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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Climactic Crescendo

One of my earliest sermons while in seminary was on Philippians 2:1-11. Paul urges the believers: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (verse 3). The basis for humility is Jesus’ humility. The Philippians were to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself” (verses 5-7). Jesus didn’t grab at position, He grabbed a towel (think John 13:1-17). Christ humbled Himself through the lowest levels of servant-hood and obedience and even to death on a cross. Paul concludes: “Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name” (verse 9).

In my study for that sermon I read a great commentary with a killer illustration. The author described a u-shaped curve and how Jesus, being God, was at the top, then descended to the lowest part through death, and then was exalted by God to the top again on the other side. I spoke through the whole sermon talking about the great “pair-a-bowla” of Christ. A friend mentioned to me afterward that it sounded a lot like the word parabola.

I might have avoided that altogether had I used musical terms. There is a dynamic contrast in the transitions from glory to humility and back up to greater glory. There is a great decrescendo as glory descended unto the climactic crescendo as the Lord’s name is raised.

Christ’s descent was for you and I. He came down to get us. That’s not because we were great, but it was for our great salvation.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

He Didn’t Wait

How does the incarnation encourage us? There are many ways, and one of them is that, in Christ, God came. God took on flesh and it was His idea. He initiated and He travelled. He did not wait for us to draw near to Him but He clothed Himself with frail humanity.

Our salvation is not the result of any long pilgrimage on our part to some holy place, it is the result of the Son’s sojourning among unholy people. We do not globe-trot or cross galaxies to get to God. He covered the distance. We could not reach Him, but we can also not get too far away from Him that He cannot reach us.

Eternal life draped Himself with a body so that mortal flesh could put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53). Heaven came down and glory fills our futures. “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). We give thanks for salvation and the fellowship we enjoy with God because He came. We share the bread and the wine because He came.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Sympathy and Division

Our family advent plate was full the two weeks before Christmas so I didn’t post the last two communion meditations. Here they are, combined into one post-holiday casserole. The previous weeks we considered that God, in Christ, came and manifested. He did not wait for us to get to Him, nor did He wait for us to figure Him out. He took on flesh here among us and He revealed the One who dwells in the heavens. In the incarnation, God also, in Christ, sympathized with our weakness.

Christmas time seems especially suited to expose all sorts of weaknesses. As much as we’d like world peace, we’re faced with anything but peace in the world, or in our homes let alone our hearts. We expect others to give us what we would never give them, the Christmas version of the golden reversal. We wrap envy and bitterness and impatience with holiday words.

But Jesus took on flesh. He was tempted in all ways like we are, He joined us in our sorrows, but He did not sin. He knows our weakness. He sympathized, and then He sacrificed. God did not drop sympathy cards from an unarmed drone. The incarnation demonstrates sympathy as a clear fact more than any sentence ever could.

In Jesus, God also divided men. When Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for eight-day circumcision, they met a man named Simon. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he saw Israel’s Consolation, the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:25-26). When Simon took Jesus in his arms he praised God. Then he told Mary,

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed…so that thoughts for many hearts will be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)

The incarnation divided between those who rejected Him and those who received Him. Not everyone is welcome at His table. But He invited all those who believe in Him to come.

From the earliest days God in flesh revealed hearts. It’s why many hated Jesus. It’s why, by the work of the Spirit, we have come to Him. We know that we need a Savior from our sin. We sense the distance that our sin took us away from Him. So, yes, God, in Christ, divided. He also delivered His people into His kingdom where we will fellowship with Him forever. Christmas was just the start.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Merry Communion!

We are taking these four Sundays before Christmas as an opportunity for advent Lord’s Suppers. That is, we are considering how the incarnation affects our communion. Last Lord’s Day at the Table we rejoiced that God came. We can also celebrate that God, in Christ, manifested Himself.

According to John, “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). If that’s accurate, then fellowship with Him is out of the question. But, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus Christ exhibited the eternal God.

Paul, referring to the living God, said, “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16), even if not in that order. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity.”

God, in Christ, showed that God is full of grace and truth, that God is love, that God descends to take on flesh and serve and take pain for others. God puts the broken back together, He heals, He reconciles, He sets prisoners free.

Jesus reveals God. In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Through Him we not only know more about what God is like, we are brought to God (1 Peter 3:18). If we’ve seen Jesus we’ve seen the Father (John 14:9) and have fellowship with Him. “Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.” With all that Christ has shown us, we can greet each other at this meal, Merry Communion!

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Pilgrimages to Holy Places

Yesterday was the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the usual time to begin the advent countdown. It also happened to be the first day of December, so we sang a number of carols to start our recognition of the season. For our Lord’s Table meditation we considered Christ’s coming and its relation to communion, which is also the plan for the following three Lord’s Days.

How does the incarnation encourage us? First, the incarnation means that, in Christ, God came. God took on flesh and it was His idea. He initiated and He travelled. He did not wait for us to draw near to Him but He clothed Himself with frail humanity.

Our salvation is not the result of any long pilgrimage on our part to some holy place, it is the result of the Son’s sojourning among unholy people. We do not globe-trot or cross galaxies to get to God. He covered the distance. We could not reach Him, but we can also not get too far away from Him that He cannot reach us.

Eternal life draped Himself with a body so that mortal flesh could put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53). Heaven came down and glory fills our futures. “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). We give thanks for salvation and fellowship we enjoy with God because He came.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Like We Do

A common Christian abuse of Christmas poses in a spiritual position. The abuse occurs when Christians reluctantly, or refuse to, love others who don’t rise to the level of understanding that we think they should have about Christmas. In other words, since they don’t get Christmas like we do, they’re not worthy to share our Christmas joy. If only they would grow up, then we wouldn’t have to teach them a lesson by being so fussy.

This behavior reverses the gospel, it abuses Christmas.

Jesus didn’t wait for people to get it before He came. He didn’t take on flesh because that’s where the glory was. Flesh is precisely not where the glory was. He came to redeem and restore fallen men. That’s the point of Christmas.

In some ways, Christmas is the anti-holiday, at least as the Hallmark channel portrays it. The incarnation in Bethlehem was the anti- “everything is just right” moment that brings people together. We stress to arrange all the details to be perfect. Jesus came because nothing was perfect, and He came in an inconvenient and unacknowledged way. Interestingly enough, 2000 years or so later, we’re still talking about the love He displayed.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9–11)

It is easier to despise Christmas than to love Christians. We want to be with people when they get it. Jesus went to people because they didn’t.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not Just in December

Paul commanded the Philippian Christians:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4)

These simple imperatives often feel impossible and, based on our struggle to remember them, let alone obey them, our practice seems to support how impossible they are. And, actually, they are impossible apart from Christ.

I want to point out that these commands are not simply what God requires us to do, they represent who He is. In other words, humble, glad, others-oriented service communicates God’s own character. How do we know that? We look at Jesus in whom the fulness of deity dwells (Colossians 2:9). We would be less proud, bitter, self-centered, and expectant of others serving us if we dwelt on the incarnation not just in December.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)

Jesus did that for sinners. He did it because true joy and true glory gush out for others like a fountain can’t help but get the ground around it wet.

Our lack of grace to others cannot be fixed with tighter rules or frequent reminders or whipping ourselves into a guilt-frenzy because we blew it again. If we want to show more grace, then we must worship God more, in particular, we must worship the Word made flesh.

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Preach the Word

Incarnation

I am trying to make the point that, in the revelation of the Triune God, God is sharing Himself and inviting us into joyful relationship with Himself. God, then, is the ultimate example of true authority that gives, overflows, and participates. We see this theme in His [creation][] and, apropos on this Christmas day, we also see this reality in His incarnation.

Incarnation

The Son revealed the Father as well as the divine economy. He taught His disciples: “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). Why? Because the truth is that authority gives itself. It works on the other’s behalf. It doesn’t take from them. That’s the way it really is because that’s the way God is.

Jesus not only taught it, He embodied it. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11). He didn’t come to take (as a thief), He came to give so that His sheep might have life.

Philippians 2 illustrates how glorious authority gave itself and shows that Jesus receives greater glory because of giving, humbling, and sacrificing. The Word become flesh, the revelation of truth in the God-man, exhibits the truth of authority that engages, works, meets needs, takes responsibility, serves, and draws others to life. That’s the truth.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:4-11)

One of the reasons we have trouble believing Jesus and really considering others as better than ourselves is that we don’t buy that authority is established by giving. We think we’ll lose influence and respect and position if we serve.

Not only that, we think in order to keep the truth safe, we’ve got to keep it at a distance from questions and doubts. If so, we are thinking about a partial truth because the true Truth jumps into the ring. God not only opens truth up for a look-see, He created a world where those who look the other way corroborate the truth in a backdoor way. Bare-fisted truth can handle itself. He created a world where He would give His only Son to be killed to save the killers. That reveals something about His character and about the real potency of truth, even when born as a helpless baby.