The day God waged war

candle-lr

I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with Christmas, or at least a lot of the trappings surrounding it. The struggle to create a “perfect” Christmas, the whole Christmas-karma nonsense… But one of the things I desperately struggle with is our lack of understanding of what Christmas is really all about.

Christmas—the incarnation—is a declaration of war.1

And yet, more often than not, we shy away from this understanding, don’t we? We joyfully embrace what happened that day and all the details of the story—

The Son born of a virgin, the shepherds attending Him, the angels singing, all of it.

But we forget to talk about why. Why did Jesus come to be Emmanuel—”God with us”? Why was it necessary for Him to come at all?

And, of course, we know the answer. We know why Jesus came. We know the baby didn’t stay a baby, but became a man who would die in our place, perfectly satisfying the wages of sin. We know the Easter story… and yet we don’t seem to connect the it to our Christmas celebrations.

We need to connect the dots. We need to remember, as some have said, that Jesus was born in the shadow of the cross. To see, as Simeon did, who this baby truly was and rejoice as he did:

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)

Simeon doesn’t rejoice simply because he’s seen the baby Jesus—he rejoices because he’s seen God’s salvation. He’s held Him in his hands. That’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?

Can you imagine what our Christmas celebrations would look like if we had that same sense of awe?

This year, remember Christmas not just as “Jesus’ birthday” as some of us tell our kids, but as the day God waged war on sin and death. For when we do, it changes the celebration. It doesn’t remove the joy or the excitement. It doesn’t turn what should be thrilling into a funeral procession. If anything, remembering this only deepens our excitement.

For Christmas is the day God waged war—and it’s a war He wins.

Celebrating Christmas is telling the story of world history

candle-lr

In our celebration of Christmas, we are telling the story of world history. Just as the Fourth of July tells the story of independence from Britain, so Christmas tells the story of our successful war for independence from the devil. Christmas, and all the symbols of it (whether trees, carols, or Handel’s Messiah), are markers, monuments built from stone. They are an Ebenezer—thus far the Lord has helped us.

And practice. We order our lives around the life and accomplishments of Jesus. We do this, not so that we might live like pagans in between our holidays, but rather so that these holidays will mark and bound our lives, lives that are lived in the light of the conquering gospel.

And since we believe that the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, by this celebration we are not only living out our own worldview, we are declaring to unbelievers what the worldview of the entire earth will someday be.

Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything

He must stoop in order to lift

candle-lr

In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must also disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.

C.S. Lewis (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, pp. 18-19)

Around the Interweb (12/26)

Partnering to Remember

 

Image via Tim Brister

A few weeks back, I wrote about the benefits of memorizing Scripture. Tim Brister wants to help you develop this discipline by partnering to memorize the entire book of Philippians by Easter 2011:

The goal is to memorize the entire book of Philippians by Easter Sunday (April 24, 2011) through partnering with other believers using the memory moleskine.  Paul praised the church in Philippi for their partnership in advance of the Gospel, and in the spirit of that partnership, this project intends to bring Christians together for the deepening work of God’s Word in their lives.  Simply put, we are partnering to remember.

Using the Cahier moleskine, we have created a pocket-size notebook that provides a practical and accessible way to memorize Scripture. Through collaboration with The Resurgence, a customized PDF has been created for you to download with a week-by-week outline for memorizing the book of Philippians in 16 weeks using the English Standard Version (ESV).  On one side of the moleskine you simply paste the week’s verses to memorize, and on the other side you write your reflections on the verses while indicating how many times you rehearsed them each day.

You can download the materials here.

Also Worth Reading…

 
Justin Buzzard: “The Gospel is not like dessert”

Ben Reed: “The art of small talk”

Desiring God: “An Open Letter to Clarence the Angel (from the film It’s a Wonderful Life)”

David Platt at CNN: “My take: Why my church rebelled against the American Dream”

CNN on Francis Chan: “Christian famous” pastor quits his church, moves to Asia”

In Case You Missed It…

 
Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick

Charles Spurgeon’s 1859 Christmas message, “A Christmas Question”: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

William H. Smith: “When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize…Christmas is disturbing.”

The Paradox of Christmas

Terrific video from Igniter Media (don’t be surprised if you see it at your church tomorrow):

Merry Christmas everyone!

HT: Michael Krahn

Disturbed by Christmas

© Gareth Weeks

From William H. Smith’s 1992 World Magazine article, “Christmas is disturbing: Any real understanding of the Christmas messages will disturb anyone” (emphasis added):

Many people who otherwise ignore God and the church have some religious feeling, or feel they ought to, at this time of the year. So they make their way to a church service or Christmas program. And when they go, they come away feeling vaguely warmed or at least better for having gone, but not disturbed.

Why aren’t people disturbed by Christmas? One reason is our tendency to sanitize the birth narratives. We romanticize the story of Mary and Joseph rather than deal with the painful dilemma they faced when the Lord chose Mary to be the virgin who would conceive her child by the power of the Holy Spirit. We beautify the birth scene, not coming to terms with the stench of the stable, the poverty of the parents, the hostility of Herod. Don’t miss my point. There is something truly comforting and warming about the Christmas story, but it comes from understanding the reality, not from denying it.

Most of us also have not come to terms with the baby in the manger. We sing, “Glory to the newborn King.” But do we truly recognize that the baby lying in the manger is appointed by God to be the King, to be either the Savior or Judge of all people? He is a most threatening person.

Malachi foresaw his coming and said, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” As long as we can keep him in the manger, and feel the sentimental feelings we have for babies, Jesus doesn’t disturb us. But once we understand that his coming means for every one of us either salvation or condemnation, he disturbs us deeply.

What should be just as disturbing is the awful work Christ had to do to accomplish the salvation of his people. Yet his very name, Jesus, testifies to us of that work.

That baby was born so that “he who had no sin” would become “sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The baby’s destiny from the moment of his conception was hell—hell in the place of sinners. When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize again that he was born to pay the unbearable penalty for my sins.

That’s the message of Christmas: God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, man’s sin has alienated him from God, and man’s reconciliation with God is possible only through faith in Christ…Christmas is disturbing.

HT: CJ Mahaney

A Christmas Question: Sinner, Cast Thyself onto Christ

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Christmas Question
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”—Isaiah 9:6

Well, now I have all but done, but give your solemn, very solemn attention, while I come to my last head—if it is not so, what then?

Dear hearer, I cannot tell where thou art—but wherever thou mayst be in this hall, the eyes of my heart are looking for thee, that when they have seen thee, they may weep over thee. Ah, miserable wretch, without a hope, without Christ, without God. Unto thee there is no Christmas mirth, for thee no child is born; to thee no Son is given.

Sad is the story of the poor men and women, who during the week before last fell down dead in our streets through cruel hunger and bitter cold. But far more pitiable is thy lot, far more terrible shall be thy condition in the day when thou shalt cry for a drop of water to cool thy burning tongue, and it shall be denied thee; when thou shalt seek for death, for grim cold death—seek for him as for a friend, and yet thou shalt not find him. For the fire of hell shall not consume thee, nor its terrors devour thee. Thou shalt long to die, yet shalt thou linger in eternal death—dying every hour, yet never receiving the much coveted boon of death. What shall I say to thee this morning? Oh! Master, help me to speak a word in season, now.

I beseech thee, my hearer, if Christ is not thine this morning, may God the Spirit help thee to do what I now command thee to do.

First of all, confess thy sins; not into my ear, nor into the ear of any living man. Go to thy chamber and confess that thou art vile. Tell him thou art a wretch undone without his sovereign grace. But do not think there is any merit in confession. There is none. All your confession cannot merit forgiveness, though God has promised to pardon the man who confesses his sin and forsakes it. . . . It is the least that you can do, to acknowledge your sin; and though there be no merit in the confession, yet true to his promise, God will give you pardon through Christ. That is one piece of advice. I pray you take it… [Read more…]

A Christmas Question: Christians, Ring the Bells of Your Hearts

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Christmas Question
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”—Isaiah 9:6

This brings me to my second head, upon which I shall be brief. Is it so?

If it is so, what then?

If it is so, why am I doubtful today? Why is my spirit questioning? Why do I not realize the fact? My hearer, if the Son is given to thee, how is it that thou art this day asking whether thou art Christ’s, or not? Why dost thou not labor to make thy calling and election sure? Why tarriest thou in the plains of doubt? Get thee up, get thee up to the high mountains of confidence, and never rest till thou canst say without a fear that thou art mistaken, “I know that my Redeemer liveth. I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him.”

I may have a large number of persons here to whom it is a matter of uncertainty as to whether Christ is theirs or not. Oh, my dear hearers, rest not content unless you know assuredly that Christ is yours, and that you are Christ’s. . . .  Now there is a proclamation gone forth today, and it is a true one, too, that Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners.

The question with you is whether he has saved you, and whether you have an interest in him.

I beseech you, give no sleep to your eyes, and no slumber to your eyelids, till you have read your “title clear to mansions in the skies.” What, man! Shall your eternal destiny be a matter of uncertainty to you? Is heaven or hell involved in this matter, and will you rest until you know which of these shall be your everlasting portion? Are you content while it is a question whether God loves you, or whether he is angry with you?

Can you be easy while you remain in doubt as to whether you are condemned in sin, or justified by faith, which is in Christ Jesus? Get thee up, man. I beseech thee by the living God, and by thine own soul’s safety, get thee up and read the records.

Search and look, and try and test thyself, to see whether it be so or not. For if it be so, why should not we know it? If the Son is given to me, why should not I be sure of it? If the child is born to me, why should I not know it for a certainty, that I may even now live in the enjoyment of my privilege—a privilege, the value of which I shall never know to the full, till I arrive in glory? [Read more…]

A Christmas Question: Are You Born Again, Little Children?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Christmas Question
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”—Isaiah 9:6

If this child who now lies before the eyes of your faith, wrapped in swaddling clothes in Bethlehem’s manger, is born to you, my hearer, then you are born again! For this child is not born to you unless you are born to this child.

All who have an interest in Christ are, in the fullness of time, by grace converted, quickened, and renewed. All the redeemed are not yet converted, but they will be. Before the hour of death arrives their nature shall be changed, their sins shall be washed away, they shall pass from death unto life. If any man tells me that Christ is his Redeemer, although he has never experienced regeneration, that man utters what he does not know; his religion is vain, and his hope is a delusion. Only men who are born again can claim the babe in Bethlehem as being theirs…

Is it so with you, my hearer? For recollect, you may be very different in the outward, but if you are not changed in the inward, this child is not born to you.

But I put another question. Although the main matter of regeneration lies within, yet it manifests itself without. Say, then, has there been a change in you in the exterior? . . . For, mark, my dear hearer, there must be a change in the outward life, or else there is no change within. . . .  The proof of the Christian is in the living. To other men, the proof of our conversion is not what you feel, but what you do. To yourself your feelings may be good enough evidence, but to the minister and others who judge of you, the outward walk is the main guide.

At the same time, let me observe that a man’s outward life may be very much like that of a Christian, and yet there may be no religion in him at all . . . Take care that your outward life is not a mere stage-play, but that your antagonism to sin is real and intense; and that you strike right and left, as though you meant to slay the monster, and cast its limbs to the winds of heaven… [Read more…]

A Christmas Question: For Unto Us a Child is Born

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Christmas Question
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”—Isaiah 9:6

As Jesus Christ is a child in his human nature, he is born, begotten of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. He is as truly-born, as certainly a child, as any other man that ever lived upon the face of the earth. He is thus in his humanity a child born. But as Jesus Christ is God’s Son, he is not born; but given, begotten of his Father from before all worlds, begotten—not made, being of the same substance with the Father.

The doctrine of the eternal affiliation of Christ is to be received as an undoubted truth of our holy religion. But as to any explanation of it, no man should venture thereon, for it remains among the deep things of God—one of those solemn mysteries indeed, into which the angels dare not look, nor do they desire to pry into it—a mystery which we must not attempt to fathom, for it is utterly beyond the grasp of any finite being. As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God.

A God whom we could understand would be no God. If we could grasp him he could not be infinite: if we could understand him, then were he not divine. Jesus Christ then, I say, as a Son, is not born to us, but given. He is a boon bestowed on us, “for God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world.”

He was not born in this world as God’s Son, but he was sent, or was given, so that you clearly perceive that the distinction is a suggestive one, and conveys much good truth to us. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.”

This morning, however, the principal object of my discourse, and, indeed, the sole one, is to bring out the force of those two little words, “unto us.” For you will perceive that here the full force of the passage lies. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given…”

Is It So?

Is it true that unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given? It is a fact that a child is born. Upon that I use no argument.

We receive it as a fact, more fully established than any other fact in history, that the Son of God became man, was born at Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. It is a fact, too, that a Son is given. About that we have no question. The infidel may dispute, but we, professing to be believers in Scripture, receive it as an undeniable truth, that God has given his only begotten Son to be the Savior of men. [Read more…]

Christmas as the End of History

© Gareth Weeks

Creation out of nothing was an awesome event. Imagine what the angelic spirits must have felt when the universe, material reality of which they had never imagined, was brought forth out of nothing by the command of God. The fall was an awful event, shaking the entire creation. The exodus was an amazing display of God’s power and love. The giving of the law, the wilderness provisions, the conquering of Canaan, the prosperity of the monarchy—all these acts of God in redemptive history were very great and wonderful. Each one was a very significant bend in the river of redemptive history, bringing it ever and ever closer to the ocean of God’s final kingdom. But we trivialize Christmas, the incarnation, if we treat it as just another bend on the way to the end. It is the end of redemptive history.

And I think the analogy of the river helps us see how. Picture the river as redemptive history flowing toward the ocean which is the final kingdom of God, full of glory and righteousness and peace. At the end of the river the ocean presses up into the river with its salt water. Therefore, at the mouth of the river there is a mingling of fresh water and salt water. One might say that the kingdom of God has pressed its way back up into the river of time a short way. It has surprised the travelers and taken them off guard. They can smell the salt water. They can taste the salt water. The sea gulls circle the deck. The end has come upon them. Christmas is not another bend in the river. It is the arrival of the salt water of the kingdom of God which has backed up into the river of history. With the coming of Christmas, the ocean of the age to come has reached backward up the stream of history to welcome us, to wake us up to what is coming, to lure us on into the deep. Christmas is not another bend in the river of history. It is the end of the river. Let down your dipper and taste of Jesus Christ, his birth and life and death and resurrection. Taste and see if the age to come has not arrived, if the kingdom has not come upon us. Does it not make your eyes sparkle?

But scoffers will say—they have always said—2,000 years is a long river delta! Too long to believe in. Christmas was just another bend in the river. The salty taste in the water must have been done by some chemical plant nearby. Who can imagine living in the last days for 2,000 years? To such skeptics I say, with the apostle Peter, “Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). As far as God is concerned the incarnation happened last Friday.

I want us to think of Christmas this year not as a great event in the flow of history, but as the arrival of the end of history which happened, as it were, but yesterday, and will be consummated very soon by the second appearing of Christ. Let me make one last effort to help you see it this way. Most of you probably know someone who is 90 years old or older—probably a woman. I want you to imagine 22 of these ladies standing here in front, side by side, facing you, each one still alert and able to remember her childhood and marriage and old age. And then instead of seeing them side by side as contemporaries, have them turn and face sideways so they form a queue, and imagine that each one lived just after the other. If the one on my far left were alive today, do you know when the one on my far right would have been born? At the same time Jesus was. Jesus was born just 22 ladies ago. That is not a very long time. Just 22 people between you and the incarnation. In comparison to the size of the ocean of the age to come, the mouth of the river of redemptive history is small. The delta is not long. It is short.

John Piper, Christmas as the End of History © Desiring God

The True Spirit of Christmas

© Gareth Weeks

What is the spirit of Christmas?

Worship, in a word, worship…nothing more and nothing less.

And, you know, as you look back over the Christmases of the ages, and we do that every Christmas season, we go back through history. I’ll tell you how we do it. We do it when we sing the carols. Do you realize that we’ve sung carols from as far back as the fifth century that have gone through several translations and finally reached us? And we’ve sang carols from the fifteenth century, the eleventh century, the seventeenth, the eighteenth, the sixteenth…as well as the nineteenth. And as you go back through the history of the Christmases and you touch those Christmas carols, you touch the most brilliant poets and articulators of Christmas truth and their attitude is always worship, it’s always been worship.

Listen to some of the Christmas carols. . . . We know [Luther] for his great theological work, but sometimes forget his great poetic work. . . . On one Christmas season Martin Luther wanted to write a Christmas carol for his little son, Hans. This is what he wrote. “From heaven above to earth I come, to bear good news to every home, glad tidings of great joy I bring, where of I now will say and sing. To you this night is born a child of Mary, chosen mother mild, this little child of lowly birth shall be the joy of all the earth. Were earth a thousand times as fair, beset with gold and jewels rare, she yet were far too poor to be a narrow cradle, Lord to Thee.” And then he ends, “Ah dearest Jesus, holy child, make Thee a bed soft undefiled within my heart that it may be a quiet chamber kept for Thee.” That’s worship. Take up your place in my heart.

William Dix . . . wrote the words to, “What child is this?” which . . . ends, “So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, come, peasant king to own Him, the King of kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone Him.” That’s worship…

Charles Wesley wrote six thousand hymns. Maybe the best you heard played this morning, “Hark the herald angels sing.” The last verse, “Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace, hail the Son of righteousness,” that means worship. “Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings, mild He lays His glory by,” that’s the incarnation, “born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King.” That’s worship.

One of my favorite poets of the nineteenth century is Christina Rosetti. . . . Through that life she wrote some of the most magnificent poetry, all of it a tribute to Christ. She wrote this poem and it was set to music twelve years after her death. “In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow in the bleak midwinter long ago. Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain. Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed, the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. Angels and archangels may have gathered there, cherubim and seraphim throng the air, but His mother only in her maiden bliss worshiped the beloved with a kiss.” Then she ends with this great, great stanza, “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I’d give Him a lamb. If I were a wise man I’d do my part, but what can I give Him? Give my heart.” That’s worship.

And maybe it was John Francis Wade who died in 1786 who summed it all up in the simple words, “O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

John F. Macarthur Jr., The True Christmas Spirit (12/24/1995). © Grace to You.

Around the Interweb (12/05)

Why is X Used When it Replaces Christ in Christmas?

Christmas brings with it many things—time with family, shopping, entertainment… and, the occasional fuss over “Merry Xmas.” Here’s a reason why we maybe don’t need to get quite so irked about it:

People seem to express chagrin about seeing Christ’s name dropped and replaced by this symbol for an unknown quantity X. Every year you see the signs and the bumper stickers saying, “Put Christ back into Christmas” as a response to this substitution of the letter X for the name of Christ.

First of all, you have to understand that it is not the letter X that is put into Christmas. We see the English letter X there, but actually what it involves is the first letter of the Greek name for Christ. Christos is the New Testament Greek for Christ. The first letter of the Greek word Christos is transliterated into our alphabet as an X. That X has come through church history to be a shorthand symbol for the name of Christ…

The idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.

HT: Ligonier

Announcements

Last week, I kicked off the relaunch of Blogging Theologically with a pretty incredible giveaway sponsored by Crossway. I was completely blown away by the response! Out of more than 125 entrants, the winner is… Shannon Craig! Congratulations and Merry (early) Christmas!

There’s still time to win $50 worth of merchandise (of your choice), courtesy of the Ligonier Affiliates program—enter before 5 PM EST Today! And be on the lookout for another great giveaway this month!

In Other News

Decor: Just in time for Christmas, Mark Altrogge wants to help you spruce up your decorating with the Christian Leaders Inflatable Lawn Ornament collection.

Free Stuff: This month’s free audiobook at ChristanAudio.com is Handel’s Messiah by Calvin R. Stapert

Ethics: Jared Wilson (citing Randy Alcorn) on the ethics of ghostwriting

Networking: This week, Erik Kowalker, Matthew Blair and Nick Uva launched the Reformed Quotes Fellowship, “a gathering of such like minded people who wish to see the fame of Christ spread throughout the internet by the use of God glorifying, cross centered, gospel rich, and unashamedly reformed quotes from saints of the past and present.” There are some fantastic sites among the membership, like J.C. Ryle Quotes and The Daily Spurgeon among others. Go check them out.

In Case You Missed It

With Christmas fast approaching, it was a children’s book oriented week with reviews of:

Halfway Herbert by Francis Chan

The Church History ABCs by Stephen J. Nichols and Ned Bustard

The Mighty Acts of God Bible Storybook by Starr Meade and Tim O’Connor

Sweeter Founds than Music Knows

© Gareth Weeks

Sweeter founds than music knows
Charm me, in EMMANUEL’S name;
All her hopes my spirit owes
To his birth, and cross, and shame.

When he came the angels sang
“Glory be to GOD on high,”
Lord, unloose my stamm’ring tongue,
Who should louder sing than I.

Did the Lord a man become
That he might the law fulfil,
Bleed and suffer in my room,
And canst thou, my tongue, be still.

No, I must my praises bring,
Though they worthless are, and weak;
For should I refuse to sing
Sure the very stones would speak.

O my Savior, Shield, and Sun,
Shepherd, Brother, Husband, Friend,
Every precious name in one;
I will love thee without end.

John Newton, Hymn 37