Journaling

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Good journaling is not just an exercise in introspection, but a pathway for joy — and a powerful tool in the hands of love.

Perhaps you’re sold on the potential spiritual value of the discipline of journaling, but you just don’t know how to get going, or keep going.

I would encourage you to read this article by David Mathis, Five Ways to Flourish in Journaling.

Biblical journaling entry example:

Date:

Passage Read:

Impactful Verse(s):

Response:

Prayer:

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Hope For Those Who Fall Short

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Hope is birthed out of a knowledge of something greater than ourselves and greater than our present circumstances. To really understand the good news that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must first understand the bad news that is sin. Consider the idea of receiving the good news of deliverance. However, to receive such news must mean you needed to be delivered from something. If you were in prison and you were to be executed in the morning, and your attorney dropped by with the information that the governor had just signed a pardon, this would be very good news, would it not? But think about it for a moment. If you received news that the governor had signed a pardon, but for some reason you did not know that you were on death row, the good news could not be received by you as really that great of news. It would just kind of bounce off, and have a much less impactful affect.

Due to the Fall, even our good deeds, our very best works, are consider but dirty rags, filthy garments, bloody cloth, and piles of crap in comparison to the righteousness of Christ that has been imparted to those who believe in and follow Him (Isaiah 64:6; Luke 18:9-30; Romans 3:10, 5:15, 6:23; Philippians 3:8-9; Titus 3:3-7; among many verses that would substantiate this). I know that language may come off as a little strong, but God says to be holy as He is holy… and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). David even says he was brought forth in iniquity, that in sin did his mother conceive him (he is not referring to her having cheated on her husband, Jesse… Jesse’s girl wasn’t running around on him) and even our good deeds fall short of that impossible standard. With that being understood, we can better understand why we desperately need the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Some passages to consider when questioning how corrupted and depraved we are from birth:

Psalm 51:5
Jeremiah 17:9
John 3:20-21
Romans 3:9-12
Romans 3:23
Romans 8:5-8

1. We have darkened minds.

Romans 8:7
1st Corinthians 2:14
Ephesians 2:3
Ephesians 4:17-18
Colossians 1:21

2. We have darkened hearts.

Romans 1:21
Ephesians 4:18-19

3. We are enslaved to sin.

John 8:34
Titus 3:3

4. We abide under futility.

Ecclesiastes 1:15-18
1st Peter 1:18

5. We are already spiritually dead.

Psalm 51:5
Ephesians 2:1-5
Colossians 2:13

In the beginning, man was created good (Genesis 1:31). Having taken of the forbidden fruit and eaten of it, he committed idolatry and tried to make himself god, he was subjected to the curse of death, pain, and futility. By one man’s transgression, sin and death spread to all men and women (Romans 5) and mankind has been henceforth born into a fragmented existence. No longer does he enjoy fellowship with his Maker or the rest of creation. Man experienced division from His Creator, his spouse, himself, his fellow man, and the creation over which he was to work. This curse spread through men by nature and not merely through an environmental influence, as all were and are born into sin. We are all stillborns, utterly devoid of spiritual good. (This does not mean that man can do no social good, but rather it is a recognition that even our righteous works are as filthy rags in God’s sight. As Romans 14:23 tells us, whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.) We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.

Because of the Fall, the whole of creation has been subjected to futility. The entire universe and all it contains has been fractured from its originally created state. I believe that includes DNA, the biochemical and biological makeup of humanity has been affected as well.

Have you ever seen a two year old bite when they don’t get there way? Have you witnessed a toddler become violent when they want a toy that another child has? Ever seen a little kid quickly shove all their candy in their mouth if someone asked for a piece? I don’t see too many adults demonstrating those particular behaviors. Where does that seem to instinctively come from? Would you disagree that some people seem more prone to alcoholism, addiction, violence, anger, depression, etc. And that may not just simply be reactions to their environment or behaviors they’ve seen displayed?

Does that merely excuse any bents anyone may have toward certain sins? No, of course not. Is every sinful action predestined and purposed by God? I am certainly making no such claim. When we sin, regardless of genetics, age, gender, ethnicity, race, culture, society, environment, etc. we are still sinning, and we’re still responsible for our actions. It is too reductionistic though, and ignores much of scientific discovery (which helps serve to reveal God’s created order), that shows humans are more complex than simple action and reaction free-willers. People are not simply stimuli-response organisms. We do not act and perceive the world strictly based on our brain stimuli; just “free will” responding to any and all experiences and environment. How does one explain human personality? Ever meet people with an oddly optimistic disposition, or someone who can’t seem to find a positive thing to say no matter how well their life seems to be going?

How would you explain the differences in what people find beautiful? Are our aesthetic appetites merely reflections of our experiences and environments that we’re able to express once we reach some mystical age of accountability? Are we pre-determined genetic robots, so-to-speak? Do humans simply react to all perceived experiences only according to the way their biochemical make-up has been hard-wired to allow them?

I believe we are born with the proclivity towards certain types of sin; that our hearts are little idol factories. Our environments and experiences help serve to shape and manipulate the way we express our sinful idolatry. The Bible teaches that one has only the choice between God and idolatry. For if one denies God, they are worshipping some created thing(s) of this world; while thinking of said thing as not that big of a deal, their actions demonstrate the belief that they see it as deity. (Because though it is often unknown to an idolater, they’re imagining the attributes of divinity in the things they pursue.) We often think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life. Everyone is building their identity on something and must find some way to justify their existence in order to stave off the universal fear that they have no purpose. In more traditional cultures, the sense of worth and identity comes from fulfilling duties to family and giving service to society, while in our contemporary individualistic culture, people tend to look to work or educational achievements, social status, talents, or love relationships.

“The greatest threat to the church isn’t atheism or materialism, but moralism that celebrates a righteousness which doesn’t come from Christ.” – Paul Tripp

I’m not saying everyone is born pre-programmed to act out specific sins, but we are predisposed to being more likely to sin in certain ways. I’m also not saying both genetic and environmental influences are equal by any means either, just that genetics does indeed serve at least a small part in it all. I believe we all have bents more toward certain types of sin and idolatry and then our society, culture, environment, experiences, and whatnot help serve to shape and grow those.

In college, I actually had a philosophy professor who used to joke that when you look in at the sweet, cute little babies in the baby ward at the hospital, they are just as depraved in their heart as any adult, and if they had the coordination and cognitive ability, some might even try to steal your car keys and leave. Basically that we’re all prone to wander, prone to sin, and as we age, we’re more apt and able to express the depravity that resides in our hearts. But like I said, I’m not making any claim that some individuals are going to grow up and rape, murder, steal, drink excessively, do hardcore drugs, beat women, verbally assault others, etc. and there’s nothing that could ever be done to stop them from doing so. I just believe genetics and one’s biological make-up does play some kind of role or small factor in things.

So in light of the horribly extensive ramifications of sin (which I have not even begun to scratch the surface in explaining the vast personal and cosmic affects in this article), we can better see why the gospel really is such good news. It is the news that God saves. It is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures, from Satan, sin and its effects to the Father and each other through the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and future return of the substitutionary Son by the power of the Spirit for God’s glory and the Church’s joy.

“but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 (ESV)

Jesus Christ is the gospel. Jesus isn’t part of the story, He is the point of the story; from Genesis to Revelation. The good news is revealed in His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and future return. If righteousness could be obtained through the law in any way, then Christ died for absolutely nothing. Christ’s crucifixion is the heart of the gospel; His resurrection is the power of the gospel, and His ascension is the glory of the gospel. Christ’s death is a substitutionary and propitiatory sacrifice to God for our sins. It satisfies the demands of God’s holy justice and appeases His holy wrath. It also demonstrates His mysterious love and reveals His amazing grace.

Jesus’ claims are particularly unnerving, because if they are true, there is no alternative but to bow the knee to Him. He is the only mediator between God and man. There is no other name by which men must (or can) be saved. At the heart of all sound doctrine is the cross of Jesus Christ and the infinite privilege that redeemed sinners have of glorifying God because of what He has accomplished. Because of this, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

Love… Without Approval

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It seems that as I attempt to keep my finger on the pulse of America’s cultural heartbeat in regards to the topic of same-sex marriage, most social media posts and the overwhelming majority of news publications seem to agree that if you don’t whole-heartedly embrace, support, approve of, and celebrate public homosexuality and gay marriage, you are nothing more than a closed-minded bigot who probably needs to do the world a favor and be euthanized. (That sound a little harsh? Just read the news and scroll through some social media, and you’ll see that was actually a pretty light rendering of some stuff being said.) Before I even begin writing about this topic again though, I realize that many people won’t understand how homosexuality is seen through the Christian worldview, or care to understand. We will be labeled as intolerant bigots by our current culture, but hopefully we continue to strive to live in such a way as to make those accusations false.

The media spotlight has transitioned from “leave us alone” to “bake us a cake.” The desire of “just get out of our way,” has (for some) become “take our picture.” The same-sex marriage issue has become a judicial juggernaut; currently seventeen states recognize same-sex unions, with citizens in Idaho, Kentucky, and other states strongly petitioning the courts to extend that number. This political climate has prompted legislatures in Kansas, Arizona, and other states to advance unwieldy bills that seek to balance a newly-acquired right to marriage against the rights of others to follow their religious or moral consciences. The big question is no longer whether same-sex couples may marry, but whether a baker may refuse to sell them a wedding cake on the strength of his religious or moral conscience, without risking a lawsuit.

It seemed common sense to many in the past that you wouldn’t seek out a Jewish butcher to provide bacon-wrapped shellfish for your big party, but today the insensitivity of that request appears to be attributed to the Jewish butcher. While everyone is arguing over cake, pictures, flowers, clothing, and buildings, the media distracts us from the core philosophical issue: if we lose the ability to respect that people can only go as far as their consciences will allow them, then we risk becoming caught up in an even worse illusion, imagining hate where none exists, equating compelled behavior with authentic love, and losing sight of the fact that sharing another’s burdens sometimes means that we walk the extra mile on one challenging road, and they walk it on the next. Everyone spares a bit of their time for the sake of another. This is how love travels.

Would we really try to make the claim that Jesus approved of sin, or simply accepted people as they were with no desire to see them grow more in faith? Can we find a single place in Scripture where Jesus says what the tax collectors do to support the Roman army is good and right, and a behavior to be respected and emulated? Did Jesus ever help Zacchaeus shake down a guy for the taxes he owed? (Hint: no, He did not.) In the Gospels, Jesus never tells sinners not to worry about any sin in their lives and just go on about their business as they please because He loves them.

We could jokingly ask ourselves WWJD? And maybe after some speculation we’d even come to the conclusion that while Jesus was a carpenter and might not have been the most affluent wedding decorator, He would have baked the cake, arranged the flowers, snapped the pictures, and then built some lovely cabinets for the newlyweds’ new home. I mean hey, He might have even provided some quality wine for a wedding, it wouldn’t be the first time after all. But could we honestly follow that all the way through to Jesus officiating the wedding? Every time Jesus ever mentioned marriage He talked about a man and a woman; He quoted from the Old Testament and observed it as law. (Quick sidebar: the argument from silence that Jesus never outright stated that homosexuality is wrong, so He wasn’t really against it is more than a bit far-fetched. A proper understanding of both the Son of God and of Scripture should lead us to conclude that it ultimately would not matter if Jesus ever explicitly taught on homosexuality for Him to disagree with it. Second, that though we have no record of Him using the specific words “homosexual” or “homosexuality,” it is dishonest at best to say that He did not teach on the subject itself.) Jesus said that He came to give life and give it to the full. Jesus told people their sins were forgiven, go and sin no more. It seems a lot more like Jesus would say, “It’s ok to not be okay, but it’s not ok to stay there.”

“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:17-18; Matthew 5:43-48, 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-37; Romans 13:8-14; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). I don’t find any commands in Scripture that support the idea of refusing to sell or provide goods and services to people who aren’t Christians. Jesus didn’t tell His disciples, “Listen guys, you all need to love your neighbor, but only if your neighbor believes the same things you believe, has the same color of skin as you, has the ability to repay you for any help you provide, and has a giant ichthus prominently displayed on his camel…”

The parable of the Good Samaritan would be a good place to being to read for some guidance (Luke 10:25-37). However, this particular issue becomes complicated in that the goods and services are so tied to the celebration of what God calls sin. There really isn’t a perfect definitive yes or no answer on this topic. Yet, when considering whether you should help contribute to a same-sex marriage ceremony, let alone attend one, you should probably ask yourself these questions: Have you earnestly spent time in prayer about it? Do you feel the Holy Spirit leading you in a certain direction? Do you believe you can attend the service without compromising your responsibility to be a witness to the Truth of the Gospel? Will attending the ceremony enable you to continue to be a Gospel presence in the life of your friend(s)/family? If so, then perhaps you should go. On the other hand… are you merely afraid of telling the truth about how you view same-sex marriage? Are you nervous about the consequences of certain people knowing what you believe? If so, then this might be a time to respectfully decline the invitation, and explain why out of genuine love.

“Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.” – Tim Keller

Jesus observed the law and fulfilled the law. He did not throw the law away, for the sake of love. For the sake of love, He threw Himself away. That’s another counter-intuitive lesson Christ gave to us, as we all proceed together, slouching toward “tolerance” and carrying our consciences along the way (Romans 13:8-14).

Again, when we try to explain how we view homosexuality, we should focus on the beauty of the gospel and love found in Christ; not stand there listing out rules and regulations in which to live by, while waving a Bible around in the air. The essence of other religions is advice about how to live. The essence of Christianity is news – here is what has been done. We need to do our best to display authentic love to our neighbors; all of them. Because love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. The more we love any that are not as we are, the less we love as men and the more as God. Sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. When we grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor [are weary] and are heavy laden [burdened], and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus assumes that, left to ourselves, we are weighed down. Life out of sync with God does that to us. But as we come to Jesus we find rest. Not just rest in the sense of a lazy weekend afternoon or a long sleep-in on a day off work. Jesus means something far deeper: rest in a sense of things with God being the way they’re meant to be. Rest in the sense of living along the grain of who we really are and how God wants us to live. Rest in the sense of being able truly to flourish as the people God made us to be.

If we were to ask, well then, is God anti-gay? No, not exactly. But He is against who all of us are by nature, as those living apart from Him and for ourselves (Ephesians 2:1-10). He’s anti-that guy, whatever that guy looks like in each of our lives. But because He is bigger than us, better than us, and able to do things in ways we would struggle to, God loves that guy too. Loves him enough to carry his burden, take his place, clean him up, make him whole, and unite him for ever to Himself.

So, back to the issue of whether or not we should celebrate and champion legislation passed to more easily enable that which we believe to be wrong according to God’s Word. First, we should always remember that you can NEVER legislate morality. Yet, even with that being acknowledged, I’m fairly certain we should not applaud certain liberties, even when congruent with the ideals of our country and constitution. Christians should never celebrate or find pleasure in the destruction of someone’s flesh.

Our LBGTQ brothers and sisters are made in the image of God, and they are all entitled to all of the rights due every other human being. The Jim Crow laws comparison may be an effective talking point, but it has no basis in fact. Racism is obviously a sin. It denies the humanity of human beings; the Gospel elevates their worth. As servants of the Gospel we have no choice but to fight persistently for a culture that enables every human being to experience the abundant life God promises. Racism is a hindrance to that life, as is homosexuality. (Even if society disagrees with these beliefs, Christians are called to be the hands and feet of Christ and His love is not silent.) The tragic irony is that proponents of no-holds-barred sexuality are condemning others to a life of bondage. Our conviction should be that we ought not to have any part in forging the slavers’ chains. We can appreciate the freedom’s our governments afford us, but when those freedom’s make it easier to openly mock God, I don’t believe they should be openly celebrated.

America, the Ignorant

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By now, most of us have probably seen, or at least heard about the (for some stupid reason) controversial new Coke commercial…

The media seems to do their best to keep the majority of its viewers ignorant of truly important issues, but we as a society seem to be perfectly capable of remaining willfully ignorant and distracting ourselves without too much help from the “news.” After all, Samuel Coolridge (1772 -1834) predicted that in the future, the West would suffer from a culture wide phenomenon of ‘idiocy of the will.’ It appears that Mr. Coolridge was pretty spot on in his prediction.

One of the most recent incidences of mass idiocy was the harsh, wide-spread racist reaction to the Coca-Cola commercial that ran during this year’s Super Bowl. In the midst of this mess, I think there are people who are racist, and then I think there are people who are just ignorant. Not to say that racist people aren’t ignorant. But there are people who are racist who aren’t quite sure why they are, or where exactly that came from. They have been taught, brought up, and discipled poorly. It’s not entirely their heart; they just haven’t been informed.

Article after article was shared about the responses on social media: HuffPost, NY Daily, Business Insider, Buzzfeed, USA Today, CNN, etc…

As Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ has broken down the walls of hostility, has restored and established peace, and there is now one race; not two, or three, or four, etc. However, there is still widespread racism in this country, and it isn’t all Anglo… there is even intra-race racism still prevalent today. It’s this silly, “I am better than you. I am more valuable than you. I have more worth than you” idea. It is a dehumanization of another person and another group of people. That’s the essence of racism. In fact, every genocide that has ever occurred, almost all injustice that has ever been wrought, has been birthed out of this idea: “We are superior to… we are better than… we are more deserving… by birth.” What did you do? You were born. You contributed, you earned nothing. How does that make you superior? Simply that you were born?

It is very foolish to go on pretending that we are all born with equal footing, and if we would just exert the same amount of energy we could all end up at the same place. You are not viewing the world correctly if that’s how you see it. I’m sorry if that comes as a shock, but if you believe you’ve gotten to where you are because of your hard work and unearned privileges didn’t play a significant role in it, you’re not seeing the world correctly. This in no way discredits your hard work, skillful planning, and diligent effort in achieving goals you’ve set, but we must all admit that a great deal of our opportunities came about regardless of ourselves.

We really need to stop deluding ourselves into believing we are better than anyone else by some kind of birth-right. Can anyone honestly say that they devised how their frame would be formed in the womb? If they’d grow up to be big, strong, and athletic? If they’d be inclined towards having good health? Has anyone decided at the moment of conception if they’d be raised in a palace, or in poverty? Did anyone reading this decide as an embryo whether their parents would love them well and provide for them? Did any of us choose the place or the hour of where we were born? Anybody work really hard to control or influence any of these factors? Think with me then, what can any of us truly claim? Not a thing really. We didn’t even choose our own name! Really, just consider this: can any of us recall a single thing that is not a gift in this life? When we honestly give credit where credit is due, we see that everything is grace after all. Our skin tone, hair and eye color, height, age, language(s) learned, nationality, etc. is honesty all outside of our complete control. We are all beggars, called to be good stewards of what we have been given by grace.

Something else that specifically Christians need to understand is that God, as the triune three-in-one Being, created humans in His image as persons-in-relation; forever confronted with differences among them. Widespread sameness, the failure to recognize differences, therefore does not capture God’s heart for creation and His communitarian nature. Diversity is at the core of a relational creation that glorifies God. Differences honor God in that they make for better relationships – and better humans.

As humans create culture – filling, subduing, and ruling the world according to God’s Genesis mandate, they form social groups around cultural commonalities. Like the value-laden work involved in male-female relationships, crossing cultural barriers not only sharpens but also beautifies. God’s creativity explodes in and through cultural expression. Diversity, in all its forms, not only makes people more like God in developing relationships but also opens up a life of joy and worship. So we should appreciate many beautiful and redemptive things about this Coca-Cola commercial, and not respond ignorantly by exploding with hateful cultural-homogeneous desiring ridiculousness.

We should embrace, respect, and celebrate the truth spoken by Katie Bayne, president of North America Brands, Coca-Cola, when she said, “With ‘It’s Beautiful,’ we are simply showing that America is beautiful, and Coke is for everyone…. ‘It’s Beautiful’ is exactly what Coca-Cola is all about: celebrating the diversity that makes this country great and the fact that anyone can thrive here and be happy. We hope the ad gets people talking and thinking about what it means to be proud to be American.” (Bayne’s quotes were taken from the Coca-Cola Company article on the ad: ‘It’s Beautiful’: Coke Debuts Inspiring Ad During Super Bowl)

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Recommended Sermon:

Prayer (Part 3) – Racial Reconciliation by Matt Chandler

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Context… it really does matter.

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Pre-Gospel

It is in the third chapter of the book of Genesis that the author tells us something has gone very wrong. Something has gone wrong in you. Something has gone wrong in me. Something has gone wrong in the world. The entire cosmos has been fractured. Whether you’ve read the book and agree with what is presented or think it’s merely full of fairy tales, you would have to be a blind fool to argue with this particular part. Because something is definitely broken. What we see in the Bible is that what is broken in you is a severed relationship with your creator God that has led to a brokenness in all of us that has overflowed into a brokenness in all the systems we have built, in the food we try to grow, in the goods we try to steward, in the governments we try to run, in the businesses we attempt to lead.

This brokenness in us, that severed connection with God because of sin, has overflowed out of us onto the structures we have built so that we live in a broken world. (That’s not even getting into the effects of sin on the creative order itself. That’s just the damage we do as image bearers of the God of the universe.) God, in the midst of our rebellion against Him, in the middle of our accusation that we are smarter, more capable, and owe Him nothing, responds not with destruction, but actually intervenes on our behalf, for His glory.

So regardless of what you think about God or how you believe God feels toward you, here’s what the Bible tells us. The Bible tells us that from the very moment of the fracture of the universe, God begins to lay out His plan to send a Savior who would rescue us from the mess of our hearts that has spilled over into all of life. Again, it is in Genesis, chapter 3 that the author begins to explain that as sin enters the world, it fractures everything. (This is also expounded upon more throughout Scripture, in Romans 1-2; 5, 1st Corinthians 15, Ephesians 2, and many more.) Adam and Eve believed the lie that they would make better gods than God and that they could run things better than He could, and despite His goodness and His grace, they would prefer to be their own masters.

So we are told that sin entered the world and fractured it. After this tragedy, man and woman feebly attempt to hide themselves, and God begins to pronounce judgment, first on the Serpent, the Devil, the embodiment of evil. Here’s what He says to the Serpent. Genesis 3, starting in verse 15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

This is what theologians call the proto-evangelical. It’s the pre-gospel gospel. It’s the first messianic prophecy we get in the Bible. It’s not complex. There’s no build-out of the cross, no mention of atonement, no imputed righteousness explained, nothing like that, just God right in the middle of the fog of war, man and woman shamed, naked, distressed, world broken… He curses the Serpent and says, “One will be born of woman. You will bruise His heel, but He will crush your head.”

Now I’m not sure that as you’re reading this we could agree on everything, but I have to believe we can agree that a crushed head loses over a bruised heel. The world is still burning when God says, “I’m going to fix this.” There’s still this smell of smoke and death and destruction. Nothing has settled. Nothing yet restored. The universe is freshly fractured. The new normal hasn’t even begun to work yet when God says, “There will be a man born of woman who will crush your head.”

Things move forward in Genesis 12, verse 3. This is said to Abram, who will become Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. The Bible states that God declares to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (See also Romans 4-5)

Context

Again, some of us are going to have to ditch what we think about God, because the God of the Bible simply won’t line up with what you think about Him. You have a God who, in the midst of man’s rebellion says, “I’m going the crush the head of the Evil One,” and now we move just a few chapters forward and He says, “Actually, through the line of Abraham, I’m going to bless all of the families on the face of the earth.”

So we don’t have a God who’s strictly vengeful against those who are disobedient, but a God who is working on behalf of those in the midst of rebellion to save and rescue some for the glory of His name, and the good of their souls. Too often we get presented with this idea that the God of the Old Testament is really cranky and perpetually ticked off, just waiting for someone to slip up so He can slam them… like the God of the Old Testament is nothing more than a power-drunk cop hiding in a speed trap just waiting to fill his quota of giving out tickets and ruining people’s day; but then when Jesus comes He kind of calms down and wants to be friends with everyone (except those darn Pharisees, of course). Yet, when we broaden our understanding of the great metanarrative of the Bible, we can see God’s grace, His plan for redemption already being played out and set in motion early on… as early as the third chapter.

So as we are reading the Bible, even the very beginning, we must have the entirety of the individual book and the other 65 books as a framework. There is a kind of rule when it comes to reading the Bible: the Bible interprets the Bible. Some people may be like, “Oh, of course, how convenient?!” But this is true about every book you’ve ever read that has any kind of unity in it. If you want to take a book from a series like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, or even The Hunger Games, Twilight, or the Divergent series, and pull just one or maybe even two sentences out of it and go, “By this sentence I’ll decide all the rest of the book.” (Albeit these are popular fictional examples, but it applies to every genre – and a lot of people will be familiar with at least one of these works.) Then you’re going to get off in your interpretation, and your understanding of the whole story. The Bible is 66 books telling one story. Verses must be read in light of one another. Every verse sits within the context of a chapter, within a book, within the entire canon. Any text without pre-text and context is merely a proof-text.

Outdated

When we look at the Bible and declare it outdated or nothing more than some enslaving piece of literature garbage that should have stayed in the dark ages, we are essentially committing chronological snobbery. We delude ourselves into believing that we are now at the height of human development and know better today than any of those before us. How many times have you heard that scientist or researchers have discovered that what they previously held to be safe or helpful has now been found to be hazardous or harmful? How many times have you heard the opposite, that something that was dangerous is now actually considered beneficial? Just look at some commercial advertisements from the past 50 years. You’ll quickly see that it’s quite possible something we hold to be so normal today, may be deemed rather stupid or silly within the next few years.

True freedom and wisdom is not being unshackled to create your own truth, but is actually liberating submission to the Truth. Freedom is not the complete absence of any restrictions, but rather the presence of the right restrictions put in place. For example: a fish out of water. The fish is not more free when released outside of the confines of the water, but instead his ability to enjoy life is drastically hindered and he is sure to die. Only if God can say things that make you struggle and expose your pride, will you know that you have met a real God, and not a figment of your imagination. The Hebrews and early Christians would say of their book(s) that if the Scriptures are not fitting with the time, culture, societal norm, or your desires; it means there is something wrong with the times and your heart, not the Scriptures.

For us to attempt to void the Bible of any authority is subjective and trajectory hermeneutics; in that there is no objective truth or discernible message in the Bible that transcends time, race, gender, age, ethnicity, geography, people group, etc. and as “times change” and history moves forward across its linear path, then the way we see the Bible must also change to fit the cultural perspective of our time. Philosophical rejection of the Bible, in part or in whole, is often used to justify moral resistance. People don’t want to be told what to do. People seem to want a king, but then hate the king. Cultural-relativism-‘Christianity’ is not Biblical at all, but merely has a fairy-tale version of Jesus as the mascot of a short-sighted cause. We cannot go on ‘explaining away’ forever: or we will find that we have explained explanation itself away. We cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it.

If we view the Bible as completely subjective and void of any absolute truth or authority, this leaves everyone with nothing more than a list of rules to live by that can be taken or left depending on how one feels. This viewpoint doesn’t really give any of us any true hope or meet our needs on any real level more than any other book or compilation of thoughts. I think the Bible is a pretty crummy guide to life or manual for how to live (especially if it is disconnected from the Gospel). The Bible doesn’t answer a lot of questions directly and when we see it as merely a manual, it becomes dangerous… we’ve seen what happens in history when men and women ignore the greater context and pick things out of the Bible to use to fit their agenda. It almost never ends well.

The way we view the Bible really matters… theology matters… context matters… it matters… because, yes, what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. What you believe about God’s nature – what He is like, what He wants from you, and whether or not you will answer to Him – affects every part of your life. Theology matters, because, if we get it wrong, then our life will be wrong… We’re either building our lives on the reality of what God is truly like and what He’s about, or we’re basing our lives on our own imagination and misconceptions. We’re all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.

Theme

The thing with the Bible is that it’s not primarily about us, it’s about Jesus. The Bible isn’t primarily about what we can do to make ourselves happier and live more moral lives, but rather our deep need for Someone outside ourselves to save us. The essence of other religions is advice about how to live. The essence of Christianity is news – here is what has been done. Jesus isn’t part of the story; He is the point of the story, from Genesis to Revelation. The focal point of Scripture is Jesus and His gospel, which is the good news that God saves. It is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures from Satan, sin, and its effects to the Father and each other thru the birth, life, death, resurrection, and future return of the substitutionary Son, by the power of the Spirit, for God’s glory and the Church’s joy.

If we try to read the Bible (or any book for that matter) apart from the greater context, we will miss the meaning of the text.

 

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Recommended Articles:

Old Testament Law and The Charge of Inconsistency by Timothy Keller

A Command or an Explanation? by Hunter Hall

Two Men Went to the Temple (Luke 18:9-14)

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I was recently given the privilege to preach at our home church, Vintage Church in Allen, TX.

Sermon audio link.

Sermon notes (rough draft of transcript):

Two Men Went to the Temple (Luke 18:9-14)

Opening Question:

What if our sin problem isn’t that we’re wicked? What if it’s that we’re good?

Scripture passage:

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

Opening quotes:

“The greatest threat to the church isn’t atheism or materialism, but moralism that celebrates a righteousness which doesn’t come from Christ.” – Paul David Tripp

“Satan’s masterpiece is the Pharisee, not the prostitute.” – Tullian Tchividjian

Characters:

1. The Pharisee (like the elder brother in Luke 15)

This guy was varsity. He followed the law in a way that would embarrass the rest of us. If morality was a sport (and to some people it is), this guy wouldn’t have enough fingers for his championship rings. [Go over his listed credentials.]

Kind if like when I’m building a résumé for applying for a job, or an application to get into a certain school, I have found myself at times building some kind of a spiritual résumé, almost like a checklist, or some list of qualifications that could somehow prove to myself cognitively that I’m worthy of God’s love and affection. Am I alone in this? Am I the only one who has ever sat there and compared myself to my neighbor, a co-worker, another person who performed worse than you in a similar situation? Have you ever had the thought, however fleeting, at least I’m not a hardened criminal, I’ve never stolen that much money, never killed a guy, it’s not like I’m Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Jeffry Dahmer, or Charles Manson… I’ve just made a few mistakes in life, but for the most part, I’m a pretty good guy. You will always be able to find someone worse than you; at least you should be able to do that. Anyone else feeling strangely able to relate to the Pharisee here?

[Our neighbors and their pet’s story… Costco customers and their shopping carts story…]

2. The Tax Collector (like the younger brother in Luke 15)

There is no cultural equivalent to a tax collector in first century Rome. A tax collector was a wicked, sinful, piece of trash who was more than deserving of being burned alive. They purchased the right from Rome to collect money (up to 90% of annual income) from their own people. It’s worse than them just taking an extra $20 from everyone. They purchased the right to collect taxes for Rome… for the empire that ruled and reigned over most of the known world at the time… how did they do that? With a standing army… they have jets, hummers, missiles, or satellites… So they needed a lot of tax money to afford that military. Tax collectors were the mediators helping to fund a massive army that was responsible for the rape, murder, torture, and crucifixion of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and even children; many of whom were the same race, ethnicity, and people group as the tax collector taking money… in this case, the Jews. To the Jews, tax collectors were men raising money to support the atrocities taking place against them and their family. Zacchaeus was not simply a cute wee little man, he had done disgustingly vile things. Would it not raise some eyebrows if our pastor went over to a guy’s house for dinner who was known for financially supporting sex-trafficking, drug cartels, and the brutal murder of innocent women and children?

Yet, Jesus tells us the tax collector went home justified… but not the Pharisee… this would have been very shocking to the original listeners.

What was the Pharisee not seeing?

The Pharisee (and a few verses later the rich young ruler, also) fails to understand what many of us fail to understand: that Christianity is not a religion. He thanks God for his exceptional morality and righteousness, but misses the fact that his “goodness” is still woefully short of the bar (Isaiah & Philippians: bloody rags and poop). The mantra of religion is, “I obey, therefore I am worthy and accepted.” The Scriptures, however, teach vehemently against this idea constantly.

The message we usually hear from the pulpit at church is “repent of your wickedness.” Stop sleeping around. Stop doing drugs. Stop getting drunk. Stop watching rated R movies that aren’t about the crucifixion of Christ. Stop partying. Stop cussing. Stop skipping church, because if the door is open, you should be there. I would agree that many of these things are sinful and need to be repented of, but that’s not the message of Luke 18. Instead of calling out the overtly wicked, Jesus says this: “You good husbands, you good fathers, good wives, good mothers, good students, you small-group-leading, church-going, tithing, morally righteous men and women… you need to repent.”

When we grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others (the Pharisee thanked God he wasn’t like other men, like the tax collector). Trying to somehow earn your salvation through good works is just as God-belittling, Scripturally ignorant, cross-mocking wickedness as anything on the secular pagan, dark side of the fence. We tell ourselves, “I’m a better man than my father was… my neighbor George is a horrible dude, I’m not like him… I’m a good husband… I’m a good dad… I’m a good wife… I’m a good mother… I’m a good student… I’m a hard worker… I’m involved in the church.” Jesus says, “Repent! That does not save you. None of your works save you! That does not justify you.” When we understand this rightly, we don’t stand next to the cross and tell everyone else to repent, we lay down on our face and tell others there is room.

Looking at the passage in the context of the continuation of the text:

Luke 18:15-17… We must enter the Kingdom of God like a child.

“What did you have to do with being born? Did you work hard to earn the privilege of being born? Did it happen due to your hard work and skillful planning? Not at all. You don’t earn or contribute anything to being born. It is a free gift of life. And so it is with the new birth. Salvation by grace – there are no moral efforts that can earn or merit it. You must be born again.” – Tim Keller

Luke 18:18-30… The story of the Rich Young Ruler. One thing you still lack. PERIOD. PAUSE. He lacks something; he lacks Christ’s imparted righteousness. Jesus exposes his heart by asking him to give up his excessive wealth.* The young man is asking for insight on behavioral modification, not grace.

*Cross reference this story with Luke 12:32-34. Very important passage in understanding that Jesus wasn’t simply giving another rule to, but was exposing a heart issue in the rich young ruler. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Continuation Question(s):

So what does this old story from a couple thousand years ago about these two very different men have to do with us today?

Secularism and religion are both all about your personal performance. The Gospel is the performance of Another applied to you. I believe that the bulk of our weird American evangelicalism is built on this idea that “my behavior makes God owe me, and that what saves me is my good works.”

The basic premise of “religion,” that if you live a good life, things will go well for you – is wrong. Jesus was the most morally upright person who ever lived, yet He had a life filled with the experience of poverty, rejection, injustice, and even torture. Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change. The essence of other religions is advice about how to live. The essence of Christianity is news – here is what has been done.

That whole illustration, those analogies with scales when it comes to being good or bad, they all need to be tossed out and forgotten. There are no scales!!! You’re either fully justified and redeemed by the blood of Christ on the Cross and His resurrection, or you’re not justified at all.

There are two ways of being lost, two ways of trying to save/justify yourself, two ways of trying to avoid God or somehow put Him in your debt. One is to keep all the rules, and the other is to break all the rules (like the two sons/brothers in the Luke 15 parable).

Before we continue, please nobody try to take this where it’s not going. Discipline is not legalism. I still love, pursue, and date my wife. I still work on loving her better and growing deeper in relationship with her, I’ll admit I fail at doing that as well as I should, but none of that is to get her to marry me… we’re already married.

Closing remarks:

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying the law is of no value. Any theology that denies God’s moral law, and then domesticates sin by its absence, does not have Christ’s atoning love, God’s justifying pardon, or the Holy Spirit’s kind company. But the law cannot save.

Do you possess a desire for, strong affection for, and an exaltation of the person and work of Jesus Christ in the cross and in His resurrection? Or do you hang all of your hope in your righteousness on managing your own morality and church participation?

If your hope, confidence, and satisfactions are in being a good husband, being a good wife, being a good father, being a good mother, being a good churchman, a good kid, a good student, a good worker, a good citizen, just a good person at all… you’ve severely misplaced your hope in something that cannot and will not save you. No matter how law abiding or well behaved you are, we all end up 6 feet deep in the ground (or cremated if that’s more your style).

Repentance means coming back to the cross and confessing your infinite short-comings. We repent that we’ve become satisfied with just trying to better serve God rather than actually knowing or enjoying Him. We need to ask God once again for mercy, for His grace.

So, do you need to repent of goodness? I know I do. Do you need to ask forgiveness for your illusion of righteousness? I know I do. Constantly, I find myself trying to justify myself. We must throw ourselves on the mercy of God. Put our confidence in His cross, not in the fact that we’re “better” than our neighbor, or even that we’re better this year than we were last.

The Bible says it very clearly that if we could earn the favor of God with our behavioral modifications, then the cross of Christ was for nothing. In Galatians 2:21, Paul tells us: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

So is your confidence in your goodness? Repent. We have no confidence outside the goodness of Christ. Your goodness is a myth. Repent of worshiping your own righteousness and set your mind on the things of the Spirit – set your mind on Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Whatever you accomplish today and tomorrow, you are no more justified than you are right now in the already finished work of Jesus Christ. Work from your rest and rest in His already finished work.

Implications of the Incarnation

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“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” – Isaiah 9:1-7

The dawn of peace, on Christmas Eve, was the final night the world would sleep… fearful of the dark. For the love of the Father, was now in flesh appearing. To really understand the immensely spectacular good news of the Incarnation, we must first understand the immense need we all have for God’s grace. As well as how in order for Him to extend His grace He had to put on flesh. Forgiveness is the act of absorbing the wrath, pain, and consequences of another’s offense out of the motivation of love. According to Scripture all men have sinned, fall short of the glory of God, and are deserving of death. In order for God to save us from the rightful consequences of our rebellion, He had to absorb the penalty Himself. The triune God put on flesh through Jesus Christ. The Son of God was born into humble circumstances; born in the small town of Bethlehem, to a family that did not sit on any throne and had little money to their name. Jesus Christ was born to die. He was born to die as our perfect substitutionary atoning sacrifice, our Advocate, our Savior, and our Mediator.

The point of the Bible is God; it’s not you. Jesus isn’t part of the story; He is the point of the story, from Genesis to Revelation. God is about God. God is for God. When God is working, He is working for God. When God is forgiving you of your sins, that is for the praise of His glorious grace. When He is shepherding you, when He is protecting you, when He is providing for you, He is doing so in order that He might be worshiped, enjoyed, and praised. In fact, the Westminster Catechism says that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” You exist to worship, praise, love, and make much of God. That’s why you’re here, that is the reason for your existence.

Now that jostles us, because that’s not where we live. Everything in our culture goes a different way. Our culture screams “You’re the point. It’s about you. You deserve this. Why shouldn’t you have that?! You’re entitled to this!” And every marketing campaign, even some churches, are built around this philosophy. “It’s all about you. You deserve this or that. We should make way for you. What do you desire? What do you want? You’re the point. God loves you; He’s for you. You’re the point. This is about you and your happiness.” And we all need to realize that we’re not the point. In fact, if we look at it Biblically, you’re not even in second place. So God says He’s uppermost and then that you are to love others better than yourself. You’re bringing home the bronze. You’re down the list. You didn’t even make the cover. You’re a distant third at best.

Now let me tell you why this is strangely the best news in the universe. If God is after the praise of His glorious grace, then He is not after our begrudging submission, but rather He is after our joy. So all the commands in Scripture are about God lining you up with how He designed things to be for your greater joy. Now, some of you reading this may want to pump the brakes and petition God so you can explain how your circumstances trump this reality. You already have hypotheticals ready to be tossed into the discussion on why parts, if not the whole, of Scripture should be ignored. You want to explain to the God of the universe that He doesn’t seem to know your spouse. And if He knew your spouse, there is no way He would tell you that what the Bible says in regards to how you handle your spouse is the right move for you, because they’re crazy, they’re hurtful, they’re selfish, and you can go on and on about how your situation is different. Some of you want to talk to God about what has been done to you, about your inclinations, your orientations, your bents, your weaknesses, your struggles, etc. and how it all just isn’t fair.

Please don’t tune me out just yet. Let us lovingly press forward a little bit more. If we began watching a movie you’ve never seen before and didn’t know anything about, and just for the sake of demonstration let’s say we picked the movie “Cowboys and Aliens.” And as we begin watching the movie, I let you look at the screen for a few minutes and then pause it, and ask you to explain the movie to me. “So what’s that movie about?” You might respond that “It looked like a western.” “Is there anybody from outer space in this movie?” “Probably not. . . because it’s a western. . .” “What about space ships? Are there any space ships flying around in it?” “There couldn’t be. It’s a western. . . with Cowboys and such. I mean, your questions lead me to wonder if there might be something I am missing, but I know what I saw and there are not any aliens in this movie.” You’d have no idea there are aliens from outer space and that it’s a major part of the plot in the movie.

So think then, of how unbelievably arrogant it is of you to say you know better than God when you are here for a second in the scope of eternity and that you know better for you what’s going to lead you into joy than the One who spoke all matter into existence, the One created all things, wired all things, designed this entire universe. You really think your ideas about sex, money, marriage, parenting, and every aspect of life are better than and beyond the One who designed those things. It really is like us reading a sentence in a book and then fiercely claiming, “I’ve got this, I know exactly what this book is about, how everything in it works together, how it’s all related, how all the events are interwoven, and even what all the characters are thinking and doing simultaneously. I’ve figured it all out, don’t try to persuade me otherwise.”

However, if it is true that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him; and that God is all about His glory, the honor and praise of His Name, if God is a God of love, justice, honor, compassion, and grace… then He is not some kind of cosmic police officer. He is not the ultimate joy killer, bent on making sure nobody has any fun by establishing freedom robbing rules to crush the hearts of men. Instead, the God of the Bible put on flesh and became our empathetic Savior. He isn’t just our sympathetic Savior, He doesn’t just sympathize for us, rather, He suffers first hand the pain of the Fall. God’s wrath flows directly from His love. If even we, as imperfect humans, can understand that when you see someone you greatly care about and truly love very deeply, doing something that is self-destructive or acting in a habitual manner that is hurting them, you will get angry; just as when you see someone else hurting the one you love, this angers you. If you were to simply not care about them, do nothing to help them, nothing to intervene, nothing to come to their rescue or shoulder any of the burden of recovery, how loving would that be? That would be hate at its greatest level: indifference. God though, being the God of love and justice that He is, takes our fallen condition and rebellious hearts very seriously. Sin is separation from God. To be truly separated from God is to have your life source cut off; the result of sin and separation is death. The cost of reconciliation must be paid with a life, with blood.

Nothing is truly free and true forgiveness is always the result of costly sacrifice. As humans, we can see this in many examples of life: if your neighbor were to back into your car and cause damage to your car; you simply forgiving them and not requiring them to pay for the damage and loss of the former good condition of your car would not cover the cost of any repairs or fix the car. If your car was totaled and no longer able to be driven, simply telling your neighbor not to worry about it doesn’t cure your transportation issues. You would then have to bare that cost yourself, to repair and restore the car costs something, and someone has to pay the price in order for reconciliation to take place. (Even if you have car insurance, the cost still has to be paid for and the repair cost covered by someone.)

God, in order to restore us back to a relationship with Him, paid the cost Himself. God is not immune to pain, loss, and suffering. Through the Son, Jesus Christ, God put on flesh, became fully human, He became 100% man while remaining 100% God, He lived a perfect blameless life, He walked this earth, He resisted temptation, He ate bread, He drank wine, He loved family members and friends, He was called crazy by His family at one point, He witnessed death and loss, He wept over the condition of this world, He wept over the death of His friend Lazarus, He bled, He felt weakness, hunger, exhaustion, rejection, betrayal, desperation, and loneliness. Jesus Christ lived in a manner undeserving of death. However, His love for us is so great, that He drank the cup of wrath that was rightfully ours to drink, and He took the full penalty of sin upon Himself. He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that He was crushed for our iniquities, He was broken for our transgressions and rebellion. On the cross, Jesus was separated from His eternal loving relationship with the Father and the Spirit. He did all of this so that we may have life and never really be alone; He gave His own body as a ransom for ours.

Jesus was born to die as our Mediator so that we would not have to suffer the end result of our rebellion; He experienced complete separation from the Father so that we would never have to be alone. At the hour of the cross, Jesus knew this was the hour for which He was born. You and I are going to die, but we don’t know when or how. Jesus knew, He knew when and how, and more importantly He knew why. When He was on trial, standing before Pilate, Jesus told him that it was for this purpose and at this time that He chose to come into this world. He told Pilate that no one takes His life, but He gives it willingly. Jesus was the greater Moses in that He was rescuing mankind from slavery to sin and death, not just Egyptians. Jesus was the greater Abraham, the greater David in slaying the giant of death not just a large Philistine man, the greater Joseph, Elijah, Solomon, Job, Samuel; Jesus was the ultimate Passover lamb. What dominated Jesus’ mind throughout His life was not so much the living of His life, but the giving of His life. When Christ was on the cross, He was experiencing what every other human being in history deserves and which He alone does not deserve. And He experienced it alone. He did this so we would never have to experience being fully cut off from God and His love. God’s love for you was so great that He satisfied His righteous wrath with the perfect life and death of the Son, Jesus. God knows loss at a greater depth than we could ever possibly begin to comprehend. The gift of Jesus Christ, the birth, death, resurrection, and future return of the Son is the greatest gift this world could ever receive.

The motivation behind us living in accordance with this gospel of Christ, is grace. The reason Christians are so persistent about the cross and the reason they’re so persistent about how the Bible teaches that your salvation is meritless, that you didn’t have something intrinsically good that God thought He could use for His kingdom, but that He just rescued you out of where you were in your mess, is because when grace finally hits the heart, finally hits the mind, it’s this really beautiful, transformative grace that makes you want to herald it. Because, what did you have to do with being born? Did you work hard to earn the privilege of being born? Did it happen due to your hard work and skillful planning? Not at all. You don’t earn or contribute anything to being born. It is a free gift of life. And so it is with the new birth. Salvation by grace – there are no moral efforts that can earn or merit it. You must be born again.

So, when that truth sets in, you will feel the grace-enabled passion to live life more fully, resting in Christ’s love and sharing that truth with all those around you. The gospel is the good news that God saves. It is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures from Satan, sin, and its effects to the Father and each other thru the birth, life, death, resurrection, and future return of the substitutionary Son, by the power of the Spirit, for God’s glory and the Church’s joy. The gospel isn’t a “list of rules,” it is the good news that those “rules” were already fulfilled in the life of Another.

If you think about it, all of us have been designed by God to be heralds by nature. Think about it. If there’s a movie you love, a song or album that moved you, a restaurant that you really like, a favorite bottle of wine, a particular brew of beer, a sports team you cheer for, a shirt you really enjoy wearing, a vacation spot you like to revisit, what do you naturally do with it? You herald it! You say to your friends and family, “Oh, have you eaten here?… Oh, have you seen this?… Oh, have you gone here?… Oh, have you heard this song?… Oh, did you see that game?” So, when you experience the grace of Christ, when the right motivation of being saved by grace through faith is realized, when the greatest news available in this world is understood, when it really hits you… you will herald it with joy.

This is why we celebrate the Incarnation. This is why we make a big deal about Christmas. In Jesus Christ, God put on flesh, and became man. In Jesus, the world saw a man who was ferociously humble. A man who was love incarnate. A man who suffered and was tempted, yet did not sin. A man who was steadfastly obedient until death, even death on a cross. A man who while being the very essence, being of the very nature and substance God, did not consider Himself equal to the Father, but submitted to the will of God and gave up His life for people undeserving of His love. In Christ’s death, He paid our debt at infinite cost to Himself. God paid our debt with His own flesh. Jesus paid our ransom to uphold the justice and righteousness of our Father; so that He could justifiably look upon us and lovingly call us son and daughter. This good news is the substance and meaning of the Christmas celebration: that God became man, to save us from ourselves, and give us life. He came just like He promised, and His love will not be silent.