Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas: The Glory of The Incarnation

As we come upon another Christmas season, our thoughts naturally go to the story of the birth of Christ. Many of us grew up in an era, when this season was a time of school plays, carols and pageants all centering on a baby in the manger. We learned about Joseph and Mary, the three wise men, shepherds in the fields and angels bringing a message of "Peace and good will toward men." 

There of course is another aspect to this season that puts the emphasis on the secular idea of Christmas. Santa Claus, reindeer, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and cold snowy weather (which of course, in Southern California we idealize, because we don't have to deal with the real thing). C'mon admit it you Christians, you like the secular stuff too, or are you planning on giving back all your presents this year?

We often lament in today's society, that we have lost the true meaning of Christmas due to commercialism and political correctness. I would agree with that premise. It is sad and ridiculous that we even have to engage in discussions about whether it is proper to celebrate Christmas in a public arena, when it is a national holiday. Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas? I don't think so! But, I will leave that discussion for another time.

Instead, I would like us to look at the meaning of the birth of Jesus, from a little different perspective. I want us to see the incarnation from a passage of scripture that is not usually associated with Christmas. It comes from the book of Philippians, chapter 2. Paul is asking the believers to have the same attitude as Christ and in describing that attitude gives us a wonderful insight into the meaning of the incarnation. Let's look at verses 6-11.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)

The first statement is that this baby, born of the Virgin Mary, is in His very nature, God. Some translations render it, "being in the form of God." I don't think that does the Greek word justice. The Greek word used here is morphe. In modern vernacular, it brings to mind the term morph (slang for metamorphosis), which makes us think of one thing turning into another. What is important to realize is, that though the form changed from spirit to flesh, the nature or essence did not. 

The key to understanding this concept is the word used for being. The Greek word, huparchoon, denotes His continuous state or condition. It is unchanging. Why am I getting so technical here? Because it is enormously important to understand that Jesus did not become half god and half man. He was, is and always will be fully God, even in His incarnate state. 

How then could Jesus be fully man as well? Paul explains this in the verses 7 and 8. These verses tell us that Jesus "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant." The NASB translates it this way; He "emptied" himself, which is a more literal translation. This brings up a question. What did He empty Himself of? It cannot be His deity, as we have just shown by the previous verse, so what else could it be? 

Although biblical scholars give some different answers, I think we can agree that Jesus emptied himself of some of His attributes. There is a verse in the book of John which I think is very telling. In the garden of Gethsemane, on the night Jesus was betrayed, He prays to the Father, "O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. (John 17:5 NKJV) That would indicate that Jesus must have emptied Himself of that glory, most agree that it is the Shekinah glory. It is spoken about many times in the Old Testament. (Ex 16:10, 24:16-17, 40:34 are a few examples) We get another picture of that glory in Mt 17:5 where Jesus is transfigured. This is a glimpse of His pre-incarnate glory, which the world will see when Jesus returns. (Mt 24:30)

We also know that Jesus set aside His own will, in order to show Himself to be a servant, who always did the will of His Heavenly Father (Jn 8:29). In verse 7 it says He took on the nature of a servant (doulos), literally a bondservant or slave. Though we know that this word can mean a voluntary indentured servant or an involuntary slave, it is obvious by the context, that Jesus did this voluntarily. Why? In order to bring you and I into relationship with God. He accomplished that by His death on the cross for our sins.

You may be asking yourself why I chose to get into such deep theology in speaking about the birth of Christ. Well, I think that sometimes we focus so much on the miracle of the virgin birth and the stories associated with this birth, that we lose sight of the most important issue, the reason for His coming. It is not just about the way in which the baby Jesus was conceived. It is about who this baby is. This is the God who created the universe and everything in it. He is the God who created us, came down to live with us (thus the name Emmanuel), showed us how to live the life of a servant and though He was despised and rejected by man, gave up His life for us, because we could not live up to that standard. He did this out of His great love for us (Jn 3:16). How could we possibly not stand in awe of such a One? That is the true miracle of Christmas! 

The question is, what will you do with this Jesus? If you have already received Him as your Lord and Savior, are you conducting your life in a manner worthy of the gospel? (Php 1:27) If not, repent, ask forgiveness and renew your commitment to follow and serve Him. If you have never yet surrendered your life to Him, I pray that you would do it now. Look across this page to the right and you will see a section on How to Become a Christian. Don't put it off. Receive Christ as your Savior and you will experience the true joy of Christmas!

I pray that you have a truly blessed Christmas. 
God bless you and Merry Christmas, Coach

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

NTDS 84: Humble Yourselves

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. NIV

Once again, in this first epistle of Peter, we are given instructions for Godly living. Peter tells his readers to “humble themselves.” That directive brings up two important questions. One, what does it mean to humble one’s self, and two, why should I do that? Without answering those two questions, it is highly unlikely that any believer can truly follow Peter’s charge.

The word for humble is tapeinoo in Greek. According to Strong’s, it means to depress or humiliate (in condition or heart). Many people take this to mean that we should act as though we are worthless or not important. The Bible certainly does not support that and Jesus did not teach that. Look at what He said in Matt 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (NIV)

Jesus thought of us as being so valuable, that He would willingly sacrifice His very life for us. He does not want us thinking that we are not valuable, but instead, to not think of ourselves more highly than we should. The apostle Paul states it this way in Rom 12:3 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (NIV)

When this letter was written by Peter, the church was beginning to suffer persecution. The implication in this letter is that believers were wondering why they had to endure this persecution. Why was God allowing them to go through this suffering? Peter is telling them that though they may not know the answer to that, they should still submit themselves to God. They needed to understand that the humbling of self, is just the realization that they are under “God’s mighty hand” and whatever happens to them is ultimately under His control.

Peter had already spoken about this earlier. In 1Peter 4:19 he states, “So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (NIV) The persecution of these believers was soon to escalate severely, yet Peter reminds them that their Creator is faithful. That reality answers the question of why they should follow this directive. They serve a faithful Creator, who calls them to holy living, in spite of their circumstance.

There are two more good reasons listed, that encourage their obedience. One is a negative consequence to those who will not humble themselves. 1 Peter 5:5 says, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (NIV) It is simple. If you are prideful, God opposes you. Pride is the sin that got Satan kicked out of heaven. It is condemned over and over in the scriptures.

But look at the positive benefit given to those who would humble themselves before God. He gives grace! Not only that, but our key verse tells us that in due time, He will lift you up! That word is translated in the KJV as exalt. Literally, it means to elevate. Jesus said the same thing in Luke 14:11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (NIV)

When is this due time? Well, it’s interesting that this same phrase is used in a parable Jesus taught in Matthew 24 concerning His second coming. The point He makes, is that a faithful and wise servant is one who takes good care of His master’s property when the master is away, not knowing when the master will return.

The point for these believers and us as well is clear. We are called to be good stewards of the gospel, by our deeds as well as our words, until the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are told to do this, no matter what our circumstances are, in humble obedience to Him. We are to trust in His grace and mercy. That humble obedience will be rewarded at the return of Christ, when we will be exalted at the judgment (bema) seat. (See 2 Cor 5:10)

What a great day that will be! I encourage you today to humble yourself before the Lord, no matter what your circumstances may be. Remember that you are in His mighty hand. Determine in your heart to live the Godly life He has called you to and ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to live that life!

God Bless you,