Worship the Mystery of Christmas

imageWhen they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented and presented him with gifts of gold and incense and of myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11

For God to condescend to assume human form and to walk among a people clumsy violence known for killing their prophets is the mystery of the first Advent. He does not appear as a fully grown man of mysterious provenance, but rather, as a baby with a human mother who herself possessed the sin nature derived of her descent from Eve and Adam. The baby Jesus endures the growth process, emptied of His divine powers and prerogatives and walks sinless on the inexorable journey to Calvary.

How is it that the baby attracts the worship that He deserves? He possesses nothing outward that belies His perfection and divinity. No halo, no translucent glow surrounding him, he does not spring from the womb preaching the good news. He is a hungry, cranky, sleepy and weepy infant, despite the beatific scene painted by the hymnists. Yet worshipped He is.

He is worshipped because of the divine revelation of heavenly hosts singing Gloria in excelcis deo. He is worshipped because the archangel Gabriel left the presence of God and appeared to various people telling them that the long-awaited King had come. He is worshipped because the string of witnesses stretching from Mary to Elizabeth to John to the shepherds quietly watching over their flocks at night. He is worshipped because it is indisputable as to who He is.

With the distance of time comes a casual familiarity. We can see how the story ends and see the baby as the grown Savior. Returning to the first days of His life we return to a faith that requires trust in an unknown future. It is faith in history that is not written yet, but rooted in the signs we have seen. We may know the ultimate conclusion to the story as God has revealed it to us, we can restore the mystery about tomorrow. We can step out in faith to attempt great things according to our calling, knowing that all preceding promises have been fulfilled.

Be blessed this Christmas and in all of your days to follow…

Atonement – Under Attack.

imageThis slim collection of essays is rooted in the proposition that the doctrine of atonement is under attack. While I agree that there are a number of views about the nature of atonement and what it accomplished, I dispute the idea that the doctrine itself is under attack. Given the publisher (P & R Publishing) and the group who assembled the project, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, I believe the perceived challenge is to the application of the the Penal Substitution theory. It is not clear as to why this distinction isn’t made clear other than the possible notion that any other theory is so far outside of the range of discussion that it can simply be dismissed.

The essays, assembled by editor Gabriel Fluhrer, come from presentations given at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. Bringing the best Reformed minds to bear on a topic of importance to Christ’s Church, this collection of discussions on atonement from the Conference is almost universally excellent. Heavyweight pastors and theologians J.I. Packer, James Boice, R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, Sinclair Ferguson, John R. DeWitt, and Alistair Begg each repeat the truth and application of the atonement brought about on the cross at Calvary from a variety of perspectives.

Packer and Boice are at their usual best offering clarity in defining atonement drawing the important distinction between propitiation and expiation. Boice’s essay on the language of the marketplace and his exposition of the grace in Hosea bridges God’s wrath and His redemptive love and bear repeated reading. Gerstner’s emphasis on centering atonement only within the narrow stem of the TULIP is out of place among the winsomeness of the other authors. Perhaps I misread his intentions but it appears that atonement, in his view, can only be seen in its limited form, something the other authors avoided emphasizing.

Atonement is a fine addition to the literature on this doctrine but it remains to be seen where it fits in the library. It is an excellent introduction to the admittedly narrow definition of the doctrine of Atonement but it doesn’t offer anything new in the way of ideas.

Strength Training for Worship

imageWhat were you thinking about on the way to church last Sunday? Was it the songs you were going to sing? The topic of the sermon for that day? Were you even thinking about the service or were you busy listening to the radio, talking to the family or embroiled in an argument that started back at home? Don’t feel bad, you’re no different from the majority of modern day churchgoers. Going to worship on Sunday morning is a habit that practice as Christians but for most, we have lost the anticipation factor of the event. If God actually condescended to descend into the midst of our casual worship, most present would run in horror to the exits.

Worship is a part of our lives but it is not a priority in our lives.

“If the Lord is to be Lord, worship must have priority in our lives. The first commandment of Jesus is, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30) “ Foster. If worship becomes a priority, that is, our first love, we will be in a state of anticipation believing with all of our strength that God will make His presence known, felt, and real when we worship alone or with our community. Appearing before the altar unprepared will no more cross our mind than we would take the starting line of a marathon after sitting in our offices all winter.

To prepare ourselves for worship is to worship individually. We need to know the Shekinah in the our hearts. Start now. Stop reading and open your heart to God’s presence. Praise Him for this moment and the next breath and seek His presence. Don’t give up until it is real. God does not want half-hearted seekers. He wants His people to desire to know Him above all else. Make this a habit so that you know when the Lord is present. Build up the ability to wait for the Glory to descend on your waiting heart, whatever it takes.

If each member of the community worships on their own, the expectancy of God’s presence on the corporate gathering will grow in our hearts. We will seek to be with others who are prepared to know the Glory together, to have it multiplied by all of the hearts open and ready to receive it. The Glory will be manifest in the Church and Jesus can use it to draw others to himself. People will come from far and wide to see what the fuss is about.

Going to church is not the same going to worship. We can continue to go for social purposes, to hear a nice talk, and to go through the motions of watching as someone else sings some songs. Or we can move worship into a priority position in our lives and commit ourselves to a program of intentional worship, always wanting to know a greater and greater presence of His unmatchable Glory.

Grace and peace to you.

image Stephen Burch

Lent Spent with the Psalms Day Two

imageMost of us know the sense of depression that weighs on us when we feel as though our words with God are met with silence. Maturity tells us that He says much through the silence. Perhaps it is to wait or a sign for us to draw nearer, to drape ourselves in holiness and creep closer to hear the whispered responses. The silence of the Lord can also be a result of something that we have allowed to interfere with the conversation. It might be something that is tarnishing our holiness, something that displeases the Father who will wait until we have purged it.

David issues a plea seeking an end to the silence in Psalm 28. Should God continue in His quiet ways, all hope would be lost.

To you I call, O Lord my Rock;

do not turn a deaf ear to me.

For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit. (v1)

When His voice is again heard in the wind or in our hearts, we rejoice. God has heard our cries. This shouldn’t strike us as odd since He has known of and planned for our need for a Savior since the creation. The first Easter was no random event. It was a debt that God demanded of Himself in love. Are we squandering the price He paid?

Grace and peace to you.

  image infandum

Day 19 in the School of Prayer – Work!

WithChristInPrayer

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. (John 14:12-13)

As the Lord prepared His disciples for His departure from this plane, He left them with a new tier of prayer to attain to. At first, Jesus taught the disciples to pray for themselves and their role in the Kingdom. Their prayers were childlike, simply learning to trust in God as their Father but now the time had come from a new maturity. As the Lord would leave He would expect the disciples to take His place and continue His ministry. For this, they would need to learn that prayer would be their source of direction and power in ministry. With enough faith and a deep relationship with Christ, the disciples would do even greater ministry than He.

Work in the name of the Lord must be accompanied accomplished by prayer. There’s no way around it. Without the guidance, power, and shield that comes of a deep relationship with Jesus, our work is in vain, or worse, it is self-centered and humanist. We must be consumed with prayer and power that emanates from that conduit. The promise that whatever Kingdom objective we raise will be granted energizes our work. The ministry of Jesus is now expanded by billions as each new disciple takes this message to heart. Pray. Ask. Work.

The Christus Victor View of Atonement

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“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)

It will surprise many readers to discover that the Penal Substitution theory of atonement is a more recent development in the history of the Church and her doctrine. The theory that lays claim to being the standard view for many centuries prior to the Protestant Reformation was the Christus Victor (Christ the Victor) theory in which the atonement was seen as victory over Satan and the forces of evil. The central theme of this classic view is that Christ—Christus Victor—fought against and triumphed over the evil powers of the world to which humankind was in bondage. His demise overcame the hostile spiritual powers and, as a result of His sacrifice and victory, captive sinners were freed and given eternal life. This interpretation (known variously as the Classic, dramatic, or ransom theory) was the dominant church view for 1,000 years and remains the view of some contemporary theologians.

Christus Victor is a complex theory as viewed through the Scriptures. The reader must first see the motif of spiritual warfare that winds its way throughout the Bible. If this motif is placed in a primary position, the entire narrative of the Bible is viewed as the story of God’s ongoing battle with spiritual and human agents who oppose Him and threaten harm to His creation and His ultimate victory. The OT view that what occurred in the spiritual realm affected human history is encapsulated in Job 1-2 (Ps 82; Daniel 10). Yahweh is portrayed as continually at war with these forces and it is through his strength alone that chaos is held at bay. There is an acute awareness that the earth is held hostage to these evil forces such that only a radical move by God would be able to overcome them. Jesus spoke to the belief that Satan was the ruler of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). [This should not be understood as Satan higher in order than Jesus. Instead, he is to be viewed as the functional lord of this world.] Satan is portrayed as possessing ‘the kingdoms of the world’ (Luke 4:5-6; 1 John 5:19) and as having authority over them. Paul attributed the fundamental evil of the world’s systems (Gal 1:4) to this rule. Viewing the atonement through this prism logically sees Jesus as overcoming this rule and restoring control to the Trinity.

Ireaneus interpreted this motif by seeing Adam’s disobedience as placing humanity under the dominion of Satan. Rising from the dead, Christ conquered Satan releasing sinners from his control. This victory was foreseen in the great proto-evangelism of Genesis 3:15: …he will crush your head. Ireaneus wrote “Redeeming us with his blood, Christ gave himself as a ransom for those who had been led into captivity.” (Ireaneus, Against Heresies) Origen followed suit in this belief maintaining that because of sin, human beings were bound by Satan. He said that as a ransom payment for these souls, Satan demanded the blood of Christ. As God handed over Christ, Satan released his hostages. Later patristic writers such as John of Damascus took umbrage with the trade of the precious blood of Christ to Satan suggesting that what the devil received was an empty shell of Christ, tricking him.

The Theological Advantage of the Christus Victor View

Proponents of this view of atonement suggest that it is the superior theory because all of the other views are encompassed within its framework. It further offers that there is no temptation for people to suppose that they are participating in the kingdom when there is no evidence of the kingdom in their lives in contrast to the individual outlook of the western Church. Its focus is on the demonic dimension of fallen social structures. Theologically, the advantage proposed of the Christus Victor view is that it solves multiple problems simultaneously. Through the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the All-Wise God was able to:

  • Defeat Satan and his cohort (Heb 2:14; 1 Jn 3:8)
  • Reconcile all things to Himself (2 Cor 5:18-19; Col 1:20-22)
  • Forgive our sins (Acts 13:38; Eph 1:7)
  • Healed our sin-corrupted nature (1 Pet 2:24)
  • Poured His Spirit on us and empowered us to live in relation to Himself (Rom 8:2-16)
  • Gave us an example to follow (Eph 5:1-2; 1 Pet 2:21)

Those who apply this theory of atonement see that it encompasses the variety of atonement views under a single theory where the others tend to emphasize one or two of the above points but not all of them.

Conclusion

Christ releasing humanity from the bondage of sin and Satan lies through His sacrifice is core of the Christus Victor view of atonement. It is a theory that spans the whole of the Bible from Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 and it was the dominant view of the early church. This theory is most often proposed as the framework into which the other narrower views can be organized because it covers such a wide range of theological issues. It also encourages the Christian to take seriously the devil, an idea which has fallen from favor in the modern Church.

Image by Leonard Matthews