Tuesday, December 15, 2015

God Came to Save

Part 3 of Unwrapping Christmas

Text: Matthew 1:21

You can listen to this sermon here.

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). 

Baby Names

Naming a baby is a big deal! It’s interesting to look back and see and what the most popular baby names were the year before. In Canada, the top names for baby girls in 2014 were (1) Olivia, (2) Maya/Mia/Mya, (3) Sophia/ Sofia, (4) Emma, and (5) Charlotte. The most popular names for baby boys were (1) Liam, (2) William, (3) Jacob, (4) Lucas/Lukas, and (5) Noah. Every year there are unique baby names. Last year in Alberta, babies were named Bandit, Huckleberry, and Thunderboy. 

It’s probably a good thing that the responsibility of naming the baby wasn’t given to Joseph and Mary. Imagine trying to pick a name for a baby conceived “from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20)!

The Name "Jesus"

Joseph was told by the angel to “call [the baby’s] name Jesus” (Matt. 1:21). “Jesus” was a common name in those days. Jesus was often called “Jesus of Nazareth” because there were many other men named Jesus. Why the name Jesus? The angel said, “For he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

“Jesus” was a fitting name for someone born to be a Saviour. 

We could replace the word “for” with “because”: “You shall call his name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh (i.e., the LORD) saves.”

God to the Rescue

Psalm 130 promises that God would bring salvation to Israel: “And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (v. 8). How would Jesus “save his people from their sins”? During the Last Supper, Jesus took a cup and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Jesus would save people through his death on a cross. The New Covenant is a promise that all who trust in his atoning death will be saved (i.e., forgiven of their sins).

Good News of Great Joy!

When something good happens in our lives, we want to share the news with others.

The story of Jesus being born to be our Saviour is news worth sharing! 

The angel said to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). What was the “good news of great joy”? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Why do we often fail to share the good news of Jesus’ birth with others? Do we really consider what Jesus has done for us “good news of great joy”? Or has the story become old to us?

[1] http://www.todaysparent.com/top-100-baby-names-in-canada-2014/

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/07/30/alberta-baby-names_n_7906094.html

[3] The symbolic use of names is common in the Bible (e.g., Gen. 41:51-52).

[4] In Greek, the name is Iesous, translated “Joshua” in the Old Testament and “Jesus” in the New.

[5] In Luke 1, Zechariah, knowing that the Messiah was soon to be born, exclaimed, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (v. 68).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

God Came to Serve

Part 2 of Unwrapping Christmas

Text: Philippians 2:3-8

You can listen to this sermon here.

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:6-7). 

A Christmas Surprise 

Christmas is a great time for surprises. In the Gospel of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, there are two surprising details. First, Mary “laid [Jesus] in a manger” (Luke 2:7). A manger is a feeding trough. Second, there was “no place for [Joseph, Mary, and Jesus] in the inn [1]” (Luke 2:7).

It’s interesting that both Luke and Matthew mention a king in their accounts of the birth of Jesus (King Herod, Matt. 2:1; Caesar Augustus, Luke 2:1). Herod and Caesar Augustus were nothing compared to Jesus, the King of kings, but Jesus wasn’t welcomed into the world as we would expect him to be.

The apostle Paul tells us something even more surprising about the birth of Jesus: Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:6-7).

When God came to earth, he came to serve. 

Nobody expected this! Jesus himself declared that he “came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Equal with God

Paul writes that Jesus was fully God and fully man. He “was in the form of God” (v. 6). The Greek word that has been translated “form” is morphe, which refers to “the inner nature or substance of something, not its external or outward shape.” [2] This is why the New International Version reads, “being in very nature God.” Paul also states that Jesus possessed “equality with God” (v. 6). “God” refers to God the Father. If Jesus is equal to God, he must be God. God says, “I am God, and there is none like me” (Isa. 46:9). God is exclusively God.

Paul writes that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6). This doesn’t mean that Jesus ceased to be God when he became a man. God can’t cease to be God. “Surely what Paul means is this: Christ being fully God, possessing the very nature of God and being fully equal to God in every respect, did not thereby insist on holding onto all the privileges and benefits of his position of equality with God (the Father) and thereby refuse to accept coming as a man.” [3]

An Act of Unmatched Love and Humility

Then Paul says that Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (v. 7). How did he serve us? Paul writes, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (v. 8).

The greatest act of service was the death of Jesus on the cross.

Think about the word “even”: “even death on a cross.” Not only was Jesus willing to die for us, but he was also willing to die by crucifixion. The love and humility of Jesus is indescribable. C. S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

Two Responses

What should our response be to what Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-8?

1. Our hearts must be moved by the love and humility of Jesus. 

2. We must answer the call to serve. 

Paul urges the Philippians to have the “mind” (i.e., attitude) of Jesus (v. 5). He writes, “Do nothing from rivalry 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” (vv. 3-4). Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). What can you do this December to give of yourself to others?

[1] The “inn” could refer to “an ancient inn that would have consisted of a large room in which everyone found a place to lie down wherever they could or to the guest room in a private residence (possibly that of relatives). Either way, there was no room for a birth in the normal place where Joseph and Mary would have expected to find lodging” (Andreas J. Kostenberger, Alexander Stewart, The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation, Kindle locations 2574-2576).
[2] Bruce A. Ware, The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ, Kindle locations 184-185.
[3] Ibid., Kindle locations 212-214.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Really God

Part 1 of Unwrapping Christmas

Text: John 1:1-18

You can listen to this sermon here.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.... No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:1, 14, 18). 

A Surprising Gift 

Did you ever receive a surprising Christmas gift?

People are often surprised when they learn what the Gospels really say about Jesus. In John 1:1-18, John calls Jesus the “Word,” and he makes three surprising statements about the Word: (1) “the Word was God” (v. 1); (2) “the Word became flesh” (v. 14); (3) “[the Word] has made [God] known” (v. 18). “The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man.” [1] The theological term for the birth of Jesus is the “incarnation”—God became incarnate (i.e., embodied in human flesh).

The baby lying in a manger was God in human flesh. 

On the night of Jesus’ birth, the angel said to the shepherds, “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11, NASB). Jesus was born for us. It could be said that his birth was the first Christmas gift—God giving himself to us. Now that’s a surprising gift!

Who Is Jesus? 

There is no more important question than the question “Who is Jesus?” If we answer that question incorrectly, we will end up with something less that true Christianity. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (v. 1). How could Jesus both be God and be with God?

John 1:1 is consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity (i.e., God’s three-in-oneness): there is only one God, but there are three persons who are God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). In John 10:30, Jesus declares, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus and the Father are distinct (“I and the Father”), but they are also “one.” His enemies understood what he was claiming (“you, being a man, make yourself God,” John 10:33). 

One of the heresies of ancient church history was Arianism—named after its originator Arius (c. A.D. 250-336). According to Arianism, Jesus did not always exist and was created by God the Father. But v. 3 clearly refutes Arianism: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” [2] There are no new heresies, just old heresies repackaged. We need to know what the Bible says about Jesus so that we might not be deceived by false teaching (e.g., the false teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses [3] and Mormons).

God Made Known

As we express ourselves through words, God expresses himself through the Word. The Word who “was God” (v. 1) “became flesh” (v. 14) and “has made [God] known” (v. 18). [4] Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Jesus was born so that we might know God. 

To “know” God means more than knowing information about God; it also includes having a friendship with God. In his prayer to the Father, Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Two Responses

Baby Jesus was really God! We should have two responses to this amazing truth. First, we should accept the truth about Jesus, which leads to eternal life. He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Second, we should be filled with wonder, which leads to action. Perhaps you could read an Advent devotional this December. The more we are amazed by the story of the birth of Jesus, the more we will be filled with love for God. And love for God leads to obedience to God.

[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 58.
[2] Jesus is called the Word partly because God created all things through the power of his word (“And God said,” Gen. 1:1).
[3] In the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation, John 1:1 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
[4] “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our father by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).