“EMMANUEL – GOD WITH US”

 

“EMMANUEL – GOD WITH US”

“The Word became flesh”

“He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”

For me one of the most exciting things about the Christmas story is the sheer exuberance and blatant joy with which it revels in the “other worldly” and the supernatural. We have angels manifesting themselves and speaking out heavenly announcements, angels in great numbers gloriously filling the night sky; we have the miraculous birth of John the Baptist and then an even more miraculous virgin birth for Mary; we have a very bright star hovering over the birth place of Jesus, having been followed by magi from the East. There are some, of course, who would feel much more comfortable if all this were reduced to “folklore”, and the Christian faith kept securely to the “rational” and the “ethical”. Indeed that is what many “Christian” scholars and commentators have actually striven to do, and still strive to do. But, happily, the story of Christmas is not about man and his “rationality”; it is a story about GOD. God is on the scene at Christmas and revealing something of his hidden glory that we don’t normally see.

It is a brave (or even “impertinent”) person who would seek to put God in a rational box, and deny Him any activity or creativity beyond our normal common human experience. Take the angels for example. God, as creator has brought into being an extraordinary wonderful planet perfectly fitted for the equally extraordinary creation of human beings. His creativity in the universe still goes on, baffling and amazing us. On what reasonable basis, then, can one deny Him creating a whole myriad of other beings, spiritual beings, in some other realm where He has a more “visible” existence? On what reasonable basis can we deny these spiritual beings access to this creation of ours when God so wishes? We have to “let God be God”, and angels be angels! If we have any faith in God at all, we must allow him to be infinitely bigger than our own comprehension. We simply cannot tie him down to our own human experience and understanding. If we do we betray a lack of grasp on the sheer greatness of God!

Part of our problem as Christians is that we tend by default to make him in our own image and make him much smaller than he is, as though he were tied down by the normal rules and regulations of this creation. We need to remember that he made this creation and he is much bigger than this creation. He can, and does, add the miraculous touch to the normal workings of the world; he can make things work out differently in our lives in answer to prayer. He can “tweak” the natural processes as he wishes – and he indeed does! When we start to acknowledge him and walk in fellowship with him the course of our lives will change and change for the better, and the providences of our lives will also change for the better. So we need to rejoice in the greatness, the power and the glory of God!

The supreme miracle of Christmas, however, is of course that God “took on” human flesh in the person of Jesus. Inevitably, therefore, there had to be a virgin birth where the “Father” (so to speak) of the Child could only be the life-creating Holy Spirit, the One who alone is “The Lord and Giver of Life”. But at the same time the miracle happened on account of the simple faith of Mary, the woman who was to bear the child. What a challenge that simple faith in a big God is to us! At the human level we need to believe more in our God, and more in his power and willingness to use it on our behalf.

What does the “incarnation” say to us? I always think first of the fact that it puts immense value on us human beings. I want to exclaim with the Psalmist, “What is man, that you are mindful of him?” God has not “taken the form” of an angel, but he has taken human form! In reaching out and identifying with us God indicates how precious we are to him. Drinking in this truth should in no way breed in us proud complacency, but humble thankfulness, and it is intended that it should produce in us a profoundly deep inner satisfaction and peace. Equally, if we want any basis for our attitude toward other human beings in this world, then we may find it spelt out crystal clear in this human birth of Jesus, the Son of God. His identification with us means we are to treat other human beings with the greatest respect, and we are to be careful with human life at all its stages. Human life is sacrosanct.

Sometimes we hear or read the comment that Jesus became human in order that we in our turn might become divine, and in that way his incarnation brought us our salvation. That sounds wonderful and logical, but it is a statement to be carefully clarified. In the first place it is not the purpose of God to make us “divine” or “give us divinity”. We are human beings, a creation of God, and will always remain so in the world to come. Divinity is not something we are destined for. However, what is true, and is indeed wonderful, is that we are destined to be filled with the Spirit of God and to be people in whom God dwells by his Spirit; our humanity will be shot through with the divine presence. Moreover, the extraordinary fact is that we can begin to experience something of this destiny even now, for already the Holy Spirit has been poured out and indwells those who follow the Christ. We already have a glorious “first instalment” of the kind of being we shall be in the world to come. Our glory will be, not that we become divine, but that God will live in us and fill us with his nature.

We need also to keep in mind the fact that wonderful though it is, the incarnation in itself is not sufficient to bring to us the forgiveness of sin by which alone the Holy Spirit may come and dwell with us and inside us. The incarnation can teach us of the love of God for us and for humanity, it can teach us of the “humility” of God and his great grace, and it can teach us something of the lengths to which God was ready to go on behalf of humanity. In a real sense it was truly a sacrifice on God’s part for us. But it was not the sacrifice for sin that alone could bring us back into the presence of God, forgiven and cleansed and thus ready for the indwelling Spirit. That took place on the cross. It was there that a perfect and totally innocent human being voluntary took on himself the punishment due to the rest of humanity on account of its sin, the punishment of being “cut off” from God. Such a spotless sacrifice could not have taken place without the incarnation for only in such manner could a “second human and sinless Adam” have been born.

The cross became possible because of the incarnation; the incarnation found its purpose fulfilled in the cross; the baby was after all presented prophetically with myrrh.

O come, let us adore Him!

 

Bob Dunnett

HEAVEN’S THRONE-ROOM and EARTH’S PLIGHT

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the Book of Revelation give us an unparalleled and clear vista of the glory of God’s heaven and the contrasting devastations of the earth on which we live. They give us immense hope for the future and a sober warning for the present. The prophetic symbolism (unlike much of Revelation) is very clear and does not require any “clever” interpretation; the implications are all too evident.

Chapter 4 shows us a throne in heaven.  The first thing we are told is that it was encircled by an emerald rainbow – a sign of mercy and goodwill.  The Person on the throne sparkled like jewels of contrasting reds (jasper and ruby), and the sight was threatening.  From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder; these were certainly threatening. In front of the throne were the blazing lights of the sevenfold Holy Spirit – an awesome sight.  Glory, power, judgement and mercy are all interlocked in this vivid sight.  All heaven and earth is seen giving praise, honour and worship to the One on the throne.  It is a vision of God in terms which we mortals can understand and to which we can relate.  This is the great eternal God who alone rules and is truly to be feared but who offers mercy.  The major impact of the vision was one in which the holiness and awesomeness of God was dominant.  It must have been a life changing moment for John to whom the vision was given.  It reminds us that we all need a vision of God that enters deep into our hearts, in whatever way it may come.

Chapter 5 moves the vision further on. Standing at the very centre of the throne was a “Lamb looking as if it had been slain” – unmistakably the crucified Jesus, but now very much alive and at the centre of power and glory.  He had seven horns (complete fullness of power) and seven eyes (symbolising his utter oneness with the Holy Spirit). The Lamb took a scroll from the hand of the Person on the throne and prepared to open it, for such was his unique privilege.  The scroll (as the succeeding chapters show) was what was determined for the future on the earth, and the Lamb alone could open the scroll and bring that future to pass.  As he took the scroll all heaven and earth ascribed to the Lamb and to the One on the throne “praise and honour and glory and power”.  Nowhere in the New Testament is there anything to surpass this majestic picture of Jesus, or to surpass the picture of his divinity, power and rule in this world.  For John, suffering persecution, it would have brought an immense depth of comfort and strength.  It may well be that we shall need for ourselves in the future this sort of clarity of vision of the reality of the power of Jesus; indeed for many in the world it is essential in their present sufferings.

Chapter 6 brings us to the scene where the Lamb starts to open the seals which fasten the scroll and in this chapter the lamb opens six of seven seals to reveal the essential features of the future of the world; the seventh seal (the final episode of what is planned for the earth) is kept over for much longer treatment.  The first of these seals is opened to reveal a white horse whose rider held a bow, was given a crown and who rode out to conquer.  There has been discussion over this but in context it seems clear that this represents the conquests of the gospel.  The white horse contrasts very sharply and favourably with the garish colours of the next three horses who are to follow, and in Revelation 19:11 the white horse appears again and its rider unmistakeably identified as Jesus, the Word of God. The message is clear; the gospel of the Kingdom will make conquests in this world.  It is most fitting that this good news with its certainty of the extension of the gospel in this world is announced first.  Jesus has come to conquer, to gain a crown befitting the King of Peace, and whatever else may happen in the world this gathering in of a kingdom of believers will take place.  We have now seen some two thousand years of this conquest of the gospel, and in our own generation there have been more conquests for the gospel than have ever been seen before.

The next three seals which the Lamb opens are a marked and unpleasant contrast.  On these three occasions we see first a fiery red horse whose rider makes people kill each other – a picture of the wars that are to come.  This is followed by a black horse whose rider holds a pair of scales; there is a shout indicating shortages and rising costs. It’s a picture of famine on the earth.  When the fourth seal is broken there is revealed a pale horse whose rider is called Death and who is given power over a quarter of the world’s population to kill by sword, famine, plague and wild beasts.  The overall picture given by the opening of these three seals has been precisely the story of world history ever since John’s Revelation was written.  Moreover it echoes precisely the prophetic statements made by Jesus during the week before his crucifixion.  This the reality of the world in which we live.  The vision of John should never leave us in a mind-set of unalterable “fate”, for the rainbow is always over the throne and the Lamb is always open to the cries of his people.  Those of us who love peace should never cease to work and pray for peace in the world, and there can be no doubt that such work and prayer will yield fruit.  There is always mercy in wrath.  But we should not be taken by surprise nor offended at what we see happening in the world around us.  God has forewarned us.

There is a fifth seal which the Lamb breaks open and which reveals a further feature of the pattern of history. This takes the shape of a vision of the souls of those who have been conquered by the gospel and followed the Lamb but who have been killed for their testimony.  Persecution of the people of God has always been part of the spread of the gospel. Jesus himself was the prime example, though even throughout Old Testament times it was feature among those who kept close to God and announced his word.  Jesus himself during his earthly ministry underlined the fact of persecution in his teaching.  Again this awful truth should in no wise prevent us from praying earnestly for those who are being persecuted, or those in danger of such persecution.  On the contrary it should instil in us a deep sense of commitment to pray for them and to seek God for their strengthening and their release.

The Book of Revelation may be difficult in parts, but it is a book very much for the uncertain times in which we live. It’s prophetic clarity and accuracy is quite breath-taking.  It sets out the world scene with a very great deal more of reality than the normal secular historical survey.  Its real grandeur lies, however, in the great statements of the new creation that is to come and the glory that surrounds it.  It offers the hope of becoming part of that new creation and its inexpressible joy.  The note of hope is so much bigger than the note of the judgements, but that latter note is needed, nonetheless.  More of that anon!

 

Bob Dunnett

The Resurrection of Jesus

This was first posted in April 2012.

Personal Testimony

I hope you won’t mind if I share a personal testimony with you on this occasion.

I began the Easter period this year with a prayer that I might have a deeper grasp of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. In the prevailing sceptical climate I felt the need for it. It has always seemed to me that a warm, fresh, revelatory (rather than mental) grasp of that great truth is a paramount need of Christians. After all, it was the grasp of that reality that brought back life and joy to the disciples after Good Friday and gave them their new strength and momentum. It was the resurrected Jesus was the starting point for their preaching and witness.

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Easter Meditation

Quiet Reflection

Easter is an extremely rich time spiritually, bringing into focus the death and resurrection of Jesus. But the rush and pleasure of the world tends to obliterate the need to spend time quietly and in sustained reflection on those two all important events. Quietness and meditation are not prime features of the pressurised modern age, especially at holiday time! But they are crucial for real spiritual growth. They are crucial to really grasp the Easter story. Finding time for such a focus is the challenge of Easter.

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Signs of the Times 2

The Signs of His Coming – Part 2

To All Nations

Jesus was very clear about the fact that the gospel would be preached in all the world before the end came (see previous blog on The Signs). He strengthened that prediction and added a further dimension to it with the words, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matt. 24:9). “By all nations” confirms the global reach of the gospel, and the first part of the statement makes clear that it would be accompanied by widespread persecution wherever the gospel went. History abundantly confirms the extraordinary accuracy of both of these prophetic predictions. Read more

The Signs of His Coming – Part 1

The End of the Age

A few days before he was crucified Jesus spoke prophetically and at some length about the course of history and the “signs of his coming and the end of the age”*. Some parts of his prophecy are not easy to grasp, but there are some statements which are very clear, very relevant, and need to be taken to heart, especially by our own generation. These statements are not just for prophetic “geeks”, but demand a practical response from the 21st century church. Read more