Posts Tagged 'Incarnation'



Jesus: God Incarnate

john

The Gospel of John, Part One

 The “Incarnation” is a powerful Christian doctrine.  The doctrine teaches that God enfleshed Himself in Jesus Christ  and is the doctrine behind Christmas.  “Incarnation” comes from the Latin “in-carnis,” meaning “in flesh.”

The Gospel of John emphasizes the Incarnation unlike the other three.  The Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – are histories of the life and times of Jesus Christ.  John’s Gospel is different in content and emphasis.  John’s Gospel isn’t so much a history of Jesus as it is a study of Jesus as both the Son of Man and the Son of God.  The Incarnation is the central theme of this great Gospel.

1.  The Word comes to us in the flesh, John 1:1-5; 10-14

 (a)  Glimpses of Genesis, 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  (John 1:1-4 NIV84)

This Gospel has been called “the paragon among the Gospels, the one, tender, real crown-Gospel of them all,” so said Martin Luther.  The introductory paragraph might well be the most overtly theological paragraph in all the Bible.  It’s a magnificent beginning because it portrays the life of Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, in eternity, long before the creation of the material universe.  With echoes of the book of Genesis, John’s readers would have been reminded of the Creative work of God.  When God did His work of creation, Christ was there with Him.  That would have been a powerful thought for the readers of this Gospel.

The opening paragraph not only reveals the eternity of Christ, it reveals something about its author, John.  The writing style is so lyrical it shows a depth skill and ability not usually equated with fishermen.  When the heavens were created, “the Word” was there.  What did John mean by referring to Jesus as “the Word?”  A lot of discussion has taken place around this question.  Was Christ “an expression” from the mind of God?  That’s what Greek philosophers might say.  But Christ as “the Word” means a lot more than that.   The Second Person of the Trinity is a Person, not merely an “idea” or “expression” proceeding from the mind of God.  Consider these verses:

And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.  (Genesis 1:3 NIV84)

Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”  (Genesis 1:26 NIV84)

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God…  (Hebrews 11:3 KJV)

 For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.  (Psalms 33:4 KJV)

 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.  (Psalms 33:6 KJV)

 For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.  (Psalms 33:9 KJV)

 He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.  (Psalms 107:20 KJV)

 These were not mere words or sounds that God made, like we make when we speak.  In these words and commands, we see the Son of God at the Father’s side, revealed in omnipotence and creative power, active since eternity past.

The Word “was with God” in the past.  Verse two describes the closest possible relationship that existed between the Word and God:  the Word was “face to face with God.”  Finally John makes the statement that settles any argument about just who Jesus is:  He not only was with God, but is  God.

(b)  Jesus versus the world, 1:10-14

In this group of verses, John, using a simple yet majestic writing style, tells his readers the fact, the purpose, and the result of the Incarnation.

The Fact:  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.   (John 1:10 NIV84)

The Purpose:  He came to that which was his own…  (John 1:11a NIV84)

The Result(s):  ...his own did not receive him.  (John 1:11b NIV84); Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…  (John 1:12  NIV84)

Verse 14 could be the most profound statement in all human history:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14 NIV84)

The Word, who has existed from all eternity at God’s side; the Creator of all there is, became a human being.  He left eternity and inserted Himself into our time and history.  The phrase “made his dwelling among us” means “to pitch one’s tent” where man pitches his.  What a descriptive phrase!

Though many rejected Him, many did not.  The tragedy of verse 11 should be highlighted.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.   (John 1:11 NIV84)

It was not the “natural world” that rejected Jesus.  At worst, the world simply did not recognize Him.  Tragically, Jesus was rejected – willfully rejected –  by His very own people.

2.  God the Father Revealed, John 1:18; 12:44, 45; 14:5-11

 (a)  Jesus:  God visible, 1:18

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Fathers side, has made him known.  (John 1:18 NIV84)

It was a firm, Jewish conviction that no one had ever seen God, which is why John wrote what he did.  Moses “saw” God, but never really got to know God personally.  Job hit on something profound when he observed:

Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?  (Job 11:7, 8 KJV)

God is a spirit, and spirits cannot be seen.  God may have “appeared” so some fortunate souls in the Old Testament, but whatever it was they saw with their eyes, it could not have been God’s literal form.  That’s what makes the Incarnation such a rich and powerful doctrine.  For the first time ever in human history, man could “see” God “face to face.”  In other words, only through the Incarnation and subsequent faith in Jesus Christ is it possible for a human being to fellowship with the Almighty.

(b)  Jesus is the “sent one,” 12:44, 45

Then Jesus cried out, When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.  When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.”   (John 12:44, 45 NIV84)

When John wrote that “Jesus cried out,” he was making it clear that what Jesus said was meant to be heard by the crowd, not just His disciples.  This was like a summary statement; Jesus made it clear as He could to His own who He was and what He wanted from them.  Knowing Christ means knowing the Father.  To look constantly and intently at Jesus – to observe how He lived and to listen to what He said –  is to literally know God the Father.

Knowing Jesus is knowing God, the One who sent Him.  The Jews claimed to know God, but the very fact that they rejected Jesus, the One He sent, proved that they really did not know God at all.  Had they known God as well as they claimed, they would have easily recognized Jesus for who and for what He was.

(c)  Jesus is the way to God the Father, 14:5-11

After three long years of working together, Jesus told His disciples that He would be leaving soon.  This prompted Thomas to ask a question.

Thomas said to him, Lord, we dont know where you are going, so how can we know the way?  (John 14:5 NIV84)

Thomas spoke for all the disciples, but it was a question born of discouragement; he was not trying to be argumentative.  He was being pessimistic.  Thomas had some faith, but not quite enough to see what Jesus was saying.

Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6 NIV84)

This is one of the seven great “I am’s” of his Gospel.  Jesus doesn’t say He is just “one way” among others.  He doesn’t say that He is “a way.”  Jesus makes it crystal clear that He is the ONLY way to God the Father.  There is NO OTHER way to get to God except through Jesus Christ. He was sent by, came from, and will return to, the Father.

3.  Unity of the Father and the Son, John 17:1-26

Understanding the Trinity has always been a challenge, and it was a real challenge for the early church.  Judaism routinely affirmed that God is one.  Christianity, with its first Jewish members, had to broach the idea of “the three-in-one” carefully and deftly.  Gentile Christians in the early church came from religions with many Gods, so teaching about the Trinity had to be very clear so as not to confuse them!  At the Council of Nicea in 325, the doctrine of the Trinity was ratified, upholding what the Bible taught:  there is a relationship between the Father and the Son within the Trinity; they are “of the same substance” yet different.

(a)  Jesus prays for His disciples, 17:1-19

 Chapter 17 contains the “real Lord’s Prayer.”  In His high priestly prayer, Jesus prays for Himself (verses 1-5); for His disciples  (verses 6-19); and other believers (the church, verses 20-26).

As Jesus prays specifically for His disciples, He is their only advocate.  But when He prays for them, it becomes clear that two great forces come together  on their behalf:  “I,” the One praying, and the “Father,” the One to whom Jesus is praying.  With that kind of support, no disciple should ever fear failure!  Jesus prays for their protection, but the main thrust of the request is verse 17-

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  (John 17:17  NIV84)

In His prayer, Jesus told the Father that He wasn’t praying for His disciples to be taken out of the world, but that they would be protected while living in the world.  But in verse 17, He prays for their sanctification.  That word simply means “so be separated” from.  So while the disciples were to remain in the world, they were to be separate from the world.  This separation would be accomplished through the power of the Word.  No man can sanctify himself.  It can only be accomplished through the power of God in the truth of the Word.

(b)  Jesus prays for the church, 17:20-26

 Closing out His lengthy prayer, Jesus prays for unity among all believers.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  (John 17:20-21 NIV84)

The unity Jesus is praying for is not some kind Ecumenicism; it is not just an outward unity.  The unity that should exist among believers must be like the unity of the Trinity.  Unity must be of a spiritual nature.  Of course, the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are of the same essence, but believers need to be of one mind, effort and purpose when it comes to things concerning the Church and the work of the Kingdom.

But the Trinity is not just model of the kind of unity Jesus wants, it is the foundation of that unity.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make the impossible possible:  unity among believers.

This unity is vitally important because as the world sees Christians living in unity, they would be pointed to Heavenward, to the Messiah.  When Christians are united in faith and when they put forth that unity of faith to the world, they will be a powerful force for God.  But the opposite is also true.  When the Church of Jesus Christ is torn apart by dissension and controversy, the lost will simply shake their heads in disbelief, not knowing what to  make of them.

So, of all the worthy things a church may be involved in, the most important may be to foster a sense of unity around the Word, which will result in a church at peace.  But note, unity must be around the truth of the Word, not around any doctrine or practice of man.

 

NIGHT OF THE INCARNATION

nativity

Luke 2:1-20

It’s interesting to compare chapters 1 and 2 of Luke’s Gospel. Chapter 1 is long and very complex, yet chapter 2 is comparatively brief even though it contains the story of Jesus’ birth.

In chapter 2, Luke stresses three main points:

  • The political situation, which explains why Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem;

  • Bethlehem was the town of David, which explains why Jesus had a rightful claim to the throne of David;

  • The humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth.

At the very outset of Luke’s version of the story, we are confronted with Caesar Augustus. Luke probably mentions his name to give Theophilus, to whom this Gospel was written, historical context. But we should also see a glaring contrast between the decree of earthly king versus that of God.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (Luke 2:1)

Government decrees are rarely cause for rejoicing! This “decree” issued by Caesar August was terribly burdensome. Can you imagine if President Obama issued a similar decree today? There would be national chaos. Caesar’s decree, which disrupted every life in the Roman Empire, was for the purpose of taxation. This particular taxing though, was not a one-time thing. It was a continual effort that went on  periodically over at least a 14 year period.   An earthly tyrant may issue a decree, but that decree was all part of God’s plan to bring His Son into the world at the right time, in the right place to fulfill ancient prophecies. As far back as Micah 5:2, we read God’s decree:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Man only thinks he is in charge. God, in fact, orchestrates the events of this world for the sole purpose of bringing Himself glory and pointing sinful man to Him. In a strange twist, Caesar Augustus brought about the the fulfillment of God’s will by creating the necessary circumstances.

We have to sit back and smile and ask ourselves, Is anything too hard for God? How can there be when God is in complete control?

1. The arrival

and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:7)

Use of the phrase “her firstborn son” tells us that, in spite of Roman Catholic doctrine, Mary did have other children. But it also tells us something else very significant: Jesus was her first child. She was, in fact, the virgin prophesied in Isaiah. Jesus was born the natural way, but His conception was miraculous.

There are all kinds of apocryphal stories and legends surrounding the night the Light of the World came into the world. We know that Bethlehem would have been overcrowded with families coming in for the census, plus there would have been Roman soldiers in town to quell any protests or riots. So, it makes sense that there was no “guest room” available for them. The image we have is that of a young family, about to have a baby, trying to find a hotel room. This probably is not an entirely accurate image. The birth narratives indicate that Mary and Joseph had been in town for a while before Jesus was born. Since this was his home town, he probably had family there. Luke’s “guest room” could refer to there being no room at his relative’s home as well as no room at any inn in town. Where would they stay? In all likelihood, the notion of a “cave” is also apocryphal, having been first put forward by Origen’s time.

It’s not romantic, but Mary and Joseph probably stayed in some sort of family shed or outbuilding that provided warmth and shelter. Hallmark cards are not the best when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

Still, nobody had room for this young couple or their soon-coming baby. Is it any different today? There is still no room for Jesus is the lives of most people, and, sadly, even in the lives of those who call themselves Christians, Jesus – whom they claim to be their Savior – is relegated to the outbuilding of their hearts. Even in the Church of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man has no pillow on which to lay His head. It’s hard to imagine a Church where Jesus isn’t welcome! But any time a Church has no time for the Word of God, it has no room for Jesus. He is the living Word, after all.

Many of the “social gospel” persuasion love to stress the notion that Mary and Joseph were destitute and dirt poor, which is why they couldn’t get a room. This is probably another legend with no basis in fact. Joseph was a tradesman – a carpenter – and he was as good as married to Mary, according to Jewish tradition. He no doubt had been preparing for his marriage by saving and working. By no means rich, he probably was not part of the “poorest of the poor” in Jewish society.

Luke in his narrative describes the humble circumstances of the Lord’s birth to show how strange an occurrence this event was to be. Here was a King, born in a shed. Here was the Lord, coming to His people in a small, overcrowded town.

2. The proclamation

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-12, 10 and 11 cited)

“Christ the Lord’s” coming was announced by “the angel of the Lord,” accompanied by the “glory of the Lord.” There was no more lowly occupation in Palestine than that of shepherd. It was hard work; it was dirty work; it was lonely work. Why did God choose to announce the birth of His Son to men like this? Shepherds were considered untrustworthy and unclean. Shouldn’t God have chosen men whose occupations were a little more respected? Why not religious leaders? Or political leaders? Obviously, these shepherds were men God could trust to see the glorious spectacle and hear the angelic announcement. It is fitting that the Great Shepard chose to reveal His birth to shepherds; that social outcasts would be the first to hear about the birth of One who Himself would be an outcast among His people.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Jesus was probably not born in December, although He could have been. The Bible is silent on precisely when the event took place, so it probably isn’t important for us to know. It’s funny that so much has been written on this topic. Christians are generally pretty good at majoring on minor points.

For their part, when the angel of the Lord appeared to them, the shepherds were terrified, just as Zechariah was. Who wouldn’t have been afraid by this amazing sight? Neither Zechariah nor these shepherds had seen such a thing before. But the angel spoke words of comfort, and he spoke words that Luke, though not an eyewitness, would deem as being most important as he uses them again and again in his Gospel. The words “Savior” and “salvation” occur well over 40 times in the writings of Luke and that of his friend, Paul. The “angel of the Lord” announced good news: the birth of the Savior. The shepherds would have interpreted that as a political savior had just been born, but God’s idea of salvation has to do with the soul of man. Circumstances in life change; good times come and go, but the soul is immortal, and without Christ, it’s sick and has no future. Jesus Christ came into our world to heal the sick soul and give it a future!

As if the angel of the Lord wasn’t enough, suddenly the shepherds saw and heard even more:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13, 14)

We can only imagine how the angels felt that night as they delivered this stunning news to this band of lowly shepherds. Of all the things angels can do, one thing they can never experience is redemption and salvation.

…Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)

All they can do is “look” and marvel at what God has done and continues to do for those who call out to Him.

3. Inquiry and Testimony

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:15, 16)

We have no English equivalent for the Greek behind “Let’s go.” It is an urgency, these shepherds thought, to get to Bethlehem to confirm what they had just been told. The “this thing” refers to the birth of the Savior, and they rushed off to find Him. Luke makes it sound like they went right to Him, but it probably took them some time find where this Savior was born.

They heard the word from heaven, they believed the word, and they acted on it. It’s a shame that more Christians don’t behave more like these shepherds. If Christians would hear Word, believe the Word, and most of all ACT on the Word of God, they, like the shepherds, would find Jesus. These shepherds didn’t take time debate what they had seen and heard; they didn’t call a meeting to form a consensus of opinion. They had the wisdom to simply say, “Let’s go…and see this thing that has happened.” That’s faith!

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, (Luke 2:17)

They believed and they “spread the word.” These simple shepherds were the first evangelists. They proved the power of God’s Word in their own experience. Again, it would be nice if more Christians proved the power of God’s Word in the same way. The shepherds were full of joy; they were thrilled with what they had seen, heard, and experienced.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)

Are you spreading this “trustworthy saying?” There’s a world of sinners that needs to hear what you know and what you have experienced!

People that heard what the shepherds had to say “wondered” about it. They, after all, hadn’t seen or heard what they saw and heard. They “wondered.” They didn’t know what to think. But Mary’s response to all this is interesting:

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

Her response was quite different to that of the shepherds and even those who heard their story and “wondered.” She, the mother of Jesus, kept her thoughts to herself. Mary knew more about her Child than anybody else on Earth. But there was a lot she didn’t know and even more she didn’t understand. But what she had seen, heard, and experienced didn’t stagger her faith. She simply kept her thoughts to herself as “precious memories” to be pondered and prayed about.

But there was NO keeping these shepherds quiet!

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20)

These poor shepherds returned to the their jobs; to the old familiar routine of their daily grind. But they were changed; their hearts had changed by what they had seen, heard, and experienced. The last we see of these shepherds, they are still praising God and rejoicing for what they had been privileged to be a part of, this night of the Incarnation.

The Gospel – the Good News – is full of good news! We who are born again should take special note of the role the shepherds played this night. The:

  • Heard;
  • Believed;
  • Obeyed;
  • Received;
  • Testified;
  • Rejoiced;
  • Praised.

Jesus changes lives.

HEBREWS, Part 4

The One True Man, 2:10—18

The teacher so far in his letter to the Hebrews, has given two reasons for the Incarnation. First, the Son of God became the Son of Man in order to restore man’s original purpose as the ruler of his domain. The first Adam failed in this purpose, and therefore no human being since has been able to fulfil Genesis 1:26—

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

When Jesus came as the Second Adam, He did not sin; He succeeded where the first Adam failed, therefore, in time, God’s original purpose for man will be restored.

The second reason for the Incarnation was so that the Savior could taste death one time for all men. Jesus would die the kind of death reserved for all sinners so that redeemed sinners would never have to experience it.

The third reason for the Incarnation is given in verses 10—13: He came so that He might bring many sons to glory.

1. Jesus and His family, 2:10—13

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says,

I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

And again, I will put my trust in him.”

And again he says, Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

In verse 9, the author stated that Jesus suffered the pains of death for everyone. In verse 10, he describes precisely who “everyone” includes: sons and daughters, the saved. It may seem odd that something is described as being “fitting” for God to do, but the way of salvation is not arbitrary, but totally befitting the character of God. Since all things were created for Him and since through Him all things exist, then it makes sense that God would do anything in keeping with His character to save what He has created. Therefore, all the sufferings and humiliation of His Son did not take happen by chance; they, in fact, proceeded from His eternal purpose for man.

It’s important to note that the subject of verse 10 is God. The plan of salvation was His. It was not Jesus’. The suffering and death of Jesus was not the Devil’s idea. It was God’s.

Jesus is referred to “the pioneer” of our salvation. The ESV calls Him “the founder” of salvation, and the KJV says that our Savior is “the captain” of our salvation. What does this say about Jesus? Simply this: Jesus went ahead of us. God made Him experience awful suffering to bring about our perfection. It was God’s will for Him to suffer in order to bring about the salvation of “many sons and daughters.” When the Son completed His assigned task, He became the founder of our salvation. He alone was given the responsibility of leading the elect out of a life of bondage to sin to a life of eternal happiness. Or, as Theodore Epp once wrote:

Christ was not content to be crowned alone with glory and honor; He desired to bring many to share His glory with Him.

The “perfection” the writer refers to does not mean that Jesus was ever imperfect and that His work made Him perfect. It simply means that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, completed His work. The eternal purpose of the Incarnation was finally accomplished.

In verse 11, the writer to the Hebrews links the Savior to those He came to save. It was God’s eternal purpose to identify as many sons and daughters with His Son in glory; and through the great Incarnation of the Messiah, He so identified Himself with mankind that He could consider them HIS brothers and sisters.

But this incredible union between the saved and their Savior is not something new to the New Testament! In another stroke of genius, our teacher quotes a couple of Old Testament verses that actually anticipated the glorious Incarnation:

I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. (Psalm 22:22)

I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in him. Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion. (Isaiah 8:17, 18)

The quote from Psalm 22 is a direct reference to the Messiah, and the two quotes from Isaiah are indirect references. In those verses, the prophet Isaiah identifies himself with the very people who have rejected the Lord and rejected him as a messenger from the Lord. Isaiah chooses to identify himself with his people in spite of their rebellion. The writer to Hebrews, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, takes Isaiah’s verses about himself as a foreshadow of Christ’s identification with people, sinners, who are in rebellion against God.

2. Jesus’ 6-fold purpose, 2:14—18

Jesus not only identified Himself with human beings in the Incarnation, but He managed to accomplish no less than six significant things.

a. To destroy the devil, 2:14

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a divine judgment on Satan. But make no mistake about it, this world and the world system is, at this present time, Satan’s territory. Remember, we have not been restored to our original purpose yet. Ever since the Fall, mankind has been living on Satan’s land. He is the prince of the power of the air, the god of this age. He is a defeated foe, but he is still on the loose, “seeking whom he may devour.”

This is why any and every worldview apart from a biblical worldview ultimately opposes the plans and purposes of God. This is why believers, when they live lives wholly committed to Jesus Christ, sometimes feel out of place on this earth. Christians, for the time being at least, are “strangers in a strange land,” often living under hostile rule.

But this verse makes it plain: Satan has been defeated by Jesus Christ. He has not been annihilated, but his power was broken—annulled, legally canceled. The Incarnation actually lured Satan into defeating himself by using own weapon! By killing Jesus, the Devil forfeited all his legal rights, for he killed the only One he had no claim on, the only One who had never sinned. And by His resurrection, the power of death was decisively broken. The first Adam gave Satan the advantage by selling the human race into slavery to Satan. The glorious Second Adam overturned Satan’s advantage and He rescued the human race from its slavery.

b. To deliver those in bondage, 2:15

...and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

In human experience, man’s fear of death is related to Satan’s power of death. With the end of Satan’s power, comes the end of man’s fear of death. And this is such a pitiful kind of bondage. It causes man to do all kinds of strange things to try and extend or preserve his puny life. But because Jesus Christ is able to deliver all people from all judgment, He can remove the fear of death. Anybody who has ever experienced the New Birth has an assurance that at the very moment of physical death, they will be ushered into the presence of the Savior. The apostle Paul described the Christian’s conundrum like this:

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6—8)

c. To become our great High Priest, 2:16, 17a

For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God…

The Incarnation was essential, not only so Jesus could become the Savior of all mankind, but so that He could become a High Priest for those He came to save. As a Savior, He delivers us from the power of Satan; as a High Priest, He delivers us from the condemnation of God.

A priest is a mediator between God and man; he represents God before men and represents men before God. Since Jesus Christ is the Son of God, He is eminently qualified to represent God before men. And as the Son of Man, through the Incarnation, He is eminently qualified to represent men before God!

Because our Savior is the perfect Son of God and the perfect Son of Man, He is completely merciful because He understands the pain, the miseries and the temptations all men face because He Himself faced them in their full intensity. And He is a faithful representation of God; He is able to manifest God’s perfect faithfulness to us.

So the Incarnation was absolutely necessary to provide the kind of High Priest we needed to represent us in our desperate need before God.

d. To make propitiation for sins, 2:17b

that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

The phrase “make atonement” may not be the best rendering of hilaskesthai, which means “to propitiate,” not “to make atonement,” and means “to put away God’s wrath.” When we sin, we make God angry, which is not to say we “make God mad.” God’s anger is holy; it is not His temper in action. God never “blows His top.” When we arouse God’s anger, we become His enemy. Part of our salvation involves ending God’s wrath towards us. The way this verse is written in the original language makes it clear that the work of Christ ended God’s wrath directed at His people only; that is, only those who have confessed Christ and are living for Him are living wrath-free! Unrepentant sinners are living under God’s wrath, and one day will experience it first hand.

e. To help those who are tempted, 2:18

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

The sufferings Jesus endured enable Him to help others. Jesus didn’t just suffer on the Cross; He suffered His whole life. There is no temptation you can face that Jesus hasn’t already faced. Being who and what He is, Jesus’ temptations must have been horrific in nature. And Jesus faced the full force of every temptation because He never yielded. Human beings almost never face temptation’s full force because we give in. But Jesus never gave in. He fully identifies with what you are going through.

For many of us, defeat begins when temptation begins. Most of us are good at not giving into the temptation to commit murder. Most of us are good at overcoming the lustful thoughts that flow through our minds on a daily basis. But what about the temptation to despair? Or to get really, really mad at somebody? What about the temptation to become depressed or discouraged? What about the temptation to worry and fret? All those things have the potential to become sinful. What about temptation to not go to church or to not pray because you’re too tired? Or what about the temptation to compromise your testimony because of a decision you want to make that may not be what God wants for you?

Jesus understands what we all go through. Though our temptations come from within from our own sin nature, and from without from the adversary of our souls, Jesus understands our weaknesses, He understands the full power of temptation, and is able to help, if we would but ask. He is able to deliver completely.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

HEBREWS, Part 3

Hebrews 2:1—9

The real concern of this letter is made plain in verse 1: Since Jesus Christ is more than an angel—a Son—it is absolutely imperative that:

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (verse 1)

Since the Son is superior to the angels, His message is superior to theirs. They are, after all, just servants. The verb behind the English “pay the most careful attention” means to not only listen and think about what was heard, but to act on it. Inaction in spiritual things can be deadly, which is why this verse is verse is so emphatic and expressively written. The NEB brings this out in a forceful translation:

Thus we are bound to pay all the more heed to what we have been told for fear of drifting from our course.

The writer says that we—notice he includes himself—must direct our minds toward listening attentively to the Word and acting on what we have heard because if we don’t, those words may slip from our minds. The verb pararyomen, “drift away,” is a word used of such things as a ring slipping of a finger, and may mean “let them drift away,” meaning the words may drift away from disuse, or, as the NIV suggests, we may drift away if we don’t listen. Which is correct? Since the Greek is ambiguous, perhaps both ideas are correct. If we, hearers of God’s Word, don’t put to work what we have heard, we are in danger of: (1) forgetting the teachings of the Word, and (2) because we haven’t lived up to what we have heard, we could find ourselves drifting away from the Lord.

Either way, this is a stern, sober warning to all believers: practice what you have been taught! Don’t just read the Bible, understand it and live it!

1. The Message, vs. 2, 3a

For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?

The exhortation in the previous verse is clinched by some brilliant logic. The “message spoken through angels” refers to the Law that God gave to the Israelites from Mount Sinai. Even though the Old Testament accounts in Exodus and Deuteronomy don’t mention angels in relation to the giving of the Law, both Stephen (Acts 7) and Paul (Galatians) do.

This Word—logos in the Greek—though coming through angels, was God’s Word. He was the One who made the covenant with His people, not the angels. It was really God who was speaking, and the Israelites took that Word seriously. The logic is simple: If you took the Word coming from angels that seriously, how much more seriously should you take the Word from God regarding His Son? If it was a serious offense to disregard the Law mediated by angels, it is, necessarily, much more serious to neglect the salvation mediated by the Son!

2. The Testimony, vs. 3b, 4

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.

This great salvation “was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” This salvation was spoken by the Lord, and later by the apostles and other disciples and their testimony was supported by God’s own witness:

God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles… (vs. 4a)

Even though the Great Commission was given by Jesus to His apostles, they—and in fact no preacher—is ever left to bear God’s message alone. No less that God shares in the work of preaching the Word!

God was pleased to commit His Word to man, not angels, but He went even further. He gave “signs, wonders, and miracles” to strengthen and prove that Word. The Gospel is not the creation of any preacher, and the early hearers were not left in doubt about that! Demonstrations of the supernatural were commonplace in the early Church because the listeners needed know the divine origins of the new and revolutionary message they were hearing. The New Testament hadn’t been written yet; all congregations had were the sermons and teachings of the apostles and early evangelists. As time wore on, of course, fewer demonstrations of the supernatural accompanied the preaching of the Word because the Word was able to stand on its own and to testify to itself. Paul was writing letters by now. The Gospels were being written and circulated, and lives were being changed by the preaching of the Word. As impressive as miracles seem to some people, nothing is more impressive than a changed life and a sinner gloriously set free by the mighty Word of God!

But even more than that, the truth and power of the Word of God is demonstrated a powerful phenomena:

by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (vs. 4b)

There were, and there are, manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, and the writer to the Hebrews sees this as confirming the Gospel. These various gifts are given as God wills; even though man exercises them, they come from God. Just like the Word, the gifts of the Spirit do not originate with man, but with God.

We don’t know who wrote this letter to the Hebrews, but he had the heart of a pastor who cares for his people. Nothing is more disturbing to a pastor than those in his care who recklessly disregard the Word of God. Neglecting the Word of God is probably more dangerous than outright opposition to it. Neglect of the Word of God is what caused the Jews to slip away. It’s insidious because by the time you realize you’ve neglected the Word, it’s too late to do anything about it.

3. The Glory and Honor of the Son, vs. 5—9

This group of verses seems disjointed from what came before, but it is connected. Having just looked at the “great salvation” Jesus Christ won for His own, the writer goes on to point out that not only did Jesus provide salvation, but that the whole world is subject to Him, not to man and not to angels. And, in a stroke of sheer genius, the writer links the Son of God with men, for in addition to being the Son of God, Jesus is also the Son of Man.

a. The world to come, vs 5

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.

Here is the true power of the Gospel. It is relevant not only to this present age, but is the key to the ages to come, including the New Heavens and the New Earth! Jesus Christ, the eternal Logos, cannot be separated from His Gospel. But at the same time, He cannot be separated from man, for He was one. As awesome as angels may be, to man in general, and to Jesus Christ in particular, has been given the right to rule the world to come.

b. The ruler to come, vs. 6-8a

The writer again quotes from the Psalms, this time from Psalm 8:4—6, which reveals man’s place in God’s plan.

But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.” In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them.

Let’s face it, as great as man may think he is, against the size and scope of the universe, human beings are pretty puny. We must appear to God like an ant appears to us! So, why then, is God mindful of us? Why does He care so much for us and about us?

Actually, these verses represent the psalmist’s own commentary on Genesis 1:26, which states succinctly what God’s purpose for man is. As Creator, God is sovereign, and in His sovereignty, God made an administrative decision: man, not angels, would have the responsibility to exercise dominion of the Earth. God’s purpose for man, incidentally, is at odds with the current “green movement,” which views human beings as a blight on Mother Earth. While many of the modern environmental movements and animal preservation movements seem harmless, believers would do well to exercise spiritual discernment to see if their philosophies are at odds with Scripture.

Man’s conquest of nature is part of the natural order ordained by God and cannot, therefore be displeasing to Him. However, the command to subdue his world included, not only the physical world, but also the spiritual. Man was created to pursue the spiritual things, as well. Furthermore, man was originally created to subdue the devil and to conquer the kingdom of Satan.

How highly must God have thought of man, His crowing achievement in terms of creation.

c. His present impotence, vs. 8b

Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.

Sadly, man sinned; instead of subduing Satan and conquering his kingdom, man caved into the Devil. Therefore, man’s dominion of the Earth has been, temporarily, disrupted. While man has some dominion over the Earth, many things on Earth stop man from subduing it. Things like bad weather, ferocious animals, and so on keep man from being the ruler of his domain. Some things he has mastered well, but especially in the spiritual realm, he has failed miserably. The presumptive masters of Satan have, for the time being, become his captives.

d. Fulfilled in Jesus, 9

But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Had the author stopped at verse 8, he would have left us with a depressing picture of fallen man. At present, God’s purpose for man is undone and cannot be fulfilled because man is riddled with sin. But in verse 9, he goes on to point out something very profound and uplifting when it is understood. While at the present time we see man running afoul of God’s plan for Him, we also see Jesus, who has taken the position of man, a little lower than the angles, so God’s plan for sinful man could be fulfilled in Him. We may not see man as the conquerer he was created to be right now, but we do see Jesus, the Second Adam, through whom redeemed man will not only have a second chance but is guaranteed success because, unlike the first Adam, our Second Adam succeeded.

From the perspective of the writer to the Hebrews, then, the very first reason given for the Incarnation is so that God’s great purpose for man might finally come to pass.

The second reason for Jesus become the Son of Man is so that He might, by the grace of God, “taste death for everyone.” It was His shameful death, which was a source of embarrassment to the Hebrews, they needed to understand. The death of the Son of God was not a mistake or a failure, it originated in God’s amazing grace. It was the result of God’s compassionate determination to provide redemption for all men. Jesus, our Great Savior, tasted death “for every man.” He was our substitute! It was by God’s grace that Christ’s saving work was accomplished.

Grace, one of the greatest words in the English language. No wonder the writer to the Hebrews uses it in connection with the work of Christ!

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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