In Praise Of The Trinity

In these past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Trinity. Actually, my prayers increasingly celebrate all three Persons, focusing on each of their respective offices and functions. It’s been kind of exciting, and kind of fun, to pray with such a view of God in His various Persons.

The hymn I have chosen for today gives a vivid portrayal of God in each of His Persons, and I simply love the rich theology! As you listen, I pray that you will grow in your appreciation of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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For Us, But For His Father

Cross and Bible 4Having introduced the concept of Christ’s deity as an important fact to understand in relation to the Gospel, I now turn to the equally important fact of His humanity. He is 100% God, certainly, and He is equally 100% Man. In this discussion, I won’t try to explain how He can fully possess both natures simultaneously, knowing that theologians much more learned than I scratch their heads in bewilderment over that question. Instead, I want to show you a glimpse of how His humanity plays into the Gospel.

The writer of Hebrews gives us a picture of Jesus’ purpose in coming as a Man.

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. ~~Hebrews 2:14-18 (ESV)

Jesus, unlike either God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, experienced all the frailties, difficulties, limitations and temptations that you and I face. As a result of His intimate identification with all the weaknesses intrinsic to humanity, He has compassion for us. That compassion motivated Him to take the punishment  that properly belongs to us by suffering a brutal execution on the cross.
Of course, there’s a great deal more to the Incarnation than the Lord’s willingness to identity with human experience, and I don’t want to do you the disservice of implying that it was primarily about us. The latter portion of verse 17 says very plainly that he took on His humanity in service to God, not in service to us. He died a human death, shedding human blood, to satisfy the wrath of God. Nothing less would atone for our sins!
Without question, those who believe in Him derive eternal benefit from Christ’s death on the cross, but that benefit remains a glorious by-product of His sacrifice to the Father. We rightfully rejoice that His service to God results in His identification with our frailties as we marvel at how completely He does all things.

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God Himself As Our Christ

1-co-15When we say that Jesus died for our sins, we need to first establish Who Jesus actually is. A “Jesus” of our own making certainly couldn’t provide any real atonement since, essentially, He would be a figment of our imagination. So I must begin this exploration of the Gospel with the doctrine of Jesus, firm in my conviction that everything begins and ends with Him.

Obviously, I can’t fully explain Jesus in a few short blog posts, especially when true scholars have written volumes about Him. It should go without saying that I’d be arrogant to think that I could compose a couple short essays and cover all of Who He is. But I hope that, as I report basic information about Him, my readers will search the Bible to gain a more comprehensive understanding of each point I make.

Today, I want to emphasize Christ’s deity, which He claimed using words and idioms that First Century Jews completely understood. As a 17-year-old girl, I found John 8:48-59 riveting. Here’s the passage in the ESV:

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Notice verse 58. When Jesus said, “I AM,” He referred back to God’s words to Moses from  the burning bush:

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” ~~Exodus 3:13-14 (ESV)

The Pharisees, having great knowledge of this passage in Exodus, instantly caught Jesus’ reference, as evidenced by their attempt to stone Him  in verse 59. They had no difficulty recognizing the fact that Jesus had very openly claimed to be God.

His deity should cause us to marvel at the crucifixion. Think about the amazing humility He showed in taking the punishment for sins that His own creatures commit against Him! I feel tremendous awe at the realization that the Creator of heaven and earth would actually come and die as a common criminal in my place. Yet, His sacrifice only had the effect of redeeming those who believe in Him because of His deity.

We like to get caught up in so many “Christian” issues, and several of those issues legitimately deserve attention. But we must take care  never to lose focus on the wonderful fact that our Creator and Lord shed His precious blood to cleanse us from our own sin. What better reason could we have to worship Him?

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Saturday Sampler: December 25– December 31

Five Easter BabiesTim Challies reminds us that Christ’s birth ultimately points forward to His death. His powerful essay, For They Know Not What They Do, showcases the Lord’s compassion towards those who really deserve His vengeance.

Expanding on the theme that Christmas shouldn’t stop at the manger, Erin Benziger Do Not Be Surprised writes a worshipful piece, punctuated by Scripture, tracing the Lord’s entire ministry. I love the way that she exalts the Lord in all her writing, but From First to Second Advent is particularly beautiful.

This, traditionally, is the time of year when people think about Bible reading plans. I’ve lost count of the blog posts I’ve read on the topic over the past couple months, but Josh Buice of Delivered By Grace provides a different perspective in his article, Three Reasons Why You Should Read the Whole Bible in 2017. Those of you who follow my Tuesday series on the Reformation will especially enjoy his article.

And while we’re on the topic of Bible Study, Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life shares Conditions for Profitable Bible Study to help us approach God’s Word with proper attitudes. Leslie derives her conditions from How to Study the Bible by R.A. Torrey.

As we pull out of 2016, what attitude do we convey (particularly on Facebook and Twitter)? John Ellis, writing in A Day In His Court, challenges us with his article, In Praise of 2016. His points might make you uncomfortable momentarily, but he quickly reminds us how to find comfort and encouragement from the Lord.

In her review of Jen Wilkin’s book, Women of the Word, Rebekah Womble’s article, also titled Women of the Word, thoroughly examines both the pros and cons of the book. I haven’t yet read Jen Wilkin’s book, but Rebekah’s examination of it has convinced me to put it on my Amazon Wish List. But even without reading the book, this review gives me plenty to think about. Rebekah blogs at Wise in His Eyes.

In Tired of Controversy? An Encouragement for 2017, Mike Leake of Borrowed Light questions the wisdom of basing blogs on controversial issues instead of unleashing Scripture to do its own work.

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Holy Infant And Returning Ruler

Although I’ve only recently learned that Isaac Watts based Joy To The World on Psalm 98, and meant it to be a celebration of Christ’s Second Coming, it belongs to Christmas. Obviously, Christ couldn’t come a second time without coming the first time. So we can sing this hymn at Christmas to praise Him for His Incarnation, rejoicing that it marks the beginning of redemption.

But the hymn also pulls us beyond the benign image of a “holy Infant so tender and mild” to remind us that He rules the world and makes the nations bow to the glories of His righteousness. In such bowing, as we see Him execute judgment with equity, we’ll be overwhelmed with the wonder of His love towards those who believe in Him.

John and I wish you a Merry Christmas filled with wonder at this Infant King Who Came, and will come again.

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Charismatics Aren’t Like Joseph

bethlehem-dazzle-frameDuring my years as a Charismatic, I remember using all sorts of Scriptures as proof-texts to validate whatever spiritual experience I happened to be practicing at the time. Most of the Charismatics I knew did the same thing to greater or lesser degrees.

At Christmas time, Matthew’s nativity narrative gave me and my Charismatic friends excellent proof-texts to substantiate our claims that the Lord spoke to us personally. Three times in Matthew 1 and 2, the Lord sent Joseph dreams, in which He spoke very clearly to instruct Joseph. For example, look at God’s intervention when Joseph learned that his fiancee, Mary, was carrying a Child that he hadn’t fathered.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. ~~Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

Naturally, we concluded that, since the Lord spoke to Joseph, we had good reason to expect Him to speak to us in dreams, visions, still small voices or what have you. Our conclusion certainly seemed reasonable at the time, granted, but let’s think through a few points regarding who the Lord generally spoke to in Scripture and why He spoke to them.

In the Old Testament, God spoke to prophets, or to people who would further the development of Israel (and the Messianic line). He didn’t speak to everyone in Israel, nor did He speak about inconsequential matters. He was building His nation, teaching them how to worship Him and separate themselves from those who worshiped false gods and committed abominable sins.

Likewise, in the New Testament He spoke to apostles and prophets until His Word was written down by some of those same apostles and prophets. Those apostles and prophets, according to Ephesians 4:11-16,  built the foundation of the Church by the revelations that the Holy Spirit gave them. That revelation (at least the revelation that we needed) has been preserved in the Bible’s canon.

The Lord spoke to Joseph because Joseph would serve as the legal father of Jesus, thus legitimizing His claim to David’s throne. In turn, this claim validated Jesus as the Messiah. Had Joseph divorced Mary, Jesus would not have had this legal claim. Therefore, God had to intervene by speaking directly to Joseph. Notice that His instruction that Joseph name the Child Jesus fulfilled prophecy.

God spoke two more times to Joseph  (Matthew 2:13-15 and Matthew 2:19-23), both times to protect Jesus from an early death and, again, to fulfill prophecy. The Lord spoke to Joseph for specific purposes that resulted in Jesus growing to Manhood, demonstrating Himself to be God, dying on the cross to atone for the sin of those who would believe in Him and rising from the grave to break the power of sin. God’s words to Joseph held eternal consequences.

God’s words to Joseph were vastly different from the things that present-day evangelicals (particularly Charismatics) claim to receive. Joseph, like other key figures in Scripture, played a critical role in God’s plan of redemption. That being the case, 21st Century Christians need only the Bible in order to hear everything the Lord wants us to know.

Hebrews 1:1-2 says that, in these last days, God has spoken through His Son. Praise God He spoke to Joseph back then, so that we would have His Son’s Word for all eternity!

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The Incarnation Never Gets Old

I love many of the traditional Christmas hymns, with their bold declarations of the Lord’s Incarnation. Indeed, His Incarnation is one of my favorite doctrines! Those Christmas songs usually contain verses that secular people, presumably embarrassed by the frank theology they convey, omit. Evidently, the moral implications of Christ’s deity bothers them.

But I digress. As much as I love traditional Christmas hymns, occasionally I find a  contemporary Christmas song that focuses on the Lord’s Incarnation. So today, just to do something a little different, I thought I’d feature a contemporary song that still expresses the wonder of God made flesh to dwell among us.

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