Messages from Christmases Past
Christmas Biases (2019)
December 22, 2019 • Sean Higgins
John 8:12 # Introduction My intention this morning is to encourage you that Christ is always the answer, and that when you see the world in His light, you see the world the right way. This includes Christmas. I surprised myself a few days ago when I was looking at a list of sermons I've preached on, or right before, Christmas day since TEC began. This makes the ninth time that I've preached a Christmas sermon, though twice my message combined the coming of Christ with the next passage in a book study (1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 13). I've been told by a member that if I did _not_ preach a Christmas sermon near Christmas that he would walk out, and I've also been told by a member that if I _did_ preach a Christmas sermon that he would walk out. That doesn’t leave a lot of room to work. As one of the shepherds, and for that matter also as one of the sheep in the flock, I have grown to think that the typical Christian Christmas celebrations, ones that I grew up seeing around me, are often superficial and sentimental, and also that the typical Christian Christmas humbugging as a response to typical Christmas celebrations are also, ironically, superficial and sour. That not more helpful. What to do? What do we need? As a shepherd of this flock, with the responsibility to feed and protect and lead, how can I help get you ready for not messing it up, either way? How can I help you be ready to make it so that your kids grow up wanting Christmas to be like you want Christmas to be? I stated my answer at the start. I want to encourage you that Christ is always the answer. What we celebrate at this time of year is crucial not just for thinking about Christian holidays or family traditions but for thinking about our view of the world and mankind as part of it. In making this case I will admit that I am biased. To be biased is to be bent in a certain direction, inclined to have a certain outlook. A biased person tends to expect certain answers to questions, to have favorites. Bias and prejudice are bad words in our current culture, and they have come to carry a kind of baggage with them. But it is _biased_ to say that having a bias is always wrong. _That_ is blind. We need to ask more questions: Biased about what? Biased in what way? I am commanded by God to be biased in my loves, for example, with an impulse to love my wife _by default_ more than any other woman. That's biased about the right thing. If my bias causes me to punch other men's wives, then I’d be holding by bias wrongly. When we think about what we want for a person in the womb or a person in the emergency room, our bias should be toward wanting life. A wise person is biased towards wisdom, which is part of what makes him wise. A thankful person is biased toward gratitude, which is part of what makes him fun to give gifts to. More on this in a bit. One of the dangers is that we are often biased for the _wrong_ things, and we go searching for, or only admit to, the evidence that backs up what we already thought. There is a fancy name for it called "confirmation bias." If I only read commentaries on the book of Revelation that I knew I would agree with, or read commentaries with different views but took a black Sharpie to their arguments while calling their conclusions stupid, that would make me stupid. We shouldn't want to be stupid. But, I've labored in this introduction to ask, what if your bias is _right_? What if you're good at finding confirmation for your bias because there's going to be a lot of confirmation for truth? How will you know if your bias needs to be corrected or if your bias _should be_ confirmed? Christ is always the answer. # Correction Bias at Christmas The Incarnation of Christ—the word for when God took on flesh and became a son of Mary born in Bethlehem—confronts and corrects a view of Christmas that says mankind is good, or that any man or woman is good, or that any man or woman can fix his or her own problems. The angel told Joseph that his pregnant fiancé was with child from the Holy Spirit, and that the Son's name should be Jesus because He would save His people from their _sins_. > “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) There is no resolution for guilt, no offer of forgiveness, no escape from blindness and darkness apart from the coming of the Light. Christmas corrects any worldview biased toward the goodness of man. If men were good, then there was no need for God to become a man and then die as a man. Christmas corrects any view of the world that says good food can fix what ails us, or that family is all the bond we need, or that the giving and receiving of gifts brings us eternal life. Without Christ, even Christmas is a millstone that drowns men in eternal death. Christ is the answer. He is The Light of the world. Christmas isn't a holiday because we were already having hearty family celebrations in December but wanted to kick our parties up a notch, or a contract made among businessmen agreeing to buy more stuff from each other and to take off work the same day. Christmas is a thing because we are dead in our transgressions. Christmas is a thing because of the bad news of our distance from God. And the facts that God, in the Son, was born of a woman, as a baby in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloths, lived on earth and among His family and later His disciples, that He ate and drank and built birdhouses (as a carpenter with his dad) and went to weddings and camped and washed feet and took naps, corrects the alternative way to miss the point of Christmas. Oh the Christian fussers who _fear_ the stuff, fear the body, fear the laughter, fear the gifts, do not yet see the world in The Light of the World. If God thought that the best place to celebrate the Incarnation was _out of the body_ then that would be at best ironic, and at worst blasphemous, to take on a body Himself. Christmas corrects dualists who are biased toward the “spiritual” as defined in avoiding earthly things. Christmas corrects fear mongers who are prejudiced against the material world, as if sin was in the ham not in the heart. # Confirmation Bias at Christmas Are there good ways to be biased? Yes. Here are four biases that Christmas confirms. _Christmas confirms a bias toward humility._ Jesus was born a baby, in a stable, to an unwed virgin, not at home. Jesus was born into flesh and blood, as a human, as a servant, on earth. Whenever it was that the wise men showed up with their gifts for a king, it was _out of place_, not because Jesus wasn't a king, but because He wasn't in a palace. The wise went went to Herod’s palace first because, well, that's where one expects a prince to be born. Paul wrote about the "mind of Christ" which all believers should have, and this "mind" was revealed in the Incarnation which is also referred to as Christ's Humiliation (Philippians 2:5-11). _Christmas confirms a bias toward generosity._ When we worship, and when we consider why we worship at Christmas, we see the Lord God Almighty, all-powerful and wise, _giving_. Generosity is not the same as unselfishness. In _The Screwtape Letters_ C.S. Lewis unwrapped the distinction. > ‘She’s the sort of woman who lives for others—you can always tell the others by their hunted expression.’ Lewis has the demon say that it’s a game best played with more than two players, in a family with grown-up children. If you’re going to give, then let go. _Christmas confirms a bias toward thankfulness._ All is gift. What do you have that you have not received? Christmas does not confirm your bias that you deserve anything, it does confirm a bias that you get way better than you deserve. Christ’s glory is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). The truth is, you needed _and_ you get grace. Do you resent the person walking up to you with something in her hands because all you can think about is the effort it will take you to write a thank you note? Do you hate being in the position of receiver because you feel like that makes you indebted? As I said, there are bad givers, but God isn't of their number, and whether you like it or not you will never catch up counting your blessings. Be “giving thanks always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:20). _Christmas confirms a bias toward joy._ Being biased doesn't mean you can't see the other side, it's just which side you lean to. The first coming of Christ had been prophesied for centuries, and God's people had been in exile, in battle, in anticipation and even in _misery_ for a long time. When Christ was born and began His ministry and rose from the dead, not everyone received their King. The night was long. The night feels long again as we wait for His second advent. Which song should be our crescendo? To ask is to answer. > Let all mortal flesh keep silence, > and with fear and trembling stand; > ponder nothing earthly-minded, Those lyrics channel Habakkuk 2:20, yes, yet the third verse in the song demands that we _not_ be silent: > Rank on rank the host of heaven > spreads its vanguard on the way, > as the Light of light descendeth > from the realms of endless day, > that the powers of hell may vanish > as the darkness clears away. Which is why we rejoice: > He comes to make His blessings flow > Far as the curse is found And sing: > Joy to the earth the Savior reigns > Let men their songs employ “Everything created by God is good” and to be received with thanks, sanctified by the Word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5). The truth of Christmas sanctifies us so that we have sanctified biases. # Conclusion Apart from Christ, Christmas is hell. In Christ, all are yours. Unbelievers need to be corrected. _Believers_ need to be corrected. Unbelievers think it's all about gifts and parties and family. Some believers think it's all about _not_ caring about gifts and parties and family. Ironically, both define it according to worldly standards. One misses the Baby, the other misses what the Baby was born to do. > Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) “Life” in the “light of life” is the object on which the light shines. The Light illuminates the cosmos, the Light makes the cosmos visible for us to see for what it is. Any real understanding of life comes from Jesus because He made it and He sustains it. We do not need to get off the earth before Jesus does us any good. Christmas disciples us to look to Jesus and, when we look to Jesus, we see what is wrong and what is good on earth. Christmas reveals the deadliness of envy and lies and gluttony, of pride and grabbing like the first Adam. Christmas also disciples us in the light of grace and truth and thankfulness, of humility and giving. The second Adam from above is effacing the first Adam in us. As He does so, our increasing likeness to the new Adam includes cinnamon and butter and bread and yeast and hops and child-proof toy packaging. It also includes patience with immature children–which is okay, you are helping them to grow up, as well as grumpy, complaining kids–which is okay in a different way because Jesus came for _sinners_. Christ is the star that lights the way. When you see the world in His light, you see the world, and Christmas, the right way. --- ## Charge This would usually be a good place to charge you to live at peace with others as much as depends on you (Romans 12:18), to be patient, to serve, to die to bring life. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. So, while you're not being angry, I'm exhorting you to look for a strategic moment to light a verbal candle and really let the room, or your relative, have it. If your bias is a good one, then—he who has ears to hear—give someone a reason to complain about it. Don’t hide your Christmas bias under a basket (Matthew 5:15). ## Benediction: > The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. > > He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! > > The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Revelation 22:17, 20–21, ESV)
Always Christmas (2018)
December 23, 2018 • Sean Higgins
1 Corinthians 13:8-13 # Introduction The sermon for this morning is a combination gift. It's like getting socks for Christmas, but socks that you needed, even asked for. So you're getting the next sermon from 1 Corinthians 13, but it is both practical for and pertinent to the holiday. The entire chapter is about love, all the way to the end. And while it isn't directly connected to the incarnation, without the incarnation we wouldn’t know what love looked like in pants. In _The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe_ the White Witch cast a spell so that it was “always winter, never Christmas.” “It is always winter in Narnia—always winter, but it never gets to Christmas.” The lament comes out seven times in the book, and we can feel their cold, stiff sorrow. But in our world, “a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world” (_The Last Battle_), and since that time, there is a sense in which winter is vanishing and it will be always Christmas. More than a day of celebration, the birth of Christ brought tidings of comfort and joy, of loving fellowship with the Father forever. > And the angel said to them [the shepherds], “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11) Because of Christmas the cold, dark, bitter winter cannot win. The Christians in Corinth had gotten to a point where their priorities were at best upside down. Many of them had come to measure their spirituality and spiritual value according to the wrong standards. They elevated certain gifts, and the persons who exercised those gifts, over other spiritual gifts, not realizing either the reality that the Spirit gives all the gifts or that the persons are gifted variously for the whole body's benefit. The source of the gifts is the same source, and the benefits of the gifts are reciprocal benefits. Elevating one above another, or putting distance between one another, is not right. There is a more excellent way. That excellent way is the way of love. Paul began the chapter by showing that superlative supernatural gifts, exercised without love, amount to nothing (verses 1-3). Then he described love's active nature, what it does and won't do (verses 4-7). And now he'll finish this focus by comparing love to good but temporary things (verses 8-13). Love is the greatest. There are four parts to this final paragraph: the comparison (verse 8), the explanation (verses 9-10), the illustrations (verses 11-12), and the conclusion (verse 13). # The Permanent Comparison (verse 8) Gifts, spiritual (and Christmas) gifts, do not last. Love does. **Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.** The idea that **love never ends** is not new to the discussion, since Paul just wrote that love "endures all things" (verse 7). He also finishes this paragraph by declaring that love "abides," it remains, it isn't going anywhere. The Greek word in verse 8 for **ends** is more simply translated "fall." The NASB has "love never fails," so it never collapses, it never goes down, it isn't ever ruined or finished. That's quite a statement, and it deserves more attention, including *why* is this the case? What is it about love that makes love permanent? For the moment, however, the point Paul wants to make is that not everything is permanent like love, especially the things that the Corinthians valued above love. Paul refers to three of the gifts previously mentioned in chapter 12, gifts also repeated at the beginning of chapter 13. **Prophecies** and **knowledge** ... **will pass away.** I understand prophecy to be more than preaching and teaching, and knowledge also refers to the spiritual gift of knowledge, of discernment about a situation or a prophecy rather than knowledge that any believer can have. The most important part, though, is that these gifts don't last. A point in time is coming when there’s nothing more to reveal; every judgement will be brought to light. The same is true of **tongues**, **they will cease**. Paul uses a different verb, and the verb has a different voice (middle), and a whole lot of words have been written about this change in vocabulary and grammar. But I’m on the side with those who do *not* think a great point can be made *from this verse alone* about when tongues as a gift no longer functions. Cessationism is a thing, but it’s not the thing here. *The* issue is that tongues, even the tongues of angels (which, by the way, presumably would never cease), which the Corinthians esteemed as the sign of spirituality par excellence, isn't even something that will last. # The Perfect Explanation (verses 9-10) When the power turns back on, candles just aren't necessary any more. And when we see the Lord, we won't need information about His return through prophecy and knowledge. **For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.** Tongues adds nothing to the comparison that we don't get with the other two. Tongues communicates God's revelation to be known in another language, tongues just adds another step requiring translation. If we don't need to go anywhere, we don't need the car, let alone the trailer hitched to the back. The revelation that we have (what we **know**), or that we get (what comes by **prophecy**), is only **partial**. Partial things are not incorrect, they are just incomplete. I don't need to know quantum physics in order to do arithmetic, and even to know that my answers are correct. But it's just some of the whole. What we have is true, but it isn't perfect. **When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.** But what is **the perfect**? There are three main options: the perfect refers to the completion of the New Testament, or it refers to the Christian's personal maturity, or it refers to Christ's return (related to either the Rapture, the Second Coming, or the Eternal State after the Millennial Kingdom). There are decent arguments for each of these, but even if all three gifts mentioned in verse 8 were sign gifts (rather than tongues by itself), Christians have not been made complete by having a completed Bible. The Bible lets us "see" God, but not face to face (like verse 12). When **the perfect comes** also does not sound like our individual arrival at maturity. So the best option is that **the perfect** comes when Christ comes and we see Him. > For Christians the eternal state begins either at death, when they go to be with the Lord, or at the rapture, when the Lord takes His own to be with Himself. For Tribulation and Kingdom saints it will occur at death or glorification. (MacArthur) When we are with Him, **the partial**, as in the spiritual gifts as we know them, **will pass away**. I will be able to give you the *perfect* explanation about this, when the perfect comes, and when you won’t need the explanation anymore. # The Personal Illustrations (verses 11-12) There are two illustrations that Paul uses that show how our current experience is not the final experience. **When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.** He uses himself as the example of growth. There is a natural progression of things, and while talking and thinking and arguing like a child is good for when you're a kid, it's not good if it lasts forever. Kids live more in the moment and for the moment. Kids think less about how what they do affects others. Adults have a longer view, and ideally a broader view than themselves. The analogy works with spiritual gifts. They are good for when they are appropriate; they are God-given. But the Corinthians, to some extent, considered tongues-talking as the evidence of greatest maturity. It wasn't. **For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.** The first-century Corinthians had mirrors, usually made of bronze. Even if we have better self-gazing technology, their mirrors weren't bad for the day. It's not a problem that the mirrors didn't work, that they were too blurry or distorted or dark. The problem is that a mirror isn't the person. It's only a mirror image, so there is some degree of separation. That will not always be the case, someday we will see **face to face**. It won’t be an image on a screen, it will be God in person. **Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.**. This is an amazing truth, both in the present and for the future. We are **fully known** by God. He is infinite and knows all things, but this type of **known** is more than data data, it is familiarity. He knows us, He *loves* us. And though we love Him, we do not see Him. We will. And we will enjoy that personal fellowship with Him forever. We do know Him now, but we will know Him even better later. When Paul says that he will know **fully** he doesn't mean that he will become omniscient; finite beings don't become infinite. But there won't be distance between us. # The Paramount Conclusion (verse 13) **So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.** Paul connected faith and hope with love already (verse 7): love "believes all things, hopes all things." And since love doesn't end, love keeps believing and hoping. Unlike spiritual gifts, these cardinal (meaning, of greatest importance, fundamental) virtues will go on and on. They **abide**, they will not pass away when the perfect comes. Faith and hope must look somewhat different when we’re with the Lord, since faith is the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1), and likewise hope that is seen is also not hope (Romans 8:24). But faith, as it is *trust*, won't stop in heaven; we will always be depending on God. So hope, as it is eager and expectant for God to do great things, may only increase in heaven; we will always be ready for God to do more. Faith, hope, and love are the trifecta. They are all great, but the **greatest of these is love**. God is not faith (though He is faithful), God is not hope (though He is steadfast), God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). God was love before Genesis 1:1. God will be love in the new heavens and the new earth for eternity. God enfleshed love when the Son was born of a virgin in Bethlehem. Love will be different then in some ways, less of a challenge, more Trinitarian. # Conclusion The things that some the Corinthians loved and valued weren’t the things that we’re going to last. Wrong assessment happens in the church. It happens in our marriages and families. It happens in our hearts. It happens at Christmas. But because of Christmas it is always the Christmas season. Because of the incarnation and the resurrection, there is always a way to deal with sin, always love that overcomes the separation of death. Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, our Lord, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. His is the Savior, Christ the Lord. The Son in flesh will wipe away more wickedness than the flood. He makes His blessings flow far as the curse is found. The Second Adam from above is reinstating us in His love. Winter is vanishing. Faith overcomes the world (1 John 5:4), love will outlast it. For now, Christmas love is inconvenient, humbling, costly, messy. But also now, Christmas love changes people(s). Love is of cardinal and cosmic greatness. We will never get tired of it, we will never grow too old for it, we will never know what its absence will feel like, we will never question its power. We will see Him face to face, and we will know perfect love.
Christematic Theology (2017)
December 24, 2017 • Sean Higgins
Selected Scriptures # Introduction The man who keeps jumping up and missing a higher level gets a better view of the side of the cliff, even if just in the moments he falls past them, than the man who made the jump successfully and is standing on top. Seeing the standard, and seeking to reach the standard, yet failing to reach the standard, may help one to appreciate the glory of and the difficulty in the standard. Someone who is "there" already, someone who more naturally does a "thing," can't always explain it or value it. A couch to 5k-er knows running differently than a Kenyan. A more introverted kid, who grew up as an only child, handles loud laughing and large group feasting differently. A short person thinks about the top shelf differently, and is more thankful for step stools than a tall person. And image-bearers get a serious kick in the pants with Christmas truth. Christmas is revelation. When Jesus was born godliness was manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). The Word became flesh and showed glory, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he (the Word) has made him (the Father) known” (John 1:18). Christmas reveals attributes of God, His love and initiation and even humility (see Philippians 2:7-8). Being laid in a manger is one thing, but the fulness of God in a body itself is a bigger deal. But Christmas does more than reveal God. Christmas also reveals the “image of God.” We learn about God in Jesus, and we see the standard of what God made us to be in Him. The more we see Jesus the more we see that all of us fall short of the glory of God. This morning I have to goals: 1) to exalt Christ’s incarnation as good news so that we would rejoice in Him, and 2) to examine Christ’s incarnation as the true pattern of image-bearing so that we would reflect Him. # Christ’s incarnation is good news of great joy for all people that a Savior was born to bear our sins. Let’s rewind to the beginning of the tape. Adam was great, really glorious, made in the image and likeness of God. God gave Adam a wife to be responsible for, a garden to be responsible for, a promise of children to be responsible for, and a prohibition against eating certain fruit to be responsible for. He was given broad shoulders for a big task of loving his wife and stewarding his stuff and expanding his influence, to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Then: sin. Adam did not fulfill his responsibility to protect his wife from the ancient dragon. Adam did not fulfill his responsibility to obey nor did he take responsibility for his disobedience. When God came to confront him he blamed Eve, and ultimately God for giving Eve to him. The consequences of Adam’s irresponsibility continue to play out today. God cursed the ground so that man’s responsibilities would be more difficult, dirt with sweat and back-bending discomfort. God judged Eve not only with painfulness in child-bearing but also with a bent toward bossiness. Even internally, the power of sin corrupts desires and distorts reality so that we do not even know what we’re made for, let alone what to do it. Instead of fellowship we experience isolation and bitterness and hostility. Instead of meaningful work we have greed or laziness or frustration. We need redemption and yet we’re blind to that need and to the source of it. Fast-forward the tape. Then: Bethlehem. Then: unto us a Son is given. Then: God with us. Then: the word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory. Then: Christmas. Then: the Second Adam from above. In Jesus we see the image of God that we were created to be. In Jesus all the world comes together. A couple weeks ago Jonathan included a couple verses from “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” in his email to the music ministry group. After sharing the lyrics he wrote, “That sort of systematic theology put to a Christmas melody helps us to see that there are significant and clear reasons to celebrate Christmas.” Absolutely. So what if we call it *Christematic Theology*? Systematic theology is an attempt to arrange and summarize biblical truths in a self-consistent whole. So we could say that Christematic theology aims to see the entire system of reality and revelation fixed together in Christ, and in some ways it starts with Christmas. Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). “In him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). The good news is about the “glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). And in all of those contexts Christ is at work, responsible for creation and for salvation. In Colossians 1 He created all things and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15, 17). So also in Hebrews, the Son is the heir of all things, the one through whom God created the world (Hebrews 1:2). Even now He “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:4). He keeps speaking and things keep existing. The planets spin and orbit, dogs bark, milk spills, whales spout, snow falls, stars shine, kids grow, all because of Christ. He is responsible for it all. Likewise, all of salvation is His work. He was born in order to reconcile “all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross” (Colossians 1:20). He was born to reconcile in His body of flesh by his death (Colossians 1:22). He was born to make purification for sins (Hebrews 1:3). He was born as the God-Man, the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He was born to be the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18). He was born to be the faithful husband laying down His life for His unlovely bride (Ephesians 5:25). Christ was born for taking responsibility. This is amazing. I love the good news that Christ was born to die for all those the Father gave to Him. But like the doctrine of the Trinity, I thought this was great theology but not a pattern. Then a few years ago I read N.D. Wilson’s book, [_Death by Living_](https://www.amazon.com/Death-Living-Life-Meant-Spent/dp/0849920094/). The L2L leaders and wives and elders and wives are talking through it together this year at our Wednesday meetings. It it N.D. offers an inescapable picture of the image of God. When Eve ate the forbidden fruit, what should Adam have done? There are at least a few options. He could have eaten it with her, joined her in disobedience in order to die with her. He could have distanced himself from her, expecting that God could make him another wife if He wanted, so she would die and he wouldn’t. Or, Adam could have done what he was created to do: die *for her*. > Adam would not have been the well-behaved Mormon teenager, abstaining from the fruit. He would have looked at Eve, seen her curse, seen her enemy, and gone after that serpent with pure and righteous wrath. He would have then turned to face the pure and righteous wrath of God Himself (that Adam had just imaged), and he would have said something quite simple, something that would be said by another, thousands of years later. > > “Take me instead.” > > Adam could have been conqueror rather than conquered. Regardless, fallen or unfilled, he was born to die. (_Death by Living_, 80) This is what the Second Adam did. The Second Adam did not distance Himself from the rebels. He clothed Himself with frail humanity. He took on flesh and became like His brothers in every respect so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest (Hebrews 2:17). He sympathizes with our weaknesses, and has in every respect been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). The Savior was born to take responsibility for sin, for us. This is the image of God. # Christ’s incarnation is the pattern of and power for all people to bear God’s image. It is both truth to believe and an example to follow. The incarnation is a reason to rejoice as well as an archetype to reflect. > The apostle Paul clarified this question (in 1 Corinthians 15) when he spoke of the first and second Adam. He uses the name Adam in the sense of the head of a race, one who continues living as part of that entire race and corresponds to its type. (Kuyper, _Pro Rege_) Adam was made in the image of God and he *failed*, not just to obey a rule but to reflect His maker. The Second Adam revealed the image of God in fulness, also not only in His perfect obedience but in His loving sacrifice. What are we asking for when we sing verse 4 of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”? > Adam’s likeness, Lord efface, > Stamp thine image in its place: > Second Adam from above, > Reinstate us in Thy love. > Let us Thee, though lost, regain, > Thee, the life, the inner man: > O, to all, Thy self impart > Formed in each believing heart. The work of the Second Adam is to restore the image of God, fallen in the first Adam. Which means that as the image of the Second Adam is stamped on us, as we are conformed more and more to the image of God in Christ, we will be taking responsibility for others. This includes their unlovely parts. This includes how we celebrate Christmas. We ought to celebrate Christmas *responsibly*, by which I don’t mean soberly, not getting drunk. Don’t get drunk, yes, but that’s because there is more to do. I understand that it is a vacation day for most, as in you don’t have to go in to the office or store or truck or wherever. But there is food to make and tables to set and kids to watch and relatives who are *needy*. It is good to rest, but God gives rest so that we can give ourselves for others. Our sacrifices don’t redeem others, but loving sacrifice for others is a significant part of living as the image of God. When you get time, what do you do with it? When you have money, how do you spend it? When you are strong, who are you serving? I know some with ongoing health problems, chronic and debilitating pain in some cases. Whey they have a day of less pain, or when their meds kick in, they use it to spend on themselves. I’m thankful for the example of my wife who does the opposite. She spends herself on the kids or the school or some big project for someone else. It’s quite difficult to fully embrace our personal responsibilities, let alone as those who are responsible for others. It is not everyone’s first instinct to run toward the fire. But this is Christmas. This is the incarnation of God to deal with our hostile disobedience. He didn’t watch us from heaven, He came to earth to spend Himself on our behalf. As you grow in Christlikeness, you will see more clearly how short you fall of Christlikeness. You will jump, trying to reach the next level, and you will hit your shins on the hard edge. You will jump and grab onto the edge with your fingernails before slipping down. But this is also part of the good news. Christ not only came to forgive us for failing, He promises His own strength for following in His steps. He promises grace to the weak. He exalts the humble. He imparts Himself to every believing heart. When the house is messy and the kids are surly and the relatives are complian-y, when the presents aren’t wrapped yet and the car breaks down, when you’re tired and overwhelmed and you want to get away, remember Christmas. Celebrate Christmas responsibly as an image bearer. # Conclusion Christ made us with the capacity for responsibility, and He took responsibility to save us and fill us to bear His image. > Come behold the wondrous mystery > He the perfect Son of Man. > In His living, in His suffering > never trace nor stain of sin. > See the true and better Adam > come to save the hell-bound man. > Christ the great and sure fulfillment > of the law; in Him we stand. > (“Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery”) The world is blinded from seeing this gospel, of salvation from death and of mankind’s purpose to give ourselves for others. It is no wonder their Christmases are so hollow and disappointing. > And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3–4) We rejoice in the good news of salvation and we are being transformed reflect the Second Adam. May we be worn out as clay pots, showing that the surpassing power belongs to God, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. Merry Christmas, and celebrate Christmas responsibly.
The Return of Christmas (2016)
December 25, 2016 • Sean Higgins
Luke 2:8-20 # Introduction What is the right way to respond to Christmas? I’m not actually concerned with the holiday, with a day off of work on December 25. I mean what is the appropriate response to the birth of Jesus? To the extent that our global holiday appreciates the Word made flesh, that’s great. Jesus had a birthday, and it’s fine with me if we all agree to recognize the same day on the calendar every year. But if we really grasp the meaning, and therefore the importance of the incarnation of God, what will we do? We can learn a lot by considering how a group of pastors responded. These were pastors in Latin; in English we would call them *shepherds*, and not the figurative kind. “There were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” This wasn’t an outdoor, late-night accountability group, it was a plurality of men guarding a group of sheep, either theirs or someone who hired them. Perhaps no one else in the nativity story got it so good as these shepherds. Mary and Joseph both heard from angels, Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20) and Mary had a conversation with Gabriel who visited her (Luke 1:26-39), but the shepherds got a *show*. “An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9). After the announcement, “suddenly there was with the angels a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased’” (Luke 2:13-14). The earthly parents received some explanation beforehand, the shepherds received a same-day report of the birth from an angelic choir. The wise men, who came over a year later, learned about the birth from a star (Matthew 2:2). But the shepherds got a direct and divine announcement that included an invitation to go and see the baby. The shepherds also had the least amount of distance to travel. They were “in the same region,” outside of Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth in Galilee to the city of David (Luke 2:4), a distance of almost 70 miles. Also, as far as we know, none of the shepherds were pregnant. They were also much closer than “the wise men from the east” (Matthew 2:1), a reference to astrologers in Persia or Babylon, a journey of around 900 miles. So the shepherds got a personal invite accompanied by the heavenly host singing and they were relatively close. That’s a trifecta. They invested the least amount of effort in the story and arguably got the greatest return on Christmas. It’s actually astonishing. What had they done to deserve this? Why did God choose them, out of all the people anywhere? Simeon, who was “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him (Luke 2:25), *knew* “by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). Simeon did get to see Jesus, but not in the manger on His birth day. Anna the prophetess also got to see Jesus, since “she did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:36-37). The shepherds weren’t noted for being especially righteous, devoted, prayerful, or eagerly “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Yet think of what the shepherds got. # Think of the theology! When the angel appeared and the glory—the bright, brilliant light—of the Lord shone around them, “they were filled with fear.” That’s appropriate: humble fear. Then hear what the angel said to them. > “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11) This birth is without precedent, but not without prophecy. The shepherds must have picked up on some of the terms, and we are in a privileged position to connect even more. They certainly heard the echoes of Isaiah. Isaiah looked forward to increasing joy brought by a birth. > For to us a child is born, > to us a son is given; > and the government shall be upon his shoulder, > and his name shall be called > Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, > Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. > Of the increase of his government and of peace > there will be no end, > on the throne of David and over his kingdom, > to establish it and to uphold it > with justice and with righteousness > from this time forth and forevermore. > The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. > (Isaiah 9:6–7) Hear the echoes of joy (Isaiah 9:3), unto us (Isaiah 9:6)/you is born, the throne (Isaiah 9:7)/city of David, Savior-Christ-Lord, host (Isaiah 9:7). Here is the world-changer, the world-ruler, the one who carries the burden and increases peace and establishes a throne of justice forevermore. And He is *born this day!* This child is *Savior*. Soteriology is His. All things that belong with salvation are from Him and in Him and for Him. God gave an entire sacrificial system to deal with sin and guilt, a system that pointed to a better sacrifice. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. He rescues, He heals. The Savior is born! He is *Christ*, the Anointed One, the Messiah. This is not Jesus’ last name, it is His title. He was chosen for this office, this responsibility. He is not only the sacrifice, He is the High Priest who presents the sacrifice in order to satisfy God’s righteousness and bring us to God. Christ is born! He is *Lord*, the Master. He redeems and He reigns. He is King, His kingdom is forever, His kingdom is fruitful and all who serve Him flourish. He is in charge by virtue of His possessing all things, the highest authority. The Lord of glory is born! The shepherds may not have understood all the fine theological footnotes or been able to locate all the cross-references in the prophet’s scrolls, but they knew what Savior, Christ, and Lord meant. Lord, in particular, always translated *Yahweh*, the covenant name of *Elohim*=God. Perhaps the shepherds also thought of a little earlier in Isaiah. > Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14) “Immanuel” means “God with us,” as an angel of the Lord told Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:23). How can this be? It would take a few centuries to clarify the relationship of Jesus’ humanity and His deity. But somehow, from a virgin, from Mary, would be born the eternal Word who was God and was with God. The creator of the universe, who sustains it by His Word, had to work out of a womb-office for nine months. The one who clothed mountains with snow was clothed by his mom in swaddling clothes. He causes seed to sprout and crops for food to feed animals, and He was laid in a feeding trough His first night on earth. Here is glory in submission, glory in humility, glory in giving up oneself for others. A few centuries later, Augustine wrote: > Man’s Maker was made man that > the Bread might be hungry, > the Fountain thirst, > the Light sleep, > the Way be tired from the journey; > that Strength might be made weak, > that Life might die. Unlike the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods, unlike those who believed that matter is evil and spirit is good, who were offended by the idea of holiness embodied on earth, Jesus redefined categories of thinking. His birth built new shelves for a library of truths, and the lowly shepherds were lifted into the presence of divine incarnation. How their lives would be changed by these truths. # Think of the doxology! *Doxa* is a Greek word that means “glory.” It is used in verse 9, “the *doxa* of the Lord shone around them.” It is also the first word in the angels’ song, “*Doxa* in the highest to God.” The angels were praising God, saying, perhaps singing in a great chorus. A *doxology* is a hymn or verse in Christian liturgy that glorifies God. We ahem an English, capital D, doxology that we sing a lot (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”). It is a word, *logia*, or expression of *doxa* , glory. So “Gloria in excelsis Deo” is called the “Greater Doxology” and it is the Latin translation of Luke 2:14. The army of angels did not just perform for the shepherds, and yet the shepherds were the *only ones* who witnessed this glorious worship. So how did they respond? “when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made know to us.’” How could they *not*? The announcement and song came with a sign. No more momentous event had ever happened in history up to this point, and only one other event in history has more importance, the death and resurrection of Christ. History itself is divided at this birth line. Of course they had to go. “They went with haste,” certainly appropriate. What did they do with their flock? Does it matter? They were going to meet the Savior, the Christ, the Lord! They were going to meet the fulfillment of a long night of waiting for Israel. They dropped everything for the highest priority of meeting this child. They “found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. And Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The shepherds believed what they were told, so they went and they made it known. Perhaps Joseph and Mary also told them what the angels had revealed to them. And the result was that all “wondered,” they marveled at the significance of it. Mary made a mental collection of these truths and meditated on the nature of this child’s coming into the world. All of this fits with glory. This is how you respond to glory. A unique and glorious birth called for an immediate change of plans on the shepherds’ part. Priorities were rearranged. It upended their night in the field, and certainly the story continues with their whole lives being upended, right? There’s no way that anything could be the same for them after this. But verse 20 takes the most unexpected turn in the story, and, in light of the theology and doxology, it could be called unappreciative, disobedient, even blasphemous. “And the shepherds returned.” Returned where? To the temple for prayer and fasting and psalm-writing? To a king to announce the arrival of the new king? Of course not. They returned to *work*. They went back out to the same field to keep keeping watch over their same flock by night. Shouldn’t they have stayed with Jesus? If they really believed what the angel told them, then why didn’t they follow Jesus’ family around, devoting themselves to serving Jesus and praising Him? Wouldn’t that have been the right response, the *spiritual*, God-honoring response? How could they return to work after this? In the same way, shouldn’t we celebrate Christmas *every* day? Shouldn’t we drop everything we’re doing and sing “Gloria in excelsis Deo” on non-stop repeat until the Second Coming? Who cares about the dumb sheep, we’ve got the Chief Shepherd. Well, no. God forbid. The return of the shepherds to their work was the great Christmas blasphemy that *wasn’t*. It was right that they gave attention to the angel. It was appropriate for them not to cover their ears and scream “la-la-la we can’t hear you!” when the angels sang. It was fitting for them to go see the child and good to talk with Mary and Joseph. It was proper to *wonder*. Then it was right for them to go back to work, to the same responsibilities they had before, though now they did it differently. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” “Glorifying” (*doxazontes*) and “praising” were words used of the heavenly host. The shepherds were changed that night, not mostly in what they did but *how* they did it. They watched their sheep differently. It’s right for us to stop and sing about the angels singing. It’s appropriate for us to gather, in pajamas around a tree or in special dresses or bow ties with the church, and retell what was seen and heard that night so long ago in Bethlehem. We should believe, we should marvel, we should give glory to God in the highest. And if we’ve done Christmas celebrations right, there will not be a let down when we’re done, there will be a lifting up of everything else we return to do. Cold, sleepless nights defending against wild animals, or listening to coughing kids, making food, changing diapers, registering for the census/paying taxes, whatever our station of responsibilities, Christmas will help us be spiritual in bodies. # Conclusion Christmas Sentimentalists hate work, before, on, and after Christmas day. But that means they don’t get it. Christmas understood *balances* us, it does not throw us off balance. It does not wreck the rhythm of our hearts, it is the main beat. If you’ve lost your balance and want to blame the season, okay, but remember? Christmas! Enjoy today. Rejoice exceedingly with great joy today. Let men their songs employ! And then tomorrow, or later today, let men their skills deploy! Go back to work glorifying and praising God for all the good news of great joy for all the people, that a Savior, Christ the Lord was born, and He is coming again for His people.
Light of Light (2015)
December 20, 2015 • Sean Higgins
Selected Scriptures # Introduction We are men of Letters, the Lettermen, a People of Epistles. We traffic in Paul and Peter, John or James, maybe the author of Hebrews once in a while. But each December's end we dip into two (or maybe three) of the Gospels. We read the Bethlehem story so that we can remember the context for the doctrine of incarnation. We know that we need Emmanuel--God with us--because we need atonement. Justification requires a perfectly righteous substitute and only God Himself could be sinless. Besides, only God could make a sacrifice for more than Himself. Baby Jesus grows up to be Sacrifice Jesus so that we can be redeemed. The justified can be sanctified, can evangelize others, and then can turn back to the Epistles again. We're the people who have five fingers on our soteriological hands but no arms (or Arminians) to carry them. Our doctrine is unassailable but also often unattached to life. I hope that our time in Genesis, and also the Psalms, has put some more things of earth together for us, broadened our horizons, and given us more of an appreciation for the Old Testament ground the New Testament walks on. Let's apply that thinking to Christmas. Here we are in the holiday season to celebrate the birth of Jesus (even though He probably wasn't born in December). Here's a question for us to work from: Is Christmas *more* about Creation or Redemption? Is there an end in Emmanuel that we should stop on, at least for a while, or is Emmanuel only a setup for, and therefore subordinate to, Messiah? We might be tempted to argue that since birth chronologically precedes death then Easter is logically dependent on Christmas. But, apart from the prophecies of a virgin birth, which God Himself was under no obligation to reveal, why not give the Second Adam flesh like the First Adam got his? Or why not send the Son in His maturity, maybe with an entourage, rather than as mother and child? I want to argue that Christmas is revelation, that Christmas is a light by which we must see the world. A couple things made me think about this and about its importance for our discipleship. I mentioned last Sunday--mostly in passing--that we were reading Plato's _Republic_ in Omnibus. Plato lived more than 400 years before Jesus was born. He was Greek, not Hebrew, and he didn't have the law of the LORD. He was trying to figure out how the form of and how to form an ideal community apart from divine revelation. One of his famous analogies is about how the sun--especially important in a day long before artificial light--enabled men to see and be seen. > 'the eye’s ability to see has been bestowed upon it and channelled into it, as it were, by the sun.' (235) > 'the ability to be seen is not the only gift the sun gives to the things we see. It is also the source of their generation, growth, and nourishment, although it isn’t actually the process of generation.' (236) Plato then argued that in order to see morality (which was necessary for the community to flourish) the sun was *goodness*. When goodness shines then men can see what is really real, what has true being. Goodness enables things to be seen and therefore to be known. > ‘The sun is the child of goodness I was talking about, then,’ I said. ‘It is a counterpart to its father, goodness. As goodness stands in the intelligible realm to intelligence and the things we know, so in the visible realm the sun stands to sight and the things we see.’ (235) What Plato didn't know is that he was sort of right. What he didn't know is that goodness is a Person and that Person is the Son of God. The apostle John riffed off Plato and revealed the reality in his gospel. The eternal Logos, He who was God and also with God, He who created the world, is also the One by whom men see and are seen. > In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4–5) > The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9) John made the connection between the Logos and the Light because he learned it from Jesus. > Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) "Life" in the "light of life" is the object on which the light shines. The light illuminates the cosmos, the light makes the cosmos visible for us to see for what it is. Any real understanding of life comes from Jesus because He made it and He sustains it. Some don't acknowledge the light. They have their backs turned to the Light and prefer shadows and darkness. Those who know Jesus, who recognize goodness as a person, do not walk in darkness. They are out of the cave to see clearly. We've been singing "O Come, All Ye Faithful" numerous times this Christmas season. The second verse of that song says, "God of God, Light of Light." Jesus is *revelation*--the image of God in flesh, the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature" (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus makes God known (see John 1:18). And Jesus is also the *revealer*--the bright beam by whom we see. Believers know Him and they know *through* Him or *by* Him, they see by His light. Earlier I said that Jesus and His birth illuminate Creation as well as Redemption, cosmology and soteriology, visible and invisible. A good understanding of Christmas turns the lights on and answers (at least) three questions. These answers reorient our prayers and our parties, our devotions and our dinners. *If our Christmas doctrine makes our Christmas dinner dull, then it is (likely dualistic and definitely) diluted doctrine.* # Christmas answers: What is good on earth? I am not talking about the semi-gloss world of Hallmark Christmas editing room filters applied to the footage. I'm talking about the Word becoming flesh original Christmas. In Christ's birth a number of creational goodnesses were affirmed. Earth is good, material is not evil, stuff in itself has no sin. In particular, flesh and bones, the human body, and life are good. When God's Son took on the form of a man He did something humble, but He did not do something unholy. The enfleshing affirmed by the Word-Man reveals that God thinks His creation is *good* even after the fall. There's more. The light shining in Bethlehem's manger affirms the goodness of family, of authority and submission, of relationships. Jesus--the divine Logos--was born with kin, with parents (and with siblings to be born and named later). For that matter, that He was *born* affirms the goodness of babies and, by extension, the goodness of growth. God created the world in which "becoming" is not a second class citizen to "being." Going from immature to mature is good and *not* sinful, not even a defect. The emptying of the Son also reveals that humility is good (see Philippians 2). Of all the ways that God could have come, Christmas sheds light on sacrificial love in small packages. So Christmas shines on the dignity of mankind, on the value of history (since He came "in the fulness of time"), the goodness of place, and even holiday travel. Okay, it became a holiday later, but Joseph and Mary were still traveling to be with family in the city of David. Even the announcement of the Messiah's birth to shepherds watching their flocks in the field, rather than to the philosophers and wise guys of the age, shows that you can't pull wool over the eyes of those who see in the Light of Light. # Christmas answers: What is wrong on earth? What's wrong is when the things that are God-given goods are not seen or received or used for God. What's wrong is darkness and disobedience, and those lead to death. Death is the wages of sin. It began when Adam and Eve started looking at reality differently, when they started to believe that they could *be* gods, to be like God in a way that meant they didn't need God. That is darkness, blindness. They stopped seeing in His light. Christmas reveals that men have been grabby since the garden. Sin is not good because it tries to steal possessions/stuff or recognition/glory or time. That God had to come meant that man was not only wrong, but also that he could not fix it by himself. By the time Christ came, the world lay in "sin and error pining," not knowing Christ, not *wanting* to know Him. Even though the light came into the world, "people loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light lest his works should be exposed" (John 3:19-20). So the light of Christmas shows the dignity of flesh but also the depravity of flesh. The effects of the curse have gone far. This is why Christmas traditions and sentiment and family cannot overcome what's wrong. These things do not have light of their own, they need the light to shine on them. # Christmas answers: Is there hope on and for earth? The answer is, "Of course!" The answer is Christ, the Light of Light, the light of the world. His birth is the good news that goodness enables men to see and to be seen. This good is not a good we can only see in heaven. We do not need to get off the earth before Jesus does us any good. Christmas disciples us to look to Jesus and, when we look to Jesus, we see what is wrong and what is good on earth. Christmas reveals the deadliness of envy and lies and gluttony, of pride and grabbing like the first Adam. Christmas also disciples us in the light of grace and truth and thankfulness, of humility and giving. The second Adam from above is effacing the first Adam in us. As He does so, our increasing likeness to the new Adam includes cinnamon and butter and bread and yeast and hops and child-proof toy packaging. It also includes patience with immature children--which is okay, you are helping them to grow up, as well as grumpy, complaining kids--which is okay in a different way because Jesus *came* for sinners. # Conclusion Plato described how men need to be reoriented in order to know reality. Reoriented is a good word, though we could also say that men must be born again. We also can say that "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4). That "God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). Do not try to do Christmas without the light, without the Son as the sun. He is the light of the world by which we see everything good and everything wrong, Who enables us to know which is which, and to Whom we give thanks for grace and truth. Christmas light reveals God-given dimensions so that our celebrations won't be as flat as the page in Luke 2 we're reading from on Christmas morning. He enables us to call men out of darkness and to live in Christmas delight.
Anytime Advent (2014)
December 21, 2014 • Sean Higgins
1 Thessalonians 4:1-18 # Introduction I wanted to work through 1 Thessalonians for a couple reasons. One reason is that it opens a great big bay window onto the attitudes of leaders and the sort of expectations they should have for those they serve. The first three chapters display so much thankfulness and affection for the believers from Paul and his missionary team. Their ministry was to people (not to pad apostolic stat sheets) and they realized that their commendation depended on the people doing well. Loving the church like a mother and father, they desired growth and maturity and stability of faith for all the believers. The Thessalonians were doing great and had room to grow. Paul's prayer for them in 3:11-13 condensed all his longing for their progress. He desired that their love increase and abound more and more into a blameless holiness. It's part of walking worthy of God who called them into His kingdom and glory (2:12). Now that we reach 4:1 Paul turns to give more specific instructions for how to do that. Another reason I wanted to work through this epistle is in order to trace the strands of Jesus' coming. His *parousia* (Greek) or *adventus* (Latin) could be anytime. As we're in a season that disciplines us to remember His first advent, our anticipation for His second advent should be bright. The paragraphs of 4:13-18 and 5:1-11 are entire sections concerning His coming, as have so many sentences in the letter already. I have preached a ten part series multiple times on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 alone. Besides, there are a baker's dozen books in the _Left Behind_ series. That isn't to say that we should get our eschatology from those novels, but to say that there is a lot to say about what happens in 4:13-18. In between, in verses 9-12, imagine the number of messages that could be given with a Kuyperian understanding of work in the world in light of being taken out of the world. But by God's grace, we'll get what we can out of seeing them next to each together. There are four paragraphs in chapter four. Verses 1-2 are a general exhortation to Christians to walk on, to make progress in maturity. Then Paul makes three specific exhortations. Verses 3-8 urge a sanctified sex life. Verses 9-12 urge mutual love and diligent work. And verses 13-18 urge us to encourage one another that Jesus is coming. Or: be holy, work hard, give hope. # Walk On (verses 1-2) Paul transitions to exhortations in light of previously given instructions and Timothy's report. > Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:1–2) **Finally** doesn't always mean that the last amen is coming quickly. It could be translated, "Now," or "Further" with a move into exhortation. Paul's tone is earnest but not domineering, **we ask and urge** while also appreciating their progress, **just as you are doing**. The aim was **to walk and to please God** and, while they were walking down the right road already, they could walk and please Him **more and more**. This can always be said, but Paul has some specific steps in mind in light of **what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus**. Three reminders/clarifications follow. # Be Holy (verses 3-8) Verse 3 begins a specific application and therefore can be understood as a new section. But the verse starts with "for" so it should also be understood as a further explanation of a walk that pleases God. Believers must learn a sanctified sex life. > For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3–8) There are a half-dozen explicit statements in the New Testament revealing God's will and here is one of them. What does God want for your life? You may not know exactly what job He wants you to take, what college He wants you to attend, or what spouse He wants you to marry. But you can know for certain that He wants your **sanctification**. What pleases Him, what He purposes for us (see verse 7) is increasing separation from sin and increasing consecration to Him. Sanctification is a comprehensive process, not like cleaning three rooms of your life by throwing all the junk into the other two rooms. Even so Paul focuses sanctification on the purity of relationships. Did Timothy report that they were having issues? Or, since Paul was in Corinth, did he see the problems of pagan sexuality all around him and offer a preventative word? Regardless, he defines sanctification in this context: **that you abstain from sexual immorality**. **Sexual immorality** is the word *porneias*, a word that covers it all: adultery, fornication, prostitution, pornography, incest, homosexuality. The battle plan is to fight by fleeing, **abstain** but an even better translation would be "keep away, be distant, avoid contact." I could abstain from smoking even in Denny's in 1990. But I avoid rattlesnake pits altogether. Joseph wasn't raptured, but ran so fast from Potiphar's wife that his clothes were left behind. Purity is a physical and emotional and theological issue. While there are different ideas about what Paul means in verse 4, I believe that the most likely view is to see this as a call to everyone, man and woman, married and unmarried, to be disciplined in body for sake of **holiness and honor** regardless of what shame your unbelieving friends throw at you. They live **in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God**. Their passions control them because their affections aren't for God. They're in love with "love" and Taylor Swift and physical pleasure because that's what their gods are like, that's the best they know. Christians are to be counter-cultural. Lack of purity in heart leads to lack of purity in parts and that leads one to **transgress and wrong his brother**. If she's married, she isn't yours. If she isn't married, she still isn't yours. She belongs to her spouse or her future spouse. You steal what doesn't belong to you and mess with someone else's property. That's trespassing and trespassers will be prosecuted. The **Lord is [the] avenger in all these things**. The Lord wants and even empowers our holiness. He called us to it and **gives his Holy Spirit**. Don't disregard Him on how clear He's been about His will. Be holy. Pursue sanctification. Avoid sexual immorality. # Work Hard (verses 9-12) It could appear as if there were a couple separate issues in these verses, but probably they belong together. > Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thessalonians 4:9–12) **Now concerning** suggests that Timothy reported this specific question. But did they wonder "Should we love the brothers?" when he says they were obviously doing that already? Or might they have asked, "We love the brothers, but what exactly does it look like during the work week?" On one hand, they were already loving. Their love was **taught by God** Himself. He directly instructed and motivated their affections. Their love was also extensive, extending **to all the brothers throughout Macedonia**. But *something* could be better. So, **we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and....** The more and more led to the particular of sexual purity in the previous paragraph. Here more and more leads to a particular way to work. There are three parts to a workstyle of brotherly love: **to aspire to live quietly**--not irritating, **to mind your own affairs**--not interfering, and **to work with your hands**--not inactive. In other words, don't poke others in the eye, or stick your nose into their business, or sit on your thumbs. To love brothers we need to not expect them to support us, nor should we take our idle time to meddle in all their stuff. Those Christians stuck on Facebook and blog comments might do well to apply this counsel. > [N]othing is more unseemly than a man that is idle and good for nothing, who profits neither himself nor others, and seems born only to eat and drink. (John Calvin) The effects are to **walk properly before** the unbelieving world ("with the respect of outsiders" NIV) and to be independent. "Paul was telling the Thessalonians to be less frantic, not less exuberant" (Constable, quoted in Hiebert). # Give Hope (verses 13-18) We can obey this passage *and* be more hopeful even if we don't understand exactly how it all goes up. > But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18) In this paragraph eschatology is not a question it is an answer. More than an answer, eschatology is for encouragement. It should be comfort at gravesides and funeral homes (Green) more than curriculum in seminary classrooms. And this comforting counsel is not for professionals to use, it is for everyone to use in order to encourage each other. The will of God is for us to know about and talk about and look forward to the *rapture*. The issue was that somehow the Thessalonians came to believe that those believers who died, those who **are asleep**--a reference to the temporary state of the body, not the soul--would *not* see or participate in Christ's return. The believers who were still alive were grieving like heathen about it. Unbelievers have no real hope for their dead. Christians do. **We believe** (*credimus* in Latin) **that Jesus died and rose again**. That's our basic gospel confession. Every good argument Christians have starts with this premise. And **even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep**. Physical death does not keep any Christian from physical resurrection. They won't even be at a disadvantage. **We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep**. This doesn't mean that Paul was wrong because he died before the Lord's return, but it does mean that he expected an imminent, anytime advent. When the Lord returns like this, a generation of believers will be alive to see it. Every generation of the church has this hope. Augustine said, "The last day is hidden, that every day may be regarded." Look at the dramatic nature of this event: **the Lord himself will descend from heaven with the cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God**. There's no mention of anything that needs to happen before this. It happens next on the eschatological timeline. This advent could happen anytime. When it happens it will be quick: **the dead in Christ will rise first**. They will not be left behind or left out. **Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air**. Will planes crash when Christian pilots are ejected from their seats? I remember watching "A Thief in the Night" and other 80s rapture movies during Sunday evening services when I was growing up. Is that what we should envision about the end times? Does believing in the rapture warrant the mockery that so many Evangelicals dish out? The focal point here in verse 17 is **caught up**, a word that means "taken suddenly" or "snatched away." Every major English translation uses "caught up" (except for the Good News Bible, "gathered up"). The Latin translation is *rapiemur* with the noun form *raptus* from which we get our English word *rapture*. So, according to Paul, we will be **caught up**, we will be *raptured* at some point in the future. After what? To what place? What happens next? None of those are explained in verse 17, but verse 17 does teach a rapture of some kind. The encouragement comes because **we will always be with the Lord**. This is very similar to the encouragement Jesus gave His disciples in John 14:2-3 when He promised to come and to take them to a place He's prepared for them (in His Father's house in heaven) in order that they would be together with Him. The application is built-in: **Therefore encourage one another with these words**. It wasn't Paul, or even the leaders, doing the work, but **one another**. They know enough not to be discouraged about the state of their sleeping loved ones. No one would miss out on being with the Lord. Here are a few more thoughts. First, this rapture has not happened yet. Whatever you think about Revelation and tribulation and AD 70 and the millennial kingdom, the dead and living in Christ have not yet been caught up in the air to meet Jesus. If that has happened, then all of us are in big trouble. This rapture is *future*. Second, this rapture is imminent. Paul anticipated it could happen suddenly at any moment, anytime. As in 1 Corinthians 15:52, it will happen in a twinkling of an eye, and because he says "we who are alive," he figures he could be alive for it. "Had this not been the Thessalonians’ outlook, their question regarding the dead in Christ and exclusion from the *parousia* would have been meaningless" (Robert Thomas). This rapture is *at hand*. Third, this rapture is encouraging. That's the reason Paul talks about it. And actually, if he expected believers to go through a great tribulation before this event, then wouldn't it have been better to encourage the Thessalonians that their loved ones not only wouldn't miss out on Christ's triumph, but they would miss out on the worst persecution? It would be *better* to be dead. This would have been a great time for such an argument if it were true. But this rapture is *good news* for every believer. Additionally, while it is possible that we would go out to meet Christ in the air and then come right back down to earth, when do we get to go to those rooms in heaven He's prepared? If we go up into the clouds, get glorified (1 Corinthians 15:50-53), then immediately return to earth, aren't we missing other parts of the eschatological plan? Where are the bowls, the broken seals, and the angels of judgment? # Conclusion We'll learn more about the future in the beginning of chapter five with more reason to encourage one another (see verse 11). For now we ought to be more and more pure, more and more loving by being diligent, and more and more encouraging to one another in light of the end times. We have an imminent, immediate need for more holiness, more love, more work, and more hope. How great is chapter four?! It tells us how we can honor our brothers, win respect from outsiders, encourage one another, and all as we do the will of God! Are you concerned to walk and please God more and more? Are you concerned to live in honor regarding purity of affections and relationships? Are you concerned to live and work in such a way that unbelievers take note? Are you concerned to anticipate the anytime advent in patience and hope? Are you making room for some understanding of rapture? We are not like those who have no hope, and ought not to be like those who have no holiness.
Good Christian Men, Rejoice (2013)
December 22, 2013 • Sean Higgins
Selected Scriptures # Introduction The incarnation of God requires our response. Just as the doctrine of the Trinity shapes our responsibilities and relationships, so also the enfleshing of the second Person of the Trinity defines glory and drives humility. God gives us much grace every twelve months as He brings around the opportunity to sing of our Savior's birth. As we make much of Christ, God makes us more like Christ. I'll admit that I'm not much for holiday sermons. Mother's Day and Memorial Day are fine but warrant mentions, not entire messages. Easter is different because it always falls on a Sunday, it is the reason why we meet every first day of the week in the first place. Christ's resurrection created an army of immortal worshippers who cannot be defeated by sin or the ancient serpent. Even when Christmas has fallen on a Sunday in the past (most recently 2011, and not again until 2016), it has seemed wise to me not to get "swept up" in the season. I mean, look how many people abuse and misuse their Christmas break. Better to keep our heads down and eyes closed, to act like we're above the silliness and selfishness. Of course, if God Himself had remained above the silliness and selfishness and sinfulness of men, then we wouldn't have a Savior. We ought to celebrate His coming *somehow* and, though the Lord hasn't ordered a Christmas sermon, He has ordained one for us today. The Gospel of John depends on Christmas. True, John doesn't retell the nativity story like Matthew and Luke, but he doesn't even make it to Grandma's house before the meat falls off the plate. The eternal was-God-and-was-with-God Word got a body (John 1:1, 14). The one who made all things (John 1:3) made Himself into a human baby. A few centuries later Athanasius marveled that Jesus held the universe together (Colossians 1:17) from His office in the womb of Mary. Maybe the key to Jesus' authority, at least from John's perspective, is that He was *sent* by the Father. While we don't have the minutes from their planning meetings, we know that the Trinity did not argue about how Jesus would *enter* the world. Their mind was made up long before the prophecies in the Old Testament. Yet it still seems like it would have been awkward when the day came for the Son to finally suit up. How many times had He and the Father talked about it? We know the Father wanted everything to be "just right" because He loved the world; that's why He gave His Son for them. The Father must love Christmas. The Spirit must love December, too. The inception of the incarnation idea was just as much His, and the conception in Mary's uterus as well as the inspiration of the Bible foretellers and forth-tellers are His explicit work. It's as if the Holy Spirit can't get enough of telling the Son's story: "Did you see that He was breastfed, burped, and put to bed? Then we had an angel squadron sing about it to some shepherds." The Spirit makes a big deal about the Son's birth because His birth is part of His glory. So even though Christmas in our culture is broken in so many ways, how can a proper understanding of the Savior's birth help us? How should we respond as Christians during this season? # Christmas Defines Glory It's at this point that the Spirit begins to fix our broken Christmas. Remember the well known announcement of the angels to the shepherds: > suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14) The phrase "in the highest" contrasts God in heaven with peace on earth, but location isn't as important as intensification. God deserves greatest props. Why? Because God sent God and the Lord of glory was *born*. Bethlehem was the first stage of His incarnational ministry. In John 8 Jesus told men how they would recognize that He'd been sent by His heavenly Father; "he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him" (John 8:26). They'd grasp His divine nature when He was lifted up (see the entire paragraph, John 8:21-30). > “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:28–29, ESV) The nature of sacrifice comes from the nature of God. Jesus' sacrifice was divine; He gave Himself under divine authority and for divine pleasure. When Jesus talked about loving sacrifice, when He picked up the towel to wash His disciples' feet (John 13:1-17), when He said a buried seed would grow into quite a harvest (John 12:23-26), He'd already been stooping the whole time. The stooping started under a star. Jesus embodied glory. In other words, disembodied glory isn't Christian, and a glorious Christmas for Christians has to get out of the idyllic Kinkade canvas and into the kitchen sink with some dish soap on the hands. It was part of His glory to take on skin, not to wish He was out of it. How can so many Christians think that the best way to honor Jesus' coming into the world is to act like we're too important to be bothered by it? Do lots of people worship the gods of lots of stuff? Yes. But the true God joined Himself to to materialness, let alone promising good earthly blessings. Glory isn't leaving the body, it's living in one well. Our bodies are to be living sacrifices. Jesus' was. I'm not saying that it's not hard. The noise is not always harmonious, let alone intelligible. The smells may be pleasant, and other times they are sickening. The company isn't always who you'd choose if you could choose your family. But again, Christmas is the most anti heaven-as-a-monastery statement ever. Jesus came, He nursed, He cooed, He bled. It was different glory than He had before He came, but still glory critical for our redemption. # Christmas Drives Humility Not only does the incarnation shape our understanding of glory, it also raises the standard for humility. Brian Regan has a bit about his social fantasy where he was one of the astronauts that walked on the moon. That story beats every other story at a dinner party. But if you were at a table and the object of the discussion was to tell how humble you were, no one beats Jesus' story. It's part of the reason that early church had so many difficulties explaining the nature of Jesus (the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed are two quick examples). If He really was God, He wouldn't have done *that*. No way God would stoop so low. Paul not only doesn't run from this reality, He commends this mindset to the Philippians. > Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5–11, ESV) We are to approach one another with the same thinking that Christ had on bodily entry. What we know about His mom (an unwed teenager), His first room (a barn or cave), His first clothes, was nothing impressive. In fact, most of it was contemptible. In a lot of ways, it got worse from there. Obscurity is better than informed objection. Being a helpless baby is better than being a full grown, adult martyr. This is the Lord and Master serving. The Passover footwashing was nothing compared to the humility of His birth. # Christmas Demands Joy What shall we then do? Obviously we ought to pursue glory through humility; "Adam's likeness, Lord, efface, Stamp Thine image in it's place." And at Christmas, for Christians, our humility should sound like rejoicing. "Hark! The herald angels sing, 'Glory to the new-born King! Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies." The real reason I spent so many Christmases not being glad is because I was too serious to rejoice, too *self* serious that is. Chesterton once talked about the heavy burden of pride, how laughter is truly light. > [P]ride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One "settles down" into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness...solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. (_Orthodoxy_, 118) When we truly know Christ we will be humbled and that will come out in believing laughter. Not only should we rejoice, but we should rejoice "out there," rejoice in the world and expect that they will ask us to keep it down. They will want our happy holidays to be a little less happy and a lot less holy. They will stomach our "spiritual" celebrations as long as they are "spiritual." We started to read _Beowulf_ this past week in Omnibus. During our discussion on Thursday Jonathan pointed out a similarity between Grendel--the man-eating monster of mead-hall, and the Grinch who stole Christmas. Both meanies couldn't handle the party. The poet of _Beowulf_ put it: > Now a demon demented, in darkness a prowler, > Held a hard grudge when he heard with great pain > The great and good with glory were feasting. > The scop(1) sang their songs, and the strings were well played, > The harp filled the hall, a herald of joy. > So skilled in his singing, he sang the creation, > The Almighty had ordered the earth to be fashioned, > Shining, the single plain surrounded with waters. > He summoned the splendor of sun and of moon, > Lifting as lamps their lights for the earthwaru(2). > He filled all the fields with fruit for the tasting, > He gave us such greenery, good leaves and branches, > And made man and beast that all move in His quickening. > (1) a court singer/poet > (2) a back coinage from helwaru, meaning an inhabitant of Hell. > (Translated by [Doug Wilson](http://www.amazon.com/Beowulf-Douglas-Wilson/dp/159128130X)) Grendel's madness wasn't aimed at Christmas specifically, but the point fits. Theodor Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss), in _The Grinch Who Stole Christmas_ had the Grinch looking down at Who-ville on the night before Christmas, : > If there is one thing I hate, it's the noise, noise, noise! These are consistent with the worldview of John. The world hates true love and true joy. It reminds them what they don't have. # Conclusion Christmas is awful. The "most wonderful time of the year" does not explain the increase in suicides and hangovers. Not just for those who are alone, but for those who are heart-dead. Sure, some people may only come to church on Christmas and Easter, but that's a sign that God's Spirit hasn't let them go entirely. Something here can fix them, even if they don't know exactly what it is. It's Christ. If Christmas is an idol, Christmas will be miserable. If Christ is Lord of it, Christmas will be merry. If Christ is Lord everything can be used for His glory: food, gifts, decorations, family. If He is not served as Lord, commercialism nor asceticism can fill the heart. A full heart only comes from Christ no matter the season. Good Christian men, rejoice! The Spirit convicts the world by our glad, loving sacrifices. The Spirit draws the world by our glad surrender and singing.
Images of Christmas (2011)
December 25, 2011 • Sean Higgins
Colossians 1:15 # Introduction What image comes to mind when you think about Christmas? Do you think about a decorated tree, with presents all around it? Do you think about a table full of steaming food, surrounded by family? Do you think about snow, hot chocolate, cookies, candles, credit card bills, long lines at WalMart? Or if you're more spiritual, do you think about a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, where ox and ass are feeding? Nothing is necessarily wrong with any of those images but, when we think about Christmas, the central image should be the Word becoming flesh, Immanuel--God with us, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, Jesus born in Bethlehem. What do we learn from the original Christmas image? Do we not, in the incarnation, see the image of true man as he is made in the image of the true God? In Jesus, we see both what humanity looks like and what deity looks like. At Christmas, we see what *we're* supposed to be like. We are image-bearers. A few months ago, we spent a couple Sunday evenings studying Genesis 1 and 11 as we considered that God made man, Adam and Eve, in His image. Human beings are the crown of God's creation, the only beings privileged to reveal God's glory by reflecting Him in the world. We considered that there are a least two general ways of describing how we bear God's image. # [Fallen] Relationship The Trinity deliberated about making man: "let *us* make man in *our* image, after *our* likeness" (Genesis 1:26) and, in order to accomplish this, He made "male and female." > So God created man in his own image, > in the image of God he created him; > male and female he created them. > (Genesis 1:27) It was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18) because God Himself has never been alone. We are made for relationship, for intimacy, family, society, because of who God is, not simply because of what God wanted. After God created then He commissioned Adam and Eve regarding relationship: "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." They were meant to know one another, enjoy each other, share with each other, serve one another, and spread out. Not only did men have horizontal relationships, but also vertical, in fellowship with God. # [Fallen] Responsibility God gave Adam responsibility in the garden a few hours before the nap that changed everything (Genesis 2:21). Adam was put in the garden to tend it (Genesis 2:15). God also provided man with responsibility to name the animals (Genesis 2:19-20), which was part of God's clear mandate to the man and woman. As they filled the earth, they also were to "have dominion and subdue the earth" (Genesis 1:28). These responsibilities were no less Trinitarian, no less a reflection of God who formed and filled His world. Though men don't create out of nothing, they still have responsibility to take responsibility as image-bearers. The first Adam was created from dust, given life to reflect God in the world. Within a few days, or maybe a few weeks, Adam blew it. He disobeyed the only prohibition God gave and subsequently suffered the consequences. Sin's effect hit at his very being. Sin broke relationship, it separated, both between man and God and between the man and woman. Sin also brought God's judgment on responsibilities. Adam made excuses, he passed the blame rather than shouldering fault. His work in the ground was made more difficult and woman would bear children in pain (Genesis 3:16-19). The image of God in man was not totally lost, but it was fallen, marred. He was still made for relationship and responsibility, but he could no longer reflect the Trinity's life because man's spirit was dead. Sin keeps men from faithful image-bearing, sin keeps men from even knowing and seeing God's image accurately. What could fix the broken image? Christmas, by which we mean, the incarnation. # Incarnation Christmas really is good news. The incarnation reveals the true image of man, what man was meant to be which is the true image of God, which Jesus fulfills. Jesus is the image of God. > He [God's beloved Son] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15) > For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, (Colossians 1:19) > For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9) > And the Word (see John 1:1-3) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) > Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1–3) In Him the fulness of deity dwells. In Him the reality of humanity shines. In light of the two categories of image-bearing, consider Jesus as the ultimate image-bearer. He is the supreme self-disclosure of God, the clear revelation of God Himself. ## Incarnate Relationship Jesus is the ultimate image-bearer who reveals the relational nature of God. He taught us some about relationships among the Trinity, in particular, between Father and Son. Christmas is the ultimate revelation of God's relational nature with man. God took on flesh and dwelt among us. Not God *at* us, but God *with* us. He lived and communicated and taught and discipled and served and died for men. > No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:18) He did so in great humility. He came as a baby without global fanfare. It was relatively quiet and unknown. And He came as a servant (cf. Philippians 2:4-11). When we want to learn about God's relational character, we look to Christ. ## Incarnate Responsibility Jesus did not come to men in a good situation. He came to rebels. He came to weak, mortal flesh. He takes responsibility, for others. He fulfills God's promise. > an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: > “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:20–23) Then, at the right time: > For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8) > And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Colossians 1:21–22) He is the ultimate responsibility taker and so the ultimate image of God. Not only that, His responsibility enables relationship. This is the work of reconciliation. He redeems us from sin and reconciles us to God that we might fellowship with God and with each other. > the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:2–3) With the incarnation, with Christmas, we understand that: 1. God does not despise humanity, even after the fall. The incarnation says God loves us and relates to us. Love makes lovely. God's initiated and pursued the unlovely, the difficult, the dead. That's how powerful His love is. That's the love that Christmas displays. 2. God demonstrates true humanity, true image-bearing in flesh, through His Son. 3. God desires men to bear His image, not only as He created them, but also as He redeems them through His Son. So, in Christ, we see the height of humanity. He is the aim of image-bearing. He also redeems our relationships and responsibilities, He enables us to bear God's image. That's what Christmas brings. # Redeemed Responsibility He has redeemed us for purpose, to reflect Him as we are conformed to Christlikeness, as we live our Christ at home with our families (part of relationship), as we worship and make disciples, and as we pick up our cultural tasks given by God in Genesis 1. Because of Christmas, our labor done in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). # Redeemed Relationship He has redeemed us to reflect Him as we live out the gospel toward each other. Husbands die for their wives. We humbly serve others as more important then ourselves because of Christ's example (again, Philippians 2). We are many members but unified as one body (John 17; 1 Corinthians 10). We have true fellowship with God and with each other (again, 1 John 1), and this is not merely with those that we find easy to get along with. <a href="http://trinityevangel.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/christmaschiasmus.png"><img src="http://trinityevangel.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/christmaschiasmus-440x330.png" alt="" title="christmaschiasmus" width="440" height="330" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-1148" /></a> A Christmas chiasmus (a parallel structure in an "x" shape like the Greek letter "chi," the letter that also starts Χριστός, *Christos*, Christ). # Conclusion What image comes to mind when we think about Christmas? The image of true man and true God--Jesus. His incarnation reveals God among us. How do we see this today? We ought to see the image of God in each other. We were made to bear God's image, and because of Jesus, we now work and relate as He made us to. We have His example and His enablement. Because of our union with Him, we are His body and we have His power. Not only in Him do we see God's image perfectly, or, what we did and do wrong, but also in Him we are made able to reflect well again. In His person is revelation. By Jesus we know God. In His propitiation we are redeemed. By Jesus we relate to God. Through His power we obey God. By Jesus we live for God. Because of the incarnation, we understand, we fellowship, and we enjoy God. It's what we were made for in the first place. Therefore, every Christian should be an image of Christmas. We are not God in flesh, but we do have God's Spirit in us in flesh. We incarnate, we image, we reflect God to the world. > In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:9–12) Where will men see God's image? In us as we love one another. From the last verse of Charles Wesley's *Hark the Herald Angels Sing*: > Adam's likeness, Lord, efface, > Stamp Thine image in its place: > Second Adam from above, > Reinstate us in Thy love. > Let us Thee, though lost, regain, > Thee, the Life, the inner man: > O, to all Thyself impart, > Formed in each believing heart. When we take responsibility to give gifts and provide food and to humbly serve one another, we show Christmas truth. We are images of Christmas. When we do this for the sake of fellowship with others, to bring people together, to share life and enjoy each other, we are images of Christmas. > Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49)
Christmas History and Hope (2011)
December 18, 2011 • Sean Higgins
1 Peter 1:1-16 # Introduction There may be more "Christian" Scrooges than atheist ones, or at least the Christian Scrooges do more damage to Christmas than the atheists. "Bah, humbug" may not be our motto, but the permanent scowl on some of our faces from the middle of November until after Christmas makes it appear that way. We have all the high-road, spiritual arguments, and they all smell like rotten egg nog. We see the commercialism, the overindulgence, the thorough selfishness that this season brings out in people and we want to run. From another angle, we see the superficial, oblivious, mindless shadowing that Christians do. This shouldn't surprise us. Men are sinners, whether they are wicked like irreligious people or wicked like religious people. Christmas is another time for them to put wickedness on display, one way or another. But here is the worst irony about Christians and Christmas: our tendency to complain and/or run away is *exactly the opposite point of Christmas*! God sees sinners, and rather than moan about it or stay away, He sent His Son into it to save us. How we respond reveals what we really believe about the incarnation. Our attitude about Christmas tells us what we really believe about Christmas. Our usual reactions fit with our faith, or, as it turns out, what is really a *lack* of faith. Our tendency to disapprove and disconnect demonstrates our worldview and our worship. Namely, we think God isn't happy about this world and wants nothing to do with it. Because of that, it shouldn't surprise anyone that our rejoicing over things past was weak and our anticipating is always just a bit out of reach. I'm glad for the Spirit's conviction and a renewed desire for a better perspective. Now I'm seeing more and more soul-wetting and faith-building connections and am excited to talk about Christmas history and hope. I'd like us to consider Christmas history and hope from an unlikely advent passage, 1 Peter 1. I only recently recognized the happy and holy holiday implications in a few of these paragraphs. Peter covers an eternity of history, expectations of hope, and how both history and hope change how we react and act now, even at Christmas. # The Eternal Plan (1-5) The most radical swing on the timeline happens right away in verses 3-5. > Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, > To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: > May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Peter 1:1–2) > Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5) This is really important, Trinitarian history. The Father chose; believers are **elect...according to the foreknowledge of God the Father**. The Son redeems **with his blood**, and the Spirit sanctifies. We participate in the plan by **his great mercy** that **has causes us to be born again**. That was His plan before creation and His plan extends into a forever future, giving us an **inheritance** that is too great to adjectivize except in the negative, what it *isn't*, **imperishable, undefiled, and unfading**. We live and are **guarded *by faith* for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time**. Christmas, the incarnation, is at the center of this plan. # The Present Heaviness (6-9) Knowing God's sovereign, merciful ordaining of salvation makes all the difference right now. > In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6–9) During the present time, we cry, bearing up under a variety of heavy trials. The ESV's **grieved by various trials** is alright, but the old KJV always gets it with **in heaviness through manifold trials**. Following the illustration into the next verses, we are currently under fire, and it hurts. But these afflictions don't crush us, because with have *faith*. Our faith enables us to **rejoice** in these trials, first because we know that God is for our salvation. We also rejoice because we know that the suffering is strengthening our faith, purifying our faith and preparing us for glory. Right now we live by faith. **You have not sees him** and **you do not now see him**. That we don't see him doesn't stop us from loving Him nor does it stop us from rejoicing with **joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory**. We also wait by faith for the ultimate, final **salvation of [our] souls**. How can we live like this? Do we have any examples? Do we have any history for hoping like this? # The Past Prophecy (10-12) Yes we do, and many of them wrote about it for us already. > Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10–12) God's Spirit moved in the Old Testament prophets to write about the coming of Christ. Some of what they recorded they didn't understand, so they **searched and inquired carefully** about the **sufferings...and subsequent glories** of Christ. In other words, they studied *their own stuff* to learn more about the season and timing of the Savior's birth, as well as His sacrifice. Why does Peter insert this paragraph? A transition between verse 9 and verse 13 is easier to see without verses 10-12. Sure, the OT guys, along with the angels, longed to know what we know. Peter says that **it was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but** us, those who've heard **the good news**. How is that possible, when now we know many of the things they didn't, they couldn't know? It's because God wants His people to trust Him, and their is a whole history of hopers in things that had not happened in order to serve us, to prepare us to hope in the things that have *not* yet happened from our position. Things weren't good for them. They were often in desperate need of deliverance. Because of unbelief and disobedience, whole centuries went by in captivity. They also had the run of the mill daily stresses and sins to deal with and, all along, they had to keep looking for their Messiah. The Old Testament prophets, and those who believed them, provide a pattern, albeit not a perfect one, of how to live while waiting. They served us as they lived by faith. Their eager expectations for Christ's coming model for us how to expect His next coming. # The Present Hope (13-16) We live a certain way now. > Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:13–16) We were **born again to a living hope** (v.3), but living in hope takes work. Peter urged his readers to be **preparing your minds for action** or "girding up the loins of your mind", which is especially important for running through a world of heaviness. The heaviness, however, can help Christians to **set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ**, when Christ comes again. In the meantime, we live by faith, in hope, and in holiness. Part of what it means to keep looking to God is to see His character and, since we become like what we worship, we are to live holy because He is holy. If **holy conduct** means *avoiding* all earthly things, then God is not holy, right? Being set apart can't be only a distance from unholiness, otherwise God's Son . Christmas, and Christ's life on earth, also reminds us that living on earth isn't unholy, having bodies isn't unholy, eating and drinking isn't unholy. How we live, how we respond, how we treat one another, how we party may be holy or unholy. But the reality of Christmas implies that living holy is possible on the planet. Jesus already did it. # Conclusion Christmas time calls us to remember history, as far back as God's gracious choice to save a people for Himself. His intention has been the same forever and He hasn't given up on it yet. The incarnation, followed by His sacrifice like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:18-21), is the center of His historical work. His people looked forward to it by faith and now His people look back at it in faith. He's purposefully working to stretch and strengthen our faith because He's got us in fellowship with Him, until the time when we fellowship with Him face to face and our salvation is fulfilled. We read the prophets because they told us what they were looking for, much of which has happened historically, that confirms God's Word. They also, along with the apostles, tell us more about the events to come. Advent celebrations are crucial because the future is as certain as the past, as far back as the cross, to the manger, to God's Triune counsels before creation. Now, the advent/Christmas season, is a great time to practice. Kids lead us here, but this is a reason for us to repent. Sure, it is possible to blow Christmas in any number of ways. Maybe the worst way to blow it is by refusing, or at least waiting, to rejoice. I used to think, in light of all the abuses and shallowness of current Christmas behavior, good Christian men should hold off on their rejoicing until He comes. That's exactly the opposite of Peter's description. Yes, it's bad. Life is a multitude of heaviness and fire. We don't see Him. Whoa are us. No! We love Him! We rejoice in Him with joy inexpressible and full of glory! We live before Him, constantly reminding ourselves of His promises and His person, pursuing holiness while we wait, just as the OT prophets. And we have even better info to go on. The worst Christian Scrooges are: * Grouchy, ungrateful. Not rejoicing is sin. Failure to rejoice now because things are busy or bad is a failure of faith. It is also a failure to appreciate the gift of God's Son. * Stingy. Not giving sacrificially is sin. Failure to give is a failure of worship. It is also a failure to live out the giving nature of our God. * Doubtful. Not believing and hoping is sin. Failure to hope is a failure of knowing God and His history of work. The way to fight commercialism is not by not watching commercials or not buying anything. The way to fight commercialism is buying and giving and receiving with *contentment*. The way to fight overindulgence is not by fasting, at least not always. The way to fight overindulgence is to feast *without selfishness*. The way to fight worldliness is not by retreating to a closet and humming in our heads. The way to fight worldliness is *with joy* that God became man, and demonstrate that joy among men. We Christians can look like the world in two ways at Christmas: by mindlessly doing what everybody else is doing *and* by complaining about what everyone else is doing. We've got to stop complaining and get used to celebrating by faith.