December 15, 2018 (Advent Week 2)

“The Staggering Mystery of Christmas” (Part 2) by J.I. Packer

Advent-Green.jpgWho Is This Child? The Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us in some detail how the Son of God came to this world. He was born outside a small hotel in an obscure Jewish village in the great days of the Roman Empire. The New Testament has two thoughts to convey about the identity of the baby.

The baby born at Bethlehem was God.

More precisely, putting it in Bible language, he was the Son of God, or, as Christian theology regularly expresses it, God the Son. The Son, note, not a Son: as the Apostle John says four times in the first three chapters of his Gospel, in order to make quite sure that his readers understand the uniqueness of Jesus, He was the only begotten or one and only Son of God (see John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).

John wanted to make it clear from the outset that the Sonship which Jesus claimed, and which Christians ascribed to Him, was precisely a matter of personal deity and nothing less. Hence his famous prologue (John 1:1-18). The Church of England reads it annually as the Gospel lesson for Christmas Day, and rightly so. Nowhere else in the New Testament is the nature and meaning of Jesus’ divine Sonship so clearly explained as here.

Incarnation.jpgSee how carefully and conclusively John expounds his theme. He does not bring the term Soninto his opening sentences at all; instead, he speaks first of the Word. There was no danger of this being misunderstood; Old Testament readers would pick up the reference at once. God’s Word in the Old Testament is His creative utterance, His power in action fulfilling His purpose. The Old Testament depicted God’s utterance, the actual statement of His purpose, as having power in itself to effect the thing purposed. Genesis 1 tells us how at creation “God said, ‘Let there be’ … and there was … ” “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made … He spoke, and it came to be” (Psalm 33:6, 9). The Word of God is thus God at work.

John takes up this figure and proceeds to tell us seven things about the divine Word.

(1) “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1). Here is the Word’s eternity. He had no beginning of His own; when other things began, He—was.

(2) “And the Word was with God.” Here is the Word’s personality. The power that fulfills God’s purposes is the power of a distinct personal being, who stands in an eternal relation to God of active fellowship.

(3) “And the Word was God” (1:1). Here is the Word’s deity. Though personally distinct from the Father, He is not a creature; He is divine in Himself, as the Father is.

(4) “Through him all things were made.” Here is the Word creating. He was the Father’s agent in every act of making that the Father has ever performed. Here, incidentally, is further proof that He, the Maker, does not belong to the class of things made, any more than the Father does.

(5) “In him was life.” Here is the Word animating. There is no physical life in the realm of created things except in and through Him. Here is the Bible answer to the problem of the origin and continuance of life, in all its forms: Life is given and maintained by the Word. Created things do not have life in themselves, but life in the Word, the second person of the Godhead.

(6) “And that life was the light of men.” Here is the Word revealing. In giving life, He gives light too. That is to say, all people receive intimations of God from the very fact of being alive in God’s world; and this, no less than the fact that they are alive, is due to the work of the Word.

(7) “The Word became flesh” (1:14). Here is the Word incarnate. The baby in the manger at Bethlehem was none other than the eternal Word of God.

And now, having shown us who and what the Word is—a divine Person, author of all things—John indicates an identification. The Word, he tells us, was revealed by the Incarnation to be God’s Son. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father” (1:14). The identification is confirmed in verse 18: “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father” (KJV). Thus John establishes the point at which he was aiming throughout. He has now made it clear what is meant by calling Jesus the Son of God. The Son of God is the Word of God.

When, therefore, the Bible proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, the statement is meant as an assertion of His distinct personal deity. The Christmas message rests on the staggering fact that the child in the manger was—God.

(Devotional credit: J.I. Packer, Written for BGEA)

December 14, 2018 (Advent Week 2)

“The Staggering Mystery of Christmas” (Part 1) by J.I. Packer

Advent-Green.jpgThe supreme mystery with which the Gospel confronts us lies not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of Incarnation. The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man—that the second person of the Godhead became the “second man”
(1 Corinthians 15:47), determining human destiny. The second representative head of the race took on humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as He was human.

Here are two mysteries for the price of one—the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14); God became divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.

Incarnation.jpgBut once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve. If Jesus had been no more than a very remarkable, godly man, the difficulties in believing what the New Testament tells us about His life and work would be truly mountainous. But if Jesus was the same person as the eternal Word, the Father’s agent in creation, “through whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:2, NKJV), it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked His coming into this world, and His life in it, and His exit from it. It is not strange that He, the author of life, should rise from the dead. If He was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that He should die than that He should rise again.

And if the immortal Son of God did really submit to taste death, it is not strange that such a death should have saving significance for a doomed race. Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this; it is all of a piece and hangs together completely.

The Incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.

(Devotional credit: J.I. Packer, Written for BGEA)

December 13, 2018 (Advent Week 2)

“It Began with a Tree” by Greg Laurie

And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. – (Genesis 2:9)

Advent-2.jpgThe Christmas story begins with a tree, but not the kind of Christmas tree with brightly colored lights or ornaments. The Christmas story begins with a tree called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the Garden of Eden.

God had given Adam and Eve only one restriction in that literal paradise: stay away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But before long, that’s just where we find them. Of course, we know the rest of the story. They listened to the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit. And once that happened, they lost their sweet fellowship with God.

A few verses later, we come to the first Christmas verse in the Bible, where God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Here the battle lines were drawn. The Devil knew this Messiah would come—and that He would come from the Jewish people. So he tried to stop that from taking place.

tree-knowledge.jpgReally, as we look at the Christmas story, we realize that it doesn’t begin in Matthew or Luke. It begins in the Old Testament. Before there was a world, before there were planets, before there was light and darkness, before there was matter, before there was anything but the Godhead, there was Jesus—coequal, coeternal, and coexistent with the Father and Holy Spirit. He was with God. He was God.

Jesus Christ became human without ceasing to be God. He did not become identical to us, but He became identified with us. The real message of Christmas is that God came to this earth. The real message of Christmas is Immanuel, God is with us.

(Devotional credit: Greg Laurie, Pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship)

December 12, 2018 (Advent Week 2)

Today’s Reading: Matthew 1:18-20

“Joseph, The Unsung Hero”

Advent-2.jpg

Joseph is the unsung hero of the Christmas story. For the most part, there are no Christmas songs about Joseph. Yet he really is a hero. The Bible tells us that Joseph was a “good man” (Matthew 1:19). Deeply in love w
ith Mary, he was no doubt jolted by the news that she was pregnant.

Joseph and Mary were engaged, which, in their culture, was like being married. Once a couple entered into this engagement, or espousal, period, it was like being married, although they lived in separate houses. It was during this time that Mary became pregnant.

Yet Joseph loved Mary, and the Bible tells us that he “did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly” (Matthew 1:19). In other words, Joseph was thinking, I’m going to say that I can’t marry her now, but I’m certainly not going to publicly shame Mary, either.

Joseph-and-Mary.gifWhile he was pondering this, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (verses 20–21).

That was all Joseph needed to hear. He could have walked away, even after he knew the truth. But he stood by Mary. And just as surely as God chose Mary to be the mother of the Messiah, he chose Joseph to be a father figure on Earth for Jesus.

When God uses a person, there is a sacrifice to make. It won’t be an easy path, but it will be a fruitful one—and you will look back later in life and be glad that you took it.

(Devotional credit: Greg Laurie, Pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship)