Good News of Great Joy!

angel-shepherds

 

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. Luke 2:1-20 NASB

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May each of you experience the love and forgiveness that is found only in Christ. May you prosper in the Lord in the coming months and years. Most of all, may all you do glorify the one who came into the world in the most humble way but will one day return in the most bold way. May God bless you as you experience the day we have set aside as the celebration of His birth.

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace

among men with whom He is pleased.”

He Is Firstborn

The Son of God – also known as Jesus Christ – is God, always has been God and forever will be God.

 

This week I am continuing to look at one of my favorite passages of Scripture, Colossians 1:15-20. But instead of just looking at it all quickly, I am continuing to unpack it slowly and deliberately. This week we’ll consider the issue of Christ being firstborn. We’ll look at the meaning of firstborn, the misunderstandings of what it means for the Son of God, and the implications for us today.

 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whetherthrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is alsohead of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. – Colossians 1:15-20 NASB

 

One of the most difficult concepts in Scripture is the this idea of Jesus Christ being the firstborn of all creation. The term firstborn has created some really poor perceptions of Jesus divine nature and ed some to create whole religions based on a mistaken impression. Lets take a look at what this firstborn thing is all about and how it affects our view of Christ.

 

First things first

The word at the center of our discussion is the Greek word prototokos. According to the standard lexicon for New Testament Greek, this word can mean 1) pertaining to birth order, that is, the one born first or 2) pertaining to having special status associated with a first born. This word can also mean both of these things. Here it appears to be concerned with Jesus’ rank in creation rather than His physical birth. I’ll explain my reasoning throughout this article.

 

The error

There was a group around in the third century AD that thought Jesus was just a man like you and me. They often pointed to His earthly birth as proof of this. They also minimized – or ignored altogether – His divinity. these foks were known as the Arians because they followed the teaching of a person named Arius. Arius was around in approximately 250 AD. In a nutshell Arius taught that there was a time where God the Father existed but the God the Son had yet to exist. He rejected the trinity (three distinct persons within the Godhead). This error is continued to this day through the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

Understanding the Firstborn

Part of the problem understanding how Jesus could have been eternal (no beginning) while being referred to as firstborn is a misunderstanding of tribal customs. Remember that Israel, even in Pau’s time, was a tribal cuture. Their attitudes and customs vary widely from our customs as a modern, western, non-tribal culture.

In a tribe the idea of being firstborn has less to do with birth order and more to do with the rank if the person born. Generally speaking the firstborn is the person who is chief in rank in a family. Lets take my family as an example. My oldest child is a girl. She is wonderful and I can’t imagine my life without her. However, generally speaking, she is not considered the firstborn in my family is we were living in a tribal culture. That title would pass to my first born son who is actually the second person born in my family. My son would receive the inheritance and would be considered the head of my family after I died.

 

What does it mean here?

I think Paul was emphasizing Jesus’ rank over creation rather than anything else. One reason I think is is what we discussed last week – Jesus is God. God does not have a beginning and is not birthed so how could Jesus have been born or created prior to the entire creation. Another reason is the discussion that follows the assertion here. Jesus Take a look at what is said of Jesus:v. 16 He is referred to as the Creator of all things

v. 17 He is before all things and is responsible for holding everything together

v. 18 He is referred to as the firstborn from among the dead. Was Jesus the first one raised from the dead? Nope. Remember Lazarus?  Jesus raised him from the dead while Jesus was waking on the earth. If the term firstborn simply referred to the order in which something happened and not the rank of the person involved, we would have a major problem here. But there is no problem because Jesus is most definitely the highest rank of all resurrected persons (and that will be every person ever to have lived).

v. 20 Says that all the fullness of God dwelled in Jesus. This means, once again, that Jesus possessed as part of His nature, the very nature of God. God didn’t have a beginning so the Son did not have a beginning either.

The Son of God – also known as Jesus Christ – is God, aways has been God and forever will be God. There is no way to invalidate tis truth regardless of how smart or charismatic a person may be.

So What?

So what does all this talk about tribes, birth rank, etc. have to do with my life as a Christian? Well actually it has quite an impact. As I mentioned last week, since Jesus is God we can rightly say that God died for those He created. Since it was God who died, that sacrifice was compete and whole, lacking in nothing. That sacrifice – and all the ramifications of it – are guaranteed by none other than God Himself. The salvation that you and I enjoy is never going away. You cannot throw it away or lose it because it was bought by God and distributed by God. That us something we can take great comfort in when we struggle in this life.

So when you mess up and sin  – we all do it from time to time – remember that your salvation is not lost because of your actions because it was not bought with your actions. It was bought as an action of God. An action that has no returns, take backs, or regrets.

He Is

This truth – that Jesus is God – should greatly affect us.

 

Just who is Jesus Christ? What did He look like? What did He do? Oftentimes we brush off these questions with a  simple “He’s God, of course.” This is correct but I wonder if a fuller answer would be more proper.

We have such an answer found in Colossians 1:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whetherthrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is alsohead of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.  – Colossians 1:15-20 NASB

Lets take a look at these verses and reintroduce ourselves to our Savior, the Incomparable Christ!

The first thing I notice is the use of “He is”. This small two-word phrase controls the discussion Paul is having with the church in Colossae. Paul repeats this phrase throughout this passage in an effort to stress that Jesus is indeed all these things. We don’t just hope He has these qualities…we don’t just want Him to have these qualities…we don’t just have a Savior who has these qualities. He IS these things!

 

He IS…

 …the image of the invisible God

What a magnificent way to begin a passage dedicated to establishing the identity of Jesus Christ! Paul states emphatically that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. But what does this mean? Israel knew they could not see God and live. This is the reason God allowed Moses to see His back (see Exodus 33:21-23). But Paul says that Jesus is the image of the unseen God…does this mean that Jesus isn’t God HImself?

 

The Greek word used here is the word eikon. According to the standard lexicon for New Testament Greek (known as BDAG to Greek students) this word means here in Colossians 1 “that which is the same form as something else; living image.” So the idea of Jesus being the eikon of God is saying He has the same form of God – He is the living image of God. In other words, He is God in the flesh. Essentially Paul is saying to the Colossians “If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” This is a weighty theological statement: Jesus Christ is none other than God in the flesh.

 

When we think of God, we must think of Jesus at the same time. Though they are different persons, they are the same God. Yes that can be confusing. It can give us a headache or two when trying to understand it. But we must not let difficulty in understanding change our view of truth. Since He is God, what does this mean? How does it affect my life? Your life?

 

This truth – that Jesus is God – should greatly affect us.

 

The first way this should affect us is in our reverential awe of Him.

So often we marginalize Him. So often we minimize who He is because our vision is set too low. Somehow HIs rank in the trinity affects our thoughts of His ability to answer us. This is so wrong! He IS God, and He IS able!

 

Another way this should affect us is in our thankfulness for the incarnation, life and death of Jesus.

Since He is God, God came to HIs creation, clothed Himself with flesh, voluntarily gave up the ability to independently exercise some of HIs divine attributes. So God put limits on Himself when He came in the flesh. Think about that for a moment. He did this out of love for us. And when we consider the final act of His love, we are just gonna be awestruck…or at east we should be.

 

He came to be the perfect and only acceptable sacrifice for sin.

Now this means that there is only one way for sin to be effectively and permanently dealt with. This sacrifice had to be perfect – it just HAD to be perfect. No bull, no goat, no dove would suffice. So God decided to sacrifice Himself for our sins. Yes, you read that right: because Jesus is God, God died for the ones He created. And He died not when those He created were lovely. No, He died for us while we were in the midst of being unholy, unrighteous, selfish and rebellious. Wow. I mean, WOW!

 

How do you view Christ?

Is He your buddy? Is He your friend? Your Savior? The answer should be “Yes” to those questions. But He is much, much more. Not only is Jesus my buddy – not only is Jesus my friend – not only is Jesus my Savior –  Jesus is God. May we never forget this simple little truth. May we never overlook this in the life He has called us to walk.

 

God loves me so much that He died for me. He limited Himself (for a time) for me. He loves me so much that He chooses to dwell inside me to guide me into truth and righteousness.

I must understand His deity if I am ever to appreciate HIs sacrifice. Before I can understand His teaching, I must first understand His nature.

When I recognize these truths, my life – and yours –  and outlook must change. When I  understand these truths, my life – and yours –  will forever be changed.

 

Take some time today to simply give thanks for the incomparable Jesus Christ.

The Cross in the Manger

If there had been no manger, there could not have been the Cross. And without the Cross – well, my war with God would still be raging.

When we think about Christmas visions of a cooing baby lying blissfully in a manger filled with clean, perfectly placed straw fills our mind’s eye. Rarely, if ever, do we consider the reason for the manger. We rarely think about the reason for the incarnation of Christ that way? Why is that? Though we seldom think of the Cross when looking at the Manger, we should.

Before Jesus came to the earth to die for sins, I was dead. I was helpless against the power of temptation and sin.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Ephesian 2:1-2 NASB

There was nothing I could do to stop myself. I sinned because it was my nature to sin. That sin was only a small symptom of the rotting of my soul. You see I was in total rebellion against God. Oh yeah, I was there. A war against God I knew – I KNEW – I could and would win. If you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump I was Lieutenant Dan on Forrest’s boat in the middle of a hurricane yelling – and challenging – God to an all-out fight. Yep, that was me.

I could hide the bitterness and anger that filled my soul for a while, but it would come out eventually. My long war with God was indicative of my destination. I was headed to hell in the proverbial hand basket. I was heading to hell not because I had neglected to meet Jesus as my Savior. No, I was headed to hell because I was a slave to sin, powerless against it. I was going to hell because I was in utter rebellion against God. I deserved my one-way ticket to hell.

But something strange happened on my journey to Satan’s kingdom.

 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to thekind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight Ephesians 1:4-8 NASB

 

Jesus interrupted my life and had mercy on me. He saved me. He remade me. He extended grace to a graceless man. He extended love to a loveless man. I did not find God. He found me. Make no mistake, salvation is all God’s work and none my work. And I am so thankful for that.

Since that day when God irrupted in my life things have changed and continue to change. When I was outside of His grace, I could not help but sin. But now, I can resist temptation and sin. Oh I still give in – and that is to my shame – but I don’t always give in to sin. When I was outside of grace I could do nothing to please Him. Now, a recipient of His grace, I can please Him. I am able to obey now, rather than just rebel. I can serve Him rather than fight Him. My long war with God is over. And I was the winner. I am brand new!

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.     2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB

No I didn’t win because my will or strength bested God’s will or strength. No, I won because He defeated me. Sounds kind of weird I know but it is true. I’ve never been more joyful as I am a defeated human who is victorious in life…because of Christ.

So why consider the Cross – Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection – when looking at a manger? Well that baby in that straw – which probably not too clean – in the manger was born for one reason: to die for a sinner such as I. I can’t help but be humbled at the thought of Jesus as a baby – the only truly innocent baby ever born – born into this sinful world yet untouched by its filth. His mission was to seek and save those who were lost. He came to heal the rotting soul of man…my rotting soul, my lost self. He came for me. For. Me.

So this is why I think of the Cross when looking at the Manger, The wonder of the incarnation is fully expressed in the brutality of the Cross. If there had been no manger, there could not have been the Cross. And without the Cross – well, my war with God would still be raging.

The incarnation is wonderfully awesome because in being humble enough to become human with the purpose of providing the only sacrifice able to wash sins away, Jesus demonstrated HIs great love for me.

What about you? Are you in Christ?

Do you consider the Cross when you see a cute baby all snuggled and comfy in a nice, clean manger? Have you thought about your war against God? Your rebellion? Your inability to resist sin?

Christmas isn’t about a fat guy traveling around the world in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. It isn’t about trees, presents to each other, grandma’s house or anything else. Christmas is less about the manger and more about the Cross.Christmas is about the wonderful incarnation of God the Son, who soul mission was to die for a sinner such as I,  and a sinner such as you.