Christianity 201

January 11, 2018

Jesus. An Ordinary Person?

by Clarke Dixon

Who is Jesus? This question is the most important question we could ever face. It is a much more significant question than; “Do you like organized religion? Do you like Christianity? Do you like church and find it relevant?”

Many suggestions are put forward, but they fall into only three categories:

  1. Jesus is fictional. He is a figment of someone’s imagination.
  2. Jesus was an ordinary person. He became extraordinary in people’s minds sometime after his death.
  3. Jesus is no ordinary person. In Christian thinking, he was, is, and always will be extraordinary, being God incarnate.

Out of these three options, this question is really only a choice between two of them. If you think that Jesus is pure fiction, then most of history, and especially all of ancient history must be seen as pure fiction also. People who really want Jesus to go away may be comfortable with that, but most historians are not. If you are being consistent in matters of history, there is really only one question: Is Jesus an ordinary person, or an extraordinary person?

The first chapter of Mark will help us know how Mark, at least, would answer that. Consider:

  • In the very first verse Jesus is no ordinary person, but is the Messiah (Christ) plus the Son of God:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

  • In verses 2 and 3, the prophecies quoted refer to the coming, not just of a prophet, or king, but of God Himself. These are understood to be pointing to Jesus:

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ” Mark 1:2-3

  • In verse 7, John the baptizer knows he is not worthy of Jesus, stating that he is not even worthy to do the task of a slave. Jesus is on another level entirely:

He proclaimed, The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” Mark 1:7

  • Continuing on with John the baptizer, in verse 8 we need to ask who can baptize with the Holy Spirit except God Himself?

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:8

  • In verse 11 Jesus is referred to with a title that would only previously be applied to the king of Israel, or the nation as a whole. We are to understand that Jesus is king, and in some way representative of all Israel. Also, where the kings and and the nation were prone to failure, Jesus gets it right:

And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11

  • In verse 13 when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days we are to think of the 40 years God’s people spent in the wilderness before entering the promised Land. They spent that long in the wilderness because, unlike Jesus, they fell to temptation and sinned:

He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:13

  • In verse 18 Jesus is the one who is worth immediately leaving everything to follow:

17 And Jesus said to them,Follow me and I will make you fish for people.18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:17-18

  • In verses 21 and 22 the teaching of Jesus was extraordinary:

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Mark 1:21-22

  • In verse 24 Jesus is identified by an unclean spirit as “the Holy One of God”.  The spirit knows that Jesus is extraordinary and has power over evil:

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out,What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Mark 1:23-24

  • In verses 25 and 26 the spirit is under Jesus’ authority:

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be silent, and come out of him!26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. Mark 1:25-26

  • In verse 27 the people recognize that not only does Jesus teach with authority, his word has authority. This reminds us of Someone else Who spoke with authority and had extraordinary results (see Genesis 1):

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another,What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Mark 1:27

  • In verses 40 and following the compassion of Jesus is extraordinary. Notice how Jesus touches the leper before healing him. Something no ordinary person would do!

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him,If you choose, you can make me clean.41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him,I do choose. Be made clean!” Mark 1:40-41

Is Jesus an ordinary person or an extraordinary person? Mark certainly knows him to be extraordinary!

Mark was not one of the 12 disciples, so we might ask how would he know? As a Christian I can point to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but I wouldn’t expect a non-Christian to be convinced by that. However, we can appeal to history. Mark was known to be a close companion of Peter and to have written down the Gospel based on Peter’s testimony and preaching. Peter, of course, knew Jesus very well. Mark’s interest in Jesus may have been stirred prior to Jesus’ crucifixion as some scholars think that he may be the young man who fled naked at the arrest of Jesus in Mark chapter 14. Further, in the process of settling on which books were authoritative for the Church, the early Christians only considered writings that were known to be closely associated with eyewitnesses, the apostles. Mark wrote his Gospel account while eyewitnesses were still alive, so his facts could be checked. All the New Testament documents, dating from closer to the events than make grand fictions possible, say the same thing as Mark chapter 1. Jesus is no ordinary person.

The eyewitnesses to Jesus were all saying the same things: The teaching of Jesus was extraordinary, the miracles of Jesus were extraordinary, and the resurrection of Jesus was extraordinary. Also, the fulfillment of the promises, given to the people who have a long testimony of God’s involvement with them, is extraordinary. We have the advantage that 2,000 years later, we can say that the legacy of Jesus has been extraordinary. The positive impact of Jesus, on individuals and society alike, has been profound! To summarize, Jesus was no ordinary man, but is extraordinary. That God loves us enough to do what He has done for us in Jesus is extraordinary!

At the centre of Mark chapter one is this:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying,The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:14-15

Such an extraordinary person, such extraordinary love, demands a life that is anything but ordinary.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Visit Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

December 14, 2017

Here Is Your God. A Comforting Thought?

by Clarke Dixon

Suppose someone who knows you very well, based on your habits, intentions, thoughts, use of time, money, and giftedness says “Here is your god!”. To whom or to what would they be pointing? In Isaiah 40:9 there is an important announcement:

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!” Isaiah 40:9 (emphasis mine)

This announcement is the central thought of a prophecy that looks forward to the time God’s people would be brought back to their own land from exile. When the nation had fallen to the Babylonians and the people taken away to other lands, God himself “left the building” so to speak, and the symbol of God’s presence, the temple, was destroyed. So when the announcement is made “Here is your God!” not only have God’s people been brought back from exile, most importantly, God Himself has also returned! This is great news, comforting news:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God. Isaiah 40:1

What do we learn from this message of comfort in Isaiah 40:1-11?

First, God’s arrival is comforting because the penalty has been paid:

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins. Isaiah 40:2

When our children were young we would give them “time-outs” according to their age. So, for example, when they were each three, they had to sit quiet in one spot for three minutes. When they were four, they had to serve four minutes and so on. Now that I am forty-five, I just wish someone would give me a forty-five minute time-out! For the children, it was always good news when Mum or Dad announced that the sentence had been served, the time-out was completed.

In being exiled, God’s people were on a time-out. Now the penalty was paid, the time-out was over, they could return home, and God Himself would also arrive. That was a very comforting thought.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news; “Here is your God” . It is good news, it is comforting news for likewise, a penalty has been paid:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

Second, God’s arrival is worth preparing for and getting excited about.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain. Isaiah 40:3-4

The image here is of preparing for the arrival of a ruler. The appropriate preparation for a ruler was to make sure the road was in really good shape. The appropriate preparation for a divine ruler is repentance. Now before you think something like “I hate it when preachers preach on repentance, it seems like such a negative thing”, let us consider that there is very positive aspect to it. The most exciting moments of my life have been my wedding day and the birth of our three boys. These were moments worth preparing for. Your wedding day is a day when getting “cleaned up” is not a chore, but part of the anticipation. Putting together a crib is no easy task (I speak from experience), but something done willingly in anticipation of the arrival of someone very important.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”. He will arrive again, an arrival worth getting excited about and preparing for.

Third, when God arrives, his glory will be seen by all. It will be a world-changing event:

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:5

However, it felt like the return from exile never really lived up to this promise. It was not world changing. God’s glory was not evident in the way it was in the past. But it was part and parcel of world changing events that were yet to come.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”. In Jesus God’s glory has been seen:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Historians and scholars debate many things, but there is no argument about the fact that the arrival of Jesus has been world-changing. His return will also be world-changing and God’s glory will be seen by all!

Fourth, God’s arrival is comforting news because God keeps His promises:

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:6-8

That God keeps His promises is in contrast to people who can and do fail us. God can be trusted. However, in Jesus’ day some may have doubted that God had kept all His promises. The Romans are in charge, this can’t be what it is supposed to look like.

The promises to Israel were part of a much bigger promise to the world which we can read about in Genesis chapter 12: “. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).  It is not that God had kept all His promises in the return from exile, but that He was keeping His promises and the exile was part of that. The rest is yet to come.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”. It is not that God has already kept all His promises through the birth, life, death, and resurrection ofJesus, but that He is keeping His promises and Jesus’ arrival 2000 or so years ago was part of that. He will arrive again. The announcement will be made “Here is your God”. The rest is yet to come. The promises will be kept.

Fifth, God’s arrival is comforting news because He comes with responsible power.

See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep. Isaiah 40:10-11

The Lord comes as one who is both mighty (verse 10) and compassionate (verse 11). If God were mighty but not compassionate, that would be scary. If God were compassionate but not mighty, that would be disappointing. God is both, and that is comforting.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”.  In Jesus we see both the power of God to deal with sin, and the Good Shepherd who deals kindly with us.

We return to the original question:  if someone who knew you well could say “here is your god”, to whom or to what would they be pointing? If it is to the LORD who has revealed Himself to us through Jesus, then there is great comfort. If it refers to anything or anyone else, comfort will not be the appropriate word. No one else, and nothing else . . .

  • Can pay the penalty God has already paid for you.
  • Could cause such excitement, worth getting ready for.
  • Will have an arrival that is such a world changing event.
  • Keeps promises like God does, or can even make the kinds of promises God makes in the first place.
  • Has both the might and the shepherd’s heart to be able to take care of you, now and for eternity.

Here is your God. To whom or to what am I pointing?

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.WordPress.com

September 26, 2017

Humility We Must Sing to Imagine

Today’s thoughts are from Chaplain Mike Mercer at the website Internet Monk. I chose a passage in the online series; Philippians: Friends in the Gospel. At the bottom you’ll see the most up-to-date links I have to other installments in the series. Out of necessity today, in addition to stealing the article, we had to steal a graphic! So please click through and read this at its source page.

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (10)

There are some things that can, perhaps, only be said in poetry, and perhaps this [Phil 2:5-11] is one of them. 
• Tom Wright

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became humanHaving become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

As we mentioned last week, this is one of the most discussed theological texts in the New Testament is Philippians 2:5-11, the “Christ-hymn” that describes the “kenosis” of Jesus.

Gerald F. Hawthorne’s interpretation of Phil. 2:5-11 is one of my favorite commentary passages that I have read in biblical studies.

He first describes the near universal agreement that “vv 6-11 constitute a beautiful example of a very early hymn of the Christian church.” Scholars, however, have a number of different ideas about how the hymn might have been structured. Whatever the versification of the hymn might have been, it is clear that it has two basic parts. There are four main verbs: the first two have Jesus as the subject, the second two have God. The hymn then naturally falls into the story of (1) Jesus’ acts of humbling himself, and (2) God’s act of exalting Jesus.

Hawthorne notes that Paul himself may be the author of the hymn or it may come from another source. The striking insight that I learned many years ago from him when considering this passage is that it appears to be a meditation on an event recorded in the Gospel of John.

“…may be the result of deep meditation…on one particular event from the life of Christ as recorded in the gospel tradition — Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:3-17). Although verbal parallels between John 13:3-17 and Phil 2:6-11 are few, but nonetheless significant, the parallels in thought and in the progression of action are startling. So precise in fact are these parallels that it is difficult to consider them the result of mere coincidence.

Hawthorne uses the following diagram to portray these parallels:

This hymn, whether Paul wrote it or not, emphasizes Jesus’ act of humility using an “descent-ascent motif that is prominent in the Johannine story.”

Gerald Hawthorne also notes another important parallel between the way both John and this epistle reflect on the foot-washing story:

It is also interesting and instructive to note that the purpose of each pericope is similar. The Johannine account is an acted parable to summarize the essence of Jesus’ teaching: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to hold the first place among you must be everybody’s slave” (Mark 10:43-44), while the Philippian text is a hymn to illustrate powerfully Paul’s teaching, which at this point is identical with that of Jesus:  humble, self-sacrificing service to one another done in love is a must for a Christian disciple who would live as a Christian disciple should (Phil 2:3-4).

• • •

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel

July 23, 2017

The Humanity of Jesus, the Christ, and Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Before the sacrificial ministry of Christ can be understood, the fullness of his ministry as man must be appreciated since it is as man that he lived among humankind and that he died. It is easy to allow one’s mind to miss the extent of the Lord’s ministry on behalf of people and to fail to perceive the extent of his love, and even the means of eternal salvation without knowledge of his humanness.

Jesus was born from the womb of Mary possessing the human characteristics of all humankind. He had the same limitations and suffered the same temptations.  He came to help humankind, and to be effective in doing so he had to endure the flesh and its trials just as must all people. “For this reason [to help people] he had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” (Heb 2:16─17 NIV. Italics added.) There was nothing about the humanity of Christ that would distinguish him from anyone else. He was fully human. He hurt when his flesh was wounded and agonized over the death of friends.  He went hungry and became tired. His body exerted the same desires and demands as does that of all men.

The above passage goes on to say, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18 NIV) The temptations that afflicted the Lord caused him distress and suffering. A temptation is something that has a draw on the flesh and motivates for its appeasement. The writer of Hebrews has revealed the effect of temptations on Christ. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) The Lord fought his flesh and its draws; his interest in living a holy life and in pleasing his Father was greater than interest in his body.

Christ experienced the humanity of people and he understands it. His experience was necessary so that he could become our merciful and faithful high priest.  A high priest offers sacrifices for sins committed “in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7) Known sin is to be confessed in order to be cleansed (1 Jn 1:9); however, unknown sin, that not recognized as sin by the sinner, must also be cleansed.  According to his knowledge of the flesh and his mercy, Christ offers his blood to meet one’s need in this regard.

The human body and its interests are so prone to evil that Paul calls it “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24) The Lord’s experiential understanding is a blessing for those who seek righteousness, but is a curse for those who are willing to submit to carnal interests.  Paul wrote, “Now if we are children [of God] then we are heirs—if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may share in his glory.” (Rom 8:17 NIV Italics added.) The requirement for sharing in his glory is that people must suffer to gain victory over those unrighteous practices and thoughts that tempt the body and soul.  Paul taught, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (! Cor 10:13 NIV) John taught, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) The Lord triumphed over temptations so he knows that victory can be gained and the redeemed need to appreciate that he knows their commitment, or lack of it, to defeat sin.

The Spirit of Christ is there to help during times of temptation (Heb 2:18), but they, like the Lord, must seek it.  “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” (Heb 4:16 NIV) Believers are not called to live a passive life. They are to contend for victory, just as Christ did, and they are to help one another in that battle.

Jesus came to defeat the Old Covenant requirements for righteousness’ sake and he had to accomplish these in his own flesh to be an acceptable sacrifice. The Lord now dwells in the bodies of those who have professed his lordship. The secret that had been kept hidden for so long is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) Just as he gained victory over the temptations that afflicted the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary, a body like our own, he is able to accomplish such in the bodies of the remainder of humankind provided they are willing to listen and to obediently follow his leading. He has provided all that is necessary for victory (2 Pet 1:3) but just as he had to suffer to gain it, so must those in whom he indwells.  He does not over-rule a person’s will. Those who truly desire to dwell in his presence throughout eternity will strive with him. They are to put forth every effort (Lk 13:24), are to die to self-interest (Lk 17:33; Gal 6:7─8), and are to follow him. (Jn 10:27)

It was the humanity of the Lord that enabled him to be an acceptable sacrifice for humankind and it was his humanity that allowed him to appreciate the trials of the flesh arousing his mercy and grace so that he might intercede for those seeking to walk in the light and to pursue righteousness. Many accept that his ministry for them was completed at the cross, however, it is on-going and will only be completed when his life in the confessor is quenched, thwarted, or denied or when death occurs. He is the second Adam, the victorious one, and the one that enables victory.


After next week, Russell Young’s articles will appear here on alternative Tuesdays. We’re introducing a recurring feature starting August 6th with all articles appearing under the title Sunday Worship. Feel free to recommend any writers or articles you think would fit here.



Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 1, 2017

Only One Plan

Bruxy’s book releases in May. Click the image for more details.

While I’m a huge fan of Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor of The Meeting House in Oakville just west of Toronto, Canada we’ve never included his writing here beyond a few quotations. So with the new book re(Union) due out in May, we thought this would be a good time to share his ministry with you. Click the link in the title below to read this at its source, and then take a few minutes to look around the rest of his website.

The scandal of particularity

When I was young, I wondered why Jesus didn’t come to earth as a woman (they seemed smarter to me). I also wondered why Jesus hadn’t come as an Irishman (our family is part Irish), or even as a three-toed sloth (my favorite animal). And why had he come only once, so long ago, instead of coming today and every day for a visit? Jesus coming only once, in one place, as one person, at one point in history—that just didn’t seem “fair” to me.

My dad was a gentle, gracious, and wise man. I often peppered him with my weird and wonder-full questions, and he would patiently help me think through possible answers.

“Why did Jesus not come as a woman?” I’d ask him.

“He could have,” my dad would say. “God can do anything. But men were the powerful people in that culture, as in most, and maybe Jesus came in that form in order to teach the people with power how to lay it down. Remember him teaching his disciples to wash feet? In that culture, a job like that was reserved for servants or women, who had no power. But as Jesus washed his all-male disciples’ feet, he told them they needed to learn how to wash feet too!”

“Why not an Irishman?” I’d probe.

“He could have. God can do anything. But he had already been patiently working with a group of people, the Jewish people, to teach them how to be the light of the world together. When they weren’t lighting up the world the way God wanted, Jesus came specifically to them, as one of them.”

“Why not a three-toed sloth?” I’d ask.

“He could have,” my dad would say, somehow still patient. “God can do anything. Back in the days of Moses, God became a fire in a bush and a pillar of cloud, so I’m sure he could become a three-toed sloth if he wanted to. But remember, of all creatures, we alone are made in the image and likeness of God. We were put in charge of the planet in order to take care of creation. Just think of it—through our choices, we can take care of three-toed sloths, or harm them by harming their environment. Our choices affect them in ways their choices will never affect us, just as our environmental decisions affect the lives of every species in ways that their decisions do not. We are the powerful ones in nature. But as we learned from Spider-Man, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ We are made like God, which means that we need to learn from God how to use power to love, to care, and to cultivate.”

“But why then and not now?” I’d say.

“He could have. God can do anything. But his timing does seem perfect. Back then, Roman roads had only recently made it possible for the gospel to travel far and wide with new directness. The Pax Romana (Roman peace) made it possible to travel those roads with reasonable safety. And a common language, Greek, started to be spoken among different people groups, allowing them to communicate with each other as never before. And the Romans executed people in a very bloody way—crucifixion—which would allow God to demonstrate the coming of the New Covenant and the end of all religious sacrifice to a people who saw blood as the centre of religious sacrifice. Once that was all in place, why wait another day?”

“Why not just come every day?”

“He could do that,” my dad would say, still with a patient grin. “God can do anything. In fact, he does that every day and every moment through his Holy Spirit. But Brux, if God was really going to become one of us through Jesus—I mean, really become human—then that means he doesn’t get to come every day in every place. Humans don’t live that way. Humans live one life in one place at a time. And God decided to become human just like us.”

My dad and my mom and my older sisters and Sunday school teachers and youth pastors—all of them had to put up with my many questions. And their patience paid off. I finally got it: God came to us as one of us. That’s the incarnation, and it’s central to the gospel. This idea of incarnation has profound implications. Theologians call this “the scandal of particularity.”

In becoming human, God became particular, a specific human, not just humanity as some generalized concept. And that creates particularity in time and space, gender and race. God became this and not that. God became a man and not a woman. God became a Jew and not a Gentile. God became an Israelite and not a Canadian. God became a poor person and not a rich person. God became a first-century person and not a twenty-first-century person.

The apostle Paul wrote:

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).

When the time had fully come. That’s when Jesus came. As one “born under the law,” Jesus came as part of one of the world’s rule-enforcing, ritual-observing, temple-building, animal-sacrificing, blood-spilling religions—to bring an end to it all, from the inside out. Through Jesus, God came to us at just the right time, in just the right way, to say everything God had to say. Now, with religion out of the way, God pulls us close, as his children. (We are called “sons,” not to exclude women but to emphasize the equal status women have in God’s family. See, at that time, daughters had no rights. So God says, to men and women,  you are all my “sons,” to emphasize that all of us, male and female, are heirs to the love and blessing God has for his kids.)

We are no longer slaves. Before Jesus, and even now apart from Jesus, we can all end up as slaves to something, to some system of belonging, even and especially the system of religion. But we are no longer slaves. We no longer have to serve our own fragile egos, always subconsciously clamouring for the affirmation and acceptance we so desperately desire. We are now God’s children. Let it sink in: we are God’s children. And, alongside Jesus, we share in our inheritance: God’s great love for his kids, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, Jesus came “once upon a time” and “once upon a place.” But today, through the Holy Spirit, we not only have God with us, but within us, at all times, and in every place. Now that you’re done reading this post, take a moment to be aware—God is with you, within you, and all around you. Take a deep breath, and receive the infinite love that is your inheritance.

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January 27, 2017

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15 NLT

He was despised and rejected by others, and a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering; and like one from whom people hide their faces; and we despised him and did not value him.  – Isaiah 53:3 ISV

…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!Philippians 2: 7,8 NIV

This essay predates email forwards or even the internet itself, but as I found it in a stack of papers yesterday, I couldn’t help think that while it wasn’t the usual type of thing we share here, it certainly provides food for thought. Immediate the above scripture passages came to mind.

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a
great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the
front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame before God’s
throne, but with embittered belligerence.

“How can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?” snapped
a brunette, jerking back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number
from a Nazi concentration camp.” “We endured terror, beatings,
torture, and death!”

In another group, a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?”
he demanded, showing the rope burns. “Lynched for no crime but being
black! We’ve suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones,
and toiled ’til only death gave release.”

Hundreds of such groups were visible across the plain. Each had
a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in
His world. How lucky God was, they all seemed to agree, able to
live in heaven where all is sweetness and light, without weeping,
fear hunger or hatred. Indeed, what does God know about man? What
does He know about being forced to endure the trials of life?
After all, God leads pretty sheltered life.

So each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered
the most. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India,
a person who was illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima and others
who had tasted life’s bitterest dregs. At last they were ready to
present their case. It was rather simple: Before God would be qualified
to be their judge; He must endure what they had endured.

Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth
as a man. But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be
sure He would not use His divine powers to help himself.

* Let Him be a Jew.
* Let the legitimacy of His birth be questioned.
* Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, it brings
upon Him the hate, condemnation and destructive attacks of political
and religious authorities.
* Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced
jury and convicted by a cowardly judge.
* Let Him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned
by every living being.
* Let Him be tortured and … let Him die.
* And let His death be humiliating; let it take place beside
common criminals, while He is jeered at, mocked, and spit on.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs
of approval went up from the great throng of people. But suddenly,
after the last one had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a
long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly,
all recognized the stark reality; God had already served his sentence.

– Author unknown


From Handel’s Messiah: He was despised.

January 12, 2017

The Final Page of the Final Chapter of the Christmas Story

by Clarke Dixon

Now that Christmas is over we might ask, where does the Christmas story actually end? Nativity plays often finish off with the visit of the magi. Some may think the story of Christmas concludes  with Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt, or coming home to Nazareth. Actually, the Christmas story points far beyond itself as it is part of a much larger story. The magi point beyond themselves to that larger story. Consider how the presence of the magi alludes to this prophecy spoken many years prior:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Isaiah 60:1-3

Though not kings, the magi are not Jewish and travel from afar, indicating that it is beginning; The nations are drawn to the light. It continues:

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you,
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall be acceptable on my altar,
and I will glorify my glorious house.Isaiah 60:5-7

We cannot help but notice the gold and frankincense along with the possibility of camels. The visit of the magi is not the full fulfillment of Isaiah 60, but it is the beginning of the fulfillment. This is also pointing more generally to a greater fulfillment of a greater promise: all peoples of the earth worshipping the God of Israel.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations. Psalms 22:27-28

Herod figures prominently in the account of the magi and he also points to the future when he says “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:8 NIV) Of course Herod has no intention of worshipping Jesus. Herod would rather have Jesus destroyed. Herod would rather be in charge. Herod would rather attempt to grasp at a throne that truly belonged to another. Herod did not worship Jesus. But he will:

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him. Psalms 22:29

The Old Testament points to even the dead bowing down to the true king, the Creator God. The New Testament makes this even more explicit:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

Every knee and every tongue includes even the knees and tongues of the dead. Even Herod. So ironically, Herod was speaking truthfully about the future when he said he would worship Jesus. He will. So will you and I. The question is not if you will bend the knee to Jesus, or if you will confess that He is Lord, but when

Does the fact that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord mean that every person will experience eternal life with God? No.

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15

You and I have the wonderful opportunity to be among those who bend the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord sooner rather than later. The sooner we do, the greater the opportunity to live with the hope, peace, joy, and love, that we celebrate during Advent.

So where does the Christmas story end? With Mary and Joseph going home with Jesus? Or is the end of the story yet to come, with you and I going home?

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13

If you are a child of God, you will feel right at home in the presence of God. If you are like Herod and would rather stay in charge, rejecting God and the possibility of a relationship with Him, then you will feel right at home being separated from God. The final words on the final page of the final chapter of the Christmas story will not be you or I saying “You are unfair, Lord” but “I’m home.”


Read today’s column online at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons.

Be aware of new blog posts by Clarke by following him on Twitter.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless noted otherwise

January 9, 2017

Where God Dwells There are No Clocks

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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And He Shall Reign Forever

Today we pay a return visit to the Lutheran pastor Paul Willweber at the website, The Three Taverns. Click the title to read at source.

The Timelessness of Eternity

NLT John 16:15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

16 “In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.”

17 Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? 18 And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”

19 Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. 21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name.

What do you think heaven is going to be like? We know heaven is perfect, but what will it feel like? What will you do for all eternity? Will you get bored? Will you be aware that you are in heaven forever? Will it seem like it’s taking a long time? Can eternity take a long time?

Heaven is what God wants for you for eternity but it’s impossible to comprehend eternity. You can only think in terms of time. You know when events begin and when they end. Sometimes they fly by, sometimes they drag on. If someone tells you not to think in terms of time, you can’t do it. You are bound by time. You cannot remove yourself from time. The closest to it is being asleep or in a coma. But even so, when you wake up you are aware that time has elapsed. Time continues when you are not in a conscious state.

God, however, is not bound by time. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. Things don’t go slow for Him or take a long time. He is outside of time. He created it.

But He did something remarkable, perhaps even strange. He placed Himself into time. He bound Himself to it. He became a man, a human being. He was born in a specific moment in time. He lived in a particular era of history; He lived for a certain amount of years. He who is not bound by time was now having to wait 365 days to turn a year older.

We know God did this to save us. But did He have to save us in this way? Why would God submit Himself to what we endure in this life? He’s God, He can do anything. What moved Him to bind Himself to time?

Jesus shows us with His words to the disciples in the Gospel reading. He told them He would be leaving them. But then He would return to them. They had no idea what He was talking about. They were trying to figure it out.

He was referring to the fact that He would be going to the cross where He would die. He would be leaving them. But then He would come back to life and so He would be with them again. This is what He was talking about. They didn’t get it. And they continued to not get it until He rose from the dead.

He said they would fall into deep sorrow. They wouldn’t come out of it until they saw Him again and they would rejoice in seeing Him alive. They weren’t getting it when He was telling them, but afterward they would remember that He had told them beforehand. And that was a comfort to them.

But the apostle John was not writing this down out of historical interest. The apostle John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this down for you. What Jesus told His disciples has meaning for you. It applies to you because what He said to the disciples shows you why God saved us in the way He did, humbling Himself to become a human being, to be bound by time, to suffer and die.

He is showing you how He uses time to save you. Jesus wasn’t just telling His disciples what would happen. He was saying that He would be leaving them in a little while. And then it would be a little while when He would return to them.

When you are experiencing sorrow it doesn’t seem like a little while. It seems like it won’t end. Jesus uses the example of a woman giving birth. She’s not thinking that this is a brief moment of difficulty. She must endure it because her baby is not coming right away.

But Jesus’ words are what determines what is. When Jesus was gone the disciples despaired in sorrow. But in the light of eternity it truly was a little while.

And now you experience a similar thing to the disciples. Jesus went away from them when He died, but then He returned to them when He rose. But then He left again, ascending into heaven. The disciples were left without Him but then He returned. You are left without Him and it seems anything but a little while until He returns to you.

And you know why this is? No, it’s not because two thousand years since Jesus ascended is a really long time. You are bound by time. You are viewing what Jesus says through your limited understanding. You need to see time from His perspective, not yours. You need to view your life the way He views your life, not in a way that makes sense to you. You need to see your life not as your own but as what God has given you to live and to see yourself not as who you are but who you are in Christ.

As a Christian you are not bound by time. You are not waiting around for God to save you. You aren’t in a holding pattern until God brings you to heaven. As a Christian you have eternal life. That’s life outside of time. It’s without end. It is life with God whether you are awake or asleep. You are not in a state of grace one moment and then apart from Christ the next if you have an evil thought. You are either in Christ or you’re not. If you’re in Christ you have eternal life, not salvation that will be given at some future point.

Jesus speaks of a little while because there is no long while with Him. Time is at His disposal. You can’t make time do what you want. You have only so much of it and it’s the same as what everybody else has. But Jesus? He uses time, something He is not bound by, to bring eternity to you. Since you cannot bring yourself out of time, He comes to you, in your life, in time, to give you eternal life. You now have life that is timeless, it is not here and then not, not flying by or dragging on interminably. It is life with God in Christ, forever.

Now, if you’re thinking, Okay, I have eternal life but I’m still here, aren’t I? I still have to set an alarm clock and be at meetings and appointments on time, don’t I? If I tell my boss that I have eternal life and so am not bound by time, he’ll tell me that if I’m late again I’ll be fired. Right?

Yes. You live in time and you should. God has given this to you to do. Having eternal life doesn’t remove you from your life here; your time, your vocations, your duties and responsibilities. The beauty of God giving you eternal life now is that it frees you up. And what Peter says about that in the Epistle reading is, Live as people who are free. You are a Christian, live like one. Don’t use your being freedom to just live as everyone else does, where they are constricted by time and cannot see beyond it.

Live, as Peter says, as one who freely gives of your time, because you are not subjugated to it. It’s not your time. You have eternal life! What is using your time to help someone when you’re tempted to think that you’ll be inconvenienced. Jesus freed you up from such a shortsighted and constricting view. You are freed up to help others. To serve them. To give of yourself to them. Your time, your resources. What are these in eternity? They are nothing more than as Jesus describes, a little while.

In a moment of time Jesus took in Himself the sin if the world. In that moment there was no time, Jesus brought eternity to earth. In Him God was reconciling the world to Himself. When you are reconciled to God, there is no time, only eternity. Time is momentary. Eternity is forever.

That’s why you need to stop thinking of God and what He does for you in terms of time. In a moment of time you were Baptized and you were no longer bound by time as you were brought into eternal life with God, you were and are now in Christ, who is above time. When He gives you His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is in a moment of time but there is no time. You are feasting with the angels and the archangels and the whole company of heaven. This is the Eternal Feast, the Feast of the Lamb. It has no ending; you are brought into this eternal Feast as you commune at this altar.

Heaven is not a place. It does not start and go on for a period of time. Heaven is being with God, without time, forever. He gives you heaven, eternity, in Jesus. He gives you Jesus right here, in this place, in this moment, at this altar. No time, no ending, just eternity. Amen.

December 25, 2016

Rejoice, O World! Rejoice! A Savior Has Been Born!

by Russell Young

Today is Christmas! It is a celebration of the revelation of God’s grace and mercy to humankind. For millennia the human condition had been one that had brought grief to the Creator through the rebellion and intransigent hearts (Gen 6:6) of those whom he had created for his good pleasure and purpose. The mandate of the One born as a baby was to rescue or redeem the world from its depravity so that it might please God once again. It was and is the Creator’s desire to fellowship with those who had been formed in his image. For this purpose, the babe in the manger was born, lived his life and died among us.

John wrote: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it through him.” (Jn 3:16─17 NIV) He did not come to condemn the world to destruction but to rescue it and it not just humankind that was his mandate, it was the world—all that had been created. The Lord came to complete God’s creation so that it would accomplish their (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) purposes. He came to “save” it.

The world had become a place worthy only of destruction; it was not worth preserving given its state of evil. The minds of people had allowed them sovereignty over the world’s affairs. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work,” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) which includes recognition of the sovereignty of the One who created all that is.

Part of the Lord’s ministry was to make people “acceptable” to God once again (Rom 15:16) and all creation is waiting expectantly for that to happen. (Rom 8:19–22) When the ministry of Jesus is completed there will be no more wars or hostility and he will reign in peace. It is in the hope of the restoration of God’s kingdom and our place in it that we rejoice.

Isaiah has presented his victory and the hope available to all of those “in him” upon his return as king.

“The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and power,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—
And he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
Or decide by what he hears with his ears;
But with righteousness he will judge the needy,
With justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
The leopard will lie down with the goat,
The calf and the lion and the yearling together;
And a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together;
and the lion will eat straw like an ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child will put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

(Isaiah 11:2─9 NIV)

Rejoice and celebrate the hope, love, and promises provided through the One whose birth is honoured today, the One who has been provided for the salvation of man and of God’s creation, the One who has been faithful to the Father and to his promises. In the child whose birth is celebrated today rests the hope of humankind and of all creation.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

December 24, 2016

Jesus Was No Stranger to Our World

CEV John1:1 In the beginning was the one
    who is called the Word.
The Word was with God
    and was truly God.
From the very beginning
    the Word was with God.

And with this Word,
    God created all things.
Nothing was made
    without the Word.
Everything that was created
    received its life from him,
and his life gave light
    to everyone.

ESV Col 1:16 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

The incarnation of God the son; the one whom Mary is told to name Jesus; the one whom we call the Christ, the anointed one; this is not the first time that his world intersects with ours. One songwriter re-framed John 1:1 as, “Before the world was created there was Christ with God.”

Rather, this represents the first time he inhabits a human body. John 1 tells us,

NLT John 1:14a So the Word became human and made his home among us.

Paul writes,

Phillips Philippians 2:6-7a For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself.

christophanies-article

But earlier, we have examples which theologians and scholars call Christophanies, where what the writers termed “…an angel of the Lord appeared…” actually represents a visitation of the pre-incarnate Christ. Remember, since these are Old Testament narratives, the writers of those accounts had no context in which to frame what they were seeing in those terms. In a world where surrounding nations had many gods, our Trinitarian concept of the Godhead would have been confusing or even counter-productive to the idea that God is one. (However, it should be noted that they had an understanding of the Spirit, but not the same as a New Testament believer would frame it.)

If you look the word up on Wikipedia you will read this:

A Christophany is an appearance or non-physical manifestation of Christ.

So far so good, but then it emphasizes post-ascension appearances, such as happened to the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’

‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’

But others would point you closer to what GodQuestions.org has to say. Here is the final paragraph of their answer:

Some Bible commentators believe that whenever someone received a visit from “the angel of the Lord,” this was in fact the pre-incarnate Christ. These appearances can be seen in Genesis 16:7-14; Genesis 22:11-18; Judges 5:23; 2 Kings 19:35; and other passages. Other commentators believe these were in fact angelophanies, or appearances of angels. While there are no indisputable Christophanies in the Old Testament, every theophany wherein God takes on human form foreshadows the incarnation, where God took the form of a man to live among us as Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

Having shown that, this is the part of their article which precedes it:

A theophany is a manifestation of God in the Bible that is tangible to the human senses. In its most restrictive sense, it is a visible appearance of God in the Old Testament period, often, but not always, in human form. Some of the theophanies are found in these passages:

1. Genesis 12:7-9 – The Lord appeared to Abraham on his arrival in the land God had promised to him and his descendants.

2. Genesis 18:1-33 – One day, Abraham had some visitors: two angels and God Himself. He invited them to come to his home, and he and Sarah entertained them. Many commentators believe this could also be a Christophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.

3. Genesis 32:22-30 – Jacob wrestled with what appeared to be a man, but was actually God (vv. 28-30). This may also have been a Christophany.

4. Exodus 3:2 – 4:17 – God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush, telling him exactly what He wanted him to do.

5. Exodus 24:9-11 – God appeared to Moses with Aaron and his sons and the seventy elders.

6. Deuteronomy 31:14-15 – God appeared to Moses and Joshua in the transfer of leadership to Joshua.

7. Job 38–42 – God answered Job out of the tempest and spoke at great length in answer to Job’s questions.

Frequently, the term “glory of the Lord” reflects a theophany, as in Exodus 24:16-18; the “pillar of cloud” has a similar function in Exodus 33:9. A frequent introduction for theophanies may be seen in the words “the Lord came down,” as in Genesis 11:5; Exodus 34:5; Numbers 11:25; and 12:5.

In a much longer article at Icthys.com the writer offers an even earlier visitation of Jesus to earth:

In my view (and not only in my view) it was our indeed Lord Jesus Christ who appeared to Adam and Eve in the garden (in Christophany, see the previous link), for He has always been the Father’s representative on earth, appearing for Him and as Him.

This is a long and complex topic, but one it may be helpful to be aware of. In general, if we refer to the verse in Colossians at the top of this article, we see that Paul holds a view of Jesus as creator (or if you wish, co-creator) of the world “by whom all things hold together.”

In the incarnation; the Christmas narrative; we see Jesus entering our world in flesh. Did the baby in the manger have full knowledge of the things which Christ “holds together” today? If not, when did come into the authority and power that could heal the sick, calm the storm and raise the dead?

That’s the subject for great speculation.

Today we’re thankful that God chose this plan, and that through his birth, his death and his resurrection we find salvation.

May you experience the blessing of God on your life this season.


Related: April, 2014 — The Divine One Became Human

 

 

 

 

December 23, 2016

God With Us: A Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This was part of the service we attended Sunday morning and I asked if we could have a copy of it to share here. Pray along as you read.


God of every nation and people,
You have made known your love
Through the gift of your Son
Who bears the name Emmanuel, “God with Us.”

In the fullness of time the Christ-child came
To be the Good News to all humankind.
Emmanuel, God lives with us as one of us;
Christ, the Word made flesh
Has come to us as a vulnerable,
Weak and dependent babe;

A God who hungered and thirsted,
And longed for human touch and affection;
A God who chose to be born
In obscurity and shame, with
a borrowed manger as a bed,
In a tiny, insignificant town called Bethlehem.

Oh, Mighty God, of humble origins,
Christ, the Messiah, whom the prophets foretold,
You were born at a time, and in a place
Where few welcomed you or even recognized you.

Have we, too, lost a sense of joy and anticipation
In what the Christ-child may bring?
Have we been preoccupied with endless activities,
Distracted by the tinsel, decorations, and gifts
Busy preparing for the birthday of Christ;
So busy that there’s no room in our cluttered lives
To welcome Him when he comes?

God, grant us the grace to be patient and vigilant
In watching, waiting, and listening attentively.
So that we won’t miss Christ …
Remove whatever hinders us from receiving
The gifts which the Savior brings
Joy, peace, justice, mercy, love …
let these be the gifts we share.

Christ, you are our hope,our wonderful Counselor
who encourages and consoles,
The Prince of Peace who calms our troubled minds

Christ, you who are the radiant dawn,
Shine on those who live in darkness and in shadows,

Christ, You who are the Light of the World,
Help us to radiate the warmth of your presence.

As we wait for the dawn
Of the coming of the Christ-child,
We do so with anticipation
Of new and unexpected challenges.
Like Mary, we sense the birth pangs of a new era,
A new kingdom waiting to be born.

May we, like Mary, be filled with courage,
Openness, and receptivity
To be the bearers of the Christ-child
In receiving and bringing forth the Good News

In the words of Isaiah
“Arise, shine, for your light has come.
The glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

Even though darkness shall cover the earth
And over its people,
Yet the LORD will be your everlasting light.”
Amen.

December 22, 2016

Believe It Or Not, Mary and Joseph, a Baby Is On the Way

by Clarke Dixon

Christmas is an unbelievable time. It’s time for God to intervene in a special way. All along God has been preparing His people for something special, and this something special is on the way in the birth of Someone special. It’s time for God Himself to be incarnate. It’s time for Jesus to be born.

But before this birth something else needs to happen first. Mary and Joseph need to know about it. And this is where things can get tricky. What if they don’t believe it? A virgin conception does not happen everyday after all. What if they don’t want it? Being in on God’s plans. What if they don’t want Him? Jesus, their son, or rather, her son, and you are not going to believe who is really responsible for this pregnancy! I imagine the majority of Mary and Joseph’s neighbours and friends didn’t. Joseph himself didn’t believe at first either:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, . . . Matthew 1:18-20

Though the writer of the Gospel of Matthew states rather matter of factly that this child is from the Holy Spirit, clearly Joseph initially does not think so. He already knows about the pregnancy before an angel explains it to him. If Mary told him about the angel’s explanation, he is not buying it. Mary must be lying. Being a good man he resolves to do, not the right thing, which would be to expose her obvious lack of fidelity publicly, but to do a good thing, breaking the relationship off, letting Mary carry on quietly with her life. An angel intervenes to help Joseph move from disbelief to trust, both trust in Mary, and more importantly, in what God has in store for them.

Mary quickly comes to a place of trust:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

It takes Joseph longer, but he eventually also comes around to a place of trust:

Matthew 1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

If Jesus were born today into our Western civilization, I wonder if a Mary or Joseph would be harder to find. If we were Mary or Joseph, we scientifically informed Westerners might try to explain away the experience. Joseph in the Bible evidently entertained the possibility that Mary was lying. A man today might conclude likewise, but also that the angel appearing to him in a dream was, in reality, more dream than angel. As for Mary, a woman today might entertain the possibility she was drugged and raped with the whole angel thing being an emotionally charged episode. That Joseph’s encounter with an angel mirrored that of Mary’s could be chalked up to the power of suggestion. There is, in our culture, a tendency in matters of faith to go with any possible explanation rather than a supernatural one. Any explanation without God, no matter how ridiculous it might be, is preferred to every explanation that includes God, no matter how good it is. In contrast to our society’s assertion that “nothing supernatural is possible,” Mary believed the angel’s assertion that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37)

What if you were Mary or Joseph? Would you trust the supernatural explanation, or would you go with the other possibilities? When it comes to finding truth, do you go with the most reasonable explanation, even if it involves the supernatural, or do you default to the possibilities that discount the supernatural?

The reality and existence of God as revealed in the Bible has great explanatory power for so many questions. Such as:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why does the evidence point to the universe having a beginning?
  • Why does the universe seem to be fine tuned for life in many ways?
  • Why does our solar system and planet seem to be placed “just so” for life?
  • Why do the ecosystems of the world work so well together?
  • Why is there life at all and not just dead matter?
  • How did life come about when even a simple cell is so complex?
  • Why is there mind and intelligence?
  • Why do human beings seem to be set apart from the rest of the animal world in so many ways?
  • Why are there objective moral values?
  • Why do we appreciate beauty?
  • Why is there is a unity and unified story across the Bible when the documents of the Bible were written over hundreds of years by many different writers?
  • Why are the NT documents the way they are?
  • Why was the tomb of Jesus empty?
  • Why were the early disciples changed people ready to die for their claims?
  • Why did Jewish theology develop the way it did into Christian theology, not changing direction, yet going down an unexpected road?

The supernatural explanation, that God the Creator exists, and that Jesus rose from the dead, is able to explain these questions and so many more. But there are those who would never allow for such an explanation. “It is possible that . . . ” becomes the mantra. It is thought that even if we have not found them, there must be other explanations rather than the “God explanation” that explains so much so well.

There are two difficulties to living with such a mantra. First, one’s mind would never be open to the possibility of God. A closed mind is not the best starting place for finding truth. Second, we don’t live that way. It is possible that my chair might fall apart at any moment. Yet here I sit. The possibility of chair failure does not dissuade me from my apparent trust in this chair. Does my wife truly love me, or did she marry me for my money? The latter is possible, the former is more likely and explains so much more besides. And so I trust. Is it possible I exist due to aliens swapping me out for the real Clarke Dixon. Possible, but not a possibility that I am concerned with. You can invoke aliens to cast doubt on anything and everything, especially God. But we don’t live that way. We don’t live with incredulous doubt, we live with sensible trust. As cold case detective, J. Warner Wallace points out, juries make incredibly important decisions based on what is beyond a reasonable doubt, not on what is beyond every possible doubt. If you approach matters of faith the way you approach life, a case can be made that the reality of God and His love is beyond reasonable doubt and can be trusted even in the face of other possible explanations. But if you are not open to a supernatural explanation, or you do not want it to be true, you will always default to other possible explanations. But will they be true? Though Joseph and Mary may have been able to come up with other possible explanations for what they experienced, they knew that this baby was Someone special. Do you?

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read today’s post and other articles you’ve seen here at source at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

December 18, 2015

He Came to Save

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today’s reading is from Stephen & Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement. This is my go-to devotional in the morning and we break the six-month rule with them, using their material more frequently here. They are in their eleventh year of faithfully doing this on top of an active chaplaincy ministry in Pennsylvania. Click the title below to read this at source.

Mighty To Save

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save” (Zephaniah 3:17).

“But when he (Joseph) had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” (Matthew 21:20-22).

“Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25 Amplified)

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin,
Dwelt among men, my example is He!

Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming—oh, glorious day! *

At this season, along with Easter, it’s predictable that national news magazines will do a feature story about Jesus Christ. However so often these articles are slanted away from the Biblical and historical teachings about Jesus Christ and espouse the faddish views of various “scholars” that the writer selectively cites.

Critics have often tried to distinguish between what they perceive as the harsh, judgmental God of the Old Testament with the kind, loving God of the New Testament.  Of course God is God and He does not change. In Malachi 3:6 He declares “I the LORD do not change”. The feeble attempts by critics to “package” God merely reveals that we are finite humans. We are called to belief and obedience. Understanding comes as we “trust and obey”.

Zephaniah 3:17 Today’s first verse is a reminder to us of a powerful, loving God who is ever present. “The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save.” You may have present circumstances in your life that make this verse hard to grasp. But consider the great truth that God is with you and He is mighty to save! I would sure take this to primarily mean in regard to our greatest need of salvation from sin, but I also believe He is “mighty to save” in regard to a specific situation we are dealing with as well.

Matthew 1:20-22 contains the angel’s announcement to Joseph concerning Mary. The message of the angel in verse 21 is an assurance to Joseph that Mary’s baby would be a “Son” whose name would be “Jesus.” The Greek name “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew name Joshua which literally means “Jehovah saves,” or “God is salvation.” Even before Christ was born the angel revealed to Joseph the unique nature of His reason for coming, “He will save His people from their sins”. The Gospels and Apostolic teaching reveal this was accomplished by His sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection from the dead. The term “His people” should be understood to include both believing Jews and Gentiles (see Gal. 3:13,14; Romans 3:21-25; Titus 2:13,14; 1 Peter 2:4-10) whom Christ would save “from their sins” by means of His perfect life and substitutionary sacrifice. (from “Explore the Bible”)

Two thousand years after His first coming and mission accomplished we are among those who experience the wonder of His love. “Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, and for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him.”

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today

Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, the wonder of Your love is that You sent Your beloved Son, Jesus, the Holy Child of Bethlehem, in answer to our need for salvation. And in answer to our prayer You cast out our sin and entered in to be born in us, making all things new in our spiritual transformation. Because we come to You through Christ we are saved completely to the uttermost: perfectly, finally, for all time and for all eternity. All we have need of You provide through Christ Jesus our Lord. And we are forever grateful! Amen.



* “Glorious Day (Living He loved me)”  Video  Casting Crowns

February 12, 2015

The Beauty of John’s Prologue

This post is from the blog Living the Gospel by Jason Velotta. If you’re unfamiliar with the term in today’s title, it refers to the first 18 verses of John’s gospel; the passage beginning

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  (NIV/KJV/NASB)

and containing that important incarnational verse 14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)

To read the whole passage first, click here, and then read the first 18 verses. We’ve chosen a newer translation here, the CEB, or Common English Bible. (But you can select a different one, or even a different language, from the pull-down menu.)

The Prologue of John – Responding to the Word of God

The first 18 verses of John’s gospel (commonly known as the Prologue) represent a literary masterpiece of inspired Scripture. On the one hand, John’s introduction is so simple a child can understand it, yet it is also so theologically deep, the most intellectual scholars could never mine every detail held within its verses.

incarnationThere have been many debates regarding the structure of John’s prologue. The most convincing in my opinion is that the first 18 verses are a narrative which summarize not only the entirety of John’s gospel but make a broad sweep of salvation history. The prologue begins in eternity before creation, declaring that in the beginning the Word already existed. It proceeds through the creation (all things were made by Him) and He is the source of all life and light. Then John skips over the majority of Israel’s salvation history and shows that a final prophet, John the Baptist, came to testify to the light. This light is the revelation of God Himself. He came into the world and was rejected by the world. Yet, those who received Him became the sons of God.

The prologue finishes by showing the culmination of Israel’s salvation in Jesus. The law (which was itself a grace given to men) came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Jesus has completely explained the Father. Jesus is the Father’s final word to man. – This culminates salvation history. So, we see that the prologue begins in eternity past and concludes with God’s final word of salvation and redemption.

What John simply states in the prologue (albeit with great theological depth and nuance) he will elucidate throughout the pages of his gospel. First, we see that Jesus is the divine Word of God.

There is much discussion about the Hebrew and Greek presuppositions regarding the word (logos). Although there is much to be learned from these distinctions, I think John has primarily the Old Testament view of the “Word.” In the Old Testament the Word of God was His creative power, authority, and organizing principle. In Genesis, God created by the word. Repeatedly Genesis one presents God’s creative power in His speech. Over and over again God created by speaking – “And God said let there be…and there was.”

Likewise, the word is personified in the Old Testament when the prophets were given God’s words to speak. Repeatedly the Bible says, “The word of the Lord came to…” whatever prophet to whom God was speaking.

The idea of a divine word was not uncommon for a Jewish person. What is uncommon is John’s assertion that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The idea being that Jesus Himself is the divine person of the Word. In lieu of an extended treatise on the Trinity, I would point you to my discussions on the doctrine here.

The verb “dwelt” is the verbal form of tabernacle. John says that the word became flesh and tabernacled among us – this, taken along side John’s introduction of Moses and the law shows us that Jesus’ incarnation is the fulfillment of God’s promise to dwell with His people. He is truly Emmanuel – “God with us.” Jesus fulfills the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Jesus is the display of God’s glory which can be seen. In Exodus, Moses asked to see God’s glory and was told that it was impossible for man to view Him. Instead, Moses was only allowed to see God’s hind parts. But here John says that we saw His glory. It was the glory of God the Son who is full of grace and truth.

Jesus has perfectly revealed the Father to mankind. The Son of God became a son of man so that the sons of men might become sons of God. Jesus is the word of God that demands a response. To those who received Him, He gave them the authority to become sons of God – yet to those who reject Him, He brings the completion of the judgment of God for there will never be another door of salvation.

 

December 25, 2014

To Happen, The Incarnation Needed a Mary

Luke 1:26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

From five years ago at Internet Monk, these questions:

Mary was more than likely no more than 13 or 14 years old when the angel appeared to her. She had her whole life in front of her—a marriage to a man who would be able to provide for her, and that was not something to take for granted in those days. And then … and then God came and turned her whole world upside down.

Was this fair? Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life? How would you have responded if the angel had come to you with this news? And does God still move in impossible ways today? Is God still coming and turning people’s lives upside-down?

And these responses:

  • Karin: Being told that you are favored by God would make saying ‘yes’ a whole lot easier and saying ‘no’ a whole lot harder. Mary seemed wise beyond her years and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” At age 13 or 14 one usually does not have preconceived ideas about the consequences of such a life changing decision. Perhaps this kind of visitation by an angel and being chosen to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah was every young spiritually minded Israelite girl’s dream!If my daughter had come and told me that she experienced the same as what Mary experienced, I would probably have needed a visitation from an angel to confirm it, just as Joseph did!
  • Joanie: I have noticed that when Zechariah questioned the angel about how his wife could possibly become pregnant, he was made unable to speak until John was born. But Mary questioned the angel about how she could possibly get pregnant and the angel explained. I have read that Zechariah was a priest, was old and should have known that God could do whatever God wanted to do. Mary was a young girl and as such, was treated more…patiently. Do you often wonder what it would be like to encounter an angel? Do you think angels take on human-like properties so that they can communicate with us? I wonder how long it took for Jesus as he was growing up to fully realize who he was, why he was and what he had to do? And how much of that would Mary have understood? When they were at the wedding in Cana together, she obviously knew that he could turn water into wine. How did she know he could do that and would do that?
  • Hannah: Mary’s response of submission to God is so beautiful. I wonder if this was, completely and utterly out of the blue for her, or if, in some way, God had been preparing her for what He needed her to do? He doesn’t test us beyond what we can bear, so says the word, and she must have trusted God so much to just submit to him like that, not knowing at that time if Joseph would stick by her or not. And if God was preparing Mary in some small way, would He have been preparing Joseph too then, to do the right thing and stay with her. Did they risk small town humiliation and unbelief, or was the culture of the time open to what they said to curious neighbors and family friends about Mary’s pregnancy? They had to be so strong, it seems to me, in their commitment to God and each other and their trust in what God had told them. I wonder what Mary and Joseph’s individual relationships to God had been like up to that time?
  • John: I think when God speaks to people in these more direct and miraculous ways, we encounter more closely just what the nature of his kingdom is and how it operates. And because of that, things like having our lives turned upside down tend to pale in comparison. It’s not that there aren’t real effects on our lives, but that we have encountered in some very real way an intersection between our earthly plodding and the fuller reality of God’s eternal kingdom and purpose. When that happens, priorities get shifted a bit. In other words, the reality of God with us begins to take hold and change things, starting with us. “Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life?”  I think God does, but in our dullness and distraction we aren’t always listening. And even if we are, he still tends to look and act a little different than we imagined before the actual encounter.God still turns lives upside down and moves in impossible ways today, but it’s easy to miss if I’m not looking and listening. Lord, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Read the other comments at Internet Monk.

 

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