Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on December 27, 2015
Open your Bibles to Colossians 3:16. Today marks the last Sunday in 2015. At this time of the year it is natural for us to reflect on the year gone by. Asking questions such as, was this year what we expected? Did we achieve what we hoped to achieve? Are we today the person that we hoped we would be? Many times, the answers to those types of questions are depressing.
This then translates to the infamous New Year's Resolutions. Many times those resolutions are oriented towards worldly things such as losing weight, learning a foreign language, paying off debt, etc. Each one of those goals may be good, but they are not the best.
As Christians, as another year ends, and a new one begins, our eyes should not be set on worldly goals, as much as heavenly goals. We should resolve ourselves to be in line with God's will in all that we do, not for the purpose of earning salvation, but because we love the Lord.
As we begin another year at Cornerstone Church, my desire for 2016 is that we would be more godly. I want each of us, from the new believer to the 30 year saint to be more like Jesus then you are now.
So the question is how do we do this? Is it as simple as a New Year's Resolution? “I resolve to be more like Christ.” No it is not. The answer, I believe is found in our text for today, Colossians 3:16.
If we are to become more like Christ as a Church, we must implement verse 16. Why do I believe this? Because Jesus taught it. In John 17:17 Jesus prays to God, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Once you become a Christian the work is not done, it is just beginning. Between justification and glorification is sanctification. Or to say it another way, in-between being saved and going to heaven is a journey of becoming more holy. Right now we are on that journey, and the means by which we become Holy is the Word.
Word of Christ
So with this in mind, let us examine verse 16 in sections. First let us look at the phrase, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” What is meant by this?
Generally when you think of another phrase for the Bible, you think of the phrase, the Word of God. When you hear this you think, the entire Bible. However, when we hear the Word of Christ, you wonder if Paul means something less than the Bible. Perhaps Paul is telling people to stop caring about the Old Testament and only be New Testament Christians.
For some of you, you would love it if Paul was telling you only to focus on the New Testament. Why? Because that is exactly what how you read your Bible. You have a tendency to only pay attention to the last ¼ of this book. In fact, some of you in this room may be what is called, a Red Letter Christian. You only think the words in red matter therefore you only read the Gospels. And when you read the Gospels you ignore the extra stuff like John chapter 1. Is that what Paul is saying,? Are we only to pay attention to the red letters of the Bible?
No. First, within the verse itself, Paul uses the phrase “all wisdom.” It would be inconsistent for Paul to say only pay attention to what Jesus said and then in the same breath talk about all wisdom. Second, if Paul was encouraging the Church to be a only Gospel readers, or only New Testament readers he would be a hypocrite, for in 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul teaches a young Pastor, Timothy, to be unleash all the Bible in Shepherding a Church.
On top of this, if Paul was teaching that we only need to worry about the Word of God from Jesus birth onwards, he would be undermining the teaching of Christ himself. We have already heard the words of Jesus in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in your truth, your word is truth.” But in Matthew 4:4 Jesus reaffirms the words of Deuteronomy 8:3 by saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Therefore, I think we can confidently say that Paul is not encouraging Christians to read only a small portion of the entire Bible. So why does he say, “The Word of Christ”?
I believe for two reasons. First, because the entire Bible is about Christ. So many Christians do not understand this. The Bible is not a collection of different stories, it is One Story, with one Hero, Jesus. Jesus says this himself in John 5:39.
The Old Testament is all about Jesus, from Genesis to Malachi. Everything is setting the stage for Christ's grand appearance. Granted, at times you may have to connect some dots, but make no mistake when you do, the image that appears is Christ himself.
The second reason Paul uses the phrase Word of Christ is related to the first, but somewhat different. Because all of the Bible is about Jesus, the core of the Word of God is the Gospel. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the binding the holds this book together. Therefore, everything we read in the Word of God, must be seen through a Gospel lens. You would think this would be obvious, however, many people, when reading the Bible fail to do this. And this is why we have so many false teachers, teaching false doctrines. This is why we had the reformation, because the Catholic Church during the dark ages was not reading the the Word of God as the Word or Christ. Instead they were, and still are to some degree, attempting to recreate the religion of the Pharisees.
So in summary, the Word of Christ means the Bible, but it means the Bible through the lens of the Gospel.
Dwell in You Richly
Now let us turn our attention to the phrase, “Dwell in you richly.” In my opinion you can look at this two ways, and I believe that both of them are right. First, you can read this as if Paul is addressing the Church as a whole, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in [the Church] richly.” However, you cold also read it as an individual command, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in [each of you] richly.” As I said, I believe that both of them are right. In the context of verse 16 Paul is talking about individuals living as one Body, but in the verse this indwelling of the Word is to pour out onto others in teaching and admonishing.
With that said, what does it mean for the Word of Christ to dwell in the Church richly? Don't all Church's build themselves on God's Word? Unfortunately no. There are very few Church's that I would say fall under the category of being Biblically rich. They may be socially rich, or liturgically rich, or traditionally rich, or even money rich, but rich in the Word, no.
Why are so few church's not rich in the Word? One reason is that many churches are not really Churches. They are mere shells. They are going through religious motions, but there is no substance. The people who attend and the priests and pastors who lead are not saved. Paul speaks of these people in 2 Timothy 4:
Unfortunately, many “churches”, including Churches in this area, have wandered away. If you are visiting today, and you go to one of those Churches, then get out before you are turned away from the truth, before the false teaching starts to poison your own hearts.
A true Church is to be saturated in the Word of God. Preaching the Word Sunday after Sunday. Just a few verses earlier in 2 Timothy 4 Paul admonishes Timothy to do just this?
This is the charge of a Pastor, to preach the Word. His charge is not to fill the building. His charge is not to tell funny stories. He charge is not to fill up the morning with dramas or special music. His charge is not to present pomp and circumstance. The Pastor is to be preaching the Word of God. Once again, if you go to a Church that has a sermon that lasts 15 minutes, then you should start looking elsewhere, for your Pastor sounds like they don't understand their charge.
Having said that, I believe that preaching the Word is primary, but it is not sufficient. On top of preaching there should be more. One sermon a week does not qualify as the word of Christ dwelling richly. Churches should have ample studies available for people to come and feast on the Word of Christ. In the first few years of the early Church in Acts, this is exactly what we saw.
The Apostles teaching that is referred to here are people such as Peter, John, and James connecting the Old Testament to the Gospel, and then explaining how we are to now to follow Christ as our King. My guess is that many days were spent re-teaching what Jesus taught them during the three years of his earthly ministry.
It is for this reason, we at Cornerstone have so many Bible study opportunities. It is my goal to make devotion to the Word as a Church family as accessible as possible, so if you can't make it, it is not because Cornerstone didn't accommodate. My hope is that in the next year we will have even more opportunities, specifically small groups Bible studies in multiple homes throughout this area, Cascade, Monticello, and Anamosa. My desire is that the primary ministry is the sowing of God's Word onto the hearts of the believers and unbelievers.
However, as the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. My role as a Pastor is to shepherd the flock that God has provided. I do this by preaching and teaching the Word of God. However, the one thing I cannot do is to force it down your throat. And this is where the personal indwelling of the Word of Christ comes into play.
First, I say this perhaps more frequently than I should, but I know in this room we have people who are not Christians. You have been coming to Church for weeks, months, or even a year or more. You have heard the Gospel proclaimed over and over again, but it has not pierced your heart. Perhaps you want it to, but it just hasn't. What are you to do? Resolve this year to immerse yourself in God's Word. Don't just come on Sundays and hear me preach. Read the Bible for yourself. Start with the Gospel of John and keep going. Read through the entire Bible. As as you do, pray that God would reveal himself to you. If God answers your prayer, he will take that Word of Christ and push it down into your heart.
For those of you with loved ones who are not believers encourage them this year to read the Bible with you. Once again, start in John and just keep going. God willing, your loved one will some day receive this Word and it will indwell in them, rooting itself into their soul and growing and bearing fruit for God's glory and their good.
Now for those of you, who have already received the Gospel into your heart, the question is, is the Gospel seed growing at an appropriate rate. Or to say it another way, after being born again, are you still an infant in Christ, or have you progressed to toddler, child, teen, young adult, or spiritual maturity?
Whatever you are in this moment, on this last Sunday of 2015, you should resolve that you will not be the same place next year. If you just gave your life to Christ this year, commit yourself to not be an infant next year, but to be walking? If you see yourself as a child in the faith, commit yourself to becoming an adult by next years end. How do you do this? Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.
Commit yourself to reading the entire Bible in 2016. It will take you only 70 hours. That is less than 1% of your life next year. Commit to join a small group Bible study, or two. Every one of you should be in a Bible study. Commit to memorizing key Bible verses, or even large chapters of the Bible. Pick a book of the Bible and read that book every day for 30 days straight. Then move on to another book. Or if you are really resolved, don't just pick one, but do it all.
Right now many of you may be saying, but I don't have time let the Word of Christ to dwell in me richly. To that I say baloney. All you have is time. What you don't have is a heart for the Lord.
If you spend your days chasing the things of this world, then your love is not for the Lord, it is for this world. James 4:4 tells us, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” So my exhortation to you is do not just come to the waters edge, but drink deeply.
Fruit that Flows from The Word Dwelling Richly
Take a moment and imagine what Cornerstone would be life if we corporately and individually let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. What would this Church look like?
If we let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly both corporately and individually, something very powerful will start to take shape within this Body of Christ. As the Word is poured into our lives, it will likewise start to pour out onto others. I believe this is one reason why we see Paul speak of “ teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” This living and active Word of God will fill us up and spill onto those around us.
This rich indwelling in the Word combined with the pouring out onto each other in teaching and admonishing will act like this giant title wave with each passing week getting stronger and stronger and beating against the gates of Hell until they come crashing down at the return of Christ.
I believe that this is the building up of the Church that is spoken about throughout the New Testament. Church growth is not dictated by the weekly offering, nor is it dictated by Church growth strategies or fancy marketing. The Church of God is built upon the the Word of Christ. I truly believe that if we implement God's design for His Church, God will move mountains.
And as the Word of Christ is lavished over us, not only do we grow in power and strength, but grow in praise and thankfulness. As we mine the Word of God and discover the riches of His grace our hearts overflow with joy and we cannot help but break forth in song. Our commitment to the Word of God swells into a crescendo of gratitude for all that God give us. The pathway to powerful worship is not a worship leader with a tattoo and and a five oclock shadow. The pathway to powerful worship is the firm foundation of His excellent Word.
So as we close out another year hear at Cornerstone and look forward to 2016 we stand at a crossroad, do we resolve ourselves to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, or do we instead go through the motions, playing Church and pursuing our own passions and sinful desires? The choice is yours, but make no mistake the command of God is clear.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on December 24, 2015
Open your Bibles to Matthew 1:18. Tonight we are concluding our December sermon series, titled “The Incarnation of Christ.” As I have said repeatedly, the purpose of this sermon series is to fix a problem in many of our hearts. This problem is perhaps summarized best by Jesus himself. In Matthew 15 Jesus says,
For those of you who have been with us over the last several weeks we have focused on attention on three things so far. 1) The birth of Jesus is the birth of God, 2) All of history exists because God desires to display his glorious grace through His Son, and 3) Christ humbly accepted this assignment from God because he loves His Father and He loves those who believe. Today, we will look at another angel and tackle the question of how is the birth of Jesus relevant our lives. Why should we care about the birth of some Jewish baby 2000 years ago? With that question in mind, turn to Matthew 1:18-25.
Shall Call His Name Jesus
The verse that I want us to focus on tonight is verse 21, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The name Jesus in Greek is “Iēsous” (ē-ā-sü's). Iēsous is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. Joshua means “Jehovah is salvation.” Therefore the name Jesus means “Jehovah is salvation.” It is important to remember that the name Jesus was not selected by Mary or Joseph, but was handpicked by God himself.
This means that God desired that every time someone referred to His incarnate Son, he wanted them to think about the phrase Jehovah is salvation. Why? Because this is why Jesus was born, to implement God's plan of salvation. Jesus says it about himself in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This is the primary purpose of the incarnation.
Salvation from Sin
For people who have never been exposed to Jesus, this name, this statement that the primary purpose of Jesus is to save, should lead them to ask one question, save us from what?
Thankfully, the angel tells us in verse 21, “for he will save his people from their sins.” The essence of Christ incarnation is to save people from their sins, but what does this mean? First let us start with the question, what is sin? One way we can answer this is with 1 John 3:4.
In regards to these laws, every single person who has ever existed has broken these laws of God. God tells us explicitly that “no one is righteous, no not one.” In 1 John 1:8 it says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”
I am constantly amazed by how many people think they are good. You and I are not good. Jesus himself says that no one is good, except God. Every one of us on this planet is a sinner.
Why is this? Because we are born this way. Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” You are a natural born sinner. It is not something you had to learn, it is your predisposed condition. Why? Because of the fall. When Adam disobeyed God in the beginning he plunged humanity into a state of sin. Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—“ Therefore, the Bible is abundantly clear. You, I, and all of humanity since time began have the problem of sin.
However, this may lead you to another question, what is so bad about sin? In fact, some of you in this room may enjoy your relationship with sin. Sin makes you feel good. You enjoy getting drunk, you enjoy cussing and using the Lord's name in vain, you enjoy lusting for people not your spouse, you enjoy counting your money and coveting the things of this world. You see no problem with sin.
And there is a perfectly logical reason for this. You see no problem with sin, because you cannot see. You are spiritually blind.
So what are you blind to? What are you not seeing? You are blind to the realities of God. You are blind that the God who is your creator is not casual about your rebellion against him. He is a Holy God. He is a just God. And He is not amused by your rejection of Him
This is bad news for us, for we have already established that we are sinners, that none of us our righteous. Does this mean we deserve Hell? Absolutely. Our sin against an infinitely Holy and Eternal God demands a punishment that fits the crime, anything less than Hell would be an injustice at the highest level.
So what are we to do? What hope do we have? It is this child who was born 2000 years ago. It is Jesus, Jehovah is Salvation. God, is a Holy and Just God. He hates sin. However, God is also merciful and loving. God provides a way in which we can be saved from our sins, and this way is His Son, Jesus. He is the only way. Being good will not save you, going to Church will not save you, being Catholic or Protestant will not save you, being a rich American will not save you. Only Jesus saves. This is why Jesus was born. As John the Baptist rightfully said, “Behold the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world.” Jesus is our only hope.
Save His People
So is that it? Is the gift of Jesus for all people? Is the fact that Jesus was born, lived a perfect life, crucified and resurrected from the dead mean that all of humanity will be saved? No, what does the angel say? Verse 21, “for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus does not save all people. Only His people. So who are his people? Jesus tells us.
If you have embraced Christ as your one and only hope, then Christmas should be a time of deep and heartfelt joy, for you were destined for God's wrath, but Christ has pulled you from the flames and secured you in his arms for all eternity.
Christmas is not about presents, lights, or food. Christmas is about salvation. Christmas is about the perfect love of God made manifest if the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on December 20, 2015
Open your Bibles to Philippians 2:5-11. This marks our third week focusing on the Incarnation of Christ. As I have stated for the last two weeks, the reason we are focusing our attention on the Incarnation is to fix a problem. The problem we are attempting to fix is the problem of under appreciation. By this I mean that during the Christmas season our attention is drawn to the historical event of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and because of sin, we do not appreciate the magnitude of Emmanuel, God with us.
This is a believer’s current state of reality. Christians have been given eyes to see and ears to hear of the glory of Christ, and this seeing has caused us to repent and place our faith in Christ alone, however on this side of Heaven, we do not have perfect vision, perfect knowledge, perfect faith, or perfect joy. Some day we will, when we see him face to face, but until that time it is our calling to pursue the glory of God. Week in and week out we are to devote ourselves to the Word of God, praying that God to reveal to us more and more of His immeasurable worth. Asking him to press upon our heart the magnitude of such things as the incarnation of His Son.
In doing so, our knowledge of God increases, or faith in God increases, our joy in God increases, and our praise of God increases. As Paul says in Philippians 2:15-16, “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16holding fast to the word of life,”
This is the Christian call during the Christmas season, to shine as lights in the world against the backdrop of the darkness of this sinful world. So my goal is to throw fuel on the fire of your hearts so that your affections burn brightly for Jesus this Christmas season.
With this goal in mind, two weeks ago we focused on the fact that Jesus is God. As I stated, no one debates the historical Jesus. Everyone agrees that Jesus of Nazareth existed, and it is the same Jesus the world dates their calendar by, however, the debate is whether this Jesus is God. As we saw two weeks ago, the evidence is overwhelming from brothers, mothers, friends, enemies, miracles, and prophecies all signs put to his divinity. Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the Sovereign God of the Universe.
Last week, we focused on the magnitude of the moment of Jesus, our God, taking on the flesh of mankind. As we saw in Ephesians 1, all of history was destined for this moment in time, when with the dawning of the Light of the World would break forth upon humanity. God spoke the heavens into place because he wanted a platform for the display of His glory and grace, and This was the will of God, to share his glory with his creation, by sending his son in the flesh, full of grace and truth. And not only to send him, but to send him as a sacrifice so as to die the death that each of us deserve. Why? So we could see and treasure the pinnacle of God's glory, His grace.
Today, we will turn our attention to the humble acceptance of Jesus to fulfill the plan of His father. So let us look together at Philippians 2:5-11, then we will pray that God would press these words upon our heart, and then we will unpack our text.
The Form of God
In verse 6 we see Paul beginning in the same place we began, with the recognition that Jesus is no mere man, he is God. Verse 6, “he was in the form of God.” This description of Jesus in verse 6 is a description of the pre-incarnate Jesus.
The word form is the Greek word, “morphē.” Morphe means the external appearance of an object. Therefore the note that is struck by this statement is not just that Jesus was God prior to becoming a man, but that he was the perfect display of God. Perhaps the best verses that helps us understand this is Hebrews 1:3, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”
Now this glory of Christ, before he became a man was unrestrained, no limitations, at maximum illumination, if you will. Jesus speaks of this in John 17:5 when he says– “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” The Glory that Jesus is talking about is the unrestrained display of his majesty prior to becoming incarnate.
If you look at the second part of verse 6 it says, he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” What does this mean? It simply means that Jesus did not have to rob, or exploit, the throne of God. Equality with God is not something you can reach out and take, like Satan attempted to do and Adam and Eve attempted to do in the Garden of Eden. It just doesn't work that way. The glory of God can only be given. It can never taken. The form of God that Jesus possessed was rightfully his by his eternal begotteness. Jesus has the form of God by the nature of who he is. And this type of glory is not to be grasped, but it can only be given.
Humbled and Emptied Himself
And this is exactly what Jesus did. Verse 7 says he, “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form.” What does it mean that Jesus emptied himself? Many people wrongly believe this means that when Jesus became a man, he stopped being God. This is not at all what Paul is saying in verse 7. In order to be Emmanuel, you must be fully God. No, look at verse 7 again, Paul defines what he means by Christ emptying himself. He says, “by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” This emptying is not the relinquishing of Godness, but it is covering up of unrestrained display of his Godness, under the garment of flesh.
Jesus is the perfect radiance of the Glory of God, but for approximately 33 years, he covers this glory under the likeness of man. Once again, let us be clear. We are not saying that Jesus was not fully God while he was on earth, we are merely saying that he restrained the full display of that reality.
So let us dwell upon this for a second. Jesus is God, and according to John 1:3 all things were created through Him, yet for a little while he created himself. Jesus who according to John 1:1 is eternal, is conceived in the womb of Mary and then born. Jesus who according to Hebrews 1:3 upholds the Universe by the Word of His Power, as an infant had to learn to talk. Jesus who according to Colossians 1:18 is to be preeminent over all things, submits to being raised by two sinners, Mary and Joseph. Jesus who according to Colossians 1:16 all things were created for, took on the form of a servant.
It is utterly mind blowing to think that Jesus, who is limitless in all things, chooses to limit himself. Jesus who is infinite in all things good, puts himself in the bottle of mankind. The masking of His glory us incalculable. And despite the immeasurable step from God to man, Jesus choose to accept the plan of His Father.
And let us be clear, this was the choice of Jesus. As we stated last week, this was the plan of God the Father to have the elect share in His glory through the death of His Son, but make no mistake Jesus had to accept the mission. Jesus could have said no, in a sense, but he did not. He willfully chose to humble himself and lay aside the privileges that come with being the God of all things.
Death, Even Death on a Cross
When dwelling on this choice of Jesus to empty himself, one wants to say that there is no greater display of humility than the incarnation. But this would not be true. In verse 8 we see that he didn't just become a man but “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus who is not only the giver of life, but life itself, chose to lay down his life.
And let us not forget that the only reason that death exists is because of sin. Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death.” But let us also remind ourselves that Jesus did not sin. He did not earn the curse of mortification. Yet as he says in Mark 10:45, this is exactly why he became a man, “to give his life as a ransom for many.”
But even still, if that was not enough, not only did Jesus humble himself and become a man, and not only did he humble himself and lay down his life, but he died upon a cross. Jesus did not die of old age. He did not die of a heart attack or cancer. He died in the most excruciating way possible, crucifixion. In fact, this is where we get the word excruciating.
Jesus was flogged, beaten, ridiculed, spit on, a thorn of crowns on his head, nailed to a tree, and hung their until he suffocated to death due to his physical inability to lift himself up to breathe. Once dead, he was stabbed with a spear just to make sure.
But there is something even greater then the physical death of Jesus. Not only did he let go of the radiance of God's glory and become a man, and die upon the cross, but he took upon him the sins of the World, and therefore took upon himself the wrath of His father.
The wrath of God is stored up for us, but it is poured out on Christ for those who place their faith in Jesus.
As the Father and the Son were together in eternity past, and the plan of redemption lay before them with the purpose of displaying the glorious grace of God, and as Jesus sat there in all of His glorious splendor, he did what no one could do but a gracious God, he said “I'll do it.”
The depth of this grace is truly immeasurable. This grace of God is glorious beyond understanding. This grace of God is perfection. I challenge anyone on this planet to imagine a more flawless and magnificent display of the attribute of God's grace than the humiliation of the life and death of Jesus Christ. Let me save you some time, you can't. Their is nothing higher than the glory of Christ and there is nothing lower than absorbing the wrath of God for humanities sins.
Why did Jesus say Yes?
So why did Jesus do it? Why did Jesus agree to fall so far? Why was He willing to empty himself of the privileges of God? Two reasons: He loves the Father and He loves his Brothers.
The reason we have Christmas is because Jesus loves the Father. The reason we have Easter is because Jesus loves the Father. The reason we don't burn in Hell for all eternity is because Jesus loves the Father. There is nothing that God the Father can ask Jesus that he won't do. He is 100 percent committed to Him, and he is 100 percent committed to his friends.
Before there was an us, the all powerful, all knowing God of the Universe loved us. As Christ stared into the plan of His father, he did not just see the manger, he did not just see the cross, he saw your face. He saw James, Bruce, Jen, Ryan, Lisa, Kim, Kathy, Mitch, and all of you who have said yes to Jesus, and because of his everlasting love for his brothers and sisters, he said “I'll do it.” No matter what the cost, I will do it. Why? Because he loves his friends.
And once again, this is why we celebrate Christmas. This is the heartbeat of the season, the love of God manifested in the incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ. How can you not have joy knowing that this is the Jesus that we call Lord?
So let us think about these things over the next five days as the day draws near. Lay aside the chaos, lay aside the materialism, lay aside the things of this world, and cling to the Savior of this World. You will not find a greater treasure than the love of Christ.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on December 13, 2015
Turn with me in your Bibles to Ephesians 1:3-14. This month at Cornerstone we are focusing on the Incarnation of Christ. We are doing this with the intent that this focused attention will cause each of you to stand in awe of our God this Christmas season. As I stated last week, for so many of you, Christmas is a burden and not a joy. You have exchanged the glory of God for the glory of man made traditions, we call it Holiday cheer. However, the pursuit of cheer is not found in hot chocolate, Christmas lights, or a mountain of presents, it is found incarnate God, Jesus Christ.
It is my hope that the preaching of God’s Word by the power of the Holy Spirit will stir your hearts in such a way that you will overflow with joy as you ponder the eternal love of God manifested in the person of Jesus Christ this Christmas season. It is my hope that sugar plums do not dance in your head, but instead your thoughts are upon this child who became a man so that you may have abundance of life through is death.
As I stated last week, the incarnation of Christ is the essence of Christmas. That is what we are celebrating, God taking on flesh and dwelling among us. Last week it was my intent to cause you to marvel at what many of us tend to take for granted. That Jesus was no mere man. He was not some good teacher. He was not just another Prophet. He was not just a carpenter’s Son. He was and is God. Jesus, our God, who according to Hebrews 1:3 “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus, our God, who according to John 1:3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Jesus, our God, who according to Colossians 1:16, “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.17And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
This is Jesus our God whom we sing about when we say, “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.” He is not just a baby, he is the Sovereign God of the Universe.
Today I want us to look at the Incarnation of Christ from another angle. One that is only possible through the revelation of God. Today my goal is for you to dwell upon the magnitude of that moment when Jesus took on flesh. In order to see how significant this event was we must put on the spectacles of Scripture, and we will begin in Ephesians 1:3-14.
Before the Foundation
I want to direct your attention to the staggering statements found in verse 4 and 5, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will”.
In this section of Scripture we are peering into eternity past. God is giving us a glimpse into the Trinity prior to Creation. The events that Paul is unpacking are pre-Genesis 1:1 stuff. In verse 4 its says “before the foundation of the world.”
Because we, as humanity, live inside this box we call space and time, we seldom think about existence outside the box. In fact, it is hard to wrap our heads around, and the reason for that is that we are finite in our thinking, and God is infinite in his.
But whether we can perfectly understand it or not, this does not change the truth of it. God existed as Father, Son, and Spirit before time began. As we saw last week in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.”
The question I want us to ponder is what were they doing? What was the all powerful, all knowing, all sufficient, all satisfied Tri-une God of the Universe doing before speaking the Universe into being?
A God Who Purposes
It appears that before the foundation of the earth was laid, God was purposing. Look at verse 5, we see the phrase, “according to the purpose of his will.” Likewise in verse 9, “making known to us the mystery of his will.” Then in verse 10, “as a plan”. Then again in verse 11, “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
The picture we are given in Ephesians 1 is a picture of a God with a mind. A mind that has a will. A mind that has a purpose. A mind that has a plan. God is not some cosmic force with no intellect, and no order. He is a personal God.
Our God is a God who has a mind. Our God is a God who has thoughts. Are these thoughts the same as our thoughts? No. He is God and we are man. We are finite and he is infinite. But that does not mean he has no thoughts. It only means that the thoughts of God are perfect, complete, and unchanging. So what was on the mind of God, before the foundation of the world?
His Glorious Grace
It appears that his thoughts, his will, his purpose, his plan, is the sharing of His Glory. In verse 6 we see, “to the praise of his glorious grace.” Then again in verse 12, “to the praise of his glory.” And then again in verse 14, “to the praise of his glory.”
As the Tri-une God dwelt in eternity past and thought and purposed and planned, His mind was oriented ultimately to His glory. God who is glorious beyond all comprehension, whose weight of value is immeasurable, was focused upon His infinite worth. A worth that was all satisfying within Himself. Because of the magnitude and completeness of his Glory, he lacked nothing. But God’s will, His desire was to share is Glory. His will was to put his glory on display, so that something outside of himself can bask in the light of its worth.
So because of God’s will to share his Glory He creates. He creates the heavens for his glory. He creates the angles for his glory. He creates the earth for his glory. He creates mankind for his glory. He creates, and puts his glory on display to be seen and to be treasured.
But there is more. The glory of God can take on many forms, such as the glory of his knowledge, and the glory of his power, and the glory of his providence. But the pinnacle of the glory of God is the grace of God. I am paraphrasing, but John Piper says it this way, “If the glory of God is a mountain, the peak is God’s grace.” All of God’s glory supports or upholds the apex of his glory, and that is His grace. The reason we say this, is verse 6 where it says, “to the praise of his glorious grace.”
God, before time begins, in His mind is planning, purposing, predestining all things to stand in awe of His glorious grace. This is God’s will. This is the answer to why did God created God created the World? For the praise of His glorious grace.
Full of Grace and Truth
So what does this have to do with the Incarnation of Christ? Everything. Look at verse 9, “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.” The means by which God plans to display and receive praise is through the incarnation of His Son. Christ is the substance of God's eternal plan. If you read through this section in Ephesians you will see over and over again the central focus of Jesus Christ. Jesus is mentioned in every single verse except for verse 14. God's will to receive praise for His glorious grace is achieved only through His Son.
But that is not it, not only through His Son, but through the incarnation of His Son. Look at verse 7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” God does not have blood. Creatures have blood. For Jesus to have blood means that he has to become a man.
So feel the weight of what is going on. Before man existed, before the earth existed, before time existed, God has this plan, whereby he will display his glory, specifically the apex of his glory, His grace, and he will do so through Jesus becoming a man. So the entire purpose of creation is ultimately about the incarnation of Jesus. Listen to what it says in Hebrews 10:5
As history played out through Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and all the prophets, it was never about sacrifices and offerings, the plan was always that Jesus would have a body, that Jesus would become a man.
This is why Jesus calls himself the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, for Jesus is the reason why all things exist. Everything was created so that the man Jesus Christ could have a platform in which to manifest his glorious grace, and he would do so in the flesh.
So is Christmas just about the birth of Jesus? No, Christmas is about the moment that the Universe had been waiting for. Christmas is the execution of the eternal plan of God. Everything single moment in all of history was flowing towards the incarnation of Christ.
The Glorious Grace of the Blood of Jesus
This leaves us with one last lose end to tie up. How is the incarnation of Christ a display of the glorious grace of God? What is so gracious about Jesus becoming a man? Ultimately, it is not the birth of Christ that is the apex of God's glory, it is the death of Christ that is the apex of God's glory.
Therefore, Christmas has no joy, without Easter. If when you dwell upon the birth of Christ, you do not likewise dwell upon the cross of Christ, then you are missing the point. Christmas is a means to an end. Jesus had to be born so that he could die.
This was the eternal plan of God, to send his Son into the world as a man so that he would die, but not just die, but to die for a people. To die for those who in Ephesians 1:4 were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. To die for those who in verse 5 were destined to be adopted through the sacrifice of Christ, who would be forgiven according to the riches of His grace that he lavishes upon us.
So the question is, is what we have unpacked today upon our minds during the Christmas season? Are we dwelling upon the eternal plan of God in the midst of our shopping frenzies, and holiday parties? Are our thought the thoughts of God as laid out in Ephesians 1? Are we praising the glorious grace of God in the manifestation of Christ? Are we meditating on the eternal love of God that he has for us and his grace that he lavishes upon through Jesus Christ?
For most of us, the answer is no. And then we wonder why Christmas is so bland, so lacking, so empty, so depressing. So few people understand the magnitude of the event of the Incarnation of Christ.
So What is Christmas About?
So what is Christmas about? It is about what we sang about earlier, Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery. So today, I would like us to end by singing that song one more time. If the praise team would come up, and while they do I want to read the first part of the song to you:
Come behold the wondrous mystery In the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven's praises Robed in frail humanity
In our longing, in our darkness Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended Took on flesh to ransom us
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on December 6, 2015
Today marks the 2nd Sunday of Advent. For those of you who are familiar with Advent, it is a tradition of the Church. By this I mean that it is not a Biblical ordinance, such as Baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Advent is a mere construction of man, so whether you celebrate Advent or not is not a sin issue.
Personally, I did not grow up in a Church that focused on Advent, and I do not believe my parents or Church were wrong in this approach. Having said those things, I do believe Advent like thinking is good for you, and good for our Church.
I say this because Advent is the intentional focus of the Incarnation of Christ. Beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Advent encourages Christians to dwell upon the unsearchable riches of God’s Grace in the giving of his Son to the World for our eternal joy. Thinking about that reality is a good thing. Granted, this good news of great joy should not be limited to one month a year, it should be dwelt upon every day for all eternity, but let us be honest, we have a tendency to forget, and this is why I think Advent has its advantages. It helps us to remember.
Therefore, this advent, I want to encourage each of you to be intentional in dwelling upon the coming of Christ. I want you to lay aside things that interfere with your ability to see that Glory of God in the face of Jesus. Be intentional and read all four Gospels this month. Commit yourself to extended times of fasting and praying. Read an Advent devotional such as John Pipers, “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.” Men, this is a great time to launch family devotionals every night before your children go to bed. Let us not allow for another December pass by without standing in awe of Emmanuel.
With this in mind, for the next three Sundays and then concluding on Christmas Eve, my goal is to help set your minds and your hearts on Christ. I want to spend the next four weeks pointing you to the Universe shifting realty that God became a man. I want us to dwell upon the fullness of Christ, and the unfathomable love that was displayed in his humbling himself to become a man.
The Problem with Christmas
The title of this sermon series is the Incarnation of Christ. The word incarnation means to become flesh, to become human. Therefore the Incarnation of Christ is the act of Jesus becoming a man. One of the familiar verses that summarizes this reality is found in John 1:14.
This incarnation of the Word, which is the Son of God, aka, Jesus, is the essence of Christmas. This is what we are to be celebrating during the Christmas season, the Son of God becoming a man.
With this said, one of the biggest problems during the Christmas season is that we spend too much time focusing only on the Christ’s humanity. Our eyes go straight to the manger and we fixate on baby Jesus. We sing songs like Away in the Manger, which are great song, but can have the potential, if we are not careful, to cause us to focus only on the flesh of Christ.
Now some of you are now saying, wait a minute, didn’t you just tell us that the essence of Christmas is the incarnation, the becoming of the flesh, Jesus becoming a man. Yes, I did, but we must not forget that this was not any old baby. This was the Word becoming a baby.
When we celebrate Christmas with only a manger mentality, we undermine the awe of Christmas. We reduce the magnitude of what we are truly celebrating. In fact, when we do this, we easily can set aside Jesus, or replace Him. If Jesus is just a man, then Santa Clause can compete. If Jesus is just a man, then his birth is not any more special than Aristotle’s, Shakespeare’s, Abraham Lincoln’s, or Albert Einstein’s. If Jesus is just a man, then like so many people commonly say today, he is a good teacher and nothing more. So today, we are going to shine the light on who this Jesus was and is before he stepped into the world 2000 years ago.
“My Lord and My God”
As we begin, let me just say this, no legitimate scholar denies that Jesus from Nazareth existed. The historical “experts” who spend their lives studying this stuff, overwhelming agree that there really was a Jesus. This is not just the Christian historians, it is nearly all historians. So the question is never, if Jesus is real. He is real, no doubt, the whole world turns on this reality. The question is, is Jesus God.
We have already looked at John 1:14, let us step back and look at John 1:1.
There may not be a clearer declaration of the divinity of Jesus then John 1:1. The logic of the statement is rock solid. As we have stated the Word as used in John 1 is Jesus. So we can easily replace the Word with Jesus, “In the beginning was [Jesus], and [Jesus] was with God, and [Jesus] was God. 2[Jesus] was in the beginning with God.”
What is interesting about this statement is who is making it. The writer of the Gospel of John is the disciple John. John was one of the original twelve that walked with Jesus during his Earthly ministry. In fact, listen to what the Apostle John says in another letter he wrote, 1 John 1:1-4.
John was one of the few people who were able to be with Jesus while he walked on this planet in the flesh. He watched him sleep. He heard him chew. He smelled him. And after three years he concluded, He was God. John was not the only one. Listen to what Peter said in Matthew 16:15-16.
Despite all of the rumors and conversation about Jesus being a prophet, a mere mortal, Peter, just like John concludes that Jesus is different. He is not just a prophet, he is not just a man. He is the Son of God.
Likewise, how can we forget the disciple Thomas. He is best known for his lack of faith after the resurrection. This is where he picked up the discouraging nickname of Doubting Thomas. He had been told that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but Thomas stated in John 20:25, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days after saying these words Jesus appears and he has Thomas touch his hands and his side and Thomas responds with the echoing words of “My Lord and my God.”
In addition to this, time would not allow us to go into all the miracles that displayed the divinity of Christ.
Make no mistake, those who knew ministered along side Jesus believed him to be God. In fact, these eye witnesses were so convinced that Jesus was God that they laid down their life defending this singular truth. Every single one of the first 12 disciples, except John, was killed because of their belief that Jesus was God.
But it does not end there. Let’s take a second and look at James and Jude. These two men were believed to be the half brothers of Jesus. After Mary gave birth to Jesus, she and Joseph had other Children. Matthew 13:55, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” James and Judas are counted as being the author of the book of James and the book of Jude, listen to what they say:
I would think it would be fair to say that these two men spent more time with the man Jesus Christ than any other men on the planet. Only Mary would have spent more time with Jesus then they would have, and what is their evaluation of him? He is the Lord of Glory, he is the Christ that leads to eternal life.
Once again, Church tradition teaches that both of these men, half brothers of Jesus were killed because of their belief that Jesus was more than a man. James, it is believed, was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and then beaten and Jude was crucified in Persia.
Then of course there is Paul. Paul whose original name was Saul hated the name of Jesus. He spent he days trying to figure out how to arrest so that the Christians could be fed to the lions, but everything changed on the road to Damascus, when he had a personal encounter with Christ. After that moment, he no longer saw Jesus just a man. Colossians 2:9 summarizes Paul's new found understanding of Jesus.
Like the others, Paul died standing on this truth. His head was cut off in Rome because he believed Jesus was more than a man. So was Jesus God? For those who knew him best, the evidence seemed to be overwhelming.
Before Abraham, I Am
But there is more. It wasn't just that the followers of Christ believed that Jesus was God. Jesus himself believed he was God. This is what is so inconsistent about the common misunderstanding of who Jesus is. Jesus leaves no wiggle room when it comes to who he is. As CS Lewis stated, you either have to believe he is the Lord, he is a liar, or he is a lunatic. Here is a sampling of a few of Jesus' comments about his identity.
For those who say Jesus was just a good teacher, or just a prophet, those people just don't get it. When I hear people compare Jesus to Ghandi or Muhammed, I want to shake them and ask, “Have you not read the Bible.” That statement is so inconsistent with who Jesus said he was. One of the main reasons they killed him was because he claimed to be God.
Jesus made it abundantly clear that he was not just a man. He told people to drink from him, eat him, that he was the truth and the life, that he had a first row seat when Satan fall from heaven. The claims of Jesus were outrageous. When you read the Gospels, there is not a more self-centered person than Jesus. Why? Because he had to be. Everything was created through Him and for Him. If Jesus wasn't self centered, then he would be sinning, for He is God, and the chief end of man is to glorify God.
Moses and the Prophets Testify
But we are not done. There is more. Not only did the disciples believe he was God, not only did his family believe he was God, not only did Paul believe he was God, not only did Jesus claim to be God, but the Old Testament testified he was God.
This is the most popular Christmas verse in all the Bible, and rightfully so, for it summarizes what we are celebrating. Isaiah wrote these Words 700 years before the actual historic event of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Isaiah predicted that everything would change when this child stepped onto the scene. And who was this child you ask? Isaiah tells us point blank, this child is none other than God himself.
The Creator of all things, becomes a creature. The author of the play writes himself into the story. The Potter covers himself with His clay. God takes on flesh, incarnate. He will be Emmanuel, God with us.
What kind of God does this? What kind of all powerful, all knowing, all sufficient being humbles himself to the point of a 8 lb baby whose life is handed over to a teen Mom and a blue collar worker? I will tell you. A God who is sovereign. A God who is both the just and the justifier. A God who uses the foolish things to shame the wise. A God who loves you enough to become you, so as to die for you, in order to save you.
This Christmas, let us not stop our gaze at the manger, but cast our eyes beyond and see the glory that Christ, Emmanuel, had prior to his arrival. Let us join the chorus of Angels and sing about his coming as glory in the highest.