Christmas: God’s Grace Through the “Insignificant”

20171225_150202One of the reasons that grounds my assurance in God is His deliberateness. All that God does He deliberately does with purpose and intention. There are no accidents or happen-stances with God. Even when our minds can’t fathom how or why God chooses to work in particular ways, what we need to do as finite beings is trust in the wisdom and goodness of the Infinite. This is part of what it means to be human and what it means to be God.

One of the reasons why I like Luke’s gospel is his Holy Spirit inspired attention to detail. I often remind myself when I start to wonder why so much seemingly insignificant detail is mentioned, that God has a reason for including the particularities in Scriptures. They are for our good and our worship. God is in the details. In Luke’s account of the birth narrative of Jesus, every detail is important and the detail about Jesus’ earthly parents must not be taken lightly.

In Luke 1:26-38, Luke records the annunciation of Jesus’ conception and birth by the angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin, who was betrothed to Joseph. However, verses 26-27 contain a great deal of important information. As I stated earlier, every detail of Scripture is significant, and these first two verses are pregnant with significance that we cannot afford to miss.

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

According to this text, Mary was a virgin betrothed to Joseph, of the house of David and they were living in Nazareth in Galilee. Nothing seems unusual about these details on the surface, but let’s consider this information more closely.

The “Insignificant” People

Scripture reveals that Mary was merely a pre-teen or teenage Jewish girl who received this angelic annunciation. Except for one questionable lineage account, the Scriptures are silent concerning Mary’s lineage,which doesn’t give us any reason to assume she was a person of significance or importance in society. Mary, very well, was an ordinary Jewish girl of her times.

Verse 27, however, gives us a bit more detail about Joseph. Luke records here that he was of the “house of David”. Two other instances of Joseph’s lineage are mentioned in Luke 3:23-38 and Matthew 1:1-16, which both tie him to David. In addition to this familial detail, we also know Joseph was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:65, Mark 6:3). As a couple, Joseph and Mary were of meager financial possessions. Luke 2:22-24 records that after Jesus was born, they presented Him at the temple according to the Law and offered two turtle doves or two pigeons as a sacrifice to God. The book of Leviticus tells us that in the event people couldn’t offer a lamb or bull as a sacrifice due to economic inability, turtledoves or pigeons were acceptable.

Based on these truths, it is reasonable to conclude that both Joseph and Mary were ordinary working class citizens of Israel. By worldly standards, there was nothing significant about them.

The “Insignificant” Place

In addition to their ordinary statuses, they were residing in Nazareth of Galilee. Archaeological and historical discoveries have revealed that Nazareth was an ancient agricultural village that had between 200-400 residents in the first century. It was situated 65 miles north of Jerusalem and about 71 miles north of Bethlehem. While Jerusalem was the religious center of the Jews and Bethlehem was known for being the birthplace of David and eventually Jesus, Nazareth was not a significant place in the first century. In fact, one of Jesus’ disciples, Nathanael, couldn’t believe that the Messiah would be associated with Nazareth. In utter disbelief, Nathaneal uttered, Can anything good come out of Nazareth?(John 1:43-46). By worldly standards, nothing was significant about Nazareth.

The God of the “Insignificant”

Mary was a young Jewish girl. Joseph was a poor teenage carpenter. Nazareth was small non-respected agricultural village in upper Galilee. Yet, God purposely chose all of these elements to accomplish His redemptive plan in Christ. As Luke records, Joseph and Mary were betrothed and he was from the “house of David”. The significance lies in the fact that centuries before God made a covenant with King David stating that a king from his line would have an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:8-13). From a worldly perspective, the seemingly insignificant are profoundly significant in God’s redemptive plan. We must have eyes to see and ears to hear the profundity.

May Christmas be a reminder that our God deliberately accomplished His significant plan of redemption in Christ through seemingly insignificant people or circumstances so that He alone will get the glory and praise that He rightly deserves.  Rejoice in the fact that God extends grace through the insignificant and to the insignificant to accomplish His eternally significant purpose. 

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas: God’s Grace to the “Insignificant”

Wca0c354e2f0bcd4674d99a5d8d878a16hat generally comes to mind when you think of Christmas? Frenzied shopping trips, wrapping and unwrapping presents, decorating a Christmas tree, putting up lights, holiday parties, scenic landscapes of snow, aromas of holiday meals and treats, family gatherings, singing Christmas songs and hymns, etc. Those of us who are Christians understand and believe that the Christmas season is a time to remember how our great God sent His Son, Jesus, to ultimately save us from His eternal wrath because of our sins. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is arguably one of the greatest events of human history, but definitely the greatest birth to ever have happened. While only Matthew and Luke records the birth narrative of Jesus, Luke records an account that Matthew doesn’t that has great significance and offers great encouragement. Luke’s inclusion of the angelic announcement to shepherds (Luke 2:8-21) serves to remind us of God’s grace to the seemingly insignificant.

The “Insignificant” Shepherds

Shepherding is very common in the Middle East and parts of Asia. During the time of the biblical patriarchs and after, shepherding was the way of life and commerce for most families. Moses was a shepherd (Exodus 3:1-2), Abraham was a rich shepherd (Genesis 13), Jacob was a shepherd (Genesis 30:25-43), and David was a shepherd (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Shepherding was a noble calling as it pictured leadership and care. Think of how David described God as his shepherd in Psalm 23 and in many other Psalms. However, by the first century when the Roman Empire subjected Israel to its rule, shepherding was seen as a very low class calling in Israel and the surrounding areas. To be a shepherd was to be socially inferior and shepherds were often marginalized. Considering that, it ought to make us wonder why the LORD would send an angel to announce the birth of the Savior to shepherds. Why them? Why not a prominent business man or woman? Why not an influential political figure of the day? There is a reason and Luke’s gospel emphasizes it throughout. Let’s look more closely at what Luke records.

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 

After the shepherds were approached by the angel, fear immediately struck them and they were instructed by the angel to not fear. If we casually read these verses, we’ll miss an important point the Holy Spirit is making through Luke’s account. However, if we thoughtfully read keeping the audience, and the social and historic contexts in mind, we’ll notice the gravity of these verses. The angel of the LORD says in verse 10, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you….” and in verse 11, “For unto you…..” . Who is this message of good news for? Who is the Savior born to? This gospel (good news) is “for all the people”, but notice the personal emphasis of the angel’s words… “I bring you” and “Unto you…”. This good news was for them!  This angelic announcement wasn’t an announcement given to Israel at large, but to the shepherds. The fact that God entrusted this news to the shepherds and saying that the Savior was born for them verifies the indiscriminate grace of God toward people.

What the Holy Spirit wants us to understand is that God lavishes His redemptive grace on whomever He will. He is no respecter of persons. This reality runs throughout Scripture. God chooses whom He chooses to lavish His saving grace. Those whom the world would discount or pass over, God chooses for His plans so that He gets the glory (1 Cor. 1:26-31)! Jesus was born that the lowly and seemingly insignificant might be saved.

I believe the shepherds were saved shortly after their angelic encounter. Verse 20 tells us that after the shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw Jesus, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Their praise was a direct result of the good news brought to them by the angel. These shepherds laid their eyes on their Good Shepherd (Jhn. 10:1-18), the Shepherd of their souls, their Savior!

So how should we think about Christmas? We should be reminded that Jesus saves those whom the world would otherwise look over. Jesus saves the ‘insignificant’. We should be overjoyed that our socio-economic standings, education levels, gender, or ethnicities are not barriers to God’s grace. For we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and for that God has sent His Son, Jesus, to be our everlasting hope.

Merry Christmas! 

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Thankfulness: The Melody of the Christian Soul

…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:8)

As the holidays approached, my wife and I kept noticing how store decor went from Halloween to Christmas. In fact, back in July we were at a home decor store and we noticed Christmas decorations already being displayed. We asked one of the store employees why Christmas decor was already being displayed and we were told that many customers like to purchase Christmas decor in preparation for the Christmas season, but it was all for commercial marketing. The end goal was financial capitalization. However, what we also noticed was that there was very little attention paid to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Although there is much discussion about the origin of the Thanksgiving holiday, one thing that we must understand is that it was a day set aside to respond with gratitude. According to American Colonial history, the origin of Thanksgiving originated with praises to God for His benevolence by religious separatists from England in 1620 and was made an official United States holiday on October 3, 1863 by Abraham Lincoln toward the end of the Civil War.

Read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation

It is clear from Lincoln’s proclamation that a day of thanksgiving was to be set aside nationally as a day to thank and praise God for His abundant mercies toward the United States, even in the midst of a Civil War. Not only was it a day of thanksgiving, but it was also a day to confess national sins seeking the mercy of God. Now, I’m not here to debate the theology of Abraham Lincoln or the sincerity of his Christian profession, but to reveal what the proclamation stated. It is important to understand that the Thanksgiving holiday was started as a response to the benevolence, grace and mercy of God.

The Grounds for Thanksgiving

Every year around this time something strange happens that I’ve noticed and I imagine you have noticed it too. I hear people say, “We’re so thankful!”, “I’m thankful for….”, “I’m blessed.” These expressions of gratitude lack an object of gratitude. In other words, there are expressions of thankfulness attached to no one. They are just impersonal expressions of gratitude as if the blessings for the things that people are thankful for occur in a vacuum. There is no one on the receiving end of those impersonal expressions of gratitude. Think about that. Isn’t it strange how the human heart can detach the origin of the blessings from an expression of gratitude? Does an expression of gratitude truly make sense apart from the provider of such blessings? In my loudest voice I want to shout out, “To whom are you thankful for such things?!!”

Scripture repeatedly reminds us that God is the source of all of our blessings. The epistle of James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

But we don’t have to get that far in the Bible to understand that everything that has been given to us has been created by God. We read of this in the very first book of the Bible. And this is a refrain throughout the rest of Scripture. The Lord reminds His people, and even those who oppose Him, that He is the Lord of all and He gives and withholds according to His discretion. He causes it to rain on the just and the unjust. He alone is the person we give thanks to for everything. Without someone ultimately to thank, gratitude is meaningless.

What Thankfulness Reveals

For Christians, thankfulness ought to be as normal as breathing if we truly have grasped the gospel and its implications. If we are a thankless people, either we have not truly grasped the gospel or we are really not part of God’s elect. Consider the gospel and some of its implications: we have been freed from the Father’s wrath, there is no condemnation for us, we have been reconciled to the Father through Jesus, we are the friends of Jesus, we will receive an eternal inheritance in the new heavens and the new earth, we are no longer dominated by sin, we will no longer be afflicted by Satan, we have the Holy Spirit, we have the word of God, we have the community of the church, we have spiritual gifts, God provides our daily needs and all of the effects of sin will one day be removed from our experience. We have so much to be thankful for! Praise be to God for his indescribable gift! (Romans 11:36)

To be thankless is to stand in opposition of all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus. However, genuine expressions of gratitude by Christians reveal the fundamental truths about our nature and God’s.

• Expressions of gratitude to God reveal that we are insufficient for all things.
• Expressions of gratitude to God reveals our recognition that God is wholly the source for all things.
• Expressions of gratitude to God reveal our humility.
• Expressions of gratitude to God reveal His benevolence.
• Expressions of gratitude to God guards our hearts from having a critical spirit against God.
• Expressions of gratitude to God are forms of spiritual warfare against Satan and his demons.
• Expressions of gratitude to God are ways of inducing joy to the heart.
• Expressions of gratitude to God is worship.

Because God’s mercies are new every morning, thanksgiving should be the melody of the Christian soul.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalms 118:1)

Grace and peace,

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Racism, Fatigue & Perseverance….

alachurchbomblittlegirlsI’m not sure who coined the term black fatigue, but I have it.  What I mean by that term is this – I am tired of the minimization, apathy or outright dismissal of present and historical racism toward blacks by whites. I am tired of trying to lovingly have conversations with my white friends with the hope that they’ll get it.  I am tired of having to explain why we collectively suffer when we see another black man, woman or child treated cruelly, and even in a sub-human manner whether guilty of a crime or the suspicion of a crime.  I am tired of trying to explain the injustice experienced by blacks everyday in many ways. I’m just tired. I am tired of the way the church is slow to address this issue inside and outside the church. But I also am a Christian and that is hugely significant.

In late February, I was asked to be part of a ethnic reconciliation panel at a church in my city. I’ve had the privilege of preaching at this church a couple of years ago, so there was some familiarity. However, upon the invitation, my immediate thought was, “No. I’m tired of this conversation because nothing is happening.” I’ve poured out my heart too many times on social media, taken part in a panel at my own church, written articles, read others’ articles, read books, had many conversations with my white brothers and sisters (some fruitful, others more problematic) and I have vented to my wife too many times to count and it just seemed pointless.  Frankly, I was just done with the conversation. I resigned myself to just pray and do the work myself organically with those closest to me at my church. But part of me still wanted people to get it and empathize with this sinful narrative. So after I told my wife about the invitation and about my thoughts, she understood my perspective, but she encouraged me to do it. I was still against the idea, but the LORD overcame my resistance and changed my heart about it. My wife had the right idea and perspective.

As I spoke to the pastor who invited me (he pastors a predominantly white Southern Baptist church), he told me that he had been affected by all of the shootings of blacks last summer (2016) and he became more concerned that the church ought to be doing something about it. Down the street, literally 300 yards, from his church is an African American Missionary Baptist church with whom they have almost no relationship.  I was told that there had been attempts by the African American church to establish a relationship with this predominantly white church, but there was no reciprocation by the previous pastor.  In fact, I was told that this was the first time that his church (the predominantly white church), to their shame, has ever addressed racism in the church’s history and he wasn’t sure how things would go.  I was encouraged by his genuineness to address this topic, which could have easily caused an uproar in his church, and by his transparency about the church’s failure in the past. This was a historical event for his church.

By God’s grace, the panel event turned out very well. It was well attended by members of both churches. An assistant pastor moderated the event, each of the pastors gave a 20 minute talk about their experiences concerning racism, and there was a 45 minute panel discussion where the three of us answered questions from the congregation.  Several of my white brothers and sisters approached me afterward and told me how helpful and encouraging I was to them. Praise the LORD!  Some of the things that I desired for my brothers and sisters to know and understand were:

  • The doctrine of the imago dei (image of God) must shape how we view people. Seeing people as image bearers of God is one of the foundational truths that needs to shape us.
  • Racism is both individual and systemic.
  • Racism is a sin issue and is only remedied by the gospel (Ephesians 2).
  • African-American people, like all people, are not monolithic. Therefore, generalizations and stereotypes need to be avoided.
  • Seek to understand the perspective of blacks and how we corporately suffer when we’re victimized by racism.
  • Weep with those who weep.
  • Be educated on the history of black-white relations in America (e.g. slavery, civil war, reconstruction, the black codes, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement).
  • Talk to African-Americans about these issues. Do not be afraid.
  • Befriend African-American brothers and sisters. Have them over for dinner, etc.
  • To fellow African-Americans, let the gospel shape how you see whites.

onenewmanAs a first step toward visibly demonstrating the power of the gospel across ethnic lines, I pray more fruit abounds between these two churches as time goes by.  This, I believe, will be one of the strongest arguments for the Lordship of Christ and the credibility of the church.  Jesus told his disciples in John 13, “34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   

Yet, by this same measure of love, our profession of faith is validated or invalidated.  The Apostle John said this in 1 John:

  • By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)
  • If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)

For me, I must persevere in fighting racism like I do any other sin. The LORD knows I’m tired! However, if I truly believe the gospel, and I do, I must strive, by the power of the Spirit, to walk worthy of the gospel, do good to all, especially the household of faith, and not grow weary in well-doing.

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Joy to the World – Pt. 4

jtw4If you’re familiar with the storyline of the Bible, one of the major themes that you may have noticed is mankind’s need for a righteous king who doesn’t die.  The book of Judges is where we start to see this need more clearly.  Israel had been given a covenant, but she continually broke God’s covenant and God judged her by allowing her to be oppressed by wicked rulers. Israel would cry out for deliverance from her oppressors and God would send a judge (savior) to deliver her.  However, soon after Israel’s deliverance, the judge died and Israel fell back into sin breaking God’s covenant because there was no king and the people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6).

However, this pattern didn’t start in Judges, but in Genesis 3. The lie the serpent told Eve was that she would be like God – The Ultimate King, if she ate from the forbidden tree. Though mankind was created in God’s image to rule creation under God’s authority (Gen. 1:26-28), mankind’s problem is that we want to be a law unto ourselves. We want to be kings independent from the rule of God.  

The period after the judges didn’t prove to be much better for Israel. In their desire to be like the nations desiring a king, God told them that their desires would lead to bad leadership over them ( 1 Sam. 8).  God had already provided them stipulations for a king (Deut. 17:14-20), but Israel’s eyes were enamored by the rulership of the nations.  1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles details the wickedness and failures of Israel’s and Judah’s kings. Despite Israel’s rebellion and ours, God was gracious enough, for the glory of His name, to provide the king mankind needs. That king is Jesus (Ps. 2).

Unlike the wicked and unfaithful earthly kings, Jesus’ kingship over His people will be righteous and a blessing.  Verse 4 of this hymn describes the kingship of Jesus. It says –

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love

Characteristics of Christ’s Rule

This verse says Christ’s kingship will be characterized by truth, grace and love. The Apostle John said Jesus was full of grace and truth (Jhn 1:14) and he drew attention to Jesus’ teaching on love as a chief mark of being a disciple (Jhn 13:31-35; 1 Jhn 2:7-17, 3:11-18, 4:7-21).  But what gives credibility to Jesus’ teaching was His life.  He not only taught truth,  but He is the truth (Jhn 14:1-12) as the very word (logos) of God (John 1:1).  In these verses, John 14:1-12, Jesus was declaring himself to be the very essence of God and Paul makes this same point in Colossians 1:15-16 and in the Father is no darkness, but light (truth) (1 Jhn. 1:5).  Therefore, since the Father is the essence of truth and Jesus is the image of the Father, Jesus is the truth!

Concerning grace, Jesus coming in the flesh is an act of God’s grace to save sinners. Our salvation is all a work of God’s grace. In the new heavens and new earth, we will be reminded of the grace of God extended to us in Christ.  We will forever be reminded that Christ not only bore the wrath of God for our sins, but also that we were given the righteousness of Christ that we do not deserve.

Christ’s love is first rooted in His eternal nature as God. He cannot not love, for God is love.  Secondly, His kingship will be marked by love because of His love for the Father.  John said, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son….” (Jhn. 3:16). Christ submitted to the will of the Father because He loved the Father.  Christ taught that love is evidenced in obedience – “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (Jhn. 14:15). Since Christ kept the command of the Father, we can safely say He loved Him. Thirdly, His kingship will be marked by love because He loves His people.  During His earthly ministry, Jesus loved His disciples (Jhn. 13:1), He loved Martha, her sister and Lazarus (Jhn. 11:5), he loved the rich young ruler (Mk. 10:21) , and He loves all the saints (Rev. 1:5). The ultimate demonstration of His love is his laying down His life for His people (1 Jhn. 3:16).  Jesus is the embodiment of the steadfast love of the LORD for the saints and His love will never cool or grow dim, but will be a fulfillment of Psalm 23.

Extent of Christ’s Rule

Two words that describe the extent of Christ’s rule are world and nations.  Human history is riddled with poor examples of human rulers of nations , especially those who try to exert their rule over other nations. Under certain forms of government, people are oppressed and denied basic human rights. We’ve seen what has happened under leaders like Nebuchadnezzar, Nero, Mao Tse-Tung, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, and Vladimir Lenin. And while other forms of government provide more freedom and flourishing, no human government is perfect that will enable the fullest human flourishing possible. Human history has recorded this. People have been oppressed. Wars have been fought. Lives have been lost.

Yet, repeatedly in Scripture, Christ is mentioned as one who will rule the world with the nations submitting to Him. By nations, the Scriptures mean people groups or ethnicities. When Christ comes back to consummate His kingdom, as the King of kings and the Lord of lords, those who have repented of their sins, regardless of ethnicity,  will be under the perfect rule of Jesus.  

Psalm 2:8 says –

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”  

John’s vision of Christ in Revelation says this in 5:9-10 –

9 Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

When Christ comes back, His rule will be global and full of righteousness.  Isaiah 9:6 gives us a very vivid picture of the kingship –

Of the increase of his government and of peace

   there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

   to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

   from this time forth and forevermore.

Why This Matters at Christmas

While this season is often celebrated with great affection and fervor, it is also a season of sadness for many.  For many, this season is a reminder of pain, unhappiness, and unmet desires. Many question the goodness of God or His existence because of their life experiences.  But there is hope! There is hope because Jesus Christ came in the flesh. It is a historical fact. It is a historical fact that He lived on the earth and grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. It is a fact that He gathered Apostles and taught them the gospel. It is a fact that He was crucified, buried and was raised on the third day. It is a fact that Christianity began to spread as the remaining disciples and one named Paul began missionary endeavors to proclaim the gospel of salvation and God’s kingdom, even to the point of death. The incarnation of Christ is about God reconciling man to Himself and establishing His kingdom headed by Jesus Christ where righteousness eternally dwells.  

This is the hope we have and why we ought to fervently sing this hymn during the Christmas season!

Merry Christmas!!

Joy to the World – Pt. 3

joy-to-the-world.jpgThe third verse of this hymn, like all of the other verses, is rich with important biblical truth that we cannot afford to miss.  As Christians, we’re called to delight in God’s truth and understanding the content of verse 3 should cause us to delight in God.  Verse three says –

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found,

Far as the curse is found,

Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Sins, Sorrows, Thorns and a Curse

This verse is describing what redemption looks like. Much like what Part 2 discussed, the world is presently under a curse because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion. Part of the curse, pronounced to Adam in Genesis 3 says-

17And to Adam he said,“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life, 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

After mankind’s rebellion, part of the curse described is creation working against man. No longer would Adam’s work as a cultivator of the ground be easy and bear plentiful produce. His labor would be painfully hard and the harmony between man and the rest of creation would be strenuous.  Like Adam, we live in a world where our work is often riddled with proverbial thorns, not often enjoyed nor yielding the “fruit” we desire.  In addition, the very ground that Adam was supposed to rule would ultimately consume him. That is our lot without a redeemer.  We are born into this life under God’s curse for Adam’s sin with death and eternal condemnation as our lot (Rom. 5:12,18-19). As stated in previous writings, all of creation is under a curse longing for a liberator.

Cosmic Redemption & Everlasting Joy

That liberator is Jesus.  During Christ’s earthly ministry He often stated that the kingdom of God had arrived, yet it wasn’t always understood nor was it fully actualized. His ministry not only consisted of teaching His Father’s truths, but He also demonstrated authority over creation (Mk. 4:35-41), over disease (Matt. 8:1-3, Mk. 5:21-34)  and over death (Mk. 5:35-43, Jhn 11:1-44). His ministry was to demonstrate the in-breaking of the kingdom of God and provide glimpses of victory over Satan and the effects of sin – especially on man. In essence, Christ’s victory in His death and resurrection reversed the curse pronounced in Genesis 3.

At the second coming of Christ, which will bring judgment for the unrepentant, also brings salvation for His people. No more will the effects of sin rule and dominate the earth nor His people. His redemption will be consummate as far as the curse is found.  God and man will be reconciled. Man and man will be in unity in Christ. The new heavens and new earth will be in perfect harmony with man. God’s dwelling place with be forever be with man on the earth where there will be everlasting joy (Rev. 21:3-4). Sin and sorrows will grow no more as they will be non-existent.

Why This Matters at Christmas

While this season looks back at the birth of Christ, it is imperative that we understand why looking back is crucial to what lies ahead. If there was no birth, there could be no death. No death of a redeemer means we’re still in bondage to sin, under God’s curse and fit for His eternal wrath.  Christ came to die for His people that they might live forever in peace and joy with God! His second coming will complete God’s plan of redemption that was planned from before the foundation of the world! 

Merry Christmas!

Joy to the World – Pt. 2

jtw2Part 1 of this series briefly introduced the history of this celebrated and widely known hymn. What I found amazing was that Watts never intended for this song to be a celebration of Christ’s first coming, but of  His second coming.  Nevertheless, when we consider every aspect of Christ’s ministry, His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension and His return, the integration of these aspects is crucial and cannot be divorced from one another.  Therefore, during the Christmas season, it is entirely fitting to celebrate the  redemptive victory that Christ will accomplish.

The second verse of this hymn almost mirrors the idea of the first verse. It says-

Joy to the earth! the savior reigns;

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

The Call to Praise

The first verse of this song is a call to praise for the coming of Jesus.  Similarly, verse two contains praise, but for a different reason. Praise ensues because in addition to Jesus coming, He will rule all of creation and His kingdom will be forever (2 Sam. 7:8-13, Dan. 7:13-14).  

Reason for Praise

Unless we understand what is wrong with the world, we will not see the reason to be overjoyed about the coming and ruling of Jesus.  Genesis 3 tells us what went wrong with the world – man rebelled (sinned) against his creator and God cursed man and all of creation as a result. Instead of a harmonious loving relationship, man’s relationship with God was broken and the created order was subject to disorder as well.  As previously mentioned, the Scriptures remind us that although  we and creation groan as a result of the curse, there is hope.  Romans 8:20-24 says- 

“…the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.  

 In addition to that curse, the world is presently under the power of the evil one (1 Jhn. 5:19). Because of Adam’s sin, the devil is the ruler of this world (Jhn 12:31, 16:11; Eph. 2:2, 2 Cor. 4:4) So how will it be set free from this bondage to corruption? Who will do it?

There was an ultimate reason to Christ’s incarnation – redemption.  He came to destroy the devil and his works (Col. 2:15; 1 Jhn 3:8), absorb the wrath of God on behalf of His people (Isa. 53) and gather His people into a new family (Jhn. 10:11-16; Rev. 7:9-10)!  Christ entered humanity, lived as a man under the Law, and yet died as one who had violated the Law becoming a curse in the place of guilty man. And in His becoming the curse for us, He lifted the curse from all of creation. His redemption is cosmic! All of creation will one day be under the glorious rule of Jesus Christ. It is no wonder that Psalm 98 pictures Jesus as the celebrated Savior (98:1-3), King (98:6) and Judge (98:9).  At the second coming of Christ, there will be no more disharmony and disunity between God and all of His creation.  While in exile, the Apostle John was given a vision from Jesus concerning the future. Revelation 21 says –

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Sin and its effects will be forever gone. There will be a new heavens and new earth unaffected by sin. God and man will be forever reconciled. Death, mourning, crying and pain shall forever be gone. All groaning (Rom. 8:20-24) will turn to triumphant praise! This is the hope we have to look forward to! This is why the song says –

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

All of creation will praise Christ eternally for his work of redemption from the curse and the works of the devil.

Our Response at Christmas

In light of this truth, may we rejoice at the birth of our Savior! Praise God for His indescribable gift! Rejoice because salvation has come and is coming!

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Merry Christmas!

Joy to the World – Pt. 1

jtwIn 1719, Isaac Watts penned what has become one of the most famous hymns sung during the Christmas season. Known as the Father of  English Hymnody, Watts often wrote his hymns based on the Psalms.  His theological propensity led him to write The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. This work was a collection of paraphrased Psalms and his paraphrase of Psalm 98 is what we know as Joy to the World.

Psalm 98 is known as a royal psalm. Royal psalms are psalms that describe the kingship of Jesus Christ.  This psalm is a call for praise to the LORD for His salvation (v2) and for His judgment (v9) at Jesus’ second coming. Joy to the World was specifically written around verses 4-9 , which means that this hymn is not about Christ’s first coming (1st Advent), but His second coming (2nd Advent). While we typically sing this song during the Christmas season, Watts did not intend to have this song sung during the Christmas season. It is appropriate for every day of the year. You’ll notice the incarnation of Jesus is not mentioned in this song, but the culmination of redemption is, in which all of creation praises Jesus for his deliverance from the curse of sin. That is the point of Joy to the World.

However, since this song is widely associated with the Christmas season, I believe examining the truths found in the lyrics will be of great encouragement. In four parts (consistent with the number of verses in the song), I want to expose the beauty of these truths and I pray this is beneficial to the reader. So let’s start by examining the first verse-

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare him room,

And heaven and nature sing.

When we consider the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ, who are the joyous ones? We know from Matthew 24:30, Revelation 19:11-15 that Jesus’ second coming will be a time where Jesus will finally defeat all His enemies. He will come as a conquering king, deposing all earthly kings and anyone else set against Him, including Satan.  But the call for joy is for God’s people who experience the consummation of their salvation. Believers will fully recognize their King and gladly submit. This is what it means for our hearts to prepare Him room.  Also, we will rule and reign (2 Tim. 2:12) with Christ and forever be reconciled with our Creator (Rev. 21:3).

Not only will humanity be reconciled to God and submitted to the authority of Jesus, but all of creation will be as well. Romans 8:20-21 says, For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  Creation itself is presently under a curse, but it too longs for salvation from the curse that it was subjected to (Gen. 3:17-19). All will be right with the world, particularly in the new heavens and new earth, when Christ comes back to complete the establishment of his eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12-13) where there will be no traces of sin and its effects (Isa. 65).  This is what is meant by the earth receiving her king. Creation will sing joyous praise as it realizes its deliverance from the curse by its King, Jesus. The end result of the salvation to come is heaven and nature singing. I take heaven to mean the angels. Nature will be figuratively singing (Ps. 98:7-8) as it exists free from corruption, but I believe the angels will be forever rejoicing and praising Jesus for His work of redemption and for bringing all of creation under His rule (Rev 5:9).

The second coming of Christ will be a day of great praise for God’s people, but we must not forget the importance of Christ’s first coming. It was His first coming that began the work of redemption for His people and creation. In His living, dying, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, Jesus conquered sin and death and ceased the hostility between God and His people.  Jesus came on a mission to die for His people to bring them to everlasting glory (Tit. 2:13). This is the reason for our joy!

Merry Christmas!

His Reminders are Grace

Babe, the car is making a funny noise when I start it. It’s making a noise I’ve never heard before.” I got up from my comfortable sleeping position and went outside with my wife to see what was wrong with the car. She cranked it twice and both times there was a delay. I knew it was the battery because I’d been notified about it the last time the car was serviced. Right then I knew our day would not go as planned. I had a business appointment in another city and had arranged to have a rental ready, but I wasn’t sure if driving to the rental car agency or having them pick me up was going to be more efficient. Because of this uncertainty, I drove my wife to work instead of her taking our second car to work. As we were driving away, my wife kept voicing how she was going to be late to work and how this car problem threw off her whole day. It would also affect my day because it reduced my sleep time and taking her to work threw off my schedule by an hour.

Graciously, the LORD reminded me of His sovereignty and I took the opportunity to encourage my wife to respond biblically (recalling truths about God, etc.) and not in the flesh. She said she was trying, but I reminded her that life will always have trials that we are called to respond correctly to. She made it to work on time and arranged a ride home. I was picked up by the rental car agency and I made it to my meeting on time. Because I was picked up, our second car was at home which allowed her to run her errands after work. After I got home, we went to the auto parts store and purchased a new battery for our first car.

We discussed the day and talked about several things the LORD reminded us of with this small trial.

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First, this trial reminded us that God sends trials that we might mature as Christians as we seek Him for wisdom and grace. James reminds us that we are to count it all joy when we experience trials because they’re working for our maturity and preparing us for eternity (Jam. 1:2-4).

Second, this trial reminded us that we are not in control of our lives and even dying car batteries serve the purposes of God to remind us of that. As mentioned before, we both had our days arranged and this interruption (by her own admission) revealed my wife’s lack of submission to God, and trust in God regarding this unplanned event. We must remember that God is sovereign over all and is working out all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11).

Third, this trial reminded us of how undone we are and how much we still desire to sit on the throne of our own lives. James reminds us that presuming upon the LORD’s grace is evil boastful arrogance and that we should be of the mind that says, “If the LORD wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jam. 4:13-15). Oh how patient the LORD is with us when we presumptuously make plans with no thought of His majesty. That is a mark of pride that often eludes us. We must remember that we are not our own, but we were bought with a price called to submit ourselves to God with His glory as our end goal.

Fourth, this trial reminded us that God answers prayer….and sometimes very fast! As I was driving my wife to work, she told me that she had just prayed that the LORD would cause her to think biblically in all things. Within an hour, He granted her an opportunity to put that prayer request to work. We must remember that God answers prayer according to His will and He will complete the work of salvation that He started to conform us to the image of His Son (Phil. 1:6, Rom. 8:29).

Finally, the trial reminded me of my call to lovingly lead my wife by speaking the truth to her in love. I haven’t always done this well, but the LORD was gracious to me in this instance. Though I sternly admonished my wife to think biblically, I did it because I love her. I also quickly admonished her to think correctly because I didn’t want her own sinful tendencies nor the enemy to assail her mind with anxiety and frustration concerning the car and her plans. More than anything in my marriage, my desire for my wife is to see her continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and I have a God ordained role to play a significant part in that (Eph. 5:25-27). It is a role that I need much grace for due to my own sin, and I rejoice because God is sufficient to supply all of our needs in Christ Jesus.

We must remember the next time when things don’t go our way, understand that they weren’t supposed to.

We must remember that God is God and we are not.

These reminders are grace working for our good and His glory! 

Bearing Burdens and Racial Reconciliation

racial-reconciliation-1920x1000In light of the tragedies surrounding Alton Sterling and Philando Castile on July 5 and July 6,  I was asked by my pastor to write an article to our congregation that we might take more steps in understanding the racial narrative and how White Christians can better display the gospel toward their African American brothers and sisters. Here is what I wrote.

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I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

(Ephesians 4:1, ESV)

By now we all have heard of the shootings by law enforcement that resulted in the deaths of two African American men, Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, LA and Philando Castile of St. Paul, MN, on July 5 and July 6 respectively.  These two men are just a small, but no less significant, part of a larger narrative of systemic injustice against African-Americans.  As a multi-ethnic church with a considereable number of African-American members and visitors, we must understand the impact these types of tragedies have and know how to respond. Particularly to my white brothers and sisters, but certainly not limited to you, I offer a few suggestions on how to respond.

First, do not ignore the data confirming systemic injustice and do not minimize or ignore the very real pain and hurt of those who have been affected by these types of tragedies.  As gospel Christians, we should be compelled to weep with those who weep.

Second, if you desire to understand the racial narrative more clearly, how to interact with your African-American brothers and sisters from a gospel centered perspective and why we collectively suffer in the types of tragedies, talk to us and take advantage of many resources available. Here are a few resources. I pray they are helpful.

Audio/Video

Articles

Books

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” – 1 John 3:14 ESV

In Him,

David Robinson

 

*image courtesy of veritascolumbus.com