Category Archives: New Testament
Today sees the release of the first ever Union Podcast and I am privileged to be the guest. It is just five minutes long and I am answering the question – Why think about the Incarnation when it isn’t Christmas? I will link to it when I am on it, but I’d recommend following the podcast as I am sure there will be plenty of great little podcasts in the months to come! Click the picture to go to it. This week I am in Portland, OR, so won’t be getting back into a regular routine of blogging about preaching until next week.
Following on from yesterday’s link, here is a recent post I wrote on the issue of losing our first love. Again, important for preachers to ponder prayerfully for ourselves, and for our listeners! Click here to go there.
I am really thankful to everyone who contributed to a great series. I hope that these posts helped to stir an appetite for the wonderful subject of the Incarnation. In case you missed it, here is the page to go for information on Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation. And here are the posts: we started with an Introduction to the Series. Then . . .
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.
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.
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.
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?