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Entries in Incarnation (6)

Tuesday
Dec262017

He Shall Be Called Emmanuel

Matthew 1:18-25.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 24, 2017.

We apologize that there is no audio for this sermon.

Today we are going to look at a passage in Matthew regarding the birth of Jesus.  His name tells us something about him through its meaning- the salvation of God.  Christians look to Jesus as God’s answer to their problems and those of the world.  No matter what is ailing you today, or bothering you about the world, God’s word tells us that Jesus has an answer for it. 

Yet, as we will see today, He is also called Immanuel, which means God with us.  Thus, no matter how alone we may feel today, whether Christian or not, God is as close as the mention of His name.  When we read the Scriptures about Jesus, we are being introduced to the one who is God’s presence with us, both personally and as a world.  I encourage you to not see just a story of peace and good times.  We must also recognize that it is a story of an answer from God that involves His presence with us in the midst of our difficulties and even our own failures.  Jesus is God with us, even when we don’t recognize him, or even when we think he is absent, or even when we may think that we have failed him completely.  Today we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the World, who is still with us, even though we may feel abandoned.

The Birth of Jesus

Jesus was born at a particular point in time.  His life was so monumental that much of the world has used his birth in their system of dating time.  Thus B.C. came to mean “before Christ” and A.D. is from a Latin phrase that is short for “in the year of our Lord.”  Lately it has become vogue and even proper within the sciences to use B.C.E. for “Before the Common Era” and C.E. for the “Common Era.”  Of course they still switch at a date that is roughly the birth of Jesus. [Note: There has been much study on exactly what year Jesus was born and many believing that Jesus may have been several years old at 1 A.D.  Regardless, for our purposes it is still pertinent to the point.]  Think of it, it is a blatant fact that the Jewish man named Jesus from the first century C.E./A.D. has impossibly affected this world.

So our story picks up with a crisis that has to do with two people who have been betrothed to each other, but not yet married.  Mary has become pregnant and her only explanation to Joseph is that an angel appeared to her and told her that she would become pregnant with a child by the power of the Holy Spirit of God.  Now it is easy to scoff at such a story.  Joseph did not immediately believe her, and neither did the society around her.  The Gospels record some harsh digs made towards Jesus by the Pharisees.  They saw him as an illegitimate child.  So this is not a problem that those backwards ancient people were easily duped because they didn’t understand science.  Everyone knew that if a girl is pregnant then there has been sperm inserted in her by a man.  Now if Jesus had grown up to be just a normal Jewish man then nothing more would have been said.  However, Jesus did not grow up to be a normal man.  Instead he became such an amazing figure that the whole world is marked by his life today.  So we can’t just toss this aside as mythology or propaganda.

Chastity has been a big issue in most cultures throughout history.  It appears that Mary has been unfaithful and Joseph is struggling over how to break off the marriage without doing too much harm to Mary.  Now our culture has gone from being one that prized chastity before marriage and fidelity during it, to tossing both into the garbage bin.  This culture encourages our sons and daughters to be promiscuous and faithful only to themselves and their own desire for pleasure.  If Mary were in our day, our society would tell her to go to the nearest Planned Parenthood Clinic and get an abortion.  This child will ruin your life if you have it.  But Mary is not a modern woman who is pregnant because of some guy she met in the market.  She was a virgin who had abstained from sex and was saving herself for her husband to be, Joseph.  Her pregnancy creates a problem for her, people will see her as unfaithful, but it also creates a problem for Joseph.  If he doesn’t break off the marriage people will see it as an admission of guilt, i.e. Mary and he had been sexually active before the wedding.  In such a situation you can imagine Mary telling God that it wasn’t fair.  However, previously Mary had stated to the angel, “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord.  Let it be unto me as you have said.”  No difficulty is too great if it is done for the Lord’s purposes.   As I said, in our culture this used to be a big thing.  However, it is probably hard for us to understand just how difficult a crisis this was.  Joseph doesn’t want to publicly humiliate Mary, but for his own honor, he must break off the marriage. 

Just as God had a job for Mary, so God has a job for Joseph.   An Angel appears to him in a dream, verifies Mary’s story, tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife, and to name the baby, Jesus.  The term angel is used in the bible in several ways.  It basically means messenger, whether human or heavenly.  So the context will determine which is intended.  It is easy to read the Bible and to think that angels were showing up all the time.  However, the truth is that they were few and far between.  But, at special times their activity would increase.  This was one of those special times.

Sometimes people make a big deal out of how the name Jesus should be printed and said.  Some say it must be the original version in Aramaic or a Hebrew equivalent, such as Yeshua.  Some will even claim that to use any name but some ancient form of Yeshua is the same as calling on a false God.  However, this just doesn’t make sense.  It is common throughout history and even today to recognize that names change from language to language.  Sometimes names are simply transliterated.  This is where you go sound by sound and choose which target-language letter mimics it closest.  However, this sometimes creates a name that is weird or strange sounding in the new language.  So it can also be translated.  The meaning in the first language is brought over into the new language and a new name is created.  The name Jesus in English has been transliterated from the Hebrew to Greek and then into English.  It is basically a transliteration with a modified ending to make it more Greek (and then eventually English).  Even the Hebrews in the Scriptures would use Hebraicized forms of the names from other countries.  It seems an overly dogmatic point to try and state that if you pray in the name of Jesus, that God will reject you.  He knows all along that who you are praying to and who you mean when you use that name.  Jesus is the one who is God’s salvation/solution for the world.  As Mary was a righteous girl asked to do something that would cause tongues to wag all over town, so too, Joseph is a righteous man who is asked to come alongside of her in this endeavor.  This is all because God needed to send a savior into the world.

In verses 22-25 we drop out of the story and Matthew, one of the disciples of Jesus, explains the critical importance of all of this.  The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy and it becomes an important teaching or doctrine of all of his followers.  The prophets of the Old Testament had often pointed forward to a coming savior or Messiah, who would be God’s solution to the crisis of mankind’s rebellion against Him.  Our outline today speaks of Mary and Joseph’s crisis and God’s solution.  But it is parallel to a greater crisis of mankind’s rebellion and God’s solution.  We were created in perfect relationship with God until the crisis of sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).  God initially tells them that He has a plan to solve this crisis, and slowly over the course of many years He reveals more and more what that solution will be.  Some have counted as many as 353 different prophecies regarding the first coming of Jesus.  Of course it comes down to how you count a prophecy.  Here is a link to a website that breaks it up by each individual new fact that is prophesied in the Old Testament and then gives the fulfillment in the New Testament.  Now the statistical chances of one person fulfilling 353 different prophecies are so close to zero that we can say it is nigh impossible.   Yet, Jesus did.  But here Matthew only points to one prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.  This prophecy says that a virgin would give birth to a son as a sign that God was going to help those who would trust Him.  In that prophecy, however, the baby is to be called Emmanuel.  Now the Old Testament spells it Immanuel.  This is the difference in the Hebrew spelling versus the Greek spelling.  So it refers to the same name.  The meaning of Emmanuel is “God is with us.”

Such a name brings to attention the ancient problem of the nearness of God.  In the technical sense God is omnipresent and thus always near even the worst of sinners.  He is everywhere at once because He is not a part of this material creation.  But don’t think that means He can’t interact with the universe.  Yet, when mankind rebelled against God, it created a relational separation.  The fractured relationship is what causes us to feel that He is so far away that He might as well not exist.  The name Emmanuel is intended to give the hope that God is fixing this separation in our relationship through Jesus.   On one hand Jesus is divine and thus “God with us.”  He came down from heaven and entered a human body that was especially made for Him to inhabit.  I won’t get into the complexities of what that could have looked like.  So in Jesus, God has come down to Earth in order to help us.  Now, most religions, whether false religions or Christian cults, are man’s attempt to be good enough.  Somehow they teach men how to climb up Mt. Olympus and take their place among the gods.  Like some kind of spiritual Hercules we hope to make it.  However, true Christianity recognizes that no one is good enough to climb into the heavens.  God’s solution is not to save the greatest of mankind, who can climb into His presence.  His plan is to come down to us, into the muck and the mire of the trenches in which we live.  He comes down into the ugliness of sin and lifts us up out of it one day at a time.  This emphasizes the other hand.  Yes, Jesus is divine, but He has come down to our level, “God with us.”  God wants to dwell with mankind, but in our rebellious condition He can’t.  So isn’t it ironic that Jesus, who is called Emmanuel, has ascended into heaven and we wait for Him again?  You have to see God as an artist to appreciate this touch.  Yes, Jesus is no longer physically near us.  But, He is near us through the Holy Spirit.  Just as the prophecy of His first coming was fulfilled, so the prophecies of His second coming will be fulfilled.  However, now we have the reality of Emmanuel and the countless thousands who saw his life and death.  Then we also see the reality of over 500 witnesses to His resurrection.  The testimony that has been given to us is that, regardless of how much it feels that God has abandoned us, or is far, far away, God is with us!  The birth of Jesus forever vanquishes the horrible thought that we might have been abandoned, and replaces it with the awe inspiring Truth that God will see us through.  This is the amazing gift of Jesus to mankind.  He is proof that God is with us and He is the One who has taken away the sins that have separated us from God.  Amen!

Tuesday
Dec272016

Truth

John 1:14-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 25, 2016.

The Bible tells us in Romans 5:6 this, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (NKJV).  The writer goes on to say, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The timing and the way in which God loves us is not always the time and way that we want.  If it were up to us to pick the “when” of the incarnation we would choose our own time, and so would every other generation.  Also, none of us would choose the cross as the demonstration of God’s love.  In light of all of this we are told that Jesus came in “due time.”  The word translated here has the sense of a seasonal time.  So when the fruit is ripe, it is the season or right time to harvest it.  So spend some time thinking about how the 21st century is not better than the 1st century as a season for God’s greatest act of love.  If Jesus were to come in our day we would not be more inclined to accept him, and probably less.  Yes, our technology could spread his message quicker, but it could also cause it to be lost in a sea of counter-claims and conspiracy theories.  There would be just as much resistance to his message and to him.  The truth is that it would not make any of us any more likely to believe.  For every time that I have thought in my heart that I would believe if God would just prove it to me personally and right now, there are countless examples of those who did see and yet still didn’t believe.  This doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t worth believing.  Rather, it points us to the stark reality that the logic we often lean on (God didn’t do it this way…) is very flimsy.  It cannot hold up to the truth that God has demonstrated His love toward us and in an incredible way.  All people who hear the truth are accountable to search it out for themselves because it is by this that we show ourselves to be those who truly want the truth.  However, the “search for truth” can itself become an intellectual cover for an aversion to it.  So let’s look at Jesus today and remind ourselves of the truth about who He is.

The Word Became Flesh

You will want to read John 1:1-18, but I am going to focus mainly on verse 14.  John introduces several titles or descriptive words for Jesus in this section.  The name Jesus comes from a Hebrew word that means “God Saves, or God’s Salvation.”  This would be an appropriate name for the one who would be God’s Messiah (the one Anointed by God to deliver Israel and the Gentile nations).  But in verse 1 John reveals an even deeper truth about this one they knew as Jesus.  He existed before all of creation as “The Word.”

Now, “The Word” could be translated as the reason, the logic, or the saying.  However, John’s use of the phrase “in the beginning” coupled with a consequent creation is a direct allusion to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  He is more than describing Jesus as a current representation of the logic or truth of God.  John is revealing that another person was hidden within the creation story.  So Genesis 1 tells us that God said, “’Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  Thus God speaks and the effect of that word is a creative event.  Jesus is revealed by John to be not just the first created being, but rather as co-existent and in union with God.  In verse 3 he says that all things that were made were made through Jesus and without Jesus nothing was made that was made.  Before he ever took on flesh and became the human called Jesus, he was the eternal and divine Word.  He was a part of the eternal Godhead: Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.  The truth about Jesus begins with his greatness and majesty.  He is the very means of creation.  He is that which brought all things into being.

It is in light of such an amazing statement that the incarnation (becoming flesh) of The Word is revealed.  The incarnation is the opposite of the greatness of his past existence.  It becomes the time of great humbling, humility, and even humiliation of the uncreated one.  Throughout history, mankind has struggled with the sense that God is removed and separated from our existence.  How can he care about us and seem so removed?  Yet, in the incarnation, God responds that He knows what we are dealing with, how hard it is, and how easy it would be to give up.  Though we may not “feel” like He cares, we can “know” that He does because of the day that The Word became flesh.

There is a scene in the new movie, “Greater.”  There is a character that is struggling with understanding why God would let his brother die in the prime of his life.  There is a scene where he stands beside a football field in which there are a bunch of potted flowers.  His struggle with not wanting to blame God and yet feeling like God is to blame, eventually leads him to walk up near the press box of the stadium.  From that high vantage point he looks back to the flowers on the field to recognize that the flowers spell out the words, “We Trust.”  This is a powerful metaphor for life.  We are often like the players down at field level, not understanding why the coach calls us to do something.  But God has a view of this world and your life that is much higher than any press box in this world.  In the incarnation God is saying to us us, “Trust me, instead of your pain.”  In fact, if we are truthful with ourselves, the worst decisions are often made in the midst of pain and anger.  The truth is that God does care and He has even humbled Himself to step down into our difficult circumstances, not as some Titan who cannot be touched.  But, rather, He comes as a man who can be hated, rejected, and killed.

The Word did not just become a man and Lord his divinity over all mankind.  Instead, John says that “he dwelt among us,” in verse 14.  Just as God’s Spirit had dwelt in the tabernacle with Israel in the desert, here again is God in an even greater act of closeness dwelling among mankind.  He did not come to the palaces of Rome, but to the conquered people of Israel.  He did not come to the palaces of the Israeli people, but to the sticks of that nation in Galilee.  The men that he lived with for 3 and a half years were mostly fishermen and lowly.  The Word comes to become the lowly Jesus and reminds us that God Saves.  Throughout the New Testament the family terms of Father and Son are used to demonstrate the closeness of God.  Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but he has come that we too might become sons of God.  The truth is that God is never far away, but is as close as the mention of His name.  Though I demand that he demonstrate His closeness at a specific time and in a specific way, it can never diminish the truth that He loves me, is close to me, and understands how difficult it is.  He dwelt among us!

We Beheld His Glory

The disciples of Jesus gave witness to what they saw in him.  In fact the word used in verse 14 for “beheld” means more than that they saw the glory of Jesus.  It has the idea of inspection and looking into a matter.  Jesus didn’t just appear on earth and look like something.  He lived with people and his life purposefully brushed up against others so that men could inspect his character, life, and his very being.  When we live 24/7 with someone it is most generally then that we see them in all their “glory,” (Yes, I am being facetious).  Quite the opposite, it is then that our flaws are most obvious.  Yet, John says that they inspected this man and what they found was glorious.  They saw the public and private Jesus.  They saw Jesus during the good times and the bad.  They saw Jesus when the crowds wanted to make him king and when they were crying out, “Crucify him!”  The disciples did not believe Jesus simply because of the claims he made.  They believed because of what they experienced when they lived with him.  So why does God often seem hidden?  Why doesn’t he do something like this for every one of us in every generation?  The short answer is because men most generally do not want to live with absolute truth.  We tend to want only certain aspects of truth.  The hiddenness of God is a challenge to our very character.  Do I want to know the truth, or do I simply want to feel like I know the truth?  To know the truth is to enter into a loving and trusting relationship with it.

John further describes this glory with two words and the first is Grace.  In inspecting Jesus they saw that God is gracious, even further, “full of grace.”  They watched as the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) was thrown before Jesus.  Here we are given witness to the exquisite grace of God in that he is not looking for reason to punish and destroy us.  Rather, he is looking for reasons to forgive us.  In our day and age, grace becomes a trite method of declaring that nothing is really sin, or that sin no longer matters.  However, Jesus both confirms that the woman is a sinner and yet encourages her to quit being a sinner.  He knows that unless she changes she will be judged by God.  Why remove any chance of her making amends?  The grace of God is that humanity does not deserve to be saved, and yet he gives us a chance.  More than that, He guarantees that whoever wants to do so can join that part of humanity that will be victorious over the devil and reign with God in his place.  Satan will be cast down and we will be lifted up.  This is the grace of God.  But, do you trust him?

We are told of his interaction with the thief on the cross in Luke 23.  This man had lived a life of sin and stealing from others.  In the last moments of his life, in which he can really do nothing for God, he simply asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.  Such a simple statement of faith, and yet it was all that God was looking for.  Put yourself in God’s shoes for a moment.  Can you imagine pouring out your heart in love for another person, only to have it thrown back into your face?  It’s not enough, it wasn’t the right time, it wasn’t the right way…. Yes, we can all learn how to love others.  But, if our every attempt to love is criticized and never simply received as the love it is, then what?  Does the other person really love you?  The sad truth is that God has loved all mankind more than we deserve.  More than this, instead of throwing us away, He has simply put the ball in our court.  He is simply looking for us to trust Him.  This is the grace of our God.

This was not a New Testament idea.  The Old Testament clearly demonstrates that Israel and mankind did not deserve saving.  It reveals the moral warts and ugliness of our sin, and yet God’s plan to save mankind kept marching on.  No, it was not what you asked for or are even now asking for.  But it is love nonetheless.  So can you say no to such love?

The second word that John uses to describe the glory of Jesus is Truth.  Jesus made very exclusive claims.  In fact, truth by its very nature is exclusive.  In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  In John 8:39-40 we are told, “They answered [Jesus] and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’  Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.  But now you seek to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.  Abraham did not do this.’”  In John 3:16 we are familiar with the statement that “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whosoever would believe on Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Yet, the sad thing is that 3 verses later (John 3:19) we are told that “this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.”  Yes, all of us have an inner aversion to truth because it exposes not just our “failures” but also those things that we would call our “successes,” but He shows to be evil.

The world today struggles under the task of finding a way forward in which it can reject the exclusive claims of Jesus and still have a moral world.  But by removing the Truth from the foundation of this endeavor, we ensure its future crumbling demise.

So the ball is in your court.  God has heard you, and He has come near to you.  God has loved you, and He has done so in a miraculous, amazing way.  The real question is not has He done enough.  The real question is can I accept the truth and let go of the lie?  Let go of the lie today and embrace the truth.

Truth audio

Tuesday
Dec152015

Lessons of Christmas- The Miracle of it All

John 1:1-3, 14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 13, 2015.

The modern, scientific world basically rejects the idea of miracles.  Unless one is a strong Christian and a scientist, miracles sound like the antithesis of sound reasoning.  However, much of this is a matter of semantics.  The common argument against miracles will go something like this. Miracles are against the laws of science and cannot be duplicated upon demand.  Therefore they are mythical, whether through insincerity or not.

So what do Christians mean by the word miracle?  Well, we do not mean the “miracles” of nature, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly.  As amazing as many of the processes of nature are, they are not technical miracles.  Scientists can observe and test to determine the underlying fundamental principles that enable metamorphosis.  In fact all over the world metamorphosis is happening all the time.  There are two main concepts behind the words that are often translated as miracle.  The first has to do with the observation of something amazing.  It is a memorable thing that sticks out among the stuff that naturally occurs.  Another word has the concept of being a sign.  This memorable thing points to something about God and the world. 

This leads us to three main parts to defining a miracle.  First, it is something for which God is immediately responsible.  Everything of nature follows certain laws and operations (physics) that God hardwired into the creation.  Thus he is technically responsible for all actions of nature, but this is a secondary responsibility.  In a miracle, something happens that would not have happened if God had let nature run its normal course.  The red sea parting or Jesus walking on water were not things that would have happened naturally.  There is a supernatural source to the happening of this event.  Second, though the event has a supernatural cause, this does not mean that it breaks scientific laws.  Miracles are not magic.  Rather, God Himself introduces power and laws that are generally above our understanding of physics.  Even if we could completely understand the physics of our world, we can’t completely understand God and how He interacts with it.  Thus miracles would always be beyond mankind’s ability to comprehend.  Plus God does not intend to give miracles in order to extend our knowledge of physics.  He doesn’t owe us an explanation.  Third, miracles always occur in a religious context.  They are given to God’s people, or to substantiate God’s Word.  Thus the struggle between Moses and Pharaoh is accompanied with miraculous signs in order to help Pharaoh see the truth about God and His people.

Now at Christmas we have several miracles among which some are: the virgin birth and the angelic visitations.  However the greatest miracle of all time is the incarnation.  Just when it looked like mankind was doomed to failure and destruction under the wrath of God, God becomes a man.  This was a cosmic game-changer.

The Word Became Flesh

In chapter one of the gospel of John Old Testament wording and imagery is used throughout in order to connect it with Jesus.  He starts out by referencing something called “The Word.”  This is an allusion back to Genesis 1, where God is seen speaking things into existence.  “And God said, let there be…”  The Word is the purpose, logic and reasoning of God coming from within Him and going out from Him.  John begins to define this Word in a way that makes clear it is not just words and it is not just a force.  As we walk through the first two verses, John establishes the preexistence of Jesus in a sequential manner.

First, he establishes that The Word existed at the beginning of creation.  “In the beginning” is the title of the Book of Genesis in Hebrew.  In Genesis 1:1, The Word existed already.  Second, The Word was in relationship with God the Father, “with God.”  It didn’t just exist.  It existed in relationship with God.  Third, we are told that The Word was divine.  It may appear that he is just equating them.  But he is clearly distinguishing two that are both God (and divine).  In verse two this is restated.  Lastly, John states that The Word was the agent or means of creation.  The Father speaks and the Word goes forth to accomplish it (in verse 14 & 18 it is clear the word is a personality).  What is not made clear in Genesis 1 is being revealed here in John 1.  Thus John describes two distinct persons existing together and yet God.  Later in verse 14 and 18 he defines this further as God the Father, and the Only Begotten Son.  All created things were made through Jesus in his divine capacity.  The Son is not a created person, but a reality that had been kept secret until the incarnation.

Thus the birth of Jesus is more than a man that God chooses to use.  Rather, it is the eternal Word and divine Son stepping into the world and taking on the additional nature of humanity.  This all happens when Satan had all but captivated all the nations of the world, Israel included.  The knowledge of God was all but extinguished either by outright rejection, or by perversion.  Thus in verse 14, John says that The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.  The word “dwelled” is the same word used for the tabernacle in the wilderness with Moses.  God has always tried to teach us that He longs to dwell with us.  It is as if God waits until the last seconds to bring out His secret weapon.  He is going to suit up on our side.  It is a miracle because mankind couldn’t have done it.  No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to produce God, much less make ourselves Gods.  The more we try the less like God we will become.  It is a miracle because it can’t be explained by mere natural means.  Yes, Jesus could have been just a baby, but then what about the miracles he did as a man?  If you reject those, what do you do with his prophecies about Jerusalem and the rest of the world?  If you reject that what do you do with the resurrection?  And, if you refuse to believe that then you are open to what God is trying to show you.  This is all history and yet it can’t be explained with the natural.  Also, it is a miracle because it fulfilled all that God prophesied and underscored all He had been trying to teach.  What if God was one of us?  Well in Jesus He has become one of us.  He has become our champion.  He has stepped in between us and our enemy the devil.

He Humbled Himself

In some ways it goes without saying.  But the point is too important to skip over. The humility of this miracle is mind-boggling.  The divine becomes human and the immortal becomes mortal.  This miracle of God taking on the nature of a man is unexplainable.  These are things that only the designer of creation and mankind could fully comprehend.  However, that is not what is important.  The “how” is incredible, but it is the “why” that truly blows your mind.  While we are busy trying to become gods, God a long time ago became one of us.  This humility is explained in Philippians 2:5-8.  Jesus was not just moving to a lower station.  He is choosing to embrace those who had lost and deserved to die.  He is identifying with that which was crushed and captivated by the devil.  He would rather hang out with the losers than with the winners.  Why?

In Philippians 2 we are told that Jesus did not consider his prior state, being God, as something to be gripped tightly.  His nature is such that He is not clambering to be on top, but is the one to choose lowly things.  He voluntarily cooperates with the limitations of being a man, who is also under the law of Moses.  The phrase sometimes translated as “made himself of no reputation,” would be better translated “he emptied himself.”  It is not clear what exactly he emptied himself of.  He doesn’t cease to be God, but he does cease to operate as only God.  He takes on limitations and chooses to suffer pain, hunger, rejection, and death.  He submits not just to death, but to death on a cross, which was a social shame and excruciating.  He obeyed the will of the Father to the point of death on a cross.  Part of the miracle of the incarnation is the depths to which God is willing to lower himself in order to lift us up.  Jesus reveals to us that it is those who lose according to this world who are desired by God.  We are always looking at what is possible and how to get ahead and move up.  But Jesus is God’s word to mankind, “Let me defeat your enemy for you.”

He Came Full Of Grace And Truth

In verse 14, John describes what they saw when the incarnation came into the world to dwell among men.  “We beheld his glory.”  Of course John had seen the transfiguration of Jesus when he had been transformed into a glowing being.  But he is speaking of more than that.  Here he is referencing the whole experience of dwelling with Jesus.  His glory was constantly being revealed for those who had eyes to see it.

It was especially displayed in that he was full of grace and truth.  God shows compassion to those who are captivated by sin and whose lives have been devoured by the devil.  He comes like a gift from heaven to heal, set people free from demons, and speak words of truth that cut through all the confused and deceived wisdom of mankind.  Even more amazing, He does so regardless of the fact that we do not deserve it.

Rather, we deserved him to come into the world full of wrath and judgment.  The miracle of Christmas is that instead of flaming judgment raining down from heaven, we are given aid against our enemy and victory over him.  This is not the story of underdogs overcoming at the end and winning.  This is the story of mankind losing the battle to the devil and his angels.  And, yet, God chooses to have a celebration with the losers and despises the “winners.”

Have you lost in life?  God is calling you to stop trying to win the game of this life and come into relationship with Him.  Are you winning in this life?  Beware that you are not caught up in the judgment that God is going to pour out on the devil, his angels, and all those who have joined his rebellion against God’s Son.  Choose this day, whom you will serve.

Christmas: Miracle audio

Tuesday
Dec032013

The Messages of the Angel Gabriel

People have always been fascinated with the biblical characters called angels and our modern era is no exception.  Angels were the original men from “Out There” (although they were not “little green men”).  If we separate the popular fiction about angels that has built up over the millennia and look to the Bible, we find the truth about angels.

Hebrews 1:14 says that angels are spirits that are tasked with helping those who are inheriting salvation.  Thus it would stand to reason that fallen angels have rejected this task and seek to keep men from inheriting salvation.  Although these spirits have the ability to take on flesh, they are clearly not limited to flesh like humans.  It is also good to note that when angels interact with mankind they look like men.  In Hebrews 13:2 believers are reminded to be hospitable to strangers.  Why?  Many reasons could have been stated.  But the writer reminds them of the many stories in the Old Testament where people found out later that the person or people they entertained were actually angels (e.g. Abraham and Lot).

There are only two angels that are named in the Scriptures.  The first is the archangel (chief angel) Michael.  Scripture tells us that he specifically watches over the people of Israel.  The second angel is Gabriel.  It does not say that Gabriel is an archangel.  The description that is used of him is: “the one who stands in the presence of God.”  He is revealed 3 times in Scripture.  He gives messages from God to Daniel, Zechariah, and Mary.  We will look at the last 2 today.  Join me in Luke 1:5-38.

To Zechariah The Priest

In this passage we find a priest who is from the house of Aaron.  The Levites who were of the house of Aaron were a special class of priests who were able to minister in the temple.  During the reign of King David Aaron’s clan had been divided into 24 family divisions.  Each division was responsible to provide priests for a period of daily service in the Temple.  This was a rotation that was continued after Israel came back from exile.  Part of the temple service was removing the ashes from the Altar of Incense and the burning of fresh incense.  While this was happening the priest would intercede for the people of Israel.  Thus Zechariah is a priest who was chosen by lot to burn incense in the temple as a part of the morning and evening sacrifices.

It is important to note that Zechariah and his wife were considered by God as blameless.  This should not be interpreted to mean they were sinless.  Only Jesus is declared sinless in the Bible.  A fact that many miss is that there had to be grace during the period of the Law.  If no one could be saved by the Law, there had to be a way for Moses, David, etc… to be saved.  Thus those who did their best to follow God’s Law were considered blameless by God if they did so trusting Him.  God would not blame them even though Satan clearly would.  We see this in the Book of Zechariah, where Satan makes accusations against the High Priest Joshua, but the Lord will not listen to him.  In verse 10 we see that the people were gathered at the hour of incense.  They would pray in the temple courtyard, while the priest was offering the incense and interceding for the nation.  It is in this setting that an angel appears to Zechariah.  Of course he doesn’t know it is an angel at first.  He suddenly sees a strange man at the right side of the incense altar and is startled.  No one was authorized to be in there even if they were a priest.  This was under penalty of death.  Zechariah is very startled. 

Let’s get to the message of Gabriel.  After calming the fears of Zechariah the angel tells Zechariah that his wife will become pregnant and have a child.  We are also told that his wife, Elizabeth, is both elderly and barren.  Thus this represents a miraculous thing.  It isn’t on the same level as the virgin birth, but it is amazing nonetheless.  This is somewhat of a signature move of God.  He did this with Abraham and Sarah, who had a baby when she was 90.  He also did this with Isaac and Rebekah, Samuel’s parents, and Samson’s parents.  At critical times in the plan of God, a child is born to a couple who are barren and too old to have kids.  The “miracle child” goes on to accomplish something great in the plan of God.  Thus we are told that the child “John” would be great.  Jesus himself later said that none of the Old Testament saints and prophets were greater than John the Baptist.  He was to be a Nazarite.  Normally a person would volunteer to be a Nazarite for a temporary amount of time.  During that time they would not cut their hair, not drink any fruit of the vine, and devote themselves to worship and prayer of God.  At the end of their vow they would be released.  But there had been special cases where a child was called to be a Nazarite by God and they were to stay such their whole life.  This was the case with Samson and Samuel.  They did not choose it, nor could they un-volunteer.  As the leper was a living picture of sin, so the Nazarite was a living picture of holiness: a life separated from the common for service to the Lord.  John’s remarkable life would be marked by a powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, even while he is in the womb.  This is remarkable because even in the present time of the outpouring of God’s Spirit such a thing is not heard of. 

John’s task would be to prepare people for the coming messiah.  He would “turn many to God.  It is not our job to “save” people.  But, we can turn people back to God.  People were not living their lives towards God and in the light of His direction.  Rather, they were going towards their own desires and way.  Thus John would point them back to Messiah and back to the Way of the Lord.  He did this by warning them that those who were not prepared for Messiah’s coming would come under judgment.  Though they were a part of Israel they would perish like the generation did that traveled with Moses out of Egypt.  They perished in the desert because of unbelief.

The last part of the message is both a rebuke and a sign.  Zechariah was slow to believe what the angel said and thus he loses his ability to speak.  The angel tells him that he will be unable to speak until the child is born (over 9 months away).  This discipline in Zechariah’s life would teach him to trust the Lord, but it would also enable him to focus on what God was doing and be a spectacular sign that something special was happening with this child.  Of course Zechariah comes out of the temple and cannot speak.  Everyone knows something happened.  However, he goes home.  Elizabeth becomes pregnant, which she hides from public knowledge.

To Mary The Virgin

Six months later the angel Gabriel pays a visit to Mary a relative of Elizabeth’s.  Elizabeth was near Jerusalem, but Mary is in the Northern area of the Galilee, in the town of Nazareth.  The message is similar but has some very important differences.  Here we see that Mary is just as startled as Zechariah and yet is comforted by the angel.  He tells Mary that she had God’s favor.  The word would be better translated as “Grace” and is reminiscent of the phrase, “And Noah found Grace in the eyes of the Lord.”  God needed someone to bear the Messiah into the world.  This is not a statement of Mary’s superiority, but that she pleased God.  Only one could bear the Messiah.  They needed to be a virgin, of the line of David, and a godly woman.  Thus, Mary was chosen by God.   God is not doing this to reward Mary.  Rather, when he wanted to bring forth the Messiah, He looked for someone who fit His qualifications.  We might ask ourselves two things.  First, what does God want to do?  Second, am I qualified?  God sometimes is looking to do something spectacular.  But most of the time He is just looking for someone who will trust Him with all their heart and pass that faith down to the next generation.  This is no small thing and becomes the foundation for those times when He does something great in our eyes.  Mary is ready because faith had been passed down from one generation to the next until it reached her.  Are you being faithful to the faith that has been passed down to you?  Satan does not want strong believers because he knows that this is his only way to thwart the plan of God.  We can have the favor of God whether or not He does something as great as part the Red sea, or miraculously conceive a child within us.

The angel tells Mary that she will become pregnant and the child will actually be the Son of God.  Furthermore, this child will be given the throne of David and rule upon it forever.  This is heady stuff.  The Son of God is a clear reference to divinity.  Also, at this period in time “David’s throne” had been usurped by non-Jews.  Rome had given the throne to Herod even though he was not of the line of David.  We might ask what this means in light of the fact that Jesus was killed.  Even though he was resurrected, he then ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God.  At the cross, Jesus demonstrated his right to have the throne of David.  But, He will not take up the throne until He comes back.  When He does come back He will establish a kingdom that will last forever and will be upon the earthly throne of David.  Thus God will have fulfilled His promise to David.  However, He will not just rule over Israel, but over all nations.

The message involves Mary being pregnant.  Mary is not sure what to think since she is a virgin and asks how this could be.  Now let me make a plug for control in the area of sexuality.  Part of God’s favor had to do with the fact that Mary had trusted God enough to wait until marriage to become sexually active.  So her question is a tribute to her fidelity to God.  How will this happen?  The angel’s answer is that the baby will be miraculously conceived in her by the Holy Spirit.  Though this seems to be a fairy tale to some, take time to think about it.  Mary would have eggs within her.  The same God who took dirt, shaped it and breathed life into it, could surely cause an unfertile egg to “come to life.”  In fact, an egg is literally turned on by the information of a sperm.  Who made the DNA molecule in the first place?  Who encoded it with the information to make a human?  These things are miraculous, but they are not impossible with God.   In fact, humans are learning to do these kind of things in a lab.  Could not the Creator of the universe do so inside Mary’s womb?  We often have more faith in man and his technology than in God who created the physics that allow technology to exist. 

The angel ends with information that Mary didn’t know.  Her relative Elizabeth who had been barren all her life, had been pregnant for the last 6 months.  Now this is important because it serves as a sign to Mary that God would keep His word to her.  But it would also give her a close confidant who was also a seasoned believer.  This young teenager would have a strong woman of God to counsel her and prepare her for the tough days ahead.

Let me close with this.  Recognize in this story of miraculous things that the key is God’s heart.  He wants us to turn our hearts back to Him so that we can be blessed by what He is planning to do.  How often we turn from God to ourselves or to other men.  We trust more in our own ability to accomplish things than God.  God forgive us and help us to see that with Him, Nothing is Impossible.  In the days ahead, may we hold fast the faith that has once and for all been delivered to the saints until that day He comes back to reign forever.

Message Angel Gab Audio