Glen Scrivener is a good friend of mine and the ministry I am involved in, Cor Deo. Every year Glen joins us for a day during the full-time course and shares with the team about the Gospel and evangelism. Back in 2012 he spoke at our Delighted by God conference in London. Here is his latest episode of The Evangelists Podcast in which he interviews me about Cor Deo, about the book, Pleased to Dwell, and a little bit about Bible reading too.
Rick McKinley is the Lead Pastor at Imago Dei Community, the church he planted in 2000, in Portland, OR. He is also co-creator of the Advent Conspiracy. Rick and I sat next to each other in our graduation ceremony at Gordon-Conwell some years ago and it was great to get to know him in the midst of all the waiting involved! He authored The Answer to our Cry (UK Link), Kingdom Called Desire (UK link) and This Beautiful Mess (UK link). I am very thankful to Rick for this guest post for the Incarnation Series, Rick points us to the significance of the ascension and how that ties the incarnation to us:
When it comes to the doctrine of the incarnation I think most of us leave it in the past. The Son of God took on flesh, lived the perfect human life, died on the cross then rose from the dead, went to heaven, and sent us his Spirit. The incarnation is in the past.
But the fact is the incarnation is happening now. I am not talking about the church being the body of Christ either, though I think that is a rich picture. What I am talking about is that Jesus is still the incarnate God-man living in a glorified body in Heaven as you read this line.
This is the doctrine of the ascension, which is perhaps the least talked about and under appreciated aspect of the incarnation, but without it the rest of the incarnation doesn’t mean too much to us today.
There are two powerful present day realities that are in play today because Jesus is the ascended Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father.
The first reality is that there is a man in heaven, right now, who has conquered the grave and is the first fruits of the resurrection. His resurrection and ascension seal the promise that he will resurrect us as well and bring us to the Father.
The second reality is that Jesus is ascended into heaven and at this moment is praying for you so that he can completely save you. That’s a hope that moves past my efforts, my prayers, my power and sets my confidence on Jesus. My confidence in Jesus is for sure in his finished work on the cross, but also his present work as my resurrected, glorified intercessor before the Father for the completion of my salvation.
When life seems on the brink, or our kids go off the rails, or the power has just about leaked out of your faith, remember this! Jesus is risen and reigning in heaven and he is passionately praying to the Father on your behalf. The beauty of the incarnation continues.
Ron Frost is my friend and colleague as a mentor in Cor Deo. He also serves as a Pastoral Care Consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International. I first met Ron when he was teaching Historical Theology at Multnomah Biblical Seminary. Be sure to check out his blog SpreadingGoodness.org (as well as his posts on Cor Deo’s blog too). Ron loves how some Puritans, especially Richard Sibbes, point his heart toward Christ. So in this entry in the Incarnation Guest Series, Ron takes us to Sibbes with the hope that our hearts will be stirred too:
Richard Sibbes, a 17th century Puritan preacher, invited his listeners to consider both the motivation of Christ’s incarnation and its implications for believers.
“He was born for us; his birth was for us; he became man for us; he was given to death for us. And so likewise, he is ours in his other estate of exaltation. His rising is for our good. He will cause us to rise also, and ascend with him, and sit in heavenly places, judging the world and the angels.” [Works, 2.178]
Sibbes made the point in a sermon series on the Bible’s Song of Songs—with the figures in the book seen to be Christ and the Church. The allegorical reading was strong on mutual marital love, something the unabashed Sibbes wanted to his audience to feel: “Affections have eloquence of their own beyond words.”
Sibbes, it should be said, also drew his marital imagery from other Bible content beyond the Song. He held the Bible to be divided by its testaments, with the Old Testament as a limited starting point that looks ahead to the marital fulfillment of the New Testament. The latter spoke of Christ as the bridegroom coming for his bridal Church.
“In the new covenant God works both parts: his own and our parts too. Our love to him, our fear of him, our faith in him—he works all, even as he shows his own love to us. If God loves us thus, what must we do? Meditate upon his love. Let our hearts be warmed with the consideration of it. Let us bring them to that fire of his love . . .” [2.174]
Many readers today will find Sibbes’ marital familiarity to be over the top. But does he have a point? Do more juridical and disaffected readings of the incarnation actually blind us to God’s motivation? This motivation, Sibbes held, is birthed out of God’s mutual Triune love. In marital love—leaving aside physical intimacy—God gives humanity a glimpse of the mutual devotion and delight of his own eternal bond.
With that caveat in mind let’s return to the lesson Sibbes takes from the incarnation. God sent the Son to stir our response. And this response explains every other feature of genuine spirituality: “our parts” of faith.
Sibbes makes the point. We love God because he first loved us in Christ and we now get to anticipate growing in that love forevermore.
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary. He is also pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. David is the author of Christian Get Depressed Too, How Sermons Work, and Jesus on Every Page (USA Link). You can read his blog, HeadHeartHand or follow him on Twitter @davidpmurray. David is married to Shona and they have five children ranging from 1 to 18 years old. I am thankful to David for contibuting to our Incarnation Series marking the release of Pleased to Dwell. Here, David takes us back to the book of Judges and points our hearts to Christ:
Judges chapter thirteen opens with the nation of Israel suffering under the reign of the Philistines. In the middle of this a woman is suffering under her own personal grief: she is barren.
Into this national and personal sorrow the Son of God appears as the angel (literally “messenger”) of the Lord appears to this woman, promising her an end to her barrenness and an end to the Philistine occupation. His appearance is such that she describes him as a man of God with a very awesome appearance, like the angel of the Lord. Neither the woman nor her husband yet realize that this is more than a man.
Manoah, her husband, prays that the messenger might return to give them more instruction on how to raise this promised son. God listens to Manoah’s prayer and the messenger returns to give them further instruction. During this second encounter, Manoah offers a meal to their guest, not yet knowing exactly who their guest is. The angel of the Lord refuses to eat, but tells Manoah to make an offering to the Lord.
A Wonderful Name
When Manoah asks the visitor for his name, he receives this enigmatic response: “Why do you ask My Name, seeing it is wonderful?” or beyond comprehension?
What a puzzling response. What sort of man claims that his name is beyond comprehension? Remember that throughout the Old Testament, names are very significant indicators of character. There is something special about this man with a wonderful name.
A Wonderful Act
As the flames begin to consume the sacrificed goat, Manoah and his wife are amazed to see the messenger step into the flames and rise up to heaven!
What was he doing?
As the pre-incarnate Son of God we may say that He was “practicing” or “rehearsing” His future sacrifice of himself, when in real human nature he would ascend heavenwards.
They immediately fall on their faces for they realized that this had been THE Angel of the Lord. As is often the case, this recognition often comes only after the Angel has departed.
A Wonderful Faith
Although a great fear takes hold of Manoah because he knows that no one can see God and live, his more believing wife comforts him with this thought: If God had really intended to kill them, he would not have accepted their offering nor given them the great promises he had.
It’s amazing to think about the Son of God’s ascension in the flame of this sacrifice as a picture of his ultimate sacrifice at Calvary. We often read in the Bible of God’s delight in the sweet smell of sacrifices to him. How sweet must Christ’s ultimate sacrifice have been: the perfect, spotless lamb. And yet how horrific the experience for Christ himself.
There He stepped not into the flames of a burning goat, but into the flames of an angry God. He did not just rise heavenwards in a few brief moments, but stayed in the fire until the divine flames burned themselves out on Him.
A Wonderful Question
No wonder the prophet Isaiah says, His name shall be called Wonderful. Who can fully comprehend the mystery of God manifest in the flesh, and sacrificed in flames? Yet, let us keep asking Him, “What is your name? Tell us more about yourself, that we may honor you.”
Peter Comont is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Church Oxford, a new church plant in heart of the city of Oxford. He is involved with several initiatives to teach, train and nurture the next generation of leaders including Living Leadership, the Porterbrook Seminary, and the South Central Ministry Training Course. Peter and I met at a conference in Asia several years ago and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations during those days. In today’s Incarnation Series guest post, Peter offers us a really helpful reflection on the subject of the incarnation, God and what constitutes an authentic Christian life:
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7)
Jesus wept (John 11:35)
For the writer to the Hebrews the tears of Jesus are important. His incarnation was not just bodily, whilst somehow his mind and heart remained serenely immune to suffering. Rather he identified with our human condition in all its dimensions, including the emotions.
That full identification was important for our justification as the writer to the Hebrews makes plain. Jesus became fully human to stand in our place as both a priest and a sacrifice for our sins (e.g. Heb 7:26-27). But in Hebrews 5:7 the mention of Jesus’ tears emphasises that his priestly role also involves a profoundly emotional connection with us. In Jesus, God comes alongside us in all the rich complexity life. Because of his tears he is able to ‘deal gently with us’ (Heb 5:2). Because of his tears others knew he loved his friend Lazarus (John 11:35-36). The tears of Jesus are witnesses to a deep emotional connection between God and man.
Some theologians like to talk about God’s impassibility, suggesting that he does not suffer or feel pain. Though this may have some truth to it in a limited technical sense, the Bible’s picture of Jesus, – who is the ‘exact representation of [God’s] being’ (Heb 1:3) – points in a different direction. Christians believe in a God who is deeply and emotionally engaged with all the joys and trials of our world.
The Bible also describes the Christian life in deeply emotional terms. There is joy (e.g. John 16:24), but there is groaning too (Romans 8:18-27). To be adopted as sons of God means to be united with Jesus, as we cry out Abba father (Romans 8:15 cf Mark 14:36) experiencing the same range of emotions that Jesus displayed on earth. Both the joy and pain of our life now can be true manifestations of being united with Jesus.
Jesus shows us that an authentic Christian life is not shorn of emotion, nor is does it need to fear painful emotions, because they are both part and parcel of our present life as adopted sons of God. Thank God that the Son of God wept.
Jordan Scheetz is Chair of Biblical and Exegetical Studies, and Associate Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature, at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Amsterdam, NL. Jordan has been a good friend for many years and I’ve always appreciated his passion for God’s Word and making disciples. He wrote The Concept of Canonical Intertextuality and the Book of Daniel (2012). In this series, marking the release of Pleased to Dwell, Jordan looks at the rich Old Testament themes weaving together to point us to the Incarnation of the Messiah:
The arrival of the Messiah is the culmination of a series of expectations scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. To separate these expectations from the writings of early Christianity is a difficult task because the earliest Christians were Jews steeped in the expectations of their Jewish Scriptures.
The focus on a direct descendant from David and Abraham springs from the promises made to David and Abraham, something seen throughout the Old Testament. David was promised a future descendant who would have an Eternal Kingdom and Abraham was promised to bring blessing to all nations through his offspring. The Torah closes with the expectation that still another prophet like Moses who speaks with God face to face needs to come. Isaiah looks to a time of immanu-el “God with us,” encapsulated in an actual person, not to mention the suffering of avdi “My Servant” who brings forgiveness, healing, and eternal life to God’s people. Jeremiah in the midst of intense judgment shines the rays of hope for a new covenant, one that not only can be read and seen but will be written on the hearts of God’s people. Ezekiel contributes to the expectations of Isaiah and Jeremiah by looking to a time when there will not only be forgiveness and inner transformation of God’s people, but that God would even put His Spirit within them. The Twelve, in the midst of intense judgment, consistently point to the reality that those who (re)turn to God will find Him to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, all in the context of the (future) Day of the Lord. The return to the land under Ezra and Nehemiah, as good as they are, point to a future time when all of God’s promises will be fulfilled.
The arrival of the Messiah is the culmination of a series of expectations scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. To separate these expectations from the writings of early Christianity is a difficult task because the earliest Christians were Jews steeped in the expectations of their Jewish Scriptures. The arrival of the Messiah brings together these seemingly disparate expectations in a person, the Messiah Jesus. In Him the fullness of these expectations from the Hebrew Scriptures culminate into the beginning of the Eternal Messianic Kingdom, where blessing, forgiveness, transformation, and eternal life collide in a person.
Dane Ortlund is Senior Vice President at Crossway. He is the author of several books, most recently Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (August, 2014). I really appreciated Dane’s A New Inner Relish and so am eagerly awaiting my copy of his new book. In this Incarnation Series guest post, Dane prompts us to re-think Jesus’ miracles in light of the incarnation. (Dane’s books are available via 10ofthose.com (UK) & christianbook.com (US) as well as all other good book retailers!)
In his essay “Is Theology Poetry?” C. S. Lewis spoke of the incarnation as ‘the humiliation of myth into fact.’ He wrote that
what is everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, only to be glimpsed in dream and symbol and the acted poetry of ritual becomes small, solid—no bigger than a man who can lie asleep in a rowing boat on the Lake of Galilee.
The Word, the Logos, the central meaning of the universe, the integrative center to reality, the climax and culmination of all of human history, that which summoned solar systems into instant existence—at just the right time (Gal. 4:4)—became a baby. The night Christ was born in Bethlehem, Chesterton wrote, “the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.”
He became a man. The one true man. All that you and I experience Jesus experienced, with the exception of sin. Therefore to question whether Jesus led a normal life as we do is to put the whole point backward. His was the only normal life the world has ever seen. We are the abnormal ones.
When Jesus performed miracles he was not doing violence to the natural order. He was restoring the natural order to the way it was meant to be. People were not supposed to be blind but to see. People were not made to be lame but to walk. Legs are supposed to work.
In this sense Jesus’ healing miracles were not supernatural. They were miracles, to be sure—but they were re-naturalizing miracles. This fallen world is sub-natural. Jesus is the one truly human being who ever lived. The incarnation does not give us a hypothetical picture of how we would be able to live if only we were divine. It gives us an actual picture of how we are meant to live, and one day will, when we are once again fully human.
My first ever seminary class was with Dr Bruce Fong sixteen years ago. It was such a joy to walk through half the Bible under Bruce’s contagious laugh and delight in the Scriptures. We have both changed jobs a couple of times since then, but he is now the Dean of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Houston Campus. Bruce blogs regularly on brucefong.com. As we continue this series marking the release of Pleased to Dwell, Bruce shares with us some thoughts on the difference the Incarnation makes to expository preaching.
Every preacher is challenged to build a bridge between the sermon and the souls of people. These two worlds of earth and eternity were stunningly linked by the life of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself when He was incarnated at His birth. The Scriptures tell us that He gave up the expression of who He was as the Son of God in order to identify with mankind and ultimately sacrifice His life on their behalf. This incarnation of the Christ to be Jesus of Nazareth is a model for every preacher to do the same.
When an expositor successfully follows the example of Jesus’ incarnation they ultimately blend culture with the Gospel by way of four emphases. He modeled each of these qualities in His coming to earth. They are humility, a new mind, a renunciation and a new identification.
First and foremost of these incarnational elements is Christ’s example of being sent to be born as a human. He did not argue, complain or resist the Father’s plan. Instead, He humbled Himself and became human so that He could die as a substitute for sin in our place. The expositor lives a humble life in compensation, Spartan lifestyle and public affirmation.
Second, somewhat related to His humility Jesus Christ demonstrated a new way of thinking. His incarnation led to an existence that was never self-absorbed. He did not worry about losing public status but instead was absorbed with an unending interest in His assigned mission, bringing the Gospel to the whole world. In the same way expositors by virtue of their mission selflessly bring attention to their Lord.
Third, before Christ came to earth as a Galilean Jew He first “emptied himself”. This was a sacrifice. He renounced His status, his independence and his immunity. Voluntarily He set aside what was rightfully His. Pride and the pursuit of fame has no place in the life of an expository preacher who is following the incarnational model of the Savior.
Fourth, Jesus had a genuine solidarity with man by becoming a true human, sharing in the limitations of flesh and blood, through both life and death. He lived among the people, embraced them and served them. Expository preachers will be more effective when they live among and embrace the people to whom they bring the Word.
The incarnation that Jesus followed and modeled is our example of His devotion for us. Furthermore, it is the example that should be the driving motivation for every expository preacher.
Glen Scrivener is an evangelist with Revival Media. He writes about evangelism and theology at ChristTheTruth.net and his evangelistic book, 321, comes out in the autumn: three-two-one.org Glen visits us at Cor Deo for a day during each season of the programme to talk gospel together with us and it is always a real help. As we continue this series to mark the release of Pleased to Dwell, here is Glen on the significance of the Incarnation for the Gospel and how we communicate it to others.
The centre of evangelicalism is the believer’s “choice for God” – that’s Diarmaid MacCullogh’s opinion, Oxford’s Professor of Church History. When he made this claim during his “History of Christianity” on the BBC, I howled in protest, throwing pillows, shoes, the cat – anything – at the TV screen. Surely the professor has it backwards. It’s God’s choice for us, right? Surely it’s Jesus – the Chosen One – coming down, not us – the mighty decision makers – choosing upwards.
But as the episode unfolded I realised that it wasn’t the Professor who had gotten it backwards – it was evangelicalism. MacCullogh was just being honest. He was describing the movement as it is – not as it ought to be. And who can deny that, on the ground, the actual centre of gravity for global evangelicalism is “our choice for God”?
Think of sermons on Luke 15 and ask where our attention lies today. If an evangelist preaches a “message of salvation”, where will the emphasis be? More often than not, we focus on the prodigal in the pigsty. The sinner must make “a choice for God.” Compare this with the theology of the early church. Where would they see salvation in Luke 15? Primarily they would speak of Christ’s opening parable. God the Son is the Good Shepherd seeking out His lost sheep. Through His incarnation, He takes up our humanity, through His death He takes responsibility for our sins, through His exaltation He marches us – now perfected – home to the Father.
We must learn from the incarnation that salvation is a case of “God coming down.” Therefore, where is the turning point in our relationship with God? Is it our turn to God – praying the sinner’s prayer, for instance? Surely, more profoundly, it’s God’s turn to us in Jesus. Where is the renovation of our human nature? Is it our decision to get right with God? Surely it’s Christ’s decision to hoist us on His shoulders and carry us home. If this is true, what kind of evangelists ought we to be?
Today’s guest post in the Incarnation Series is from Dr Darrell Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. As well as Darrell’s great commentaries on Luke and Acts that I have appreciated so much over the years, be sure to check out The Table – a weekly podcast on God, Christianity and Culture. His latest works are the co-authored Truth in a Culture of Doubt (UK Link, USA Link), and Truth Matters (UK Link, USA Link). I am grateful to Darrell for offering this succinct post on the Incarnation in Luke 1-2 as we mark the release of Pleased to Dwell.
God keeps his word. In Luke 1-2, this is the theme that surrounds the incarnation. Jesus’ birth is shown to be part of a divine plan that involves both John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus’ birth is shown to be superior to John. John is a prophet, while Jesus is Son of God. As hard as some of what the angel says to Mary is about how the child will be born, the refrain is that “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
Three hymns sing out the refrain that God keeps his Word. Mary’s hymn speaks about how God lifts up those who fear him in line with covenantal promises made to Abraham and his offspring (Luke 1:54-55). Zechariah’s hymn highlights God’s visitation to his people showing mercy to the fathers and keeping the covenant (Luke 1:68-75). Simeon’s hymn affirms that the psalmist’s eyes have seen the salvation of God when he sees the baby Jesus (Luke 2:30). The child is light, revelation to Gentiles and glory for Israel (Luke 2:32), for God has kept his word to deliver his people.
We tend to forget when we think about the incarnation that the arrival of Jesus is part of a plan God had and that he represents the keeping of promises and divine commitments made long ago. This is why Luke 1:45 says of Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” John 1 calls Jesus the Word, but Luke 1-2 argues that in Jesus God kept his word. God is faithful. Underneath all that is the incarnation that comes from God stands God’s faithfulness to keep his pledge and to perform his word.
The coming of Jesus means God can be trusted to care for us for in Jesus’ coming that is exactly what God has done––just as he promised he would do. As God is trustworthy, all that is left for us is to trust his promise and live with hope.