You’ve saved me to be more than I could ever imagine, yet I go through life trying to find the strength to do Your will in my little schemes and plans. I look for my righteousness within myself. I attempt to please You by manipulating Your favor. All this I have done, but I keep coming up short. I am frustrated with my own inability to be something that, by my own power, I am not. Help me to look to the resurrection and to see that You have radically changed me. Now putting on Christ is simply being who I already am in You! Let my veins pulsate with the resurrection power of Jesus Christ who lives in me and I in Him. Empower me rise to from my sins, my self-righteousness, my idols and run to you. Let Your life live in me. Give me the strength to be who I really am in You!
The incarnation is significant because it is God’s ultimate self-revelation. Consider for a moment all that we know of God that is reveled to us. He uses what the theologians refer to as “general revelation” to tell us that He exists and that we are responsible to Him. All throughout creation, the revelation of God is enough to hold men without excuse in the Day of Judgment. But all this is not enough for us to know God. There is still much missing. Thankfully there is yet another facet of revelation provided to us. The written Word of God forms a “specific revelation” given that we might know God. But still there is something missing.
Here’s the problem. With all that we know about God, no one has ever seen Him. We have heard that Moses saw part of His glory, but no one has seen God (John 1:18). How can you really know someone you haven’t seen, gone to a park with, watched their reaction as you tell stories to, and hugged? There is something wholly different between a cyber relationship and the real thing. This is something of the distance between God and His creation. This distance has existed from the primeval period of our history, because mankind has always wanted nothing to do with the one true God. We’ve rebelled against Him and His holiness demands that He leave us to our will, but His mercy keeps finding ways to reveal Himself to us throughout history. That’s where the two sorts of revelation that we just spoke of come from, but in the end God wasn’t happy just to speak to us in shadows.
The incarnation means that God spoke into our world with Himself. The invisible God sent us His duplicate image (Colossians 1:15) so that we may see Him for Himself (John 14:8-9). God all-glorious, mysterious, immortal, invisible, clothed in light, and high above every throne and dominion took upon Himself humanity. As He sustained the molecules of the known universe, He was birthed into a cattle feeding trough in a smelly cave in a little town in the Middle East.
I am often fascinated by the Apostle John’s use of the term “Word” to refer to Jesus. This was at one time a substantial source of confusion for me. Why would you call a person a “Word”? This makes very little sense to you and me, but it makes all the sense in the world to God. Imagine with me that you had been trying to communicate with your girlfriend in another state. You had emailed. You’ve tried Facebook stalking her. You’ve called and texted. You’ve even had friends try to contact her locally, but to no avail. You’ve tried every sort of message and now it’s time to do something extreme. You hop a plane and travel across the country to see her. You yourself are become the message. So it is with the Incarnate Word. Jesus is the message of God to a humanity that has ignored all of His prior messages. But consider the content of the message. It has often intrigued me that God’s message to man wasn’t one of hate and punishment. We had rebelled against him, after all! But quite to the contrary, God’s message to mankind was one of hope and peace through the work of Jesus Christ.
Every religion in the world is predicated upon the idea of man becoming a god, but the Christian teaching is that God became man that man could be reconciled with God. God put Himself on the line so that he could suffer for the rebellion that we chose over Him. As you celebrate this time of year I would encourage you to think of the fact that the incarnation of Jesus Christ was God shouting into the world with all His might. God wants to be known. God wants to reveal Himself to us and will go to the greatest lengths to do so. Are you listening?
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Approval is a fascinating aspect of the human psyche. It seems that we are born with a desire for approval, a desire to have others like us. From our early childhood, we remember doing things to get our parents’ approval. We enjoyed hearing our parents brag us up and hated letting them down. But this desire has not faded over time. Social media keeps the flame burning. Facebook is built around the notion of approval. Good and funny posts will be liked or commented on. The desire for approval can be instantly gratified by a successful post or a witty comment. We also find this desire played out as we interact with our peers. Scholars desire approval from other scholars. Musicians crave acceptance from other musicians. People who claim they don’t care to be approved or accepted by society seek approval and acceptance from others who hold the same claim. Ultimately we all want to be accepted by our peers and superiors. Approval gives us a sense of belonging and a feeling of significance.
But we come to the question of our article today. Why? Any psychologist or casual observer can tell us that we crave approval, but can they tell us why we crave it? Is there some sort of reason for which the human being would need such a desire? Does it make him stronger? No. Does it increase his survival skills? Not directly. Then why do we go through life fawning for attention and acceptance at every juncture? As a theist I can propose an answer. I believe that humans were made to have a relationship with their Creator. We were intended to have the closest friendship with the greatest Friend imaginable – to walk and talk with Him face to face. We were made for approval, but something happened. We didn’t want God’s approval. We shook our fists in His face and went our own way. The human race chose the approval of the serpent over the approval of God. And God let us seek approval elsewhere. He let us set out on the path to nowhere because that was the path that we wanted to follow. Because of this rebellion man cannot have the approval of God anymore.
Sometimes I consider what a problem I would be in if I were but a theist. But, you see, I’m not just a theist, I am a Christian theist. I believe in the solution to the problem of the rebellion against God. I believe that our desire for approval has been met. Here’s how it has been fixed. God saw that humanity had separated itself from Him. He knew that they would not make a way back to Him, but that He would have to make a way back to them. He would have to insert Himself behind enemy lines in order to His reconciliation with humanity. Jesus Christ, fully God, took upon Himself humanity in order to be one of us and to be part of who we are so that He might restore our approval before God. But there was a twist.
Humanity did not approve of Jesus and they strung Him up like a common criminal. But this was already the plan of God. In a strange twist of fate, God allowed His Son to bear the penalty for our failure to accept God in the first place. In fact, God even rejected His Son Jesus so that we could be accepted as sons and daughters. Here is the awesome reality regarding our desire for acceptance. God has provided a solution to our unquenchable desire for acceptance. At the cross we find the fullness of God’s acceptance in the present and in the future. All along our petty desires for our peers’ approval has been but a shadow of the approval that was lost in the primeval creation and has been regained in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Recently I heard a non-Christian call Christianity a crutch for the weak who can’t handle life’s difficulties on their own. At first I had a visceral reaction to the statement (which it was designed to evoke). How dare someone degrade my firmly held beliefs to such a level! But I pondered the idea a little and began to arrive at a different conclusion. Here are some conclusions that I have reached in regard to this statement:
First, a crutch admits weakness, inability, and finitude. The fact that someone needs a crutch indicates that they need external help in order to do some of the simplest tasks in life (viz., standing and walking). At the core of the Christian message, we find that humanity is screwed up. We all need crutches because we’re all lame and damaged due to the rebellion that we joined against God. So when someone says that I use the crutch of Christianity because I am weak, I reply that I am simply being honest enough to admit my weakness. The real question is if my non-Christian friends are willing to admit their inability to stand on their own. This leads me to my next conclusion.
Second, we’re all messed up, so we all use crutches to get through life. Some may call it therapy, medication, or self-help. Others may revert to alcohol, drugs, entertainment, or relationships. Even others may seek out education, family, athleticism, or social activism. Suffice it to say that we all use crutches because we all are weak. Once again, the real difference between the Christian faith and all other crutches is that this faith explicitly states that humanity is unable to better itself and calls for trust and reliance on God. Other crutch-users simply fail to admit what they are relying on.
Third, if we all use crutches to get through life, then the question is not whether we rest on a crutch, but how reliable the crutch is. At this point I have to look at the resurrection. The Christian faith is founded upon this grand idea of the resurrection. That Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, died in our place so that we may not have to face the punishment for our rebellion against God. The evidence of the success of this great exchange is found in the resurrection that kicked off the movement that we know today as the Church. I know my crutch is reliable because I have undeniable evidence that Someone went to the grave and came back again. Someone has already defeated the greatest enemy of humanity and I can gladly and confidently put my trust in Him.
In the midst of my greatest trials, struggles, and sorrows I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not. I don’t have to pretend that I can handle the pressures of life on my own. I can admit my own weakness and the infinite strength of the One upon Whom I will lean for the rest of my life.