From Your Pastor: The Biblical Importance of Catechizing

“If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed…Train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:6-7).

A friendly, pastoral reminder to remember to review and memorize your catechism this year! I especially encourage parents and officers to go through the Westminster Shorter Catechism as a helpful and important reminder of what you believe. “Catechize” comes from a Greek word that means to teach, to instruct, it can have the nuance of covenantal nurture in the faith, for both adults and especially children in the covenant.

Briefly, why should you catechize yourself and your family? A few reasons to get you thinking…

  • Meditation/Nurture of Your Soul: Good catechisms, like the Westminster Shorter Catechism teach Scriptural truth that we are called to meditate upon day and night and remember (Deut. 6:6-7; 11:18-19; Psalm 1; Eph. 6:4; 2 Tim. 3:15- Timothy’s catechizing was used to bring him to faith in Christ!).
  • Jesus was catechized: Jesus sought to understand the scriptures, sitting at the feet of His teachers, learning from an early age how to understand and interpret the Scriptures (Luke 2:40-52). (If Jesus needed to be catechized, how much more…?? Well, you get the idea!). Jews were catechized from the Law (see Rom. 2:18, lit. “catechized” from the Law).
  • Jesus catechized: Between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, he catechized His disciples with the truth about His Kingdom (Luke 1:44-53; Acts 1:1-4; cf. Luke 1:4). Jesus is also teaching catechism when he says that disciples should be receiving constant teaching: “…Teaching them everything that I have commanded you…” (Matt. 28:20a).
  • Early believers were catechized: Luke knew Theophilus had been catechized (see Luke 1:4: “…Certainty of those things, you have been “catechized” or instructed in”). The great Apollos had been catechized in the Scriptures (see Acts 18:25).
  • Better hearing and “getting” of sermons: Catechism helps you to understand rich, theological, words that have been inherited from our forefathers and foremothers in the faith. Catechism is honoring our fathers and mothers in this way. You can better “hear” and understand sermons. It is an observed truth that those who “get” sermons the best in the Reformed tradition of preaching, are those who are catechized (see Nehemiah 8:8 and context).
  • Membership Commitments/parental responsibility: As a congregation in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, catechism is a very important way of covenantal nurture: “Do you promise to teach diligently to [name of child] the principles of our holy Christian faith, revealed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and summarized in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church?” (Book of Church Order, DFW, chap. III). If you’re a member of the OPC, we have vowed to do this in reliance upon God’s grace in Christ.
  • Meditation on Scripture: While you seek to be faithful in catechism, don not neglect the reading, memorization and meditation upon Scripture. Biblical truth is the foundation on which we build faithful catechism. Meditation on scripture is the parent of prayer and the care and ministry of others.

There are free copies of the Shorter Catechism in the front of church building available, and the catechism is also at the back of the Red Trinity Hymnals. Let me know if I can assist you in your pursuit of catechizing, and practically, let me know if I can purchase more copies for you to have to keep in your pockets.

For more information on catechizing and catechism, you may read these excellent articles:

http://www.ligonier.org/blog/blessing-catechizing-our-children/

http://opc.org/new_horizons/NH01/0001d.html

http://www.alliancenet.org/placefortruth/column/theology-on-the-go/catechizing-grounded-in-scripture

Your pastor and elders pray for you regularly to grow in your faith, this will help you to grow. If your child completes the memorization of catechism, please let your elders know and we will glorify God in praising Him by featuring this in the OPC’s ‘New Horizons’ issue. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask myself or one of your elders.

“The One who is taught [lit. “catechized”] the word must share all good things with the one who teaches [“catechizes”]” (Gal. 6:6).

“…What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).

Lets’ begin now. Ketoctin Covenant: “Question: What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “_________________”

Now see, that wasn’t too difficult. Mediate on your answer today, and in Christ, you will be “blessed”; it is a promise of God (Psa. 1:1-3).

 

IN Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs

 

From Your Pastor: Preparing for Preaching and Worship

Beloved of Christ at KCPC: Remember prayerfully to prepare for worship and to be ready to worship the Living God and to hear His Word as it is read and preached to you.

Our Larger Catechism instructs us helpfully: WLC 160  What is required of those that hear the word preached? A. It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence,(1) preparation,(2) and prayer;(3) examine what they hear by the scriptures;(4) receive the truth with faith,(5) love,(6) meekness,(7) and readiness of mind,(8) as the word of God;(9) meditate,(10) and confer of it;(11) hide it in their hearts,(12) and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.(13) (1)Prov. 8:34 (2)1 Pet. 2:1,2; Luke 8:18 (3)Ps. 119:18; Eph. 6:18,19 (4)Acts 17:11 (5)Heb. 4:2 (6)2 Thess. 2:10 (7)James 1:21 (8)Acts 17:11 (9)1 Thess. 2:13 (10)Luke 9:44; Heb. 2:1 (11)Luke 24:14; Deut. 6:6,7 (12)Prov. 2:1; Ps. 119:11 (13)Luke 8:15; James 1:2

Pastor Phil Ryken says very insightfully: “Most churchgoers assume that the sermon starts when the pastor opens his mouth on Sunday. However, listening to a sermon actually starts the week before. It starts when we pray for the minister, asking God to bless the time he spends studying the Bible as he prepares to preach. In addition to helping the preaching, our prayers create in us a sense of expectancy for the ministry of God’s Word. This is one of the reasons that when it comes to preaching, congregations generally get what they pray for.”

Are you remembering to pray for the worship and preaching every week? This is so very important. Let me remind you to pray for the worship and preaching as if you were the one to lead worship and to preach! What needs more preparation the hard ground or the farmer who sows the seed?  Listen to the wisdom of the great Charles Spurgeon:

“We are told men ought not to preach without preparation. Granted. But we add, men ought not to hear without preparation. Which, do you think needs the most preparation, the sower or the ground? I would have the sower come with clean hands, but I would have the ground well-plowed and harrowed, well-turned over, and the clods broken before the seed comes in. It seems to me that there is more preparation needed by the ground than by the sower, more by the hearer than by the preacher.”

Pastor Ken Ramey in Expository Listening (Kress Press, 2010) writes that Christians can better prepare themselves to hear God’s Word read and preached each Lord’s Day if they will seek to cultivate certain good habits each day (here are his helpful suggestions):

  • Read and meditate upon God’s Word every day.
  • Pray often throughout the week.
  • Confess your sins daily before God.
  • Reduce your media intake.
  • Plan ahead, and schedule your week around the ministry of the Word: try to be home on Saturday nights; be careful not to watch or listen to anything that might cause lingering distractions in your mind during worship; get things ready on Saturday to avoid the inevitable Sunday morning rush; get a good night’s sleep because you’ll be doing the hard work of listening; get a good breakfast that will hold you over until lunch; as you’re getting ready and traveling as a family to worship seek to sing and pray together; arrive for worship at least 10 minutes early to get everything done (even the unexpected things), and sit down ready to receive.
  • Be consistent in worship attendance.
  • Go to worship with a humble, teachable, expectant heart (it is not the preacher who is on trial before you; you are on trial before God’s word as to whether you will hear and receive what is spoken if Biblical truth).
  • Worship with all you heart: sing enthusiastically because you believe what you’re singing; follow along in Bible when read; listen attentively to prayers when prayed and respond with hearty “amen”; during the sermon follow along in the Bible; take notes).
  • Fight off distractions
  • Listen with diligent discernment so that you can determine humbly if what you heard was biblical and presented Christ and His Gospel to you and your family.

Let’s remember to pray unceasingly for one another that we will prepare our hearts for worship, and particularly for hearing the Word of God preached, and expect great things from our Great and Faithful God! (1 Thess. 5:18; Ephesians 6:18-20; 3:20-21).

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the LORD!”

 

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs

From Your Pastor: One Thing Necessary in a World of Distractions

“…A woman named Martha welcomed [Jesus] into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42)

Beloved, before Jesus tells us to serve, He first calls us to Himself to teach us and to fill us with His grace and Spirit for service. Before we serve, let us first learn to sit. There are many distractions in each age. How can good and lawful blessings and activities like hospitality, service, jobs, raising our children, and even loving our families potentially become distractions that can be spiritually dangerous to us?! When these things take priority over spending time listening and learning at Jesus’ feet. How are you doing with this?

Martha was serving; she was a Christian woman seeking to honor Jesus. She was taking seriously the Bible’s teaching on hospitality, and the need to feed others. Martha wanted to feed Jesus, but Jesus wanted to feed Mary and her. As Richard Sibbes put it well: “Christ came to feast them, not to feast with them.” There was disorder in Martha’s heart; while her intentions were noble, her affections were confused at this moment. Her “excessive zeal for temporal provisions, made her forget for a time, the things of her soul” (J. C. Ryle), while Mary sought what was good (read: best). We can so easily be tempted to make something good like serving too important, and then we ask the Lord to bless our idolatry. This is not right.

Notice Martha’s self-pity and ungrateful attitude that are common fruits of disordered loves: “Lord, do you not care…tell her…” We are tempted sometimes to tell the Lord what is most important, rather than sitting at His feet and learning what is most important to Him. Our hearts need to be ordered with Christ having the priority; He must be our first love, and our first priority at all times. But notice the Lord Jesus’ tender address to his own: “Martha, Martha…one thing is necessary.” Jesus is not angry, but patient with his own. We are His beloved brothers and sisters; we are His dear ones. He speaks our names tenderly putting a firm and fixed focus on Himself so that we can be reminded what matters most. And what does he promise his beloved? The good portion. Don’t you want that!?

But you ask: “What is this?” It is simply Jesus Christ. Jesus is our good portion (Psa. 16:5; 73:26; Lam. 3:24). Time with Jesus is our good portion. This is the only thing that will ultimately last—the only thing that will ultimately satisfy the longings of our souls—and this good thing will last and satisfy us for all eternity. O, to sit at Jesus’ feet! What a privilege. It is at Jesus’ feet where we get focused on WHO matters most, and this is where our loves are properly ordered and we are made effective, Gospel-driven, and Grace-motivated servants. Are you satisfied with having Jesus as your portion? Can you honestly say with the Psalmist:

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you… But for me it is good to be near God…” (Psalm 73:25, 28b).

Stop what you’re doing today. Ask yourself: What is the one thing that is necessary for me right now? You may have a schedule full of wonderful, God-given and lawful activities, but are you aware that these can potentially be keeping you from what, or WHO you need the most?

How can I specifically keep the focus on the one thing necessary in a world of distractions? Here are some suggestions that often help me:

(1) Order: Order your loves and needs under Christ’s Lordship, following His command to “Seek first the kingdom…” (Matt. 6:33). Jesus sets our spiritual pattern and life-pace of seeking first the kingdom by calling each Lord’s Day to worship Him and to sit at His feet both in preaching and at the Lord’s Table. Let us learn to sit without distractions, so that we can learn, and then go serve in the power of the Spirit (Acts 2:41ff).

(2) Watch: Watch becoming too entangled with the “cares of this life” (2 Tim. 2:4). Ask yourself the important question: “What are my main distractions and “time-wasters” (Eph. 5:15-17)? And then rid your life of them to the best of your ability. J. C. Ryle wrote: “Except we watch and pray, [cares of this world] will eat up our spirituality, and bring leanness to our souls.”  Excellent advice!

(3) Remind: Remind yourself of the most important goals—what is your main intention in each of your activities? Is it to glorify God and enjoy Him forever? Don’t get distracted in your service for Jesus and miss Jesus, and the wonderful privilege of knowing Him as your friend and walking with Him in constant communion.

(4) Gospel Goals: Every morning consider what is most needful and necessary for your day. Ask such questions as: Have I renewed my covenant with God in Christ with renewed repentance in response to His kind mercies (Lam. 3:22-25)? Have I prayed and reminded myself of the love of God in Christ for myself and my family? Am I being watchful, sober-minded, and preparing myself for Jesus’ coming (1 Peter 1:13; Titus 2:11-14)? Am I prepared for temptations that inevitably will come my way (James 4:6-8)? Am I ready to meet the needs of others through self-denial?

Beloved, Jesus said: “Martha, Martha” to awaken her to her great need for His grace! She thought she needed help in a particular way, but Jesus kindly showed her that in her busyness she did not realize her true need. This same Jesus calls you by name today, having justified you in God’s sight, and made you an heir with him through His loving sacrifice on the cross. Now He desires for you to sit undistracted and listen prayerfully as He speaks truth to you so that you might change and grow. This is the love of Jesus for sinners saved by grace, and grace is good because it makes us good.

Now find some time to sit—at His feet. It will be the best time spent. Period. Amen.

 

Love in Christ,

Pastor Biggs

From Your Pastor: Great Grace

 

And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all (Acts 4:33).

It can be notoriously and historically difficult to quantify true and genuine revivals of the Holy Spirit in church history, but I believe we can observe biblical evidences of great grace being upon us right now at KCPC. What are genuine revivals? Revivals are genuine movements or outpourings of the Spirit upon the Church when God does a mighty work of great grace above His normal working through the ordinary means of grace (preaching, sacraments). It is important to note that a revival is foremost the “sovereign, extraordinary, saving activity of the Holy Spirit and is characterized by an intense sense of God’s presence” (quoted from ‘Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival in the Reformed Tradition, Michael A. J. Haykin).[i]

A genuine revival is a powerful work of the Holy Spirit in which there is recovered a new awareness of the holiness of God among His people. This heightened knowledge brings in a new season of the conviction of sin, which, in turn, leads to heartrending repentance. This lowly humility ushers in an awakened love for Christ. Believers begin to pursue personal holiness. Love for other believers intensifies. The gospel spreads like wildfire. Sinners are brought to faith in Christ, and the church is enlarged and empowered. True revivals are characterized by God’s people desiring at a deeper level to glorify Christ and to make Him known to one another and the world, and there is combination of faithful, bold, biblical teaching/preaching combined with faithful, exuberant, joyful, obedient, service-oriented living. There are both gifts being used, and grace that is given. True revival must be more than merely gifts, there must be grace, grace that demonstrates love for Christ and one another (cf. John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 13:1-3).

If KCPC experienced a genuine revival, what would it look like? Both personally (individually) and corporately (as a congregation), because of the Holy Spirit’s powerful working, there would be a deeper awareness of God’s holiness and character. This would produce a greater fear, awe, and reverence for God. This deeper awareness of God would cause us to see more clearly the depths of our depravity and need for more Christ, and a deeper repentance. More particularly, a “heartrending” repentance because we would be sorry not merely for the consequences of our sins, but because our sins offend God and hurt others. There would be a deep, spiritual humility that would love Christ more, and desire to be holy, gentle, more like Him. This would cause us to overflow in love for one another, and more of a concern for the souls of men, that would cause the gospel to spread. The church would grow both spiritually and numerically.

Though there are abuses and misunderstandings, true and genuine revival ought to be sought out by those in the Reformed tradition. In fact, the great twentieth-century preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), commented that

“There is no subject which is of greater importance to the Christian church at the present time than that of revival. It should be the theme of our constant meditation, preaching and prayers.”

In the time known now as the Great Awakening, a time of revival in eighteenth-century Colonial America, Jonathan Edwards rightly warned critics of genuine revival when he said, “To oppose a genuine revival is to oppose God Himself”. Edwards wrote that a genuine and true revival could be recognized by a few important characteristics:

  1. Christ-centered: True revival makes much of Jesus Christ, not a focus on self; 2. Humble, Other-worldliness: True revival operates against Satan, the world, and the flesh; 3. Use of Means of Grace: In true revival there is a higher regard for Scripture and preaching; 4. Witness and Seal of the Spirit: The Spirit of truth witnesses to genuine revival’s validity; 5. Personally, Congregationally, Culturally Transformative: A change of heart evidences itself in love to God and others (this has societal and cultural implications).

Prayer is of utmost importance for revival. The grand object of prayer is to be that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the saints edified, the interest of religion revived, and the name of God glorified. Jonathan Edwards wrote concerning the importance of prayer:

When God is about to bestow some great blessing on His church, it is often His manner in the first place, so to order things in His providence as to show His church their great need of it, and to bring them into distress for want of it, and so put them upon earnestly crying to Him for it.

Edwards’ pastoral-theological instinct was “simply to prayerfully seek and expect from God ‘outpourings of the Holy Spirit’ as the central means of spreading Christianity until the Consummation”.

Some evidences of great grace being upon KCPC: We can observe increased joy in our worship; deeper desire for holiness and communion with God; strength, endurance, and sanctification in our troubles; confessional carefulness, clarity and boldness in our making the word known; loving, healthy and gracious “one-anothering” among members; increased attendance and participation at worship services and particularly prayer meetings (and new prayer meetings/gatherings starting organic-Spiritually!!); unity, humility, and gentle care in the body; a collective working together to beautify our building as one body, and a unique and magnanimous generosity that God has blessed us with! Our Heavenly Father does indeed do more than we can ask or even imagine according to the power at work within us! (Eph. 3:20-21).

Let us continue to pray together for more of Christ’s anointing or great grace by His Spirit. True revival will never depend upon techniques and the self-centered works of men. We must seek God for outpourings of His Spirit, while remaining ever faithful to the preaching of God’s Word and the means of grace He has graciously provided for His church to accomplish the mission He has given us. Let us also pray to be more watchful knowing that our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. We must pray to powerfully resist him by standing firm in the faith (1 Peter 5:6-11). Our real enemy hates what God seems to be doing; let us watch and pray lest we fall into temptation!

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs

 

[i] Part of this brief study is taken from my lengthier review of this book.

From Your Pastor: The Holy Spirit in Our Souls

 

“There is a general omission in the saints of God, in their not giving the Holy Spirit that glory that is due to His Person, and for His great work of salvation in us, insomuch that we have in our hearts almost lost this Third Person [of the Blessed Trinity]…He is a Person in the Godhead equal with the Father and the Son, and the work He does for us in its kind is as great as those of the Father or the Son” (Thomas Goodwin, Works, Vol. VI, Book 1, chap. 2).

Have you seen your sinful condition? Have you been humbled because of it? This is the work of the Blessed Spirit of Jesus! (John 16:8). Give thanks for His grace and power.

Have you repented because of your sins? Have you turned from sin to God? This is the work of the Blessed Spirit of Jesus! (1 Thess. 1:5; Acts 5:31-32; 11:18). Give thanks for His grace and power.

Do you have faith that unites you to Jesus Christ, and receives Him as a perfect and sufficient Savior? Have you a spiritual sight of Christ and God’s free grace in Him? Has your heart been drawn to Jesus in love? This is the work of the Blessed Spirit of Jesus! (2 Cor. 4:13; Acts 6:5; Gal. 3:1). Give thanks for His grace and power.

Have you been brought close to Jesus for justification and righteousness? Have you come to Christ for the perfect righteousness that the Father provides for ungodly sinners and imputes to needy sinners by faith alone? This is the work of the Blessed Spirit of Jesus! (John 6:37, 44; Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:18). Give thanks for His grace and power.

Do you recognize God as your Father in Christ Jesus? Can you freely call out to him in prayer or in need “Abba, Father!” This is the work of the Blessed Spirit of Jesus! (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15; 8:26). Give thanks for His grace and power.

Do you have communion with the Father and the Son? Do you desire to pray and seek after God in Christ? (Matt. 7:7; Eph. 2:18). This is the work of the Blessed Spirit of Jesus! (John 16:14-15; 1 Jo. 1:3; Phil. 2:1; 2 Cor. 13:14). Give thanks for His grace and power.

Do you have joy and peace in believing? Who has brought you that peace with God in Christ that passes all understanding and comprehension? This is the work of the Blessed Spirit of Jesus! (Rom. 15:13; Phil. 4:7; Rom. 14:17; Jude 20). Give thanks for His grace and power.

Is the Spirit at work in you? Is the Spirit at work at KCPC? Give thanks and seek the LORD Jesus Christ who is full of the Spirit for us!

Suggested Hymn: ‘For Your Gift of God the Spirit’ -339

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Biggs

Ishmael and Immanuel: Learning to Wait Upon God

 

Read Genesis 16.

“Behold…you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael” (Gen. 16:11). “Behold…[you shall] bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

God teaches us to wait so that He will fulfill His promises for us. This is to exalt God’s power and grace; this is to teach us that He is trustworthy and always faithful! Like a gracious and generous father who wants to bless his children, often by surprise, so God desires to bless and surprise His dear children (cf. Luke 11:13). Sadly, it is often the temptation of believers having begun with the Spirit of God, to desire to be perfected by the “flesh” of their own desires and endeavors immediately, rather than waiting on God (Gal. 3:2-3; 4:23). Abraham was promised a son by His gracious God and Father: “Behold…your very own son shall be your heir…number the stars…so shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:4-5). God graciously commits Himself to a blood covenant (“a bond in blood sovereignly administered”) that He will be faithful to Abraham (Gen. 15:12-18). Yet Abraham acts impatiently, and this is what he learns the hard way:

“Behold…you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael” (Gen. 16:11).

Though Immanuel was God’s ultimate intention for Abraham (through Isaac, see Matt. 1:1-3, 23), he first received Ishmael because of sinful impatience. “Laughter” (Isaac means “He laughs”, Gen. 21:1-3) was to be God’s merciful gift, but heartache and sorrow came through Abraham’s sin (persecution and many problems, Gen. 21:8-14). What but sin can we ever expect from our impatience? We are taught that God’s people are those who must learn to wait upon the LORD and for the realization of His promises (Psa. 27:13-14). Abram lived in an “Advent” season of waiting upon the coming arrival of the Lord’s promises in the person of his very own son (Gen. 15:4), yet there was great temptation to hurry the “delay” of God. We are to believe God by His grace, and to cultivate patience which is a fruit of the Spirit of the Christ (Gal. 5:22-23). Our God and Father has been patient with us, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance (cf. 2 Pet. 3:8ff), and yet we so easily forget His promises, grow impatient and set about to “make things happen” when we think that God has forgotten us (or particularly His promises).

How is your patience coming along? Are you cultivating this virtue and fruit of the Spirit (cf. 2 Pet. 1:5-9)? How are you doing in waiting upon the LORD? Waiting doesn’t mean to be passive, but actively believing, trusting, walking, serving, loving, and growing. If God is sovereign, and rules and reigns over heaven and earth with wisdom and love, and knows what is best for us all, then why do we grow impatient waiting upon Him? Throughout Scripture, God is revealed as a faithful, trustworthy, committed, loving, gracious, generous, merciful God and Father that will keep His promises! In fact, we are taught that all of God’s promises are available to us every day in Christ (“All of God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ- 2 Cor. 1:20).

What decisions have you sown in your life carelessly and impatiently, rather than waiting on God, that have caused you to reap the weeds of division and turmoil in your life and the lives of others? How can you learn wisdom and wait upon the LORD in the future? Children, how does your impatience with God and your family cause specific tensions and miserable conditions at times in your home? How might the impatience of your life be ruining all of the joy and peace that God has promised for believers in Christ? One of our forefathers, George Swinnock, wisely wrote:

“To lengthen my patience is the best way to shorten my troubles.”

Try to think of anything worthwhile and satisfying, something really worth having, and you will find few things that describe as immediate, instantaneous, streaming, and quick (can you imagine ever being satisfied with instant grits, for example?!)! Rather, you will find that the things worth living and dying for are those things cultivated by Godly patience: sowing seed, and waiting on the harvest; friendship, and relationships that grow over time; sanctification and character; the vintage of a fine wine; waiting for the development of a baby in the womb, and patiently raising children to adulthood. All of these wonderful gifts of this life take patience, and thus why God often tries our patience. These trials are ultimately, so that we might share Christ’s holiness (Heb. 12:11-12).

Though Abram and Sarai were impatient, God did not forsake them. He disciplined them as a loving Father. Ishmael is a historical, redemptive-historical reminder of God’s discipline that is extremely painful but by God’s grace also an instrument through which His people become sharers in His holiness (Heb. 12:7-14; cf. Psalm 119:67, 71). Though there is much sin of impatience in our lives, look ahead to Genesis 18, and then many years later to Luke 1:30-35 and Matthew 1:1, 17, and remember that God is faithful though we are faithless at times (cf. 2 Tim. 2:11-13). The name “Ishamael” means “God hears” and he is born in redemptive-history not merely to show our Father’s discipline, but also as a living reminder that God hears—and cares! God hears our prayers. God promises to keep His promises. The reason we act impatiently and impulsively, is because we think God doesn’t hear our prayers, that God doesn’t care, and we act to “help Him out a bit”. But this is wrong.

Do you daily seek Christ at the throne of grace to be broken and humbled just because you know that you are more than able (and often willing) to impatiently disobey God to accomplish your own desires? Shouldn’t you seek Him now (“These things [in the Old Covenant] took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did…” 1 Corinthians 10:6, 12- “Take heed, lest you fall…”).

“Behold…you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael” (Gen. 16:11). The hand of discipline.

Behold…[you shall] bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). The fruit of godly patience.

If we are in Christ, we are the children of promise—children of Abraham through Immanuel, not Ishmael (Gal. 4:28). In Galatians 4 (21-31), the Apostle Paul reminds us that Ishmael should remind us of slavery and the terrible works of the flesh, but Immanuel has come to set us free from slavery to sin (including impatience!) in order that we might live freely as the sons of God!

So when the culture around you seeks to promise you everything NOW, when you’re tempted to “instant messaging” (without first thinking compassionately and prayerfully), to “instant credit” (where you will stretch yourself thin for a hope immediately granted because you cannot wisely wait), when aggressive driving is the norm and there is no leisurely “Sunday drive” (and you are seeking to conform to the aggressiveness), when folks even are tempted to judge a sermon by how long it takes to be communicated, and when we unfairly expect our children to know and understand everything important immediately, let us cultivate patience with God and one another. Let us learn to wait upon the LORD our God who is always faithful to His promises, and let us live confidently and expectantly upon the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has promised to come and ransom captive Israel completely soon. The Spirit and the Church says: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

The Advent season should be an important time for us to learn patience as God’s people!

Immanuel is God with us and for us. And if God is for us, who can be against us?!

 

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs

Real Gospel Hope: A Savior for Sinful Sentimentalists and Cynics

“…You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

…“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)….And he called his name Jesus.” –Matthew 1:21-25

Christmas is about Jesus. Christmas is about Jesus the Savior of sinners, God “with us”, God in the flesh who came to us as a child in a pitiful manger equipped for cattle not for Deity. Christmas is about Jesus who came to be born to live for His people, to die for them, to be raised from the dead for them, and to be exalted in His ascension-enthronement at God’s right hand as Eternal Lord and King on David’s Throne.

At Christmastime, we need a bold and enduring biblical faith in Christ to be realists about our situation in this present age and to have true hope to behold what God has done for us in Christ. Biblical hope in Jesus Christ should be our focus at Christmas. Yet oftentimes at Christmastime, we can be tempted to be either bloated with sentimentalism or tainted with cynicism concerning hope in our lives.

What are sentimentalism and cynicism you may ask (and I’m more concerned to define these terms with how people actually live and act, not by formal definitions of these two things)? Both sentimentalism and cynicism are wrong and unbiblical responses to the world as we know it. Sentimentalism tends to see only the good in the world and tends to overlook the bad; cynicism tends to only see too much of the bad without acknowledging any of the good. A person characterized by sentimentalism is one who thinks (or better, feels!) too highly of sinful man and what man can actually achieve for good in this world. Those given to the temptation to sentimentalism are those who gush with unrealistic hope for good times and good change that is possible in and through man, or by peering back to some nostalgic time that they feel better achieved this.

Though the Bible gives great hope, sentimental folks are not grounded in the truth and reality of God, and so their “hope” is nothing more than a feeling (and sadly when sentimentalists do not see their “hopes” fulfilled in their lives, they then idealize, or idolize and worship the past, imagining that things were better “Back then…alas”). Sentimental folks don’t talk a lot about sin and sinfulness and the offense to God and the misery it has brought with it, and they don’t necessarily see the world clearly and realistically in all its troubles. If sentimental folks do see the world in its troubles, they often choose not to really look closely and honestly at all.

Folks who tend to be characterized by cynicism claim and often act as if they have lost hope and no longer expect that good times and change can or will come. This hopelessness is not grounded in God’s truth and reality any more than sentimentalism. Cynicism is often more of a reaction to sentimentalism; you see this reaction at generational levels today. Grandparents that were sentimentalists might produce grandsons who are cynics. Oftentimes young people tend toward more sentimentalism, and they grow into cynicism after experiencing pain and difficulties in a cold world. Cynicism often masquerades itself as self-realized maturity, whereas sentimentalism might masquerade as wide-eyed, child-like innocence and the goodness of man.

You can hear sentimentalism in Christmas songs all around us an on the radio and in the “air” at this time of year. Crooners croon: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” Listen in for a moment:

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all…”

“With the kids jingle belling?” Is there anyone at your home “jingle belling” right now? Honestly.  “It’s the hap-happiest season of all…” Is it really? For all?? Have you seen the poor and destitute? Have you peaked into the homes past the well-lit trees in the windows to behold the people full of strife and rampant dysfunction? Have you seen the people with the Rudolph antlers and the shiny nose after the Christmas party dealing with depression and loneliness and alcoholism seeking change in clinical therapy and recovery programs? Have you seen the little the rest of the world has in comparison to the riches we have as Americans, and how impoverished many people are who have never owned one of Disney’s “princesses” (and never will)? Sentimentalism sings “Fa-la-la-la-la” when there is sadness and misery all around us. Sentimentalism sings “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” forgetting that many cannot afford chestnuts, and are barely staying warm by a fire- -if they have one at all!

You can *hear* sentimentalism better at Christmas than cynicism, because cynics don’t necessarily sing about Christmas at Christmastime, unless they are singing about grandma getting run over by a reindeer coming home from a Christmas visit, or a man seeking to seduce his girl because it’s cold outside, or the one-horse open sleigh turning over and seriously injuring Frosty the Snowman, or wanting an alien for Christmas. But most real cynics typically don’t “do Christmas” and therefore they don’t sing much about it.

Another example of hearing sentimentalism is to recall the great Jim Reeves’ Christmas song from the 1950s: “A long time ago in Bethlehem…And man shall live forevermore because of Christmas day.” Now I’m not going to criticize the great Jim Reeves (and for those who know not of Jim Reeves, well you should know this wonderful singer of times past—there’s my sentimentalism for you!), but Reeves’ song teaches us that mankind will live forever just because of Christmas; this is not true; this is classical liberalism. This famous song “Mary’s Boy Child” seems to be saying that just the knowledge of Jesus being born at Christmastime will make everything all right at Christmas. He sings “…And man shall live forevermore because of Christmas Day…” (and I don’t know what kind of person Reeves was so this is not criticism of the man, just the message).

But Christmas is so much more than merely a message of man trying to change himself, or being overwhelmed with “Christmas-ey” sentimental thoughts and feelings of Jesus in a manger that will make us all nice, comfortable people. Sentimentalism will not hold out true hope for anyone; sentimentalism will just not do.  Sentimentalism too easily embraces classical liberalism which is summarized in this way: “A God without wrath brought [good] men into a kingdom without judgment, through a Christ without a cross (H. R. Niebuhr).” No. The message of Christmas is more than merely getting Linus to tell us what Christmas is all about, and then we change in response to the commercialism, etc., and we decide to get a small and meek Christmas tree rather than a great and shiny one, and we are all changed- –and we all do it ourselves.

No, we must be changed. We must be changed by a sovereign work of Almighty God. The raw and wonderful and glorious truth of Christmas is that God was born into the world and took upon human flesh to be redeem sinners so that we would be given the power by His grace and Holy Spirit to be transformed into new people; a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Mere sentimentalism will not do. We must be changed from the inside out; sinful man must be changed from the heart. We are not good; we must be made good. By. God’s. Grace. Alone.

Now those characterized by cynicism are onto this, but they don’t have the answer either. Hopelessness is not the answer for misguided hopes!

Usually folks who are cynics (not in the formal philosophical, Marcus Aurelius sense) are those who are “converted” from sentimentalism, but they find that the “hope” that they had in the future, and in the love of human beings never appeared, and that their warm-feelings of the brotherhood of man and peace and kindness faintly faded into a memory, and this “hope” never manifested itself in their heart nor in the hearts of others. Cynics thought at one time things might get better, but they have now lost hope that good times and change will never come, and so let’s just mope knowingly. But this cynical hopelessness is not grounded in the truth and reality of God any more than sentimentalism.

Cynical folks think they know. Better. They are always giving “knowing glances” and looks and sneers to those who are especially eat up with sentimentalism. Imagine two people are having coffee at a local coffee shop. One is a sentimental person, and the other is a cynic (who formerly was a sentimental person). Bob the sentimentalist says: “You know, I just love Christmas, the lights, the good cheer, the ‘decking the halls with boughs of holly’, and gathering with family- -don’t you just love it?! If only it would be Christmas all through the year?” The sentimentalist will think on the bright lights and surface things of Christmastime, with false hopes that good can come and will come through people. The sentimentalist forgets the loneliness, poverty, grief, guilt, and funerals that still take place on and around December 25th!

Maria, the cynic responds: “Get a life, Bob! I don’t do Christmas. It is all fake and surface. No one really cares and after the lights are taken down off the freshly cut trees (those trees could have continued to grow by the way!), and no one cares for others, and the good cheer is all conjured up with hopes that someone will give me a present (but they just give it to me so that I will give one back to them in return; I know). At Christmas, I think of those who suffer, and those who are lonely, and when I think back to my memories of Christmas, all I can recall is a big turkey on the table surrounded by gluttonous dysfunctional family members who had too much to drink, and did not care a lick about anyone but themselves.”

But Christmas is about Jesus, and Jesus came to save both sentimentalists and cynics–all who will believe in Him shall find true hope and life with the forgiveness of sins.

What do we find in both the sentimentalist and the cynic that is biblical and true and worth noting? Both the sentimentalist and cynic are trying to find hope in this world of sin and misery. We are image-bearers all, who were made to be happy and hopeful. We were created to live in God’s presence and find the “happy ever life”. We were created to live in paradise, and we find that we have indeed put up a parking lot and much more, and we are far from our original home, and lost with regard to our true destiny. The sentimentalist is trying to seek hope in man’s ability to change and do good; the cynic has given up hope, but deep down would like to find hope, but would never (or rarely) admit it. Both are missing Jesus, and the important fact that Christmas is about Jesus.

Both sentimentalists and cynics are imbalanced and wrongheaded. Jesus came to give the true hope in Himself for the sentimentalist, and to tell them that the nostalgia that they look for was found in paradise with God, but man fell into sin and rebellion and needs salvation. Jesus came to give true hope in Himself to the cynic who sees so clearly through everything and everyone that he fails to see anything at all. He looks not at, but through and thus is blinded (C. S. Lewis), and the Gospel says: “Behold” (“look here”) there is a Savior to give you what you do not deserve, to cause you to really enjoy life, to give real hope, and to teach you to not be afraid to give of yourself to others.

You must see Jesus Christ as your only hope; Christmas is about Jesus your only real and enduring hope. His name is “Jesus” for He will save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). This we must emphasize. God would become flesh and seek and save sinners. God would not overlook sinfulness and the selfish deeds of mankind, but would indeed judge them. However, he would send Christ Jesus, His only Begotten Son to be cursed and judged in the stead, or in the place of all who would believe. God sent Jesus into the world not to condemn the world but so the world might be saved from both unbelieving, imbalanced sentimentalism and unbelieving, imbalanced cynicism.

Jesus came to live for sinners; Jesus came to die for sinners on the accursed cross; Jesus came to shed His blood for those who believe, and grant to all who believe a perfect righteousness before God that is received by faith alone; Jesus came to be raised from the dead and seated at God’s right hand. God offered Jesus to be judged in place of sinful man; God justly and righteously punished sin in Christ, but God justifies or makes right sinners who believe in Him (see this great hope in Romans 3:23-26):

ESV Romans 3:23-26: “…For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The biblical truth is that God disagrees with and contradicts the sentimentalist that man could change on his own or have any hope ultimately apart from Christ; the Bible teaches that man is cursed by sin and under the condemnation of God, described as being “without God and without hope in the world” (Eph. 2:12ff). God disagrees with and contradicts the cynic who thinks all is hopeless, because God graciously offers true and enduring hope for mankind, and salvation and peace with God for helpless, hopeless sinners in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ name “JESUS” means God saves. God comes into our dark and miserable state, and grants us hope in Jesus. Jesus comes to rescue us out of our sinful estate by living and dying for us.

This is true hope. This is real and lasting hope that changes man from within. This is the hope that can turn our false hopes and blurred dreams of what man can do into realizing the power of the Holy Spirit and how He transforms us by His grace, and can give us hope and make all our dreams come true in Christ. Even as we live in a fallen world characterized by sin and misery, pain, suffering, death, poverty, and helplessness, there is hope for us in Jesus Christ. Hope to have peace with God, and great joy in the midst of whatever affliction He call us to live through. Even after all the lights come down, and we move into the “bleak mid-winter” we can know the burning, shining, painfully and deeply satisfying, joyful hope that is possible through Jesus Christ no matter what time of year!

We can embrace the tension of the reality of living in a world with great hope (as the sentimentalist sings about at Christmas), and in a world still tainted by the disease which is sin and misery (as the cynic refuses to sing about at Christmas). For the sentimentalist, I would say that you must stop painting things too rosy in this world even at Christmastime. This world is fallen, and although it is a good world created by God, it is infested with many sinfully selfish and greedy people who care only for themselves, and it is a world much characterized by misery and enslavement to sin and the devil.

And Jesus came to cure us; Jesus came to remove the curse as far as it is found! For the cynic, you must stop painting things too hopeless in this world especially at Christmastime. You, too, are a hypocrite and part of the problem. You sneer at the sentimentalists “knowingly” but you too have no answers, you too, have no hope. You are right that things are wrong, but you are infested with this sinful dis-ease too- -and Jesus is your only hope.

Stop hoping in something like a Christmas season that is not rooted in God’s truth and reality; stop the hopeless rant about the Christmas season that is not rooted in God’s truth and reality. Notice the sane and biblical balance between the imbalances of both sentimentalism and cynicism in Isaac Watts’ Joy to the World; there is both sorrow and love; hopelessness and hope!:

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”

Christmas is about Jesus. But I’ve said that already.

 

Love in Christ, and Merry Christmas!

Pastor Biggs

 

Beholding the Glory of Christ at Christmas—What Did Simeon See?

I have a favorite hill in my little town of Round Hill, Virginia, which I enjoy ascending at a particular time of morning in the summer months. The light has already dawned by the time I start climbing to the summit. The light helps me on my way up the hill, but I don’t see the full glory of the sun until it comes up over the mount.

This is descriptive of our forefather’s Simeon’s place in redemptive history. He was living at the first light of the dawn of the last days. The light had dawned with the coming of Jesus in his incarnation, but Simeon did not behold the beautiful glory of the Son until his mother and father brought him into the temple. Although Simeon had believed God’s promises and had lived righteously in the strength of them, he had yet to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus as he would.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” – ESV Luke 2:25-32

Simeon was a righteous and devout man, full of faith, who eagerly anticipated the fulfillment of God’s promises. He went by the Spirit’s guidance into the temple one morning, and on that special day beheld the unfathomable love of God the Father, the wonderful Savior of the world, the light to the Gentiles, the glory of Israel, and the embodiment and realization of all of God’s promises (Luke 2:25–32). Simeon beheld the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). He rejoiced, saying, “My eyes have seen your salvation!” (Luke 2:30).

But What Did Simeon See?

Simeon saw a child who would have looked like any other—nothing extraordinary to outward appearances. There was no glow, no halo around baby Jesus’ holy head. He was clothed in our humanity, in the likeness of sinful flesh, born in the likeness of men, and the glory that he had enjoyed as the eternal Son before the foundation of the world was cloaked (Isa. 53:2; John 17:5; Rom. 8:3; Phil. 2:7). As Charles Wesley superbly wrote:

“Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, Hail! the Incarnate Deity!”

But Simeon saw something special because the Holy Spirit showed it to him by giving him eyes of faith (as emphasized in Luke 2:25, 26, 27). We are told specifically that Simeon “came in the Spirit into the temple” (2:27). Simeon then received into his arms his blessed Savior-King (2:28), the very revelation of God’s salvation to sinners.

It is similar with us today. The Holy Spirit is still leading believers to behold the glory of Jesus. In order to behold who Christ is, and what this means for us, the Holy Spirit must make our dead hearts alive (Eph. 2:1–5). We need to be enabled to behold him with eyes of faith, having the eyes of our hearts enlightened by the power and grace of God (Eph. 1:17–19; 2 Cor. 4:6).

Do You See Him, Too?

This Christmas, ponder deeply the significance of the birth of Jesus. What do you see when you look thoughtfully into the manger? Do you see just a child, merely a baby, or do you see the living God in human flesh to live and die for sinners, to be raised for our vindication and righteous declaration before a holy God, to ascend to God’s right hand as the King of kings and Lord of lords? If you see this, then it is God who has worked in your life, and you are an heir of all his wonderful “Yes” promises in Christ! (2 Cor. 1:20). Can you rejoice that even though your physical eyes may be dimmed by sin’s doubts, and you may grow weary as a pilgrim on the way, your eyes of faith can still see and can still be strengthened as you gaze upon your glorious King? Do you pray to see this more clearly? (Eph. 1:18).

As God’s people living between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ, we are taught to look on and behold the glory of Jesus Christ. We are taught that as we behold this glory, we are transformed by the Spirit from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 3:18). One of the rich benefits of living on this side of the resurrection, as recipients of God’s Spirit, is that we can behold the image of God in the face of Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1–3; 2 Cor. 4:6). The Old Testament saints beheld Christ’s glory in shadow and type (Luke 24:24–27; John 5:39), but we behold the true image of God as he is fully revealed in the time of fulfillment. Have you received him? Have you embraced this glorious King as he is held out to you in the gospel? Do you have “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6)? Embrace him now. Take up the blessed Jesus in your arms of faith and receive him as your beloved King!

Beloved, rejoice that the glory of God in Christ has appeared! This salvation has been clearly revealed to all (Titus 2:11–14). We still await the full revelation of this glory, but let’s get in practice for it. John Owen wrote in his magnificent treatise Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,

“If our future blessedness shall consist in being where he is, and beholding of his glory, what better preparation can there be for it than in a constant previous contemplation of that glory in the revelation that is made in the Gospel, unto this very end, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory?” (Works of John Owen, 1:275).

The Scriptures tell us to practice beholding this glory by eagerly anticipating Christ’s appearing and sober-mindedly being watchful for it (Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 4:7). We are to love his appearing (2 Tim. 4:8), just as Simeon, our forefather in the faith, did. Do you eagerly await him? This provides real food for your faith and clarity for your heart and mind. Seek to behold him through the Scriptures.

Simeon received a special promise: that the final chapter of God’s redemption would dawn with the coming of the Messiah before he died (Luke 2:26). And once he laid eyes on the glorious Savior, clothed in his own flesh—the eternal Son permanently united to his human nature—Simeon’s heart soared in exultation, joy, and praise. His soul was flooded with the peace that only God in Christ can give! (Rom. 5:1–11). He was ready to die. Are you ready to die? Can you say today, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21)?

What a glorious privilege it is for us, too, as those who live in the last days, on this side of the resurrection, at the end of the ages, at the close of history, and at the end of the world as we know it, to live anticipating the fact that we will see Jesus Christ face-to-face—not as an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, but as the King adorned with power, majesty, and glory (Isa. 6:1ff.; 33:17; John 12:41; Rev. 4:9–11; 5:9–14). The apostle John says that we will very soon “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2–3), which is an answer to the Lord Jesus’ prayer for his own on the night of his death (John 17:24). We will behold the King in his full majesty, glory, and beauty!

“Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty” (Isa. 33:17; cf. Ps. 45). Hallelujah!

Are you eagerly awaiting his appearing? Like Simeon, our forefather, are you waiting for the full revelation of the comfort and consolation that God will bring in the salvation and restoration of all things at the return of Jesus Christ? (Luke 2:25–26; Titus 2:13)? Are you full of joy that is “inexpressible and full of glory” because of this (1 Peter 1:8)? Are you being led regularly by the Holy Spirit to behold him in God’s Word?

As God’s people, recipients of his Spirit and his promises, let us behold Jesus in his holy Word, looking daily at his graciousness, compassion, gentleness, judgment, and zeal for holiness, as he is displayed and revealed to us in his person, promises, offices, and grace! Behold, God’s salvation—and the only hope for sinners! Let this encourage us to be eager in our anticipation of his return on our pilgrimage in the present age.

Let us await the awesome moment when we shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye. Previously we could have beheld Christ only in the flesh, but on that day we will behold him face-to-face with eyes of incorruptible and eternal glory, and we will be changed! (1 Cor. 15:50–53). What a reason that is to serve him! Our eyes, too, by faith, have seen the Lord’s salvation, but we haven’t seen anything yet! Nothing can compare with what we will see (Rom. 8:18–21; 1 Cor. 2:9; 13:12; 2 Cor. 4:18). That is our great hope—live joyfully in it.

Do You See What Simeon Sees?

Have you beheld the Savior of the world as your only hope? Have you beheld the Savior to make you strong in grace? Have you beheld the Savior to encourage you on your pilgrimage and strengthen your faith? Have you beheld the Savior; do you anticipate seeing him better? Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

On my favorite hill, I can enjoy the light and see the beauty and glory of the sun, but I cannot dwell there. I cannot live there. Time goes on, the sun rises and sets, and it is night again. But one day, the night will be over and the full day will be here (Rom. 13:12; Rev. 22:5).

One day soon, I won’t run to see glory and capture moments of the beauty and glory; rather, it will consume me (2 Cor. 5:4). Let that cause your hearts to soar with exultation and the praise of God this Christmas; let your souls be filled with God’s sweet peace as you, too, say with Simeon:

“My eyes have seen your salvation!”

Take a moment right now to pray that you see Him who is “Fullness of Grace and Deity” more clearly? (Eph. 1:18; John 1:16; Col. 2:9).

 

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Biggs

“O Come, O Come, Immanuel”

Beloved, let this truth be our deepest desire and prayer this Christmas! “O Come, O Come, Immanuel!” Let us pray as God’s people that Jesus Christ will come and take us to be with Himself, and to “close the path to misery” here in our lonely exile in this present age.

The wonderful Christmas hymn “O Come, O Come Immanuel” captures the proper longing and desire that should be in every believer’s heart. This is expressed with a heart-felt and duplicated emphasis to stress a holy panting for God: “O Come, O Come!” When we pray or sing this from the heart, this reveals a longing for God’s shalom-peace, and a desire for precious rest that will embrace the whole world (cf. Luke 2:10-14). It is an deep expression for all things to be renewed, and for God’s people to enjoy His presence without the hindering and contaminating presence of sin, death, and the evil one.  As Christians, we cry

“Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus” and “Your Kingdom Come” (Rev. 22; Matt. 6)

when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and these are also similar heart-felt prayers for the peace that will come when God renews all things. We all long for home. We want to get back to Eden, before sin entered the world, but we cannot in our own ingenuity and strength. God must act graciously and powerfully on our behalf to end our lonely exile, and to bring us home to be forever with Him.[1]

In the Old Covenant time, you may recall that Israel was deported to Babylon as punishment for her sins against her covenant God (Isaiah 39:5ff; Daniel 1:1-2; Habakkuk 1:5ff). The exile was forever part of God’s Old Covenant story of His people (Matt. 1:12, 17). In the exile and captivity, God’s fatherly discipline would be revealed to chastise His elect, the True, believing Israel, but this would cause them to shine in the midst of darkness, and to live for God’s glory (Jeremiah 29). God’s elect, True and Believing Israel were to live godly lives while in exile, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Dan. 12:1-3; cf. Phil. 2:12-16). Though the exile was the judgment of God because of sin, there was also salvation and sanctification for True Israel, to make them a people prepared to meet the LORD (Luke 1:17; Malachi). This is the wonderful salvation message of the prophets of old.

Although True Israel was God’s Beloved, they were pilgrims, exiles, aliens in a strange land, and they cried out to God (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9ff):

“O come, O come…and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here.”

The people of God who believed God’s promises revealed through the mouths of the prophets, awaited with hope the day when God’s comforting and peaceful presence would be with them permanently, and God’s glory would cover the whole earth! (Isa. 11:9; Jer. 33:9; Hab. 2:14). This would be a Day when God’s enemies would be judged and punished, and God’s oppressed people would be free! God’s Beloved would be ransomed from their captivity! And the people waited with hope.

Although True Israel belonged to God, they lived as those who mourned. God spoke in the mouths of the prophets comfort for the people, saying essentially: “Blessed are you who mourn, you will be comforted” (cf. Matt. 5:3ff; Isaiah 60:20b-21). God would reveal His comforting grace through promise in the midst of lonely Israel’s sadness:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins….And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” – ESV Isaiah 40:1-2, 5

God’s people patiently waited, and waited, and waited for the Day when the Son of God and Son of David would appear; they cried: “O LORD, how long, shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?!” (Hab. 1:2), waiting…

“…Until the Son of God appear!”

The people of God were eagerly awaiting and expectantly anticipating the Messiah, the Anointed King, who they knew would renew Israel and bring everlasting light and righteousness into a dark and evil world.

“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession…Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. ….And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him- for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength- he says: “… I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth… Thus says the LORD: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ … Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! for the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. “  –  Psalm 2:6-8, 10-12; Isaiah 49:5-9, 13

The mystery that wasn’t fully understood from the Old Covenant perspective was that when Israel returned from Babylonian captivity (under Nehemiah, Ezra and a few of the Minor Prophets), when Israel returned to the land, they would still be oppressed by their enemies (for centuries!), and all their hopes were not fully realized. Yet they were to feed on God’s promises: “Open your mouth and I will fill you,” said the LORD (Psa. 81:10). “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end- it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Hab. 2:3). The people were to continue trust God that He was faithful, and that He would eventually dwell as “Immanuel” with His Beloved people.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – ESV Isaiah 41:10

 

God is faithful to His promises, and Messiah did indeed come to ransom captive Israel:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ….[God] has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”  ….”Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” –  ESV John 1:14; Luke 1:54-55, 68-75.

But when God sent forth His Messiah, His Son, it was not what many in Israel expected! When He came in the Lord Jesus Christ, Israel was still under foreign oppression and rule (Luke 2:1ff). Rather than immediately destroying God’s enemies (“saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us”), Messiah was seemingly destroyed Himself—by these same feared and oppressive enemies of God! Messiah who was to ransom them, who was to bring glorious victory for all who believed in His visitation, was humbled in deep suffering and rejection, and was seemingly defeated in death—a death by crucifixion from the foreign powers Israel had expected to be immediately conquered by Messiah, their hope (Acts 3:12-15; 4:26-28)! This is one of the reasons that Jesus was such an obnoxious “stumbling block” to many of the Jews (1 Cor. 1:21ff; 1 Pet. 1:8; Matt. 13; cf. Isa. 6:8ff); this seemed like foolishness to them. Yet Messiah Jesus glorified God in His magnificent wisdom!

Jesus Christ, the Messiah, as He promised, rose from the dead on the third day; death did not conquer Him (cf. Luke 24:25ff). Jesus rose victoriously from the grave! In His resurrection, God, the Eternal Son, permanently united to our nature, rose to reveal that He was free from the enslaving clutches of sin, death, and the devil! Jesus the Messiah rose gloriously in power to ascend to the Eternal Throne of David. Jesus was resurrected to give victory over sin, death, hell and the devil to all those who put their faith in Him, whether Jew or Gentile!

If anyone is in Christ, “Behold, a new creation!” (2 Cor. 5:17-21).

Jesus the Messiah uniquely and powerfully overcame our worst enemies first: indwelling sin and its dominion over God’s people, the fear of death, slavery to the Prince of the Power of the Air, and the punishment of hell (Heb. 2:14-18; Eph. 2:1-4). Freedom in Jesus brought first reconciling peace with God! Jesus told His people He came as a ransom to lay down His life to pay our debt of sin to a Holy God! (Mark 10:45).

Christ Jesus when He ascended as King on David’s Eternal Throne at God’s right hand, sent forth His Spirit to dwell within His people, and to encourage us and strengthen us to endure and complete our exile-pilgrimage here and to know His sweet, loving presence as Immanuel “with us” (Acts 2:28-33).

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. ….When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. ….This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘ The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – ESV John 14:26-27; 16:13-15; Acts 2:32-36

Now on behalf of True Israel, Jesus is preparing a place for us (John 14:1ff); this is why our hearts should not be troubled!

The return from exile back to the land where God would dwell with His people in peace, giving them rest, and victory and security from all of His and our enemies, has begun with the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and the outpouring of His Spirit upon us! The full outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people in exile, releasing us from bondage, was the inaugural act of the Resurrected-Ascended Messiah to David’s Eternal Throne, and the assured down payment of the full restoration and return home that God has promised! The return from exile has begun as He frees His people by HIs Spirit from captivity to sin and the devil, and frees us to live loving HIs truth and growing in His likeness.

This initial or inaugural beginning of the return from exile and deportation to Babylon that has begun with Jesus’ resurrection-ascension and the Spirit of Pentecost is another aspect of the mystery that was revealed, but not fully understood in the Old Covenant (Rom. 16:25-27; Eph. 3:1-10). This mystery is that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be resurrected and would begin the return from exile not to the Promised Land here on earth (in the Middle East in Israel), but to the Heavenly Land, or place the Promised Land in the Old Covenant had foreshadowed and pointed upward to: the “Better Country” or the “Heavenly Country” (Hebrews 11:13-16). This is the country that Abraham and all of his true, believing children longed for throughout the Old Covenant:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. – Hebrews 11:13-15

As God’s True Israel today, united to Jesus Christ, recipients of His Holy Spirit, we can still sing “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” with all of our hearts (this is not a song for merely ethnic Israel to sing). Although the return from exile has begun for us in Jesus, and we are already seated with Christ in the Heavenly Places (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1-4). Nevertheless, we mourn, we suffer tribulation, and persecution, yet we should be expectantly awaiting His Second Coming! (1 Pet. 4:8; Titus 2:11-14). In fact, it is through tribulation that we will actually enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22; Revelation 1:9-10).

Full return from exile is for all those who truly love His appearing! (1 Tim. 4:8). Do you long for and love His appearing? The exile in the Old Covenant separated the mere ethnic, outwardly circumcised unbelieving Jews from the inwardly, believing, True Jews with circumcised hearts (cf. Rom. 2:25-28; not all of Israel is Israel, see also Rom. 9-11).

God’s True Israel in any time, walks by faith, even when circumstances around us and in the world seem at their worst! (Habakkuk 2:4; Heb. 11:1, 6; 12:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:6-10). How are you doing? Are you awaiting, anticipating, longing? Or not?! What does this teach you about yourself and your need before God? Are you a True Israelite, or merely one outwardly (see again Romans 2:25-28). Some in Israel in response to the exile were assimilated and became like the world and culture around them, engaging in horrid and offensive idolatry; while True Israel in the exile longed all the more for God’s appearing in Messiah (Daniel 1; cf. Luke 1). Are you worldly? Have you been assimilated by our world and culture? Or longing for Messiah’s appearing?

Similar to our forefathers in the faith who lived in the Old Covenant, yet with much more revealed truth where we stand on this side of the cross, we wait, too, and long for Messiah’s Second Coming and Glorious Appearing! (2 Tim. 4:1, 8). Let us then, as God’s True Israel (Gal. 6:16) live “Advent Lives” each day of the year, not just in this season when we think about Christmas and the Incarnation. Let us long for home with God where we shall permanently dwell with him, and let us live in obedience to His Word, in peace and mercy in this present age, resisting the allurement of our fallen world and culture.

And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. – Galatians 6:16

In our union with Christ, no matter how great the oppression, trouble, tribulation, and misery, we have Christ. Is HE enough for you? Is Christ your glorious and joyous portion? (Psa. 16:5, 11; 73:22-28). Is it good for you to be near to God? (Psa. 73:28; Heb. 4:16). In the midst of our arduous pilgrimage, we possess Christ’s powerful and Holy Spirit to give us hope, light, life, and joy in this present age, until He appears, until He comes again. Now we have Christ with discouragement, darkness, death, and devastating sadness (as Israel before the first coming!), yet we can rejoice!

“Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel; shall come to Thee, O Israel!”

Let us sing as we worship our glorious and beautiful King on David’s Throne, and as we await our Homecoming to the Heavenly New Creation and New Jerusalem, where we shall behold Immanuel face to face (1 John 3:1-3; Rev. 21:1-7)! Let us sing:

“…Open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery!”

Beloved of Immanuel, Let this be our song and prayer this Christmas. And let us visualize with holy, captured imaginations this scene that is about to take place in our lives:

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4

 

IN Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien diagnosed the roots of our longing for home: “We all long for [Eden], and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with a sense of ‘exile’” (Tolkien, The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. H. Carpenter and C. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000, pg. 110).

From Your Pastor: A Biblical Theology of the Incarnation – “Immanuel: God with Us”

* Image of God (Gen. 1:26-28; Eph. 4:17-24; cf. Heb. 2:5-18) – In the beginning, God dwelled with man created in His image. Adam was not “God in the flesh” but he was “like God in the flesh”, and he enjoyed the “Immanuel presence of God” in the Garden. Man was made in God’s image and given the Holy Spirit (Gen. 2:7; cf. John 20:22), but was not exalted and confirmed in his righteousness through obedience (Ecc. 7:29; cf. Psa. 8; Heb. 2:5ff). Rather, man sinned and rebelled against his good Heavenly Father and Supreme Lord. Man lost the Immanuel presence of God. But this was not the end of the story…

* Seed of the Woman (Gen. 3:15) – Though man brought the curse upon Himself through sin and rebellion against God, tarnishing the image of God upon him, and losing the Holy Spirit, God promised hope for the future. This reveals God’s graciousness and steadfast love toward His own. Though sin has broken the relationship, God would restore the fortunes of His people through grace (Jer. 30:3, 18; Hos. 6:11; Amos 9:14). God would dwell with His people again. God would be “Immanuel”, God with us again!

* Son of Abraham (Gen. 12) – God promised to be a God to Abraham and His offspring, and to bless the whole world through him (Gen. 12:1ff; 15:1ff; 18:18; 22:18). The Spirit of God would be received in the fullness of the times to be God with us and to renew the corrupted image of God, and to lead Abraham’s children to their Heavenly Home (Gal. 3:14). Here is an overview of how God’s promise to Abraham is realized through promise over redemptive-history:

Abraham à Isaac (son of promise) à Jacob/Israel à Judah à Servant of God/Servants of God à God’s church, God’s people, God’s children, True Israel (Gal. 3:16, 26-29; 6:16)

Through Abraham, God would bring a son through His supernatural working and power. From Abraham would come Isaac (“Laughter” that God gives to His own because of His power and grace! See Genesis 21:1-6), and Jacob/Israel. From Israel, God would bring forth a servant to redeem Israel from sin and to rescue His people from their enemies (Isaiah 50:4ff; 52-53; Zech. 12:1ff; Luke 1:55, 73).

* “God with us” in the Old Testament: Immanuel Theophanies and Christophanies – In the Old Covenant, God granted a “prelude” to the Incarnation (J. Calvin) in making temporary appearances in human form in the Old Covenant to be God with us. God the Son appeared as the “Angel/Messenger of YHWH” to Abraham (Gen. 18), Moses (Exodus 3), and Gideon and Manoah (Judges 6, 13). Throughout Israel’s pilgrimage in the wilderness, the Angel of the LORD led them, fed them, blessed them, and mediated on their behalf before God (Num. 22; Judges 2:1; cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-4). These appearances were temporary, not permanent as the Incarnation would be. Yet God prepared Israel through prophetic promise for one who would be a faithful Israelite, who would be obedient unto death as God’s faithful servant, but who would also be the LORD Himself (Isaiah 42, 49, 52-53; Zech. 9:9ff; 12:13-13:1; cf. Matt. 1:1-18, 23).

* Son of David: Messiah- “Anointed King” (2 Sam. 7:12-17) – God prepared Israel through a promise of a “Messiah” or “Anointed King” from David’s offspring, who would also be the Son of Man and the LORD of glory (2 Sam. 7:12ff). “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…” (Psalm 45, 110); “For unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6-7); “…One like a Son of man…” (Daniel 7:13-14; cf. Hebrews 1). True Israel awaited this “visitation” of God in the flesh, the One who would be her Consolation, and her Great Davidic King as God with us (Luke 1:31-35, 68; 2:25; 7:16).

* “The Mystery of Godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16) – Revealed, yet concealed. The mystery of godliness is revealed in the fullness of the times (Gal. 4:4), when God the Son was united permanently to our human nature in the womb of the virgin (Luke 1:31-35); He was “born of a woman, born under law, to redeem…” (Gal. 4:4-6). Although God the Son had appeared occasionally and temporarily, now God would come permanently in the flesh “…And the Word was made flesh and dwelt in our midst…” (John 1:1-3, 14). All of the Old Testament is about Jesus Christ, HIs life, death, resurrection and ascension. All of the Old Testament revealed “…Things Concerning Himself [Jesus Christ]” (Luke 24:25-27; John 5:39). Though this had been “kept secret…[it has now] been made known…” (Romans 16:25-27). This teaches us that God is revealed and at the same time, He is hidden to a certain degree. God chose to make Himself progressively throughout redemptive history. The “mystery” is that it was revealed in the Old Covenant, but not as clearly understood as it would be when Christ Jesus would come to make full sense of it all by His Spirit as God with us (“In the Old concealed, in the New revealed…,” Augustine).

* Creation Restored (Rev. 21-22)- God dwells with Man as Glorified Man forever and ever. The Son of God became flesh to live perfectly on our behalf, to die in our place for our sins, to be raised for our vindication, and to be exalted as Prophet, Priest, and King at God’s right hand! Through Jesus’ perfect and completed work, the restoration of all things has begun by His Spirit. Though now we suffer in and with Him, we shall be glorified in and with Him, too! (Rom. 6:1-11; 8:29). This glorious appearing we await with patience and eagerness, living holy lives for Him in service to God and one another! Rejoice, the LORD is Come!! (Tit. 2:11-14). He will be God with us forever!!

 

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs

 

* Please see Graham Coles’ excellent book ‘The God Who became Human’ for many more biblical-theological insights! (IVP, 2013).