Go Tell it on the Mountain

By / Dec 30


The Cost of Christmas

By / Dec 22

If you’d please keep your Bibles in hand and turn with me to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Philippians chapter 2; page 980 in the church Bibles. Across the course of these Advent Sunday mornings we have been using Philippians 2:5-11, sometimes called the “Carmen Christi,” the “hymn to Christ.” It’s an ancient hymn that the apostle Paul quotes and includes in his letter to the Philippians as an apt summary of the life and work and ministry of the Lord Jesus. We’ve been working through the Carmen Christi, line by line, a Sunday at a time, to help us as we think about the significance of Jesus coming that first Christmas. 

And so several weeks ago in verse 5 we thought about “The Call of Christmas.” Verse 5 is a summons, a call to a different mindset, a different outlook and attitude in light of who Jesus is and why He came – “The Call of Christmas.” And then, verse 6, when we considered it together we thought about “The Plan for Christmas.” Paul takes us back into eternity and helps us reflect on the voluntary condescension of Christ, the divine Son who embraces the mission the Father gives to Him and comes for us and for our salvation. And then last time in verse 7 we thought together about “The Heart of Christmas” where Paul reflects on the self-humbling of Christ who, being the eternal Son of God, became man; more than that He became a slave. He came all the way down into our humanity and was born of the virgin and laid in a manger. 

And that means of course that we are, today, at verse 8 where we’ll think together now about “The Cost of Christmas.” “The Cost of Christmas.” It takes us, verse 8 takes us from the manger all the way to the cross. And that may seem to you to be an unusual move for the Sunday before Christmas to be talking about the thirty-three year old Jesus hanging on a Roman gibbet on Golgotha instead of talking about the infant Christ nursing in Mary’s arms, laid in a manger in Bethlehem. But it could not be more important. It could not be more important for us to understand that while the nativity scene is, no doubt, more picturesque, more romantic, more Christmasy, that the nativity really makes no sense, none, apart from the cross. “Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?” That’s the question. Why is He there? Why did God become a man in Jesus Christ? What’s going on? “Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian fear, for sinners here, the silent word is pleading. Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you. Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary.” Apart from Calvary, Bethlehem can’t help us.

In the eleventh century, the bishop of Canterbury in England, a man called Anselm, wrote a book, and a famous book, around an imagined dialogue with a character rather unfortunately named Boso, in which Anselm asks his famous question, “Cur Deus Homo?” – “Why the God-man?” Why did God become a man? Boso could not understand it. What possible need could there be that would necessitate this kind of divine intervention that the God of the universe should be joined to humanity in Jesus Christ? Why? What in the world would demand that God should become a man? As Boso expresses his incredulity, his unbelief, Anselm replies simply, “You have not yet considered the heavy weight of sin.” If you understood sin, then you’d understand why God went to such extreme, such lengths to secure our deliverance. The crushing burden of sin required not just that God become man in Jesus Christ, but that as both God and man, He make full satisfaction for our sin by His obedience and blood. Nothing less could secure our salvation. That’s why Jesus was born. That’s why God became man. That’s why He lay in such mean estate. If you only have the baby of Bethlehem and not the man of Calvary, you may have a pretty Christmas scene for your greeting card but that is all you have. You cannot have peace with God. The cross, do you see, is the reason for the cradle. The cross is the reason. Christmas would be an empty celebration without Calvary. 

And Philippians 2:8, our text this morning, is making that point with some force. Now before we read the passage together and begin to unpack how Paul does that in Philippians 2:8, let me ask you to please bow your heads with me as we seek the help of God to understand and embrace His Word. Let’s pray.

O Lord, we cannot hide from You. Your Word chases us down as it did long ago in Eden when our first parents sinned. You called, “Where are you?” Your Word still searches us out and there’s no hiding place from the light of Your gaze. And so we want to stop running today and find as we turn to answer Your summons that You do not stand before us to condemn, but in Jesus Christ you come to us with mercy; You come to us with forgiveness and cleansing and hope. So as we hear the call and are interrogated by the Scriptures together this morning, we ask You please to bring that good news to bear upon our hearts and minds, on our consciences, on our souls. Bring us to Christ and in Him provide our heart’s deepest need. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Philippians 2 at verse 5. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Amen.

Among the most beloved Christmas stories surely is Dickens’ Christmas Carol. It’s also got to be one of the most remade movie subjects ever. After a bit of digging I think I uncovered thirty-two movie adaptations of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, although of course you all will immediately agree that none of them surpass the 1951 black and white version, Scrooge, starring Alastair Sim. You can say the same for the various Grinch movies. Couldn’t you? There are any number of animated and live action versions of The Grinch, although obviously all right-thinking people will agree with me that none of them can surpass the 1966 animation, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. You can keep your Jim Carrey. You cannot beat Boris Karloff playing the Grinch and Thurl Ravenscroft singing, “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch!” It just can’t be beaten. Look, the fact is, the fact is, when Hollywood does a remake it typically does not improve on the original. Right? Haven’t you found that to be true? When they do a new script, it’s not usually better than the old script. 

What if I were to tell you that it is possible to have the script of your life rewritten and the rewrite be better than the original? It’s possible to have the script of your life rewritten and the rewrite will be better than the original. In many respects, that’s what verse 8 is saying here. The old story of sin and failure, of Adam’s sin and failure way back in the garden and of your sin and failure and mine, has been overwritten. A new script, a new story has been written in the obedience and blood of Jesus Christ. That is why He came. He came to write a new script for your life and mine. And you will remember how Paul in verse 7, as we considered verse7 last week, seems to be alluding to the creation account, to the Genesis account of Adam made in the likeness, the image and likeness of God – Genesis 1:26. And Genesis 5:1-3 when Adam has a child, his children are in his likeness. So when he says that Jesus came “in likeness of men,” he’s saying He came, the one who made Adam in His own likeness, the God who made Adam in His likeness, now comes born of the woman, born of the virgin Mary, in the likeness of Adam. One of us in the likeness of men. One of us to do what the first Adam should have done but did not do – to obey where our first parent failed and disobeyed, to write a new story. 

The Humility of Christ

And verse 8, our text this morning, unpacks how He did that. And it begins, if you’ll look at verse 8 with me, it begins focusing on the humility of Christ. Do you see that language in verse 8 – the humility of Christ. “Being found in human form, he humbled himself.” One of the things you might have noticed as we’ve worked through this passage, Philippians 2:5-11, over the past several weeks, is that verses 5 through 8 map a downward trajectory, step by step, down and down and down. You see that pattern in verse 5 through 8? It begins with Christ “who is in form God, not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped.” So it begins in the heights, in glory, meditating on the dignity and deity of the Son, dwelling in perfect fellowship and equality with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the unity of the blessed Trinity. It begins in unimaginable majesty and glory.

And then Paul says “he emptied himself, he made himself nothing, he humbled himself.” He emptied himself not of deity, nor of dignity, not even of His rights or prerogatives or privileges. He emptied Himself, Paul says, “by taking the form of a servant,” literally “the form of a slave,” and “being born in the likeness of men.” He took human nature. He came down into human nature. It’s a staggering statement – that God should unite Himself, the creature be united to the Creator. We imagine the angels who, as the Gospel records tell us, were present throughout the whole course of Christ’s earthly life and ministry. We imagine them overcome with wonder as their Creator and King, the God who fills the universe, is joined to cells, multiplying and dividing in the womb of the virgin. And there He is now, the righteous Lord before whom the angelic court in heaven must veil their faces. There He is now, born into the world by pain and blood like every other descendent of Adam. It’s a stunning thing to think about. No wonder the angels burst into song as they did that night over the shepherds’ head and erupted in praise, “Glory to God in the Highest!” they sang. Who could keep silent at such a moment?

“But surely that is humiliation enough,” one angel says to another. “Surely the Lord won’t linger in such frailty and ignominy much longer. Surely He will quickly display His power and rise to kingly dignity and authority! After all, isn’t He David’s heir? Isn’t that His birthright?” But no, Paul says, instead “He emptied Himself” – look – “taking the form of a slave.” Not just down into human nature, as shocking as that is, but down further into the menial, unlovely nature of a slave. He came down, remember, into the demands of the fickle crowds who wanted His miracles – “Oh yes, give us miraculous bread! Feed us! Give us healing!” – they wanted His miracles but they didn’t want Him. He came down into bodily need, to physical need. With the woman at the well in John 4, He’s asking for a drink and when nailed between two criminals, He is slowly, agonizingly bleeding out, dehydrating, He cries out, “I thirst.” He came down into the heartrending love that beat within Him, love for the lost. “Seeing the crowds,” Matthew 9:36, “He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” He came down into grief and sorrow. You remember Him at the graveside of His friend, Lazarus, overcome. “Jesus wept,” John tells us. “Being found in human form He humbled Himself.”

This was His characteristic stance, His daily habit, His constant attitude. He humbled Himself. There was no pride in Him. He came as the servant of all. Adam, you remember, Adam didn’t humble Himself. This was not Adam’s posture. Instead of humility, under the rule of God, Adam’s pride usurped God’s rights to dictate the limits of Adam’s freedom and Adam disobeyed. He ate the forbidden fruit and the whole human race, “descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression,” as our catechism so marvelously puts it. 

And now let’s be honest with ourselves, ever since our first father ate the forbidden fruit, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil back in Eden, we have all come to bear the family likeness. Haven’t we? Paul exhorts us in our passage back in verse 3 that in humility we should “count others more significant than ourselves.” Count others more significant than ourselves. That’s a definition of humility, and we find it awfully hard to do. Don’t we? I do. There’s too much of Adam about me. Isn’t that something you must confess? It doesn’t come easily, humility. Instead, with William Ernest Henley, we can say, if not in words then in a thousand daily acts of quiet rebellion against the rule of God, we can say, “It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” That’s our stance, that’s our posture, ever since Adam ate the forbidden fruit. Hasn’t that been our attitude? “I’m in charge. I will be god and king in my private world!” But not so, Jesus Christ. There was no pride, no boasting in the second and last Adam. He did not withhold any affection, any mercy, any time, anything of Himself from anyone who sought Him, although it made Him the slave of all. The humility of Jesus. Do you see it?

The Obedience of Christ 

And then secondly notice not just the note of humility, but how that humility expressed itself in particular. Look at the text again, verse 8. “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient.” Here now is the obedience of Christ. First the humility, now the obedience of Christ. Down into humanity, down further into slavery, down into obedience the Lord of all obeying under the yoke of His own Law. The Scriptures tell us that He obeyed the command that the Father had given Him when He was designated in eternity, before creation, as the Savior of sinners. He was born that first Christmas – Christmas itself was an act of obedience by the Son. He came because He was obedient to the Father. And all His every words, His every works, His every action, everything that He ever would do, He would do under the governance and direction and in obedience to the decree and design of God. So for example, Jesus would say in John 5:36, “The works the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about Me that the Father has sent Me.” The works the Father has given Me to do. Or John 12:49, “I have not spoken on My own authority but the Father who sent Me, He Himself has given Me a commandment, what to say and what to speak, and I know that His commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told Me.” His every word and every deed was circumscribed and governed and directed by the plan of the Father and He meekly obeyed.

And more than that, more than the secret sovereign decree of God directing His course as our Redeemer, He obeyed the written transcript of the character of God provided and published to the whole world in God’s moral Law in holy Scripture. He obeyed every word, every jot and tittle. He was our obedient Savior who kept the Law perfectly. You remember how He faced down satanic temptation to transgress against the Father and to break God’s Law. There in the wilderness He did not cave; He did not buckle. He was obedient and submissive. He was, Hebrews 4:15, “tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” He was obedient to the will of God, so much so that He would say, even at the climax of His earthly course of obedience there in the garden, having given His all and is now ready to surrender His very life for us, He would say, “Not My will but Your will be done.” He is obedient. He is obedient. 

Why is He obedient? Think about it this way. Why was it necessary when God became a man in Jesus Christ that He come as a baby and live a whole life, a lifetime before He went to the cross? Why is there a lifetime of obedience necessary? Why not simply come and die? He obeys, there’s a life of obedience because the verdict necessary for God to be satisfied in the heavenly tribunal in your case and mine is more than “not guilty.” You know that’s the best an earthly court can do. The lawyers in the room I’m sure can help me here later, but earthly judges do not declare anyone innocent. The best they can do is say, “not guilty.” And even were that the standard that God would require, we would all fall short of it because we are all guilty in Adam and guilty in our own sin to boot. But God’s standard is higher still. He requires not just a “not guilty” verdict. He requires a verdict of “righteous.” You must be righteous to stand with confidence before the heavenly tribunal at the bar of God’s justice. The standard is righteous. Perfect obedience. 

And in light of such a standard, who here has hope if their hope was founded on their own obedience, their own goodness? Not me. Not you. Your best righteousness will damn you forever. You need the righteousness of another. You need someone else to act for you. You need another Adam. The first Adam acted for us. Didn’t he? He was a public person; he was our representative. That’s why when he sinned we are guilty and his sin is imputed to us, reckoned to us, and his sin has affected the whole human race. We need another Adam to do what the first ought to have done but did not. We need an obedient second Adam. That’s why He came. That’s why there’s a whole life of obedience – that the verdict, “righteous,” that God must pass over the obedience of His Son might become your verdict, the verdict passed over you, not because you are righteous in yourself but because He is righteous for you. That is why He came. That’s what Christmas is about. That’s what’s on offer. Guilty? Ashamed? Afraid to lift your eyes to God, wondering, as David so beautifully put it earlier, “if God is done with you”? Is there any hope for you? There is a righteous Savior whose righteousness can cover all your sin and guilt. He is obedient for you. He is obedient for you, in your place, that looking on you through His Son, God will say of you, “Righteous in My sight,” with the righteousness of Jesus Christ reckoned to your account. “For as by one man’s disobedience,” Adam, “the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience,” Jesus Christ, “the many are made righteous,” Romans 5:19.

The Death of Christ

And then look how far His obedience went. Look at the lengths to which His obedience took Him. First His humility, then His obedience. Now we need to see His death. “He was obedient to death,” verse 8 says, “even death on a cross.” You see, obedience for Jesus required not just that He positively obey the precepts of God’s holy Law, but that He satisfy the penalties of the Law that I broke and that you broke. “The wages of sin is” – what? I’m asking you. “The wages of sin is death.” The wrath and curse of God! And He pays in full that you might live. He dies that you might live. You know, all sin must be paid for. The righteous justice of God requires that all sin be paid for. And we will pay ourselves or Christ will pay for us. Those are the only choices. Either He bears the wrath and curse of God in your place or you will bear the wrath and curse of God in hell forever. Which will it be? Which will it be in your case? 

Do notice how Christ came down into humanity and then down into slavery, down into obedience, down, Paul says, into death. But more than that, we have to go further than that. Not just any death, down into the wretched, ignominious, shameful, cursed death of the cross. “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross.” Paul is stunned. Even the death of a cross! Can you imagine a more shameful thing? You see, in those days the cross was not a symbol of faith. You would never think to wear it as an item of jewelry. That would be in terribly poor taste. The cross was a symbol of horror and shame. The Romans so abhorred the cross they reserved crucifixion only for criminals and slaves and rebels. The Roman orator, Cicero, wrote this. He said, “Let the very name of the cross be far away not only from the body of a Roman citizen but even from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears.” So it’s a repugnant thing to them, do you see. And for the Jewish people there was even more stigma attached than the natural horror at something so ugly as a cross because Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged upon a tree.” To a Jew, crucifixion was the clear sign of God’s rejection and wrath. “He became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood and sealed my pardon with His blood, hallelujah! What a Savior!” No condemnation. None. He was condemned for your pardon. He died that you might live.

Brothers and sisters, make no mistake, here is the central message of Christmas. This is why He came. “Cur Deus Homo” – “Why the God-man?” The cross! That’s why! Because the gravity of your sin demanded it. Now see how much you are loved. Do you see how much you are loved that He should give His all to pay your penalty? That’s what Christmas is about. That’s why it’s worth celebrating. Let me ask you then, “Has your debt been paid? Has your debt been paid?” Has God said over you, “Righteous in My sight with the righteousness of My Son!” Have you taken God’s Christmas gift, His own Son Jesus Christ, by faith? Is He yours? Are you His? What a Savior we have in Jesus. Take Him. He is for you. Let’s pray together.

O God, we cry out to You for mercy. We’ve played with our sin. We’ve called it a trifling thing and we’ve shrugged at it and gone on our way when You have poured out the white, hot fury of Your wrath and curse because of the least of our sins upon the shoulders of our Savior, the Lord Jesus. Forgive us, those of us who are Christians, for treating our sin so casually. Give to us the grace of true repentance. And for those of us who are not Christians, who are not come to know the Lord Jesus for themselves, today, now, we pray, O God, show them their need of a Savior and show them the perfect provision of a Savior You have made in the baby of Bethlehem who is the man of Calvary, who by His obedience and blood has done all that is now necessary to reconcile us to You. Draw us, every one of us here, back to Christ, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.



Why the God-man?

By / Dec 22

So we are in a little series on Christmas in the mind-bending book of Revelation. This is the vision of the apostle John at the end of his life on the Isle of Patmos in the 90s, the last decade of the first century. And it’s my misprint, but the bulletin says we’re in Revelation 22; we’re in Revelation 21 tonight, the first six verses. And that chapter addresses one of the age old questions of Christmas; a very old question that David Strain brought up this morning. And that is, “Why has the Son of God become a human? Why the God-man?” 

And this morning, David said that without Golgotha, without the cross, then Bethlehem, Christmas is of little help to us. And tonight we’re going to take the next step and say we need the baby in the manger, we need the cross, we need Golgotha, and we need the resurrected Christ, the King of the new creation, and that the incarnation is about all of it. One theologian says that, “The incarnation is the central fact of the entire history of the world.” And in Revelation 21 you’ve got the big picture reasoning, the metanarrative of why God has become human in Jesus Christ. And the answer in this chapter is that He came to save. And what we read here is the end game of salvation. What’s salvation? And here it is in Revelation 21. And so let’s pray and then we’ll read it together. Let’s pray.

Jesus, You are the Light of the world, and so we pray tonight, Spirit of Christ, would You come, would You give us light to see the truth of Your holy Word. And we pray this in Your name, amen.

And we’ll read Revelation 21, verses 1 to 6. This is God’s Word:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’
And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.’”

Well we can only dip our toes in, there’s so much here in this vision, but this is an image of salvation. And let’s just say two things tonight. Salvation means Jesus Christ came to save so that He could first, unite heaven and earth, and then secondly, we’ll just ask why that matters for today, why that matters now.

Jesus Came to Unite Heaven and Earth

So first, Jesus came to unite heaven and earth. And there are two things here I want us to see. The first is in the very first verse. It says that John, in this vision, saw something new. He saw a new heaven and a new earth. And this new thing that he’s seeing is not speaking of something entirely different from the world we live in now. He’s now he’s seeing something or speaking of something that’s completely brand new, but he’s seeing the restoration or the renewal of this very world that we live in now. And the reason that we know that that’s what he’s talking about is because Revelation is not a book of much new symbolism at all. All the visions and the symbols are mostly taken from the Old Testament. Every single verse in Revelation 21:1-6 is a quote or a direct reference to a passage in the book of Isaiah. 

And this first one is too. It comes from Isaiah 65 and there in Isaiah 65 God says, through Isaiah, “I am going to create a new heavens and a new earth,” just like John sees here. And it’s as if God knows in Isaiah 65 that we might say to that, “There is so much about the world that I live in now that I don’t want to give up – the friendships, the family, the great food, the physicality, the things that I love about being a human being in this world.” And so the very next verse in Isaiah 65, he says, “But be glad, for this is the new Jerusalem.” And when he says, “the new Jerusalem,” he’s telling you that the newness of the new heavens and the new earth isn’t entirely new. It’s not something created from nothing but it’s a new Jerusalem, a city that’s really old that the people of the Old Testament knew a lot about. It’s the city that they loved. And he’s saying, “I’m recreating the Jerusalem that you already loved.” That’s the Old Testament reference in Isaiah 65. 

But here, we know just from the word “new” itself, in the Greek text of this passage the word “new” is a little Greek word, “kainos.” And “kainos” always in Greek means a newness that refers to a change of quality, not totality; a transformation of a type but not an entire transformation. That there is something wrong that is going to be fixed in this new heavens and the new earth, but it’s not an entirely new heaven and earth. And so the theologians will talk about the resurrection as the paradigm of the new creation. You remember when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, He was veiled in a way. At first, they couldn’t recognize Him. There was something different about Him. Physically, He could walk through walls. He was different, but at the same time, over time the disciples came to recognize Him and they could eat with Him, they could sit down at the table with Him, they could touch the wounds in His hands. He still had the wounds. There was something old about Him, something of His original identity, and also something new. 

And that means so would the world too. What the vision here is that the world will be resurrected. Jesus Christ is the first fruit, and just like He was risen from the dead, so we too and so the world, “we will be like Him” – something that we once were, who we are, our identity and the identity of this world, but also something new, something changed. G.K. Beale, the great scholar of this book, the book of Revelation, at Westminster, he says that Revelation 21 then is “a vision of a radically changed cosmos involving both moral and physical transformation.” 

And we see that physical transformation right there in the first verse. In 21:1 it says when the new heaven and the new earth come and the first passes away, the sea will be no more. And so there’s an element, a physical transformation. But even there we know that He doesn’t mean that there won’t be any bodies of water in the new heavens and the new earth. In the very next chapter we’re told that the river of the water of life will come right out of the city of the new Jerusalem. Instead, this is taking up something from the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the sea was the place of chaos. For the ancient person, there was one place they were most afraid of, and that was the sea. The Israelites were not seafaring peoples. And what he’s doing here is with a vision, with figurative language, with an image saying, “Hey, what’s going to be new about the new heavens and the new earth?” It’s saying there won’t be any more chaos. There won’t be any more sea, the great metaphor of chaos in the Old Testament. God will push back the chaos.

And that means that as much as there is physical change, there’s going to be even more basically ethical, moral transformation. In the second letter of Peter he has a vision himself of the new heavens and the new earth. In 3:13 he says this. “We await a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness will dwell.” And so in Peter’s vision, what’s new is an entire moral transformation, a place where there will be no more sin, only righteousness; no more injustice, only justice. No more hatred, only love. No more evil, only good. In other words, as John puts it in 20:2, there will be no more curse. That’s what’s new about the new heavens and the new earth. That the curse is going to pass away, that it’s going to be put away. 

And you see it in verse 4, that unimaginable text that Paul prayed about just a moment ago, that is, verse 4, at the very end he uses that language of passing away. Earlier he said that the earth was going to pass away, but now we know exactly what he means when he says something is passing away. What is it that is passing away? What will pass away will be the tears of the people of God, the sorrow, the mourning, the cries, the suffering, the curse, the enmity, the broken relationships, the hatred, the greed, the lust. That is what’s passing away. And so what this means is that being saved, the ultimate image of why God has come to earth – to save us – being saved is living in a new heaven and a new earth where the curse is no more. 

Now that means that being saved means being in heaven, secondly here. And being in heaven – what’s heaven? And in verse 2, verse 2, there is a life changing verb; there is a life changing participle I should say. It’s the little participle, “coming down,” that he saw something “coming down.” Now if you thought of heaven as exclusively a place that when you die you will go up to, and that’s ultimate, then this is life changing words because what he says here is that heaven is ultimately a place that God is bringing down to earth; that God is bringing back to earth. And that’s exactly what we were told when Jesus went up to heaven. In Acts chapter 1 verse 11, the angel comes and says to the disciples, “He will come back just as you saw Him go.” He’ll come back down just as you saw Him go. That heaven ultimately is a place that will come down to earth. And that is salvation. That is what it means ultimately and finally to go to heaven. 

And most often in the Bible when the Bible uses the word “heaven” it’s merely referring to the skies that are above us and that’s actually how it’s being used here in verse 2 when he says, “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of the heavens.” But what he’s seeing here is heaven, the heaven of God, coming down out of the heavens, the sky. And that’s because heaven is not ultimately spatial. Heaven is ultimately wherever God dwells, wherever God lives, wherever God decides to put His temple, wherever God comes down to. That’s what heaven is in the Bible. And look, Paul says that this is the whole point of Christianity. In Ephesians chapter 1, the thesis statement of the book of Ephesians in verse 9 and 10, do you remember that incredible language he uses? He says God’s purpose, “which He has set forth in Jesus Christ as a plan for the fullness of all time is this – to unite all things in Jesus, things in heaven and things on earth.” That ultimately the plan, the metanarrative, the big plan of salvation, of incarnation, is the union of heaven and earth; for God to bring heaven down.

Now what that means is salvation is spiritual and physical. As much as salvation is about the needs of our soul – God coming and meeting the spiritual needs of our soul – it’s also physical. It’s about the restoration of the body. But even more than that, most importantly what we learn here about what salvation is, is in verse 3. And in verse 3 it says this. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.” Most basically, most ultimately, salvation is to be in the same place as God. It’s to be at home with God; it’s to see God. In the very next chapter, John says that we shall see His face and that that is the grand narrative, the big purpose of salvation. This is what David talks about in Psalm 27. In Psalm 27, David the king says, “I want to dwell in the house of God forever.” And David knows there that he can’t go live in the temple in Jerusalem, the tabernacle, for his whole life; he’s going to die someday. So at the end of that chapter, he lets us know what he means by that. He says, “I want to see the face of God in the land of the living. I want to see with my eyes the face of God.” That’s what David thinks ultimately salvation is. John tells us that in 1 John 3. “You shall see Him as He is.” 

How do you see an invisible God? And the answer is the incarnation. You see an invisible God in the face of Jesus Christ, in the fact that God has come to earth; God has become human. You see God in the face of Jesus Christ. And in the Old Testament, because of the penalty of our sin, nobody could look at God and live, not even Moses, not even God’s special servant. When God came down to see Moses on Mount Sinai, He said to Moses, “Moses, come and see something great.” And He told him, “Come to me.” And as soon as Moses got close, He said, “Stop! Don’t take another step. You cannot enter My presence. This is holy ground. If you get any closer you’re going to die!” And He said, “Come, come to Me, yet stop. You can’t get any closer.” Because of human sin, because of the penalty of our sin, the guilt that we carry because of what we’ve done, in the OT, in the Old Testament, you couldn’t see the face of God. The next episode on the mountain, Moses had to hide in the cleft of the rock so that he wouldn’t die when God passed by. 

What is the solution? What is the answer? It’s Bethlehem. It’s Golgotha. It’s that justice and mercy meet at the cross and make a way for Revelation 21 when God comes down and you will physically see the face of God in the face of Jesus Christ. You can touch His wounds. You can be with Him in your body. That’s ultimate hope. That’s resurrection life. That’s the coming of heaven down to earth. That’s salvation. This is the home we were made for. 

And I’ll just close this point by saying, you know, that home is right here in the paradox of verse 3 and 4 smashed together as John has in this one sentence. If you look carefully at verse 3, verse 3 is a monarchical coronation announcement. It’s an archangel saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God has come down to be with mankind. This is the coronation of Christ the King coming down onto His throne in the new city of Jerusalem here on this earth. This is a coronation scene. And you can imagine, you know, if you would have gotten to be at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, which I desperately wish I could have been there – it was a little bit before my time – but you would have been miles away from the cathedral where she was crowned. And maybe at a tiny distance you could have seen just her silhouette as she sat down on the throne. But one thing you would have known, one thing that you might have said to yourself is, “I’ll never get to go up to her on this day. I’ll never get to touch her hands. I’ll never get to speak with her face to face.” 

And here, in this image of salvation, in verse 3 the King is being pronounced, the King of all existence, “Behold, His dwelling place has come down.” He is being coronated. And in the very next line it says, “And He will know you. And He will come to you and wipe the tears from your eyes, from all the sorrows you have lived through in this life.” He is the King of the cosmos, the recreator of all creation, and He is going to come to you like a father and wipe away your tears. He’s going to know you. He’s going to be with you personally. It’s a monarch unlike any other that has ever existed in all of history. And what it means is that when we are ultimately saved in the second coming of Christ, in the new creation, God will be your King and the King will be your family. 

Why Does This Future Matter for Today? 

Alright so secondly and finally – we’ve only dipped our toe, there’s so much more in the image, in the vision, but we have to close. Secondly and finally, why does it matter for today? Why does this future matter for today? And there’s so much we could say about this, but I think the best thing to say or the best question to ask is, “Why did it matter when it was written?” And John’s writing this while he’s in exile in the 90s, the last decade of the first century, and he’s under the reign of the emperor Domitian. And we know from all sorts of accounts that both under Domitian, the emperor at the end of the first century, and Nero, thirty years before that, that Christians in John’s day were being systematically persecuted and murdered. And we don’t simply know this from Christian writings outside the Bible about this, but actually we have texts from people like Tacitus and Pliny the Younger who are writing at the turn of the first century and who are non-Christians writing about the plight of the Christians under Domitian. So we know from non-biased accounts, non-Christian accounts exactly what was taking place. 

And Tacitus tells us that under Domitian, Christians in North Africa all the way up into what we would call Europe were being thrown to the lions, tarred, and burned alive. They were often being crucified like Jesus was crucified as a way of mocking. And we have a letter from one of John’s disciples, Clement, in 1 Clement he said that when he was a boy “ignorant people would jeer, yell, and mock us in the streets.” And John’s writing this book, this vision, to those people; that’s his audience. And look, I know that obviously it’s unlikely that any of us would suffer in a similar way in contemporary America, but what we’re told here is that this vision is a vision for people who live under the weight of the curse. And ever since Genesis 3, we’ve all, every human, has lived under the weight of the curse, all of us now in suffering, in all sorts of different ways, shapes and forms. And this, what we’re reading here is theological reasoning for the suffering servants of God to find a living hope in the land of the living, in the future. This is what Jamie Smith, in his book title calls, “an exercise in imagining the kingdom of God.” This is given to us to exercise our imagination of the coming kingdom of God, to think about what it would be like and how that could change the way we live even now. 

And just imagine not only this kingdom but imagine the boy and the girl, the person in the first century, who’s first hearing this vision read to them. And we know that so many little children in the 90s watched their parents taken for holding fast to the name of Jesus Christ and burned alive, crucified in front of, sometimes in front of their own children. And John, the little children of the first century, are hearing this vision. And what are they hearing? They’re hearing John say to them, “God – there’s another possibility. There is a place where God will dwell with you, where God will get on His knees and He will wipe away your little tears from your eyes as you watch your parents be taken for their faithfulness to the Gospel. There is an alternate world that is a certain future reality, and so hold the course, stay steadfast, don’t be ashamed. There’s a real living hope.” This is a living hope that he’s offering to people who live under the weight of the curse and a world full of suffering. And it’s a living hope, it’s a living hope not a dead hope because Jesus Christ, the historical man, died and rose again from the dead. And that means that the vision of Him coming again as a living hope, because He is alive, is trustworthy and true. He’s a real person who rose again from the dead in the middle of history.

And so let me just close with this. How do you get this place? How do you get the place that we’re reading about here? And how do you get the kingdom? How do you get the physical? How do you get the vision of God? How do you get the face of Jesus Christ? How do you get the moment when Jesus Christ will wipe away your tears? And it’s here in the passage at the very end in 21 verse 6, “He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.’” And here is the words of Christ – “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” And just like all the other verses in this chapter, that’s a quote. Jesus is quoting there from the book of Isaiah, from the call to worship that I gave from Isaiah 55 just a little while ago. You remember, “Come, all you who are thirsty to the waters, without money.” Don’t come and pay anything. Come and drink. Have your thirst quenched from the water of life, the water that you’ve always been looking for that you’ve never found. 

And you know, this is what Jesus meant in the gospels. David mentioned it this morning as well. In John chapter 4 when He was standing there in front of the woman at the well and she offered Him water and He said, “If you knew who was standing in front of you, you would have asked Me for water and I would have given you living water.” He says over and over again that He is the living water that He is the only river from which you can come and drink and have all your hope fulfilled, your thirst quenched, your desire for justification, for the facts of this world and also your basic human needs ultimately fulfilled, only in Him. He is the water of life. He said in John 7, “If anybody thirsts, come to Me and drink.” And He’s saying it again. But at Christmas, when He became a human, a little baby at Bethlehem, the water of life who was never thirsty for all of eternity, He became thirsty. He would have died without Mary’s milk. And when He – do you remember – when He went to the cross He was hanging there, He was being crucified, He was dying, He was giving everything, He was for us, for our sin, and He cried out, “I thirst.” The water of life, He made Himself thirsty. He gave it all away. He gave up His life so that He could offer you a drink from the river of life in the new heavens and the new earth that you could stand there in this place one day and drink from the eternal spring of water. He deprived Himself of life in order that He could look at you and say, “Come and drink. Come without payment.” 

And tonight, on this Sabbath Eve of Christmas, before Christmas, every single one of us needs to either come to the water of life without anything in our hands or come back to the water of life without any payment in our hands. And these are all metaphors. Let me put it in plain language like Peter does. He says, “Repent of your sins, tonight!” Whether you’re a Christian or you’ve been exploring the claims of Jesus Christ for ages, repent and believe and give your life to Him this Sabbath Eve before Christmas because there’s no other hope. There is no other hope. Secular humanism doesn’t offer it and neither does any other religion. This is the only way and this future is the only certain future and you can’t have it without going through Him. This is the certain end of the best true story ever – the union of heaven and earth and its salvation. And it’s why Jesus has come.

Let’s pray.

Father, we ask that You would open our eyes and our heart tonight so that we would come to the water of life, the God-man – You who died but could not be held down, who resurrected and is coming in victory to unite heaven and earth. We ask that You would shape our desires that the hope of seeing You face to face would be our greatest hope and treasure. So do that work in us now, we ask in Christ’s name. Amen.



The Heart for Christmas

By / Dec 15

Please keep your Bibles in hand and then turn forward with me in the New Testament to Paul’s letter to the Philippians; Philippians chapter 2. On Sunday mornings we have been using the hymn, the ancient hymn to Christ that was used in the early churches that Paul served, and Paul quotes it here; it’s often called “The Carmen Christi,” in verses 5 through 11 of Philippians chapter 2, page 980 and 981 in the church Bibles. So far we’ve been working line by line through this, a line a Sunday, and so far we’ve considered “The Call of Christmas” in verse 5 – Paul summons us to have a different mindset in light of the first coming of Jesus. Then last time we considered “The Plan for Christmas” in verse 6. Paul takes us back into eternity in the preincarnate Christ, in the fellowship of the Trinity, purposing to come and to be our Redeemer. 

And now this week as we turn our attention to verse 7, we’re going to look at the very heart of Christmas. The words of verse 7 take us into the core of the Christmas story, into the heart of the Gospel, and the glories contained there. And we’re going to unpack them under three headings, really three apparent paradoxes that you’ll find in verse 7. If you’ll look at it closely, you’ll notice the first we’ll call “subtraction by addition,” the first paradox; “subtraction by addition.” You see that in verse 7? “He emptied himself” – that’s subtraction. “He emptied himself by taking the form of a servant” – that’s addition. “Subtraction by addition,” the first paradox. The second paradox, “the Lord became a slave.” The Lord became a slave. The one Paul says is “in form God,” is found in form a servant. And then finally the third paradox, “the Creator is born a man.” The Creator become a creature, born of the virgin and laid in the manger. Do you see those three paradoxes in verse 7? “Subtraction by addition,” “the Lord becomes a slave,” and “the Creator is born a creature.” Really in those three steps we’re swept up into the glory of the incarnation of Jesus Christ that is the molten heart of the Christmas story.

Before we consider those three paradoxes then, let’s pause briefly and pray and ask for God to help us as we meditate together on His holy Word. Let us pray.

O Lord, please give us ears to hear what Your Spirit says to the church. We live every day in the wreckage of Adam’s sin and we hurt and we grieve and we limp and our consciences accuse us and our sins cannot be hidden and we know on every pew, in every life, there are needs greater than we can ever hope to fill. And so, acknowledging our weaknesses, confessing our sin, feeling our own frailties and mortality, grieving our losses, we cry to You to shine the light of Christ into our darkness, to bring comfort in our sorrow and pardon for our sin through the preaching of the Word of God in this portion of holy Scripture, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Philippians chapter 2, beginning at the fifth verse. This is the Word of God:

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy, inerrant Word.

On November 29, 1940, the German Lutheran pastor and anti-Nazi spy and eventually martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote home to his parents from his refuge in Etol as the bombs continued to fall all across Europe. “Christmas comes,” he wrote, “even in the midst of rubble.” “Christmas comes, even in the midst of rubble.” Whatever the evil and the darkness that was descending then around them, whatever the loss and the sorrow yet to be faced by them, Christmas comes, he was saying, Christ has been born, hope endures, light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Bonhoeffer saw the apparently paradoxical character of the Christian Gospel, of the Christmas message very clearly. Didn’t he? Amidst suffering, the final Deliverer has come. In weakness, the strength of the Lord is displayed. While bombs fell, and even in the midst of rubble, Christmas comes. 

And actually for many of us here this morning, those paradoxes that we’ll be thinking about in verse 7 that Bonhoeffer seems so clearly to grasp, have been a lifeline at Christmastime especially. Our sorrows are real, after all, and they can’t be hidden beneath a string of Christmas lights or wiped from our hearts by yet another Christmas party. For some of us, we have found grief to be predatory. It stalks us – waiting in the quiet moments between trips to buy stocking stuffers for the children or the grandchildren and visits from relatives. It’s there ready to pounce, displacing surface smiles with a sudden reminder of who is not here. And in moments like those, we need the proclamation made by the angels that night above the shepherds’ heads while they watched their flocks. “To you, this day, a Savior has been born, who is Christ the Lord! God has been enfleshed. He has been made one with us in our humanity. Stepped into the theater of our struggles, descended into the depths of our losses. Christmas comes, even in the midst of rubble. Death does not win. Sin does not triumph. Darkness is not final. Christ has come into this veil of tears, and in His victory, in His triumph, we have hope. There is hope. Praise the Lord that it is so.” 

Subtraction by Addition 

That’s the message, actually, these three paradoxes in verse 7 teach us. The first of them is what we are calling “subtraction by addition.” “Subtraction by addition.” You will remember in verse 6 the apostle Paul has told us Christ is in form God. That is to say, all that is true of God is true of Christ. He is God the Son, second person of the holy Trinity. And He’s equal with God, Paul says, and does not fear to lose the glory of that essential divine equality that He enjoys with the Father and with the Holy Spirit in the unity of the blessed Trinity, “not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped,” a thing to be clutched at as though He might forfeit His prerogatives, but rather in perfect security, the perfect security of His deity and His dignity, Paul now says “He made Himself nothing,” verse 7. Do you see that phrase? Other translations have, “He made Himself of no reputation.” The Greek actually says something quite striking. The Greek says, “He emptied Himself.” He emptied Himself. 

And so the question is, “Of what did He empty Himself?” It’s clear the moment Paul is talking about, verse 7, will go on to speak about Him “being born.” So the moment in which He emptied Himself is the moment of His birth. He was born of the virgin and laid in a manger. That’s the moment of His self-emptying, but of what did He empty Himself? And there have been, as you may well know, all sorts of wrong answers to that question across the years. For example, some have suggested that He emptied Himself of His deity when He became a man. But that’s actually not what the text says; it’s certainly not what the remainder of the New Testament teaches. And if you think it through theologically, any notion that Christ was less than fully God would leave us without a Savior and without any hope of salvation. He must be the infinite, eternal and unchangeable God in order to deal with the infinite and eternal debt and guilt of our sin against such a God. No one but God could remedy or rescue us from our sin and guilt. He could not empty Himself of His deity is simply a wrong answer.

The second wrong answer, though, is offered by those who say, “No, no, He did not empty Himself of His deity but He emptied Himself of some of the attributes of deity, like glory or omniscience or omnipresence. When He became a man, it wasn’t that He ceased to be God, but He took off almost like taking off a garment, He took off some of the attributes of deity in order to become a man.” That’s the right answer, they say. It’s a wrong answer, actually. What’s happening there is they are think about God as though He were like ourselves, only bigger. You see, we have parts, we have attributes. Don’t we? And we can be angry or sad. We can be weary. We can be strong or weak. And when we move, transition from one to the other, we are still essentially ourselves. Our attributes are sort of additional to the core of who and what we are. Or more graphically, imagine I were in an accident and lost a finger or even a limb. I would still be me. These are parts of me, but I’m still me. I can lose my parts and still be me. They are additional, as it were, to the essence of myself. And we say, “Well, if God is a bit like we are, then God has attributes in addition to His essential self that He can set aside and so He can become a man. That explains it. He emptied Himself of some of His attributes.” 

The problem is, God isn’t like us! He doesn’t have parts. He’s not made up of various attributes which, in combination, equal deity. We talk about God’s attributes like glory and power and omnipresence and omniscience and all the others in the way that we do because we really have no way to put into words the full reality of what it is we are describing. And so inevitably we have to speak of God in a piecemeal fashion, imperfectly. But the truth is, you might say God doesn’t have attributes; God is all His attributes. It’s not that God has glory, that He is who He is and on top of who He is there is a veneer, a layer of glory or holiness or justice. No, no. God is glory. He is holy. He is love. He is goodness. He is power and wisdom. God is all His attributes. And that means, were it possible for God the Son to take away, to subtract from Himself, empty Himself, take off any one of His attributes for any amount of time even, He would simply cease to be God. God doesn’t have attributes; He is His attributes. All His attributes, really, are different ways of speaking from a finite, limited, human perspective about the same essential reality – the single, indivisible, perfect, simple being of the one God who is there. Put simply, God cannot relinquish His attributes any more than He can relinquish His existence. 

We bump into the limits of our vocabulary all the time, perhaps nowhere more frequently than when we sing Christmas carols. One of my favorites is the hymn with which we opened our service, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Wesley has us say, “Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die.” And we know what he means. We think about the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. He reveals to us the Father, but He does not do it by blazing forth in uncreated, impenetrable majesty. Instead, we see an infant nursing in the arms of His mother. We see a Rabbi, teaching in the streets of Jerusalem. And we see a crucified wretch hanging between two criminals, bearing the condemnation He does not deserve but we deserve. And in such a way, God is revealed to us. And that’s, I’m sure, what Wesley is getting at when he says, “Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die.” And yet, is it strictly speaking correct to say that the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the father lays His glory by? Takes off glory in order to become a man? Well that’s simply impossible because God is His glory. Glory is a way of speaking about the essential nature and character of God. He can’t divest Himself of any of His attributes or marks or characteristics without ceasing to be who and what He is. And so that’s the second wrong answer.

There’s another wrong answer. They say, “Okay, He emptied Himself not of deity nor of His attributes, but maybe of His prerogatives, His divine rights.” I think this approach is closer to the truth but it’s still flawed, for this reason – the scandal of the world’s rejection of Jesus is predicated upon the fact that to Him belongs all the prerogatives and rights of deity. The Gospel records everywhere speak to us of creation coming to heal at His word; of the blind seeing, the wind and the waves obeying, the dead raised at His summons. You remember in Luke chapter 5 when the friends lower their paralyzed companion down in front of Jesus into the midst of the company through a hole in the roof that they’ve dug, and Jesus, seeing the paralyzed man says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” And everyone is scandalized because they understand the implicit claim that He is making. They say to one another, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They get it. Jesus is claiming the right and prerogative of deity to forgive. The only one who can forgive is the one against whom we have sinned and offended. He can forgive because He is the God against whom we have transgressed. He doesn’t relinquish any of His rights or prerogatives. 
That’s the shock and the scandal of the cross, after all. It is the God who made the wood upon which He hangs that the world condemns and rejects and denies. So that’s the third wrong answer.

Well okay, Mr. Smartypants! What does it mean that He emptied Himself? How did this great act of voluntary submission, this extraordinary moment of personal subtraction take place? Funnily enough, as is usually the case, if we just pay close enough attention to the text it tells us. We don’t need to be inventive or speculative. In fact, we don’t need to be a smartypants at all. We just need to read the Bible carefully. Who would have thought? Look at verse 7 again please. What does it say? “He emptied Himself” – how? “By taking,” that’s how. He added to His person something that had not been His before. And the addition was a kind of subtraction, as it were. It entailed a kind of emptying, a kind of self-humbling, not by ceasing to be anything that He always was, but by taking that which He had never been. 

The Lord Became a Slave 

What is it that He added? He emptied Himself, we are told, “by taking the form of a servant.” The form of a servant. That takes us neatly, actually, to the second paradox of the text. Here is the Lord now, become a slave. You could translate verse 7, “Himself He emptied, the form of a servant taking.” Back in verse 6, Paul says he was “in form God.” You remember the word for “form” is “morphe.” His was the “morphe of God” and now he says – he uses the same word again – and now he says when He came, He came in the morphe of a servant, “the form of a servant.” All that is true of God, he’s saying, is true of Him. And all that is true of a servant, is true of Him. Actually, the word “servant” is really the Greek word for “slave.” Don’t imagine a well turned out household servant who is on a salary, you know, and has his own life elsewhere. No, this is a slave. He is the lowest of the low. This is meant to be jarring, shocking, scandalous to us. Here is the one who is in form God, the living God Himself, the great I AM, and when He steps onto the scene of human history He comes as a slave, not His own master, as it were. He comes to bear burdens. He comes to do the menial work. 

Did Paul perhaps have John 13 in mind? You remember John 13? On the night when Jesus was betrayed, all His disciples are gathered to celebrate the Passover meal, the Last Supper. And the custom in those days when you came in from the street to sit down at the dinner table, you would customarily have a slave wash the grime from your feet and the feet of your guests. It was a dirty job, and no one of any dignity at all or self-respect at all wanted to do it. It was the work of a slave. And there was no slave present there, so none of the disciples were willing to condescend to do this nasty chore. And you understand now, don’t you, the shock when Jesus rises and takes off His outer garment and girds Himself with a towel and pours some water in a basin and washes the disciples’ feet one at a time? And there’s just stunned silence; utter perplexity, confusion, dismay. They are uncomfortable. “This is slave’s work! How can You demean Yourself like this?” They don’t understand yet that “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.” He came to do the dirty, menial chore of making us clean, you see. 

Did he have Isaiah 53 in his mind? “Behold, my Servant. He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that has brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” This is the work of a slave – to bear the burden; to wash the grime and the mire of my sin away. Bearing the curse due my wickedness, wading into the muck of my lust and pride and greed and anger and vanity and laziness; shouldering the burden of my guilt. 

What is Christmas about? It’s about the One who is in form God, the form of a slave taking. He stoops to wash you clean, you see. Christmas comes even in the midst of the rubble. He stoops to wash you clean. Maybe you’re here this morning, aware of your guilt and longing for mercy, looking for relief. That’s why He came. That’s what Christmas is about. The form of a slave taking. He came to serve you by washing you wish His own blood to make you clean, to bear on His own shoulders your guilt, that you might receive pardon. He takes the slaves part. He can make you clean. 

The Creator Was Born a Man 

“Subtraction by addition.” “The Lord became a slave.” Finally, “the Creator was born a man.” Look at the last phrase of verse 7. Literally it reads, “Himself He emptied, the form of a slave taking, in the likeness of men being born.” “The likeness of men” there does not mean the mere resemblance, the mere outward appearance, as if Jesus only looked like a human being but wasn’t really essentially a man. That’s the opposite error from the error we considered before. There are those who say, “No, Jesus was really a man but He merely appeared to be God or He emptied Himself of His deity.” That’s incorrect, but so are those who say “Jesus is really God, but not really a man.” What Paul intends to say is that Jesus is a human being in all the ways in which human beings can be defined, sin excepted. In fact, he likely has the Genesis account in mind. You remember Genesis 1:26, God says He made man “in the image and likeness of God.” In Genesis 5, that language is repeated. Genesis 5:1, when God made man, He made him “in the likeness of God.” But then Genesis 5:3 says “Adam fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”

When Paul says Jesus was born “in the likeness of men,” he’s picking up on that Genesis “Adam” language. You see that? The divine Son, the Creator of our first father, Adam, who made Adam in His own likeness, now comes born of the woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law in the likeness of Adam, as one of us, the second Man, the last Adam. 

Now you remember what happened to Adam in Eden, right? He was tempted by the serpent through Eve to take the forbidden fruit because Satan said to him – what? What was the temptation? “You shall be” – are you awake? “You shall be like God.” Adam certainly thought equality with God a thing to be grasped, didn’t he? He wanted to become what he was not. And so in his rebellion, he broke the law of God and in consequence of his sin we have all been constituted sinners. We live today in the rubble and wreckage of Adam’s first transgression. But a second Man has been born, a last Adam has come, “who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” and who gladly became what He was not without ceasing to be what He always was. The living God took flesh and became a servant. Paul will go on, as we’ll see in more detail next week, to become obedient, “obedient to death, even to the death of a cross.”

You see what he’s saying. In place of our first father’s disobedience, instead of what Adam did not do and instead of what we cannot now do, we can’t keep the law of God perfectly. A new Adam, a new father of a redeemed humanity has come and He has perfectly obeyed as the servant of the Lord, the slave who bears our burden and who washes us clean by His obedience and blood. That’s the molten heart of the Christmas message. Can you see it? Sin and death and hell, undone and defeated, by the one who “the form of a slave taking in the likeness of men was born.” The second Adam, the servant of the Lord, “the only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was and continues to be both God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever.”

Look, here’s the “so what” for all of this. The sorrow that may yet find a way in under your guard when you’re not looking this Christmas, that sorrow is a reminder to us – a sharp, sometimes wounding reminder – that we are living right now amidst the wreckage and the rubble of Adam’s sin. Isn’t it? But the Christmas message, our celebration this Christmas, is designed to remind us of another Adam who “has come to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” He has come to find us in the midst of our rubble and heal us, to cleanse and forgive us, and one day He will make all things new and wipe every tear from our eyes. Till then, albeit sometimes through sorrow if need be, brothers and sisters, you can rejoice. Right now “He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and the wonders of His love.” Christmas comes, even in the midst of the rubble. Praise God that is does.

Let’s pray together.

O Lord, there are times when we look at the rubble and the wreckage and the ruin around us, of Adam’s first sin and the wreckage we’ve piled on top of it with the sins of our own, and that’s all we can see. And we lose sight of the glorious truth that there has come another Adam, better than the first, who did what the first should have done, what we now can never hope to do. He has kept Your Law and obeyed in our stead and borne our guilt and washed us clean. And now He reigns and rules and is returning to make all things new. And gone will be the wreckage and the rubble. Thank You that Christmas comes, even amidst the rubble. Help us to believe the Christmas Gospel and to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, even though for now, for a little while if need be, we have been grieved by various kinds of trials, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.



The Victory of Christmas

By / Dec 8

I invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Revelation chapter 1. If you’re using the Bible in the rack in front of you it’s on page 1028. As we were preparing for this evening I spoke with Hunter, this was earlier this week, and I said, “You know, standing in the pulpit is a really unnerving, unsettling thing. You’re up high, there’s a lot of details to manage, and you’re paying attention to music and ushers and children, all of that, and you might forget something. If you do, smile, laugh it off, and pick up where you left off.” I say that to say that I admire our interns. I’m grateful for them – guys who are preparing for ministry, who are working in the church, honing their skills, developing their capacity to pastor, minister in different contexts. And for someone to stand up here and to be able to manage that kind of transition as well and as effortlessly as Hunter did, I admire that. Thank you.

So Revelation chapter 1 – “The Victory of Christmas.” We have a missionary by the name of Clark Norton who, actually his dad was a minister here on staff and Clark spent a number of his years here at First Presbyterian Church. Clark is a missionary in Ukraine, in Lviv, in the western part of the country, and whenever you get an email or a letter from Clark he signs it with one word before his name. It’s not, “Sincerely;” it’s not, “Warmly.” It’s, “Victory.” And it always makes me smile when I get an email from Clark because consistently that’s the word with which he signs off. “Victory, Clark.” And he’s referring to the victory of Christ, the victory that is ours in union with Him; the victory that assures us that all our ministry is not in vain, that the Lord Jesus wins. His victory has become ours. 

And so I’d like us to think about the victory of Christmas this evening, and to do that, we really need to think about that victory from the lens of the Old Testament. Because to understand the book of Revelation, you really need to think about it from the lens of what the Old Testament has first said. The clues to understanding all the symbols and all the imagery in this enigmatic book are found in the Old Testament. One of my former professors, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum – he’s a man of Jewish origin who is a follower of Jesus – writes this; he says, “The book of Revelation contains roughly 550 references back to the Old Testament. The majority of the things found in the first twenty chapters of the book of Revelation are found earlier in the Old Testament. Only the last two chapters deal with things that are totally new.” And so as we unpack the Old Testament and how it undergirds and foreshadows the book of Revelation, we have real insight into what we are reading. And so that’s the context for the victory that I’d like us to explore together this evening. And specifically, I’d like us to look at three present and personal benefits of Christ’s victory that we celebrate even now in union with Him because of Christmas. Let’s pray together and then we’ll read together our text.

Father, we thank You for Your Word, for the ways You speak to us through it, even this evening. We confess that apart from the ministry of Your Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, these words remain printed on a page or spoken by a man, but they do not penetrate our hard hearts or our dull minds. And so Father, by Your Spirit, soften our hearts, open our eyes, incline our hearts toward You. Give us undivided hearts that we may fear Your name and satisfy us with Yourself that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revelation chapter 1, verses 9 through 20:

“I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, I was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.’

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.’”

This is God’s Word.

It was about five years ago that Sandy Wilson, the former pastor at Second Pres in Memphis, was speaking at our men’s rally. And he told a story about a Bible study that he had taught a number of years earlier. He said that as the men and women in this study would gather, he said, “I’m going to ask you to do something, just as an experiment.” He said, “I want you to close your eyes and for thirty seconds I want you to picture Jesus as you see Him. And just hold that image in your mind for thirty seconds.” And people did as he had asked and it was quiet. And after thirty seconds he asked them, “So tell me, how do you picture Jesus?” One person, not sure where this was going, said, “I pictured Him feeding the five thousand.” Another person said, “I pictured Him gathering the children into His arms.” Another one said, “I pictured Jesus walking on the sea in the storm.” Another one said, “I pictured Jesus on the cross.” And the list went on. And his point was this. When he had listened to everyone and how they had pictured Jesus, every one of them pictured Jesus in His pre-resurrection state. Not one of them said, “I picture Jesus seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, reigning, ruling, now and for all eternity!” Not one.

Why do you think that is? It may be because we’ve never had an experience like the apostle John had about which we’ve just read. Because when John sees Jesus, he doesn’t see Him as he had been familiar with seeing Jesus. Now he sees Him entirely differently. He sees Him as the victorious, glorified Jesus, and this is how he describes Him in verse 13. He says, “in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man.” This goes all the way back, as we said earlier, to the Old Testament in Daniel chapter 7 verse 13 where Daniel, as he talks about his prophecies he writes, he says, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man.” Same words as you find in John’s experience. “And this one, like a son of man, came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Daniel is seeing the Lord Jesus even before He became one of us. And John sees this same Jesus, only now in His post-resurrection, ascended, glorified state.

He goes on in his description saying that he was wearing “a long robe with a golden sash around his chest,” dressed as a priest, but a kingly, royal priest. And then he uses seven descriptive phrases to describe what he saw. He describes the hair of this one like a son of man; His hair, His eyes, His feet, His voice, His hand, His mouth, His face. And it slays him, or at least that’s what his experience was – verse 17. After he describes what he sees, he says, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead.” 

Now pause for a minute and think about this. We in Mississippi might say, “He fell out!” Someone was telling me about a party at the country club this past week where someone actually had this experience. He fell out! It turned out he was choking on some food and was not breathing and it was bad. He fell out like a dead man and there was full-blown panic. John has a similar experience. What he sees stuns him, startles him, slays him, and he falls over, as if he were dead. Now think about this. The people who knew Jesus best during His public ministry were His disciples. And the one disciple who was most closely, intimately acquainted with Jesus, was John himself, the writer of the gospel of John and the writer of this letter. John knew Him best. When John referred to himself in John’s gospel, he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He was closest in communion and fellowship with the Lord Jesus, and yet when he sees Jesus in His now unveiled, radiant glory, he experienced such a shock that he falls at His feet as one struck dead. He sees Him as he’s never seen Him before.

Jesus Stoops Down 

And it’s that reality, as we slow down and picture that image, Jesus standing before him in all of His unveiled, radiant glory, and John – puff! Horizontal! That’s what he writes. We learn three present and practical aspects of the victory that is ours in Christ. I didn’t see this. I had written a different sermon earlier this week and as I was going through it yesterday I started reading the passage and I saw some things that hadn’t occurred to me before. I started over because this really meant something to me when I thought about this. Because in order for Jesus to do what He did for John, you see it in the very next verse, rather verse 17, the next phrase – “I fell at His feet as though dead, but He laid His right hand on me.” If Jesus is standing and John is laying as if he’s dead, what does Jesus have to do in order to lay His right hand on John, the writer of this letter? Jesus had to stoop down. Even in His glorified reality, Jesus stoops. There you see a picture of Christmas, don’t you? The victory of Christmas. Jesus laid His right hand on me. His hand, the right hand that signifies authority and blessing and strength and sovereignty. He crouched down, He stooped down to lay His right hand on the now prostrate John. 

Exodus 15 verse 6, back to the Old Testament, “Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power. Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.” This hand of power. This hand of sovereignty. This is the hand that the now glorified Jesus lays on John. Isaiah 41:10 – you’re familiar with this verse – “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” It’s that hand that the now glorified Jesus, in His unveiled brilliant glory, that hand He places on the prostrate apostle John. It’s a picture of Christmas, isn’t it? It’s our morning sermon series that David Strain is preaching, Philippians chapter 2. Think about it from the language of stooping. Paul writes in verse 6, “Christ Jesus, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but He emptied Himself” – He stooped down – “by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” He stooped down. “Being found in human form, He humbled Himself” – He stooped down – “by becoming obedient to the point of death,” stooping down to, “even death on the cross.”

One of the most encouraging realities of the victory of Christmas is that our Redeemer stoops down. Not just at the beginning of His appearance, His incarnation, but throughout His ministry He stooped down to write in the sand as angry men were about to stone a woman caught in adultery. He stooped down as He walked dusty Palestinian roads with His disciples. He stooped down when it came to bearing His cross. He stooped down, even to the point of death on a cross and being buried in another man’s grave. And He still stoops down. That’s the beauty of the victory of Christmas. Jesus still stoops down. Isaiah 40:11, “He tends His flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart and gently leads those who have young.” How does a shepherd gather a lamb up into his arms? Lambs don’t high jump! A shepherd’s got to stoop down to scoop them up so that he can gather them up and hold them close to his heart. 

I cannot tell you how precious that verse was to me during my darkest chapter of life. When I was facing the reality of being a widower and a single parent with four little children who were looking at me saying, “Daddy, surely God’s going to heal mom, right?” This verse would make me weep because it became my picture of a God who condescends. “He tends His flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart and He gently leads those who have young.” And even as an adult now, that verse is so meaningful to me. It assures me that my Redeemer still stoops down. He gathers up His lambs. He holds them close to His heart, even – and maybe especially – when they are wandering lambs. He sees. He stoops down. He gathers us up. He holds us close to His heart. He leads us gently. 

And to what end? David puts it this way in Psalm 18. He says, “You have given me Your shield of victory. Your right hand has supported me and You stoop down to make me great.” He stoops down to make us great. Not great in our own eyes, but great as an answer to our fears that we are inconsequential, that He is indifferent to us, that we are too small for a God this great. How does He pay attention to 7.5 billion people all at once? And David reminds us He still stoops down to make us great, to remind us that we are precious to Him, that He loves us. And as Isaiah 43:4 says, “You are precious in My eyes and honored and I love you.” God stoops down. The Lord Jesus stoops down. He places His right hand, His hand of power and authority and blessing and sovereignty upon us, and He says, “I will not let you go.” The message of Christmas, the victory of Christmas is this Redeemer still stoops down, places His hand upon us, and He reminds us that we are precious to Him.

Jesus Guides 

The second present and personal benefit of the victory of Christmas is that He guides; He leads, He shepherds. He turns us around when we’re headed in the wrong direction. And you see that in verse 10 where John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” – pause for a second. Think about what he’s doing. He’s exiled on the Isle of Patmos. This was the Alcatraz of the ancient world. This is where they exiled people that the government didn’t want to have anything to do with. You couldn’t escape from the Isle of Patmos; no way off. So John is there; he’s doing the right thing at the right time. He says he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” You realize this is the only time in the Bible the words “the Lord’s day” is recorded? So it’s the right time for worship, he’s in the Spirit, he’s worshiping; he’s doing the right thing at the right time and yet the voice that he’s listening for – where is it? It’s behind him. Isn’t that was it says in verse 10? It says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” 

And just so we don’t miss the significance of this, John repeats what he had to do to turn his attention to the voice. He repeats it twice. Verse 12, “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw these seven golden lampstands and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man.” John is doing the right thing at the right time, but he’s headed in the wrong direction. He’s not paying attention to where he really should have his gaze and his heart focused. 

What I take from this – and this is really encouraging to me personally – is part of Jesus’ victory is that He meets us in all the places where we’re headed in the wrong direction, where instead of meeting His frustration, He not only stoops down to us but He turns us back around. He puts us back on the right path. This is one of those images that you have to go all the way back to the Old Testament to see more clearly. You may think, “How did you get that there?” Well you go back to one of my favorite chapters in Isaiah, Isaiah 30, and listen to what the prophet says there. Isaiah 30 verse 19, “O people of Zion, you will weep no more. How gracious He will be when you cry for help. As soon as He hears, He will answer you. And although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your Teacher will hide Himself no more. With your own eyes you will see Him, and whether you turn” – and here’s the important part – “whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’”

Now think about this. The promise is this – “Whether you turn to the right hand or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’” Throughout the Old Testament you’ll find at least sixteen references to turning to the right hand or to the left. I counted them all up this afternoon, looked at all of them, and here’s the summary. When that phrase, “turning to the right hand or to the left,” is used, it’s generally pointing to these realities. It’s pointing to disobedience, to failure, blindness, compromise, or indecision. When God gives the Law through Moses, Moses’ warning is, “Do not turn to the right hand or the left.” He’s warning against disobedience. He talks about those who “do not know their right from their left.” The childishness, the foolishness, the indecision; the outright rebellion of turning to the right hand or to the left. And here’s what the promise is through Isaiah – whether you turn to the right hand or the left, even if you’re walking in disobedience, even if you’re walking in blindness or indecision or compromise or outright failure, God says, “I will make sure that your ears will hear a voice behind you,” as you’re walking in the wrong direction, “saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’” 

He not only stoops down, but He guides. He puts us back on the right path. He forgives. He restores. I need to hear this. You need to hear this. Because in all of the places where we’re on the right path, even sometimes we’re intending to do the right thing at the right time but we’re getting it wrong over and over again and our fear is, “How much longer is He going to put up with me? What’s going to happen if I get it wrong or if I choose the wrong path? How much longer will He pursue me? When will He finally say, ‘Enough already. I’m going to spend My time on someone who’s less obstinate than you’?” See, the promise is that our God will come after us. Even like John – doing the right thing at the right time but headed in the wrong direction – a voice is behind him and he has to be turned to face back where he ought to be focused, like most of your life and mine. The victory of Christmas means our Redeemer not only stoops down to enter into our mess, our brokenness, our failure, but He guides. He puts us back on the right path. He shepherds. He tends His flock like a shepherd. He gathers His lambs close to His heart. And He gently leads those who have young. He will lead us gently. 

Jesus Wins 

Jesus stoops down, even our places of disobedience. He guides us; He puts us back on the right path. And finally, Jesus wins. That’s what I take from this passage. He stoops. He guides. He wins. Verse 17, “When I saw Him I fell at His feet as though dead, but He laid His right hand on me saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’” “Fear not,” He says. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t panic. Don’t let your heart be filled with so much anxiety. Don’t let that low-level rumbling anxiety be the norm.” Why? He says, “Because I have the keys of Death and Hades. Death and Hades are the worst, and I have the authority, I have the answer, I have the victory over all of it.”

Think about it. The rest of the book of Revelation, all the disturbing and violent images – and there are many. I just wrote a list of them – war, earthquakes, fire, darkness, weeping, anguish, persecution, disease, dead bodies, hail, fire, smoke, brimstone, swords, rivers of blood, plagues, wormwood, massacre, torment, hunger, serpents, scorpions, dragons, beasts, bottomless pit, lake of fire, eternal torment – all of that, that’s deeply unsettling, to all of that He says, “Fear not. I am the living one, I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Keys are the symbol of power and authority, ultimate power and ultimate authority. And Jesus is vindicated as the one who has ultimate and permanent power and authority over everything that you can ever imagine as dark and broken, offensive, threatening, violent; all of it that the book of Revelation displays. 

And think about it. How much of your life is anywhere close to the images that the book of Revelation describes? Rivers of blood? Have you run across that lately? The worst of it all, Jesus says, “Fear not. I have the keys. I open; no one shuts. I shut and no one opens. I have ultimate authority over the worst of what you can imagine.” And the book of Revelation is really good at showing us the worst of anything that you or I could ever experience. And Jesus says, “I’ve got this. I’ve won. I have the keys. It’s done.” 

Revelation 21 verse 3, the apostle John comes to the end of that apocalyptic word and he finishes like he began. He begins with hearing a loud voice; he ends with hearing a loud voice. Revelation 21 verse 3, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, and He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Not, “One day I’ll make it all new,” but He says, “Right now, I am making all things new.”

Do you believe that’s true for you right now? The apostle Paul says He must reign until He brings all His enemies under His feet. Do you realize He’s doing that now? He is right now bringing all His and your enemies under His feet and He will reign until the last enemy to be destroyed is death. It’s happening right now. He is working and making all things new. That’s the central message of the book of Revelation. It’s the victory of Jesus – a triumph of the Lamb; the certainty of the return of the King. It is certain. 

And so the book ends with an invitation. It’s an invitation to join in the victory of Jesus, the victory of Christmas. Revelation 22:17, the last paragraph, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come.’ Whoever is thirsty let him come; and whoever wishes let him take the free gift of the water of life.” Verse 20, “He who testifies to these things, even Jesus, says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Be the One who stoops down, even now. Be the One who rescues, who guides, who shepherds. Be the One who wins, now and forevermore. That’s the invitation to which we’re beckoned. Let’s pray together.

Lord Jesus, we praise You for the victory into which You have invited us. By our union with You, Your victory has become our victory. You are even now bringing all Your and our enemies under Your feet. The victory is moving forward and You are inviting us to come. You are inviting us to come back. Thank You that You will always bring Your children back to Yourself. You will pursue us, You will find us, You will lay Your righteous right hand upon us, and You will put us back right. Will You please give us courage to believe the promise of Your victory and to embrace it as our own, maybe for the very first time this evening, or for most of us, to embrace it all over again. We claim that victory. We celebrate that victory. We rejoice in that victory. We pray, Lord Jesus, by Your Spirit, enable us to fight for joy as we pursue the victory, celebrate the victory that is ours already. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.



The Plan for Christmas

By / Dec 8

Well this morning we continue in our Advent series looking at Paul’s use of Philippians 2:5-11. We began looking at this together last time. You remember it is sometimes called “The Carmen Christi,” “The hymn to Christ,” used in the churches during Paul’s day, and Paul is quoting it here in Philippians as an apt summary of the significance of who Jesus is and what He came to do. And we looked last time at verse 5; we called it “The Call of Christmas.” There’s a summons, a call here, to have a particular mindset and outlook that ought to be ours in the wake of the facts about Jesus’ first coming that he will rehearse in verses 6 through 11. “Have this mind,” he said, “among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” 

And now here this week in verse 6, Paul begins to rehearse for us the main facts about who Jesus is and what His birth that first Christmas really means. And immediately if you look at verse 6 you’ll see that he launches into the most profound theology. I have to apologize in advance for serving up a bit of a slab of raw beef this morning. There’s some theological depths, and rather than avoid them or be overly simplistic, I thought it would be wise for us to dive in. If nothing else, to see and sense something of the enormity and the grandeur of the faith that we profess – not to minimize its wonder but to maximize the wonder of it that we may learn to worship God with renewed joy.

You will remember that Paul is dealing with infighting and division and tension at Philippi. In verse 2 you’ll see him say that he wants them to have the “same mind and the same love and be of one accord and of one mind.” He calls them negatively to “put away selfish ambition and conceit,” verse 3, “but rather in humility to consider others more significant than themselves.” That’s the mindset that he wants them to have, to which he calls them in verse 5. And it’s interesting to notice the way that he lends force to that exhortation to a transformed mind. His ethical exhortation to think differently is grounded upon the most profound theology. Verse 5 is grounded upon verse 6. Isn’t it? “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Verse 6 is mindblowing. A changed mind, resting on profound theology. 

We need to cultivate, I think, a holy impatience with the sentiment that says, “Less theology, more practicality.” Have you come across that sentiment? “Less theology, more practicality. Pastor, just tell us what to do. Show us how to live.” Listen, practicality without theology is like a car without an engine. It will get you nowhere, fast. And here, Paul wants you to see that the most profound theology is the engine that drives a changed life, a renewed mind. And so instead of shrinking back from the mystery and the enormity, we need to dive in and be freshly overwhelmed by the glories of the truth.

The other thing to notice before we get to the meat of our message this morning is that verses 5 through 11 aren’t simply abstract, doctrinal assertions. Remember, according to most scholars, these are the words of a hymn of praise to Christ. It’s not just theology; it’s theology made into doxology. It’s truth designed to be sung, verses 5 through 11. That means that one of the lessons a careful reading of these verses ought to teach us is the connection between what we believe, what we sing, and how we live. These things are profoundly wedded together in God’s wise, loving design. He has appointed song, not just prose, not even poetry, but poetry sung together as the people of God to drive truth down into our hearts and our heads so that we see it and feel it and taste it and wonder at it anew. Sing the great psalms and hymns of the faith. Sing them in the middle of your daily battles with discontentment. Sing them when anger wells up and grumbling begins. Sing them when disappointment steals over your heart and you feel like you’re going nowhere. Sing them when sorrow blots out the sun for you or grief drags you down. Fill your mouth with the glories of the faith once for all delivered to the saints and sing! That’s part of the lesson of Philippians 2:5-11. The highest theology is often best confessed in verse. The highest theology is often best confessed in verse.

Sometimes, I wonder if you’ve found this to be true, truths that we struggle to affirm in prose, we begin to believe again when we sing them to the praise of God. One of the best tools you can ever use in your daily fight for faith against unbelief in your heart is a good hymnbook. Sing the praise of God. Sing deep, rich truth like the great hymn that Paul quotes here in Philippians 2:5-11. He wants us to see the wonder and the mystery and to rejoice in it; not to shrink back from it but to dive into the unfathomable depths of who Jesus is and what He came to do. 

So we’re going to consider verse 6 together. We do it trembling a little bit because there really is no way for us in the time allotted. And even if we had days and days to consider it, in fact there’s no way for us to fathom and plumb the depths of it all. And yet we do want to wrestle with the truth here. So we are going to notice three things in verse 6. We’re going to think about the being of Christ – what is He, who “being in form God” – the being of Christ. Then, we’re going to think about the person of Christ. You’ll notice that on the one hand he says the form of God is the form that belongs to Christ, and then he says “He didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” So he asserts that Jesus is identical to God and then in the same line he asserts that there is a distinction to be made between Him and God. He is the only God that there is, the being of Christ – one with the Father and with the Holy Spirit in the fellowship of the blessed Trinity. And yet, He is not the Father nor the Spirit. As to His person, He is the Son. The being of Christ. The person of Christ. And then thirdly, notice Paul speaks about Christ counting, reckoning, evaluating. “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” – we’ll think about the mind of Christ. 

Like I said a moment ago, I were serving up a slab of raw beef, theological raw beef; I hope you don’t have too much trouble digesting it, but I want you to sense and feel something of the weight of these rich truths that perhaps we don’t think about as much as we should. Before we do that, let’s pause and pray and ask for God to help us.

Our Father, please forgive us for only ever paddling in the shallows. Help us to wade in a little deeper today and to begin, as we feel the vastness of the ocean of the truth about Jesus, to sense how small we really are, to get our proportions right, to look at ourselves as we really are – little, fragile, sinful creatures of the dust, beloved by the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable God so that leaving here this morning we may wonder and rejoice in knowing You and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. For we ask it in His name, amen.

Philippians chapter 2 at the fifth verse. This is the Word of God:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Amen. 

Well they say that familiarity breeds contempt, and we may feel actually that’s part of the reason for our lack of wonder at Christmastime as over the years we have gotten older and the same old familiar story has grown a little threadbare in our eyes. We know the components of the Christmas story intimately. Don’t we? Mary and Joseph – check. Baby Jesus in the manger – check. Angels singing “Joy to the World” – check. Wise men and shepherds – check. Donkeys and sheep and cows, or if you were in the gym for the children’s Sunday school nativity, Frank the camel adoringly looking on with big watery eyes – check! That’s it! Right? That’s the Christmas story. And honestly, if that’s all there was to it, we would be right to be a little bored of the whole thing by now. I mean, it makes, I suppose, for a nice Christmas card; a cute, you know, nativity play in the gym. But, Wonder!? Not so much. Worship!? Hardly. 

But the bare recounting of the dramatis personae, the list of characters who attended at the birth of Jesus, is hardly an adequate retelling of what took place that first Christmas. Is it? This is not really simply a story about a young mother too poor to find anywhere better to have her baby than a stable. Stories like that are doubtless moving, but rather mundane. We read them, we’re moved by them, and then we just move on. But the real significance of the facts we celebrate at Christmas can never really be adequately comprehended. We never get past it. We never move beyond it. We never fathom the depths of it. Paul’s point in verse 6 is threefold, as we listed it a few moments ago. 

The Being of Christ 

The first of the things he has to say to us to reignite wonder in our hearts is about the being of Christ. If you’ll look at verses 5 and 6, “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God” – now stop there for a moment. Paul’s talking about Christ Jesus and he tells us about His being, His nature, His essence. He was “in the form of God,” he says. He’s going to go on to talk about how He was “born in likeness of men.” He was born! But his point here in verse 6, do you see, is not that with the birth of Jesus He somehow began to exist. Rather, He existed in the form of God before He was born of the virgin and laid in the manger. And this existence, notice is “in the form of God.” 

The word “form” there, you may know, is the Greek word, “morphe.” We sometimes talk about the morphology of a word or maybe something morphing from one shape into another shape. We typically understand the word “form” to be the opposite of substance. Don’t we? And sometimes we would say that, if you listen to a political candidate’s speech, or hear the pundits saying, “It was all form and no substance!” meaning it looked good, it sounded good, but there was nothing to it. 

That’s not how Paul is using the word “form” here. He’s not saying Jesus looked like God but isn’t really. No, he’s saying the form that is uniquely and exclusively the form of God, that is the form that belongs properly to Jesus Christ. There’s no one else it could be. The contours of deity describe the contours of Jesus Christ precisely. If you’ve ever been in our Foundations Class you will have heard me use this analogy before now. Paul is suggesting almost as though there was someone backlit. You know, you see their silhouette in the window and you know them well enough to be able to identify them just from their silhouette. You see their contours. Imagine it’s God, identifiably God in the window who’s silhouette you see, unmistakably so. And then the lights go on and the one who’s form is uniquely the form that belongs and can only belong to God, that is the form we now see that belongs to Jesus Christ. All that can be said of God must be said of Him. There is nothing in God that is not in Christ. The whole undivided divine essence subsists in Christ without any remainder. Deity is not some other thing, some distinct thing back of Christ, more fundamental than Christ, that Christ merely participates in. God is Christ; Christ is God. There is no other deity than Jesus Christ. He is the only God that exists. He is in form God. The being of Christ – He is God.

The Person of Christ

But then notice what we’re told here about the person of Christ. You see how Paul distinguishes Christ from God. Having identified Him with God, he distinguishes Him from God. Look at verse 6 again. “Though he was in form God” – that’s what the Greek says literally – “Though he was in form God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” We’ll get to what that statement means in just a moment. For now, simply notice the one whose form is identical to God is now being spoken of as one who is equal with God. In other words, in being, Christ is God, but in person, He is distinct. Here at least, in embryo, is the doctrine of the Trinity. Can you see it? The Scriptures tell us that the Father is God and that the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet these are not three Gods, but one in the same God. 

Listen to The Shorter Catechism. “There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” The substance, the being, the morphe, the form of God is single and undivided. But this one, undivided, divine being subsists in three distinct persons. These persons are each the whole Godhead. God isn’t divided into thirds with a piece each for the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. God, without remainder, dwells in the Father. All that God is, is the Father. But the same is also true of the Spirit, and likewise of the Son. And yet, the Father is the Father and not the Son or the Spirit. The Son is not the Father or the Spirit. And the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. These three are one, the same in substance, identical in being. The Godhead is numerically one, not three gods. And yet as one divine being exists in three coequal, coeternal, distinct persons. He’s not sometimes the Father and then sometimes the Son and sometimes the Holy Spirit. He is Father, Son, and Spirit, distinctly, simultaneously, and eternally. This is how the Son can be God and yet equal to God. Or as the apostle John puts it in the opening verse of his Gospel, this is how the Word can be with God and be God at the same time.

Alright, now before your heads explode or your eyes roll any further back in their sockets, let’s stop and ask, “Why does this all matter?” As you’re chewing away busily on that slab of raw beef I’ve been serving, let’s think about why this matters. It matters because this is the One who took the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of men. Not a mere messenger from God, not a man who was uniquely close to God, not an especially inspired prophet, not another in a long line of holy men. The One who’s first coming we remember and celebrate at Advent is absolutely unique, incomparable. He is the living God who said, “Let there be light,” and there was light; this man, Jesus Christ. He is Yahweh, the great I AM, who met Moses in the burning bush. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who, with a mighty outstretched arm, led His people out of bondage in Egypt through the Red Sea passing through as on dry land. He is the Lord who spoke to Job, you remember, from the whirlwind; who keeps the snow in His storehouse and has carved a channel for the rain. He, Mary’s boy, wrapped in swaddling cloths, nursing at her breast, tiny and dependent, is the Lord, high and lifted up, the train of whose robe filled the temple, before whom the seraphim must veil their faces as they sing, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of Your glory!” 

This is the One who came, not in glory and splendor, not in thunderclap or whirlwind or burning bush, but in the vulnerability of a baby nursing in His mother’s arms. Please don’t be content with familiar Christmas tropes, with a mere recitation of the cast of characters around the manger. That’s just not going to sustain the bright fires of worship. Instead, stoke the embers of wonder in your heart by pressing into the mystery, the enormity of the truth of the One who came for us and for our salvation. He is the God-man, the second person of the blessed Trinity, our Maker and our Redeemer. He is the living God. There’s no other like Him. He is not the Father, nor is He the Spirit. The Father was not born of a virgin. The Holy Spirit was not found in likeness as a man. But the Son took flesh and dwelled among us and “we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, that from His fullness we may all receive.” The being of Christ and the person of Christ. What is the main use of these extraordinary truths? It is to make you say, “God is great!” and to buckle your knees and to fill your heart and make you adore. The being of Christ. The person of Christ.

The Mind of Christ 

Then finally, the mind of Christ. Look at verse 6. “Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” We are here being invited to consider the mission that the Father gave to the Son in eternity before the world was made. He is equal with the Father and with the Holy Spirit in the bonds of the blessed Trinity. He is the living God. He is God the Son who dwells in the bosom of the Father. Angels adore Him. The redeemed around the throne worship Him. He will judge men and angels at the last day. But in order to secure our salvation, in accordance with the divine plan, He must humble Himself. He must “take the form” – the word literally is, a “slave” – the form of a slave and be born as a man. He must – think about this – the King, the Lawgiver, must come and obey His law, and then die under the condemnation of the law he never broke and could not break, that we broke, that condemns us. The mission upon which He is being sent entails that the Creator walked the dusty streets of Palestine a creature. It would demand His rejection, His shame, His humiliation. He is to be brutalized and beaten, despised and rejected of men. He would be as one from whom men hid their faces. One considered stricken and smitten by God and afflicted, crucified, dead and buried. 

And yet Paul tells us the prospect did not cause Him to shrink back. He does not fear to embrace the mission upon which He is sent, as if by becoming man He might somehow forfeit deity, or by humbling Himself in obedience, even to the dreadful cursed death of a cross, His equality with God might somehow be lost. Instead, in the perfect security of His equality with the Father, in the fellowship of the Trinity, He submits Himself cheerfully to the plan of God. If we can speak of the single divine mind in this way, the divine mind as it subsists in the Son, this passage imagines Christ the Son, the preincarnate Christ, weighing all that He must do, reckoning all that His obedience would require, counting it all and weighing it against the equality He enjoys with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. And He knows that none of it can imperil His dignity and glory and equality with God. And so He came, born that first Christmas, as one of us. “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” clutched at as though afraid that it might sift through His fingers like sand. When He is born of the virgin and suffered under Pontius Pilate, instead, in complete security, cheerfully He came, concurring with the Father and with the Holy Spirit in their design to save us and to rescue us. 

That means that Christmas, that the coming of Jesus Christ, was not Plan B. Right? Here we are thinking about the mission the Father gives to the Son that the Son gladly embraces in eternity. What are we being told? We are being told that all the persons of the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – concur in this one great plan to make you their child by means of the cross. It’s not that you came along and really threw God for a loop. “I was going this way, but now that you’ve sinned, I don’t know what I’m going to do! I guess I’ll have to scramble some sort of plan together and send Jesus!” That’s not it at all! No, before He hung the stars, Father, Son and Holy Spirit purposed your deliverance by means of the birth and life and death and resurrection and reign of Jesus Christ. You are that loved. You’re loved before you were lovely. Newsflash – some of you are lovelier than others! The truth is, actually we’re all unlovely. Aren’t we? Wicked in the sight of God. And despite our unloveliness He loved us with an everlasting love. 

That’s the central mystery, the great mystery. Why? Why would He love us when our sin is such a stench in His nostrils, yet He loved us and gave His Son for us? Now what should you do with that? First, in simple, humble faith, embrace the truth. You don’t win acceptance with God. You don’t need to. He loves you already. Trust in Christ and be welcomed in to the fellowship of the triune God. And then bow down and worship. Bow down and adore, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. May the Lord grip your heart and mine with the vast enormity of the glory of the plan of the triune God who has loved us and sent Jesus Christ for us. Let’s pray together.

Lord our God, we bow down and we confess our impatience with profundity. We’ve been schooled by our culture to think that plainness and simplistic thinking is more wholesome. And that distortion has led us sometimes to make You less than You are and to make us bigger than we are, to want to find a way to fit You into something comprehensible. We’ve drawn analogies, we’ve squeezed You into our own molds because we’re afraid of mystery. Well here, on the brink of the chasm of ineffability in these verses, would we repent. We don’t want a God who’s a bit like us, only bigger and better. That’s not what we need. Our hearts realize it now. We know we need the infinite, eternal, unchangeable triune God of Scripture who sent Jesus Christ, the God-man for us and for our salvation. So have mercy on us and draw us to Him and then buckle our knees and ignite our hearts till we are altogether lost in wonder, love and praise, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.



The Call of Christmas

By / Dec 1

Well if you would take a Bible in hand once again and turn this time to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2. Philippians chapter 2, page 980 and 981 in the church Bibles. We have been working our way through 1 Peter on Sunday mornings, but since this is the first Sunday of the Advent season, we’re going to use the opportunity presented by the season to meditate over the coming weeks in a more focused way on the meaning and significance and implications of the first Advent, the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

And to guide our thinking, we’ll be working our way line by line through Philippians 2:5-11. It’s a famous passage, sometimes known as the “Carmen Christi,” the “hymn to Christ.” It was probably sung or used in some way in the apostolic churches, and Paul is quoting it here in the context of his letter to the Philippians as an apt summary of the message about Jesus’ person and His work – who He is and what He came to do. And our plan over the next several weeks is simply to take one line at a time so that, God willing, over the course of the next four weeks we will tackle “The Call of Christmas,” that’s today in Philippians 2:5, then verse 6 next week, “The Plan for Christmas,” then on the fifteenth of December, verse 7, “The Heart of Christmas,” then on the twenty-second, “The Cost of Christmas,” then finally on Christmas Eve we’ll look at verses 9 through 11 and consider “The Point of Christmas.” All of which means this morning we’re focused on verse 5, “The Call of Christmas.” We’re going to think through the implications for our mindset, for our attitude for the way we think about ourselves and one another in the world of the coming of Jesus Christ. 

Before we read the passage, we’re going to pause again and pray and ask for God to help us understand and embrace the message of His holy Word. Let’s pray together.

O Lord our God, please help us now. We know we prefer the inventions of our own imagination to the truth of Your Word. We filter out Your Word using our own preferences. We twist and distort its message, choosing to embrace those parts we think endorse our own decisions and choices, ignoring those parts that challenge us. We are fickle, sinful people, prone to wander and prone to leave the God we love. And so now, acknowledging and confessing these realities, we cry to You for the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, to open our minds and our hearts to embrace the Gospel, to receive and rest upon Christ alone as He is offered to us in it. Do that now, we pray, through the reading and the preaching of Your holy Word, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Philippians chapter 2. Let’s read from the first verse of the chapter. This is God’s inerrant Word:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

Well it’s that time of year again and Christmas is almost upon us. The Advent season is underway, ready for it or not, and there is a veritable tsunami of Christmas schmaltz poised to descend upon us. Schmaltzy TV shows and movie reruns and shopping mall Christmas carols ready to engulf us, all in an effort I suppose to try and evoke some sort of feeling of nostalgia and “Christmasy-ness.” Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that. I like a bit of schmaltz as much as the next man. Nothing really says Christmas like watching Kevin McCallister pound away on Hank and Marv after all! But if we’re not careful, the facts of the narrative of the birth of Jesus Christ and its extraordinary significance can sort of blend right in and become just another part of the pageantry and the sentimentality of the season, just another tool to evoke that “Christmasy” mindset and outlook.

But whether “Home Alone” really does it for you or not – it does it for me; I’m a sucker for all those sabotages and booby-traps that Kevin plays on the wet bandits, but anyway. That’s just me! Whether “Home Alone” does it for you or not, the real mindset, the real mindset that the Christmas message ought to produce in us is not some mushy, nostalgic feeling, it’s not some vague sentiment; it’s actually the mindset articulated in verse 5 in the call the apostle Paul issues to us in the fifth verse of chapter 2. Do you see it there in verse 5? “Have this mind” – so here’s the mindset, the facts of Christ’s first coming, which he’s about to rehearse for us in verses 6 through 11, here’s the mindset Christ’s first coming should produce. “Have this mind among yourselves,” he says, “which is yours in Christ Jesus.” In verses 6 through 11 he’s going to go on to spell out the meaning of Jesus’ first coming. “He emptied Himself,” that first Christmas we are told, “by taking the form of a servant, a slave, being born in the likeness of men.” He came, we are told, “in order to obey,” all the way to the dreadful cross. And now the same One who was born of the virgin and laid in a manger, sits enthroned at the right hand of Almighty God. He is now King of kings and Lord of lords. He’s been given “a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, ever knee should bow to the glory of God the Father.” That is the Christmas message, the Christian Gospel in summary in this extraordinary “Christ hymn” here in chapter 2.

And Paul, as he begins in verse 5, he introduces his quotation of this hymn by summoning us to understand the difference these truths should make to our outlook and attitude and mindset, to the way our brains work, to the way we operate in the world, to the deep attitudes of the heart that govern our daily lives. “Have this mind;” this is the mind that you ought to have in light of the coming of Jesus Christ.

And in particular, I want you to notice two things, two parts of the call that Paul issues here in verse 5 that we have to focus upon. First, this is a call to a new community. It’s a call to community. The mindset he has in mind is a mindset embraced together, a mindset that propels us toward one another. So it’s a call to community. But it’s also a call to Christ Himself. The mindset that Paul is speaking of here is a mindset that is yours, he says, “in Christ Jesus.” You get it when you get Christ. So this is a call to community and it’s a call to Christ.

A Call to Community 

First of all, this is a call to community. Depending upon your Bible translation, you may have noticed some translations make verse 5 say something like, “Have this mind in you.” Or maybe, “Have this mind within yourself.” That’s really not the best sense of the original, the Greek. Where else would your mind be but within yourself? It sort of makes Paul speak in redundancies. Our English Standard Version that we have in the pews is, I think, a better translation. Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves.” That is, the mindset that has been reformed and remade in the wake of the message of Christ’s coming is a mindset that presses us toward one another, that makes us pursue each other, that summons us to seek and build godly community together. It’s to be had among us, between us, cementing our relationships one with another. 

And when Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves,” it’s helpful to know what he’s thinking about. And in that regard, it’s useful to notice that he has already used the same word for “mind” twice before in the chapter. If you look at verse 2, you can see that. “Complete my joy,” he says to the Philippians, “by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” That does tell us a little bit about Paul’s concern as he’s writing here. It suggests some things about what’s happening in the life of the Philippian churches that Paul is seeking to address, that he summons them to unity of mind and heart and love. The members of the church, you know, may well have sung the “Carmen Christi,” the “Christ hymn” of verses 6 through 11 often enough; they may have known it well. And more than that, they may have embraced its truths with clarity and intentionality. They could, perhaps, have expressed the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation, that the eternal Son of God became a man in Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin, born under Pontius Pilate. They could have told you about His obedient life and His sacrificial atoning death. They could have expressed well in precise and orthodox terms the resurrection and ascension and heavenly reign of King Jesus at the right hand of Almighty God the Father. All of that, it seems, they knew. This is a familiar hymn, often on their lips. These were truths that were not strange to them, and yet there’s a disconnect between the truths they’re progressing and the lives they were living in relationship with one another. There is tension and division between them. And so Paul has to exhort them and remind them that, “If you really believe these things, that should change your attitude, especially in the way that you speak to, think about, and relate to one another within the fellowship of the local church.”

And we are no better. We often sing rich, profound truths. In fact, have you noticed that many of our most theologically rich and profound hymns are our Christmas carols. We’ve already sung one or two of them today. And we love to sing them; rightly so. And we sing them with great gusto. And yet, there is still often a disconnect, isn’t there, between the glories of the truths we sing about. At 8:30, Alex Roberson was being recognized for having memorized and recited The Shorter Catechism. And we can perhaps recite the words of The Shorter Catechism’s extraordinary summary of the incarnation and the significance of Jesus’ coming that, “The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ who, being the eternal Son of God, became man. And so was, and continues to be, both God and man in two distinct natures, in one person forever.” It’s an amazing summary of what happened that first Christmas. It’s glorious truth. And it can roll off our tongue and these hymns can roll off our tongues and then the very next moment the same tongue will turn and say, “You’ll never believe what Mrs. so-and-so said to me the other day. Who does she think she is?” The same tongues that praise God can tear strips of brothers and sisters.

That’s exactly what was happening at Philippi. If you keep your finger in chapter 2 and turn over to chapter 4, look down at chapter 4 verse 2 and you’ll see one specific example that Paul mentions, not because this pair are worse than all the other members at Philippi, but probably because they exemplify the kind of tension and strife that had erupted in the Philippian congregation. Chapter 4 verse 2 – it’s interesting Paul uses the same verb and the same construction that he uses here in our text in chapter 2 verse 5 to exhort two women in the congregation, Euodia and Syntyche. He wants them, notice, “to agree in the Lord.” Do you see that phrase in chapter 4 verse 2? Literally he says, “Have the same mind in the Lord.”
Now you see the issue. There’s division and tension and strife between them. They are at each other’s throats. A friend of mine calls them, “You-odious” and “Soon-touchy.” They’re temperamentally wired to be in conflict, it seems, and they are aggravating one another. And Paul is saying, “Look, it’s disrupting the life of the church and all of this behavior has no business in the life of a child of God. If you really embrace these convictions about Jesus, if you mean what you say when you sing, ‘He left His Father’s throne above, so free so infinite His grace; emptied Himself, so great His love, and bled for all His chosen race,’ if you mean what you say when you sing those words, if you really believe that, listen – what are you thinking in the way that you act towards one another?” If the truth we celebrate at Christmastime really has begun to sink down and take root in your minds, you wouldn’t treat one another this way. It would rewire your priorities and your values. It would bring you into humility and teach you to count others more highly than yourself. 

And so, that’s precisely what Paul says in our passage back in chapter 2. If you look at verse 3, he tells us how to do that; how to live out this new mindset that we’ve been given in Christ. Verse 3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” A mindset that’s been reshaped by the facts that we celebrate at Christmas thinks differently about self and it thinks differently about others. That’s Paul’s point exactly, isn’t it? Selfish ambition and conceit are ruled out if you embrace this Gospel. Looking to one’s own interests alone no longer describes the person who is gripped by the truth of Christ’s first coming. Instead, there is growing humility.

It’s an interesting word in the original. It’s a compound word using the same term we’ve seen translated already twice in verse 2 and once again in verse 5 for the “mind.” A humble mind, a selfless attitude – humility; that’s what it means. It’s the word that Paul uses again when he talks about Jesus coming into the world that first Christmas. It describes His whole life of obedience and suffering. You see it there in verse 8. “Being found in human form, he, Jesus, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” So that’s our model, Paul is saying. That is what we are called to be and to do and that’s the mindset we are called to mirror in our relationships with one another. Isn’t it ironic that today, for many of us, our Christmas celebrations have become consumed with the pursuit of material treasure. Whereas, in our text, the fact of Christ’s humble birth is the basis not for the accumulation of stuff but for serving and giving and pouring out one’s life for others. 

Well what should your take away be as you celebrate with your friends and family the birth of the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, this Christmas? It should be repentance, a renewed resolve to shatter pride, to learn humility, to consider others more significant than self. It should drive us out of our own heads and teach us to pursue true community, to press toward one another and not stay behind our barricades any longer. After all, that’s why Christ came. Isn’t it? From “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. From heaven He came and sought her, by water and the Word.” He came in search of you. He came for you, to build you into a new family, into a new community. He came to make you His child, to renovate you inside and out, so that you can press toward one another and know Him together. 

A Call to Christ 

So the message of Christmas calls us to new community, but it also calls us to find this new mindset that is lived out in community and fellowship with one another, it calls us to do all of that by coming to Christ Himself. Look at verse 5 again. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours” – where? Where do you get it? Where is it to be found? Is it something you work up? Is it something to be learned, perhaps, from a self-help book? Is it about reprogramming? About a therapy that will straighten out the kinks and help you change your behaviors? Is that what Paul is talking about? No, Paul says, “You have this mind, it is yours, in Christ Jesus and nowhere else.” It is yours in Christ.

The translation of this part of the verse is disputed, to be sure; it’s a little tricky. But our version, I think, is helpful and gets close to the right way to understand it. It is yours in Him, in union with Christ. Paul isn’t saying simply “Jesus is the example I want you to follow.” That’s true. Jesus is the example he wants us to follow, but he’s saying more than that. Jesus is more than simply a model of the right attitude of humility. Jesus is the fountainhead and the source from which this attitude and mindset will come to you because you are united to Him, you are planted into Christ. Because you have been led into profound, intimate, spiritual connection with Jesus through faith in the Gospel, you have been renovated, made new, inside-out, a new mind is given to you, and Paul is calling us to live out that new mindset and attitude that you find only in Christ. 

Back to Euodia and Syntyche in chapter 4 verse 2 just for a moment, that’s how Paul reasons with them. When he wants them to reconcile and get over themselves and learn to live in fellowship and harmony with one another, he says, “Have the same mind in the Lord.” You see what he’s saying? “Because you’re in the Lord, because you are both in the Lord, you are united to Christ together, this is how you should behave; this is how you should think. You should have the same mind. Stop this petty squabbling. Your union with Jesus Christ changes everything. The mindset that you need is yours, only in union with Him.” 

Listen, you miss the point of Christmas if amidst the food and the parties and the decorations and lights and all the other good things that you’re going to enjoy, God willing, this time of year, you miss the point entirely if with all of this you do not have Christ. The new life, the new community, the new mind that Paul is talking about, it’s not the result of renewed, moral effort. It’s not, “Do better. Try harder.” It’s not, “Turn over a new leaf.” The Christian Gospel – this is so important – the Christian Gospel is not, first of all, a moral makeover strategy. The Christian message isn’t about, it’s not a better way to clean yourself up and straighten yourself out and be a better person. Those are implications of the Gospel, to be sure, but that’s not the message. Jesus is not in the business of simply remodeling the dilapidated, run-down, old home of your life. Jesus wants to – it’s a completely new build that He’s in the business of. From the ground up; a completely new you. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone; the new has come!” That’s what He wants to do in you. That’s why He came. That’s what Christmas is about – new creation, new creatures in Jesus Christ.

So let me ask you this obvious, basic question as we wrap things up. It’s the key question for us as we begin the Advent season. “Do you have Christ? Are you in Christ? Are you His? Is He yours?” I’m not asking you if you know about Christ. I’m not asking if you believe in the historical Jesus. I’m asking if Jesus Christ Himself if your only hope. Is He the resting place of your faith and your confidence? Is He the treasure of your heart? Look, Jesus is God’s gift at Christmas and your name is on the packaging. He is God’s gift made out to you. He’s for you, for free. It’s a gift – Christ Himself for you; available, offered to you. Take Him! In Christ you are made new, inside out – a new mind, a new life, a new self. Do you have Christ?

Calvin, John Calvin famously said something really shocking if you think about it. He said, “Jesus, and everything that Jesus has done, is useless to us, useless to us, for as long as Christ remains outside of us.” For as long as He remains at a distance from us – an object of fascination perhaps, and scrutiny, or vague interest or historical study, as long as He remains outside of us, He’s useless to us. You know the difference between being churchy and being a Christian is the difference between looking in the window and walking through the door. You look through the window and there’s the family, gathered around the table, and there’s a magnificent banquet, a feast. And there’s celebrating and there’s joy, and you’re standing outside in the cold and dark. What are you doing out in the cold and dark? Come in! The door is open! You’re welcome! Christ invites you in! Won’t you take Christ? He is God’s great gift to you, freely available. A Savior of every sinner, every sinner that cries out to Him for mercy. Come and trust in Jesus. What a priceless Christmas gift. Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we cry out to You, please, for one another, for ourselves. Give us the grace of faith to come in, out of the dark, out of the cold, to come in to the life of the family, into the new community, into the new mindset to become new creations, to come to Christ. Give us grace to come to Him. Give us grace. Some of us need to come back to Him. We’ve been wandering away in the wilderness for far too long. Today is the day. Please, Lord, take hold of us and bring us home to Jesus. Some of us think we know Him – we’re religious, churchy people, but we’ve just been looking in through the window; we’ve never really come into the banquet table. Please for them, would you draw them in? Bring them to true, heartfelt repentance of life on their own terms, of co-opting Christ as an accessory to their lives. Grant instead that today they would bend the knee to Jesus and rest upon Him. O Lord, may every heart in this room be filled with renewed gratitude for the gift of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord, now in this Christmas and forevermore. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. amen. 



Joy to the World: The Lord is Come

By / Dec 1

Let’s turn together to Revelation chapter 1. That can be found on page 1028 in the pew Bibles. And tonight, we are beginning a four week Christmas sermon series from the book of Revelation and so we’ll start in chapter 1. And as you turn there, let’s also, if you would look with me at the chart that’s found in your bulletin under the Evening Guide, the chart about the last days that’s in our bulletin. Because what says Christmas like an eschatology chart! This chart, it’s from the ESV Study Bible in the Introduction to the New Testament, but it’s from Geerhardus Vos, a seminary professor at Princeton in the late 19th century and early 20th century. I’ve already heard from Caroline that the picture is confusing, so we’ll do our best with what’s here! 

But what it basically is, it’s two parallel lines. And one line is this present age and the line above it is the age to come. And the age to come broke into this present age at the time of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. That’s symbolized or indicated by the cross. But the age to come will not be fully realized until the return of Christ. And you see the return of Christ with the line coming down from the top. And everything in between the cross and Christ’s return are known as the last days. We are living in the last days. Now is the last days. So Revelation, the book of Revelation helps us to live in the last days. In a sense, the book of Revelation is looking down from the right side of that line on the bottom picture, looking down from the right side and, in light of Christ’s return, helping us to live in our present days with our present concerns and the issues that are going on in our circumstances around us with the perspective of Christ’s return. Well we’re going to look at Christmas from that same perspective over the next few weeks. To view Christmas, to view Christ’s birth not as it was promised in the Old Testament, not from the shadow of the cross as the Gospel writers present it to us, but from the spotlight, the spotlight of Christ’s return and what that means for the Christmas message. What that means is that there is an urgency to hear this message. There’s an urgency to fully embrace Christ and to rejoice in Him.

So with that in mind, we’ll read from Revelation chapter 1, 1 to 8. We’re going to focus, actually, on the second part of verse 5 onto verse 7. We’ll see four things tonight. One is that the Lord has come, the Lord has come for salvation, the Lord will come in glory, and the Lord will come for judgment. So with that in mind, let’s pray and read God’s Word.

Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You for the revelation of Jesus Christ in all of His humility and in all of His glory. We thank You for the work of Christ on the cross and for His resurrection, for the gift of the Holy Spirit. As we come to the book of Revelation, we find many things that are unknown to us and maybe mysterious, and yet You have given us Your Spirit. You have promised to illumine Your Word to us, and so we ask that Your Spirit would do that work tonight, that we would see Christ and that we would grow in our love for Him. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revelation 1:

“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

The Lord Has Come

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” He has come. He has come, who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father. And He is coming, with the clouds. And every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. You see, these verses, the second part of verse 5 to verse 7, have in view both Christ’s first appearing over 2,000 years ago and also His future return on the last day. And the first is a doxology. It’s, “To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” The second is a proclamation. “Behold, He is coming.” And then both are followed by an, “Amen.” It is true. This is certain. You can stake everything on what is written in these few verses. This is the heart of the Christian’s hope. 

Isaac Watts – I’ve mentioned this before – Isaac Watts wrote that familiar hymn, “Joy to the World,” based on Psalm 98, a psalm which we read in our call to worship. It speaks of salvation, of the Savior, of the King, of the Judge, of joy, singing for joy. What Watts was concerned about, he was concerned about what he viewed as lackluster singing of the songs in the church. There was a dull indifference with which the members of the church sang the psalms of the church. So Watts published “Joy to the World” in 1719 in a collection that he called, “Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.” And what he wanted to do was to take the psalms of David and to express them in a way as if David had written them in his own day, in our day, or in light of the New Testament revelation. And what the New Testament reveals about the Lord who comes is that it is Jesus who comes. It is Jesus who comes as Savior and King and Judge. It is Jesus who makes us sing for joy and it is Jesus who is the focus of John’s doxology in verses 5 and 6. “The Lord has come.” Jesus has come. It’s to Him, to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood. It’s to Jesus be glory and dominion forever and ever. 

And one of the great things about the book of Revelation, just in the few verses that we read but also in the chapters to come, is the way in which it floods our emotions, our imaginations. It overwhelms us with the names and the titles, the images and the words and the mission of Jesus. It’s so helpful, at Christmastime, to remember who Jesus is. It’s helpful any time to have all of these descriptions of who Jesus is. This is the One whose birth we celebrate. And one day I was struck by that and so I went through and I underlined all of the different names and titles for Jesus that we find in the first few chapters of Revelation. And you get a sense of the infinite facets of His beauty that can never be examined fully. We can never explore the depth of Jesus’ beauty and His majesty. 

Just in the verses that we read we read that he is the Christ, He is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth. If we were to flip ahead a little bit more and to read into the letters that John writes to the seven churches that are in Asia, Jesus is the first and the last; He is the living one, the Son of God, the holy and true one, the Amen, the beginning of God’s creation. Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, and the Lamb who was slain. That’s just a sample. And we could devote all of our time to unpacking each one of those things, but it would be like what John wrote at the end of his Gospel where he said that “there are many other things that Jesus did and were all of them to be written, the world itself could not contain all of the books that could be written.” All of these names and descriptions of Jesus and they’re not enough. But this is the one who was born in Bethlehem. This is the one who becomes flesh and dwelt among us. There’s a wonder and an awe to who Jesus is, and to think about the way in which the Scriptures, the Old Testament prophecies and the Psalms and all of the Old Testament are pointing the way to Him, are promising Him, thousands of years before Jesus was born the Scriptures are foretelling His birth. And His life unfolded just as God promised it would happen.

In a few weeks we’ll gather here for the Music of Christmas. It’s a familiar service of “Lessons in Carols” and it’s beautiful music of praise to God and to Christ. And also, mixed in there are those passages of Scripture that are read to trace the promise of God from the Old Testament into the New Testament; that Jesus was born of a woman, He was born of a virgin, He was born in Bethlehem. And we could add to those Scriptures that will be read those that show how His life and ministry, His death and resurrection, were the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus is unique and He is full of wonder and awe. J.I. Packer writes that, “The incarnation is the supreme mystery with which the Gospel confronts us.” It’s staggering that the Christian claim that Jesus is God become man. He says that in that there are two mysteries for the price of one – the plurality of God and the unity of God; the three and the one, the Trinity, and also that God is united to man. The union of the Godhead and manhood in the person of Christ – two mysteries for the price of one in the incarnation. And Packer says that the more you think about it the more staggering it gets. This is the One. This is the One whom John praises in verses 5 and 6. This is the One to whom belongs all glory and dominion forever and ever.

Malcolm Muggeridge was an English journalist in the 20th century. He was, for many years, an agnostic. And he covered many of the great figures and empires of his day. And later in life he became a Christian and he reflected back on some of the things he had seen. He said, “What do we see in history? We see that empires rise and fall. There are revolutions and counter-revolutions. There’s one nation dominant and then another.” He says, “I’ve seen a crazed Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that will last for a thousand years.” He said he had seen an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar with his assumption to power. And he had seen a Georgian brigand in the Kremlin, acclaimed by the intellectual elite, as wiser than Solomon. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin – all in one lifetime, Muggeridge says. All in one lifetime, all gone. All gone with the wind. But here is Jesus who was before and after and above any worldly ruler. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords and to Him and Him alone belong all glory and dominion forever and ever. It’s this Jesus who has come. 

The Lord Has Come for Salvation 

And this Jesus has come to bring good news. Jesus has come to bring salvation. That’s the next thing we see in this passage – it’s the glory of the Gospel. We have, in these verses, a summary of the Gospel. It’s a summary of what Christ has accomplished. Jesus who loves us has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father. There’s a lot more that we could say about the Gospel but it really is a simple message. It’s something that a child can understand. In fact, it’s the simplicity of the Gospel that is the beauty of the Gospel – that Jesus loves us and gave Himself for us. He died on the cross to forgive us for our sin and our guilt. He was raised from the dead to give us eternal life in His kingdom and to restore us to God. That’s the good news for all those who believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. 

And we could talk about the electing love of God. We could talk about substitutionary atonement. We could talk about the priesthood of all believers. We could even talk about contextualizing what John writes to the seven churches in Asia and how the pressures that they face, their uncertainties and the opposition and the temptations can be applied to our own days and to our own lives. We could even talk about how the Gospel addresses man’s search for meaning and man’s deepest need – his need to be loved and to be forgiven; to have a purpose and to know his ultimate destiny. And all of that is there in these few words in Revelation chapter 1. And yet sometimes we forget the basic Gospel message in all of its clear and simple beauty – that Jesus loves us and that He has freed us from our sins by His blood and He has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father. Anyone in here tonight can understand that message and believe it and rest in Jesus Christ for salvation – from the oldest cynic to the smallest child.

And I know pastors are not supposed to have favorite church members or favorite Sunday school classes, but the best Sunday school class, hands down, in this church – not even close – the best Sunday school class is the Special Friends class or the Special Needs class. And from time to time, Molly and I like to stop in there to see them. And I cannot tell you the encouragement that comes to us from hearing them pray and from hearing them sing and from hearing them recite from heart, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Or to hear them say, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” It’s enough to bring you to tears. It’s simple faith in a simple but profound message for salvation. That’s what Jesus has done, and that’s why John writes this doxology. That’s why he’s filled with praise.

And you notice he ends it with an “Amen.” It’s that little word, “amen.” It’s a word that we use all too flippantly perhaps, but there’s salvation in that word because “amen” means, “Yes.” It means, “It is true.” Yes, this is true. It’s in Christ that I rest for salvation. He is my confidence and my solid ground. We stand on what Christ has done because the Lord has come for salvation.

The Lord Will Come in Glory 

And then John shifts. And there’s a shift from the past to the future. The Lord has come. Now, a proclamation – the Lord will come; the Lord will come in glory. Verse 7, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds.” That’s one of many Old Testament references in the book of Revelation. Revelation contains more Old Testament references than any other book in the New Testament. There’s not complete agreement on all of the allusions and references, but some say that there are over 500 references from the Old Testament in the book of Revelation. One writer even says that of the 404 verses in Revelation, 278 of them contain an Old Testament reference of allusion. Well this is one of those that is clearly a reference to the Old Testament. It’s picking up Daniel chapter 7. Here’s what Daniel prophecies in the seventh chapter of Daniel. “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like the son of man.” Daniel says, “He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Coming with the clouds. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds.”

Jesus Himself spoke of coming with the clouds. And if you remember at the beginning of the book of Acts when Jesus ascended into heaven, on a cloud, the angels said to His disciples, “He will come again. He will come again in the same way that you saw Him go into heaven.” In other words, He will come with all authority, in all power and all glory. That’s what the cloud is symbolizing. It’s imagery for dominion and exaltation. Jesus will come not in humility and lowliness. He will come not to be rejected and mocked, not to suffer and die. He will come as the King, to reign and to rule and to receive His kingdom, to raise the dead and to restore all of creation. In a word, He will come to complete the work of salvation that He has accomplished by His death and resurrection. This is the Christian hope. And in a sense, all that follows in the book of Revelation is an unfolding of the hope of Christ coming with the clouds. 

And notice how John addresses his readers here at the beginning of Revelation. He says in verse 4, “Grace to you and peace.” Grace and peace. One commentator says “it’s grace and peace; it’s not perplexity in a puzzle.” It’s not what Sinclair Ferguson says, “a spiritual Sudoku,” that we have to work out all the details and know the fine points of it. It’s that Jesus is coming in glory. It’s grace and peace. And for all of the strangeness and the mysterious symbolism that we find in the book of Revelation, it’s a message of grace and peace and hope.

And there may be some things going on in your life, circumstances today, that you are burdened with grief and with sadness. Perhaps you’re burdened by stress or just busy and you feel like there’s no time, there’s no place, there’s no capacity for joy or for rejoicing in the Lord. And yet the purpose of the book of Revelation is to get us to look up. To look up from our day to day circumstances and the things that are swirling around us. Look up and to see the King of glory, to see the Christ of glory, and to see the bigger picture that there is to see and to know that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us. In fact, we sing about it in a hymn. “Lo, He comes with clouds descending, once for our salvation slain. Thousand, thousand saints attending, swell the triumph of His train. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God appears on earth to reign!” Yes, in that day there will be a hallelujah and there will be praise and there will be worship and there will be adoration, but isn’t it time to praise and adore Him today as we view and think about the return of Christ; a hallelujah to sing. Look up and rejoice. 

The Lord Will Come for Judgment

And yet you’ll also notice not only a praise, because the Lord will come in glory, but also there’s wailing. That’s the fourth thing to see from this passage, is that the Lord will come for judgment. “Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” You see, when Jesus returns the opportunity for repentance will be gone; it will be passed. We read from Philippians chapter 2 this morning. “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.” But not all will do so willingly. For some, it will be a bowing of the knee in judgment. Instead of praise, there will be wailing, mourning, a beating of the breast. And that’s part of the Christmas message too. It seems out of place, doesn’t it? We’ll soon be decorating with garland and poinsettias and there’s the celebration of Christ’s birth, the angels and the shepherds and the star, and then to talk of judgment and the wrath of God? But we can’t miss that. 

It’s almost like being at a wedding and there’s all of this appearance of a happy and joyous occasion and then what does the pastor do – he starts to talk about sickness and poverty and death. Because that’s what the vows are. That’s what a wedding vow is – in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, till death do we part. It seems jolting in the midst of such a joyous occasion. And the same is at Christmas – to be celebrating the birth of Christ and yet to talk of judgment. 

And yet this is what we find throughout the Bible. The manifestation of the glory of God is followed by the demonstration of His wrath. You can think about the book of Leviticus, following Exodus. The glory of God, the glory filling the tabernacle, and then there’s the death of Nadab and Abihu for disregarding God’s commands. There was, at Mount Carmel, Elijah, and the fire came down to burn up the sacrifice, and then there’s the execution of the priests of Baal. Or in the book of Acts, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, followed by God’s judgment on Ananias and Sapphira for their deception against the church and against God. You see, when God’s glory is revealed, all those who are not freed from their sins will be punished for their sins. And all those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation will face the awful wrath of God and will wail on account of Him. It’s terrible.

And so the Christmas message, the message of the book of Revelation is – do not refuse the One who comes. Do not reject Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, but look to Him, believe in Him, and be saved. Grace and peace are found in Jesus and in Jesus alone. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room.” So receive Him. If you have not received Jesus, if you have not rested in Him by faith for salvation, there is an invitation here for you tonight to see the glory of Jesus, to see the glory of the Gospel, to see the hope of glory and to bow your knee to Jesus, to call Him Lord and to receive the blessings of salvation that are ours in Him. And one day, on the last day, you will join all of the believers and all of the angels of heaven and heaven and nature will sing. Sing! Sing for joy and not wail, not mourn. The Lord has come. The Lord has come for salvation. The Lord will come in glory. The Lord will come for judgment.

And I’ll close with two stories of two different men. One is the testimony of John Piper. Piper said that as a young man he was conflicted. He struggled with the tension; the tension between, on the one hand, of the desire to do God’s will, but also his own desire to be happy. He didn’t know how to resolve that tension of doing God’s will or his own happiness. And so he said it was in 1968, he was reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians, that he came to the realization that those two things are not in competition; they are not alternatives to one another. But in fact if to live is Christ and to die is gain, you see, the loss of everything on earth that would promise to make us happy, when it’s gone at death, that that is gain, that Christ is gain, that Christ is better than anything else that could possibly make him happy, the greatest happiness is to be in Christ. He said upon making that realization, he said that his personal motto is, “Christ is most magnified in me when I am most satisfied in Him. Christ is most magnified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.” And Piper said a couple of years ago, “All I did for the last fifty years was write books about that.” 

He did more than that of course, but the point is that Christ deserves first place in our hearts and we have to fight; we have to fight against thinking that anything else can make us happy, can truly satisfy us. It’s not money, it’s not beauty, it’s not reputation, it’s not sports, it’s not a house or a vacation. It’s not even good things like family and good works that can truly satisfy us. Only Jesus will satisfy us and we need to remember again the glory and the wonder of Jesus Christ and to make Him our first love and to order everything in our lives around Christ – to order our relationships, to order our work, to order our worship around Jesus Christ. Can we say that? Can we say that we do that, or do we need again to renew our sense of wonder and awe at who Jesus is, at who is presented to us here in the book of Revelation. “Christ is most magnified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

The second story is the testimony of C.H. Spurgeon. F.W. Boreham tells the story of the first Sunday of the New Year and the whole town was blanketed by snow. There was a winter storm that had come in and on that Sunday the service was lightly filled; there was just a handful of people who could make it to the service that day. One of those who could not make it, who had been snowed in at home, was the pastor. The pastor could not make it, but there was a handful there. And one of those who was there was a fifteen year old Charles Spurgeon, and even he was there somewhat by accident. He would have normally gone to another church that day but the weather prevented him from going there so he stopped in at this congregation. He sat in the back under the balcony and he said that his mind was distressed. He felt that he had so sinned against God that there was no hope for him. But as he sat there in the back, under the balcony, he said that a shoemaker or something like that stood up and rose to go into the pulpit to fill in for the pastor that day. 

And this is what Spurgeon says about what happened that morning. He said, “The man was obliged to stick to his text for the simple reason that he had nothing else to say. His text was, ‘Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth!’ He did not even pronounce the words rightly but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in the text and I listened as though my life depended upon what I heard. In about ten minutes the preacher had gotten to the end of his tether. Then he saw me sitting under the gallery and I dare say with so few present he knew me to be a stranger. He then said, ‘Young man, you look very miserable.’ Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance. However, it was a good blow; well struck. He continued, ‘And you will also be miserable, miserable in life, miserable in death, if you do not obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then Spurgeon says that he shouted, and he shouted as only a primitive Methodist could have shouted, “Young man! Look to Jesus! Look! Look ! Look!” Spurgeon says, “I did, and then and there the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the Son. I looked,” says Spurgeon, “until I could almost have looked my eyes away, and in heaven I will look still, in joy unutterable.”

Look to Jesus. Look to Him in all His glory, in all the glory of the Gospel, in all the hope of the glory that is ours in Him, and find true and lasting joy. Joy that is unutterable. And John might add, “Amen.” Let’s pray.

Our Father, we thank You for our great Savior. We thank You for Your love which sent Him for us to seek us and to find us, for Your amazing grace, that when we were blind, when we were sinners, we were lost, You came and sought us to give us sight. That You would find us and make us Yours and that You would pour out to us all the blessings of the Gospel and eternal life and joy in Christ; that we would be in the presence, that we would behold the glory of Jesus for all eternity, that all eternity is not long enough to delve into the depths of seeing the glories of Jesus. And so we pray that in these next few weeks as we spend time looking at the book of Revelation and looking to Christ, that You would again renew in us a sense of awe and wonder. If there’s any here tonight that do not know Christ and have been running from Him, resisting Him, refusing Him, that You would humble them, bring them to repentance, that they would find salvation in Christ, that they would find rest in Him, receive Him; that they would prepare Him room and find life. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
 



Full of Grace and Truth

By / Dec 24


Prince of Peace

By / Dec 23

Would you please open your copies of the Scriptures once again to the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 9; Isaiah chapter 9. Page 573 in the church Bibles. Let me encourage you to have the passage open before you. We’re going to read verses 2 through 7, though our attention will focus mainly on the words of verse 6. This is now the fourth Sunday in Advent, and if you’ll look at verse 6 for a moment, you’ll see four titles given by the prophet Isaiah to the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Each is a double-barreled title and our pattern has been over these four weeks to take each title in turn and look at each of the two parts of each title. So far we’ve considered Jesus the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, and the Everlasting Father, which means today we’re thinking about Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Before we consider the passage and think about its message, let me invite you one more time to bow your heads with me as we pray together. Let us pray.

 

Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus, would You come now to us by the Holy Spirit and rule in our hearts extending the royal scepter of Your holy Word. For we ask this in Your precious name, amen.

 

Isaiah 9 at the second verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

 

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined. 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 forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

 

Amen.

 

On Christmas Eve, 1914 – you probably know this story from the great war; Christmas Eve, 1914 – candles were lit at various sections along the trenches of German and British forces facing one another across the wastes of no-man's land and carols began to be sung. Then when December 25 dawned, Christmas Day, cold and a frost lay on the ground, shelling and gunfire ceased, at least in a number of places along the western front, and soldiers of both German and British forces enjoyed a short-lived but welcomed ceasefire. Soon, the German troops had actually climbed from their trenches and calling to their enemies in English, “Merry Christmas!” they shouted. And then British soldiers began climbing out to meet them. In safety they were able to retrieve their dead; they even swapped gifts, sung carols together. Apparently an impromptu football match – a soccer match! They played a soccer match! And for a few hours along the front peace reigned; war ceased. It stalled at least.

 

Isaiah tells us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Often when we think about peace that's what we think of, right? The cessation of hostilities; the end of war. And it's not wrong for us to think in those terms when we think about Jesus the Prince of Peace because Isaiah himself, chapter 2 verse 4, speaks about peace coming in the wake of the reign of Messiah. "He shall judge between the nations," Isaiah says, "and he shall decide disputes for many peoples and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." One day, because of the baby who was born and the son who was given, war will be an impossibility.

 

But we don't live in that day quite yet. We live in the "not yet." We live right now before that day dawns. Actually, the way the Scriptures speak about the reign of Jesus Christ, it becomes clear that the end, the cessation of hostility between nations and people, that's actually the final flowering of the final outworking of the present reign of King Jesus. In a sense, it's really the least of the blessings given to us because of the Prince of Peace who was born that day in Bethlehem. It is simply the last reality to be removed as the reign of Christ and the kingdom of peace He brings is consummated. And so to really understand what Isaiah is teaching us here about Jesus, we need to think about each part of this double-barreled title, Prince of Peace, in turn. What do we mean by Jesus as Prince – King, Royal Governor? And what do we mean by Jesus as Prince of Peace – What kind of peace does He gives us?

 

Prince

Let's think about Jesus the Prince first of all. It's more than an honorific, isn't it; just a way to praise Him. It's more than saying something like He's a prince of a man. This is a title, a formal title appropriately given to Him that communicates executive authority. To Him belongs the government. Isaiah has been at pains to emphasize precisely this point in the passage we've read together. "Of the increase of his government and of peace, there shall be no end. And on the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be on his shoulders." Isaiah later picks up that language about the government on His shoulders in Isaiah 22:22. God says, "I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open and none shall shut, and he shall shut and none shall open." He shoulders the full weight of executive authority governing the kingdom of God. He shoulders the burden of rule. Jesus was born to be King that first Christmas.

 

Reign

Now if you look back at verse 4 for a moment, when the prophet is describing the remarkable transformation that takes place in the wake of the birth of Jesus Christ from a situation of oppression to a situation of liberation, from a situation of sorrow to one of joy, he talks about the staff for the shoulders of the oppressed people; the rod of the oppressor being broken at last. Do you see the message? The burden on our shoulders is lifted because Jesus shoulders the burden of rule for us. The burden on our shoulders is removed because He bears it as the Prince of Peace. And so He calls to us. You remember Matthew 11:29-30? “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

In verse 4, the prophet speaks about a terrible yoke of a burden placed upon the suffering people of God. See, there are two ways to live – only two ways to live. Either your shoulders endure the staff of the oppressor and the yoke of this dreadful burden – sin and guilt in the sight of God. Or, you come under the reign of the Prince of Peace and your shoulders bear the yoke of His authority. Those are the only options available to us. Now you might tell yourself that life on your own terms is a life of freedom, but the Scriptures make very clear that the truth, in fact, is that when you live on your own terms you are a slave to sin and to self. True freedom is not radical independence, no matter what pop culture says to the contrary. True freedom is submission to the easy yoke and the light burden of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Those who surrender the reigns of their lives to Him know the relief of not having to be king anymore. What a relief it is!

 

Dominion

Here's a large part of what makes the story of that first Christmas such good news – because of Jesus Christ, you can stop trying to make sense of it all. Because of Jesus Christ, you can stop trying to anticipate every possible eventuality. You can stop bearing the crushing burden of kingship. Your shoulders are just not broad enough for it. A better King has come and you can submit to His dominion, bend the knee to His lordship, embrace His mastery. Let Jesus take the reigns. You can trust Him. He is the Prince of Peace. On His shoulders rests the government, "and of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end." Bend the knee to King Jesus and you will find peace. Actually, there's really no other way to have Jesus. You can't have Him on any other terms, you know. You can't have Him as Savior and Rescuer and Friend and not have HIm as Lord and Prince and King. You can't have Him as Savior and Friend and Rescuer without having Him as Lord and Master and King. The life that Jesus redeems, He rules. The heart that Jesus cleanses, He commands. There is no deliverance without the dominion of Jesus Christ.

 

That means we cannot co-opt Jesus into our pre-existing lifestyle and go on just as we did before. The baby of Bethlehem and the man of Calvary will not allow Himself to fall into the background of Christmas sentimentality. He came to rule. He came to be King in your heart. The government is upon His shoulders. Yes, He breaks the staff of the oppressor from our shoulders. He removes the yoke of the burden from us. He shoulders the weight of rule for us – good news! But He then calls us to submit to His dominion. To be sure, His yoke is easy and His burden is light, but if we are to have Him at all, we must have Him as King nevertheless. God is calling you this Christmas to quit living as if your life were your own. If you are a Christian, you are not your own. You were bought at a price. Jesus is King. Perhaps it’s time we began to learn what life looks like when He is in charge and we submit to His mastery. He is Prince. He is King. To Him belongs executive authority. He wants the lordship of your heart and your life.

 

Peace

But then secondly, Jesus is Prince of Peace. What is Isaiah telling us about the peace that Jesus brings? There are a couple of mistakes to avoid here. One of them we have already mentioned, that is thinking that the peace He brings is simply the absence of conflict, of hostility. No, Jesus brings something positive – not the peace He gives is a positive reality, not just the absence of war. Another mistake in our heavily psychological age is to immediately read "peace" there and subjectively as though all that were meant is something like, "If you know Jesus, He gives you a feeling of peacefulness." And there's certainly truth to that, isn't there? To come under the lordship and the mastery of Jesus means He brings with Him as He takes up the rule of our hearts the peace of God that surpasses understanding to guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. There is a subjective component to the peace that the Prince of Peace gives.

 

Objective

But that's not the primary reference that Isaiah has in mind. No, the peace that Jesus brings is objective and true and real regardless of how we feel about it. So what does it mean? "He means peace in this nasty world," writes Ralph Davis, "and to bring peace in such a world is no namby-pamby affair. Such peace comes," he says, "by force." Then he goes on to talk about the definition one Jewish man gave him of this peace, the shalom in Hebrew. "Shalom," this Jewish man said, "means ‘We win, you lose.'" It's a different way of thinking about peace. Peace, shalom, is a victory word, you see.

 

If you'll look back again at verse 4 for a moment you'll get to see some of this. You'll notice the prophet describes the rule of Messiah breaking the staff of the oppressor from the shoulders of his people and he says it will happen "as on the day of Midian." Do you see that little note? It's easy to pass it by. Probably it is intended to remind us of the way the Midianites oppressed the people of God back in Judges chapters 6 through 8. And if you know that story, you will remember that God raised up a savior for the people of Israel in Judges 6 through 8 in the form of Gideon. And Gideon was able to triumph over the Midianites and brought peace to the land and to the people of God. Messiah, the prophet is saying, will be like Gideon. He will bring peace but He will bring it in the wake of His triumph, in the wake of His victory. Interestingly, Judges chapter 8 verse 9, we find Gideon in the middle of his campaign against the Midianites. And he tells the men of Penuel, "When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower." He clearly doesn't mean when he comes back he will destroy their power peacefully like he was going to wrap each bring in cotton wool or something. He means, "When I have finally defeated the Midianites, when I have triumphed and established a hard-won peace, in the wake of a final victory then I am going to come back and deal with you people." That's what he means.

 

In Wake of Victory

So here's the point. The peace that Messiah, the Prince brings, is a peace that He fights for and wins. It's a peace in the wake of victory. That's actually the point of verse 5. Look at verse 5. "For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire." So get the image clear in your mind. Imagine the scene of a great battle and the enemy has been utterly defeated and the smoke of the battle finally lifts and you see everywhere the paraphernalia of combat lying strewn about the place – shoes and garments rolled in blood, and here they are now all gathered up in the wake of the great victory and burned as fuel for the fire. The message is simple. Jesus wins. He wins an absolute victory. The peace He brings is the peace of victory, of triumph.

 

Listen, if the only image you have of Him is of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, you will certainly misunderstand what the prophet intends to communicate by this fourth title in verse 6 of chapter 9 – Prince of Peace. He came to triumph, and in the wake of his victory, He brings peace. Isn't it interesting to notice how at the beginning and at the end of His earthly ministry there are earthly rulers who are terribly threatened by Jesus. You have King Herod who, when the wise men come to visit, inquiring about the place where the one born to be King of the Jews should be found, orders the massacre of male children in an attempt to snuff out what he perceives to be a rival to his rule. And at the other end of the Gospel story, at the climax of Jesus' earthly ministry, He's dragged before Pilate who asks Him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" You see, Pilate wants to be clear – "Is this man really a threat to the rule of Caesar?" You remember Jesus' answer? "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." So Jesus' kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. He is a King, but His kingdom is not a geopolitical thing. And it does not progress by means of political instruments. It's a spiritual kingdom. It advances by different means – not by the sword but by the Word, by the Gospel.

 

And yet it is a kingdom and He is a King and the peace that characterizes that kingdom is a peace that’s won on the back of a victory. He engages in real battle and He triumphs. Revelation 17:14 pictures the world in opposition to the Gospel and says this. “They will make war on the Lamb” – a picture of Jesus – “and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful.” How does Jesus win His victory? He wins His victory by obeying and bleeding and dying and rising and reigning. He triumphs over Satan and sin and death and hell. And now He is seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, governing all things and reigning as Lord.

 

Contempt of the World

I hope you have been prompted at the news of fresh persecution in China for God's people there. I hope you've been prompted to prayerfulness as you see the suffering Church endure the malice and hatred of the world. That's how the world responds to the Gospel. Perhaps in our wealthy, enlightened context, the world responds more with sneering contempt and indifference and only gets hostile when you insist that there is no other way to God but by the Lord Jesus Christ. But the world still holds the exclusive claims of Jesus, even in our own neighborhoods and communities, in contempt. But in other places in the world, that contempt overflows into open persecution and hostility and wrath. The Church is suffering. Today, just like John's day when he wrote that in the book of Revelation about the nations making war against the Lamb, or in Jesus' day when He faced the malice of Pilate, today, just as Psalm 2 puts it, "The nations rage and the peoples plot in vain. The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, His Christ, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.'" That's how the world thinks about Jesus.

 

But the psalmist goes on. “He who sits in the heavens laughs. The Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury saying, ‘See, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’” Jesus reigns! Let the nations do their worst! That’s what Psalm 2 is saying. So if we are Christians, we should take heart. If you think back over 2018 and you see perhaps moral decay, you see perhaps the Church in our nation weakened and values that we cherish and hold dear undermined and rejected and denied, it’s easy to be discouraged. Or you look around the world and you see the church persecuted and suffering, it’s easy to be discouraged. But we should take heart because Jesus Christ is seated on the throne. He is the Prince of Peace, “and of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end.”

 

The Mission

You see, the outcome of the mission Christ has given to us is no in doubt; it’s not in doubt. “Go into all the world and make disciples.” Will the mission succeed? Yes, it will. How do we know? Because Jesus has already won the victory and is seated on the throne and His kingdom and peace will increase without end to the glory of His great name. You can face 2019, those of you who live under His rule, without fear. Not because you’re competent for whatever may come. Not because you are smart and wise and capable. You can face 2019 in all your weakness, in all your uncertainty without fear because your times are in His hands and you live today under the reign and the lordship of the Prince of Peace. Please do not face 2019, don’t face tomorrow without knowing what it is to come under the reign and lordship of the Prince of Peace. How can you face another day without knowing the one who holds the future in His hands and reigns as King, working all things together for the good of those who love Him.

 

Now just before we conclude, let me ask you if you know the greatest enemy of all facing people in the world today? How would you answer that question? Who is the greatest enemy facing people in the world today? It's not famine or disease. We can rule out rogue states – Russia, North Korea, ISIS. If you're not a Christian, if you don't know the Prince of Peace Himself, your greatest enemy is Almighty God Himself. Your greatest enemy is Almighty God Himself. We are, Paul says, "by nature children of wrath. Friendship with the world," he says, "is enmity against God." We are alienated from Him by our sin. Would you listen to me carefully, please? There is no way to understand what Christmas is about, no way to understand why Jesus was born, what it means that He came as Prince of Peace unless we get this clear above everything else, before everything else. The only way to know the peace He can bring us is by first having Jesus Christ make peace for us with Almighty God. He must make peace by the blood of His cross.

 

Today, if we’re not believers, we stand under the wrath and curse of God; His righteous judgment burns white-hot against us. But at the cross, Jesus bore the full fury of divine judgment that we who believe in Him might be pardoned and reconciled to God. God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you have peace with God through Jesus? The Prince of Peace came to make peace for you with God, to reconcile you to God. Are you at peace with God? How terrifying to face the future still at enmity against Him. Well, whatever else it means to have the Prince of Peace give you peace, it must mean this first – to have been reconciled to God by the blood of His cross. And for that, you must come and give up the reigns of your life, surrendering them into His hands, asking Him to come and be Lord and King, my Prince of Peace, my Master; taking His yoke and His burden, which is easy and light, you will find rest for your souls. He invites you, He invites you into His kingdom where there is rest for the weary and the heavy laden. Will you come and bend your knee to Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, our great Prince of Peace.

 

Let’s pray together.

 

Lord Jesus, we do confess to You that we often cherry-pick the parts of the Gospel story we like and we co-op them into our pre-existing lives and we carry on as if nothing had changed. We've used You to solve our consciences while we indulge our sin. We've lived as though our lives were our own, as though we were King and Master, as though executive authority rested with us. What rebels we have been. And yet, we have to confess to You, attempting to carry them, to shoulder the burden of kingship on our own is overwhelming, it's crushing, and we are defeated by it. And so now here this morning before You we ask You, Lord Jesus, to come and rule in our hearts, to take Your place as King of kings and Lord of lords. We surrender the reigns to You. Our shoulders are not big enough. We bless You that the governance is upon Your shoulders, and upon Your shoulders rests the keys of David and You can open and none shall shut. Please, would You open the kingdom to us and bring us in. We would shoulder Your easy yoke and light burden that we might find rest for our souls, peace with God and peace from God, from the hands of the Prince of Peace. For we ask this in Your precious name, amen.