Thursday, April 19, 2012

Do Not Quarrel on the Way

Genesis 45:16-28 is the delightful climax of the sons of Israel's second trip to Egypt. It is especially noteworthy for its inclusion of Joseph's long-awaited self-revelation to his brothers. It was a fitting disclosure that was prompted by Judah's passionate plea for Benjamin, the last son born to Jacob (and Rachel) in his old age and who was therefore Joseph's full-blooded brother. Judah's moving intercession for Benjamin, his stone-clad assertions that Jacob still loved and still longed to see Joseph and his proof that the ten brothers were not mistreating Benjamin as they had mistreated Joseph, comprised the final straw that broke the camel's back of Joseph’s persona as a hard, terrifying, intransigent, oriental potentate with whom they had to deal. The first two verses of this chapter declare that upon hearing Judah's moving speech, Joseph suffered an emotional melt down- the stern, austere, external façade was promptly replaced by a deep tenderness of affection that was as intense as it was intimate, as great as it was genuine. Verse 15 captures the delight and exultation these twelve sons of Jacob now enjoyed: "[Joseph] .. kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him."

This was a time of great rejoicing because, with Judah's representative confession of the sins of the brothers and with their genuine repentance of their sins to Joseph already established, Joseph's authentic forgiveness of them was the icing that topped the cake of their reconciliation. All was forgiven! No grudges were being borne! The old had gone, the new had come! So impacting was the celebration that when the good news of Joseph's brothers’ arrival in Egypt reached the approving ears of Pharaoh and his servants, that ruler promptly issued instructions for them to be laden with the best of the land of Egypt on their return trip to Canaan to gather the rest of Jacob's household. Remember the refrain of Gen 39:2, 21 and 23: the Lord was with Joseph! Yahweh, the faithful covenant God of Jacob and his family, was the invisible sovereign power effectually crafting the plot and directing the path of his elect, for their good and soli Deo Gloria, for his glory alone. As Joseph’s relieved brothers were about to depart, he lovingly admonised them with these words, don't quarrel on the way.

The fundamental meaning of quarrel is to quake or shake and from this, ideas such as shaking in anger, fear, or anticipation are derived. Sometimes this word is used to express agitation produced by some deeply rooted emotion. For example, God is said to be trembling or raging in anger, (he is roused!) as in Isa 28:21 “For the LORD will rise up as on Mount Perazim; as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused; to do his deed--...” Thus, the essence of Joseph’s admonition to his brothers is this: on your way back to Canaan to give my father the good news that I'm still alive, do not irritate one another by regurgitating the events of the past. Do not engage in any recriminations about who did what, to whom, when, and under what conditions, for all of these have been forgiven. Since I do not hold any charge against you, since I am convinced that your contrition is authentic and since I have forgiven you of your sins against me, then see to it that you refrain from any wrangling along the way. Don't quarrel on the way.

Isn't this a microcosmic picture of the Christian life? Isn't this a cameo of the gospel-centered life? Doesn't it remind us of the comforting gospel truth that, for those who place their trust in Christ alone for eternal life, God has cancelled their sin, that is, all their crimes against him, their neighbor and themselves, sins of the past, present and future? Jacob’s encouraging admonishment, incomplete as a full-fledged statement of the doctrine of forgiveness, is nevertheless adequate in its accuracy of the indicative/imperative dynamic of forgiveness in the life of the believer. From the indicative, I have forgiven you, results the imperative- you, therefore, you are to go and likewise. As such, it anticipates our Lord’s instruction to his disciples, “.. forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Mt 6:12, and also the Pauline directive, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Eph 4:32.

Jacob’s caution to his brothers, therefore, is a primitive expression of one of the cardinal principles of the Christian life: because God has freely forgiven us in Christ (the indicative), we are now to freely extend forgiveness to our brothers and sisters (the imperative). “[W]ith all humility and gentleness, with patience, “ we are to bear “with one another in love.” Eph 4:2. A practical demonstration of this harmonious living is to “not quarrel on the way.” Thus, as we press on in the Christian life in active dependence on the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, as we march toward Zion "looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Heb 12:2, we will truly endeavor, as much as it is possible and so far as it depends on us, to live at peace with others, Rom 12: 18. We will strive to not quarrel on the way.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What Is A Christian?

The word Christian is an at risk term. That is to say, it is so widely used by those both inside and outside the church and has such a wide spectrum of referents as, on the one hand, non-Roman Catholics to, on the other, ultra-conservative, right-wing "born again believers", that it is in danger of losing its original meaning. How did the term Christian originate? What are the major implications of that name? What is the correct meaning of that word? What does the Bible intend when it describes some persons as Christians?

The name Christian was first, perhaps mockingly, applied to Jesus' followers by the Roman Gentiles in Antioch: “.. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians." Acts 11:26. Apart from this reference, Christian is only used on two other occasions in the New Testament: Acts 26:28 and 1 Pe 4:16.
In the former case, the convicted but arrogant Herod Agrippa II rejects Paul’s evangelistic appeal by evasively asking “.. "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?"” In the latter, Peter affirms that God is glorified when believers suffer for the sake and cause of Christ (note similar language and context in v. 14) rather than as murderers, thieves, evildoers or meddlers, v. 15. Prior to the occasion of Acts 11, Christians described themselves as believers, Acts 4:32; disciples, 6:1; and those belonging to the Way, 9:2. Christianity was commonly called the Way, 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22; etc.

In his Word Studies of the New Testament, Marvin R. Vincent notes that the passive verb "called" has an original meaning of "to transact business" or "to have dealings with." When one was called a Christian meant one bore the name by which one was associated in the normal affairs and communications of life. As the terms Matthew the tax collector, Mt 10:3; Luke the physician, Col 4:14; Alexander the coppersmith, 2 Tim 4:14; Rahab the prostitute, Josh 6:17, 25; Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25; and so on, all specify persons whose identities were inseparable related to their beliefs, vocations, business of life and primary associations and activities, likewise the name Christian signifies the peculiar dogma, relationship, conduct and customs of its name-bearers. That the followers of Christ decided to keep this title points to their high sense of identification with the Lord Jesus Christ and to their defiant and noble recognition of the supreme dignity and importance of their Lord, Jesus Christ.

Christian, Greek Christianos, is made up of the Greek word for Christ/Messiah, Christos, and the Latin ending ianus, meaning belonging to or identified by. (Note, Kaesarianus likewise meant belonging to Caesar). The ending -ian also means belonging to the party of someone and in this case it would mean one who belongs to Jesus' party; a follower of Christ; a disciple of Christ; an adherent to Christ and his teachings; one bearing a close identification with Christ by having the same views, desires, motives, and so on as he did, etc.

The significance of the name lies in its distinctiveness: non-believing communities recognized Christians as as a distinct group, one that was being more and more separated from Judaism and one that was in uncompromising conflict with the existing pagan religions. As a result, this new religious group stood to lose the status and the protection Rome provided to Judaism as a legally recognized religion. This was probably largely due to the fact that the church's confession, Christ is Lord, stood in open and bold contrast and contention with that of the Roman world, Caesar is Lord.

From all the above, we can clearly see that the term Christian defines us and places lifelong demands upon us. It is not a casual nickname or a convenient label; it is definitive, that is, it lies at the very center of our identity, it occupies the very core of our being. For these reasons, being a Christian is a full-time vocation. It is not a seasonal fad, a preferred vogue, a "cool" slogan, an expedient title to adorn our resumés, or a beneficial tag to enhance our acceptability in certain circles. Christian defines who we are and determines how we are to live as a result of our relationship with Jesus Christ who owns us. It is a public badge declaring our identity with Christ, confirming that we have certain beliefs concerning his Person and substitutionary atoning work and resultantly, denoting how we are to "do business" in the world. To be called a Christian, therefore, is to be marked as one who regards and reveres Christ as the source of his identity; the path and direction of his life; the fullness of his significance; the One most worthy of imitation in all areas of life, and as the very cause of his existence, his raison d'être, the reason for his being. A Christian is therefore one who belongs to Christ, 1 Cor 15:23; Gal 5:24. "..[Y]ou are Christ's'.." 1 Cor 3:23; Gal 3:29.

The term Christian therefore is controlling, comprehensive and complete. Because of the pleromic nature of Christ in whose physical body the fullness of the Godhead dwells,Col 2:9, nothing could be added to it.

Are you a Christian?

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Gift Who Comes to Make a Purchase

To the Gentiles, to those whose worldview was shaped by Greek philosophical thinking, the greatest scandal was the biblical claim that the Logos became flesh. To them the Logos was that rational principle that pervaded and that held together all reality. The apostle John therefore shocked their ears when he boldly and uncompromisingly published in his gospel that the Logos was not an abstract philosophical principle, a principle of reasoning or even (some aspect of) the divine mind but a person, a real person, the only, true God that took on human flesh. The Word became flesh meant that God’s highest Self-revelation took the form of the Person Jesus Christ. That God should don weak, human flesh was the supreme stumbling-block, the superlative paradox, the consummate assault on the Greek mind.

However, Christians are not ruffled by this apparent contradiction because in it we understand the physical outworking of the great promises and purposes of God in order to bring a radical redemption to those who were his radical enemies. Yet, this is not the only apparent contradiction that we find in Scripture concerning Jesus Christ. As we search the Scripture we find many such paradoxes concerning the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, some of which are listed below:

He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the One who is, who was and who is to come, Rev 1:7.

He, who was in the form of God, did not think that such equality was something to be selfishly grasped, but ".. made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." Phi 2:6-7.

In him infinity has come into the finite world and in the form of a finite person.

On the other hand, he is the particular who has come to the universal.

He, who was rich became poor for the sake of his people so that they may become rich, through his poverty, 2 Cor 8:9.

God the Father made the sinless Christ to be sin for us, "so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Cor 5:21.

Jesus Christ is the Lord of life comes to die for sinners.

He is the Author of life (Acts 3:15) who comes to surrender his life for others.

He is the Great High Priest who comes to make the supreme, sacrificial offering of himself as a once for all sacrifice for sin, Heb 8-9.

The sacrifice of a docile, surrendering Lamb on Calvary's Cross was actually the triumph of the victorious Lion of Judah, Rev. 5:5-10.

And on and on.

Yet, there is one other correlation that we must take into consideration, especially as we contemplate on and celebrate Christmas, and that is Jesus Christ is both the gift and the purchaser. He is the gift of God, even that inexpressible gift, 2 Cor 9:15 – there are no human categories that are able to describe him adequately – who was at the same time the one who comes to purchase his bride.

Scripture is abundantly clear that Jesus Christ is God's gift to his people. Jn 3:16, the gospel in miniature, is perhaps the most popular text revealing the eternal truth that so great was the love of God for His people that He gave his only Son, Jesus Christ “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Our Lord continues to speak of himself as the divine gift in such places as Jn 4:10: "".. if you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, .."; 6:32 – ".. my Father gives you the true bread from heaven."; etc. Jesus Christ is God's gift to the church.

At the same time, the primary reason for his Incarnation is the purchase of the church, that is, those that the Father had given him in eternity past. Thus Paul admonishes the Ephesian elders to be especially vigilant in protecting ".. all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." Acts 20:28. On other occasions, the term ransom, meaning to redeem, to pay the price for one's release, and so on whether used as a noun, ".. the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”" Mt 20:28 or as a verb, ".. you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. ", 1 Pe 1:18-19, is used. Moreover, Christ is said to have given himself "as a ransom for all, ..", 1 Tim 2:6. Our gift has come to purchase us, to ransom us from slavery to sin, death and Satan, with the currency of his blood.

This is the great gospel truth of Scripture – God descending from heaven in the veil and weakness of human flesh to dwell among us, to live sinlessly for us, to die for us, to purchase us as his own and in so doing, to restore us to himself. The truth of the gospel is that God the Father sends his Son on a purchasing mission-- Christ comes to seek and save the lost, Lk 19:10.

At Christmas Christ’s church celebrates the Logos, not the figment of the "wise" Greek mind but the Son of the living God who came down from heaven to the mall of the fallen world to rescue those the Father had already given him in eternity past. At Christmas Christ’s church celebrates the supreme divine gift of God’s Son who comes to purchase his bride. As such, there is an authentic, distinct commercial ring to Christmas, isn’t there? Surely, but this commercial aspect has been immutably defined for us sub specie aeternitatis (in the shadow of eternity, the way God views it). Its commercial dimension is not derived from the realm of secular economic enterprise but from the redemptive character of Christ's purchase, from the purpose of his Incarnation as God's only Son ".. who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" Tit 2:14.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A New Year with an Old Yawning or with a New Yearning?

The clock is moving very fast. Things have already settled in Times Square and in the Atlanta. The dropped apple and peach have long been restored to their resting-places from which they will be aroused in a year’s time for their ephemeral display. "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; .." Eccl 3:1-2a. To many of us, the year 2011 is simply an event of the past, an odd collection of mainly uneventful activities and incidents whose recollection elicits not much more than a yawn, a lazy expression of listless ennui.

New Years are landmarks of life, chronological pointers along our brief journey. That's one way to look at them. Another perspective is to view them as God's markers in our lives, as guidelines of the riches of the manifold expressions of His kindness to us in Jesus Christ. Within our church, some have been cured of cancer and others have recuperated from other health matters. Some have received employment and others promotions. Still, others have been the recipients of continuing safety and special giftedness for overcoming new challenges on their jobs. To some, much-needed vehicles were granted and for others, relationships have been restored. For these and other temporal blessings, we are eternally grateful to our generous Lord.

But, when we think of it, how do these ministrations of God's grace to us identify us as those having that peculiar status of being in Christ? Doesn't the Lord also extend similar tokens of his common grace to unbelievers? Doesn't He truly also bestow upon them "… the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, .." with the intent of leading them to repentance? Of course he does; this is the explicit assertion of the apostle Paul in Rom 2:4. However, as Christians, aren't we to seek those graces that will transform us more and more into Christ's image? In other words, are we not required to pursue those means of grace that will equip us for heaven? Yes. Certainly. Beyond the shadow of a doubt.

As we reflect on the way we lived last year, the following questions may serve to stimulate our memories:
• has Christ dominated and defined the central yearning of our hearts?
• have we sought to glorify and enjoy him in every dimension of our lives?
• have we spent the time, money, energy, abilities and opportunities He gave us, in such ways to show that we are earthly pilgrims governed by a heavenly agenda and heading to our heavenly home whence “we await [our] Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,”? Phi 3:21
• how have our family members, friends, workers, in short, our neighbors, viewed us? As demanding, critical, correcting, law-thumping, Bible-quoting, overbearing diehards or as simple, serious, sincere though stumbling followers of Christ, not having all the answers to life but eager to point them to the One who does, Jesus Christ Himself?
• what major victories have we had over particular sins with which we were plagued?
• have our wives and children been strengthened in their relationship with Christ because of us?
• Etc. Etc.

We must admit, these are tough questions. However, we must also concede that these are the real questions we need to ask ourselves.

The truth is, we are a people of the tongue; our talk far outstrips our walk. But to speak glowingly about the Bible; to chatter glibly and proudly about (our knowledge of) the distinctives of Reformed Theology; to clamor incessantly about our recent acquisition of theological apps and software, books and magazines, without demonstrating a genuine passion for Christ, his gospel and his people in all areas of our lives, is to have virtual religion- a religion that resembles and simulates authentic Christianity but that is far from it. The virtually religious are distractions to Christ and his cross; they are "noisy gongs" and "clanging cymbals” whose output is not the clear and cogent declaration of the gospel but an empty and grotesque distortion of it. Virtual religion is one lacking a fides viva, a living faith, religion that is banal and bilious, more inert and insipid than endless replays of elevator music.

Let's face it, we all like to be recognized and to be acclaimed by those among whom we live and move. We like to be known as those with the latest theological trinkets and the newest stuff, as the people "in the know." We have an inbred and stubborn inclination to self-glorification. We are so corrupt that we are adept at camouflaging and presenting our sinful desires as captivating expressions of genuine faith. Because of these iniquities, our battle must be in that area in which these desires take place, in the heart, that fulcrum of faith, Rom 10:10, that source of thought and action, whether evil, Mt 15:19, or good, 22:37. This is the fundamental arena of our Christian struggle.

Our challenge therefore in the year 2012 is to learn from the previous year and to embrace Christ wholeheartedly as the very meaning of life -".. to live is Christ." Phi 1:21. Unless this truth becomes the dynamic controlling our thinking, attitudes, words, actions and motives, we will have a ho-hum, yawning religion characterized by perfunctory and pretentious practices, devoid of genuine spiritual robustness and vitality, an attractive showpiece in superficial circles but lacking godly power. Like the Gnostic teaching corrupting the church at Colossae, "These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion .., but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." Col 2:23. On the other hand, to have a true yearning after authentic religion is to have died and to have our lives hidden with Christ in God, 3:3, and then to display Christ's life through our death in every aspect of our lives.

May the year 2012 be, not a year of yawning but one of yearning, a yearning for God's desires to be to the desires of our own hearts, a deep yearning for Christ, one that exceeds the yearning of the deer after streams of living water.

Have a yearning New Year.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Rightly Handling the Word That Has Become Flesh

What does a correct view of the Baby of Bethlehem yield? When we rightly handle the Word of truth that has become flesh, we are confronted with at least three results.

Firstly, rightly handling the Word that has become flesh transfers us. It transfers us from the stall in Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary. Indeed, the Incarnation is the profound mystery of godliness, 1 Tim 3:16, but it is not an end in itself. This Jesus “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;'Incarnate Deity, .. Jesus, our Emmanuel” was born that “.. Man no more may die, .. To raise the sons of earth, .. to give them second birth.” He is the ".. the woman's conqu'ring Seed, .. the Second Adam from above.." divinely promised in the protevangelium (gospel in advance) in Gen 3:15 whose mission is to "Bruise in us the serpent's head", to replace Adam' s image with the very image of God. (From "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.") The Babe is Immanuel, God with us, who comes to deliver those given to him by the Father in eternity past from the penalty, power, presence and, so often neglected, the pleasure of sin, by living a sinless life and then surrendering himself on the cross in their place. Rightly handling the Word that has become flesh transfers us from Bethlehem to Calvary.

Secondly, rightly handling the Word that has become flesh transforms us.
Those in whom God has graciously removed the blinding veil of darkness which prevents unbelievers from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, .. the image of God", 2 Cor 4:3-4, behold the Bethlehem Babe differently from the world. They view him as God’s supreme covenant gift to the church, sent by the Father to suffer once for sins, “ ..the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, .. ", 1 Pe 3:18. This understanding reaches its pinnacle in corporate worship. There, as we, by faith and "with unveiled face" corporately behold the glory of the Lord, (we) are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another…”, 2 Cor 3:18.
There, as we behold the face of Christ as he is placarded before our eyes in the faithful preaching of the gospel and in the proper administration of the sacraments, we are being transformed into his image and into the image of God the Father. It is a biblical axiom that we become like what we worship, Pss 115:8; 135:18; Jer 2:5; Hos 9:10; etc. Rightly handling the Word of truth, the Word that has become flesh, transforms us into his image.

Lastly, rightly handling the Word that has become flesh transfixes us. We cannot take our eyes off him. As the apostle John states in the prologue of his gospel, "And the Word 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. " 1:14. The Word see indicates not a fleeting glance at something or someone temporarily occupying our interest but rather, a calm, continuous contemplation of an irresistibly fascinating object. Such is the case when we behold the Babe of Bethlehem sub specie aeternitatis, that is, the way God views him, from a heavenly perspective, as he really is.

John's testifies that the apostles' attention was continuously riveted to the glory, that is, the external manifestation of Christ's being. Their physical vision was enhanced by a supernatural, Spiritual impression. In other words, they were transfixed by him. He commanded their continuous attention. And why not? There is no greater sight to behold. No other person is worthy of such reflection. We stand, nay, we bow in an everlasting gaze upon him. Our greatest delights are at his right hand. In Christ alone, solus Christus, we have a beautiful inheritance; in him, the lines have fallen into place; in his presence we have fullness of joy and at his right hand we have everlasting pleasures. Ps 16:6, 11. At the great eschatological consummation, the eternal delight and the greatest joy of the saints is that "They will see his face, .." Rev 22:4. Rightly handling the Word that has become flesh transfixes us.

Let us rightly understand Christmas by viewing it as God does: the time at which he demonstrates His great love for us by giving ".. his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Jn 3:16. Behold the Baby in the stall at Bethlehem! Do you see what I see? Rather, do you hear what I hear? The Babe of Bethlehem is the saving gift of God.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

God In The What?!!

In his gospel, one of the several proofs the apostle John provides for the authenticity of Jesus' Messianic mission is that He was sent by the Father. For example, in his Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6, Jesus enlightens his miracle-seeking, consumeristic hearers that "“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (v. 29). He has come to do .. " “.. the will of him who sent me"". (38; see also 39). "“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (44). Etc; etc. So unique is the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ that to believe in Christ is the same as to believe in God, (12:44), and to receive Christ is equivalent to receiving God the Father. (13:20).

On what basis could Jesus make such statements? He was sent from the Father because He and the Father are one. They are one in the sense that they are equally God. This bold defense of Christ's divinity is the theological and Christological foundation of John’s gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1). God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ, and by necessary implication, God the Holy Spirit, are equally God in all aspects of "Godness." For this reason, Jesus was with God, that is to say, face-to-face with God in a most intimate way, in an eternal relationship. Further, is God and always will be God. It's no wonder that Jesus stuns the confused and unbelieving Jews by contending that "I and the Father are one." (10:30). The Westminster Confession of Faith instructs us that "In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost." (2.3).

The entire New Testament is flooded with proofs of the divinity of Jesus Christ. However, for our purposes today, there is one other verse asserting Christ's divinity that is frequently overlooked and that that deserves our attention- Jn 1:18: "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known." The Greek verb has made known can also be translated declared, explained or exegeted. Exegete literally means to guide out of (the ex prefix means from or out of). Thus, when we exegete a text, we seek to extract or get out of it, its original meaning. In other words, we explain what the Scripture actually says; we discover the meaning the author intended to convey to his readers.

Jesus Christ perfectly and objectively provides us with the original and clearest understanding of God the Father. There is no higher Self-revelation of God than Jesus Christ; He is God in the flesh. Anyone who has seen Christ has seen God the Father. (14:9). In becoming a human being, Christ did not become a creature. In his humanity, the eternal Son of God attaches his divinity to weak human flesh in such a way that neither is his humanity enhanced nor his divinity reduced – he is fully man and fully God at the same time and in the same relationship! In the newborn babe, infinity has taken on finiteness; eternity invades time; divinity appears in diapers; God comes down into His creation in the form of man. No other religion can make such a bold claim. The holy God comes to seek and save his worst enemies. This is indeed a mystery at which we do not stumble by at which we bow in solemn adoration and in humble, self-effacing worship.

The divine Self-revelation in Christ and Christ’s Messianic mission to seek and save sinners are a stumbling-block to the people of Jesus' time – His own people rejected Him (1:11) and the ignorant world leaders (as well as those of ours) crucified "the Lord of glory." (1 Cor 2:8). In a real sense, the incarnate Christ is God's last call, his last appeal from heaven for fallen man to be saved (Heb 1:1-2). God's coming in the weakness of human flesh is the highest expression of His mercy and the ultimate demonstration of his grace towards fallen man. There is no other redemptive process that is available to men; there is no other person by whom redemption can be accomplished, (Acts 4:12). In Christ alone are God and sinner reconciled. In Christ alone we have the grandest display of God's commitment to His creatures and, above all, to His own glory. In a word, the word of Christmas is the Word from heaven of whom the Father says, " “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” " Let it not be said of us:

Didn't know You'd come to save us, Lawd
To take our sins away,
Our eyes was blind
We couldn't see
We didn't know who You was. (From "Sweet Little Jesus Boy")

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Have Gone By

It's hard to believe that ten years have gone by since that most vicious attack upon American soil. It's hard to believe that ten long years have elapsed since together with an equally shocked world, we Americans beheld with a unique admixture of outrage, sorrow, helplessness and puzzlement as the northeastern corner of our country was blanketed in an ominous haze of smoke, death and ruins. Hardly had the curtains of the new, twenty-first century been lifted to welcome in the new millennium than we were greeted with the most savage terroristic invasion, a carefully foreplanned trifocal attack by sadistic forces converting the normal means of air transport into violent weapons of mass destruction. Yes, already, ten years have gone by. How true is the reflection that the events of 9/11 that changed the world! How even more compelling is the reality that these acts of reprehensible aggression have changed America!

The country and Western song "I Can't Stop Loving You" has among its lyrics "They say that time heals a broken heart, But time has stood still since we've been apart." But apart from the fact that time has not stood still for the past ten years, that is, apart from the fact that we have not been frozen by our pain or immobilized by our anger but rather, that we have redoubled our efforts in securing our borders and have increased our understanding of the nature and dimension of foreign aggression, we are aware that time has no therapeutic properties of its own. Thus, even the Roman poet Ovid's line,"tempus edax rerum," time, the devourer of all things, falls short in its wishful affirmation. With the passage of time comes the gradual reduction of the initial pain as we, through tear-filled eyes, broken hearts and mounting uncertainties, slowly make the necessary and unpleasant adjustments to live without our loved ones. With the passage of time come (perhaps) a necessary re-evaluation and reformation of our priorities in life, indeed, maybe even an entirely new perspective of life and even above and beyond that, a new understanding of the meaning, value and purpose of life.

Life. What has 9/11 taught us concerning this reality? As we reflect on the fearful images of crumbling smoke-filled buildings, as we revisit pictures of anguished faces, as we hear again the piercing shrieks of frenetic escapees, and as we contemplate the radical personal, familial, community and national dislocations and incomprehensible losses, many of which still evade our knowledge, what new lessons come to mind? What have we learned? Sadly, our nation as a whole has not learned much. Signs of the upsurge of patriotism following the attacks and of the nationalistic resurgence marked by loud cries of "God bless America," by the defiant display of American flags on homes and by misguided clergy misquoting and misappropriating 2 Chron 7:14, "if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." are no longer perceptible. Ten years have gone by.

However, Christians should have learned and will do well to remember that we are citizens of two kingdoms. We are also citizens of this world. As such, we are under the law and are to obey our masters as unto the Lord. At the same time, we are those that have been born again by the Holy Spirit of God and that are a new creation, those that are being framed and fitted for heaven, we realize our citizenship is in heaven, where we are already seated in our union with Jesus Christ, Eph 2:6, and from which we await his Second Coming, Phi 3:20, to take his home with him to the ultimate Promised Land. We are in this world but are not of it. We are living in exile away from our home for which we have an ever-increasing longing. We understand and accept that all things in this life are under the sovereign hand of God and that while such punishing events as those of 9/11 are alarming and terrifying, yet we also know that these are under his sovereign control and are included in his immutable, eternal decree. No! The Lord God did not cause these events but in a strange way, he is working out his eternal purposes for his own glory through them. The harsh reality of these inexplicable truths of the mystery of divine sovereignty does not cause us to doubt his love, mercy and goodness. God forbid! In times of darkness, we do not deny what the Lord has taught us concerning himself and his purposes in times of clarity and light. Can this truth be distilled into compact and compelling brevity? Yes. ""For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."" Jn 3:16.

Life. If ever there was a time for Americans as a whole and for Christians in particular to grasp its meaning, it is now. A loving and mysterious God has bequeathed to his people, to his church, the gospel, that is, the message of life eternal through faith alone in Christ alone, so that those who believe on him will be granted this life and be rescued from an unimaginably greater conflagration than that of 9/11. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, humiliated himself by taking on the weakness of human flesh and entering into a world of terrorists among whom he lived sinlessly and whose death sentence he absorbed in his own flesh on the cross of Calvary where he experienced the unyielding, consuming fire of the divine wrath. This was an event that far outstrips the dreadful horrors of 9/11 in every way. This same Jesus now offers himself to be received through the means of faith alone, not to good people but to terrorists who defame and deny him daily, to even Al-Qaeda terrorists! That's life! That's love!

What should we have learned from 9/11? That life, that is, our span on this earth is brief and uncertain and that “.. man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Job 5:7. We also learn that not even Christians are exempt from the ferocious attacks of brutish enemies. However, of one thing we can be sure: a loving God has given us, who at one time were ferocious rebels without a cause against him, murderers of his most beautiful Son, life through Jesus Christ and has also bequeathed to us the Christian responsibility to share this news of reconciliation, with even our most vicious enemies. This is the God to whom those who have been granted eternal life continually sing "I Can't Stop Loving You." ….. but only because he first sang it to us.

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