sense that any person is freely called to come and repent and every person needs to repent--yes Jesus loves and accepts people "just as they are." It is the notion that Jesus affirms the lifestyle and behavior as it is when a sinner comes to Jesus which we must reject. In this sense, we cannot equate loving and accepting the sinner with endorsing and affirming the person's character or behavior.

We must grant that this latter behavior and confusion is often proffered by those of a more 'liberal' perspective within "Christianity", sometimes it can be found in the so-called "emergents". Yet if one is going to consistently apply such love and affirmation of the "downcast" apart from particular behavior, then one is morally obligated to consistently apply such standards across the board. In short, one should not find anything morally repugnant. One should not let your blood boil at anything. Why? (1) Because depending on how you define the set, any subset can be "marginalized"--even so-called right-wing fundamentalists can be marginalized so you'd better start identifying with them. (2) More seriously the moment you decry any sin (other than perhaps unpersonalized systemic evil not connected to people's action, if their is such a thing) by your own standards you are a Pharisee. You have labeled, judged and excluded. Making everyone else a Pharisee (or at least those you disagree with) makes you just as much a Pharisee. Excluding the "Pharisee" for his behavior makes you more of a sinner than the sinned against.

Lest we miss the chance to be an equal opportunity offender, how dare we keep people from the kingdom by weighing them down with burdens. How dare we wait until we see a 'lifestyle' change until we accept someone, or wait until they start 'acting like a Christian' until we'll associate with them. Sanctification is both definitive and progressive--but we cannot wait until we see the progressive until we acknowledge the repentant. Or worse, how often have we looked for the progressive before we've called for repentant approach of Christ. The grace of God in justification and sanctification is received. When did we lose sight of that?

Here is where we must get Jesus' message straight. He came to all and called all to repentance. In the gospels we see both the marginalized, the sinners (harlots, etc.), the socially empowered (like tax collectors) and the religiously empower (Pharisees) all offered to come to the kingdom through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet for all those who come to the kingdom the burden is to bear one's cross and crucify their sin by the efficacy of the one crucified for them--as Jesus told the repentant: 'Go and sin no more'.
Sin is no less of an equal opportunist than Jesus was. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." On one level, all our sins, yours and mine, are categorically equal: they all rebel against God, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. They are all equally idolatrous. Sin is first and foremost defined by my attack on God. That is why the Pharisee resides in all of us--the left and the right, the liberal and the conservative.

The mindset of a Pharisee is deplorable. With due deference to Walt Kelly and Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us". My name is Tim Bertolet, and I am a Pharisee.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Faith

R. Kelly in his song “I believe I can fly” sings:

I used to think that I could not go on
And life was nothing but an awful song
But now I know the meaning of true love
I?m leaning on the everlasting arms

If I can see it
Then I can do it
If I just believe it
There's nothin? to it

I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away

There are some things, in this life we should not believe in. There are some beliefs that are just silly. Obviously “I believe I can fly” is poetic license. But is it true: “If I can see it, Then I can do it”? How many false beliefs do we hold in our day? Example: how many children grow up truly believing in Santa Claus. Not simply believing the spirit of giving, but believing in the person as if he was flesh and blood. How about the phrase: “You can do anything you put your mind to”? How many believe that? But a little dose of reality, maybe a sports player breaking his knee—or a doctoral student flunking a pre-med final and suddenly we cannot simply do it because we want to. Some beliefs are not more than wishful ideals. When it comes to the true reason for Christmas—the virgin birth and the coming of God’s Son—this is a belief that is ground and belief that you can trust in. The Christian puts His trust in the person and work of Jesus and believes that Christmas is true. Jesus Christ came as the Son of God born as a virgin.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eschatological Peace: The Lion and the Lamb

I ran accross this interesting intertexual feature in Isaiah:

Isaiah 65:25 "The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent's food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain," says the LORD.

In the context, it is a promise of the restoration of Jerusalem and the people of God are returned to their glory. The ungodly are judged but God creates a new heaven and a new earth. Prosperity is returned and the nation reestablished. They will dwell in the land, they will settle in houses, and offspring will be blessed (an allusion to Genesis and the Abrahamic promises).
Isaiah 65:25 is a clear allusion to Isaiah 11:6:

Isaiah 11:6 6 And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them.
In the context of chapter 10, Isaiah 11:6 is also about the restoration and the Son of David who would effect it. Isaiah 11:16 looks for the second exodus (cf. Isaiah 40-55). God promises that the Davidic throne will triumph (11:10). The theme of the holy mountain also appears in Isaiah 11:9 as in the latter half of Isaiah.
Comments:
  1. The intertextual features may not prove definetively the single authorship of Isaiah but the obvious literary themes bolster a case for unity.
  2. Eschatology drives Isaiah.
  3. Isaiah is radically centered on the gospel (revealed in eschatology--the gospel is the dawn of the eschatological in history).
  4. You can't have kingdom without the King.
  5. While I am premillenial--I'm not sure that we should separate the millenium and the new creation in Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 65:17).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sermon Application 12/14/08

Text: Isaiah 7:14; 9:1-7; 11:1-6

MAIN POINT: WE ARE TO TRUST IN A SON GIVEN TO US.

1) FIRST, WE ARE TO TRUST IN A SON GIVEN TO US FROM A VIRGIN. (Isaiah 7:14)
Application: We are to trust the living God.

i) We are to trust in God and his ability to fulfill His Word. Many people who believe they are scientific and follow reason will say: “virgins do not give birth to babies”. All things being equal—they are right. But all things are not equal. Those who doubt the virgin birth must be willing to doubt their doubts. You see if there is a God then God can control creation. If God can control creation then a virgin birth is possible. Miracles are outside the realm of normal circumstances—but if there is a living God then miracles are possible. The reason people do not believe in miracles is because they do not believe it is possible for there to be a God who does miracles. They try to prove there is no God because they do not see miracles—but they are unwilling to believe miracles are possible because they choose not to believe in God. They are unwilling to challenge their faith: their faith tells them ‘There is no God’.

ii) The sign to us today is Jesus of Nazereth. We are to believe and put our trust in the person of Jesus and what the Bible says about Him. He is testimony to us that there is a living God. He is literally “God with us”. There is a sort of “cumulative case” argument: I can know there is a God if Jesus’ message is true. Numerous accounts and details that I have in the gospels, along with what I know to have happened in the lives of the first disciples testifies that Jesus’ message was true.

2) SECOND, WE ARE TO TRUST IN A SON GIVEN TO US FROM GOD HIMSELF. (Isaiah 9:1-7)
Application: We are to believe and trust that the Son who came is God in the flesh.

i) It often seems difficult for a modern person who trusts ‘reason’ to believe in God, especially a god who comes to earth in a Son. The reality is everybody trust something: either you trust God or you trust in yourself. Today there are atheists who make there living telling us how the evidence proves there is no god—and we must believe our reasonable minds not silly superstitions. The irony is that the human mind can often be quite deceiving—it can play tricks on itself; it is not an infallible measure of truth.

ii) We do however have Scripture almost 600 years before Christ telling us about the coming of the Son. These promises fit within their ancient context: many other religions believed their king was God-like or ‘Sons of God’. But Bible is different: David, Solomon, Ahaz, Hezekiah—all are very human and clearly sinful. They never claim to be gods. They do represent God—for good or bad—on the throne of God’s people. Yet, Isaiah looks to one who is the perfect Son of God—who is God in the flesh. You can be confident that Jesus is who He claimed to be. (1) Prophecy was written; (2) prophecy was fulfilled and (3) the early church acknowledged that Jesus claimed to be God.

3) THIRD, WE ARE TO TRUST IN A SON GIVEN TO US FROM THE LINE OF DAIVD. (Isaiah 11:1-6)

Applications:
i) In the New Testament: this kingdom of God dawns in the coming of the King. Jesus Christ fulfills Isaiah. We are to trust and believe that the one who has come is the one who was promised. Christ bears witness to us today concerning who He is.

ii) Christianity is not about ‘blind faith’—Christianity is not a ‘just believe it because I say so’ kind of faith… it is not a leap in the dark. We have both credible prophecy and credible testimony concerning the Son. The question is: will you believe?

iii) Christianity accounts for the evidence but the presence of evidence cannot remove the need for faith. The question for you: is do I believe in God and His Son Jesus Christ? All the evidence in the world will not convince someone who is unwilling to submit and say “I believe”. As long as I want to be my own standard of truth I will reject Christianity. Believing in Christianity is not like being scientists in an experiment: if I can repeat the facts, then I’ll believe. Christianity is about believing that certain events in the past actually happened based on witnesses.

iv) If you are already a believer: this Christmas, allow your faith to be strengthened. Look and say: God really did promise this. But as a believer: take your faith serious—look into the reasons for your faith. An important reason is the virgin birth and the Bible’s testimony of it.

v) If you are still a skeptic, your not willing to believe: this Christmas—take your doubts seriously call your doubts into question. Tim Keller says this:
“The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate beliefs under each of your doubts and then to ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it. How do you know your belief is true. It is inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own…in fairness you must doubt your doubts.” The Reason for God, xviii.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shellfish and Leviticus

I ran across this comment last week about the Prop 8 Musical that is going around the internet. Regarding shellfish and Leviticus, Dennis Prager states the following:

“Jesus, doesn’t the Bible say these people are an abomination?”

And Jesus responds, “Yeah.”

It is quite audacious, to put it mildly, to have Jesus tell a falsehood in a musical seen by millions. Yet, no one seems to care about Mr. Shaiman’s distorted depiction of Jesus and of the Bible.

The fact is that nowhere in the Bible are homosexuals called “an abomination.” And no one, beyond one sick fringe family that has no standing in any religious community, refers to gays as “abominations.” On the contrary, religious opponents of same-sex marriage always speak of “hating the sin, not the sinner.” They speak of love for gays; it is the activists for same-sex marriage who express hate -- for the Mormons, the Orthodox Jews, the evangelical Christians, the traditional Catholics, the African-Americans (whose lopsided vote in favor Prop 8 is widely credited with passing the Proposition) and for all the others who seek to keep marriage defined as man-woman.

This is followed by another distortion of the Bible, again from the mouth of Jesus:

“… but you know it says exact the same thing (“abomination”) about this shrimp cocktail!”

Shaiman, one suspects, has not carefully studied Leviticus. As fate would have it, I am currently teaching the Book of Leviticus at the American Jewish University, the West Coast seminary of Conservative Judaism. And Shaiman tells a half-truth. Yes, Leviticus calls shellfish “an abomination” and uses the same word for sexual acts between men. However, the text states that shellfish is an abomination “for you,” i.e., for Jews alone (Leviticus 11.12). The act of a man “lying with a man as with a woman” is labeled “an abomination” without the qualifying words “for you.” And Jews who do eat shellfish are never called or considered “abominations” any more than men who engage in homosexual acts are.

Jews alone are prohibited from killing and eating pork, shellfish, and the other non-Kosher creatures. These Kosher laws of the Torah prohibited Jews from killing and eating most species of animals thousands of years ago. The reasons for why certain species are permitted and why some are not are far too complex for a column. But Professor Jacob Milgrom, author of the three-volume Anchor Bible commentary on Leviticus, convincingly demonstrates that the Torah’s dietary laws are overwhelmingly concerned with ethics and holiness.

Deuteronomy 14:3 is the place where the Hebrew 'תּוֹעֵבָֽה' (to’evah) (detestable/abomination) with reference to food--yet it is merely a matter of reading these in context:

ESV Deuteronomy 14:10 And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.

Unlike Leviticus, Deuteronomy is clearly about the ceremonial aspects of the Law which are Israel specific--and of course rescinded in the NT.

Deuteronomy 14:2 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

You can read his whole response Dennis Prager here. You can find Doug Wilson's comments about the video here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Virgin Birth-Luke 1:26-38 p2

Recently, a retired Distinguished professor of Philosopy and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University, wrote a book entitled “Get to Work: A Manifesto for the Women of the World.” According to her own summary of the book, “I am saying an educated, competent adult’s place is in the office.”[1] According to an interview she gave to beliefnet.com Adult working women who stay home are “not using their full capacity. They are not independent, and they are not doing more social good than harm” [2] [i.e. they are doing more social harm then good]. Mothers who stay home are “making a mistake”.[3] –While this retired professor is a mother, there is a distain for the very notion of motherhood. She argues that if men and women are truly equal then men should stay home but the fact that women choose to stay home with their children is an indication that our society does not hold men and women as equal.

Now, I have no desire to step into what some have called “The Mommy Wars”. Nor, am I making a commentary on mothers who stay home vs. mothers who work. There are good mothers who do both and both carry there own sets of problems. What I do want to highlight is this idea that motherhood [especially those who are dedicated to it above a working career] does not benefit society.

In short, the worldview that rejects God will hold in hatred, to one degree or another, the things of God and the things that God has established. Not all will reject the same things to the same degree—for example many unbelievers highly value motherhood while they reject other areas of Biblical truth. But the unbeliever will always hold in hatred the things of God.

Despite the ranting, of our noted philosophy professor, God values motherhood. Being a mother is not a unproductive ‘job’. It is not a commitment or dedication that does more harm than good. God Himself chose that as His Son was sent to earth, He should have a human mother. This mother would carry Jesus in her womb, this mother would raise her Son. While we do not have a record in the gospels, I am sure that Mary wiped her share of dirty bottoms, kissed her share of skinned news, and tucked her boy in at night—in short whatever a mother did for a son in the first-century Mary did for Jesus. Jesus did not emerge from the womb a walking and talking man who could feed himself and clean his own bottom. YET, GOD CHOSE MARY TO CARE FOR JESUS, WHO WAS FROM THE MOMENT OF CONCEPTION THE VERY SON OF GOD.

MAIN POINT: GOD PROMISES (PART 2):

I. GOD PROMISES THAT MARY WILL BE A MOTHER:
NAU Luke 1:26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."
A. Mary will have a son in her womb:
NAU Luke 1:31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.
The promise is simply that Mary will be a mother. God’s ordained plan for sending His eternal Son into the world is that this eternal Son would become truly human. Without ceasing to be God, the eternal Son would enter the world as a human son, with a human mother.

B. This Son would be a ruler:
NAU Luke 1:32 "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;

NAU Luke 1:33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."
Last week, we examined these verses and I sought to show that this refers primarily to Jesus’ human ancestry. Jesus was from the line of David, Jesus would fulfill the promises to David that David would have a son who would rule over all things and that David’s kingdom would continue forever. I also noted that this promise is according to the New Testament now fulfilled as Jesus reigns at the right hand of the Father.

II. GOD PROMISES THAT HIS SON WILL COME THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT.

A. Mary is of course a virgin and so she does not understand what is going to happen.
NAU Luke 1:34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"

KJV Luke 1:34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
How can Mary have a baby? Mary is not dummy, she knows that humanly speaking to have a baby—a man and woman have to ‘get together’… or as the KJV says in other places they have to ‘know’ each other.

Ironically, I once heard a liberal scholar [J. Dominic Crossan] say something to the effect “It’s easy to disprove the virgin birth… virgins don’t have babies.” Again, according to his view, God could not enter creation and do the miraculous. Without faith in God, any claims of the miraculous are “disproved” because one is unwilling to say that with God nothing is impossible.

But to the point at hand, two questions then arise: (1) how would this baby come? And (2) would there be anything about this baby that was different, or was he a mere mortal?

B. The power of God will come upon Mary so that the child within her will be unique.
NAU Luke 1:35 The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
1. The child comes through the Holy Spirit.
NAU Luke 1:35 The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon [evpeleu,setai] you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow [evpiskia,sei] you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
Power of the Most High is another way of referring to the Holy Spirit (the second time ‘Most High’ is used in our passage). The two phrases: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” and “the power of the Most High will overshadow you” is two ways of saying the same thing.

The Holy Spirit is in Luke 24:49 called “power from on high”
NAU Luke 24:49 "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."
The Holy Spirit is the power of God and has the ability to create life. At the original creation we see the presence of the Spirit and in our salvation spiritual life is imparted through the Spirit:

NAU Genesis 1:2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

NAU Romans 8:11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
God can and does impart life through the Spirit so the Holy Spirit can create life in Mary’s womb. Nothing is impossible with God.

The word ‘overshadowed’ is used in the Old Testament to speak of God’s glory presiding in the tabernacle. (See also Numbers 9:18; 10:34)
NAU Exodus 40:34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled [LXX: ‘overshadowed’ (evpeski,azen)] on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

BGT Exodus 40:34 kai. evka,luyen h` nefe,lh th.n skhnh.n tou/ marturi,ou kai. do,xhj kuri,ou evplh,sqh h` skhnh, 35 kai. ouvk hvduna,sqh Mwush/j eivselqei/n eivj th.n skhnh.n tou/ marturi,ou o[ti evpeski,azen evpV auvth.n h` nefe,lh kai. do,xhj kuri,ou evplh,sqh h` skhnh,
The presence of the Holy Spirit upon her is to bring the very glory of God into her womb. It is in her very womb that the WORD became flesh. The glory of God was dawning to men:
NAU John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

NAU Isaiah 40:5 Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
John the Baptist prepares the way for YHWH fulfilling Isaiah 40:3
NAU Isaiah 40:3 A voice is calling, "Clear [NIV: prepare] the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. [See LUKE 3:2-4.]
The word for overshadow in also used when the bright cloud descends upon Jesus and the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration.

2. There is no hint of sexual union here between the divine and human. Some Muslims believe that when we say Jesus is the Son of God we are saying that God had sexual relations with Mary and Jesus can into existence. This is of course not what the Scripture teaches. There is no more any hint of sexual or physical union between the Spirit and Mary in this passage than there would be between the tabernacle veils and the glory of the Lord in the temple.

3. The Son’s unique birth makes Him ‘the Son of God’.
NAU Luke 1:35 The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
a. This ‘Son’ is not just another Son of David. He really and truly is YHWH. Truly God. Yet He is not the Father. He is YHWH the Son.

b. We see here the beginning of the revelation of the Trinity. God, the Most High sends Gabriel. The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary—just as YHWH descended into the temple in the OT, the HOLY SPIRIT is truly God and a person. Thee Son of God is in Mary’s womb.

i. –The Trinity is not just a view of ‘god’, it is not just a product of fourth century Christian thought… the Trinity—one God existing eternal in three persons—is at the core of God’s being. Triune is who God is.

ii. It is this being who rules over all creation. It is this being ‘for whom nothing is impossible’. It is this Triune God who in His infinite wisdom decided together that the Son will be sent into creation as a true human being.

c. Note the phase “for that reason”. The most important reason then this child is called the Son of God is because of His uniqueness of person.

i. This connects the miraculous birth of Christ to His unique Sonship.

ii. Sonship refers to more than just Jesus’ role in rulership but He is the unique Son of God, who is Himself eternally God. Christ is the LORD GOD. His is the SON OF GOD, in a greater sense than Adam, David or David’s sons.

iii. The Divine Name for God in the OT is YHWH. The NT reveals that YHWH is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. EVERYBODY understands in the context of Luke that the ‘SON OF GOD’ is YHWH… i.e. fully and equally God—totally divine:

iv. Like Mary, Zechariah recognizes that the one who comes would be the LORD Himself:

1) John the Baptist prepares the way for the LORD (YHWH)
NAU Luke 1:76 "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS;
NIV Isaiah 40:3 A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD [YHWH]; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
2) The one who comes will be the LORD.
NAU Luke 1:78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79 TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, To guide our feet into the way of peace."
An allusion to Malachi 4:2-5. Again, the glory of the LORD Himself comes from on High. Christ is the presence of the LORD from on High—or as Matthew says “Immanuel—God with us”
NAU Malachi 4:1 "For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze," says the LORD of hosts, "so that it will leave them neither root nor branch."

NAU Malachi 4:2 "But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.
It is the promise of redemption from judgment.

The light shines upon us because the Son of God is present:
NAU Isaiah 9:2 The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.

NAU Isaiah 9:6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
v. ‘Holy’ is a reference to the fact that He is ‘set apart’. He is special and unique not only in His role but also in His person. It perhaps also alludes to His moral quality—that in Him there was no sin.

d. To say Jesus is the Son of God is to say not only to say he is the Messiah in fulfillment of the Old Testament, but also the unique eternal Son of God.

4. God has given evidence of His power in a lesser example of Elizabeth.
NAU Luke 1:36 "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.
a. A barren womb was a dead womb. We are reminded of God’s work in the Womb of Sarah:
NAU Genesis 18:14 "Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son."
b. God granted life to Elizabeth’s womb in the same way.

c. In God’s history of dealing with His people, He has done great and mighty things. The virgin birth is not outside of God’s power.

5. IF God opened Elizabeth’s barren womb, God can plant life in Mary’s womb even though she is a virgin.
NAU Luke 1:37 "For nothing will be impossible with God."

Literally: “All things/words are not impossible with God”

NAU Luke 1:38 And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

BGT Luke 1:37 o[ti ouvk avdunath,sei para. tou/ qeou/ pa/n r`h/maÅ

BGT Luke 1:38 ei=pen de. Maria,m\ ivdou. h` dou,lh kuri,ou\ ge,noito, moi kata. to. r`h/ma, souÅ kai. avph/lqen avpV auvth/j o` a;ggelojÅ
6. The issue is: DO YOU BELIEVE THE WORD OF GOD. IT IS THE SAME ISSUE FOR MARY AS IT IS FOR US.

a. Will I submit to God? Will I recognize that He is a sovereign God, the High King of Heaven and therefore submit to His Word?

b. Or do I exalt myself over God? Do I think that I can bring judgment against God and His Word? Am I His superior?

III. Applications:

A. The coming of Christ is the coming of the ‘SON OF GOD’.
NAU Luke 1:35 The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
1. The coming is unique because the one who comes is unique. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God.

2. These events are ‘once-for-all’ events, they occur at one point in history. This coming, in the descending of the Spirit upon Mary and the coming of the Son, is in the fullness of time; it is the plan of God being fulfilled.

a. Notice the Old Testament; they looked for a day when God’s glory would dawn. God would display His power and He Himself would come.

b. They looked for ‘the days to coming’ or ‘in the later days’. The NT teaches that this time has no come to pass.

c. Paul says the same things slightly different:

NAU Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
It does not mean ‘the time is right’ but the time of fulfillment had come. God was now in these events bring His plan to fulfillment.

d. God’s coming in Mary was a unique point in God’s history, it was Him bringing His plan to fulfillment.

This is God’s unique plan for history. This happened at this time for this purpose. Even though we celebrate Christmas every year the events of Christmas are unique, the beginning point of the incarnation in Mary’s womb is just as much once for all as the death of Christ.

Several years ago, some well-know Christian artists and musicians made a play about the incarnation of Christ—they sought to modernize it. They asked what if the Son of God became incarnate here in the 21st century in New York City and were crucified there. They attempted to ask: what would it look like if, instead of doing it 2,000 years ago, Jesus did it now, in our day. It was an attempt to make the gospel more relevant by making the events of the gospel happen in recent history. While the premise was not that Jesus needed to die again but that what if he had waited an extra 2,000 years, this denies the uniqueness of what God was doing then. Paul said “In the fullness of time”… the times and plans of God where being uniquely fulfilled when He wanted them to be fulfilled. Jesus being a 21st century New Yorker denies the historical aspects of His work as the Messiah. That the Son who came to Mary was the promise son from the line of David who would rule on David’s throne.

As you reflect this Christmas do not make a mockery out of the incarnation of Jesus into the womb of Mary—a Jewish woman. God fulfills His promises according to His plan at His will. We cannot seek to make the plan of God more relevant. We cannot think that the incarnation and miracle of Christmas is more relevant if it is more recent.

3. Mary was specially chosen for this task. Mary is the Mother of God, but no more a recipient of God’s grace than you or I.

a. Mary is the Mother of God. The term was used by early theologian around the time of the Nicene Creed of 325 to express that Jesus was God in the flesh—the baby in Mary had was the eternal Word, the Son of God.[4] The term “Mother of God—Theotokos” was used officially at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. In Canon 1 they wrote:

If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God, inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, “The Word was made flesh”]: let him be anathema.

The council was responding to a heretic name Nestorius who said that Jesus was not totally God and totally man united in one person. He and his followers denied that the baby born in Mary was not really the Son of God—fully God. They denied that Mary was really carrying the Son of God incarnate. And so they had to safeguard this truth—the baby in Mary’s womb was 100% God. In the historic sense of the word we should embrace and confess ‘Mary is the Mother of God’—She is overshadowed by the Spirit and the one in her womb is the unique eternal Son of God who became truly human in her womb. Mary is truly blessed in her role—She gives birth and mothers our Savior who is God:
NAU Luke 1:42 And she [Elizabeth] cried out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
b. Mary is chosen for a special role but she is not personally unique. Mary is human like you or I. If calling ‘Mary the Mother of God’ means that she had relations with God—Scripture denies, rejects and curses such an idea and so do we. If calling Mary the ‘Mother of God’ means that we should offer some token of worship or prayer to her, that she is a co-mediator, or that she did not experience sin like you or I—we with Scripture deny, reject, and curse this idea. HOWEVER, THIS IS NOT THE HISTORIC MEANING OF THE TERM IN CHURCH HISTORY.

c. All we are saying is what this passage teaches: Mary really did bare the eternal Son of God in her womb. He became incarnate (flesh) within her womb because the Holy Spirit came upon Mary.

d. We should recognize God’s gift of grace to Mary in using her. In this sense, she is the mother of God. We should thank God that He chose to send His Son via a true human mother.

4. The eternal Son of God became human. God did not become human ‘to know what its like to be me’. I fear we, as Christians, like the incarnation for the wrong reasons. There is a song on Christian radio and part of the chorus goes:

“You came down to me to know what it's like;

To know just what its like to Be me, to be us;

To be one with the dust and to be lost”.

They ask:

“From Your chair in the clouds;

While the begger bleeds, the children play;

Everyone wants to know why;

Isn't it always the question;

How do You know my condition?”

LATER:

“We're quick to judge and discard;

A God who lets us choose whom and what to love;

Isn't it always the question?;

Do You really know my position?”



“You came down to me to know what it's like;

To know just what its like to Be me, to be us;

To be one with the dust and to be lost”.



a. Yes in the incarnation Jesus Christ knows suffering and death. Yes, I’m sure the artists have good intentions here-and I appreciate their intentions and commitment to the incarnation. Christ is truly human—but is the REASON for the incarnation because GOD needed to know what its like to be me?

b. Was the problem that God did not ‘know’ what suffering and bleeding was like—He needed to feel that just like me to identify? OR WAS THE PROBLEM THAT THE CREATION NEEDED REDEMPTION?

c. The problem with this song is not that it denies the incarnation—it affirms it. The problem is not that it points out that in His humanity Christ did suffer and he does sympathize with our weaknesses to help in our times of need. The song’s problem is not that God became man but the problem is WHY!.

d. Luke emphasizes along with the gospels and all of Scripture that this coming is the dawning of the Glory of God for the purpose of reign and salvation. Gabriel’s promise: “AND HE WILL REIGN”… elsewhere in Scripture we know that this reign conquerors sin and death.

e. The problem with the view of this song is that man is still seen as equal with God. The focus is not on God’s greatness, God’s voluntary condescension, God’s grace towards me, God’s covenant promises to do this despite our wickedness;, God’s manifestation of His reign, God’s need to accomplish my redemption because I am wretched. In this view God becomes like me because he needed to know me—He could not understand me unless ‘he walked in my shoes’.

f. I fear the focus is “ME”… not ‘humanity’ and God’s condescension—BUT ME! It is egotistical. “GOD YOU’VE GOT TO SEE IT FROM MY SHOES”—GOD GET DOWN HERE AND BE ME… or else you are too distant—too powerful—you are too God-like, to transcendent, to much someone to fear and revere.

g. The view tends toward making God our equal: God needed to be with us—God was too far away, to big and powerful, to sovereign, to majestic… he ‘can’t understand me’. It makes God our equal… it does not say “I am God’s creation and He knows me because He created me—and He was not obligated to become incarnate.” It does not marvel at God’s sheer grace in condescending, it does not marvel at Christ’s utter humility, here is GOD WITH US—the song marvels as “ME” and how God became ‘MY EQUAL…TO KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE ME’. It turns to God and in near blasphemy says “God you don’t understand me, you don’t ‘know what I’m going through’ unless you get down here.

h. How different is this view than that of a God who already knows our suffering under sin and death and comes down: as in the Exodus so even greater in the incarnation:
NAU Exodus 3:7 The LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. 8 "So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.
And even greater suffering and bondage needs an even greater coming to deliver on the part of God.

i. I realize Christ does identify with our humanity in the incarnation. I realize the Son of God does suffer weakness so He can identify with us; we can look to a high priest who has experienced weakness (Heb. 2:14-18; 4:15-17)—if that is all the song is saying, I would agree. But we should never make God obligated to become incarnate. God does not stop being God in the incarnation. YES, in His humanity Christ fully identifies with us---but in His deity He is ever our superior—ever the ‘Son of God’. CHRIST DOES NOT BECOME HUMAN SO THAT HE CAN KNOW WHAT ITS LIKE TO BE LOST BUT SO THAT HE CAN FULLY EXHAUST THE CURSE OF BEING LOST, EXILED FROM GOD, DEATH. He bears death as one of us so that we might share in His glory (Heb. 2:10) In short—while Christ becomes fully human, and yes we are human—THE INCARNATION DOES NOT SERVE MY EGOTISTICALLY NEED TO BE IMPORTANT AND BE UNDERSTOOD, THE NEED TO HAVE MY FEELINGS MET and EMOTIONS FULFILLED—THE INCARNATION BRINGS GOD’s GRACE and REVEALS GOD! THE INCARNATION DOES NOT MAKE ME THE CENTER OF MY UNIVERSE or even BRING GOD TO THE CENTER OF MY WORLD—‘my lostness; my loneliness’. THE INCARNATION IS GOD STEPPING DOWN TO REVEAL HIMSELF WITHIN HIS CREATION—TO BRING HIS REIGN as promised to the line of David. IT IS GOD RECONCILING HIS CREATION FROM THE CURSE HE HAS IN HIS HOLINESS DECLARED UPON IT.

j. We do not just need someone like us in order to understand us. We need someone who as one of us can defeat death who can rule and bring creation back into a right order. We need redemption and restoration to come from the inbreaking of the kingdom of God! To this end the SON has COME:
NAU Luke 1:31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."
k. The incarnation is an act of God’s sheer grace—not obligation. God’s with us is not first and foremost about God meeting our selfish desires to ‘be somebody’. Humanity is still the image of God NOT THE REVERSE. “GOD WITH US” is the supreme God being revealed to us—not me being revealed to GOD--- it is not God needing ‘to know what its like to be me’. YET in His grace He has become ‘GOD WITH US’. He does mediate between God and man—as one who is truly both! I NEED A MEDIATOR.

B. IS GOD REALLY GOD?

1. IS GOD TRIUNE? IS GOD THE SOVEREIGN RULER OVER ALL CREATION?

2. At issue is nothing less than the power of God. The world by-and-large rejects the incarnation. They reject that Mary was a virgin and that she gave birth to one who was truly the Son of God.

a. If they believe in a god—they down play God’s supremacy. God cannot inter his creation; He cannot control it; He cannot circumvent the natural laws—Laws that the Bible teaches He made. In other words in this view, we do not “live and move and have our being in Him” (Acts 17:28) nor does this god ‘upholds the universe by the word of his power.’ (Heb. 1:3)

b. If they believe in a god—they think we can attain to God and become His equal. We can dictate terms to God—we can boss Him around. GOD THIS DOES NOT MAKE SENSE AND I WILL JUDGE YOUR WORK BY MY REASON AND WILL. In short, we make ourselves God. God is subject to us instead of all things being made subject to God and Christ.

c. God becoming one of us is seen as foolish. People don’t like the virgin birth not because it is hard to believe that a baby was born in a mother’s womb without a father but because we don’t like the implications. If God became one of us—He is our superior and came down. If there was a virgin birth then there is a God whom I have to submit to and obey.

C. Believing in the virgin birth is not an end point.

1. It is not a checkpoint on a doctrinal sheet, that if you believe it your done, you passed the test. It does little good to believe this if you don’t know Christ—if you have not confessed that he is your Savior and LORD GOD. I mentioned last week that according to a Newsweek poll, 79% of people believe in the virgin birth. 79% of people believing in the virgin birth means very little when most of those 79% do not submit their heart to the LORD JESUS CHRIST. They do not bow before Him as reigning KING.

2. Faith is not directed in the virgin birth per se. Our salvation does not come be believing in the virgin birth but by believing in the person who was born of the virgin. If we do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God—and therefore as eternal needed to be born of the virgin—we will perish.
NAU John 8:24 "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."

NAU 1 John 2:22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.

NAU 1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
3. It is not a dispensable point of doctrine. (see above verses). The church has always held the virgin birth is a key truth in the faith.

To believe in the virgin birth is to believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God and He became a man. Put negatively, to disbelieve the virgin birth is to believe that Mary had union with a man and that Jesus Christ is not the unique Son of God who was an eternal person/being. IT IS UNIQUENESS of the SON that is protected by the virgin birth—that HE REALLY IS ‘I AM’—YHWH of the Old Testament—the God who rules from on high—yet can condescend, step down and step into His creation with out mixing Himself or blurring/erasing His uniqueness as Holy and set apart..

4. We need to be careful. We hear many who hold that Jesus is ‘god’ yet deny the virgin birth—or make it minor to the faith. Many who hold Jesus is ‘god’ but deny the virgin birth redefine the word ‘god’. God no longer means YHWH the unique God of the OLD TESTAMENT WHO HAS POWER AND MIGHT OVER CREATION AND IS SEPARATE AND DISTINCT FROM CREATION?

5. At the heart of the issue is: DO I BELIEVE GOD? DO I WORSHIP THE GOD WHO HAS PROMISED? DO I WORSHIP THE GOD WHO IS SOVEREIGN? DOES MY GOD RULE CREATION? IS HE THE GOD OF THE BIBLE WHO CONTROLS ALL ASPECTS OF CREATION?
NAU Luke 1:37 "For nothing will be impossible with God."
Is this the God I worship? The one whose glory I see in the person of Jesus Christ? The Son who know reigns to whom I submit? Is by God powerful? Or do I worship a god made in my image—subject to my will?

APPENDIX: ARTIST : “DOWNHERE” song entitled “WHAT ITS LIKE”

In my life all the strife is getting in the way

Frankly I did not plan on getting hurt today

From Your chair in the clouds

Benevolent are Your ways

While the begger bleeds, the children play

Everyone wants to know why

Isn't it always the question

How do You know my condition?



You came down to me to know what it's like

To know what it's like to hurt

You came down to me to know what it's like

To know just what its like to

Be me, to be us



In the wake of the last decades and centuries past

Who's to blame for this mess?

And who's gonna take the rap?

We're quick to judge and discard

A God who lets us choose whom and what to love

Isn't it always the question?

Do You really know my position?



You came down to me to know what it's like

To know what it's like to hurt

You came down to me to know what it's like

To know just what its like to

Be me, to be us

To be one with the dust and to be lost



You know what its like

to thirst, to bleed

You know what it's like



You came down to me to know what it's like

To know what it's like to hurt

You came down to me to know what it's like

To know just what its like to



You came down

You know just what its like, you know just what its like to hurt

You came down to me

You know just what its like, you know just what its like

To be me, to be us

To be lost to be found


[1] Quoted by Albert Mohler, Jr. www.beliefnet.com/story/202/story_20236.html

[2] www.beliefnet.com/story/202/story_20237.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] NPNF2 vol. 14 p. 208 cite Alexander in apprx. 320 AD, Athanasius, Eusebius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem and Origen.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...