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Archive for the ‘incarnation’ Category

Well it’s nearly Advent so it’s time for preachers to think about Carols services, Christingles, Nativity plays, etc.

It’s also a time to miss a golden opportunity.  The golden opportunity is to preach a theology of incarnation.  But, year in and year out, this chance is missed in evangelical churches.

Our mentions of incarnation boil down to the Abrupt, the Apologetic or the Anselmian.

The Abrupt:

“God in skin. Weird huh? Anyway…”

The Apologetic:

“Jesus shows up in time and space which means that we can verify the truth through historical methods, and really the New Testament documents are very reliable don’t you know…”

The Anselmian:

“God basically wants to acquit his elect and so needs a Scapegoat to take the fall. And there he is the manger. Weird huh?  Anyway…”

Where are the Athanasian, Atoning, Abasing themes?

The Athanasian Incarnation:

“In this marvellous exchange, He becomes what we are, that we might become what He is”?

The Atoning Incarnation:

“Here is God-With-Us, making us at-one in His very Person!”

The Abasing Incarnation:

My God is so small, so weak and so helpless, there’s nothing that He will not do… for you!

I wonder if we shy away from the Athanasian incarnation because we don’t want to get into (or don’t properly understand) the trinitarian theology that makes sense of it.

I wonder if we shy away from the Atoning incarnation because ontology has no place in our thinking about atonement.  (This is also why our Easter sermons contain no theology of resurrection – only a ‘proof that the cross worked’.)

I wonder if we shy away from the Abasing incarnation because we’re wedded to a theology of glory that refuses to countenance the little LORD Jesus.

If any of these guesses are anywhere near the mark, let me suggest a remedy.  Read Athanasius’ On the Incarnation and hear the kind of Christmas message that has warmed the hearts of millions down through the ages.  Get started here as you listen to Mike Reeves read extracts.

And for what they’re worth, here are three of my own posts on incarnation:

Incarnation and Trinity

Incarnation and Creation

Incarnation and Salvation

(For good measure here’s a paper on Athanasius and Irenaeus)

These are some talks in which I’ve tried to preach this theology…

 

Christmas is God laying hold of us – Hebrews 2:14-18

The Coming King – Psalm 72

In the beginning… – John 1:1-2

The Word became flesh – John 1:14

Christmas brings a crisis – John 1:15-18

Student Carols – Isaiah 9

Evangelistic carols service – Light shining in darkness – Isaiah 9:2-7 (different to the other Isaiah 9)

Luke 1:26-38

All-age: Christmas turns slaves to sons – Galatians 4:4-7

All-age Carols Talk: Christmas is weird – Phil 2:5-11

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Here are some songs on the same theme and the Anti-Santy video

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What resources have you found helpful?  Please share the wealth in comments…

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Dear Christmas Preachers,

Did you know that Christmas is about the incarnation?  No, but seriously, did you?  Cos I aint hearing much theology of incarnation.  Which is odd, don’t you think?

Visiting the worthy sermon repositories in England and the US, I’ve listened to dozens of “Christmas sermons” over advent.   Yet I’ve found that, if the incarnation is mentioned at all, it’s mentioned as a stark fact – something merely to wrap our heads around: “God in skin. Weird huh? Anyway…”

Or as an excuse to talk up ‘history’: “Jesus shows up in time and space which means that we can verify the truth through historical methods, and really the New Testament documents are very reliable don’t you know…”

Or as a line in some Anselmian argument: “God basically wants to acquit his elect and so needs a Scapegoat to take the fall. So there he is the manger. Weird huh?  Anyway…”

In my experience, even that kind of mention is about as incarnation-y as it gets for your average Christmas sermon.

Where is the whole “He became what we are, that we might become what He is”?  (Are we so functionally unitarian that we can’t really make Athanasius work for us?)  Where is a theology of God-with-us?  (Are we so Latin in our theology of the atonement  that ontology seems irrelevant to the question?)  Where do we exult in the “divine-self-emptying”?  (Are we so wedded to a theology of glory that we refuse to countenance the little LORD Jesus?).

Anyway, it’s Thawed-Out-Thursday so here’s an old article on Incarnation from the ‘freezer’ (and links to two more).  The three are:

Incarnation and Trinity

Incarnation and Creation

Incarnation and Salvation

(And for good measure here’s a paper on Athanasius and Irenaeus)

Below is Incarnation and Creation.  Have a read.  Or, much much better, go and read On the Incarnation.  Seriously, it’ll make your Christmas!

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Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,  but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.  During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake… Jesus said to them: “Take courage! I AM. Don’t be afraid.”  (Matthew 14:23-27)

There He is – communing with His Father on high.

There are His people, buffeted by the waves.

What does He do?  Simply pray for them?  Give advice from a distance?  No, He joins them.

He walks through the storm and treads on the abyss and does everything in His power to be with His beloved.  Fighting through the powers of chaos, He declares His divine name – I AM.  Here is the One who descends into His people’s affliction to bring them out.

So take courage.  Fear not.  The I AM has come to bring us home.

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Just did a crib service meditating on the littleness of the little LORD Jesus.  Most of the congregation were not regular church goers.  And so as I spoke there was another voice in my head.

It was the voice of a hundred other Christmas sermons I’ve heard.  You know the part where you’re meant to challenge the saccharine sweet domestication of Jesus with an embarassed: “But of course the baby in the manger grew up.  We mustn’t leave Jesus in the crib!  He’s a full grown man now you know!  Don’t look down on Jesus.”

Familiar?

It’s the attempt to wake people up from their preconceptions and show them something surprising.  But you know the way to really shock people.  Dwell on the manger.  Make a determined effort to look down on Jesus.  And proclaim that here – right here – is the true and living God.  That’ll wake em up from their preconceptions.

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From my sermon this morning (Isaiah 9:2-7).

UPDATE: This rant has since become this poem…

Sermon audio here.

Don’t have the spirit of Scrooge.

Don’t have the spirit of Winterfest.

Don’t have the spirit of Santa.

Look again to the manger.

Text below…

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…continued from here

Is salvation achieved merely by the incarnation?

Both Irenaeus and Athanasius are commonly accused of making the ‘bare fact’ of incarnation the sum total of Christ’s saving work.  Yet this is unfair.

For Irenaeus, Christ’s filling out of Adam’s distorted image means necessarily a “filling up [of] the times of his disobedience” (Ad. Her. III.21.1)  In taking on Adam’s substance, He took on Adam’s curse – this He satisfied at the cross, ‘propitiating indeed for us the Father, against Whom we had sinned’ (Ad. Her. V.17.1) and ‘redeeming us by His own blood’ (Ad. Her. V.14.3).  Having put Adam to death, the resurrection then realizes Christ’s spiritual body bringing about the true glorified humanity to which the redeemed will belong and on which the renewed creation will be patterned.

Athanasius calls the cross “the very centre of our faith.”  For him, the curse of death is a key consideration.  Within the creation narratives comes God’s decree: “You will surely die.”  The word of Genesis 2:17 must be maintained lest God be proved false and, ironically, the serpent proved true.  Christ’s incarnation is therefore that by which the Word can take a body capable of death “so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished.” (De incarn. 8) Moreover this death is specifically a sacrifice (De. Incarn. 9; 10; 20) made under God’s curse (De incarn. 25) and offered without blemish (De. Incarn. 9) so as to be a ransom (De. Incarn. 9; 25) freeing us from Adam’s ‘primal transgression’.  “In the same act also He showed Himself mightier than death, displaying His own body incorruptible as the first-fruits of the resurrection.”

Thus, while the Bishops both see the union of divine and human as the goal of God’s creation-redemption purposes; and while the ‘Word become flesh’ is their sole hope for this union; the ‘bare fact’ will not do on its own. The nature of Adam’s race requires much work to be done.  Mankind must turn from idols to the Truth, we must receive and truly own an active righteousness before the Father, Satan has to be defeated, justice must be upheld, sin must be dealt with, incorruptibility must be won.  Thus, Christ’s divine teaching, His demonstrations of authority over man, nature and the devil, His active obedience, His suffering, His death, His resurrection and His ascension are all crucial in order to accomplish redemption.

Yet, against those (especially the Arians), who would uphold the necessity of these works yet deny the Person who worked them, it must be maintained that the Agent of these works is God and the locus of their working is man.  These works are, therefore, only effective because they are the works of the God-Man.  Thus, the incarnation is the necessary cause of redemption, but sufficient only when articulated as the full work of the Incarnate, Creator-Word.

In the final post I’ll draw out some implications for today…

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This post first appeared last year in a series of three on the incarnation.  The other two are: Incarnation and trinity and Incarnation and salvation.

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Christ is “The Beginning”, “The Alpha”, “The First”.  His Person is itself the basis for creation.  He is the One who is eternally Other from the Father and the foundation for all else that is other than Him.  Because of Him, through Him and for Him flows a creation.

Christ is by nature and eternally from the Father in the Spirit.

Creation is by grace and in time from the Father through the Son and in the Spirit.

This shows us

a) the spreading goodness of the triune God, Whose being is outwardly curved.  Creation is not necessary to God.  But God’s being, like a fountain, by nature overflows.  It is a being going out towards the other.

b) creation is not a free floating reality but something beginning in the Son, crafted by Him, cohering in Him and headed towards Him as His inheritance.  While God’s being reaches out towards the other it is simultaneously a being that draws the other in bonds of love.

These twin tendencies – the going out and the drawing in – find fulfilment in creation and incarnation.

Let’s think about Genesis 1.  The heavens (masculine) and the earth (feminine) – like head and body, husband and wife – set the scene for this theatre of God’s glory.  And centre stage is man – Adam made from the Adamah (the ground).  He is not spoken into being.  This man of dust (Gen 2:7) is made of the very stuff of the earth – drawn up, pinched off like clay and breathed into.  The earth-man is strongly united to the earth over which he is placed as head.

Adam means

a) that particular bloke;

b) ‘a man’ (a true human being) and

c) ‘humanity’ (as a whole).

This central actor – man – is king.  He is God’s ruler, through whom He exercises dominion.  From the outset God’s rule is a mediated rule – through man.

Now when man is disobedient you may have thought that God would renege on His determination to rule through man.  But no.  He takes this mediation through man very seriously.  It is because of the cosmic kingship of man that man’s fall entails the fall of all creation.  The ground (adamah) is cursed because of man (adam).  Man remains king.  But while man is perverse, so is his world.

But all of this looks towards the Man of Heaven (1 Cor 15:47-49).  Flesh and blood could never inherit the kingdom of God.  Men of dust were never the intention.  The intention was always the union of heavenly Man and earthly man.  The intention was always for the Logos to take this flesh and as Man to rule as God’s true king.  This rule was not to be a divine rule over and against man.  It was to be a heavenly rule in and through man.

And so came the eschatological Adam (1 Cor 15:45).  He is

a) that particular bloke, Jesus;

b) ‘a man’ (a true human being) and

c) ‘humanity’ (an eschatological humanity to answer Adam’s)

He sums up the man of dust, his being and life.  He takes His very flesh and retraces the steps of his disobedience, hammering out instead a being and life of perfect faithfulness.  Then, exalted as the pinnacle of all creation, this eschatological Adam is lifted up between heaven and earth – absorbing the curse of both and reconciling one to the other.  As Priest He ministers by the Spirit, offering to God the true worship of earth (Heb 9:14).  As Lamb He receives the curse of God on behalf of man (Gal 3:13).  As King, He reigns from the tree, manifesting God’s righteous rule to the ends of the earth.

Ascending as Priest, Lamb and King to the Father’s right hand, Jesus has lead captives in His train and sat down as Head over all things for the church.  The True Man, our Brother, sits in heaven as ruler of earth, not over against earth.  Rather, having taken Adam (and in him, adamah!) to Himself, He rules as and for man for all eternity.  When the heavenly Husband (masculine) moves house with His Father to earth (feminine) there will be the Marriage to end all marriages.  The manifested union of Bridegroom and bride will be at the same time the manifested union of heaven and earth.  Christ and creation will be consummated that day.

As Alpha, Christ has crafted a creation and granted it a gracious otherness.

As Omega, He has entered in and drawn back that creation to a gracious oneness.

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The verse the early post-apostolic church probably turned to most to guide their understanding was Hebrews 2:14, ‘Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil’. In other words, the incarnation was, quite specifically, about the Son of God taking to himself the flesh he had created for Adam so that he could heal it of all that had been inflicted on it at the Fall. In Christ, real flesh and blood would be taken through death into the hope of bodily resurrection…

…The who of the incarnation is perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all. That is, this baby is Immanuel, God with us. He is not just some divine ambassador. He is God: God in the flesh. But if so, what an unexpected God! He does things that God really ought not do. We all know perfectly well that God belongs on a throne, not in an animal’s feeding trough. But he seems not to be aware of such protocols…

…when we see the incarnate Christ we see a very specific person. We do not see a system of thought or a religious principle, but a man – a man who personally is God, salvation, truth and life. And that entirely alters the very shape of Christianity: conversion here cannot then at root be about exchanging one set of beliefs, practices or perspectives for another, but abandoning other loves for love of this person.

Read the whole of this excellent short article here.

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stupidI’m not sure I like this from John Piper.  Not sure I like it at all.  It’s an illustration directed at kids in a 1999 sermon, recently quoted by Justin Taylor.

Your daddy is standing in a swimming pool out a little bit from the edge. You are, let’s say, three years old and standing on the edge of the pool. Daddy holds out his arms to you and says, “Jump, I’ll catch you. I promise.” Now, how do you make your daddy look good at that moment? Answer: trust him and jump. Have faith in him and jump. That makes him look strong and wise and loving. But if you won’t jump, if you shake your head and run away from the edge, you make your daddy look bad. It looks like you are saying, “he can’t catch me” or “he won’t catch me” or “it’s not a good idea to do what he tells me to do.” And all three of those make your dad look bad.

But you don’t want to make God look bad. So you trust him. Then you make him look good–which he really is. And that is what we mean when we say, “Faith glorifies God” or “Faith gives God glory.” It makes him look as good as he really is. So trusting God is really important….

…Faith glorifies God. That is why God planned for faith to be the way we are justified.

What’s odd to me (among other things) is that this comes from the man who most loudly champions the self-glorification of God!  He’s forever saying that God’s chief end is to glorify Himself, God is the most self-centred being in the universe, etc, etc.

Now I’ve written elsewhere my problems with this kind of theology of glory (here, here and here).  Fundamentally I think Piper lacks a trinitarian/incarnational shape to this glorification language.  He needs to be talking about the other-centredness of Father, Son and Spirit.  When we think out our theology from an explicitly trinitarian logic then actually it is the glorification of the Other that defines the being of God.  The Father glorifies the Son by the Spirit and the Son glorifies the Father by the Spirit.  Wonderfully, when the Son is born of a woman, born under law, He comes to be glorified by the Father as Man and to glorify the Father as Man.

Now this is the sense in which God glorifies Himself.  The Son offers to the Father the true obedience, trust, worship and sacrifice. He does this in my place, on my behalf and as my substitute.  And even when I don’t desire or glorify God, Christ does.

It’s for this reason that TF Torrance can say in Theology in Reconstruction:

[A truly trinitarian and incarnational theology is] not concerned simply with a divine revelation which demands from us all a human response, but with a divine revelation which already includes a true and appropriate and fully human response as part of its achievement for us and to us and in us.

feed me seymoreAnd the upshot of all this is that we don’t have Daddy on the sidelines needing little old us to make Him look good.  He has Big Ol’ Jesus to do that, which is good.  Because frankly I’m not up to the job and neither are you.  And to be honest it’s not the most attractive doctrine of God is it? Feed me, Seymour!

But then only a deeply and thoroughly trinitarian doctrine of God can ever avoid making God look needy (see this sermon).  It’s always a good diagnostic to check – if in my theology I have a needy God, I’m probably not being trinitarian enough.

I’m afraid to say I sense a lack here with Piper.  (I mean ‘I’m afraid’ because I reckon I’ll get some serious resistance to this.  Btw, have I mentioned I have deep and ongoing respect for the man?  I do, I promise!  But occasionally fresh-faced, big-mouth with a red guitar, three chords and a blog gets something stuck in his craw).

And if anyone complains that I’m taking an illustration for kids too far, I’d invite you to read some more Piper.  He writes the same stuff for grown-ups too.  A lot actually.

Now you might say – this is not about saving faith, it’s about daily trusting the Lord.  I’d reply a) there are still problems and b) look again at the final sentence.

You might ask, why the picture at the top?  Well, maybe it’s becoming more clear.  I believe Piper has his theology of self-glorification backwards which means something else has to be brought in to do the job of giving God His due – little old us.  And in the end, it just looks silly.

My blogging’s been very dull for the last couple of weeks.  Maybe this will spice things up!

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ok the Christmas clock is against me.

So let me just say that for all the talk about incarnation manifesting the triune glory and incarnation giving coherence and consummation to creation, the biblical emphasis falls overwhelmingly on salvation as the reason for incarnation.  (Though of course the interconnectedness of God’s outgoing being, creation and salvation ought to give us much to chew on!)

But let’s realize that Jesus comes as Saviour.  And Saviour from sin.

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. 

1 Timothy 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.

 1 John 3:8 The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

How’s it all work?  Well due to time constraints, let me simply link to a sermon I preached last year from Hebrews 2Audio here

Christ as the Seed of Abraham (singular) lays hold of us, the seed of Abraham, (plural).  He sums us up so as to be our substitutionary Lamb and merciful High Priest.  He lives our life, dies our death and now presents us to the Father in Himself.  Therefore…

“As you look into the manger this Christmas, look with irrepressible hope.  There, in the face of Christ, you see not only the Father’s self-giving love.  There also you see yourself.  There in the manger is your humanity laid hold of by Immanuel.  There is your life, hidden with Christ.  And His victory is your victory, His future is your future, His righteousness is your righteousness, His joy is your joy.  God has gotten hold of you, permanently, irreversibly.  Christmas guarantees it.”

I wish you all God’s blessings in His Son.  Rejoice that they flow to you because today He became our Brother.  Happy Christmas.

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Yesterday we looked at incarnation and trinity.  Today I’ll just make some observations about incarnation and creation.

Christ is “The Beginning”, “The Alpha”, “The First”.  His Person is itself the basis for creation.  He is the One who is eternally Other from the Father and the foundation for all else that is other than Him.  Because of Him, through Him and for Him flows a creation. 

Christ is by nature and eternally from the Father in the Spirit. 

Creation is by grace and in time from the Father through the Son and in the Spirit. 

This shows us

a) the spreading goodness of the triune God, Whose being is outwardly curved.  Creation is not necessary to God.  But God’s being, like a fountain, by nature overflows.  It is a being going out towards the other.

b) creation is not a free floating reality but something beginning in the Son, crafted by Him, cohering in Him and headed towards Him as His inheritance.  While God’s being reaches out towards the other it is simultaneously a being that draws the other in bonds of love. 

These twin tendencies – the going out and the drawing in – find fulfilment in creation and incarnation.

Let’s think about Genesis 1.  The heavens (masculine) and the earth (feminine) – like head and body, husband and wife – set the scene for this theatre of God’s glory.  And centre stage is man – Adam made from the Adamah (the ground).  He is not spoken into being.  This man of dust (Gen 2:7) is made of the very stuff of the earth – drawn up, pinched off like clay and breathed into.  The earth-man is strongly united to the earth over which he is placed as head. 

Adam means 

a) that particular bloke;

b) ‘a man’ (a true human being) and

c) ‘humanity’ (as a whole).   

This central actor – man – is king.  He is God’s ruler, through whom He exercises dominion.  From the outset God’s rule is a mediated rule – through man.

Now when man is disobedient you may have thought that God would renege on His determination to rule through man.  But no.  He takes this mediation through man very seriously.  It is because of the cosmic kingship of man that man’s fall entails the fall of all creation.  The ground (adamah) is cursed because of man (adam).  Man remains king.  But while man is perverse, so is his world.

But all of this looks towards the Man of Heaven (1 Cor 15:47-49).  Flesh and blood could never inherit the kingdom of God.  Men of dust were never the intention.  The intention was always the union of heavenly Man and earthly man.  The intention was always for the Logos to take this flesh and as Man to rule as God’s true king.  This rule was not to be a divine rule over and against man.  It was to be a heavenly rule in and through man.

And so came the eschatological Adam (1 Cor 15:45).  He is

a) that particular bloke, Jesus;

b) ‘a man’ (a true human being) and

c) ‘humanity’ (an eschatological humanity to answer Adam’s)

He sums up the man of dust, his being and life.  He retraces the steps of his disobedience and hammers out instead a being and life of perfect faithfulness.  And then, exalted as the pinnacle of all creation, this eschatological Adam is lifted up between heaven and earth – absorbing the curse of both and reconciling one to the other.  As Priest He ministers by the Spirit, offering to God the true worship of earth (Heb 9:14).  As Lamb He receives the curse of God on behalf of man (Gal 3:13).  As King, He reigns from the tree, manifesting God’s righteous rule to the ends of the earth.

Ascending as Priest, Lamb and King to the Father’s right hand, Jesus has lead captives in His train and sat down as Head over all things for the church.  The True Man, our Brother, sits in heaven as ruler of earth, not over against earth.  Rather, having taken Adam (and in him, adamah!) to Himself, He rules as and for man for all eternity.  When the heavenly Husband (masculine) moves house with His Father to earth (feminine) there will be the Marriage to end all marriages.  The manifested union of Bridegroom and bride will be at the same time the manifested union of heaven and earth.  Christ and creation will be consummated that day.

As Alpha, Christ has crafted a creation and granted it a gracious otherness.

As Omega, He has entered in and drawn back that creation to a gracious oneness.  

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Here’s the first of three sketches of posts:

Incarnation and trinity

Incarnation and creation

Incarnation and salvation.

I’ll try to be brief.

Have you ever heard the history of trinitarian thought taught like this:

Once upon a time everyone was a strict monotheist.  And then the incarnation happened.  And it messed with our heads for the first 4 centuries of the church.  But eventually, through some philosophical sleights of hand, we managed to slip Jesus into our assumed monotheism.  Phew. 

Ok that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  But perhaps you’ll recognize that order of explanation – i.e. the incarnation forces us to do trinitarian theology.

Now – as you’ll probably know – I firmly believe that Christ is the foundation for all knowledge of God.  Christ, as He introduces us to His Father and Spirit, is indeed the starting point for trinitarian theology.  But – as you’ll also probably know – I think Christ is revealed long before the incarnation!   And therefore it is not ‘incarnation’ that makes us think ‘trinity’.  It’s ‘trinity, revealed in the eternal Son’ that then helps us think through ‘incarnation.’

And here’s the pay off:  Attributing divine honours to the One Sent from God is not a New Testament novelty.  To give one example – Christ appears often in the OT as the Angel of the LORD.  As such He is One in Whom God’s Name dwells (Ex 23:20ff), One Who is Himself called LORD (everywhere!) and Who, as God of Abraham, is the Object of prayer and Source of blessing (Gen 48:15,16).  A proper Hebrew doctrine of God is already comfortable with the One Sent from God being distinct from God and yet Himself God. 

Now fast forward to the New Testament and let’s confront those questions that the incarnation naturally throws up:

  • Why doesn’t Jesus just say ‘I am God’?  Why all this ‘I am sent…’ stuff?
  • Why does Jesus keep saying things like: ‘I can do nothing by myself’? (e.g John 5:19,30)
  • How come Jesus sleeps?
  • How come Jesus doesn’t know when He’s returning?

Typically such questions make people question His divinity.  ‘How can He be other than God and yet be God?  How can He be divine when He defines Himself as the ultimate servant?’  Yet if we’d properly understood the OT doctrine of God, such considerations might well make us affirm His divinity!

You see it’s a revelation of His divine nature (and not a concealment) that we see in Jesus such dependence on the Father.  When He says ‘I am sent’ it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Son of the Father – THE Angel.  When He says ‘I can do nothing’ it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Servant of the LORD.  When He sleeps it reveals His divine nature as One dependent upon the ever-wakeful Father.  When He says He doesn’t know when He’s returning He reveals His divine nature as One sent from God.  He waits on the Father’s command and does not initiate His first or second coming.

All of this means we can take His humanity with the utmost seriousness.  He really can’t do anything by Himself.  He really does sleep (He really does die even!)  He really doesn’t know when He’s returning.  He says He doesn’t, let’s just go with the Word on this one.

We don’t need to assign these differences in Jesus to some ‘human nature’ locked off from a special sphere of uncorrupted deity.  Jesus’ deity is not insulated from these differences, it includes them.  It is the Man Jesus who says ‘If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.’  It is the Man Jesus who says ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’  In His differences, in His complete humanity, He is the living God. 

So for all of this He is no less divine.   In fact all this is the very expression of His triune Godness – a Godness that has always included distinction and servitude.  Jesus is God precisely because He is the Spirit Anointed Servant of the LORD – in other words, the Christ, the Son of God.  This divinity is not at odds with His humanity but fully expressed within it.  (For more on this see Nicea comes before Chalcedon.)

In this way the incarnation is not a departure or a nuance but a true expression of God’s nature.

And this is where I’d like to end for now – to see Jesus of Nazareth is to see into the deepest depths of the divine life.  Jesus is not like diluted orange squash – His humanity watering down a divinity that would otherwise be too strong for us.  The Man Jesus reveals the eternal life of God at full strength and in its true nature.  Because the life of God is a life of Offer and Receipt, Command and Obedience.  It has ever been outwardly curved.  It has ever been a being towards incarnation.

Christmas is not our best shot at getting an angle on God.  Christmas is looking into the manger and staring the trinitarian God full in the face.

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Preached this last night at Carols by Candlelight.  (audio here)

Lots of kids (there was a nativity).  Readings were Matthew 2:1-12 (the Magi) and Philippians 2:5-11.

I think I managed to say at one point “There was never a time when Jesus and His Father existed.”  Be assured I’m not a oneness Pentecostal.  I meant to say there was never a time when they didn’t exist.  Hope people understood!

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Christmas is weird.  Do you ever think how weird Christmas is?

Wise men come from the east to see the Baby Jesus.  And what do you do when you see a baby? 

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You say “A-wooga-booga-booga-booga, who’s a beautiful brown eyed boy?”  That’s what you do when you see a newborn baby.  But these wise men – you know what they did?  They got flat on their faces in the middle of a stable and worshipped a baby!

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Wise men worshipping a baby.  WISE men. Dignified men.  Important men.  Intelligent men.  Bowing down to a baby who was wriggling around in a feeding trough.  Did you know that’s what a manger is? 

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A manger is a feeding trough that cows and sheep eat out of.  I’m sure they cleaned it up as best they could but nonetheless – a tiny baby, wriggling around in a feeding trough, and WISE MEN worshipped!

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If you saw me worshipping a newborn baby you would not think that I was wise.  You would think that I’d been mulling a little too much wine.  And if you lived in bible times you would be shocked.  Because in the bible you worship nothing and noone except God Almighty.  And these WISE MEN worshipped the baby Jesus. 

That’s weird right?

Well it get’s weirder. 

Do you remember in our reading the wise men were coming from the east to find Jesus?  And King Herod was worried because they were talking about Jesus as a King.  And Herod wanted to find out where Jesus would be born.  So they consult the Bible – they go straight to the Old Testament.  And, clear as day, the Old Testament prophet Micah said the promised King would be born in Bethlehem.

Here’s what the verse said:

2 “But you, Bethlehem… though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me One who will be Ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

So that’s how Herod knew God’s King would be born in Bethlehem. 

But do you notice how the verse ends?  “His origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Micah says that God’s promised King is very old.  In fact the word there for ancient times is the word for eternity.  So the verse is saying, God’s promised King who’s going to be born in Bethlehem, He is God’s eternal King.  God and His King Jesus go WAY BACK.  And I mean WAY WAY WAY back.  Before there were any people or planets or protons – God and His eternal King Jesus existed.  And then 700 years after Micah, that Eternal King is born in the little town of Bethlehem.  So the Baby in the manger is Ancient – He’s from eternity!!!  The Baby is ancient!

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Is that weird or is that weird?  The Baby is ancient!  Jesus Christ is not 2000 years old.  He is MUCH more ancient than that.  He is God’s Eternal King.  There has never been a time when Jesus did not exist with His Father. 

So on that first Christmas, the Baby wriggling in the manger is ancient – an eternal King.

I told you this was weird.  But if that’s twisted your melon, now I’m going to turn up the weird factor to nuclear.

Because in our second reading for tonight we heard something so weird that it actually makes all of that seem perfectly natural.

In Philippians 2 we get to see the thought-life of the Ancient King Jesus.  In Philippians 2 we get to hear what Jesus was thinking long long before Christmas. 

Look with me at Philippians 2 from verse 5. The apostle Paul writes:

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 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!

So this is an insight into the attitude of Christ.  Do you see that’s how it begins in v5 – your attitude should be the same as Christ’s attitude.  Well what’s Christ’s attitude?  From v6 it tells us.  Jesus is in very nature God.  He is completely equal to God His Father.  But, v6,  Jesus makes a consideration.  He thinks to Himself.   And He thinks – “Just because I’m equal with God, I’m not going to use that to serve myself.  I’m going to use that to serve others.  And so He chooses to get born.  Isn’t that amazing?

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Who here chose to get born??  You didn’t decide to get born.  I’m guessing if you had been offered the chance to get born, you’d have taken it.  But Jesus is the Ancient Ruler, God’s Eternal King – He’s been around forever.  If He get’s born into the human race it’s only because He chooses to get born into the human race.  And that’s what He did – He chose to get born.

But I promise you, if you were in His shoes, you’d never have chosen what He chose.  If you were in very nature God, if you were the Eternal King, surrounded by the worship of heaven, in the direct presence of Your Father who you adored with all your heart and had done forever – if you were in Jesus’ shoes you would not have chosen what Jesus chose.  Because this is how Jesus considered things:  Being in very nature God, He chose not to grasp at His privileges or to exploit them.  Instead He chose total self-emptying.

Do you see that in v7?  It says ‘He made Himself nothing’.  Literally it says ‘He emptied Himself’.

Imagine the most enormous dam you can think of. 

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Trillions and trillions and trillions of gallons of water, full to overflowing.  And then…

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… that water pouring down, completely emptying itself. 

Jesus chose to completely pour Himself out for the world.

And He poured Himself out in service.  He took the very nature of a servant.

So Jesus the Eternal King, chose to be born.  Chose to empty Himself in service, He chose to take the form of a servant.  And verse 8 says ‘He humbled Himself’.

He humbled Himself alright.  He left the riches of heaven to become poor.  He left the throne to become a servant.  He exchanged being Commander in Chief for, v8 becoming obedient – even to death on the cross. 

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You know when you see Jesus in the manger, it’s like watching a man falling.  Because He’s come from the highest heights.  And on Christmas morning you see Him heading down.  …..  Down, down, down all the way to death. 

And all of this happens – the crib and the cross happens – because, v6, Jesus made a decision.  He considered His options.  He weighed it up.  On the one hand He could stay in heaven and hold onto His divine privileges.  But Jesus thought No.  Because that would not show us the true nature of God.  Let me say that again because I think it’s quite shocking – Staying on the throne would not show us the true nature of God.  The true nature of God is shown by climbing down off the throne, pouring Himself out as a servant, wriggling in the manger and writhing on the cross.  That’s what shows us the very nature of God!  Not grasping but giving.  Not exploiting but emptying.  Not being served but serving.  Not domination but humility.

In the Times yesterday the front page has Robert Mugabe saying “I will never, never surrender.  Zimbabwe is mine.”  The very opposite of how Jesus considered His power.  When we think about people in power, they never want to let go of their power.  The worst leaders don’t – even the best leaders find it very difficult to let go of power.  We grasp at it.  We cling on. Jesus emptied Himself.  They say absolute power corrupts.  Well it might corrupt us, but it didn’t corrupt Jesus.  He used His absolute power to serve.  Isn’t that incredible?

Neil told a story this morning that I’m going to steal.  Imagine if you’re slobbing around at home, the place is a tip and you get a knock at the door.  You answer the door in your dressing gown and it’s only the Queen.  Your jaw is on the floor and she walks past you into your home and says, don’t get up – I’ve come to do a spot of cleaning.  She takes off her pristine white gloves, puts on the marigolds and starts doing the housework.  What would you think?

Well friends, Jesus has come from far greater heights, and He’s stooped down to far greater depths.  He has served you and me in the most incredible way.  That baby in the manger is the Lord of heaven stooping down to serve you.

Which shows us something very important.  It shows us that Jesus thinks we’re in trouble.  He mounts a cosmic rescue mission – because He thinks we need it.  Jesus does not stay in heaven and simply call us up.  He knows that we can’t do it.  He knows that we can’t go up – He must come down.  So that’s what Jesus does.  He comes from the heights and swoops down to meet us where we are – in the depths.  That’s how Jesus uses His power, to stoop, to serve, to save.

Isn’t that the most wonderful thing in the world, that He would do that for us?  God the Father thinks it’s the greatest thing ever.

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 Verse 9, when God the Father sees His Son pouring Himself out in service …

9 Therefore God exalted [Jesus] 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.

When God the Father sees His Son poured out as a humble servant and dying a hellish death – THEREFORE He exalts Jesus.  Because of the crib and the cross, the Father says “Have the crown.”  Because the crib and the cross are the true expressions of God’s crown. 

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One day everyone will bow the knee to Jesus, the LORD, and they will do so because He poured out His life to death.  And when the Father sees that He says “YES!  That IS what it means to be LORD.  And He exalts Jesus to His right hand to tell the universe:  This Servant is LORD.  This is what it means to be in very nature God. 

And one day every person who has ever lived will bow before Jesus, the Divine Servant.  Whether they love Him or hate Him, EVERYONE will be flattened by the glory of the Servant King.

When He returns one day, still bearing the scars of His crucifixion, we will be overwhelmed.  Everyone in this room will bow to Jesus.  Whether gladly or reluctantly.  Everyone outside this room will bow to Jesus.  We won’t be able to help ourselves.  The power of His Self-Emptying Majesty will force us down on our faces to confess that this – the Most Humble Servant there’s ever been – is LORD of all. 

Well what do you think of the Wise Men now?  Do you understand their worship?  Or is it still weird to you?  Have you also looked inside the manger and seen the Glory of God?

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Maybe even as I’ve been speaking you have begun to look differently at that Baby.  Maybe now for the first time you realise who He is.  You realise that He chose to come, chose to serve, chose even to die – and He did it for you.  Can you see what the Wise Men saw?

Maybe you’ve never worshipped Christ the LORD before.  That’s what a Christian is – someone who worships Christ the LORD.  You might have always considered yourself a Christian but you’ve never worshipped Christ.  You’ve always thought the Wise Men were a bit over the top.  You’ve never, yourself, bent the knee to Jesus.  You’ve never confessed that He is the LORD, He is the One it’s all about.

Well maybe tonight you realise: life’s not about you, it’s about Him.  He is worthy of worship.  And maybe you’ve realised God’s not aloof.  He draws near.  And maybe you’re feeling Him drawing near.  Perhaps in your heart right now you’re beginning to worship Jesus.  If you are – you’re becoming a Christian.  Come and talk to me or Neil afterwards, we’d love to help you in you’re your first steps as a Christian.

But for all of us – do we see the divine humility of Jesus?  This Christmas – rejoice that God really is that good.  Don’t think dark thoughts about God.  Don’t wonder whether He loves, whether He cares, whether He’s interested.  Christmas tells you He loves, He cares, He hears and He comes.  This Christmas let us worship Christ the LORD.

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What’s your least favourite Christmas Carol line?

“The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes” gives me heartburn.

But ironically my least favourite line comes from my favourite carol – Hark the Herald:

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.”

Doesn’t this communicate the terrible error that ‘becoming flesh’ obscures the divine glory rather than expresses it?  It seems to say that Christ’s glory exists behind and apart from His flesh.  As though His humanity hides his divinity.

Or can we salvage the line?  Perhaps it’s just like Luther’s ‘revealed in His hiddenness / hidden in His revealedness’ type paradox?  Does the following line cover the error – “Hail the Incarnate Deity”?

What think you?

And are there other lines that bug you at Christmas?

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What would happen if God really laid hold of you?  How do you respond to that prospect?

Do you fear the idea – worried about how He will treat you up close and personal? 

Do you long for it – maybe then you’d break free from the ruts you’ve been stuck in?

Well Christmas means that God has already gotten His hands on you!

“Surely it is not angels who He lays hold of but it is the seed of Abraham He lays hold of.” (Heb 2:16)

At Christmas, Jesus Christ lays hold of His people – the seed of Abraham.  In fact, as the Seed of Abraham, He comprehends in Himself the totality of His people, like a Vine comprehends its branches.  Jesus assumes our humanity and in doing so draws us into Himself.  This is a comprehensive ‘laying hold of’!

Jesus does not come to offer advice.  He does not come to direct us in righteous paths.  He does not make possible our living for God.  Instead, as the Seed of Abraham, He lays hold of His people and wrenches them from the clutches of sin, the world and the devil.  He sums up and puts away their sin on the cross and rises as the Vindicated Servant.  Now He is enthroned at the Father’s right hand – taking with Him the humanity He assumed. 

Christ has placed His hands on us in the most radical and thorough-going way.  He has commandeered the totality of our existence.  We may wish that He had a more ‘hands-off’ approach.  We may want to cast ourselves as free agents who can consider whether or not to offer Jesus our allegiance.  But when this Word comes to us we realize that we are already claimed, already grabbed, already Man-handled by Jesus.  He has gotten His hands on us and He has worked an incredible salvation in us. 

Now we find ourselves caught up in His life, His death, His resurrection and His ascension.  Our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3).  God has gotten hold of our life and done in us what we could never do ourselves – what we could never dream of doing!  And His purposes in doing this are entirely for our blessing (just read about His purposes in the context: Heb 2:14-18).  We have nothing to fear from this ‘Man-handling’ and everything to be thankful for.

As you look into the manger this Christmas, look with irrepressible hope.  There, in the face of Christ, you see not only the Father’s self-giving love.  There also you see yourself.  There in the manger is your humanity laid hold of by Immanuel.  God has gotten hold of you, permanently, irreversibly.  Christmas guarantees it.

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