January 5 in Christmas

John 1:1-18

And the Word Became Flesh

In the twelve days of Christmas that we celebrate, should this passage come at the beginning or at the end?  I really don’t know.  On the one hand, it should come at the beginning since John takes us all the way back to the beginning, indeed, the beginning of beginnings, the beginning before the beginning, eternity in the past, back when all there was was, uh… well, God.  This One, called the Word, was in the beginning with God and was God, plainly meaning that He is both one with and distinct from God.  And this is basic Trinitarian theology, though we have not yet mentioned the Holy Spirit.  Thus, the first five verses of the Gospel of John tell us that the Word, who is the Son, has ever been with the Father from the beginning; indeed, is begotten of His Father such that the Son is also God as God can only beget God.  God may create a cat, a donkey, and any number of worlds, but He may only beget God—who is His Son.

But on the other hand, this passage may come at the end of the Christmas season as well; after all, what passage sums up better theologically what the other passages we read describe historically: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  This is the One who is at the Father’s side; he is the one who has made the Father known to us, since as God Himself only he can make Him known.  Indeed, the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth (i.e., God, Himself) was revealed to us by the Son (“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father, John 14:9).  And to think that Almighty God dwelt (literally in the Greek, “pitched his tent,” or “tented”) among us in the flesh!

But the passage also tells us a sad truth.  Though the world’s Creator came into His own world, and though the Lord and Master came unto his own people, that world and those people neither knew nor received him.  And why did they not know him?  Because they did not recognize him disguised in flesh?  Sure, but that’s not it.  Jesus said that his works testified to whom he was (John 10:37-38).  Then why?  Because their proud and impenitent hearts kept them from seeing the majesty veiled in flesh.  And the only reason we recognize this is that our Lord and Savior has enlightened our minds through the regenerating and sanctifying work of His Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:18).  And since we have thereby received him by faith, he has given us “the right to become children of God.”  And it’s all because he became flesh and dwelt among us.  Merry Christmas.

January 4 in Christmas

Luke 2:39-52

And the Child Grew

Luke writes the only Gospel that provides us with a glimpse into the childhood of our Lord, and that glimpse is brief, indeed.  We must remember that the Gospels were not written to satisfy our curiosity but to show us the way of salvation; we are given what God thought needful for that.  Nevertheless, we are blessed to have this much and as with all of Scripture, it is given for our edification.

We must first understand that after spending about a year and one-half to two years in Bethlehem, and then a short time in Egypt, the holy family returned to that town in Galilee where they lived when the angel first visited them.  In Nazareth our Lord grew up among other boys, attended synagogue on the Sabbath, and learned from his father the trade of a carpenter.  As we do not hear of Joseph during our Lord’s ministry, we assume he passed while Jesus was a youth or young man.  We know he had younger brothers and sisters and so probably did not begin his ministry until thirty so that he could support the family as the eldest son (Mark 6:3; Luke 3:23).  This is all to say that Jesus lived in relative obscurity and was perceived by everyone in his village as a normal if unremarkable young man—which is the way God wanted it.  I spoke yesterday of recapitulation.  Our Lord was about recapitulating (i.e., redeeming) every stage of human life by living it without sin, including childhood, youth, and young adulthood.  So these were very crucial years.  This brief and very human vignette from our Lord’s life also affirms the ordinary warp and woof of family life.

But they were also crucial for our Lord’s maturation.  Yes, the Scripture says that our Lord “grew and became strong.”  It also says that he “increased in wisdom and in stature.”  We may also assume that he increased in knowledge; that is, he learned how to talk and how to walk and how to be a carpenter.  He would have even learned in the synagogue about the Scriptures and himself.  Now, no doubt, he was a quick learner and knew something of who he was even at the tender age of twelve.  (I love this story; what parent hasn’t lost their kid for a few minutes at the store or park and felt their heart begin to pound.  And this was more than three days!  So even the holy family had their moments.)  Still Jesus would have been the sinless boy, youth, and young man—and who submitted to his parents.

Some might ask, “Well, if he was the Son of God, the Second Person of the Godhead, how could he not know everything at any age?  How could he grow or mature?”  This is a good question as the doctrine of how our Lord could be one person but have two natures (divine and human), and how those natures interacted in the one person, is the basis of the inquiry.  Some have attempted an answer which I believe to be sound: The Son of God did assume the humanity and body prepared by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary (Luke 2:35), BUT this was all the Second Person of the Triune God did.  All of the rest of the acts of our Lord while in the body on earth were done through the Holy Spirit filling to the fullest that body and soul of our Lord.  This is why we read in so many places that the Holy Spirit was with Jesus and indeed filled him without measure (Matthew 3:16; Luke 4:14,18; 5:17; John 3:34 and too many others to list).  This answers why Jesus was able to grow in knowledge and wisdom: he was fully human and so must experience such growth as any other human being.  But while being fully God as the Son of God from heaven (the Second Person of the Triune God) assumed that human nature, he was the Holy Spirit (Third Person of the Triune God) who acted through that human nature of Jesus after that assumption, not the Son (Second Person).  Else why do we read of the Holy Spirit filling him, descending upon him, being with him, etc., if the Second Person is that member of the Godhead working through him?  Such would be superfluous. 

So the Son assumed the human nature in the original conception (which conception itself was made possible by the Holy Spirit working in Mary’s womb), after which the Holy Spirit animated and worked through Jesus during his earthly ministry, thereby securing his humanity that he may grow and mature as any other human being, but also protecting his humanity from sin.  This theory (and it is just that, a theory) is sometimes called “Spirit Christology.”  I learned it from seventeenth-century English Puritan and theologian, John Owen (Pneumatologia, WJO 3:159-67).

January 3 in Christmas

Matthew 2:13-23

The First Martyrs

Today we take up one of the most horrifying passages in all of Scripture.  The Church has commemorated this event as “Holy Innocents” (December 28, see my devotion under tab, “Christmas I”).  Indeed, we almost wish that this passage wasn’t ever recorded; it seems to spoil the entire account of our Lord’s birth.  Why must these babies die?  We recoil at the injustice of it all.

Herod (called, “the Great,” because of his vast building projects) was a paranoid, wicked, and lecherous old man.  Herod murdered three sons, one wife, a mother-in-law, a brother-in-law, and several others he feared were threats to his throne.  Caesar Augustus remarked, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.”  He had even planned for all the Jewish nobility to be slaughtered when he died just so there would be genuine mourning at the time of his death (R. T. France, NICNT, 84-85).  So we are not surprised when we read that after the Wise Men (who were not fooled by the decrepit old man’s longing for the child) left by another way, that he committed this deplorable act which shall forever remain the standard of measure by which we judge ruthless and paranoid brutes who pretend to be rulers.

But back to our question, “Why must these children die,” besides the matter of having to satisfy a butcher’s paranoia over rival toddlers to the throne.  The slaughter of these children serves not only as the measure of this one man’s sin, but of all men’s sins.  Herod is the mirror image of ourselves when we have given ourselves completely over to the flesh, the world, and the devil.  Herod is the man totally turned in upon himself, who took the sinful nature in which he was born and nurtured it to its most hideous form.  We must stand in judgment of this man’s sin, but at the same time be reminded and tremble before such a stark display of what human beings—of what we—are capable of doing when we care for nothing but our own desires.

But at the same time, these children gave themselves for the One who would give himself for them thirty years later.  They led the way as the first martyrs of the Church.  They could not speak for themselves, but their sacrifice (and that of their parents) speaks volumes.  We must remember that for Christians, death has been defeated; it is not the last word—not by a long shot.  These babes found themselves in glory just like the Old Testament saints who died looking forward to the blessing which would be theirs when Messiah came.  So let us contemplate their testimony in the face of absurd evil, but also rejoice that our Lord has received them and conquered all.

Addendum

When writing a devotion on this passage, the martyrdom of the children in Bethlehem must take center stage.  But I do wish to speak briefly on something else—something very important—that is happening in this passage.  Because the angel appears to Joseph in a dream warning him of Herod’s intentions, Joseph leaves for Egypt.  (A cynic might ask why the angel didn’t warn all the other fathers in Bethlehem, but we must understand that God works for our salvation even in the most horrible circumstances.  And this particular baby will grow up to be the means of salvation for those babies.) 

But what is happening with the holy family is a replay (the ancient fathers of the Church called it “recapitulation”) of the Old Testament account of God’s people.  The holy family flees to Egypt under difficult circumstances, just as Jacob (Israel) and his family did eighteen centuries or so before.  He then goes out of Egypt just as the Israelites did four hundred years later in the exodus.  He returns to the land of Israel, as the ancient Israelites did, and settles in Galilee.  Jesus will then live his life in the land of his fathers, as the Israelites did, yet without sin, as the Israelites did not, be crucified (we might call this his “exile” from the land as the Jews were exiled under the Babylonians, 586 B.C.), and then rise again (his return as the Jews were later allowed to return to the land under Persian King Cyrus seventy years later). 

All of this is to show that our Lord not only lived our life but also relived in his own life the entire history of the people of God—which is why the early Church called his life a recapitulation of everything in the Old Testament: Adam—as the last man recapitulates the first; Israel—as the last holy nation (His body—the Church) recapitulates the first; Moses—as the last lawgiver full of grace and truth recapitulates the first; Aaron—as the last Priest recapitulates the first; David—as the last King recapitulates the greatest king; and all the prophets—as the last Prophet recapitulates all the others as the final Prophet, Priest, and King.  In short, our Lord’s entire life and ministry is a recapitulation of all things from Adam to the present as the One who came in the fullness of time for our salvation.

In our Lord’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, the history of God’s people, and each of our personal histories, are relived, recapitulated, and thus, restored to us, as his redeemed people.  Don’t you just love the intricacy of the history of God’s redemptive work among His people!

January 2 in Christmas

Matthew 2:1-12

How Blind God’s Own People Can Be

We call them “wise men.”  The Greek has the word, μαγοι, which we have transliterated, “magi.”  I have spoken of them before.  Every ancient kingdom had them from Egypt where we find them dueling with Moses in the Book of Exodus to Persia where we find them giving Xerxes advice in the Book of Esther.  They were basically pagan astrologers and diviners utilizing the abominable practice of divination to discern the will of the gods, also known as demons. 

These magi were apparently different.  Perhaps they had met some Jews who were at that time scattered all over the empire.  Maybe the hearts of these magi were touched by God upon hearing His word about a great king to be born to the Jewish nation who would usher in a kingdom of justice and peace.  Regardless how He did it, God revealed Himself to these men and even allowed them to discern the time of our Lord’s birth through their observance of some celestial phenomenon which the Bible calls the rising of a star.  And taking the star’s appearance as a sign of our Lord’s birth, they immediately set out on a trek that took almost two years.  Why do I say two years?  Because that was the age of the male children Herod had slaughtered throughout Bethlehem having ascertained from the wise men (ignorant of Herod’s intentions) the time of the star’s first appearance.  Yes, you are accustomed to seeing the wise men at manger scenes at Christmas, which is all fine and well; but honestly, they would have arrived when Jesus was a toddler.

What I would like to highlight is the question the magi ask when they arrive in Jerusalem, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  They must have been shocked when met by blank stares.  “King of the Jews?  Born here?  Where?  When?”  (Herod was obviously surprised, but more about that another day.)  Had these magi visited some shepherds around Bethlehem, they would have received some reliable information.  But how remarkable and convicting is this passage!  Here are the people of God—the “King of the Jews” (aka, their Messiah) having been born right in their midst—and they know nothing of it.  But some pagan astrologers all the way from who knows where (Babylon? Persia?) know about it and even make what had to be an expensive and arduous journey across miles of sand just so that they could offer him precious gifts, fall down, and worship him.  How blind the people of God can be, and that before pagans!  May it never be the case with us.

January 1 in Christmas

Luke 2:21-38

Born of Woman, Born under the Law

Galatians 4:4 tells us, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  This crucial theological truth written by the Apostle Paul to the churches in Galatia is based upon the historical account of our Lord’s circumcision and purification in the temple which happened some fifty years prior.  It is a pity that this passage does not get the recognition that it deserves in evangelical churches; in the more liturgical churches, it is accorded a feast and given to the celebration of the “Holy Family.”  And why not?  We have here Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus presenting themselves in the temple to perform the rites which the law of God required; that is, they are now a family of father, mother, and child, going to church, worshiping, and fulfilling their religious obligations—just like Christian families do today. When one considers the weight that is given by evangelicals to what is certainly the most expansive passage in Scripture on Christian families in Ephesians 5:22-6:4, how can this passage of our Lord’s presentation in the temple be so easily overlooked?

But far more than nostalgia is going on here.  Our Lord is doing here what he would do throughout his life—being one of us, identifying himself with us, living our life under the same obligations (law), and ultimately taking our place on the cross.  It amazes me that our God was not ashamed to live our life from conception to the grave.  Like us, he developed from an embryo in the womb and at full term endured the bloodbath of birth.  I do believe that “crying he made.”  From this they must be purified as the Mosaic law required of all newborns (Leviticus 12).  But why must Jesus undergo purification?  For the same reason he would undergo baptism thirty years later and endure a bloody death on the cross three years after that—the sinless one identifying himself with the sinful ones and thereby fulfilling all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).  Our God takes not only our sins but our flesh and blood—our very earthiness upon himself—and redeemed us.

And finally there is Simeon and Anna.  Behold the reward for holiness!  Behold the reward for shunning the things of this world and living in anticipation of our Lord’s coming!  See how they consider their lives complete in the light of the countenance of this baby’s face!  (Allow me to recommend Simeon’s words as a nighttime prayer for you as it has been for centuries.)  But let us strive for holiness; perhaps we too shall see the Lord.

December 31 in Christmas

Luke 2:8-20

Angels and Shepherds in One Place

We know that of all people in the ancient world and even among the Jews, shepherds were among the least respected, which seems odd given that their greatest king (David) from whose ancestry the Messiah was to come began life as a shepherd.  It is also the image employed throughout the Bible of God’s ministers, be they good or bad.  But the fact is, they were outcasts in that world; their work left them “unclean” by ritualistic standards (and, I suppose, by the fact that it is the kind of work where one dirties one’s hands).  Nor were they considered especially trustworthy individuals; indeed, their testimony was not even accepted in a courtroom.  They were certainly a cut above prostitutes and tax collectors, but still near the bottom rung of society.  Needless to say, they were among the poorest of the poor.

And it was to these people God chose to send the angelic choir; that is, people of no account before the world and whom, if they chose to tell others of their experience (which they did), no one would believe, anyway.  (And God is just in acting this way since it would be people’s own prejudice and unbelief that would render them condemned.)  So God’s Son is born to people of no standing before the world, whose birth is announced to people of even worse standing before the world—in a stable (or cave), sleeping in an animal’s feeding trough.  AND THIS IS EXACTLY THE WAY GOD WANTED IT TO HAPPEN.

So let’s examine matters a bit further.  These poor, outcast shepherds are visited by angels—angels, mind you—the highest creature of God’s creation, before whom no king could stand.  (Remember, “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God.”  That would make me sweat!)  And in this one scene, angels and shepherds meet—the one group of beings full of glory, lighting up the sky, singing a chorus with such beauty and majesty no earthly choir could ever match, and the other group of beings, tired and worn from the day’s labor, dirt covering their clothes, hands, and perhaps their faces, wide-eyed at the heavenly scene above them, announcing the greatest news ever told to any group of people on earth before that very moment—the highest creatures of God meeting the lowest people of God, and yet, before the majesty of their common Creator, the glory of the angels is as darkness and the darkness of the shepherds is as light (Psalm 139:11-12). 

Poor Mary; her head must have been pounding.  But she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart—and so should we.

December 30 in Christmas

Luke 2:1-7

Such a Humble Beginning

So Joseph and Mary are expecting the Messiah.  But there is one problem.  Joseph and Mary live in Nazareth in Galilee, north of Judea, with Samaria sandwiched in between.  The Prophet Micah had prophesied some seven-hundred years prior that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (5:2).  And Jesus said himself that “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).  So God has to move Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  (When I say, “God has to,” I mean to fulfill his own word, not that He has to because of some external constraint, of course.)  So the Almighty “Constrainer” who rules heaven and earth constrains mighty Caesar Augustus, God’s puppet in the petty city of Rome (for all rulers rule by His will and all earthly cities are mere hovels before His Majesty) to decree that the “all the world” be registered for a tax.  The significance of this is the Jews of that day considered themselves not residents of where they lived but residents of their ancestral town.  And as Joseph was of the house of David (fulfilling the prophecy that the Christ must come from David’s line, Psalm 89), he must now travel to Bethlehem, the city of David, with Mary in full bloom and ready to deliver, riding on a donkey, a fact that makes my wife cringe.

So we learn from this that Augustus (the “majestic one”) obeyed God (the Majestic One), whether he realized it or not; that is, our God is sovereign and does what He pleases, setting up kings and then removing them (Psalm 135:6; Daniel 2:21).  Furthermore, all of Israel was in route to someplace else in Israel for the registration—quite an inconvenience—but if God has to move heaven and earth to get Joseph and Mary from Point A (Nazareth) to Point B (Bethlehem), well then, so be it.  I rather like that.

The beauty of this passage lies in its simplicity.  The greatest miracle that shall ever happen on earth occurs with no fanfare.  The Son of God takes upon himself our humanity, and, because there is no room in the inn with pilgrims piling into Bethlehem for the registration, Joseph resorts to a stable so that his wife may at least be out of the wind and weather.  I would have been scared out of my mind, but I like to think of these two as having complete faith in God.  So the Son of Man is delivered and laid in a feeding trough.  And with the exception of some outcast shepherds, no one knows or seems to care.  And this is how God came into HIS world: from the grandest majesty to the utmost humility. 

We live in a time of the cult of self-esteem—when people think they deserve recognition and adulation.  Maybe if we took more time to meditate on how God came into the world and then lived a very hidden life in Nazareth for thirty years, perhaps we would see how little praise we could live without as we found ourselves in giving Him all the praise.

December 29 in Christmas

Luke 1:57-80

The Plan Is the Important Part

Well, he really wasn’t a “Baptist” according to today’s terms, but we Baptists like to think so.  He would be more accurately called, “the baptizer,” but some designations just stick, and this is one of them.  So the day came for Elizabeth to be delivered.  The ancient Jews knew how to celebrate such events, and for all I know they still do.  I love the way the neighbors surrounded and rejoiced with them since “the Lord had shown great mercy to her.”  The birth of a child is always a sign of God’s great mercy to us.

So the day came to circumcise the child and he must be named.  Upon verification of Elizabeth’s words by Zechariah, they learn that the child’s name is—not will be, but is—John per the instructions of the angel.  Thereupon Zechariah’s tongue is loosed (and ears opened, we may presume) and he is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies (it seems prophesying accompanies the filling of the Holy Spirit in Scripture). 

And let us hear what Zechariah says.  Please note that from the start he does not praise the boy or the miraculous birth of his son.  All of that, which was why they were gathered together in the first place, takes a back seat.  A back seat to what?  To what God is doing.  And what is God doing?  “He has visited and redeemed His people,” “raised up a horn of salvation for us,” fulfilled prophecy so “that we should be saved from our enemies,” “to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant,” and ultimately “that we…might serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all of our days.”  This is what God was doing; namely fulfilling his promises of old, putting into play his plan of redemption.  And Zechariah is only too aware that he, Elizabeth, and even the baby are secondary to that.  God could have chosen other people but in His mercy He chose them.  And because he did, this child will go before Him to prepare the way to the most wonderful task a preacher has: “To give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins” because God’s tender mercies were alighting upon His people.

I began these Christmas devotions writing that what we see in these passages of Scripture is God working His plan of redemption.  We too easily get caught up in the story and all of the wonderful details—which is fine and well.  But let’s not lose sight of the meaning in the wonderful details.  God was fulfilling His plan for the salvation of His people, and these individuals were blessed to be direct participants in that plan.  And so are we.

December 28 in Christmas

Matthew 1:18-25

Mary and Joseph’s Test of Faith

“Are you kidding me?  If so, it’s a really bad joke!”  One can only imagine the conversation Mary and Joseph had when she returned from Judea.  She had been gone for three months, rather odd behavior just after a betrothal.  But Mary was going to have to say something sometime and that time was now.  Joseph couldn’t believe it.  How could he?  Never in the history of the world had a woman conceived without lying with a male.  Even the pagans couldn’t conceive of such a thing, the gods copulating with women to produce offspring in their wretched myths.  Joseph must have been crushed.  Here was his betrothed wife proving faithless even before their wedding day!  And what was he to do about it?  Their nuptials were just around the corner.  Was he to go on with the marriage?  Was he to pretend nothing ever happened?  Could he be the father of another’s man’s child?  Would he not always look upon the child with intense pain?  Could he possibly love the child?  Could he now love Mary?  And what was he to do with Mary?  Should he expose her shame?  Was there any way to divorce her (for a betrothal required a divorce) without holding her up to universal contempt?

And what about Mary?  Things were looking very bleak and dark for her.  Scripture doesn’t reveal to us what was transpiring in her mind.  I know Mary was of holier stuff than I shall ever be, but I still have to believe that this was a very frightening time for her: humiliation, public scorn, family reputation besmirched—and what about the baby?  But God has concerns above our personal reputations, and He’s quite content when we are humiliated.  His chief concerns are His glory and His people’s salvation—and everything else is completely subservient to those ends.  And that’s why He said that we must take up the cross, and that if we love anyone or anything more than Him, we cannot be his disciples (Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:27).  And so here we have a perfectly human predicament in the midst of a perfect work of God.

So Joseph, being a just man, would divorce her quietly and send her away.  It had to be agonizing—the anguished look on her face in his disbelief of her story and moral purity. But as happens in such cases, God showed Joseph the truth.  He too had been chosen, and he would name the child, Jesus, as the angel had directed Mary.  God uses holy instruments to fulfill His will, and then He puts them to the test.  May we be such holy instruments and may we be as faithful as Mary and Joseph when tested–and we will be tested.

Addendum

The Virginal Conception

I cannot speak of these last two passages of Scripture without speaking of this profound truth of the Christian faith—often called the “Virgin Birth.”  I once heard a theology professor say that this doctrine speaks to how Christ is different from us.  Well, that’s putting it rather mildly; it says more than that.  The doctrine of the virgin birth (“virginal conception,” is a more precise rendering) speaks to both our Lord’s divine and human natures.

First, his divine nature. Through the Trinitarian theology we learn through the rest of the New Testament, we must understand that in the fullness of time, the Second Person of the Triune God–the Son–came down from heaven and assumed (that is, took upon himself) the human nature and body that was prepared in Mary’s womb through the action of the Holy Spirit within her (Luke 1:35-36; Hebrews 10:5; Psalm 40:6-8). This is why he was and is called the Son of God–because He was begotten from all eternity by his Father, BUT came down at a specific time in human history to be born of woman (Luke 2:1ff: during the reign of Caesar Augustus; when Quirinius was governor of Syria; Matthew 2:1ff: when Herod was king over Judea and surrounding territories; Galatians 4:4: born of woman).

Second, his human nature. Mary is Jesus’ real mother; he was born of her body. So he was and is a real human being even now at the Father’s right hand. Furthermore, this virginal conception protected Jesus from inheriting a sinful nature. The fact is that not only did Jesus live a sinless life (Hebrews 4:14), but that he was conceived and born without a sin nature.  This is very important.  We say that we are sinners both by nature and by choice; indeed, we are sinners by choice because we are sinners by nature inherited from our first parents.  But though Jesus was fully human, he lacked this taint of nature with which we are born.  One might ask, “Then how is he fully human like us?”  We answer: The fact that he was born with no taint of sin speaks to his being fully human.  Our sin nature is the depravation of our humanity; he is the one who is fully human while we are less so—much less so.  Someone might ask, “Well, what about Mary?  Didn’t she have a sin nature?  Wasn’t he her biological son?”  Yes, but we can only say that through the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, our Lord was protected from inheriting such a sinful nature from her, such that the child born to her was called “holy–the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Moreover, we do not mean “inherit” as if we receive our sin nature directly from our parents, as if to say that if Dad is an adulterer, then my chances of being one are increased, as if by genetics (although it is certain that we inherit weaknesses and infirmities from our parents which are due to our having such a nature).  We sinned in Adam and so are sinners by nature; had Adam not sinned, we would not have a sin nature.  In this sense, we “inherit” this sinful nature in and from our primal parents (Romans 5:12-14).

So the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is not about genetics. We don’t need a doctrine of Mary’s “immaculate conception” to deal with a problem that does not exist and is unbiblical, anyway.  The point is that he was like us in every way, yet without sin, without a sin nature.  Yes, he was tempted as we are, but his temptations came from outside himself, not from within himself, as much of ours do.  So in this sense, he was like the first Adam who was without a sinful nature—until he fell; Christ is the “last Adam” who conquered sin—and was “a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45).  But then there is still that difference: “The first man was from earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:47). 

To sum, he has to be God to save us and sinless man to take our place—and the doctrine of the virgin birth expresses both the reality of the event and the truth of the doctrine.  Behold, the Lamb of God.

December 27 in Christmas

Luke 1:39-56

Two Women Share a Secret Only They Can Understand

The beauty of this passage is that it conveys to us what we really have no right to hear—the exclamations of praise from two holy women concerning the most personal and intimate of miracles which any woman can experience, that being the conception and carrying of her child.  A man knows nothing of this apart from a dry clinical description in a book.  He knows nothing of that secret inward life-giving capacity that God has bestowed on the woman—and this is her glory.

So Mary travels to the hill country of Judea, some seventy or more miles, to visit her older relative, Elizabeth.  The angel told her that Elizabeth was with child—she who was past child-bearing years, another “Sara” in the making.  No doubt, Mary ran off to see Elizabeth to confirm the angel’s words about her kinswoman—and herself.  And if God could do this for Elizabeth, could he perform an even greater miracle for Mary?  And God did not disappoint: “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’”  Mary never had to say a word; God miraculously revealed the news of Mary’s virginal conception to Elizabeth by the Holy Spirit’s communication through John’s leap of joy.  But what I love about Elizabeth is her humility before her more honored kinswoman: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me…And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  In other words, the elder Elizabeth bears no jealousy towards young Mary, she who had waited years bearing the reproach of a barren woman, while Mary was only now betrothed.  No.  Mary bears Elizabeth’s Savior—and Elizabeth rejoices for Mary’s honor and for her own salvation—and for her baby’s who shall prepare his way.

And Mary rejoices in the Lord over his choice of a girl of low estate.  And this is the Lord’s way: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.”  He has mercy on those who fear him.  Most of all, Mary knows that it’s NOT about her: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.”  And this is why God chooses Marys and Elizabeths, Josephs and Zechariases: The humble understand that they are the Lord’s handmaids and servants.  They are just as content when God chooses others before them; they know that it’s about the Lord.