Category Archives: Special Occasions

The Word Became Flesh

Merry Christmas!

The Christmas story is told by the apostle John in just one sentence, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a, ESV; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version). Scholarly papers have been written on that sentence’s theological significance and sermons preached on its practical import. What follows is neither. Instead it consists of a few reflections on what the sentence says to me and a closing quotation from the great church father Augustine.

John introduces “the Word” in the first verse of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The opening phrase, “in the beginning,” points to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Thus the Word was already in existence when God created the universe. In fact he was involved in that creation‒”All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).

“The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word accompanied and thus was distinct from God, and yet the Word was God Himself. How could this be? For most Christians the answer lied in the doctrine of the Trinity. According to that doctrine, God is one being in three persons‒the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person is God in such a way that he constitutes the whole undivided substance of God, and yet each person is distinct from the other two persons allowing him to have personal relationships with them. (The doctrine may seem illogical, but’s it’s the most satisfactory explanation of what God has revealed in the Bible about His apparently triune nature that I’ve encountered.) Thus the Word was with God (the Father) and was God (the Son).

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word became a human and lived among humans. And yet he remained “the only God” (John 1:18). That John is referring to Jesus is clearly shown in John 1:16-17, which identifies both the Word (verse 16) and Jesus (verse 17) as our source of grace. I don’t understand how Jesus could be both God and man, but I know that the Bible pictures him as both. As our Men’s Bible Study group has been studying the Gospel of Luke this fall (the fall of 1997), I’ve been struck by Jesus’ very human dependence upon prayer and the Holy Spirit. Yet even a cursory reading of the Gospel of John reveals that Jesus was convinced that he was God’s “only Son” (John 3:16). A line of Charles Wesley’s well-known Christmas carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! Captures the mystery of the God-man well: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th’ incarnate Deity!”

Why did the Word become flesh and make his dwelling among us? Some expositors take the verses preceding John 1:14 as giving the reason, that he might give those who believe in him “the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12b-13). And, as John goes on to point out, as children of God we receive “grace upon grace” (John 1:16), the most important grace or blessing being eternal life. Thus Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Augustine expressed a similar idea in this statement about John 1:13 contained in a sermon on the Gospel of John which he preached to his church:

These, then, “were born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” But that men might be born of God, God was first born of them. For Christ is God, and Christ was born of men. It was only a mother, indeed, that He sought upon earth; because He had already a Father in heaven: He by whom we were to be created was born of God, and He by whom we were to be re-created was born of a woman. Marvel not, then, O man, that thou art made a son by grace, that thou art born of God according to His Word. The Word Himself first chose to be born of man, that thou mightest be born of God unto salvation, and say to thyself, Not without reason did God wish to be born of man, but because He counted me of some importance, that He might make me immortal, and for me be born as a mortal man. When, therefore, he had said, “born of God,” lest we should, as it were, be filled with amazement and trembling at such grace, at grace so great as to exceed belief that men are born of God, as if assuring thee, he says, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Why, then, dost thou marvel that men are born of God? Consider God Himself born of men: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (

The above Christmas message is adapted from an article of the same name which appeared in the Christmas 1997 issue of The Hunter Family Christmas Holiday Newsletter, a newsletter which my family published on special occasions from Christmas 1999 to Summer 2000.


God Sent Forth His Son

The key verse in Pastor Roy King’s lesson on why Christ came in last Sunday’s adult Sunday School class at Windsor Pentecostal Church was Galatians 4:4-5. In this second Christmas post I’m going to share a few thoughts from the passage.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

When the fullness of time had come. The first Christmas occurred in the “fullness of time.” The moment had come which God had ordained from the beginning and foretold by the prophets for the Redeemer to come. And the world was ready for his coming—a peace under the rule of Rome, linked by Roman roads and Greek language, and spiritually bankrupt and hungry.

God sent forth his Son. When the time came to redeem humanity, God “sent forth” His Son. Although the phrase could refer to God’s commissioning Jesus to his ministry, Paul probably had in mind Jesus’s pre-existence. At Christmas we rightly celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we should also remember that the one who was “born” was the eternal Son of God as well a baby in a manger.

Born of woman. When God sent forth His Son, he was “born of woman.” Although possible, it is unlikely that Paul was referring to Jesus’s being born of a virgin. His concern was to emphasize Jesus’s identity with us as humans rather than his difference from us in conception. Also, elsewhere in Scripture (Job 14:1; Matthew 11:11/Luke 7:28) the phrase is used to stress a person’s humanity. The Son of God became one of us in order to redeem us and to make us also sons of God.

Born under the law. God sent forth His Son not only as a man but also “under the law.” By being born of a Jewish mother, Jesus was born a Jew subject to the regulations of Mosaic law. He fulfilled its requirements in his life (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17) and then in his death voluntarily bore the curse which others had incurred for failing to fulfil it (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Galatians 3:13).

To redeem those who were under the law. The purpose of the Son’s being made under the law was “to redeem those who were under the law.” Jesus achieved this purpose by fulfilling the law’s requirements in life and bearing its curse in death. By doing so, he ransomed the Jews from slavery to the law and all from being “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (verse 3). Whatever Paul meant by “elementary principles of the world,” being free from them involves being free from the law of Moses.

So that we might receive adoption as sons. Those whom the Son has redeemed from under the law have also received “adoption as sons.” The next two verses indicate that this sonship involves being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (“because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts”), having an intimate relationship with God (“crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”; compare verses 1-3), no longer being subject to the law (“So you are no longer a slave, but a son”) and having a heavenly inheritance (“and if a son, then an heir through God”). Wow, what a Christmas gift!

Pastor King closed his lesson with this Discipleship in Action statement:

At Christmas people have an opportunity to see how God’s perfect timing guided the events that lead to the birth of Jesus. We should rejoice in the fact that we can trust God is also at work to guide the course of our lives.

Each of us has to make a decision about how we will respond to Jesus. Do you believe in Him as Redeemer and yield you life to Him as your Ruler? If the answer is yes, then you will receive the blessings of salvation, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and the privilege of being an heir of God.

(Thanks to Gospel Publishing House of Springfield, Missouri, publisher of the Radiant Life material which Pastor King’s lesson is part of.)

This article is adapted from one which appeared under the title “God Sent Forth His Son” in the Christmas 1999 issue of “The Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter.”

The First Christmas Carol

Participating in our church’s annual shut-ins’ caroling earlier this week was an enjoyable experience that turned my thoughts to Christmas carols. Here I’ll share a few comments on the first Christmas carol and ask you to identify your favourite Christmas carol.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
(Luke 2:8-20, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Although it doesn’t appear in any collection of Christmas carols that I know of, the song which the angels sang (verse 14, highlighted above) is surely the first Christmas carol. The English Standard Version divides it into two clauses, “Glory to God in the highest” and “on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” As the following chart shows, each clause refers to a blessing, the one(s) receiving the blessing, and where the blessing occurs.

Glory      God                                                        the highest (heaven)
peace     those with whom [God] is pleased     earth

The glory that the angels ascribed to God is honour, rather than the glory of verse 9. The glory of verse 9 is the shekinah glory, the visible manifestation of God’s presence within the universe, such as the pillar of cloud and fire which guided the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings (Exodus 13:21) and Jesus, “the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14). Here an angel had just announced the birth of the Saviour, and now a multitude of angels honoured God by praising Him for the salvation that He provides through that Saviour. Their action is a good example for us. As the great Reformer John Calvin put it, “As often as we hear tidings of our salvation, we must know that this is like a signal given to prompt our act of thanksgiving and God’s praises” (A Harmony of the Gospels in Calvin’s Commentaries, Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1972, volume I, page 77).

The peace that the angels ascribed to people is more than just the absence of conflict. Like shalom in the Old Testament, it also involves well-being and wholeness. The angels were referring to the salvation provided by God., After acknowledging the peace brought about by the Roman government, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus observed, “But can Caesar…give us security against love? He cannot. From sorrow? He cannot. From envy? He cannot” (The Discourses of Epictetus in Great Books of the Western World, Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 188). However, because God’s salvation gives us peace with Him, it also results in the elusive inner peace that Epictetus was referring to.

Moreover, as Norval Geldenhuys points out in his commentary on Luke, “When the inner harmony is there because the human soul has peace with its Lord, peace also spontaneously comes about in mutual relations between human beings.” He continues, “It is the work of Christ to bring peace into all human relations—in man’s relation to God, to himself (his own feelings, desires, and the like), to his life’s circumstances (calamities and trials), and to his fellow-men. According as Christ is honoured and given admission to human lives, to that extent the peace on earth, which he came to bring, becomes a glorious actuality” (The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951, pages 112-13).

I hope and pray that each of you will enjoy that peace during this Christmas season . Merry Christmas!

When introducing the above comments on the first Christmas carol, I said that I was going to ask you to identify your favourite Christmas carol. I’d appreciate your either doing that or, since most people have more than one favourite Christmas carol, listing your favourite Christmas carols in a comment on this post.

This article is adapted from one which appeared under the title “Peace on Earth” in the Christmas 1996 issue of “Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter.”

Three Blessings of the Cross (Philippians 3:7-11)

What do eggs, new clothes, and spring have in common? They all suggest new life. They are also all associated with Easter, and surely that is appropriate because Easter is when we commemorate Jesus’ being lifted up on the Cross, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15; see also vs. 16).

Recently, as I was rereading D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s exposition of Philippians, I was struck by how a short passage (Philippians 3:7-11) brings out three aspects of the new life available to us because of what Jesus did on the first Easter—justification, sanctification, and glorification.

This passage brings out Paul’s absorbing passion, not just to know about Jesus Christ, but to know Him intimately. Paul looked upon everything else in his life as of no value compared to knowing Christ, and so he was willing to give up everything else in order to know Him.

Yet, at one time, Paul’s overriding goal in life had been to destroy the Church (“concerning zeal, persecuting the church,” 3:6). Then, while he was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest Christians there, he was encountered by the risen Jesus. The result was that he joined the ranks of those whom he’d previously persecuted and became as zealous for Christ as he had once been against Him. In the 25 or so years between then and his writing Philippians, Paul’s relationship with Christ deepened so much that he could even tell his Philippian readers, “To me to live is Christ” (1:21). Nothing else seems to have mattered to him. He even looked upon death as desirable because it would result in his departing to be with Christ—”having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better (1: 23).

The first of the Easter blessings, justification, is referred to these words, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Justification is God’s act of declaring a person righteous in His sight. Although before his conversion to the Christian faith Paul had been, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (3:6), apparently he hadn’t experienced peace when he was relying upon obedience to the Mosaic law to be considered righteous by God (see Romans 7:8-11). But now that he was relying upon “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ” and “in his blood” (3:22,25)—His sacrificial death on the Cross—he enjoyed “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1) and, as he took his problems to God, an inner peace, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

The second Easter blessing, sanctification, is suggested by the phrase “the power of his resurrection.” Sanctification involves separation from sin and dedication to service to God. Although the Christian has peace with God, he or she still has to struggle with sin (see Romans 7:13-25). Thus he must “continue to work out [his/her] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12, NIV). However, the believer has help, “for it is God which worketh in [him/her] both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (2:13). This help is given by “the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead” (Romans 8:11), whom Jesus promised His disciples that after His resurrection and ascension He would ask His Father to send to live with and be in them (see John 14:16-17; 16:7). Thus Christians are enabled to “walk in newness of life” just as “Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Romans 6:4).

The next phrase in verse 10, “the fellowship of his sufferings,” is not only connected to “the power of his resurrection” by “and” but also shares the same definite article in the Greek. This suggests that it might refer to another aspect of to the same experience as “the power of his resurrection” refers to, which I’ve suggested is sanctification, rather than to a different experience. Many commentators think that it does and point to Romans 6:1-11 in support of the identification. For example, Gerald F Hawthorne claims that “just as knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection is an inward experience that can be expressed in terms of being resurrected with Christ (cf. Rom 6:4), so knowing Christ in the fellowship of his sufferings is equally an inward experience that can be described in terms of having died with Christ (cf. Rom 6:8)” (Philippians in Word Biblical Commentary, Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983, page 144).

Personally, I think that by “the fellowship of his sufferings” Paul was referring to external suffering. Strange as it may seem to us, Paul actually viewed suffering for Jesus Christ as a blessing. “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29), an idea that likely originated in his knowing that Jesus had told His disciples, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all matter of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). According to this interpretation of “the fellowship of his sufferings,” the phrase that follows it, “being made conformable unto his death,” refers to Paul’s even being willing to die for Christ, a willingness that he had graphically expressed earlier in the letter, “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17).

The third Easter blessing, glorification, is referred to in these words, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” Glorification refers to the time when Christians will be raised to heavenly glory. I’ve already mentioned that Paul’s desire to know Jesus Christ caused him to look forward to death, when he would go to be with Christ. However, when he wrote this verse, Paul may have been thinking of another aspect of his future death and resurrection, one indicated by something that he says a little further on in the letter, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (3:20-21). Paul looked forward to his becoming wholly like Christ in heaven, the glory of which “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with” (Romans 8:18).

Thus, in Philippians 3:7-11 Paul referred to at least three blessings that he enjoyed or looked forward to because of what Jesus did on the first Easter—justification, sanctification, and glorification. But what Jesus did on the first Easter, He did for everybody, not just for Paul. Therefore, these are blessings that all of us can enjoy now or look forward to enjoying in the future. The only thing that a person has to do to experience them is to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus on the basis of what He did for us on that first Easter and then to let God bestow upon him/her the blessings that He wants to give everybody because of what His Son did on that first Easter.

This article originally appeared under the title “Easter Blessings” in the Easter 1997 issue of “Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter” and the April 1999 issue of “Good Tidings” (the monthly magazine of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador). Biblical quotations in it are from the KJV unless otherwise specified.

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work (And What to Do About It!)

[When I read the December 10, 2015, post at Inspiring and Challenging Dreamers, I thought, “That sounds like good advice. I’m going to try it.” And I am trying it. In addition to acting on the post, I asked its writer–Benjamin Conway, founder and pastor of the Tree of Life Network—if I could post the article at Open Theism so that its followers and visitors might benefit from it too. He kindly gave me permission to, and so here it is.]

I am preparing for Sunday this morning, writing a church bulletin, reviewing my sermon, making sure people are in place to do what needs to be done. And I thought this preview from this Sunday morning’s message might really help some people:

You see, New Year’s Resolutions don’t work. You know it and I know it. Yet year after year we make the same resolutions, the same promises, deep down knowing that by mid-January we will have broken them in spades, and extinguish even that glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe this year will be different. We have to get off that roller-coaster folks, it’s not good for you!

The problem is this: most people live their life on the basis of will-power. You will see it in the next few weeks across the country. Those of you who go to the gym, suddenly your gym is crowded. Don’t worry by February they will be empty again. Some people will come back to church in January telling me “I will be here forever now, pastor”, “I will never miss church again”, “I will be on time for every service”. By February they will be back to their 1 week in 3 or 4, turning up nonchalantly at the end of the worship wondering why nothing is working in their life.

So we know these resolutions do not work. So what do we do? We stop making resolutions, and we instead set GOALS. This New Year’s Eve we are not making resolutions for 2016, we are setting goals.

Now let’s reason together – let’s use our brains and grasp how and why this works. A resolution is a resolve to do A, B, or C, and not do X, Y, and Z. It is based on willpower. Willpower is your ability to muster strength from your soul – your thinking, the information you have and your feelings. The problem is your soul is not redeemed yet – you know it and I know it – and it has feelings, whims and wild ideas.

Let’s talk about dieting. The most common New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight. Now you all know how to lose weight – some ways are better than others, but you all know that stuffing your face with doughnuts is bad, and eating your greens is good. It’s not an information problem. So you make a resolution: you resolve to stop eating cake.

So day 1 you fight the temptation to eat badly all day, and all day you think about what? Cake! The house is still full of goodies from Christmas. There is still Christmas Pudding in the house. It’s not so bad the fight, you are stuffed full from Christmas and the belt is already tighter, so you manage day one. You eat the good stuff.

Day 2 is just day 1 again, but harder. Your resolve causes you to focus on the forbidden. Remember the Bible teaches the strength of sin in the law. In other words, people don’t want to do wrong until we start telling them not to. No one walks around touching the walls, but if you put up a sign that says “Wet Paint, Don’t Touch” there is something in us that wants to touch. The same is true for ourselves: if we set a law to ourselves – I will not eat cake. Then something inside you rises up and wants to do it. When you think “Do not eat cake”, you are thinking about cake. It’s that simple. You are setting yourself up to fail because you are programming your brain badly.

Day 4 you have a tough day. The kids really need to be back at school, and parenting is tough, you are tired, going stir crazy, you have started back at work and it’s hard catching up and getting in the swing again. And all day you are telling yourself “Do not eat cake” – you have cake on your mind! You are starving, so you eat the Christmas pudding. Just a little. And a little more. And some cream. And some more pudding.

And now less than one hundred hours after you made your resolution, you are lying on the sofa, stuffed full of pudding – but you are also full of regret, recrimination and shame! Your resolve is gone, so your resolution is over.

I think if you want to make some money you should open a gym called Resolutions. It is a gym the first two weeks of January, and then it become a pub for the rest of the year. We all know this is how things play out, but each year we play the same gain.

What can we do? How can we make choices that have longevity? By not making them resolutions and not making them from our willpower.

Instead, make choices on the basis of priorities. And you get your priorities right by setting goals. If you are on resolution mode, you are only thinking about the “don’t” all the time. You are being negative and are attracting failure. Thinking “I
must not eat cake, I must not eat cake” only attracts cake into your life and will inevitably end up with you eating cake. But if you are on GOAL MODE – we step away from all those negative thoughts and we look at what the GOAL IS.

So if you want to lose weight – don’t make a resolution. Don’t resolve to do anything! Set a GOAL instead. Tell yourself I am going to weigh X stone and Y pounds, or better still get yourself a size goal – I will fit into these trousers, that dress.

Now take the goal and put it on your dream wall. What does Habakkuk tell us: write the vision down and make it plain. I would (and have done) buy the trousers. I started this year with a 48? waist, and now it is a 40? waist. I assure you there are 38? trousers (and 36? and 34?) in the house. I will do it!

Now meditate on the goal. Reflect on the goal. Imagine the end result. Dream it, imagine it, visualize it. This is what the Bible calls “hope”. Now here is the good news – you are not even thinking about cake, you are focussing on the goal.

Your goal sets your priorities. The more you focus on the goal, the more your priorities naturally shift. You stop caring about the cake (the cigarette, the ex-girlfriend who is not good for you, the spending too much on shoes, the whatever) and you start caring about the goal. What you meditate on is where you will end up. As a man thinks in his heart, so he is (Proverbs 23.7, made famous by Napolean Hill, but penned by Solomon!). You have to let the goals lead, not the resolutions. The resolutions will lead you back into trouble, the goals will lead you forward to victory. Your resolve will fail. WE ARE NOT THAT GOOD TO BE RESOLUTE – we have to take our mind off that and PUT IT ON THE GOAL.


With a resolution, when you fail, it’s all over. But with a goal, it’s awesome, a long range goal supersedes short term failures. The goal enables you to get back up again and keep walking forward.

[Happy New Year!]

Born of a Virgin

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [’God is with us’]” (Isaiah 7:14, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

The verse quoted above is best known to Christians because of its being quoted in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus (1:18-25). Discovering that Mary, who was betrothed (pledged to be married) to him, was pregnant although they hadn’t had sexual relations, Joseph decided to divorce her but to do it quietly to avoid putting her to shame. However an angel of the Lord told him in a dream not to be afraid to marry Mary because the Holy Spirit had caused her to conceive. The angel went on to tell Joseph, “You shall call his name Jesus [‘saviour’] for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21). Matthew adds that all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by Isaiah.

However in Isaiah the prophecy was given by the Lord as a sign to Ahaz, the king of Judah, that he had nothing to fear from Syria and Israel, who had joined forces against Judah. The Lord went on to tell Ahaz that before the promised child had reached an age in which he could refuse the evil and choose the good Assyria would remove the threat of Syria and Israel. Thus Ahaz would expect Isaiah 7:14 to be fulfilled in his lifetime. Bible scholars disagree on who the promised child was, but history tells us that shortly afterwards Syria and Israel did fall to Assyria (in 732 and 722 B.C.; the prophecy was made shortly after Ahaz became king in 735 B.C.). But, as Matthew observes, the prophecy was also fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, his being born of a virgin and being God with us.

Luke also records that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. He does so in his account of the angel Gabriel’s visiting Mary before the birth of Jesus (1:26-38). Gabriel told her, “[B]ehold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and call his name Jesus” (1:30), and, on her asking how this could be, her being a virgin, Gabriel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God” (1:35). Thus, although the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled partially in Isaiah’s day, it found its full fulfillment in the birth of Jesus Christ.

Despite the Bible’s affirmation of the virgin birth of Jesus in both of its accounts of his birth, many objections have been made to it. Here I’ll present and respond to four of them.
– The brothers of Jesus did not believe in him during his ministry (John 7:5), suggesting that they didn’t know of a virgin birth. However it’s possible that Mary and Joseph hadn’t yet told them of it.
– The New Testament is silent about the birth of Jesus except for the two passages quoted above. However, as Theodore M. Dorman points out, “This is an argument from silence, however, and carries no force when we keep two things in mind: (1) only Matthew and Luke write anything at all about Jesus’ birth, and (2) the Birth narratives are historical accounts, not theological interpretations” (Theodore M. Dorman, “Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ,” in The International Standard Encyclopedia of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988; volume 4, page 992).
– There are parallel accounts in the literature of other religions. Dale Moody responds, “The yawning chasm between these pagan myths of polytheistic promiscuity and the lofty monotheism of the virgin birth of Jesus is too wide for careful research to cross” (Dale Moody, “Virgin Birth,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick; New York: Abingdon Press, 1962; volume 4, page 791).
– The virgin birth cannot be reconciled with the preexistence of Christ. However his preexistence relates to Jesus’ deity and the virgin birth relates to his humanity.
(For a fuller consideration of objections made to the virgin birth, see Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, third edition; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Publishing Group, 2013; pages 683-687.)

So far I’ve demonstrated that the Bible affirms the virgin birth of Jesus and that objections to it can be adequately answered. But why is the virgin birth important? Obviously one reason is that it is affirmed in the Bible, God’s Word. However there are other reasons, three of which Wayne Grudem considers in his Systematic Theology:
1. It shows that salvation ultimately comes from God. As Galatians 4:4-5 says, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.”
2. It made possible the uniting of deity and humanity in one person. God could have sent His Son into the world as a man in other ways (Grudem considers two other ways), but the virgin birth was the best way for Him to do it so that both Jesus’ deity and his humanity were evident.
3. It made possible Christ’s humanity without inheriting a corrupt nature from Adam. But wouldn’t he inherit a corrupt nature from Mary? Grudem suggests that when the Holy Spirit caused her to conceive Jesus He also prevented the transmission of sin from her to Jesus.
(For a fuller consideration of these three ways in which the virgin birth is important, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994; pages 530-532.)

As we celebrate Christmas this year “[m]ay we not make it our concern to commit ourselves afresh to the reality and wholeness of the Christmas gospel as the very carols sung from our lips attest it, and with this gospel humbly accept the holy birth of Jesus which in the wisdom and power of God is so apt to denote the significance of his saving action as the incarnate Mediator, the first-begotten of the new creation and family of God?” (”Our Lord’s Virgin Birth,” Christianity Today, December 7, 1959; for the full text of the article, see Our Lord’s Virgin Birth)

Merry Christmas!

Because He Lives

“The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the crowning proof of Christianity. Everything else that was said or done by Christ and the apostles is secondary in importance to the resurrection. If the resurrection did not take place then Christianity is a false religion. If it did take place, then Christ is God and the Christian faith is absolute truth.” Thus Henry M. Morris, founder of Institute of Creation Research, opened The Resurrection of Christ – The Best-Proved Fact in History.

The apostle Paul made a similar claim when he told the Corinthian believers that it was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead which enabled them to be saved from their sins and to have the hope of eternal life.

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Much has been written about the Resurrection. Here I’ll limit myself to summarizing the Resurrection story, stating several explanations that have been made of the story, presenting evidence for one of the explanations (that it actually happened as it is described in the Bible), and considering the significance of the Resurrection.

The Resurrection Story

In early dawn of the day after the Sabbath, some women went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried, taking spices so that they could anoint his body but wondering who would roll the great stone away from the entrance of the tomb (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Some time before they arrived at the tomb, there was an earthquake and an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, rolled away the stone, and sat upon it. His sudden and glorious appearance frightened the soldiers guarding the tomb and “they trembled and became like dead men”and fled (Matthew 28:2-4).

The women arrived at the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away. One of the women, Mary Magdalene, surmising that Jesus had been taken out of the tomb, ran back to the city and told Peter and John. The other women entered the tomb, saw that Jesus’ body was not there, and then saw the angel sitting on the right side. He told them, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you.” They ran from the tomb to tell the disciples. While they were on the way, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They fell at his feet and worshiped him. Jesus said to them,”Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:5-10; Mark 16:4-8; Luke 24:2-12; John 20:2; Matthew and Mark’s describing the women’s meeting one angel and Luke’s describing them as meeting two angels suggests that they arrived at or at least entered the tomb in two groups, but they may have come together again before meeting Jesus.)

On being told by Mary Magdalene that Jesus had been taken out of the tomb, Peter and John ran to the tomb, followed by Mary. Peter and John saw the linen cloths in which Jesus’ body had been wrapped lying there and saw the face cloth that had been on his head lying separate from them and folded up. Seeing them, John believed. Then the two men returned to their homes. Meanwhile Mary arrived at the tomb and stood weeping outside it. Then stooping to look into the tomb, she saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been. Turning, she saw Jesus. He told her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” She went and told the disciples that she had seen Jesus and what he had said to her. (John 20:3-18; Peter, John, and Mary’s not meeting the other women indicates that they took a different route to the tomb than the women did on returning from it.)

Later on the same day Jesus appeared to two believers on their way from Jerusalem to a village named Emmaus (Luke 24:13-31), to Peter (Luke 24:35), and to the eleven except for Thomas (Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23).

(The partial accounts contained in the four Gospels are hard to harmonize and the above account is just one way of doing so.)

Explanations of the Resurrection Story

My older daughter, her husband, my son, and I are currently reading Chapter 2 of J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity (David C. Cook, 2013). In it the writer, a homicide detective, illustrates the method of inferring to the most reasonable explanation by evaluating each of these possible explanations of the Resurrection story:
1. The disciples were wrong about Jesus’ death.
2. The disciples lied about the resurrection.
3. The disciples were delusional.
4. THe disciples were fooled by an imposter.
5. THe disciples were influenced by limited spiritual sightings.
6. THe disciples’ observations were distorted later.
7. The disciples were accurately reporting the resurrection of Jesus.
Wallace concludes that the last explanation, although it requires a belief in the supernatural, is the most reasonable explanation of the Resurrection story.
(If any reader other than a member of my family wants a fuller statement of any of the other six explanations and a presentation of the problems in it, just ask.)

Evidence for the Resurrection

My family at home read and the Life group which my wife and I host is now reading Gregory and Edward Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic (Scripture Press Publications, 1995). In its Correspondence 16, in response to Ed’s asking, “How can you believe that a man rose from the dead?” Greg presents this evidence for the Resurrection:
1. The Resurrection is testified to by five independent sources — Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul.
2. The location of Jesus’ tomb was well known by all and so both his followers and his opponents could easily check to see if his body was still there.
3. The Christian church began in Jerusalem just a few weeks after Jesus’ crucifixion and, although he was a contemporary, exploded in growth.
4. The Resurrection narratives have the characteristics of eye-witness reports and lack the characteristics of legendary narratives.
5. The conversion of Paul is explainable only by his being confronted by the risen Lord.
6. Paul gives us a list of the Resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15, written just 15 to 20 years after the Resurrection, including “to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive” (verse 6).
7. There is no way of accounting for the transformation of the disciples from fearful and hiding to boldly witnessing except on the basis of the Resurrection.
8. There was no motive for the disciples to fabricate the story of the Resurrection.
(If any reader other than a member of my family or of my Life group wants an elaboration of any of the above pieces of evidence, just ask.)
Additionally, the testimony of hundreds of millions of transformed lives through the centuries and Jesus’ living within believers today show the truth of the Resurrection. In fact Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, described these as “the most conclusive proof for the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Why the Resurrection Matters to You).

The Significance of the Resurrection

I observed above that “the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the crowning proof of Christianity,” showing that he is the Son of God and enabling us to be saved from our sins and to have the hope of eternal life. It inaugurated a new age in which we can be united with God, by being indwelt by the Holy Spirit sent to us by Jesus after his resurrection and ascension, and points forward to a future age in which we will live with Him.

In reading about Jesus’ resurrection over the past few days, I encountered several lists of ways in which his resurrection was significant. I considered preparing my own list to include in this article. However I decided instead to share again what Wayne Grudem says about the significance of Jesus’ resurrection in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). I shared it here last year when my family at home was reading Systematic Theology and I was reporting in Open Theism on what we read.

Here is what I shared then from what Grudem says about the significance of the Resurrection:

Gruden identifies these ways in which the resurrection is doctrinally significant:
1. It ensures our regeneration. Paul says that God “made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him” (Ephesians 2:5-6), and Peter says that He “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
2. It ensures our justification. Paul says that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespass and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
3. It ensures that we will receive perfect resurrection bodies. Paul describes Jesus as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20), implying our resurrection bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrection body.

Grudem identifies these ways in which the resurrection is ethically significant:
1. Because Jesus was raised from the dead and we too shall be raised from the dead, we should continue steadfastly in the Lord’s work. After making a lengthy exposition on the resurrection, Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
2. Because Jesus was raised from the dead and we have been raised to new life with him, we should set our minds on heavenly things. Paul says, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above” (Colossians 1:4).
3. For the same reason and because “the death [Jesus] died he died to sin, once for all,” we should “consider ourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6:11). Paul continues, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12).

Because He Lives

God sent His Son, they called him Jesus,
He came to live, die, and forgive;
He lived and died to sign my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Because he lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because he lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know he holds the future,
And life is worth the living, just because he lives.

And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he lives!

Because he lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because he lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know he holds the future,
And life is worth the living, just because he lives.

(Bill and Gloria Gaither, 1971)