Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Testimony to Incarnation (Section 1b of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

The Larger Story

Read Luke 1.1-4

“…the things that have been accomplished among us” sounds simple enough. It could be as simple as a checked-off To-Do List. Groceries. Check. Bank. Check. Take out the trash. Check. Things accomplished.

I don’t want to kill the momentum of the Advent season by making our eternal dwelling the first four verses of Luke’s gospel. At the same time, we want some context for the stories on the horizon. As we see the detailed brush strokes of Jesus’ arrival, we have to remember there are limits to the canvas. It is a story within a grander story.

Some of these elements will come out as we look at each passage, but over the next couple days I want to hit some big picture features we don’t want to overlook.

As I mentioned, Jesus’ arrival is a story within a story. God had promised a Messiah. This Messiah would save His people. Not just Israel, but He would make a way for the nations to worship God.

This might sound contradictory to what I said a couple days ago, but the culmination of the gospel story is Good Friday and Easter. Advent is the beginning that makes it possible. But Advent isn’t a preliminary. It is essential.

Mankind is broken. We don’t work the way we’re intended to work. You can’t fix yourself when you’re broken, either. We’re in trouble. It isn’t that we’re just stuck as broken that puts us in trouble. Our brokenness is actually rebellion. We want to live for ourselves, fix ourselves, save ourselves instead of finding healing in worshiping God, our Creator. We want to be self-sufficient – or at least choose and/or make our own Saviors. In a word, we’re rebels.

God would have every right (it’s odd to type something as obvious as the Creator having rights) to write us off. But He doesn’t. There are two reasons. First, God is just. While we may overlook injustice (unless we’re the wronged party J), God is perfect and cannot overlook injustice. His character requires that He punish it.

Next, God doesn’t write us off because He is merciful and He loves us and He created us to enjoy Him. He intends to see that it happens.

But there’s this chasm. Our rebellion separates us from Him. We don’t have anything in common. We’re as different as whales and mice (I’m open to a better comparison, by the way). There’s only the remotest similarity. Otherwise, the two just don’t meet.

We can’t cross the chasm. We’re broken. And we don’t want to. We’re rebels. But God does. He sends His Son, the Messiah, in the form of a rebel (a Galilean Jew) and yet who does not live His life as a rebel, but faithfully. More than faithful, He is a model of how to live a God-honoring, God-empowered life.

But Jesus is more than example of how to live. He does what none of us could do on our own. As rebels we deserve a rebel’s punishment. Death.

Before I continue, there’s something fascinating about Jesus. Some people want to check out now because they think I’m talking about them. Far from God and not living how they should. Others are thinking, “He’s talking about someone else because I have this thing wired.” Luke’s gospel seems to indicate Jesus would think both are wrong.

Those who think they’re far from God and are broken, who can smell death, and yet are longing for rescue … Jesus is near you and wants to bring you hope and wholeness.

For those who think they’re close and like to think about how bad everyone else is, Jesus generally has some salty words for you.

Sorry for the rabbit trail. Back to rebels deserving death. We’re all born rebels deserving death … and we continue to choose that way as long as we think we’re running our lives and making the rules. If you haven’t grappled with your rebellious heart, you haven’t grappled with the gospel.

So as rebels deserving death, Jesus, in the form of a rebel – yet without the rebellion – takes the rebel’s punishment for all of us. He was innocent, but dies a criminal’s death.

Rebellion must be punished. God’s justice demands it. But His love bears it. Jesus takes the punishment for all of us.

This is where Christmas is vital. If Jesus of Nazareth is just a Jewish carpenter who had an unlucky day on Good Friday, his death is a tragedy that would only pay for his own sin – if he was perfect. But if Jesus is God incarnate…

… if Christmas was when God put on skin, it changes everything. That death was not only sufficient to pay the debt of one rebel; it is infinitely valuable as the sacrifice of God Himself to pay the debt of every rebel, whose nature He took upon Himself.

Easter’s huge, but it’s nothing without Christmas.

Have you thought of yourself as a rebel? A traitor against God’s leadership?

Have you thought of the punishment due?

Have you accepted the rescue, the ransom offered by Jesus?

If so, take some time and give thanks for Good Friday and Easter.

If not, what keeps you from receiving the gift of life Jesus offers through the cross?

December 4 The Margins

Read Luke 1.1-4

Yesterday we looked at “…the things that have been accomplished among us” and the gospel – Jesus saving us from the judgment due us. We can’t escape the reality of judgment. It is biblical and important.

But it shouldn’t be our entire motivation for embracing Jesus, either. He didn’t come to scare us into heaven; He came to bring us life and usher us into a new way of living. This is our last introductory look before we get to the texts leading to Jesus’ birth, but it is an important ‘big picture’ item that may not surface prominently in the first couple chapters of Luke. It is, however, an important theme in Luke that touches the hearts of people all over the world during the Christmas season.

God cares for the people on the margins. Bringing people from the edges of society to the center of God’s people is one of “…the things that have been accomplished among us.”

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