Tag Archives: Christ

A Savior is Born

21 Dec

shepherds-11You can listen to the podcast here.

God is amazing. Two weeks ago I preached about there being no room at the inn. I wanted to remind you of the incredibleness of one verse about the birth of Christ. Nothing happened by accident. It was all part of God’s plan even though it’s hard for us to understand. If Joseph and Mary had waited a month or if Caesar made that decree just a few weeks later or earlier, things would have been different. God is the God in all circumstances and His timing is always best.

Luke 2:11 says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

This was a huge announcement. Notice the first phrase of the verse, “For today in the city of David.”       There can be some confusion about the city of David. In the Old Testament this phrase is used about 45 times and refers to Jerusalem. In 2 Sam. 5, David leads his men to Jerusalem which was under the control of the Jebusites. David defeated the Jebusites and 2 Sam. 5:9-10 says, “So David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built all around from the Millo and inward. David became greater and greater, for the Lord God of hosts was with him.” In the New Testament the City of David is only referred to twice and it means Bethlehem. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Bethlehem is controlled by the Palestinians – Arabs. Tourism is the main industry of Bethlehem and all the holy sites are very commercialized. At the center of Bethlehem sits the Church of the Holy Nativity. Inside this church you walk a long corridor that lead to a room where there is a very tight stairway leading down to the bowels of the church where it opens up into a larger room. In that room you find a silver star with a hole in the middle that leads down to the earth marking the place where Jesus is believed to have been born. During a trip to Bethlehem in 1865, Boston pastor Phillips Brooks looked over the hills of the little town and penned the now famous words, “O little of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.” Back in 1865, all was still quiet in Bethlehem. Remember King David and his family lived there and David most likely tended his sheep on the hills just outside the little town.

This announcement was no surprise to anyone familiar with the prophecy. Micah the prophet told everyone this would happen in 5:2, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” That prophecy happened about 700 years before Christ was born. Bethlehem was, “too little to be among the clans of Judah.” Back when Bethlehem was no more than a little, inconsequential place, the Lord decided it would be this way. It wasn’t even big enough to have a flashing yellow light. The Jews of the day would certainly have known this, but listen to this exchange found in Matt. 2:1-6. Jews should have been well versed in this prophecy. It kind of reminds me about things that as believers, we ought to know, but don’t. Something else to think about is the magi came from the east and show up in Jerusalem and ask about the King of the Jews that had been born. The magi knew and went looking for the King. The chief priests and scribes certainly should have been looking for this. Bethlehem is such a short distance away so wouldn’t you think they’d have been watching and waiting for years? Even though they should have had the knowledge and the wherewithal to investigate, they didn’t. It’s not enough just to know, knowing should lead to action.

Here’s the reality of His coming. In Lu. 2:11 the angel says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you.” “Born for you.” Focus on those three words. The Son of God has been born for you. Oddly enough, for something so miraculous, the pregnancy and birth of Christ really was ordinary. The miracle occurred nine months earlier. Joseph had nothing to do with Mary becoming pregnant. When she asked how, the angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Lu. 1:35) In Matt. 1:20 an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “The child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” That’s when the miracle took place. I’m sure Mary battled all the things pregnant women face. Morning sickness, fatigue, swollen feet, intense hunger that occurs without warning. The virgin birth is incredibly significant because it comes after the virgin conception. He was born of Mary so He was human. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit so He was deity. God enters humanity just like us taking on all the issues we face and yet with one distinct difference. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” He was fully God and fully man. Somehow this overshadowing by the Holy Spirit created life in Mary that was totally divine and totally human. How can it be? I have no idea. He was and remains totally unique. The totally unique became completely common for the following nine months.

This is a story of faith. Some people read Luke 2 and call it theological fiction. It’s a great story, but it’s simply a fairy tale with religious significance. It’s like Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Luke said, “for today” in his writing. It’s widely recognized that Luke’s purpose for writing was to provide a detailed account unlike any other biblical writers. That’s what he says in Luke 1:1-4. When you read the words of Luke, you need to read it like you are reading history. It is truth, not fiction and we believe it by faith. Look at the result of the coming of Jesus. Luke says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Those three titles should jump out at you. Savior, Christ, Lord. Each word is significant. Savior is actually an Old Testament word that means one who delivers his people. Christ is the Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah which means the anointed One. Lord is a term for Deity. It’s a synonym for God. When the angel appeared in Joseph’s dream, he said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21). No sin is too great; no one is too far gone. No one is beyond His grace and His mercy. That’s the message of Christ’s birth. Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” This is the essence of Christmas. God loved you so much that He was willing to give up His one and only Son so you could have life.

So what you ask, you’ve heard it all before. What’s the purpose of His coming? Look at our verse one more time. “For today in the city of David there has been born for you.” Don’t gloss over those two little words, “For you.” Remember what’s going on here. There were unnamed and unnumbered shepherds in the fields. The angel is speaking to them collectively, but gives an individual declaration. Being a shepherd took little skill and was often fulfilled by young people. Remember David was just a boy when he tended sheep. Did you ever ask yourself, why did the angel appear to a bunch of shepherds. Why didn’t the angel appear to those Jewish scholars that were hanging out in the temple less than ten miles away? Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Ma. 2:17) Jesus came for you. It is the simplicity of the Gospel that gets so many people wrapped up. Why would He do that? It doesn’t make sense. Many people believe in the birth of Christ, but it’s not enough to believe that it happened. We must come to the conclusion that Christ came for me. The gift of God is available when you receive it as your own.

In five short days, Christmas will be here. Across the globe, people will celebrate in much the same way. They’ll gather around the tree that has presents piled high and often all around it. There are kids that wake up their parents literally in the middle of the night because they are so excited to open the presents. There are kids that know that Christmas is exactly 108 hours away. Do you ever leave presents under the tree that remain unopened? Of course not, yet we have been given a gift that came with incredible cost. As I reflected on this principle, I am more convinced than ever that we profess that we have received the incredible gift of God’s Son, but like that ugly Christmas sweater or tie, we simply don’t use it after it’s been opened. We put it in a closet and we’ll only wear it, or bring it out when the gift giver is present. Isn’t that like our relationship with Christ? Do we just wear it when the pastor or our church friends come over? Do we keep it in the closet until we need it. Over the years, Kari has given me some really great gifts. A shotgun. Reloading equipment. A basketball goal. I still have the shotgun, but haven’t used it in a number of years. Same for the reloading equipment. The basketball goal was sold on a yard sale.

As I get older, I need less and less things and want even less. As believers, the biggest, most incredible gift we’ve ever received is the gift of Christ. It’s a gift that is useful regardless of the season. It doesn’t wear out and it never gets old. It ever goes out of style. The gift of Christ is a gift that should keep on giving. It’s a gift that has immeasurable value. It’s a gift we should be grateful to use and show others how to use it too. What have you done and what are you doing with the most incredible gift ever given?

The Debate Rages On . . .

18 Sep

I love a good, healthy debate on the truths of Scripture. My wife sent this to me and thought it was pretty good. I agree so I’m reposting this article from the Gospel Coalition. One interesting thing to point out that the author does as well, is this argument of Reformed Theology is mostly between theologians, between church members, between pastor friends. etc. We’re spending time in the church debating matters of Scripture and missing the point of the Gospel. I have never met one single Calvinist, or one single Reformed Theology guy that does not believe he is NOT one of the elect. Not one time has someone told me, “Yeah Ian, I have thoroughly studied the Scriptures and I’ve come to the conclusion that Christ offers limited atonement and I wasn’t offered that atonement.”

Here is the article in its entirety.

A Word to My Calvinist Friends

Brothers,

Consider me irked. Irked, as in, “I love you, guys, but you’re talking down to me, not with me.”

That’s my basic response after reading a brief interview with Matt Barrett and Tom Nettles about their new book Whomever He Wills (Founders, 2012) that puts forth a robust argumentation for a Reformed view of soteriology.

Many of you are my friends, including some of the authors of this volume. So, allow me say at the outset how much I admire your conviction, your theological rigor, and your commitment to rightly interpreting the Scriptures.

Let me also put this little squabble in perspective. When I consider the culture’s current trajectory as well as the disturbing evangelical capitulation to culture rather than biblical truth, this in-house debate between people who believe in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture is just that, in-house. It is certainly not the most important topic for discussion.

But as one who doesn’t follow your logical arguments all the way to their conclusions, I confess my frustration with the type of condescension that often accompanies your passion for your position.

Particular Redemption in Service to Universal Atonement

Here’s an example from the interview. Consider how the question is worded:

What about the death of Christ have convictional “four-point Calvinists” perhaps failed to adequately consider?

Instead of asking, “Why do you reject the unlimited atonement view?,” the question is framed in a way that treats four-point Calvinists like they have simply failed to adequately consider all the relevant points. The implication is this: Oh, those four-pointers are good guys, but they obviously haven’t thought it through as well as we have.

No, my brothers. There are plenty of us who reject the traditional Calvinistic understanding of limited atonement precisely because we have adequately considered the arguments and have found them wanting. The reason I stand with theologians like J.C. Ryle, Millard Erickson, Gregg Allison, Bruce Demarest, and Bruce Ware is because their argumentation is more persuasive than yours.

I understand you believe you are safeguarding the reality of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice when you affirm a definite atonement position. Many non-Calvinists believe they are safeguarding the free offer of the gospel by affirming the general atonement position. The truth is, just as Calvinists can believe in definite atonement and the free offer of the gospel, so also can non-Calvinists believe in general atonement and penal substitution. Neither one is necessarily lost by either position. That’s why I defend Calvinists from the charge that taking a limited atonement position necessarily leads to apathy in evangelism. I’d appreciate it if you’d defend your general atonement friends from the charge that our position leads to universalism instead of saying our view “threatens to tear apart the Holy Trinity.”

Yes, there are statements in Scripture that stress the particularity of Christ’s sacrifice and its universality. But to squeeze universal feet into tight, particular shoes is precisely the wrong choice to make. Instead, when the particular texts are nestled snugly into their universal shoes, they fit more naturally.

In the context of the Old Testament, particularity serves universality. God chose a particular man in Genesis 12 (Abraham), in order that through his seed, the whole worldwould be blessed. God’s chosen people, Israel, are not selected merely to receive God’s covenantal benefits, but to be God’s missional people, a light to the nations. In other words, God’s choice of Israel was prompted by His love for the nations. The particular nation of Israel was the means by which He would provide redemption for all people.

In the same way, Jesus can say that He comes only to the lost sheep of Israel, not because He has no heart for the Gentiles, but because it is the particular nature of His ministry that will provide the catalyst for worldwide restoration. His mission to Israel enables the church’s mission to the nations.

Likewise, our election has a missional component. We are chosen to be the means by which God’s salvation extends universally. The particular nature of our salvation has, as its intention, the universal extension of the gospel as a sign of God’s benevolent heart to all.

So, just as my friend David Schrock can title a chapter “Jesus Saves, No Asterisk Needed,” I like to say, “Jesus died for the sins of the world,” and I don’t need an asterisk either.

Calvinism and the Gospel

Leaving debates about the extent of the atonement aside for a moment, I want to point out something else that continues to trouble me – the equation of Calvinistic soteriology with the gospel itself. I wish, for the sake of all of us, that you would abandon this divisive rhetoric, not because it’s divisive but because it’s simply untrue. The gospel cannot be reduced to a particular view of soteriology.

Now, to be fair, you consider the doctrines of grace as “the foundation on which the gospel itself is built,” not the message itself. And when you quote Charles Spurgeon’s words equating Calvinism and the gospel (a place where I believe the great Spurgeon got it wrong), you are not saying that those of us who do not subscribe to all the points of Calvinism fail to believe the gospel. Instead, you consider this shorthand for biblical Christianity.

I get what you’re saying. But please consider what it sounds like to those of us who disagree. It sounds like you are making a systematic presentation of theology the gospel. As if the gospel were a set of doctrines, not the announcement of King Jesus. Plus, it smacks of elitism and sends young Calvinists back to their churches, thinking that if their pastors haven’t parsed the petals of TULIP, they aren’t really gospel preachers.

Let’s be very clear. The gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life in our place, died a substitutionary death on the cross for the sins of the world, rose triumphantly from the grave to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as King of the world. This announcement calls for a response: repentance (mourning over and turning from our sin, trading our agendas for the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation).

The gospel is not the ordo salutis. It is not Grudem’s systematic theology. Nor is it the fivesolas.

I understand your desire to buttress the gospel announcement with a robust, theological vision of soteriology. But I think a stronger case can be made that one’s ecclesiological underpinnings are just as important (if not more so) to safeguarding the gospel. (I digress. That’s the Baptist coming out in me, so I’ll need to save that for another time, another post.)

Conclusion

So, my brothers, I thank you for your love for the Lord, the Scriptures, and the church. I simply ask that you consider the effect of your rhetoric on those who disagree with you, and that even when you disagree, you do not put forth your view with condescension.

Side by side with you,

Your Calvinist-loving but sometimes frustrated friend,

Trevin

The Shocking Truth

27 Aug

You can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we saw that Peter encouraged us to manifest God’s love by using the gifts He gave to us. The emphasis was on serving in love because the end is drawing near. Throughout this letter, Peter has spoken of suffering and persecution and trials. This morning, Peter gives us some more good news.

Take a look at 1 Peter 4:12-16.

Peter gives us this great warning: don’t be surprised, more trials are coming. Just what I needed to hear. Peter has gone to great lengths to establish the foundation of their hope in Christ. He has called his readers the holy people of God, living stones in God’s temple, and heirs of heaven. Since we share in the victory of the resurrection of Christ, it seems awful unfair that the people of God should suffer. Peter’s reminder that more trials are coming may be shocking, but you have to understand why suffering comes.

Peter shows the meaning of suffering from two sides. First, our suffering for Christ is linked to Christ’s suffering for us. We share in Christ’s suffering now, but one day we will share in His glory. One is present; one is future. Consider what Peter knew about the suffering of Christ. He saw first hand what happened in the garden. He saw Christ suffer and die at Calvary. Christ, who is righteous, suffered for us who are unrighteous. In 3:18, Peter said, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” Maybe you are thinking, “But it’s just not fair.  I’ve lived my Christian life serving the Lord and all I get is heartache.” Remember Job? His crime, if you will, was that, “There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”  (Job 1:8) We have a pattern in Christ.  Remember in 2:21 where Peter said, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” Our sufferings bear witness to His sufferings. I’m not saying that our sufferings can compare to Christ’s sufferings, but they do link us together so that we can get just a taste of what He did for us.

Second, our suffering does not destroy us; it purifies us. Peter mentions the fiery ordeal. Ordeal comes from the word purosis that means the burning by which metals are roasted and reduced.  It can also refer to calamities or trials that test the character of a person. A refiner puts impure metal in a fire to melt the metal. The impurities either burn off or float to the top where they can be skimmed off. The picture is easy to see. Christ allows these trials in our lives in order to remove the impurities in our character. A jeweler has no other way to purify precious metals than to put it in a fire. The same is true of us. All the awesome things of Scripture, all the wonderful things you learn are brought home through suffering. The greatest lessons we learn in this life are brought to the front through the lens of suffering. Christ seeks to purify us by allowing us to suffer; to make us stronger; to make us more like him.

Don’t be surprised and don’t bring suffering on yourself. Verse 14 says, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” Notice this is a conditional clause.  It begins with the word, “if.” Peter makes it clear that if we are to suffer or endure trials, it should be due to a real cause, the cause of Christ. Look at the words of Scripture. Matt. 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 1 Cor. 4:12, “. . . When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure.” Phil. 1:29, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” In speaking of Saul of Tarsus Jesus said, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”  (Acts 9:16) Rom. 8:17, “And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” 1 Thes. 3:4, “For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.” You get the idea.

Suffering, persecution, and enduring trials are all part of the Christian walk. Suffering for Christ leads to glory and tastes of glory; it also gives glory to God. Remember the rest of Job’s story.  Satan argued that the only reason Job loved God was because of his stuff. After all that Satan did in Job’s life, destroyed his riches, his possessions, his family, his health, everything about him, Satan destroyed. All the accusations Satan brought against God and Job were proved false. Throughout the ages, Christians have stood firmly against the accusations and persecutions that have come as a result of their living for Christ. Paul and Silas sang praises in the prison at Philippi. Peter boldly spoke of Christ to the very rulers who crucified the Savior. The same type of persecution happens today, only worse. More Christians have been martyred in the last century than in all previous centuries combined. But we’re not talking about martyrdom necessarily. We’re talking about suffering for Christ’s name.  For taking a stand about anything that is contrary to the teachings of Scripture. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. The idea is that if you are called to suffer for the cause of Christ, you will not be left or forsaken. God will impart His Spirit to you in proportion to your sufferings for His name. The real kicker is that through the Spirit, you’ll have joy and peace. You might be thinking, “I’d never be able to do that.” Matt. 10:19“But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” The Holy Spirit will give you what you need when you need it. If you are called to suffer, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler.” In other words, if you are going to suffer, don’t bring it on yourself by committing a crime. Perhaps Peter calls out murder and stealing because they were, and remain against the law.

Peter also mentions troublesome meddlers? This word is also translated mischief maker and busybody. Chances are few of us will be guilty of murder, but who can say they’ve interfered into matters that don’t concern them? Peter is saying that there is no glory to God in suffering for our own wrongdoing and it doesn’t have to be of the magnitude of murder.

Don’t be surprised that trials are coming. Don’t bring suffering on yourself by doing wrong things. When we suffer because of the name of Jesus we should rejoice. It’s contrary to our flesh, but consistent with Christ.

Wordless Wednesday

15 Dec