The incarnation. That single word is the name of a rich mine of theological treasure. Incarnation is the term by which we describe God the Son being conceived in Mary’s womb, wrapping His eternal deity in mortal flesh and walking this earth in full humanity. Philippians 2 describes the surpassing excellence of Jesus’ humility, “But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men.” Jesus is God become flesh. Jesus is God incarnate. When Jesus walked upon the earth, His deity was hidden. His glory was covered. There was nothing about Him that made men look at Him and identify Him as something remarkable. He had no magnificent form or beauty to attract the attention of the masses. Throughout His life Jesus’ glory as God was obscured by the rags of His humanity, except for one occasion. That occasion we call the transfiguration.
On an unknown mountainside, Jesus was transfigured. Jesus’ outward appearance was transformed before the eyes of the disciples. In His transformation, Jesus’ glory showed through the fleshly veil. The brilliance of His glory broke through and illuminated Him before the eyes of those watching. Jesus’ form was changed to reveal a glimpse of the majesty obscured by His flesh. His appearance briefly reflected His essence. The transfiguration is the brief revelation of God the Son’s glory to the eyes of three men.
On the hillside, Jesus is plainly revealed to be God the Son. Moses and Elijah, saints long dead, have come down from heaven to speak with Jesus, and what they discuss is Jesus’ impending death! These two men speak with God the Son about that which all the law and the prophets spoke of, Jesus death. The Old Testament is abundantly clear that the Messiah was going to suffer death for the sin of men. A plain reading of the Psalms, Isaiah and Daniel make it clear the Messiah was going to die. Any thoughtful consideration of the Levitical sacrifices would lead one to conclude sin could only be covered by sacrificial death. Even the earliest promises in Genesis indicate the promised Deliverer could only bring deliverance by taking on Himself the punishment of sin. All the law and the prophets speak of the Messiah’s suffering. The whole reason Jesus became a man was to die.
As we remember the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, let us remember why He came. He did not come to make our days merry and bright. He did not come to remind us to be kind to others. He did not come to show us the value of giving to others. He did not come to teach us how to love one another. He came to die. He came to suffer God’s infinite wrath on sin, to endure the guilt, shame and curse of mankind and to give Himself in the place of sinful man. He came that through His death each person might be forgiven all his crimes against God, be made righteous and be brought into everlasting peace with the Father. The lowly birth in a manger was just the beginning of a long road of suffering that ended on the cross. God the Son set aside all His infinite glory to clothe Himself in inglorious humanity and then to suffer the most ignoble fate of all. The eternal God, second person of the Triune Godhead, suffered death in place of of men. In the final analysis Jesus’ lowest act of humble service is seen to be the most glorious work of all. As we remember the babe in the manger, let us remember His glory forsaken for the pardon of sin. Let us lift Him up in His glory and worship Him as our God and our Savior.
A few weeks ago I made the mistake of watching the movie “Son of God.” I watched the Bible miniseries when it came out on TV and my television barely survived the ordeal. Instead of lobbing projectiles at the innocent electronic device, I had to be satisfied with hurling invectives at the offending producers and writers of such a horribly wrong treatment of God’s Word. Not realizing that the Son of God was just a highlight reel from the miniseries, I sat down and watched the movie. It was as bad as the series, but I should not have been surprised. When the spiritually blinded try to understand and communicate the truth’s of God’s Word they are not going to do so accurately. They have no ability to discuss spiritual realities because they have no ability to understand spiritual realities.
Before I get to the big problem of the movie, I feel the need to list a few other complaints. In the movie, every miracle and speech given by Jesus is a performance. Every. Single. One. The producers didn’t give Jesus a glowing halo, but they might as well. Every word and action was melodramatic. Contrary to the depiction of Him in the movie, Jesus did not say everything in poignant whispers. When Jesus fed the five thousand, He did not lift the empty baskets up to heaven to have them dramatically filled. He simply broke the bread and passed it out. His life was not one of great drama and pathos, but one of great normalcy. Jesus did not attract crowds because of His compelling speeches, dramatic antics or beatific glow. Crowds flocked to Him because of the message He preached, He is the Messiah, and the miracles He worked.
Mary Magdalene was not the token woman amongst the twelve. She did not begin following Jesus around in Capernaum sometime soon after He called Peter. She was not with Him when He fed the thousands on the hillside. She was not with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Why is she there? What possible purpose does she serve in those scenes? Of all the additions in the movie, this one troubles me the most. I cannot help but think there is some nefarious motivation for the insistence on including her as a disciple. We have no Biblical evidence she traveled with Him at all. Ninety percent of Mary’s performance was pure speculation.
What possible purpose is served in distorting the order of events? How is Jesus standing in the tomb telling Lazarus “I am the resurrection and the life” better for the movie than Jesus standing with Mary outside the city comforting her sorrow with His person. This chronological disorder may not be from any intention to change the message of the Bible, yet to rightly understand the Word of God each passage must be considered in its context. The Bible is never just a collection of stories from which we can mix and match inspirational quotes at our leisure for our own purposes.
The greatest problem of the movie is the distortion of the gospel. All these minor things pile up and when added together with willful misrepresentations of clear Biblical passages, the movie presents a particularly distorted gospel. Christianity is not a cause. Christianity is not an effort to change the world. Jesus did not call Peter, or any of the other disciples, to change the world. He called them to preach the gospel of His deity and His salvation. The message of Jesus was not one of inspiration and hope, it was of repentance and redemption. The gospel is never about making a better world or people having a better life. The gospel is always about guilty rebels being forgiven and reconciled to God through the gracious work of God’s Son. Changing the gospel is not to be countenanced by any disciple of Jesus.
The Word of God is not to be trifled with. Random changes to the events in Jesus’ life are not trivial. The truths of the Bible are the inspired Word of God. We do not get to change them for any artistic purpose. The unsaved will never understand the Bible is not a story written for entertainment, nor a collection of tales written for moral instruction. The Bible is the Word of God given to teach men of salvation. The Bible is the instrument by which men are brought to salvation and believers are taught to live Godly lives. Fool around with the Bible and you fool around with salvation. Present a distorted view of Jesus, misrepresent Scriptures and you pervert the gospel.
The unsaved cannot possibly present an accurate presentation of the Bible because the unsaved do not understand the Bible. The blind cannot give an accurate dissertation on Picasso’s use of color and the spiritually blind cannot give an accurate interpretation of the Bible. When the unsaved attempt to explain the Word of God one thing will always happen. They will get everything wrong.
The phrase “my cross to bear” is commonly used to describe a difficult situation in life. My husband is an angry man, but that’s just my cross to bear. My kids are a disappointment, but that’s just my cross to bear. I can’t seem to lose the weight, no matter what I try, but that’s just my cross to bear. I have cancer, that’s my cross. I struggle in social situations, that’s the cross I carry. Carrying the cross has become understood to mean dealing with a difficult, often prolonged circumstance in life.
The cross in Roman times was not a piece of jewelry. The cross was not a symbol of life’s difficulties. The cross was one thing and only one thing. The cross was an instrument of execution. It was the electric chair, the gas chamber, the firing squad or the gallows of its day. The cross was typically reserved for those whose crimes directly threatened the Roman empire. The common thief would not be crucified nor would many murderers. Crimes against the power of Rome were must often the ones which resulted in crucifixion.
When one was sentenced to death by crucifixion, he would be transported to the place where the crucifixion would occur. Crucifixions were usually outside towns or cities in high visibility or high traffic areas. In Jerusalem many crucifixions took place on a hill just outside the city walls and near one of the main roads into the city. As the prisoner was escorted to the crucifixion site, he would be forced to carry the horizontal bar of his cross. One seen carrying this crossbar, carrying his cross, was known to be a convicted criminal on his way to execution. The criminal carrying his cross was only going to one place, his death. The closest parallel today would be a man leaving his cell on death row to walk down the hall to the electric chair without any chance of a last minute pardon. Carrying the cross was not symbolic of official disfavor or part of the journey to prison. Carrying the cross always meant one thing. The one carrying the cross was a dead man. The matter was certain. In a matter of hours the criminal would be fastened to the cross and in a few days time, he would be dead.
When Jesus says to deny yourself and take up your cross He is most definitely not telling you to endure patiently through a difficult time in your life. He is telling you to count yourself a dead man. The cross is not a confession of being a Christian, the cross is a confession of death. Taking up the cross is living life like one already dead.
As a follow up to a post from a couple weeks ago, I offer to you a list of mindsets that many people bring into church with them (sometimes quite unconsciously) that are contrary to a servants mindset. Without further ado, here it is in all its alliterated ignominy:
- A shopper mentality: I should get what I want out of church because I am the customer
- A self-centered mentality: I am only here to be blessed and edified
- A superficial mentality: I am here to receive an emotional/personal/spiritual uplift
- A satisfaction mentality: church should be a place that makes me feel good and at ease not uncomfortable or that expects me to work
- A spectacle mentality: I am here to watch, be entertained and enjoy the experience, not invest and labor
- A sentimental mentality: church is a traditional experience of devotion that soothes my conscious
- A self righteous mentality: Because I go to church everything is alright between me and God
- A segregationist mentality: Church is a place for me to find other people like me who I can become better friends with
- A social club mentality: church is a place where I interact with other good people in the community and build bridges to develop civic influence and improve our community
- A small group mentality: I don’t really want any more people in the church, especially those not like me
- A sufferers mentality: I have been hurt in the past by serving others before and I don’t want to be hurt again
- A spiritually weak mentality: I have not spent any time in the Word and prayer during the week, and have no spiritual “overflow” from which to minister to others
- A stupid mentality: I did not come to church to learn and apply God’s Word
- An sophomoric mentality: I don’t know if I should be serving, where to serve or what to do
- A shortsighted mentality: I am not looking for the needs of others or the church, nor am I am looking for ways to meet those needs
- A senseless mentality: I have completely ignored the huge list of one anothers in the New Testament that command me to serve the church body
“Who do you say that I am?” This is one of the great questions of the Bible. After two and a half years with them, Jesus asks His disciples who they believe Him to be. This is one of the vital questions of the Bible. Who do you say Jesus is? Get this question wrong and there is no hope of salvation. One is not saved just by correctly acknowledging Jesus’ person and nature, but without the right belief of who Jesus is there is no salvation. There is most certainly a right and wrong answer to this question. One can readily offer a number of popular wrong answers. He is a prophet. He is a great teacher. He is a good man. He is a moral example. He is a man filled with God’s Spirit. He is a spiritual being created by God and mightier than angles. He is an ancient martyr. He is a revolutionary for the common people. He is a champion of the oppressed. Though these answers exalt Jesus above the common view of men and offer Him great respect, they do not lift Him up high enough. Jesus may be exalted to heights far above humanity, yet if He is not lifted all the way up to the heights of His true glory, then He is dishonored.
In answer to the question, Who do you say I am, the disciples, with Peter as their spokesman, professed their belief that Jesus is “The Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Mark, as is his style, gives the briefest record of Peter’s answer, “Thou art the Christ” yet even in its brevity the answer is filled with glorious truth!
Christ is not Jesus’ last name. Christ is not Jesus’ nickname. Christ is a title. If Peter had said, “You are the king” or “You are the President” or “You are the Boss”, we would have no problem understanding His answer. Peter answer the question with a declaration of the title and position held by Jesus. The title “Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew “Messiah”. Messiah is the title given by God in Daniel 9 to the one promised to save God’s people. The Messiah is the promised one who would first deliver His people from their sin and then one day rule over the entire world in peace and justice. Peter declares he and the other disciples believe Jesus to be the one promised by God to bring salvation to the world.
God opened the disciples eyes and gave them understanding of the truth. This attestation is central to the entire book of Mark. The gospel of Mark was written to declare the good news of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ (Mark 1:1) The miracles and teachings recorded are all driven to this single point. Now, in a monumental moment of understanding, Peter declares they believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. The accounts of Jesus’ great deeds, the records of His confrontation with the Pharisees and the relating of His great teaching are not given to fascinate us with scintillating tales. These things are not given to give us things to talk about. All the great events communicated in the gospel of Mark are given to drive us to the certain conviction that Jesus is God the Savior.
“Come behold the works of God.”
I thank God that He saw fit to cause the formation of this nation. America has and continues to stand unique among the nations in the history of the world. No nation before America succeeded in providing religious and personal liberty to the general population. While the history of America is far from perfect, as a nation we have done many things right. Most nobly we have given freely of our resources and our own lives to purchase freedom around the world. We were not content to have freedom for ourselves, but were willing to venture our own lives and wealth for the freedom of others. These noble sacrifices have aided the spread of liberty and have hindered the spread of tyranny, slavery and genocide. Our founding fathers recognized true liberty as something worth dying for. Generations of Americans have shared that view as time and again they journeyed to foreign lands to offer their lives on the altar of freedom. We have held the rights of the individual to be as great as the rights of the state. We have held the protection of the innocent to be a great privilege and duty. We have sought after equal opportunity and held to equal responsibility for all. Though we have at times failed in those endeavors and though we have drifted from those ideals, America is strengthened because of her efforts. We have many reasons to give thanks to God for America. The book of James tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from above.” All the good things we have in this nation are from God. We do well to remember this week the health, wealth, comfort and ability that we have in America. We do well to remember to give thanks to God, honoring Him for His gracious gifts to us. So with that in mind I want to share a few reasons why I thank God for America.
I thank God because:
- The public preaching of God’s Word in America has been almost universally protected.
- The gospel has gone back and forth across this nation, leaving very few areas without knowledge of salvation
- America’s freedom has allowed churches and missionaries to send the gospel all across the world
- America’s freedom has allowed the increase of Biblical education and the ability for Godly men and women to delve deeper and deeper into Biblical truth
- America has been involved in printing and distributing millions of copies of the Bible around the world
- In America I am able to obey the commands of God without fear of imprisonment or violent persecution.
- Though no Christian denomination has ever been the official religion of America, Christianity has had a profound impact on the morals and philosophy of much of America.
- In America I can live a quiet and peacable life in Godliness and honesty proclaiming the gospel to all who will listen
After many months in Gentile lands Jesus returned to Jewish territories and was quickly confronted by a group of unbelieving Pharisees. Jesus did not stay in that area long. He hurried the disciples into a boat and they began a journey northwards up the Sea of Galilee towards the regions around Capernaum. The disciples did not bring with them any provisions and once in the ship found they only had one loaf of bread. Jesus seized the moment to give them another warning against false teachers and others that would seek to influence them to reject Jesus. He told them, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod.” Instead of understanding His words, the disciples were clueless. They thought He was rebuking them because they did not bring enough bread for the journey.
Jesus heard their conversation and asked them a series of rapid fire questions. He asked nine questions in all to open their eyes and help them understand the truth. Question one, why do you think I said this because you have no bread? Questions two and three, Don’t you see? Don’t you understand? Question four, is your heart still dull to understand? Jesus was drawing their eyes from the problem they perceived to Himself so they could understand the real problem. They thought Jesus was upset about the bread because they still did not understand who Jesus is. To show the disciples the error of their understanding He asked them a few more questions. Question five, you have eyes, do you not see? Question six, you have ears, do you not hear? Question seven, don’t you remember what you have seen and heard? He prods them to think back. Think back just a few days ago. Think back just a few months ago. Don’t you remember? With the eighth and ninth questions Jesus drove home His point. Question eight, how many baskets of leftovers did you collect after I fed the five thousand with only five loaves? Question nine, how many baskets of leftovers did you collect after I fed the four thousand with only seven loaves? If five loaves in Jesus’ hands is more than sufficient to feed five thousand, and seven loaves in Jesus hands is more than sufficient to feed four thousand, then a single loaf in Jesus hands is enough to feed the twelve and have enough leftovers to sink the boat. Jesus then repeats question three because that’s the big one. Don’t you understand?
When they reached the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee they went into the town of Bethsaida where Jesus is confronted with a blind man. Jesus spit and touched the man’s eyes with the spittle. Jesus then asked the man if he could see anything. The blind man declared his vision had been partially restored. He could now see the blurry outlines and vague ideas, but not with any clarity. The only difference in his eyes between men and trees were that the men were moving. Jesus touched his eyes again and gave the blind man full, clear sight.
Why such a remarkable way of doing a miracle? No other miracle in the gospels is like this one. No other miracle required two steps. Jesus’ power did not miscarry. He was not hindered in His working. Jesus did exactly what He intended. His manner of healing this blind man was a graphic object lesson of the Pharisees blindness, the disciples confusion and the source of true understanding. Jesus was showing His disciples He is the only source of light. Without the intervention of Jesus, the blind remain sightless and the unclear remain confused.
The lesson for those who are like the disciples, those who have believed and followed Jesus, is to pay attention to Him. Remember the testimony of Jesus, remember the Word of God, remember the work of salvation, remember the commands to obedience, remember the hope of heaven. Even after salvation, we can quickly become dull in hearing, thick in understanding, insensitive in affections and insensible to the things of God. Give care to be attentive to God’s working in your life. The week of Thanksgiving is a great time to remember God’s working. Look back through the Word. See how God has worked in Biblical history. Read the stories of the church age. See how God has worked in church history. Think back through your own life and the life of those closest to you. See how God has worked in your own personal history. Consider how God’s mighty hand has moved in the past. Remember and consider those things so when you find yourself in a boat, hungry and with only one loaf of bread you will not despair, worry or fear. Remember and consider God’s power so you will not be distraught by any physical necessity but will rejoice in the glorious working of the Son of God.