The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown

Luke 2:1-20

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord (Luke 2:11 NIV).

The Christmas story is really part of a larger story—the story of God’s glory. The point of the Christmas story is not that a baby lies in a manger and angels and shepherds welcomed his birth. We’ve had tens of billions of babies born on this planet. So why celebrate this one’s birth? It is because of the greater story of God’s glory in which he is the central and crucial character.

The cradle – “has been born” – Here is a great mystery of our faith: God himself took on true humanity. He entered our race. What does it all mean?

It shows the great mercy of his eternal purpose. After the rebellion of Adam and Eve, God could justly have cast off our race. He owed us nothing but to carry out the threat he promised for disobedience to one command. He could have dealt in only strict justice with our race, as he did with the devil and his angels who disobeyed, because no way of salvation was provided for angels. However, God chose a surprising way to bring eternal honor to his name. He decided to spare our race, more than that, to become one with us, in order to rescue us from sin, condemnation, and death. When Christ was born, it showed that God’s eternal purpose was in the process of fulfillment. The promise of Christ’s coming had been passed down through countless generations, but suddenly in the cradle, it is no longer simply a promise.

It shows that God will do good for mankind. Think of this: The great God, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, taking on human flesh. Who would imagine that the majestic God would stoop so low? This is not the way of this world. Oh, the so-called great ones might visit a humble village and chat for a few moments with the common people. They love the photo ops. Perhaps they might even provide a few gifts to alleviate their suffering. But they do not wish to live among them, to share their heartaches and sufferings. No, they hurry off to satisfy their pleasures. But when the Son of God was in the cradle, his appearance proved that he was deeply interested; in fact, he came to share in our sufferings. He came to live among a people suffering under the curse, laboring for their bread, feeling hunger and thirst, sorrow and pain. God committed himself to set his people free. As he lies in the cradle wrapped in strips of cloth, he senses the struggles of what it means to be human in all our helplessness. The Mighty God must be carried and fed, so that one day he can feed us with the bread of life and carry away our sins and sorrows. Smell the odors of the stable, touch the rough sawn wood of the manger, hear the cries of the newborn infant, and see the wonder of the God who would do what was needed to save.

Allow this story to grip your heart with its true power. In the fullness of time, God sent his Son. The keeping of this promise testifies that he will keep all his promises. His identification with us proves that he is determined to work what is good for us.

The cross – “Savior” – The story of Christmas is far more than the cradle. In all parts of it the long shadow of the cross should be seen. The Son of God newly clothed in true humanity is not there for a cute picture of newborn sweetness.

The title “Savior” reminds us of the wretchedness and ruin of humanity. He had to come to rescue us from our ungodliness and unrighteousness. All of us are part of a race determined to suppress the knowledge of God. We do not want to think of our responsibility to God—that we must give account to him for what we have done. We do not want to think about our duty to live for God and to declare his greatness. We want no part of his close involvement in our lives. We want to live our lives “my way” at all costs. Our chief goal is to be happy by gratifying our pleasures. We will walk over anyone who dares to get in our way. The more we have; the more we want. Simply think about those who have much, like the sad accounts of pro athletes that cannot stop with what they have, but foolishly reach for more. But do not look down on them, because haven’t you taken advantage of others for your benefit? We are ungodly and unrighteous creatures.

The Savior had to come to rescue us from our helplessness. We try everything to rescue ourselves from the mess we’re in. We try politics, religion, philosophy, psychology, medicine, work, pleasure, intoxicating substances, and yet find no help. Instead, we become poorer and more frustrated and empty. Here is what humanity is like. Picture the poor gambling addict hopelessly playing slot machines hoping to hit a big payoff. Look at the next man, playing the slot machine of politics. He puts his all into it, and the problem just becomes worse. Another drains her fourth glass of wine trying to feel beautiful and accepted when she feels wasted. Yes, we all need a Savior, because we all speed recklessly toward the hospital, the nursing home, the funeral home, and to the most serious of them all—the throne of God’s judgment.

But the good news is that the Son of God came to save! The rescue came by sacrificial love. Jesus died on the cross in the place of sinners to pay the full penalty that we owed for our ungodliness and unrighteousness. The wages of sin is death, and so he died, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. The rescue came by undeserved, sacrificial love. Jesus did not die for good people but for those who were his enemies, for those who despised him, for those who couldn’t care less about him. No one seeks after God; instead, the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

The story of Christmas is the message of salvation from ruin, condemnation and eternal punishment. In place of that terrible trio, Christ freely gives joy, righteousness, and eternal life to all who turn from their rebellious, ungodly ways and rely solely and wholly on him. My friend, have you received the best gift of all? 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 NIV).

The crown ­– “the Lord” – It is amazing that the baby born that first Christmas, who was lying in a manger was the Savior of the world. But he is more than Savior; he is Lord of all!

He is Lord because of what he accomplished. Jesus earned his lordship by his death and resurrection (Romans 14:9-10). By his death he became Lord over death, exhausting and finishing its power. He conquered on the cross, defeating all his enemies. He now holds the keys of hell and death. He is in charge of all who die. All the dead will appear before him one great day (Revelation 20:11-15). By his life he became Lord of life, rising from the dead and being alive forever. He holds the right to give life to whom he will (John 5:21). If you feel death working in you and desperately need life, there is only one direction to turn. Run to Jesus, the Lord of the living and the dead.

He is Lord because of God’s appointment. God the Father accepted his sacrifice, raised him from the dead, and exalted him to the throne, where he now sits at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. God has made him both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). All things are now in Christ’s power and authority (Matthew 28:18). He does as he pleases with the world and those who live in it. Our duty is to trust and to obey him always.

Do you deeply agree with Christ’s lordship, or are you still in rebellion against him? How is the Christ the Lord ruling your life now? What changes is he continually making in you?

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Six)

20120605_1038432 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (NIV).

The Spirit acted in a way that made sure that the content was God’s word: “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The process of the Spirit breathing out the word is full of mystery. This brief phrase is as close as the Spirit comes to explaining his communication of God’s message through human writers. He carried them along, is a forceful expression. Compare the use of the Greek word phero in Mark 2:3; 4:8; 12:15-16; Acts 27:15, 17. But how did he carry them along? “We take the historic fact; but we decline every attempt to explain the inscrutable mode… no finite mind can venture, without presumption, to say how the human faculties concurred and acted with the Spirit’s activity in the expression of a divine oracle” (Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, p. 166).

As God the Holy Spirit carried along the apostles and prophets, he “did not destroy the author’s individuality and talents, making the whole Bible stereotyped, with one style from Genesis to Revelation—the style of the Holy Spirit—with all the human differences of the writers overridden and ignored” (Palmer, The Holy Spirit, p. 50). Instead, the Holy Spirit acted differently. He used “the experiences of the authors to govern their writing, their different emotions to color their thinking, their individual tastes to be expressed in the Bible” (Ibid.)

Let’s think of some examples. What would the Bible be like without the strong faith of Abraham in Genesis 22, or the repentant prayer of David in Psalm 51, or Paul’s holy passion to know Christ in Philippians 3 or John’s tender exhortation to his dear friends to love one another in 1 John 4? In the Scriptures you see our holy Maker getting down in the muck of human lives to draw forth gems for his glory and our good. You ought to worship a God like that!

The process of the Spirit breathing out the word is full of God’s sovereignty. This is seen in the various ways that he gave the Scriptures (Hebrews 1:1): “dreams, visions, individual illumination and research, as well as ordinary and extraordinary divine providences, are involved in the process” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 27).

The Spirit carried along the men who spoke in many ways:

  • By directing their heredity, family upbringing, education and personal history
  • By his continual work in the history of redemption; all stood at a point of history for his selected purpose
  • By his influence on their hearts through previous revelation
  • By applying Christ’s redemptive work to their hearts
  • By in some way revealing God’s mind to them so that they had to speak it, consider Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10; 15:16; 20:9)
  • By leading them to produce a unified message: the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ

The Scriptures themselves are one of the brightest witnesses to the sovereign grace of God. The Lord the Spirit reached down among people in conformity with the Father’s choice, molded a life, drew that person to salvation, and worked through them in such a way, so that when they wrote the Scriptures, it was the Spirit of God speaking (2 Samuel 23:2; Matthew 22:43; Acts 4:25; 28:25). Now is the time to worship the Sovereign God, who can so powerfully work in human hearts! And here is hope. The same God still speaks through his word today! He can change your life and the lives of people you love!

Grace and peace, David