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.

Beware the Self-Absorbed Preacher

A strong warning from John Piper:

Here’s the transcript:

We must be his witnesses. It is a great necessity. Faith comes by hearing a witness. But we must not make much of ourselves. Beware of the witness that needs attention for himself. Beware of the preacher who constantly angles to put himself in a good light and returns again and again to his ministry and his achievements. Beware of the preacher’s subtle preoccupation with himself even when he speaks of his own flaws. Beware of your own bent to love the praise of men.

Remember, therefore, that from the very beginning of John’s Gospel, there is a human witness to the light—our witness. Our witness is a great necessity. And our witness is a great not. He must increase; we must decrease. Amen.

This is really important for me to keep in mind as I am developing sermons (and blog posts). The challenge with illustrations is that sometimes the easiest place to find them (in our own lives) is exactly the place that leads us to (sometimes inadvertently) spend too much time talking about ourselves.

Fear of Man vs. Fear of God

I really appreciated this reminder from Driscoll in his recent sermon, Jesus vs. Fear.

The transcript follows:

See, if we believe that God loves us, then we believe that even if what’s happening to us isn’t good and holy and just, it’ll be used by a good, holy, and just God to teach us more about Jesus and to make us more like him. So we overcome fear of man with the love of God. God loves me. One way or another, he’s going to get me through.

And then Jesus closes with sort of the culminating big idea, that you overcome fear of man with the fear of God.

Luke 12:8–12, “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man,” that’s a title of himself from Daniel. He uses it about eighty times. It means God become a man. “Also will acknowledge before the angels of God,” who will serve as the witnesses, “but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities,” the bullies are going to get you, you’re going to suffer at some point.

“Do not be anxious,” fear, fear, fear, fear, fear.

“Do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

Here’s the big idea: fear of man or fear of God. Those are your options. There is no alternative.

Someone is the most important person. Someone is the biggest dominant personality in your life. Okay, if it’s someone other than Jesus, you have fear of man. You’re worshiping them. They’re your functional lord even if Jesus is your theological Lord.

Proverbs 29:25 again, “The fear of man is a trap or a snare.” It won’t work for them, it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work at all. The alternative is the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Before you can get anything straight in your life, you have to get straight who the Lord is. Jesus is Lord. The shortest confession of Christian belief is, has always been, Jesus is Lord.

Preaching Between Two Worlds: Alistair Begg on Ecclesiastes 12

Back in September, Alistair Begg joined us at the Toronto Pastors’ Fellowship and shared the message, Preaching Between Two Worlds, from Ecclesiastes 12:

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Begg also engaged in an enlightening Q&A with Pastor Paul Martin.

Powerful messages for preachers and wannabe preachers in these videos.

Take some time to chew on them today as you go about your day.

Parachutes and Pineapples

Over the last few months, after every preaching engagement there’s been a mix of emotions. Pleasure that no one walked out. Relaxation because it’s all over for the day… and a strange sense of sadness.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on why for that last one until this weekend. See the thing is in all of these engagements where I’ve had the opportunity to minister with the Word, I’m in for the day—and then I’m gone again (until the next time, which might be months down the road).

What I realized this week is that I feel kind of sad that I don’t get to see what happens after I leave.

I don’t get to see people wrestling with applying the message to their lives. To see people grow and change and become more like Christ as a result (hopefully).

I want to be able to see the fruit

I was sharing this with a good friend of mine on Tuesday afternoon and he said, “It doesn’t take long to start to care about a congregation, does it?”

It really doesn’t. And this really surprised me because I didn’t expect it, I suppose. I didn’t anticipate feeling so deeply for people I don’t really know. And it kind of scares me, too, because it might mean something significant.

And it’s making me realize something else:

Parachutes are fun, but it might be nice to have some pineapples.

Sermon Audio: Bold Intercession

On October 10, 2010, I had the opportunity to preach at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario. Sunday’s message was preached from Genesis 18:16-33:

Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

The original sermon notes follow: [Read more…]

Around the Interweb (10/10)

Can People Be Saved Apart from Hearing About Jesus?

Last week, JD Greear preached a message from Romans 10:14-17; as he anticipated, he’s been getting some pushback, specifically about whether or not people can come to faith apart from hearing about Jesus. Here’s an excerpt:

I have read just about all of the major dissenting views to the one I shared on Sunday. I just found them unconvincing, and their ideas more based on human reasoning (i.e. “this is what I think God should be like…” “this idea about God offends me,” etc) than deductive conclusions from Scriptural affirmations. I wanted(oh, how I wanted!) to believe in the escape-hatches and plan-B’s, but just could not find allowance for it in Scripture. What I preached this morning was my conscience, and the most faithful interpretation, in my judgment, of Paul’s thought in Romans. I think he builds up to a very weighty conclusion… namely, that they simply cannot believe unless they hear, and they cannot hear without a preacher, and there can be no preachers if we are not sent. Ultimately, this is what the whole argument is about. Can they believe apart from our being sent? I think Paul’s answer is unequivocally “no.”

Read the rest of JD’s response here

In Other News

Church: Tony Payne on how to think about about multi-site churches

Controversy: Albert Mohler—Yahoo, Yoga and Yours Truly

Spiritual Growth: Jared Wilson on discipleship on Christ’s terms

In Case You Missed It

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

A review of John MacArthur’s The Jesus You Can’t Ignore

John Newton’s hymn based on the parable of the wheat and the tares

Sermon audio from the message I preached at Gladstone Baptist Church on October 3, 2010.

Lessons I’m learning from listening to other preachers

Think Hard, Stay Humble—Francis Chan’s message from the 2010 Desiring God National Conference

Lessons from Listening to Other Preachers

As I’ve been continuing to accept new preaching opportunities, I’ve been following Don Carson’s advice to young preachers which is listen to other men.

Lots of them.

Thanks to podcasts and the internet, this is easier than it’s ever been.

I’ve got an interesting mix of guys I’m listening to right now. Driscoll, MacArthur, Chandler, my own pastor Norm Millar, Joshua Harris, Josh Howerton, and a few other preachers. And it’s been really interesting to discover the things I’m learning from listening to other preachers. Here are a few:

A man’s arrogance comes through in his tone and grates against the spirit of his hearers. I was listening to one man recently (who is not on the above list) who—I don’t know what it is, but his tone just grated on me. I felt like I was being berated just listening—and I wasn’t even in the room. It truly grieved me. He came across as a man puffed up without reason.

What I am learning from this man is that my words must be heartfelt and honest and my spirit must be broken by the Holy Spirit before I get in the pulpit.

When Scripture is used only to prove a point, it cripples the power of the truth we speak. Listening to the same man, I noticed that he rarely ever used Scripture outside of an allusion or just to back up something that he was saying. It wasn’t that much of what he was saying was bad—in fact, some was quite good and true—but it lacked power because it wasn’t rooted clearly in the Scriptures.

What I am learning is that my ideas and opinions—even if they are true and align with Scripture—do not carry the weight and power of Scripture. Therefore, I must rely on the words that God inspired, rather than my ideas that may have been shaped by them.

A man’s love for his congregation is most apparent when he is speaking hard truth. The last thing I noticed listening to this same man was an appeal to have a personal relationship with Christ… without an explanation of why we need to have a relationship with Christ. The gospel was not present; our hopeless state as sinners, the Father’s appointing of the Son to accomplish our redemption and sending the Holy Spirit to apply it… none of it was there.

What I am learning is that if I love the people to whom I am preaching, I need to speak this hard truth—that we are far worse than we ever feared, but God is far more amazing and gracious than we could ever imagine.

These are some of the lessons I’ve been learning from listening to other preachers.

What lessons are you learning?

Sermon Audio: Do You Trust Me?

On October 3, 2010, I had the opportunity to preach the above message from Genesis 18:1-15 at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario.

My original notes follow:

In March of 2009, I was rushing to the hospital, chasing an ambulance that was carrying my wife. She’d lost a lot of blood due to complications related to a miscarriage. So I’m driving and I’m kind of freaking out and praying, “God, please let my wife be okay.”

So I got to the hospital and I wasn’t allowed to see my wife for about 20 minutes. They were trying to stabilize her, I learned later. But those 20 minutes may as well have been an eternity. For a while a number of things were running through my head—Am I going to go home as a single dad? How would I explain something like that to a two-year-old? Will work give me the time off that I need to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of?

And as I prayed and pleaded with God, I had got this distinct impression that God was asking me a question, “Do you trust me?”

That’s the big question, isn’t it? [Read more…]

Martin Luther: The Wheat and the Tares

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)

The Savior’s Interpretation

The Savior himself explained this parable in the same chapter upon the request of his disciples and says: He that sows the good seed is the Son of man; and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy that sowed them is the devil; and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.

These seven points of explanation comprehend and clearly set forth what Christ meant by this parable. But who could have discovered such an interpretation, seeing that in this parable he calls people the seed and the world the field; although in the parable preceding this one he defines the seed to be the Word of God and the field the people or the hearts of the people.

If Christ himself had not here interpreted this parable every one would have imitated his explanation of the preceding parable and considered the seed to be the Word of God, and thus the Savior’s object and understanding of it would have been lost.

Be Sure and Firm

Permit me to make an observation here for the benefit of the wise and learned who study the Scriptures. Imitating or guessing is not to be allowed in the explanation of Scripture; but one should and must be sure and firm.

Just like Joseph in Gen. 40:12f. interpreted the two dreams of the butler and baker so differently, although they resembled each other, and he did not make the one a copy of the other. True, the danger would not have been great if the seed had been interpreted to be the Word of God; still had this been the case the parable would not have been thus understood correctly. [Read more…]

Don't Be Who You're Not

As I’ve been continuing to develop as a preacher (albeit slowly), one of the great temptations I’ve come across has been imitating other men. I mean, seeing these guys who are extraordinarily gifted by God to preach His Word—guys like my  pastor, Norm Millar, and guys like Driscoll, Chandler, Francis Chan, Piper, MacArthur, Platt—and it’s really tempting to want to be like them.

To say things the way they would say it. To act the way they would act.

But isn’t that dishonoring to God?

The other day, I came across this video where Matt Chandler reminds us of the danger of trying to be who you’re not:

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim 4:5)

Fulfill the ministry God has intended for you, not for someone else. Don’t be who you’re not.

HT: Zwinglit

Always Get to the Gospel: Dever, Driscoll and MacDonald on the Pastor and Personal Evangelism

In the above video, Pastors Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever and James MacDonald speak of the challenge of engaging in personal evangelism as pastors who spend a great deal of time with Christians. The dialogue is quite intriguing and well worth spending a few minutes watching.

After you’ve watched the video, consider the following questions:

  1. Does the gospel need to be shared in the every sermon? If so, why? If not, why not?
  2. Are you, whether you’re in vocational ministry or not, being proactive in seeking out non-Christians for the purpose of evangelism?

HT: Colin Hansen