Am loving this song from City Alight, which perfectly sums up the ongoing desire to grow in knowing Christ.
Today’s post comes from the Gospel Coalition and echoes much of what I spoke of a few days ago – about the great worth of remembering God’s great works at Christmas time. I am currently reading Keller’s book mentioned below, titled “Hidden Christmas” – which is surprising me more and more, in a good way, with each passing chapter. It would make a great gift this Christmas.
“Christmastime is here. For some of you, that sentence evokes nostalgia and joy. Others of you, not so much. Yet one thing many of us share in common this time of year is hearing the classic readings from the Gospels (if not in church then from Linus). And all the while, we can become so familiar with the incarnation that we end up domesticating it.
Christmas is familiar, but it isn’t tame. As Tim Keller puts it in his new book, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ (Viking), “Christmas is both more wondrous and more threatening than we imagine.” Working from the writings of Matthew, Luke, and John, he illumines the modern import of the ancient story.
I asked Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and vice president of TGC, why neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would’ve bothered with Christmas, how unbelievers try to “name” Jesus, and more. (And yes, this brief book would make an excellent Christmas present.)
In the book I say that about the theme of “light in the darkness” that’s so prominent not only in the biblical understanding of Christ’s birth (Isa. 9:2; Matt. 4:16) but also in most contemporary celebrations of Christmas. The Bible doesn’t say “from the world a light has dawned” but “upon the world a light has dawned.” The point is that the world is a dark place that needs salvation to come from outside of it. This means the end of cheery statements like, “If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place.” No, we can’t. We don’t have what it takes.
The Bible doesn’t say ‘from the world a light has dawned’ but ‘upon the world a light has dawned.’ The world is a dark place that needs salvation to come from outside of it.
This is a clear-eyed, realistic approach to our problems. It’s not rah-rah optimism. Yet it’s not pessimistic either, because there ishope, and a certainty that God will eventually destroy all evil.
Why is it foolish to rush past the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel?
Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus does a lot of work. First, it roots Jesus in history. The gospel doesn’t begin “once upon a time.” Christ isn’t a legend; he was a flesh-and-blood human being in space and time. Second, the genealogy includes women who were racial and cultural “outsiders” (Rahab and Ruth) as well as involved in incest, adultery, and prostitution (Tamar, “Uriah’s wife,” and Rahab).
Even the ‘begats’ of the Bible drip with God’s mercy.
In ancient and less individualistic times, one’s genealogy was like one’s résumé. Like today’s résumés, many things were usually expunged to make it look better to the reader. Women were seldom put in ancient genealogies at all, let alone women who reminded readers of the sordid sins and corruption of ancestors such as Judah and David. All of these figures would have been disowned or expunged from a normal genealogy, but here they are not. They are all—male and female, king and prostitute, Jew and Gentile—equally part of Jesus’s family. So even the “begats” of the Bible drip with God’s mercy.
Neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would have bothered with Christmas, you observe. Why not?
Moralism is essentially the idea that you can save yourself through your good works. And this makes Christmas unnecessary. Why would God need to become human in order to live and die in our place if we can fulfill the requirements of righteousness ourselves? Relativism is essentially the idea that no one is really “lost,” that everyone should live by their own lights and determine right and wrong for themselves. The “all-accepting god of love” many modern people believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.
The ‘all-accepting god of love’ many moderns believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.
Why was the naming of baby Jesus significant?
All parents have the right to name their own child. It’s a sign of their authority over the child, and the power they have over how the child will live and who the child will become. This was even truer in ancient patriarchal societies than it is now. But the angel doesn’t allow Joseph or Mary to name Jesus. One reason is that Jesus was the first child ever born who was far older than his parents! The other is that, even though Jesus submitted to his human parents authority during his childhood (Luke 2:51), they weren’t ultimately his master. He was their master. By refusing to let Mary and Joseph name their son, the angel was essentially saying something like this: “If Jesus is in your life, you’re not his manager—he’s your manager. You don’t name him or tell him who he is—he’s come to tell you who you are.”
What can we learn about the difference between closed-minded doubt and open-minded doubt from contrasting Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1?
When the angel Gabriel appeared and told Zechariah he would have a son, Zechariah expressed doubts about how this could come to such an elderly couple (Luke 1:18)—and he was disciplined for his doubt (Luke 1:20). When Gabriel appears and tells Mary she will have a son, she expresses doubts to the same angel in almost the same words—wondering how this could come to a virgin (Luke 1:34). Yet there’s no word of rebuke, only a further explanation. Why the difference? The only real possibility is that the inner motivations and dynamics of Zechariah’s and Mary’s doubts were different. There’s a kind of doubt that really is seeking more information—that “wants” to believe if it’s possible. There’s also a kind of doubt that really is looking for a way out, that doesn’t want to believe or submit, that’s looking for a way to keep control of one’s own life.
This is a wonderfully nuanced approach to doubt. The Bible doesn’t view doubts as always rebellious, nor does it encourage people to live in doubt perpetually. That’s why we’re told to “be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22).”
This is a great one to file away for next year. It gives an engaging summary of the Christmas story – which is so much more than just a story: a world-changing and heart-changing event which continues to strike a chord with people for the first time every day of the year. What constant rejoicing there must be in heaven! Blessings to you for the year ahead. May you grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)
God’s will was that though Christ was rich, yet for your sake he became poor. The “No Vacancy” signs over all the motels in Bethlehem were for your sake. “For your sake he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
God rules all things — even motel capacities — for the sake of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing of the cross in Jerusalem.
“…the gathering is unique not as an encounter with God (it is that, though God’s presence is a constantly available comfort and help to the Christian); rather it’s unique because it is an encounter with the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, spurring one another along in the mission of God. Christ in me meets Christ in you.” (Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace)
Lately I’ve been chatting with fellow musical Christians on “LinkedIn” – particularly on the question of worship, the difference between the titles ‘song leader’ and ‘worship leader’ (click here to read that discussion) and if there is any way to reconcile our different opinions. In some ways I feel I’ve been told that my preference for calling those who lead the singing in church ‘song leaders’ is way too blinkered, because singer do so much more than just lead the singing. In the view of many, it seems, song leaders are actually leading people into God’s presence through the experience of corporate worship. Now this may just be semantics, and perhaps all they mean is that we feel closer to God as we draw near to Him together in praise. But if not then such ‘Worship leaders’ have the responsibility of making a way of access between sinful man and God. To me, that is a huge claim, a responsibility we could never have. In fact, it sounds like something that JESUS has already accomplished.
Now should I sit quietly and take this as being a denominational difference, or difference in opinion, which doesn’t really matter? Or is this view actually misleading, with no grounding in the New Testament texts or the practice of the early church? Does this view of corporate worship actually detract from what Christ has already done? Does it hark back to the Old Testament ‘temple worship’ model which is now fulfilled in Christ?
From what I understand in God’s word, the idea that our corporate worship is a worship experience – where we tentatively approach God and hope that he will inject his spirit and power into us through this experience – has very much been surpassed in Christ! This is how the Old Testament people (who did not experience the Holy Spirit in an ongoing, everyday, ‘I will never leave you’ kind of way) approached God in the temple. They came with some measure of uncertainty and a great measure of unworthiness.
But for us as Christ followers, living this side of the cross, the power that raised Jesus from the dead is living in us! He is living in us! We are always in Him, always in His presence. (Check this review of One Forever: The transforming power of being in Christ.) We are in the very throne room of heaven right now, even while our daily lives here continue. You could even say that we Christians are always in church, because we are always ‘in Christ’. There is such great certainty and confidence here. Our unworthiness has been dealt with and wrapped up in Christ.
“We do not go to church to worship, but, already at worship, we join our brothers and sisters in continuing those actions that should have been going on – privately, [as families], or even corporately – all week long.” (Harold Best, Music through the eyes of Faith, p.147)
Jesus is our great High Priest, the way to the Father which the Father provided. He is our one true worship leader, who leads us into a life of worshipping our loving Heavenly Father at the very moment we are saved.
Of course it is great to gather together as God’s people, to remind one another of the reality that we serve a great and wonderful God. As we sing we fulfill the way God designed for us to be building each other up in the Lord, speaking the ‘Word of Christ’ into each other’s lives. But we don’t need to see corporate worship as a tenuous time, when hopefully the music is good and powerful enough to lead people into His presence. My friends, we are already there! We are always in His presence!
“Paul says to the church at Corinth, ‘Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?’ He later tells them that their bodies are the temple of God. This is the astounding reality of New Testament religion: we as Christians are the house of worship.” (David Platt, Radical Together, 2011)
Here are a few other verses from God’s Word to consider – to remind us that our worship of the Almighty God is an ongoing and daily activity, which is also expressed corporately when we gather together.
“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:21-22)
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1)
Thanks for reading my rant – an important one! If you want to think more on these things check out the following:
Welcome to all my new followers who have joined up in the last few weeks. (Thanks!) Great to have you along! Today I’m reposting something I wrote a year or two ago which explores the unexpected nature of God’s grace to us in Christ . . . and a great song:
“So ruthless, He loves us,
So reckless His embrace
To show relentless kindness,
To a hardened human race
The joy that was before Him
On the Man of Sorrows face,
And by His blood He bought a violent grace”
Many years ago some great ministry friends introduced me to a writer of very “deep” and challenging Christian songs, Michael Card. And I had almost forgotten him until the other day! Now why did I remember him, you ask? At the moment I am studying for an exam, a “big picture” Bible overview subject and I really need to get some memory verses and concepts stuck in my head, about how Christ fulfills all the OT law and prophets. So then I thought, Hebrews! Great book for explaining that. This was quickly followed by my recollection that Michael Card’s “Soul Anchor” album is the book of Hebrews in song (just about).
“A Violent Grace” (quoted above and below) is Track 1. So passionately does it remind us that God’s grace was no stroll in the park! Jesus was the high priest who sacrificed Himself. His love was (and is) ruthless! He showed the ultimate kindness and grace to the hardened human race that despised Him. Yet the joy set before Him held the Man of Sorrows to the Cross. And what was this joy? (Hebrews 12:2)
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NIV)
“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” (NLT)
What was this joy? I suppose there was the joy of sitting on the Throne. But moreso, we are His joy! We are His reward. His death saved a people. All those the Father gave Him can never be snatched from His hand by the power of His death and resurrection. (John 10:28-29) We are God’s chosen people, recipients of immense and violent grace.
No wonder the message of the Cross is so offensive to so many.
But for us being saved it is the power of God!
A Violent Grace (Michael Card, 2001)
A mural of memories moves by in a blur
His prayers all seem unanswered and unheard
His pleading petitions, his loud cries and tears
A last reprieve will simply not appear
So ruthless, He loves us, So reckless His embrace
To show relentless kindness, To a hardened human race
The joy that was before Him
On the Man of Sorrows face
And by His blood He bought a violent grace
Most willing of victims, And with His final breath
Destroyed the one who holds the power of death
The hate heaped upon Him, scorning all the shame
But all for love He died and overcame
In all of time no one had ever heard
And to the world the thought seemed so absurd
Beyond their wildest dreams no one could ever tell
Of a high priest who would sacrifice Himself
A year of thanks-be-to-God to mark my 70th birthday
My thoughts on music, theology, and beyond...
downloadable sheet music crafted by Christine Sullivan Robbins
Turning the Bible Into Behavior
A not-so-great future physician learning from the Great Physician: A Journey Through Medicine & Faith
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." Psalm 23:1
The Future Lies In The Past
Gaining ground in the Christian Journey
Hymns at Home