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Lord's Day Liturgy

Following the First

Jesus is called the “firstborn son” of Mary (Luke 2:7). He’s called that because He wasn’t Joseph’s biological son, and because Mary did have other biological children afterward. The emphasis here is on His being born.

Jesus is also called “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Such a firstborn wasn’t a material question but a positional one. He created all things, all creation is by Him and through Him and to Him (1:16). The emphasis here is on His being highest.

Jesus is called “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). This is physical; He did rise in body on the third day. The emphasis here is on His being alive. It is also positional; related to His character and His crucifixion.

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:18–20 ESV)

And it is numerical; more will follow. He is the “firstborn of many brothers” (Romans 8:29). The emphasis here is on His being first; there is more than one, more to follow.

We celebrate His coming as a son of Mary, God clothed in flesh. We worship Him as unsurpassed, God as Creator and God in Christ. And we wait for His coming again, when we will be raised in flesh to follow in His train (1 Corinthians 15:22-23).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Christmas

The primary way that the New Testament talks about the flesh is where the “flesh” represents the sinful pull in all of us. The lust of the flesh, the works of the flesh, the flesh as enemy of the Spirit is most definitely not what we should embrace.

But “flesh” in those respects is not referring to the matter, not the muscles and nerves and blood and bones, which is also the flesh. The physical flesh is the flesh that Jesus took at (what we celebrate as) Christmas. Though He shared our weaknesses and faced temptations as a man, He did so yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). If God created that flesh and also clothed Himself with it, it can’t be all bad.

The incarnation shows that the flesh is not God. God, in the Word who was God before creation, existed without one. So we worship the Maker not the material. God is outside, before and beyond, human flesh. Christmas truth should keep us from worshipping our bodies, let alone stuff.

The incarnation also shows that God identifies with human flesh. God, in the Word, became like us. “Since the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of the same things” (Hebrew 2:14). He took on our form, with the physical limits and needs and in every other respect. Christmas truth means that we don’t have to escape the flesh to please God.

As people of the truth we tend to prefer two-dimensions; three-dimensions are hard. We want our Word on a page, not in a body. Too often we have great Christmas ideas without glad sacrifices and generosity and being worn out and used up to spill grace onto others.

In your body love, be joyful, be patient, show kindness, do good, be self-controlled. Decorate, bake, clean, sing, give, cry, so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in your body (2 Corinthians 4:11), just as He was manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). Let our celebrations not be spiritualized, but let us be filled with the Spirit to keep Christmas in our flesh.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Contumelious Wall

How do you measure if you’re celebrating Christmas in a godly way? How do you measure if you’re celebrating communion in a godly way? There is a connection.

It’s common for Christians, who at least are the ones who care about godliness, to take a simplistic approach to godliness by building a contumelious wall between the spiritual and the material. We read, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” Does that settle everything? But, God said to love our neighbor, and he is certainly “in the world.” Even more, “God so loved the world,” and that is why He sent His Son into the world.

Some of what we need to do is define our terms. “World” (or cosmos in Greek) has perhaps 16 different uses/referents in the New Testament (see A. W. Pink’s Appendix in The Sovereignty of God). When the apostle John wrote not to love the world, he then defined what he meant: “all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of possessions” (1 John 2:16). There are things/loves/pursuits/attitudes that can ruin Christmas. But Christmas itself, just because it is in the world, isn’t for our ruin at all.

Back to answering the first paragraph questions. You measure your godly celebration of Christmas by the degree of love for God and neighbor while setting up the tree, et cetera, just as you measure your godly celebration of communion by the degree of thankfulness as you eat the bread and drink the wine. Godliness isn’t simply about getting out of the body or out of the world, otherwise God wouldn’t have taken on a body and come into the world. “As often as you eat this read and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not a Puddle under the Pine Tree

Is it possible that God finds our celebration of Christmas not too hot but too lukewarm? Is it possible that we are too half-hearted in our worship of the Word become flesh? Will we give an account for how we gave gifts, or not, in Jesus’ name?

Yes, yes, and yes.

I’ve continued to meditate the past few weeks on the awkwardly phrased phrase in Romans 2:7. The context of Romans 2 is not seasonal, in fact, it’s not just year round but all of one’s life. God judges according to what He sees the whole way down into what you’re baking, not just the drizzle of icing on a holiday morning.

Those that receive eternal life are the ones who by endurance of work of good seek for glory and honor and immortality (Romans 2:7).

Though not limited to the advent season, it at least applies. So, are you wanting not just the glory of a great Christmas, are you wanting the glory from God in reward for having greatly honored Him this Christmas?

This does not mean that you must buy the most gifts you’ve ever bought, it does not mean you must spend the most money you’ve ever received in a stimulus check. It does not require a modern-day missionary journey to every relative’s house. It does not demand the turkey to be stuffed with duck to be stuffed with chicken. If these are opportunities for you, great. If your opportunities are other, also great.

It does mean that you must not be selfish (see Romans 2:8). It means that you must not collapse into a puddle under the pine tree, but rather endure. Seek the glory of God in the highest, and He will glorify those with whom He is pleased.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Communion with Immanuel

Mary was not the only one to get a pre-birth announcement from an angel. Matthew recorded the dream given to Joseph.

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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:20–23 ESV)

Joseph also was told about the miraculous conception, less to answer his questions about the biological possibility and more about the legality and the propriety. The angel affirmed that Mary had not been unfaithful.

The angel also told Joseph the child’s name: Jesus. It meant something: “for he will save his people from their sins.” Savior was His name, part of His identity.

The angel also quoted Isaiah, not only to connect Jesus’ origin with the prophecy about a virgin birth, but also as a further part of His identity. He is named Jesus, and Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”

Beloved, the bread and wine before us are signs of the cost of our salvation and signs of the Son’s flesh and blood. We eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus, Immanuel, our Lord.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Free to Love Christmas

Most of us who are parents grew up in families that focused our seasonal celebration on Christmas day, while many of your families now think about Christmas day as the cap to your celebration of Advent, the four Sundays and/or the all days between now and December 25th.

Whether or not you are a big Advent and/or big Christmas person/family, do rejoice in the Incarnation of God’s Son and love Jesus Christ? If yes, how do you show it?

I first remember learning these categories about six years ago from a book titled The Things of Earth. These two approaches will help you answer the question.

Consider your love for God and His Son by way of comparison and by way of integration. Usually we hear more about the comparative side; that’s where the Christmas guilt usually gets applied, while the integrated aspects may be happening, even if not so obviously pursued or passed on to our kids.

By comparison “there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:25). Love God with all your heart. If you had to choose, Christ or Christmas, there must be no contest. If you chose Christmas (and any of your favored traditions), you would have chosen an idol no matter how good the name. You shouldn’t love the gift more than the giver, you shouldn’t love any giver more than God. At the least, when we assemble to worship, we test the hierarchy of affections in our heart. God first.

And that same God who commands our love to Him above all, is the same God who gives us gifts. This God says “all are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:22). Is this a cruel temptation? Why all the work (and parties) and extras during a season in which we’re supposed to focus on the Incarnation? It’s because most of the time He wants our love for Him integrated in what we do. Love Christ more than Christmas, and then your heart will be free to love Christ as you do all the cookie baking and gift wrapping and calendar crunching.

Do not let your heart off the hook in either direction.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Fragrant Feasts

Holidays are hard. This is because sin is grabby and humans are sinners. One other way we sin is by believing lies about how holidays can save us. This is a Hallmark gospel, the not-even-so subtle story we’re sold during this season. Just get the food offering prepared and the gifts secured and the table cleaned off and all brokenness can be healed!

Even Christians can tend to see these times through Precious Moments tinsel. I like to remind you that you know better, that these feasting times are spiritual war, and that the same behavior that blesses some will antagonize others.

Paul used a parade picture to encourage the Corinthians. “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). The triumph was a Roman victory spectacle, with music and dancing and food and prisoners of war and the conquering general. Paul puts believers in such a festival, celebrating the victory of Christ.

But “we are the aroma of Christ to God…to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:16). When you live from faith to faith, some will join in thanking God, others will blame you and criticize you for not feeling more guilty about all the people you’ve hurt as you thoughtlessly celebrate this “triumph.”

The communion feast shows us the way. It demands that we recognize Christ’s sacrifice as the only gospel, a gospel that heals, that reconciles, that humbles, and that lifts up our faces.

Gird up the loins of your mind, and your gravy bowls. Be full of thanks. Be a blessing. Be a joyful sacrifice spreading the knowledge of God everywhere.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Godliness and Gratitude

It is godly to be thankful, though God Himself is not said to be thankful.

There is no description of God giving thanks or of the Lord giving thanks in Scripture. Jesus gave thanks to His Father for a few things (Matthew 11:25; John 6:11; John 11:41; Matthew 26:26-28), but this was the Son of God in flesh on earth.

For what it’s worth, I could not find any example of angels giving thanks either.

God is always the object, never the subject, of giving thanks. He is always the sun, never the moon, always the engine, never the wheels.

So gratitude is not an attribute of God. But gratitude was created by God as a uniquely human way to honor God. We become like who or what we worship, and in many ways we, as those who bear God’s image, take on His likeness as we see what He is like. We are transformed from one degree of glory to another as we behold Him (2 Corinthians 3:18), but in this case, as we behold Him we have more reasons to be thankful for His independent and good nature.

Paul wrote to Timothy that in the last days men would be, among other things, ungrateful (2 Timothy 3:2). Some would even have the appearance of godliness but be denying its power (3:5). Let the people of God be godly, not only in appearance, but in strong appreciation for the riches of His kindness to us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Cornerstone of Identity

Jonathan made a foundational connection last Sunday night in his message from 1 Peter 2 about living stones. He said that we seek our identity where we seek our righteousness. That’ll preach.

We’re religious beings. What makes our identity unique from other warm-blooded, breathing animals is our responsibility to worship God and our relationship with Him, and others. We can’t worship God in unholiness/unrighteousness, and we can’t truly fellowship with others in darkness/unrighteousness (1 John 1:6-7).

God the Father chose us, and sent His Son, who “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). We are a “people for his own possession,” and in that identity we “proclaim the excellences of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

“He is the source of [our] life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, chosen and precious.

Jesus is our righteousness, and our baptism proclaims our identity as those who have died and rose again in Him. Jesus is our righteousness, and the bread and the wine are the tokens of the cost. Jesus is our righteousness, and there will be glory and honor and peace for all those who do good, from faith to faith. The righteous shall live–and eat and drink–by faith.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Don’t Stay Dry

This will likely be the final installment of exhortations about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). That said, it obviously won’t be the last time we’re concerned about spiritual fruit.

Because love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the Spirit’s fruit in and through us, what are we supposed to do? These nine attributes of fruit are supernatural products, but how does that relate to the Christian’s pursuit?

In the immediate context in Galatians 5 there are four different angles on our activity. Paul says Christian brothers are 1) to walk by the Spirit (verse 16), 2) to be led by the Spirit (verse 18), 3) to live by the Spirit (verse 25) and 4) to keep in step with the Spirit (verse 25).

They relate to the apostle’s exhortation to the Ephesians, an epistle he wrote around four years after Galatians, giving him editing time to boil it down: in contrast to wine-drinking, “be (being) filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). That is also in a context of walking carefully (Ephesians 5:15).

Again: walk by, be led by, live by, keep in step with, be filled by, the Spirit.

Walking is a regular metaphor for daily movements; think about each step. Being led is an easily understood illustration; look where the Spirit is going and go there too. Living by is a question of strength and standard, which leads to the keeping in step, tracking with a direction and a pace. Being filled is concerned with the controlling influence.

For good measure, a fifth verb comes in the next chapter; “the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8).

You cannot cause the water in the river to flow, but that’s no excuse for laying down on the shore. Get in. Don’t grow weary of keeping in line with the Spirit.