Posts tagged ‘Incarnation’

When A Missionary’s Zeal Turns Deadly

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The wisdom, or lack thereof, of John Allen Chau’s deadly decision to try to witness to an isolated tribe of indigenous people on North Sentinel Island, off the coast of India, is a topic of hot debate.   Initial reports portrayed Mr. Chau as a reckless explorer and mountain climber, seeking adventure in far-flung, exotic locations.  It quickly became apparent, however, that he was also a devoted missionary committed to preaching Christ to the Sentinelese people.  Although his initial overture to the tribe appeared clumsy – in his journal, he wrote about how he “hollered” to the tribespeople, “My name is John. I love you, and Jesus loves you” – he was also heavily vaccinated and linguistically and medically trained before embarking on his journey.  It turns out that Mr. Chau was not just some hotheaded adventurer.  He was a calculated planner, even if his planning finally proved to be woefully incomplete.

Among evangelically minded Christians, there is little debate over whether we should share our faith.  The call of Jesus Himself is to spread and share His message to and with the world.  There is much debate, however, over how we should share our faith.  Clawing your way onto a remote and, according to Indian law, off-limits island and confronting tribespeople who are known to be hostile toward, probably because they feel threatened by, outsiders hardly seems like an effective missionary method.

During this time of year, Christians celebrate the incarnation – that the God of the universe took on flesh in the person of Jesus in space and time in the little town of Bethlehem.  In His incarnation, Jesus carried out God’s mission by preaching God’s message and doing God’s work of dying for us and for our salvation.  Jesus’ incarnation, then, was part and parcel of Jesus’ mission.

In our outreach efforts, Jesus’ life can serve as our model.  Mission and incarnation should work together in our lives, too.  Our evangelization of any people should always be coupled with a careful contextualization.  This is what Mr. Chau appears to have overlooked.  He wanted to reach the people of this remote island, but did not have workable plan to enter into their culture and customs, as Jesus did when He became man.

The reality is that, because of the islanders’ hostility toward outsiders and the Indian laws that shield them from modern society, reaching these people will take more than one person’s plan.  Coordinated diplomatic efforts will probably be required so laws are not broken and, of course, a careful posture toward the Sentinelese people themselves is absolutely necessary.  Building trust with them will take much time and, frankly, in this case, probably nothing less than a miracle of God.  But that’s okay.  God is, after all, quite good at the miraculous.

I appreciate Mr. Chau’s passion to reach the unreached.  And I am saddened by his death.  I pray for his family and friends who are, I am sure, grieving.  Mr. Chau’s devotion to Christ’s mission is a laudable devotion for any Christian to have.  But learning from his dangerous and ultimately deadly strategy is also necessary.

The death of Mr. Chau should call every mission-minded Christian to take some time to learn and reflect so that we can better witness and love.  Jesus wants nothing less for the sake of the many souls who are still far from Him.

December 3, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Truly God, Truly Man

"Adoration of the Children" by  Gerard van Honthorst, 1620.

“The Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622.

During the Christmas season, it is important to focus not only on the birth of Christ, but on the person of Christ.  That is, it is important for us to remember not only that Jesus was born, but who Jesus was born as.  For it is not the simple fact of Jesus’ birth that gives the Christmas story significance.  After all, people are born all the time.  But Jesus’ identity as it is revealed in the Christmas story makes Jesus’ birth significant even 2,000 years later.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we get a clue concerning Jesus’ identity beginning with Mathew’s opening line:  “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).  From here, Matthew goes on to give an extensive genealogy of Jesus’ family tree, going all the way back to Abraham.  The genealogy in Luke’s Gospel goes back even farther – all the way to Adam (cf. Luke 3:23-38).  These two genealogies, it should be noted, are quite different from each other, making Jesus’ family tree look quite disparate.  Indeed, over the years, scholars have debated the differences between the Matthew and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus.  Most often, scholars have conjectured that Matthew presents the royal genealogy of Jesus through Joseph, his stepfather, while Luke presents the biological genealogy of Jesus through Mary, His mother.  What is often left out of such discussions and debates, however, is that there is actually a third Christmas genealogy that all too regularly goes unnoticed.

Where is this third genealogy?  Beginning in Matthew 1:18:  “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”  The Greek word for “birth” is genesis, from which we get our English word “genealogy”  In fact, this is the same word Matthew uses in 1:1 when he introduces his “genealogy [in Greek, genesis] of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  Thus, in just one chapter, Matthew presents two genealogies.

So how are to understand these two genealogies?  In Matthew’s first genealogy, we read of Jesus’ human origin.  He is the son of David and the son of Abraham.  In Matthew’s second genealogy, we read about Jesus’ divine origin. He is of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, Jesus is truly man, the son of Abraham and David; but He is also truly God, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.

Ultimately, Jesus’ status as truly man and truly God is what gives the Christmas story its significance.  For as a man, Jesus can identify with us men – our weakness, struggles, and trials.  But as God, Jesus can save us from our sin.

Truly man.  Truly God.  All of this wrapped in a manger.  What an incredible story!  And what a terrific reason to say, “Merry Christmas.”

December 23, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Righteousness from God

"Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth" by Marco Palmezzano, ca. 1490 Credit: Wikipedia

“Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth” by Marco Palmezzano, ca. 1490
Credit: Wikipedia

Because the gospel is the crux of our Christian faith, we can never ponder it, speak of it, or write about it too much.  This is why I was delighted to stumble across this passage from Ezekiel while reading devotionally a few days ago:

The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness. If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. (Ezekiel 33:12-13)

What a beautiful explanation of the gospel and what kind of righteousness saves.  Ezekiel is clear:  you cannot be saved by your own righteousness!  Indeed, even if you act righteously, just one evil act erases all memory of your righteousness.  As James writes: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).  To receive salvation, you need another kind of righteousness that is not your own.  You need a righteousness that comes from God.  The apostle Paul brings clarity to what kind of righteousness this is:  “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).

Besides reminding us that our own righteousness does not and cannot save us, Ezekiel’s words also remind us that the gospel is not confined to the New Testament.  In both Testaments, the message of the gospel is consistent:  it is God’s righteousness, not our own, that saves us.  As God promises through the prophet Isaiah, “I am bringing My righteousness near, it is not far away; and My salvation will not be delayed.”

December 9, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Merry Christmas!

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

On this Christmas Eve, I wanted to share with you a portion of a Christmas sermon from Martin Luther, dated 1521.  Interestingly, Luther never actually preached this sermon.  Rather, he wrote this sermon as part of a collection of homilies for other pastors to share with their congregations.  At this time, he also translated the New Testament into German.  Luther did this so people could read the Bible in their native tongue and pastors could faithfully preach the Bible to their congregants.

In this sermon, Luther beautifully brings out the centrality of Christmas – not just as a story that happened long ago, but as an eternity-shifting event which calls for faith.  Without faith, Christmas brings only condemnation, for the world’s Judge has arrived.  But by faith, Christmas is cause for rejoicing, for our Savior has come!

So, it is in faith that I wish you a merry Christmas!

The Gospel teaches that Christ was born for our sake and that He did everything and suffered all things for our sake, just as the angel says here: “I announce to you a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord” [Luke 2:10–11].  From these words you see clearly that He was born for us.  He does not simply say: “Christ is born,” but: “for you is he born.”  Again, he does not say: “I announce a joy,” but: “to you do I announce a great joy.” … This is the great joy, of which the angel speaks, this is the consolation and the superabundant goodness of God, that man (if he has this faith) may boast of such treasure as that Mary is his real mother, Christ his brother, and God his father.  For these things are, all of them, true and they come to pass, provided we believe them; this is the chief part and chief good in all the gospels … Christ, above all things, must become ours and we His, before we undertake good works.  That happens in no other way than through such faith; it teaches the right understanding of the gospels and it seizes hold on them in the right place.  That makes for the right knowledge of Christ; from it the conscience becomes happy, free, and contented; from it grow love and praise of God, because it is He who has given us freely such superabundant goods in Christ … Therefore see to it that you derive from the Gospel not only enjoyment of the story as such, for that does not last long.  Nor should you derive from it only an example, for that does not hold up without faith.  But see to it that you make His birth your own, and that you make an exchange with Him, so that you rid yourself of your birth and receive, instead, His.  This happens, if you have this faith. By this token you sit assuredly in the Virgin Mary’s lap and are her dear child.  This faith you have to practice and to pray for as long as you live; you can never strengthen it enough.  That is our foundation and our inheritance. (AE 52:14-16)

December 24, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Christ was there. Christ is here.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend and he shared with me a dark time he had gone through years ago.  He was in the midst of a spiritual crisis, and he decided to move overseas and explore the world.  Unfortunately, his move away from home only precipitated his fall.  He fell in with the wrong crowd, he did the wrong things, and, one night, he found himself at a point of despair.  Walking alone along a dark street, he cried out, “Jesus, if You’re there, I really need You to show up right now.”  After making his way to a phone booth, he fumbled through the phone book inside, deposited his change, and called the first church he could find.  The pastor of the church answered.  The next day, the two of them had lunch.  And thus began my friend’s re-awakening to the glory of God and the grace of Christ.  My friend felt all alone on that dark night.  But he wasn’t.  Christ was there.  In that phone booth.

One of the texts that has long been compelling to me is 1 Corinthians 10:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.  They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

Paul is here recounting the history of Israel during the Exodus.  And he uses Israel’s history to warn the Corinthians against the dangers of unrepentance:

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.  Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.”  We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.  We should not test the Lord, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes.  And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel. (1 Corinthians 10:6-10)

In the midst of the unrepentance, evil, and rebellion of the Israelites, Paul says, Christ was there.  In that rock.  The same rock which poured forth water in the wilderness for the Israelites to drink (Exodus 17:1-7).  What a strange place for Christ to be!  And yet, Christ was there.

The other day, I was reading an article by a prominent evangelical theologian, who was bemoaning the dangers of inserting Christ recklessly and relentlessly into every page and phrase of Scripture.  He wrote, “Christ cannot be found under every rock.”[1]  I would agree – in part.   It is dangerous to present Christ in ways that the biblical text does not mean present Him.  For instance, the Church Father Origen, famous for his excessive allegorizing of the Bible, reads Exodus 17:9 – “Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some of our men and go out to fight’” – as “Moses said to Jesus,” since the Hebrew name for Joshua, Yeshua, comes to us in English as “Jesus.”  Origen comments:

Up to this point the Scripture has never anywhere mentioned the blessed name of Jesus.  Here for the first time the brightness of the name shines forth.  For the first time Moses makes an appeal to Jesus and says to him, “Choose men.”  Moses calls on Jesus; the Law asks Christ to choose strong men from among the people.  Moses cannot choose; it is Jesus alone who can choose strong men; He has said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”[2]

Origen’s words here certainly strain the bounds of responsible biblical exegesis.  To so immediately equate Joshua with Jesus presents a whole host of problems, not the least of which is that Joshua was flawed and fallen (e.g., Joshua 9:1-14), something which Jesus was not.  Thus, we must be careful in how we interpret biblical texts.  However, there is a sense in which, contrary to what this scholar says, we can indeed find Jesus under every rock, for Jesus is the center, focus, and locus of the Scriptures.  Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 10:4, we don’t just find Christ under a rock, He is the rock!  Indeed, this is the very doctrine of the incarnation:  that Christ shows up in the strangest of ways and places – even under rocks.  Christ was there.  In the phone booth of my friend.  Christ was there.  In that rock.  Christ was there.  In the manger.  Christ was there.  On the cross.  And Christ is here.  In the pages of Scripture.  Christ is here.  In the waters of baptism.  Christ is here.  In the bread and wine of Communion.  Christ is here.  In our hearts.

Christ was there.  Christ is here.  This is the mystery and glory of the incarnation – and of Christmas.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message!

 


[1] Ben Witherington III, “Towards a Biblical Theology – Part Two” (11.21.11).

[2] Origen in Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 86.

December 26, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Weekend Extra – The Incarnation

In one of my favorite lines in the Old Testament, Solomon, as he is dedicating the newly finished temple to the Lord, asks in a prayer, “But will God really dwell on earth with men” (2 Chronicles 6:18)?  The answer to Solomon’s query, at least according to the ancient Greeks, was, “No.”

At its root, Greek philosophy was dualistic in nature.  That is, it held to a strict bifurcation between the material and immaterial, believing the material to be inherently evil while declaring the immaterial, or the spiritual, to be good.  An example of this kind of thinking comes in the work of Philo, a first century Jewish philosopher who sought to wed Judaism with Greek philosophy.  Philo talks at length about the creation of the world and the refrain which sounds throughout the creation story, “And it was good” (cf. Genesis 1:10,12,18,21,25).  The question that Philo seeks to answer is this:  If creation, as that which is material, is inherently evil according to Greek philosophy, how can God call it good?  Philo answers:

In reference to which it is said in the sacred Scriptures, “God saw all that He had made, and, behold, it was very good,” what God praised was not the materials which He had worked up into creation, destitute of life and melody, and easily dissolved, and moreover in their own intrinsic nature perishable, and out of all proportion and full of iniquity, but rather His own skillful work. (Philo, Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres Sit §32)

In order to avoid calling anything material “good,” Philo says that creation’s refrain, “And it was good,” refers only to the skill of God and not that which God’s skill produced – a material creation!  Thus is the extent to which the Greek philosophers would go to maintain their allegiance to a sharp dualism.

It is because of this sharp dualism that Greek philosophy abhorred the idea that God could ever dwell on earth with man.  After all, the immaterial and perfect God would never deign to dwell among a material and evil world!  And yet, this is exactly what the doctrine of the incarnation proposes.  The incarnation teaches that the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, took on human flesh and “made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

Such a doctrine raised the rankles of many Jews and Greeks alike who spent much time trying to discredit Christianity on the basis of the incarnation.  Consider, for instance, these quotes from Celsus, a second century Greek philosopher and antagonist of Christianity:

God is good and beautiful and happy, and exists in the most beautiful state.  If then He comes down to men, He must undergo change, a change from good to bad, from beautiful to shameful, from happiness to misfortune, and from what is best to what is most wicked. (Origen, Contra Celsum 4.14)

Dear Jews and Christians, no God or child of God has either come down or would have come down from heaven! (Contra Celsum 5.2)

Clearly, the Greeks believed that the perfect God of the universe would never take on the frail flesh of humanity.  But this is precisely what the Christians believed.  And this is precisely what the Christians taught.

The doctrine of the incarnation is foundational and fundamental to the Christian faith.  Why?  First, the incarnation assures us that Jesus is like us.  The preacher of Hebrews reminds us that, thanks to the incarnation, Christ is a God who can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15).  This stands in sharp contradistinction to the ancient Greek conception of God which called God apathes (“not suffering”), from whence we get our English word “apathy.”  The God of Greek philosophy was anything but concerned with human suffering and pain.  Jesus, however, is.  Second, the incarnation also assures us that Jesus is not like us.  After all, Jesus is not just a mere man.  He is God who became a man.  This means that Jesus has the divine power and prerogative to help us.  As Ben Witherington III states, “Jesus was as we are, and therefore He will help; He was not like we are, and therefore He can help” (Ben Witherington III, The Indellible Image, vol. 1, 423).  Jesus’ divinity means that He has the power to save us.  And this, finally, is why He became incarnate.  The incarnation is not simply an amazing feat, or a mind stretching wonder, or a theological locus.  Rather, God became incarnate to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil.  And so we confess that Jesus “Came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”  Why did He do this?  “For us men and for our salvation.”

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Dr. Paul Maier’s ABC!

September 27, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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