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Entries in Immanuel (1)


Seeing the Light in a World of Darkness

This week many will be celebrating Christmas, but will they truly understand what the celebration should be all about?  Today we are going to look at Mattew 1:18-25 and see some of the events of that first Christmas.

When we look at the news events of 2014- outbreaks of Ebola, terrorism and the rise of new terrorist groups, the slaughter of young kids, Russia threatening Ukraine, even unrest on our own streets in Ferguson and beyond- we are reminded that some things haven’t changed so very much.  Israel was under the rule of a maniacal king who even killed members of his immediate family.  Rome was controlling the area under the tyranny of its military might. Scores of little children were killed that year in Bethlehem in senseless violence.  At the root of all these things, whether then or now, is a thing that God calls sin.  At Christmas we do not just celebrate Hope and love, rather we also celebrate the answer that God has given mankind for the darkness that exists in our heart and covers this planet.

Jesus Saves Us from Our Sin

There are many things that we may wish God had fixed, however, in Jesus His focus is upon the sin of mankind.  The angel told Joseph that his name would be Jesus because he would save his people from their sins.  Jesus literally means “God saves.”  This is a critical part of His nature that we need to recognize and live out ourselves.  At His heart, God is a being who saves things and people.  There are some parts of the Christmas message that may seem to have fallen short.  Joy to the world and peace on earth?  Even though the words of Jesus could bring Peace to anyone in the world, many have rejected it and in doing so rejected his peace.  The lack of world peace is proof that Jesus won’t be winning any beauty pageants soon- most contestants give lip service to wanting world peace.  But, let’s back up and make sure we understand what we are talking about with this word “sin.”

In general sin is defined in the Bible as transgressing the boundaries or laws of God.  The Garden of Eden is the foundational story here.  The trees represented the boundaries created by God.  The serpent (who is later revealed as the Devil and Satan, Revelation 12:9; 20:2) deceives and tricks Eve and Adam to rebel against God’s boundaries and laws.  As innocent as this may seem, it is the root of all our problems today.  We have been infected with an insidious mental virus that motivates us to not accept such boundaries and laws, even when they are good for us and others.  Now sin is not just the things we do, but also the things we don’t do that we should.  God created us to be like Him.  Thus when we reject that aspect of our own nature we sin by omission.  Now sin is not just a legal problem.  Some believe that if we could just get rid of “God” and this idea of boundaries and laws, then we could create Eutopia on earth.  Now think about that in the natural.  What country today, if they got rid of all laws and boundaries, would then quickly become anything but a hell-hole of seething violence and bondage?  In other words, the laws do not create sin they only stir it up.  God created this world to operate in a certain way.  He created mankind to operate in a certain way.  But sin twists and perverts the way things were meant to work for no other purpose than to rebel against God’s creation.  This causes problems that cannot be overcome by humanity.  Instead we will build ever stronger prisons for ourselves through our attempts at even becoming God ourselves.

When we talk about sin the first thought that comes to our minds is the sins of others.  Yet, the Bible says, “none are righteous, no not one.”  So sin is not just this collective thing that hangs over the head of mankind.  It is also a very personal thing that riddles our hearts.  The whole purpose of the Law of Moses was not to fix Israel.  But rather, its purpose was to trap religious and spiritual people who think that they are good enough because they compare themselves to others.  Everyone who tries to live by the Law of Moses found themselves being labled a "sinner" over and over.  Even in our own society under man made laws we see the same effect.  We break laws all the time.  Yet, we tell ourselves that it is okay because we aren't as bad as others, or the laws weren't important.  Now this is with a man-made law.  Laws are necessary for us to be able to live together in a society.  Yet, our own heart chafes at them, not just because they are unjust, but often because they keep us from doing what we want.  There are dangerous attitudes that can develop when we approach this issue.  On one hand we can try to make laws the answer because of man's sin.  On the other hand we can try to treat laws like they are the problem.  This "sin nature" problem is pointed out by laws, but cannot be fixed by it.  Like a metal detector, it can point out where the metal is, but it can't pick it up for you.  There is a part of us that wants more laws to restrain others and yet we don't want any of those laws to hold us back.  Similarly, we want God to "fix the world" but we don't want Him to mess with us in doing it.  I am a sinner too.  Jesus was sinless.  Yet, he came into the world under the specter of sin.  His mother would not be believed by society.  He would always be the "Illegitimate" child of Joseph and Mary and even that would be a question regarding who the true father was.  We chafe at being called a sinner when we truly are.  Yet, Jesus lived his whole life under this shadow.

Another part of the story of Jesus is that he breaks down the "us vs. them" mentality.  The "righteous" Jews had developed an attitude of spiritual elitism over the other nations.  But in Jesus we see that we are all sinners.  Whether secular Romans or religious Jews, the sensual woman at the well or the "spiritual" medium in Ephesus, the truth of Jesus confronted the sin of all people and yet gives the offer of being saved from it.

Thus sin is pictured as a lack of light.  This spiritual darkness covered the whole world, not just certain parts of it.  It started with rejecting God's Word about His boundaries and laws.  Then succeeding generations left such light behind in ever greater bounds; causing the shadows to quickly become pitch darkness.  In the days of Jesus, even people who wanted to please God were having trouble finding reasons to continue living for Him.  The only thing they had left was the promise of God's "Anointed One" who would be the Savior, a bright light of Truth coming into this dark world.

Jesus is God With Us

The miraculous birth of Jesus is called the virgin birth.  Although much extra-biblical stuff has been added to this, we need to set the record straight.  The Bible simply states that before Mary ever had sex (known a man) God caused one of her eggs to be fertilized.  If you have a problem with such a creative act then you really have a problem with everything to do with the Creation.  Fertilization is merely the insertion of the information needed to awaken life in the egg.  Thus the it is called a virgin birth because the woman having the baby had never had sex.  The Bible never claims that Mary was somehow "preserved as a virgin" in the birth of the Baby (i.e. as if she had never had birth).  Neither does the Bible claim that Joseph and Mary never later had children in the natural way.  It states quite the opposite.  Matthew reminds us of the prophecies of the Bible regarding the Savior.  These prophecies often pointed out what the Savior would do, but very few on what his entrance would look like.  One thing was clear from the book of Isaiah, He would be called Immanuel because he would literally be God with us.  It is easy 2,000 years later to scoff at such a thing as just another mythology amongst the many religions that spoke of Gods having demi-gods with women.  Such people see the other myths as the explanation or source of the Jesus story.  Yet, isn't it just as plausible that all of the mythologies have a source that is a real event even more ancient then they?  Isn't it just as plausible that all of these religions were trying to get back to something that mankind once had, in the Beginning?

There was a time when we walked with God back in the Paradise of the Garden of Eden.  When Noah and his family stepped off of the ark, they all knew this history.  It was there that God walked with Adam and Eve and explained his ways and designs for them.  Within the consciousness of mankind is the recognition that Eutopia or Paradise is not possible without God coming down to help us.  Thus, as the generations after Noah rejected the things taught by God, they did retain the idea of a god coming down to help mankind.  Thus, whether men look to other spirits, the occult, aliens or even transhumanism (where we make ourselves gods), we know the answer currently lies beyond our capabilities.

It is in the Garden of Eden that mankind chose the path of sin, darkness and rebellion.  This darkness not only affects our relations with one another, but it also affects our thinking.  Like a lost person we are unable to "think" our way out of the current darkness that smothers the souls of men.

One of the themes of the Bible is that God does not abandon mankind.  Starting in the Garden and throughout the ages, He had given promises to mankind (in what we call prophecies) pointing to a time when He would once again dwell with us.  A number of years ago a Christian scientist named Peter Stoner set out to use statistical probability to show the miraculous nature of all the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled.  He took 8 prophecies and determined that the probability of any one person fulfilling all 8 of them was about 10^17 that is 100 quadrillion.  To understand this number he used this illustration.  Picture the whole State of Texas being covered with silver dollars 2 feet deep with one of the dollars painted red.  Your chance of finding that coin in one try while being blindfolded is about 10^17.  This is a statistical impossibility.  Yet, there are more than 8 prophecies about the first coming of Christ.  There are actually around 300 depending on how you list them.  Most of these things were uncontrollable by Jesus and those around him.  By telling history in advance, God validated his prophecies so that when Jesus came we would know that he had come down and that he truly was, as Isaiah said, Immanuel ("God with us)."

The birth of Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about his coming.  But what if he had grown up to do nothing special or of any significance?  It is not just the things said about the child, but what he then went on to do.  Jesus is the singular man of all history that towers above the deeds of all others.  None even come close to comparing to him in his life and affect on the world.  It is the life of this child and the affect it had on the world that confirms he is the one.

So, has anything really changed since then?  Don't we see darkness all around us and sin defeating us and tearing us apart?  Yet, we are not in the same predicament.  Some very real things have changed.  First, God is now with us.  Though Jesus goes to the right hand of the Father, He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within those who believe in him.  This same Spirit of Christ leads us and guides us in the midst of darkness.  It lights our way.  Second, the suffering of Jesus provides for us forgiveness from our sins.  Thus in the midst of a world that is under the doom of judgment we do not have to fear.  We can believe on the sacrificial death of Jesus for our sins and have confidence in the midst of darkness.  Third, His suffering and life provides for us the courage to be faithful in the midst of a world of faithlessness.  This example of what to do and how God will reward burns in our hearts.  Lastly, His love compels us to believe for the salvation of others.  God could have judged the world on the day Jesus was crucified.  Yet, he pauses judgment in order to open the door of salvation for "whosoever" would believe on Jesus.  God says to all who will allow Him to conquer sin in their life, "come join my family and you will inherit paradise with me in the Age to come."  Join Him today!

Seeing Light in Darkness audio