The Christmas Mystery


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The Christmas Mystery

How can rational, 21st century man embrace a religion founded some 2,000 years ago? I’m sorry, but how can he not? How can he not realize that although man is building and discovering and accomplishing amazing things, man has not changed. He is still brutal, manipulative, self-centered, and downright ugly at heart – capable of amazing anger, bitterness, cruelty, harshness and vitriol. Yes, much harm has been done in the name of Christ and the so-called “Christian religion.” But this is not the Christ or the Christianity of the Bible.

christmas_love

“The Christmas Mystery” evokes images of a fictional story taking place at Christmas time involving searching for something, or solving some crime, or reasoning out someone’s strange behavior. There are myriad of possibilities, many of which have been explored in books and movies and TV programs. But this mystery was proclaimed centuries, even millennia ago. It was revealed on that first Christmas night when a young man and woman, deeply in love with one another, found refuge in a barn and laid their newborn baby in a bed of hay in a trough used for feeding cattle – a manger.

What was so mysterious about this event? We’ve told the story countless times in countless ways. We have sung songs about it. We have made into the biggest event on our annual calendar.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote out a prayer. He prayed that God would grant, according to the riches of His glory, two things:

  1. You to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man
  2. Christ to indwell your heart through faith

There is a wealth of truth in those two phrases, but for now, let’s focus on the indwell part. The word used there means to be at home. Literally, it could be translated “to house down.” That’s kind of an odd way of saying it, but it means to settle in, to be not just in a place of dwelling, but to be comfortably at home.

The results of this prayer would be that you would comprehend the full dimensions of the love of Christ and know it in a way that would surpass all knowledge, and that you would “be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

Paul described himself as a steward of “the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from the ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the gory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27)

The Christmas story is not just a baby in a manger, it is God indwelling His people. It is the gospel story of this child, God with us – Emmanuel – God among us – the creator wrapping Himself in the creation, confining Himself to this tiny little wrapper, growing as a child, becoming a man, living a sinless life, making knowing and fully depending on the heavenly Father His top priority – taking on the death of the cross – the One who did not deserve death dying for those of us who do, then conquering death through the resurrection.  So that He can abide eternally, not just in heaven, but in the each heart that follows Him by faith.

Colossians 1:21-27 – “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach – if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard… Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Not just God with us, but Christ in us. That is the mystery of Christmas. God became man and dwelt among us. In doing so, he only began enacting a series of events that would result in the creator of the universe coming to make His home in your heart. In the process, He would make you holy and blameless and beyond reproach. He would make you a house so beautiful that God Himself would be comfortable dwelling there.

 

Two songs


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Two songs

My sin – oh wait. this is so cool. Just the thought of this makes me overflow with joy
My sin – not just part of it, not just one sin, but all of it!
Every sin I’ve ever done is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. It is well with my soul.

Or, as Philip Bliss put it:

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.
It is well, It is well with my soul.

And then there’s this jewel by my dear friend Dennis Jernigan. It’s called “I Will Run to the Arms of My Father.” It’s been awhile since I sang this one, but I pulled it out during my quiet time, and as I sang and thought about how much my heavenly Father really loves me and delights in me, I thought of family and friends who need to hear this. Not just hear it with their ears, but hear it and receive it in their hearts! Oh, to know the love of the Father – God, who not only loves, but is Himself the true meaning of love – who directs that love toward you and me. He loves us with a love a love that will not let us go.

Again I’m brought to the prayer:

Lord, grant them to be strengthened with might by Your Spirit in their innermost being,
and grant Christ to indwell their hearts through faith,
so that:
they may be able to really grasp, really embrace in their heart of hearts,
the breadth and length and height and depth – the full dimensions of the love of Christ
and to truly know – experientially, personally, see it for themselves so that they truly know – the love of Christ, which is greater than all other knowledge!
and be filled with all the fullness of God.

May Christ truly be that at home in your heart today. May he feel totally, comfortably at home in you. And may you find yourself to be enabled with His ability, strengthened with His strength, empowered with His power, by His Spirit in your spirit. God loves you that much! He, the God of the universe, the creator of the universe, wants to confine Himself to that itty-bitty space – inside of you, so that You can know and experience a universe size love. And so, He sent His son to live as man, an innocent, holy life, and die on a cross – taking all of your sin and mine with Him there, and leaving it there – nailed to the cross, so we bear it no more.

God, the creator of the universe confines Himself in itty-bitty me so I can know a universe size love. Click To Tweet

hislove

Come Inside

Old Covenant

  • The animal was sacrificed in front of the people – daily sacrifices, annual feast days, and the day of atonement – outside the tent of meeting.
  • The blood of the sacrifice was taken into the tent of meeting and sprinkled before the veil and on the four horns of the altar of incense.
  • The remainder of the blood was poured out at the base of the altar of sacrifice before the people.
  • The people remained in the outer court, as onlookers, while the priests ministered within the place of meeting. The veil hung in the temple to separate the holy place where the priests ministered, from the holy of holies in which the glory of God dwelt, and into which the high priest could enter only once a year, with the proper preparation and sacrifice.
  • It was a system of repeated rituals.

New Covenant

  • Jesus was taken to a hillside where he died in public view, once for all.
  • Jesus’ hung on the cross, blood flowing from His head, hands and feet; and He turned the cross into an altar of incense as He interceded for His executioners.
  • Jesus’ blood was poured out at the foot of His cross, before a crowd of on-lookers.
  • We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh (Hebrews 10:19-20). This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us… (Hebrews 6:19-20).
  • It was a once and for all work by God on our behalf.

We do not have to stand in the outer court and watch ever again. Christianity is not meant to be a spectator religion. You do not have to watch while the “priest” (or any “professional Christian”) ministers on your behalf. The veil was torn. Jesus made a way for us to abide in the presence of God. It is no longer a once a year thing reserved for the priesthood. It is no longer confined to a place – not a tabernacle, a temple, or even a church building. It is offered to us as our day-to-day experience and lifestyle. Will you be content to stand on the outside looking in?

When you call out as David did, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness,” He bids you to enter into His presence, into the Holy of Holies. He bids you to draw near to Him, “having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” by means of an eternal, once for all redemption.

When you long for Him to “hide Your face from my sins,” He says, “I did.” When He turned His back on His Son, prompting Him to cry out, “My God, why have You forsaken me?”, He was turning His back and hiding His face from your sins and mine.

Bottom line, He has done it all. He has covered the bases. He has made the way for you to be restored to a loving, living relationship with Him. Your part is to stop trying to fight Him. Stop running from Him. Stop trying to please or appease Him. Stop trying to make yourself acceptable to Him. Becoming a Christian is not something that you do by your own self-effort. Your part is to cease from your efforts and find the rest for which you are searching by trusting that what Jesus did was sufficient to meet your needs, to make you clean and whole, to straighten out the mess you and others have made of your life, and to make you acceptable to God. Rest in Him and His finished work on your behalf.

If you are a Christian, whether you realized the process or not, that is what happened when you became a Christian. It is what every Believer has in common. No matter what your testimony is as to how you came to Christ, this underlying process is what took place at salvation. You get in by the cross. You get in by grace, through faith. You get in by ceasing from your efforts and resting (trusting, “faithing”) in His.

Have you been an “outer court Christian?” Are you learning to draw near to Him, to abide in His presence? Can you see God teaching you through your day-to-day experiences?

Say That Without Spitting


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Say That Without Spitting

Propitiation. That’s one you don’t hear often, but it has become one of my favorites. We really should use it more (just pass the towels). I got so excited when I started studying the big, “church” words. We quit using them because we were trying to make church “seeker friendly.” But we dumbed ourselves down, when we should have just educated our listeners.

If you look up the English word propitiation in a lexicon, you find other big, religious words – like expiation, conciliation, redemption, and justification. Webster’s dictionary defines most of these words around the concept of attempting to please God, to make atonement, find forgiveness, restore peace or friendship with God. It all sounds like things we have to do – big, heavy, burdensome things. And that’s just wrong!

propitiaion

In Exodus, God gives Moses the detailed instructions for building the tabernacle and everything inside it, including the Ark of the Covenant. In Leviticus, He tells him how all these things he built are to be used. On top of the Ark, Moses was told to make a seat, like a bench. The Hebrew word for this is “capporeth.” It was to be 2½ cubits long and 1½ cubits  wide, the same as the Ark itself, and apparently functioning as the lid. Figuring a cubit at about 18″, that would be about 45″x 27″. It was called the mercy seat. At each end of it was a cherubim. The whole assembly of bench and cherubim was to be made of gold. Each of the cherubim was to face inward, looking at the mercy seat. The wings of the cherubim swept inward, toward one another, over the mercy seat, and touching wingtips. The Ark was in the innermost part of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies. God told Moses, “And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.”

On the annual Day of Atonement, the high priest would sacrifice a bull as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering. Then he would take from the congregation two male goats for a sin offering and a burnt offering. He would cast lots and thereby select one of the goats for the sacrifice. The blood of the bull was sprinkled on the east end of the mercy seat, and in front of the mercy seat. The blood of the goat was sprinkled on and in front of the mercy seat. The other goat was the “scapegoat,” and was presented alive before the Lord, and then released into the wilderness, representing the sins being carried away.

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the word “capporeth” is always translated by the Greek word “hilasterion.” That is the word used in Romans 3:25 referring to Jesus as the one “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.”

While the Law was given as commandments to be obeyed, we miss the point that God is the “prime mover.” He is the One who told Moses to make the mercy seat. In other words, He is the One who chose to make a way, and chose the way to reconcile man to Himself. He acted first. It was not about man attempting to appease God, please God, make atonement, find forgiveness, restore peace…. God moved first! He reached out. He made the way.

Consider then, Romans 3:21-25. God took on flesh and blood in the person of His Son, the Messiah, Jesus. Jesus became the propitiation – the Mercy Seat. It wasn’t the blood of bulls or rams or goats, but through His own blood and because of the incredible “forbearance (patience) of God that He passed over the sins previously committed.” In Jesus is the Mercy Seat, the Blood, and the Passover. In Jesus is redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, atonement, forgiveness, and salvation. He is where we come to meet God, to enter His presence. And, it is by His doing. “Apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed.” This, to me, is what Jesus meant when He said He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill!

God loves you. He wants fellowship with you. He delights in you. It isn’t about what you have to do to appease Him. It’s about what He has done to reach out to you, and to demonstrate His love. Have you accepted that love? Will you?

A Better Way


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A Better Way
In case you are wondering, I frankly will not spend a lot of time in the Old Testament on this blog. The last post, and maybe just a few more, will hopefully serve the purpose of showing some new covenant principles that were foreshadowed in the old. It is not an attempt to be exhaustive on the subject, but to be illustrative.

Last time I mentioned that, because of Abraham’s and Sarah’s being well past child-bearing age, the birth of Isaac was an example of life out of death. It set the stage for the sacrificial system to come.

Considerable detail is given in the Old Testament to the entire system of sacrifices and tabernacle/temple worship. The tabernacle is described in Exodus 25-27. Materials, colors, designs, and dimensions are laid out in detail. There is an outer court with the altar of sacrifice and the bronze laver of water for cleansing. The enclosed part was divided into two parts, the Holy Place held the table of shewbread, the golden candlestick, and the altar of incense. A veil separated this from the Holy of Holies, which housed the Ark of the Covenant. Similar detail is given to the description of the temple, the more permanent structure, in 1 Kings 6-7 and 2 Chronicles 3-5.

Tabernacle

The sacrifice was the core of the old covenant system of worship. On its most practical level, the daily sacrifices and offerings provided food for the priests, whose job was not to farm, but to keep the people focused on God. On the bigger sacrificial events, such as the Day of Atonement, the people were to bring their individual sacrifices, which provided the food for the feast days.

Spiritually, by the sacrifice, sins were forgiven and purification was made. The priest would slay the bull at the doorway of the tabernacle, sprinkle some of the blood in front of the veil of the sanctuary, put some on the “horns of the altar of fragrant incense” (an extension of each corner of the altar), then pour out the blood of the animal before the altar of sacrifice – where the offering was “burnt,” or cooked. The symbolism of all these things is beautiful to consider. Books have been written about it that are more thorough than I have the time or purpose to go into here. I want to focus on the Holiest of All – or, the Holy of Holies.

The Holy of Holies was considered the dwelling place of God. Only the High Priest could enter within the Holy of Holies. He could only enter once a year, on the Day of Atonement. As long as the tabernacle/temple system was standing, the way into the holiest place was not disclosed, according to Hebrews 9:8. The gifts and sacrifices offered through this system could not make the worshiper perfect in conscience. If they could, the average person could have entered with confidence into the Holy of Holies. The old covenant regulations had to do with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body “imposed until a time of reformation.” They had to be repeated over and over. Their effect was not total, nor did it last indefinitely. Hebrews calls it weak and useless because it makes nothing perfect, pointing us to a better hope and a better covenant enacted on better promises. In the “fulness of time,” or at the proper time, God “summed up” all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth (Ephesians 1:10).

Jesus replaced the repetitious system with a once-for-all system. Not by the blood of bulls or goats, but by His own blood, Jesus entered a greater and more perfect tabernacle, that of Heaven, entering the Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

Adam and Abraham


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Adam and Abraham

Most Christians can “share their testimony” of how they “got saved.” However, I am not so sure most understand, or are even aware of the spiritual principles and dynamics of that experience. As a result, they struggle in self-effort to achieve righteousness. They lack a foundation for spiritual growth. They may know a lot about the Bible, but are well-educated spiritual babies. They lack a foundation for righteous living, so they strive to live by the letter of the law, seeking “holiness” by living up to rules plucked from both the Old and New Testaments, and constantly failing, repenting, failing, repenting, ad infinitum. Over the next few blog posts, I want to lay that foundation of understanding the spiritual dynamics of salvation. Understanding how we begin the Christian life can make a world of difference in how we live the Christian life.

Wenera

God has always wanted a relationship with man. He walked with Adam in the Garden. Adam, which means mankind, being the only human at the time, was all of mankind, both male and female. It wasn’t until after the 1st sin, that man designated himself as Adam and his wife as Eve. Through Adam, sin entered the world, and with it, death. The first eleven chapters of Genesis tell of this relationship and how it was disrupted by man’s sin. During this time, God is depicted as relating to man on an individual basis.

Coming on the heels of the stories of the fall and corruption of mankind, is Abraham. In Abraham, God’s relationship with mankind takes a new twist. God narrows the focus of redemption history to one select group, a chosen people. Just as there are significant lessons to be learned from the concept of mankind beginning with one individual created by God, there is significance to God’s establishing a covenant with a one man and thus establishing a chosen people through whom He would relate to the world. And there is significance to the specific man He chose.

Abraham and Sarah had no children, and were too old to start. They were in effect dead to childbearing. Paul says Abram was as good as dead, and refers to the deadness of Sarah’s womb. Out of this death God provided life through the miraculous birth of Isaac. This significant beginning was also the beginning of the ancestry of the One through Whom “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Abraham became the father of Him who was before him. God demonstrated through Abraham that life comes out of death.

This concept is the basis of the old covenant system of sacrifice. That’s for upcoming posts. For now, let’s look at Adam and Abraham.

  1. With both, God was the prime mover. In other words, He acted first. He created Adam. He walked with Adam in the garden. He sought out Adam after he sinned. God came to Abraham (Abram at the time), and established His covenant with him.
  2. The idea that God created Mankind beginning with one individual teaches the value of each individual. To the Jews, killing one individual was equivalent to killing mankind. More than that, the idea that God took the time and effort to specifically form one individual speaks to the personal value of each individual to God. Random evolutionary process just doesn’t communicate that concept.
  3. When Russian President Putin was asked what he thought of American President George W. Bush calling the 9/11 terrorists “evil,” and how that compared to President Ronald Reagan referring to the USSR as an “evil empire,” Putin had a very insightful reply. He said Reagan’s comments did not bother him. It was just the kind of rhetoric one nation uses to describe a political adversary. “But,” he said, of the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, “they are truly evil. To them we are but dust.” What an accurate description of evil. God lovingly formed man from the dust of the ground a breathed into him the breath of life. Evil, in direct opposition, sees living men and women, values them as no more than dust, and ultimately seeks to return them to dust. Kill, mutilate, rape, destroy, covet, commit adultery – it doesn’t matter. It is just dust. You cannot get there if you truly believe that God lovingly created that individual.
  4. When God came to Abram, He was not coming to a religious group. He was not coming to an existing nation and telling them a specific way to worship. (That came later). He came to one man and established a relationship. It was a relationship based on His promises. He promised an old man with an old wife descendants as numerous as the stars. He did not give Abraham any rituals to follow (circumcision came later), or any laws to obey. He just gave Him promises. All Abraham needed was faith. That’s why Paul declares that Abraham was the father of all who are of faith, and that if you come to God on the basis of faith, you are Abraham’s descendant. That’s why Rich Mullins sang, “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me.” God loved Abraham. When God told him his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, if you have come to God on the basis of faith, one of those stars represented you. Even then, He had you in mind.

Do you find yourself struggling with righteousness? When you fall, do you sometimes want to just give up? Do you know that God loves you because He chooses to?