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!

The Good News of Christmas

christmas-lights-austin-lp8v4porThis time of year is still my favorite time of year.  I love the cooler weather.  I love seeing the fall colors of leaves on trees and on the ground.  I love seeing Christmas decorations around my neighborhood and city.  I love spending time shopping for Christmas gifts with my wife and sipping on seasonal coffee drinks. I love listening to my Christmas Jazz station on Pandora. I love being with my family sharing laughter, great food and exchanging gifts.  These are all great gifts given by God to be enjoyed!  Another aspect that I think about with gratitude is seeing the end of another year reflecting on God’s faithfulness. This also causes me to think about the Lord’s grace and mercies to come in the following year, should He tarry.

Of course, this time of year is a time of reflection and celebration for what I believe to be one of the most important events in human history – the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Christmas cards, decor and media flood our minds with nativity scenes of “baby Jesus”.  The exact date of Jesus’ birth isn’t known, but December 25 has been officially recognized by the Western and Eastern Church as the date to celebrate His birth.  More importantly, we should give earnest attention to the fact that God entered humanity in the person of Jesus Christ and dwelt among His creation for a specific reason.  However, as integral as it is, the birth of Christ is only a portion of the significance of Jesus’ life. We must also consider the significance of His life, death and resurrection to truly appreciate His birth.

The Significance of Jesus’ Life

Galatians 4:4 says, “4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,…”.  This verse is very important and teaches us three things.  First, it teaches us that Jesus was sent by the Father at an appointed time. Second, it reminds us that Jesus was a human being born of a woman. Third, it reminds us of the administration He was was subject to.  Being born under the law meant that Jesus, as a human, was part of the covenant community of God subject to the Law’s demands.

In Exodus 19, God covenanted with Israel and issued His law to Moses, which was to shape, identify and govern His chosen people, Israel.  Jesus was a true Israelite subject to the Law of Moses.  Jesus was subject to the same law as every Israelite.  As with all laws, adherence was to be expected.  If Israel obeyed the Law, they incurred blessings. If Israel disobeyed the Law, they incurred curses (Deut. 28).  Despite having clear information and instruction from God about who He is and how they were to live, Israel repeatedly broke the covenant with God and incurred the curses of the Law. The reason Israel continually failed to keep the Law was because they were unable to keep it due to indwelling sin. The heart of the Law was wholehearted love for God and love for fellow man (Matt. 22:36-40) and sin prevents us from loving God and man in this way.  However, Jesus never sinned against God and man (1 Pet. 2:22) and thus He fulfilled the positive requirement of the Law, which is perfect obedience.  Jesus lived the perfect life that God required of all man. But He also fulfilled the Law in another way.

The Significance of Jesus’ Death

The ultimate curse of the Law was to be seen as cursed by God. Being seen as cursed by God for breaking the covenant warranted death.  Deuteronomy 21:22-23a says, “22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God…””  In Galatians 3:13, the Apostle Paul says that Christ inherited the ultimate covenant curse of God being hung on a tree (crucifixion). On the cross, Jesus was forsaken by the Father (Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34). If Christ never broke the Law, why did He suffer the ultimate curse of the Law?

Though the Law could never keep Israel from sinning, because it was powerless to, it did provide a way of forgiveness.  God established rules of worship for Israel, which included a priesthood and animal sacrifices.  The priests, God’s appointed mediators, would regularly offer perfect animal sacrifices on behalf of themselves and of the people as God’s means of forgiveness and reconciliation for their sins. The act of offering an animal sacrifice involved killing the animal and having its blood sprinkled on the altar and other places of the tabernacle and the temple. Instead of the people suffering God’s wrath for their sin, God accepted the blood (life) of the perfect animals (usually bulls and goats) as a substitute for the life of guilty Israel. This priestly work was regularly done because the blood of bulls and goats could never completely take away sins nor purify sinful hearts (Heb. 10:1-4). This ritual functioned as a reminder of Israel’s sins. It also functioned as a pointer to the need for something greater.

Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of the animal sacrifices. He is the slain perfect Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world (Jhn 1:29; Heb. 9:12-14; Rev. 5:6-14). In His living and His dying, Jesus, as a man, completely satisfied all of the demands of the Law.  Jesus’ perfect life was a sin and guilt offering for those who turn to Him by faith for the forgiveness of their sins. The whole point of Jesus’ life was to please the Father and give His life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45).

The Significance of Jesus’ Resurrection

 

If one truth about Jesus’ life that tends to be overlooked, it’s His resurrection.  Perhaps it’s because we hear more songs about his life and death that we unintentionally minimize the resurrection. This probably occurs in our evangelism too.  I’m not sure why this happens, but it is too important to not state or minimize. Think about it. What good would Jesus’ life and death be if He remained dead in a tomb? Where’s the good news in that?  What hope would man have if Jesus is still dead? None. In fact, the Apostle Paul argued that Christians are indeed to be the most pitied of all if Christ had not risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:17-19).  Paul makes the argument that if Christ is not risen from the dead, Christians are still in their sins (i.e. unforgiven and dominated by sin) and eternal condemnation awaits us. In order for us to appreciate what Christ’s resurrection accomplishes, we must first consider the effects of sin.

Sin entered the world through Adam and through sin, death came and spread to all men (Gen. 3, Rom. 5:12). Adam and Eve transgressed a clear prohibition from God and became sinners. The reason why death exists is because of sin (Rom. 6:23). Sin is rebellion against God and leads to separation from God. Rebellion and separation from God leads to death and since all men die, all men are sinners. Again, death is the consequence of sin. However, Jesus never sinned, yet He willingly died as a substitutionary sacrifice.  Since He never sinned, He didn’t deserve death nor does sin and death have the power to keep Him dead. Thus, His resurrection!!

By His righteous living and His resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death!  His resurrection from the dead led to His ascension to the right hand of the Father where He is presently ruling and reigning.  When He comes again, He will gather His people to himself. Those living will be caught up with Him and those who have previously died will resurrect from their graves displaying victory over sin and death!  The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:26).

The whole point of the redemptive work of Christ is to gather the children of God to be with Him in His kingdom in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21)!

This Christmas, let us indeed celebrate and rejoice in Jesus’ incarnation, but let us not forget that His humble earthly beginning was the first step in His mission to destroy the works of the devil (Col. 2:15, 1 John 3:8) and bring many sons to everlasting glory (Heb. 2:10).

That is the good news of Christmas!