The Incarnation

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary

 

Our journey through the Apostles’ Creed brings us now into a multipart study of the life and work of Jesus, which, of course, begins at His birth. The virgin birth, which Lewis called the Grand Miracle, has long been given the rightful attention of theologians. As we will see, without this opening act of God, the gospel is undone. The incarnation of Christ and His virgin birth is not a belief to be negotiated; it is the wonder of all wonders. It is our hope and our redemption.

THE DOCTRINE

Far more can be said about Christ’s birth than what we have time for here; we will, therefore, paint with broad strokes, attempting to cover the basics of this doctrine. In doing so, let us begin with the title given for this event by which we still divide all of human history: the incarnation. Incarnation means the taking on of flesh, of a body. A central text from which we can center this study is John 1:14, “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.” This Word was both distinct from God, while also being God (1:1). This Word was the means by which God created all things, such that nothing created was created without Him (which can only mean that He, like God, was not created). This Word is Jesus, as is made clear in verse 17. He has brought life to men, shining light into our darkness. God the Son, the eternal Word, has displayed His glory to the world that He made, such glory that could only radiate from the Son as He comes from the Father. How did He reveal to us His gracious and true glory? He became flesh and dwelt among us. God the Son became human. This is the incarnation of Christ.

The Apostles’ Creed summarizes the incarnation with two phrases: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. The two are inseparably linked to one another. Without the conception by the Holy Spirit, the virgin birth is impossible. Without the virgin birth, the conception by the Holy Spirit rendered false. We cannot affirm one without the other; we must accept or reject them together.

But why were such things necessary? Let us begin with why a virgin birth was necessary. The virgin birth is not simply a silly myth for describing Jesus’ origin as a great teacher. It is a historical reality that is also a crucial component to the message of the gospel. In fact, the first promise of the gospel also prophesies the virgin birth. In Genesis 3:15, after humanity fell into sin, God pronounced this curse upon the Serpent: “I will put an enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The curse must have given comfort to Eve. She was deceived and led into sin by the Serpent, but one of her offspring would destroy the Serpent. Through a woman, Adam plunged humanity into sin, but through a woman would also come humanity’s Savior. The incarnation of Jesus only deepens this symmetry by revealing that the Serpent-Crusher was not just born of woman, but He was exclusively born of a woman since she was impregnated by no man.

Many theologians have pointed to the virgin birth, therefore, as the catalyst for Jesus coming into the world as the second Adam (that is, without inheriting sin). Being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, Jesus was born free from the cycle of sin, which, of course, made it possible for Him to live a sinless life. Without the virgin birth, Jesus could not rightly be called the second Adam, and He could not give His life as payment for our sins. The virgin birth, therefore, is necessary for the gospel.

Furthermore, the two statements also point us toward the two natures of Christ. As being conceived by the Holy Spirit, we affirm that Jesus was sent by the Father to earth. He did not begin existing with His conception because He was eternally existing as God the Son. He is, therefore, divine. He is God the Son sent by God the Father.

But He was also born of Mary the virgin. He was born. Think about it. He was born. Nine months of developing in the womb and the whole shebang. He came into the world like we all came into the world: by the body of our mother. Jesus, therefore, is human. While His birth was not the beginning of His existence, it was His incarnation, His becoming flesh, a human.

This stands beside the Trinity as one of the great mysteries of Christianity. Jesus is one person, yet He bears two natures, God and man. He is fully human and fully God. He is not a glorified man who looks kind of divine, as the Arians believe. Neither is He God who only appeared to look like a man, as Docetism teaches. He is not a demigod, who is part God and part man, nor is He sometimes God and sometimes man. The Chalcedonian Creed (or the Definition of Chalcedon) gives us very specific language for affirming this reality:

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

APPLICATION

Having now addressed some of the basics for understanding the incarnation, we now will look at how this doctrine applies to us. While the applications for the incarnation are numerous, I will discuss three: 1) by becoming human while retaining His deity, Jesus is able to mediate between God and man, 2) since Jesus became flesh, our bodies are not evil, and 3) by condescending to us, Jesus is the supreme model of humility for us.

Jesus as Mediator

Paul wrote these words to his disciple, Timothy: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Jesus is only mediator between us and God. But why do we need a mediator at all?

Adam and Eve needed no mediator. They were free to bathe in the presence of God and to enjoy the world that He had given them to rule. But they rejected their communion with God in a feeble attempt to seize power. Their disobedience opened a chasm between them and their Creator. As a symbol of this separation, they were exiled from Eden, cast away from God’s presence. God gives the judgment, but the damage is self-inflicted. When we sin, we follow the footsteps of our ancestors and keep the path clear for our descendants to tread behind. We reject God, and there remains nothing for us except a gulf between us.

In His mercy, God repeatedly crossed the chasm to reveal Himself to His people. He spoke to them through prophets. He gave His Spirit to their kings. He established priests to pray and sacrifice on their behalf. Yet these were all messages from afar, letters to exiles to remind us that we were not forgotten nor unloved. But the abyss remained uncrossed.

Enter Jesus, who bridged the gulf. As a man, Jesus was able to be truly human, as we were designed to be. He became like us in every respect, except better, as we should have been. He became the second Adam, resisting the pull of sin that the first Adam fell into. When offered the forbidden fruit from Eve, Adam ate. He should have rejected the opportunity to sin. More than that, he should have offered himself to take the judgment of Eve’s rebellion. Instead of correcting and then dying for her, he chose to follow and then blame his wife. Jesus, however, never yielded to sin and died in our place to rescue His Bride.

Yet Jesus’ death would have been insufficient unless He was also God. How can one man’s physical death cover the eternal spiritual death that was the consequence of sin? Only the Infinite Himself could pay our infinite debt. Since God was sinned against, only God could also redeem. As God, the death of Jesus was the death of God. The Holy One died to make us holy, to bridge the chasm and restore our communion with Him.

Without both Jesus’ divinity and humanity, He could not be our mediator. Yet He, the God-man, is. He is the way that has been made across the divide, and there is no other. How could there be? To claim another path to God makes a mockery of the cross. Further, it makes a mockery of God humbling Himself to become a man. Jesus has not left other options open. We must either accept Him or reject Him, but we cannot view Him half-heartedly as one of many roads to God.

“There is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.”

The Flesh

Gnosticism was one of the first heresies to rise up against Christianity. Gnostics primarily believed that Jesus had given to some individual a secret knowledge that was hidden from the others. Who this individual was varied between different teachers (Thomas, Judas, Peter, Philip, Mary, etc.), which is why there are so many Gnostic Gospels. Yet most Gnostics shared the idea that this secret knowledge would free them from the physical world and enable them to transcend into the spiritual world. They longed for this because they believed all things physical to be evil and all things spiritual to be good. This view led to two extreme applications. First, some Gnostics would give themselves fully to ascetism, punishing their bodies and denying themselves any earthly pleasure. Second, others would yield entirely to self-indulgence, reasoning that the body could only do evil since it was evil so why try to stop it? Both were drastic attempts to be liberated from our flesh and from the material world. Doesn’t that sound spiritual?

This swaying between extremes is still present today. While Western culture has predominately been hedonistic (as consumerism must be), society almost always fights extremes with extremes; thus, when the American dream leaves us empty, many turn to an ascetic lifestyle. The flashy steam of dopamine that is social media is only fueling this division at an even quicker pace. Social media feeds are inherently hedonistic by design. The blend of having screens as buffers between us and others, endless information novelty, personalized news feeds, and vast social connectivity has created a kind of cognitive candy. We should not be surprised then to find the disillusioned turning to Buddhism and Stoicism (often condensed into the idea of mindfulness), both of which emphasize the primary importance of disciplining our desires and impulses. Islam fits this narrative as well by requiring physical acts of daily prayer and an extended time of fasting each year. They are appealing as ascetic alternatives to the Internet-driven hedonism. They appear to give an answer for what we are to do with our bodies. Feed them relentlessly, or starve them into submission?

Christianity reaches toward both with the truth as revealed in Christ. Jesus’ resurrection blasts a hole in the Gnostic logic of asceticism. God chose to dwell in flesh; therefore, flesh itself cannot be an inherent evil. Jesus comes to redeem our bodies, not destroy them. This will occur through the death of our current bodies, but when Christ comes again, He will resurrect us into new, glorified bodies. Our flesh is not evil, just broken. This means that the life of a Christian must embrace the shades of truth that mark both hedonism and stoicism. We must recognize that God purposely made us with taste buds. He also created chocolate with a different flavor than strawberries, and He made both of those flavors wonderful to combine. As His children, God delights whenever we enjoy the gifts that He has given to us. Yet because our flesh is marred by sin, we constantly valuing God’s gifts more than God as the Giver. We must, therefore, discipline our bodies so we are not consumed by the lure of more.

We see this balance imaged in marriage. Proverbs commends us to delight ourselves physically with our spouse. Properly understood, enjoying the body of one’s spouse is taking pleasure in a gift that they have given exclusively to you. Delight is statement of love, a declaration that their body and their self is satisfying and sufficient for you. Failing to enjoy your spouse can, therefore, rightfully be seen as being unsatisfied with them and their gift, while an obsession with your spouse’s body makes them into an object to used. Both extremes are unloving and ultimately destroy the pleasure itself.

The same can be said of every gift that the Father gives to us. To reject His gifts is a rejection of His gracious love toward us, but to be consumed by His gifts is an idolatrous rejection of Him. May we, therefore, as followers of One who is both God and man be the most satisfied in our enjoyment in our enjoyment of the earthly pleasures that the Father as given us, while also being the most disciplined against letting our desires and longings consume us.

Humility

Finally, the incarnation of Jesus teaches us by example what true humility looks like. Simply stated, Jesus becoming a human is only rivaled by His crucifixion as the greatest act of humility ever committed. Consider the reality of it. God became one of His creations, like a potter choosing to become a jar. The Infinite One became finite. He clothed Himself in the limitations of a body. He willing submitted Himself to hunger, thirst, and pain. He became like us in every respect yet without sin.

Indeed, Jesus was more human than us because of His freedom from sin. As Chesterton argues, sin deadens the senses, leading to a kind of spiritual and emotional paralysis or vegetation. Yet Jesus’ heart was not dulled by sin. His spirit was not deadened to the brokenness around Him. We flinch and distract ourselves from thinking too long or hard about the present reality of atrocities like the child trafficking for organ-harvesting or systemic rape in countries like Myanmar or Libya. Yet Jesus saw every single sin as the act of cosmic treason that it is. We, therefore, cannot even begin to fathom the depth of suffering that even viewing our “small” sins would have caused Him. Yet Jesus chose this life. He willingly descended from heaven to take on flesh and blood and to ultimately have that flesh and blood broken and spilled in our place for our sins.

We must follow His example of humility in at least two ways.

First, since Jesus humbled Himself to become flesh and came not to be served but to serve us, no one is too lowly for us to serve. As our Lord, Jesus modeled how we must live by serving. If we are not greater than Him, how then can we do anything but serve as He served?

But it’s not just the act of serving that Jesus has modeled for us, but also the heart of serving. If we are not guarded, too often serving others can actually build up our pride. We can subtly develop a pharisaical mentality where we believe ourselves to be superior to others precisely because of how selfless we believe ourselves to be. Indeed, this can also limit how we serve others. By believing that we are doing others a favor by serving them, we can view our acts of service with a kind of take-it-or-leave-it mindset, which is not an act of genuinely seeking their good. Therefore, we must be constantly vigilant to conform our hearts to the likeness of Jesus, who served out of selfless and humble love for others.

Second, as we studied last week, a failure to embrace Jesus as Lord is an obstinate declaration of our own supremacy, while bowing to Jesus as Lord is a humble act of submission to Him. Embracing Jesus as our Savior and Lord means dying to self and killing our pride. Yet this act of humility pales in comparison to Jesus’ descension into the flesh. When Jesus commands us to follow Him, He is not making a demand of us that He has not exceeded Himself. He humbled Himself to rescue us; therefore, we must also humble ourselves to receive Him.

Indeed, John Flavel writes a warning in vein of the author of Hebrews about pridefully neglecting “such a great salvation”:

Does he [Jesus] veil his insupportable glory under flesh, that he may treat the more familiarly and yet do you refuse him, and shut your heart against him? Then hear one word, and let thine ears tingle at the sound of it: thy sin is thereby aggravated beyond the sin of devils, who never sinned against a mediator in their own nature; who never despised, or refused, because, indeed, they were never offered terms of mercy, as you are. And I doubt not but the devils themselves who now tempt you to reject, will, to all eternity, upbraid your folly for rejecting this great salvation, which in this excellent way is brought down even to your own doors. (59)

Do you, therefore, embrace the incarnation of Jesus? Do you believe in the virgin birth? Do you believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine? Do you believe that Jesus is the only mediator between God and men? Do you believe that He is your mediator? Are you caring for your body in reflection of the good gifts that God has given? Are you following Jesus’ example of humility? Have you humbled yourself to receive salvation from His hand?

We believe in Jesus, the eternal Son of God, who, by the Holy Spirit, was born of a virgin, becoming a fully human, while still retaining His divinity, so that He could stand as the only mediator between God and us. To embrace these things is to take hold joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Do you believe?

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The True Light | John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

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. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

John 1:1-18 ESV

 

After spending three weeks in the Old Testament studying the hints and promises of Christ’s coming, we now focus our attention upon the incarnation of Jesus. Although the life of Jesus is told four times in the Gospels, each brings a unique and complementary perspective on the long-awaited Savior. John’s Gospel is particularly interested in the glorious truth of Christ’s eternal divinity becoming human. Our text, John’s prologue, turns our attention toward this wondrous mystery.

THE STORY CONTINUED…

In our previous study, we briefly explained the timeline of events between Isaiah’s lifetime and the coming of Jesus; however, it can’t hurt to rehearse them again.

After being used to foretell Israel’s destruction by the Assyrian Empire, Isaiah most likely lived long enough to see the LORD’s promise fulfilled. Known for their terror tactics, the Assyrians left the northern kingdom in ruins with much of the population either slaughtered or forced into slavery. While Judah manages to postpone such a defeat for a few more generations, the Babylonian Empire eventually leaves Jerusalem as little more than rubble.

But just as the Babylonians replaced the Assyrians, so the Persians conquered the Babylonians. Providentially Cyrus the Great issued an edict authorizing many exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the city and the temple.

Soon Persia fell to the military brilliance of the young Alexander the Great. After conquering the known world, Alexander died suddenly without leaving a successor to his throne; his empire, therefore, was divided into four kingdoms led by four of his generals (the Kingdoms of Ptolemy, Cassander, Lysimachus, and Seleucus).

For nearly three hundred years, Jerusalem is captured and recaptured by Seleucids (basically Persia) and the Ptolemies (Egypt). This tug-o-war ended when Rome began its lengthy time as king of the hill. Despite appointing Herod the Great as king of the Jews (although raised under Judaism, his Jewish lineage is pretty questionable), the Hebrews repeatedly revolted against the vastly superior might of Rome.

Yet empires don’t stand for hundreds of years by being nice, and Rome was no exception. To the Romans we owe much of our Western heritage, yet their brutality should not be quickly ignored. Many historians argue that Rome’s endurance was largely the result of two implementations: roads and crucifixions. The cross was as much a warning as it was an instrument of torture, an easily arranged punishment for any dissent against Roman security.

But the massive construction of highways also proved threatening to the Jews. As travel became easier so did the spreading of ideas. Religious pluralism was the sign of the times, one which the Israelites repeatedly rejected to their sorrow.

This was the setting of the birth of Christ. As the Son of God came into the world, Augustus sat upon a global throne proclaiming himself the son of god. Physical and spiritual oppressors circled about them. They were shrouded in darkness. Where was the light God promised, the Savior-King, David’s son? No prophet had uttered even a word in four hundred years. Perhaps God had forgotten them altogether. Maybe the light would never come.

IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD (WHO IS JESUS?)

John’s Gospel is unique to say the least. Matthew, Mark, and Luke bear so many similarities that they are often called the Synoptic Gospels. John is the odd duck of the bunch, and the evidence for this can been seen from its opening words. The Synoptics begin by grounding Jesus in reality. Matthew opens with Jesus’ Davidic lineage. Mark dives straight into the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist. Luke cites his journalistic intensions for composing a biography of Christ.

John, however, doesn’t so much ground Jesus in reality as ground reality in Jesus. Verse 1 makes this clear by pointedly tying the story of Jesus to the first verse of Genesis. The words in the beginning should ring through our ears with awe at the God who formed all of existence out of nothing. He who made the heavens and the earth must rightfully be worshipped as the Creator of all things.

But that’s the end of that story, right?

Didn’t we, after all, already tell that story?

What more is there to say about creation?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. We could spend an entire sermon (and may one day) attempting to mine the depths of this verse, but let us attempt to be brief at the present.

As John’s Gospel continues, it becomes quite clear that Jesus is the Word being described in this verse. This designation is important in several ways. First, the Greek word for Word is logos, which was an essential concept for many Hellenistic philosophies. Gregory Hays attempts to explain logos as such:

The term (from which English “logic” and the suffix “-logy” derive) has a semantic range so broad as to be almost untranslatable. At a basic level it designates rational, connected thought—whether envisioned as a characteristic (rationality, the ability to reason) or as the product of that characteristic (an intelligible utterance or a connected discourse). Logos operates both in individuals and in the universe as a whole. In individuals it is the faculty of reason. On a cosmic level it is the rational principle that governs the organization of the universe. (Meditations, xx)

Such a belief would be impossible for John to be ignorant of, so there seems to be a sense in which he is pointing to Jesus as the true logos, not a passionless principle but a person.

Second, Jesus as the Word provides greater revelation (although, crucially, not a different one) of how God created all things. In Genesis 1:3, God formed light by speaking it into existence. The pattern continues through day six. Creation is created by the words of God or, as John now reveals, by the Word of God. God the Father ordained an item of creation, which then came into being through Jesus.

What then does this tell us about who Jesus is?

Jesus is both the same as and distinct from the God the Father. That is the paradox of the second and third phrases of verse 1. Jesus was both with God and was God. Before the universe was formed, Jesus existed alongside God as a distinct person, yet He was eternally God as well. Jesus is not the same person as the God the Father, yet He is also not a second God. Only one God exists (Deuteronomy 6:4), and Jesus and Father (and the Holy Spirit) are that singular God. Welcome to the mystery of the Trinity, ladies and gentlemen.

In no uncertain terms, John is magnifying the divinity of Christ. Jesus is God. Period. Any attempt to grasp the significance of Jesus’ life must begin with this fundamental truth. Jesus is the Word through Whom the world was made. He is the Creator, with all its rights and privileges. Jesus is the God we described in Genesis 1.

THE TRUE LIGHT (WHAT DID JESUS COME TO DO?)

Yet John is not content to simply tell us who Jesus is; he also reveals why Jesus came to earth: to pierce the darkness as the true light. Like the Egyptians and the Israelites, humanity has long been under the darkness of God’s judgment because of sin. This darkness can easily be felt, a darkness so thick that it seems to overcome light. We see such darkness in people being left to their own devices. We see it in systematic pillaging and raping of villages and villagers. We see it in the abduction of toddlers for organ harvesting or sex slavery. We see it in the crushed skulls and dismembered bodies of late-term abortions. It’s visible in parents who abandon their families or abuse their children. It floods the Internet with the defilement and slander of God’s images. It cries out of every heart for more, more gossip, more things, more money, more sex, more food, more drink. The world is dark. If you don’t think so, it’s probably because you haven’t glimpsed the light in order to know the difference.

Sin is self-destruction, and God often judges sin by simply not interfering. After all, the fruit of sin is death, and we each deserve it. We constantly reject God in order to follow our own desires. We exalt ourselves as supreme, relegating God to being our sidekick at best and our enemy at worst. We attempt to force the Creator to submit to our will instead of submitting to His. This prideful arrogance is the human condition; no one is the exception. We deserve to be abandoned by God. We deserve death. We deserve the darkness of His judgment.

Yet God did not abandon us. Jesus, the eternal Word and the true light, came to pierce the darkness of sin. He came to give life in the midst of death’s reign. Like God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians, Jesus came to rescue His people. He came to break the rod of their oppressors, to bring joy and peace, to dispel the darkness with His light. Jesus came to save those who committed treason against His throne.

THE WORD BECAME FLESH (HOW DID JESUS DO IT?)

Jesus is God Himself, who came to save those who repeatedly rejected and rebelled against Him. That is gloriously good news, but we must still ask the question of how. How did Jesus save His people from their sins?

He did it by becoming flesh and dwelling among us. The eternal Holy One became human. Divinity became (literally) personified. God became man. Consider the anew the wonder of the incarnation. At His conception, Jesus did not cease to be God. The fullness of His deity was maintained, which is good for us since the unraveling of the cosmos is not exactly ideal. And yet Jesus was also entirely human, flesh, blood, neurotransmitters, and all.

This incarnation was absolutely necessary for solving the problem of sin. Since our sins were against the eternal God, they necessitate an eternal judgment. Physical death does not wipe our slate clean, only an eternal, spiritual death can achieve that. Our doom, therefore, is everlasting, an infinite debt to which we must continue making payments. The glory of the God-man enters this bad news. As man, Jesus was able to do what we could not: live in perfect obedience to God. As God, when Jesus was crucified in our place, His infinite worth paid entirely our infinite debt. This substitutionary atonement pulls us from the darkness of God’s judgment into the marvelous light of His grace. Indeed, from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Verse 12 gives us the unbelievable application of that grace: those who believe in Christ’s name have the right to be become children of God. Because of Jesus, the only Son of God dying in our place, we are now adopted as God’s sons and daughters. We who attempted to usurp His throne are now welcomed into His family, the family of the Creator! The overwhelming terror of being the sovereign God’s enemy is now transformed into the incomprehensible joy of being His beloved child.

Notice also the emphasis of verse 13. God alone accomplish our transformation, our new birth. No flesh, no blood, and no will of man can save sinners from the righteous wrath of God. Only the broken flesh, spilled blood, and gracious will of Jesus Christ is sufficient. No amount of effort, good works, or good intentions can save us. We contribute nothing; Jesus did everything. This is good news. This is the good news.

But if Jesus did everything for us, why is the gospel so hard to believe?

Why does the world continue to reject the Word through Whom it was made?

One reason is that people love darkness instead of the light. Jesus told Nicodemus this very fact in John 3:19-21:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

The sad reality is that we are not forced to sin. We sin because we love sin. We love darkness, not the light. The human heart will often gladly live in hell so long as it bows to no one. We each chose hell, and we continue to do so whenever we sin. We willful reject God’s light in favor of the darkness of our own desires. Many, therefore, reject the light of the gospel of Christ because they will not be parted from their sin.

Another reason is that we want the glory of saving ourselves. Michael Lawrence identifies three ideas that actually form a false gospel: “an optimistic view of human beings, a domesticated view of God, and a view of religion as a means of moral self-reform” (Conversion, 19). Or to say it another way: “I can be good. God will be impressed. Religion will help” (20). Deep down, we desire self-help of religion because we want to save ourselves. Any honest person knows that they are sinful and broken, but even still, we often fail to see the utter hopelessness of our situation. With a little more discipline and control, we can change ourselves. We can grit our teeth and make ourselves good. Of course, we then get the glory of being the self-saved man. It’s the classic story of rags-to-riches only on an eternal scale.

But the gospel rejects that notion fundamentally. We are entirely incapable of saving ourselves, which is why Ephesians describes us as being dead in sin. The challenge of the gospel is to reject self, to lose your life in order to find it, to believe in Jesus’ name and become a child of God by walking away from the darkness of sin and into His light. May we walk in the light of His glorious grace, for it pierces the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

Books Read in January

I’ve decided to take the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge… kind of.

My aim is for the 52 books of the Committed Reader path, but I’m not fully implementing the various categories this year, just reading a book a week.

So in an effort to give greater accountability, I plan to provide a list of the books I’ve read at the end of each month.

Here goes nothing.

incarnationOn the Incarnation by Athanasius

To be fair, I started this one at the end of December and finished it the first week of January. I’m still counting it though. It was great to finally read this classic book that has been sitting on sitting on my shelf for two-plus years.

Also, C. S. Lewis’ introduction about the reading of old books is a great read in and of itself.

grootGroot by Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger

Okay, I’ll admit it. Reading comics is kind of my guilty-pleasure pastime. I won’t be regularly listing them here, but this six-issue miniseries is so good that I needed to write something about it. The art is cartoony and fun. Groot is a fully-realized character, even while he only says three words. Surprising, hilarious, and heart-warming twists happen throughout, making it easily the most enjoyable comic book I’ve ever read.

witgcWhat Is the Great Commission? / Can I Trust the Bible? / What Is the Church? by R. C. Sproul

These short (and free!) ebooks have been helpful reads during my current sermon series. There are twenty-five books in the series, and my hope is to read most, if not all, of them this year.

 

gw

The Gospel’s Power and Message by Paul Washer

This is the first book in Washer’s Reclaiming the Gospel Series, and I have owned it for some years now, without having ever read it. Washer effectively presents the message, meaning, and necessity of the gospel. My heart certainly needed this thorough and passionate study of the good news of Jesus Christ.

lfLiving Forward (audiobook) by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy

I love audiobooks. I typically listen to audiobooks or podcasts whenever I’m in the car or doing a task that does not require much mental focus. This book is all about developing a life plan, an idea that I already agree with. I very much enjoyed their thought of beginning your life plan by considering your own eulogy. We are not likely to seize the day without first understanding that we have a limited number of days to seize.

youandme

You and Me Forever (audiobook) by Francis & Lisa Chan

I listened to this on audiobook as well. While I certainly enjoyed Crazy Love, Forgotten God, and Erasing Hell, I’ve never been deeply impacted by any of them, but this book was different. Francis and Lisa Chan have brilliantly written a marriage book that is not about marriage; rather, it is about something far, far more important. You can read or listen to the book for free via the You and Me Forever smart phone app, but it’s worth buying.

Incarnation, Devotions, & Reading (Dec 23, 2016)

The Fullness of God Dwelled in a Womb

An excellent devotional from Jared Wilson.

10 Ideas and 10 Tips for Family Devotions in 2017

Great thoughts!

Less important than how you do family devotions is that you do family devotions.


Dad, take responsibility for family devotions. Lead your family by leading them to the Word and leading them in prayer.

Drop Everything and Read

Reading is not an activity for when everything else is done. It’s an activity to put in our schedules first. We must guard and protect this time to nourish our minds and our souls.

Birth of Jesus – Gospel of Luke Ch 1-2

A fantastic start to their new series covering the Luke’s Gospel… and just in time for Christmas!

Light for Those Who Sit in Darkness

This Christmas may God cause our hearts to explode with real joy over the salvation that comes through Jesus. If that is going to happen, we first need the courage to reckon seriously with the darkness within us. And if we do this, then we’ll truly appreciate that “a light has dawned” among us (Matthew 4:16).

Introduction to Advent

Advent is the coming or arrival of an important person, and there is no better word for describing what the Christmas season should mean to Christians. We know, of course, that Jesus was not likely born on December 25; however, Christmas is our set time for celebrating and remembering the miraculous birth of Christ.

As I hope to show in this sermon series, the arrival of Christ is the most spectacular moment in all of history because in the incarnation, God displayed His faithfulness to fulfill all of His promises within the Old Testament.

Advent is fixated upon hope, specifically the hope that God will be faithful to repair the devastating effects of sin upon the world as He promised to do.

In the first week of readings, we will read God’s first promise of humanity’s coming Savior, the serpent-crushing offspring of woman. Then we will see how the early generations held onto the hope of God’s promise and how God would further reveal the nature of the promised Savior.

Let us, therefore, commence our study of the long-awaited coming of Jesus Christ.