Tag Archives: Christmas

A Greater King

I’ve been thinking lately about a challenging passage in the Bible. I think that too often, we read the stories of the Old Testament as quaint fables of old, or stories of another people and another time and we wonder what it has to do with us today.

But those stories are written records of God’s redemptive history. The written accounts of the Old Testament are given to us by God to teach us how God has prepared the world for his Redeemer, who would save his people from their sins.

The disturbing account that I have been meditating on is found in 2 Samuel 24, and the parallel account is in 1 Chronicles 21.

If you haven’t read these accounts lately, or if you have never read these accounts, please do so before you read my comments. I’m just a guy trying to point you to Christ. The Word of God gives life to the dead. So read it. I’ll wait….

OK. The first thing that you see is that 2 Samuel says that the Lord was angry with David and stirred him up to number his army. Then you see that 1 Chronicles says that Satan incited David. This brings us to a deep subject that cannot really be exhausted in one blog, but the fact is this. Satan does nothing apart from God’s decree. It is God who is sovereign over every event that comes to pass, even the temptations of the devil.

Now, that being said, it seems very odd to us that God would be angry with David and allow Satan to tempt him to sin, especially since God knows that this chain of events will end with the death of 70,000 men in Israel. This doesn’t seem to fit our notions of God.

But very briefly, in this short blog, I want you to see something about God.

God is holy and cannot dwell with sinful man. David was a sinner. He was proud, lustful, bloodthirsty, fearful. He was a real sinner with real sins. In fact, not only was David a sinner, but every person alive in Israel was a sinner and deserving of the eternal wrath of God. Not one of those who died in the plague was treated unjustly by God.

Which brings us to the next point. Because Israel was sinful, God gave them a king and a priest. David was the king, and Zadok was the priest. David protected them from their enemies and ruled over them as the representative of God. In fact, the earthly kingdom of David on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem was so closely related to the Kingdom of God that the term “Zion” was used interchangeable for the Church in the Psalms. God ruled and met with his people on Mt. Zion, through the priesthood, and through the line of David. David also was given a promise: that his seed would reign forever and ever, and of his kingdom there would be no end.

But David was a sinner – as we established. He caved to the temptation of the devil and turned his trust onto his troops and his prosperity, rather than to the Lord God of Israel. And God is holy, and cannot abide with sin.

God said very clearly, “The soul that sins shall die.” And God cannot lie. What happens when those who are mediating between God and man are themselves sinners? What happens is that everyone dies. Not only the mediator, but also those who are represented by the mediator. How can a mediator save anyone if he himself is a sinner?

This is what we learn about God in this difficult passage. It is difficult because it shows us a God that doesn’t fit with our notions of what God should be like.

But the story doesn’t end there. If the story ended there, none of us would be alive.

Jerusalem was the newly conquered capital of David. David took it from the hands of the Jebusites and established his kingdom there. Now the angel of death is passing through Jerusalem with the sword of God’s wrath unsheathed and destroying. But then God commands the angel to stop. In the air above the threshing floor of a Jebusite named Ornan, the angel waits the command of God with his sword raised, prepared to destroy.

And God commands David to offer a sacrifice right there. When the sacrifice is offered, the angel puts up the sword. Get this point: God accepted a substitute for the death penalty decreed upon man.

Of course, this substitute could only be temporary, for the blood of bulls and goats could never atone for sin in the eyes of God. But that blood pointed to something far greater…

David understood the message from God and purchased the land from Ornan. David had been preparing to build a permanent temple for the worship of the Lord. But the law had clearly stated that the location for that temple would be revealed by God himself. No one could just decide for himself on a good location. It is only God who sets the terms for sinful man.

And David got the message. That plot of land became the site of the Temple of Solomon, where God met with his people, where the sacrifices were offered and accepted. But the priests were still sinful. The king was still sinful.

People kept dying. God’s wrath kept being unleashed because of the sin and idolatry of the people and the mediators. Eventually the line of David was offering human sacrifice outside the gates of Jerusalem and worshiping the gods of the Canaanites right in the very Temple of Solomon! God is just and holy, and Jerusalem would eventually be destroyed, God’s presence would depart, and the king would be imprisoned in Babylon.

What happens when the mediator is sinful? We are still in our sins and the sword of the angel is still raised.

And this all points to something even greater. The time would come when the angels would appear again, this time to shepherds outside of Jerusalem. But this time their swords would be sheathed, and they would be singing, “Peace on earth.” God provided the terms of peace.

This baby born wouldn’t be a sinful mediator. He would be the spotless lamb of God. This baby wouldn’t cave to the temptation of the devil, but would hold faithfully to God’s word without failure.

And the day would come when the perfect and sinless lamb of God would take the sword of God’s wrath upon himself.

When the mediator isn’t a sinner, the world is saved. When the mediator isn’t a sinner, the kingdom of God thrives and prospers. When the mediator isn’t a sinner, he can be offered to God as the perfect substitute for sin and the sword of God can be sheathed forever.

The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this:

What kind of mediator and redeemer then must we seek?

One who is true and righteous man, but also more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.

There is only one who fits THAT bill. There are a lot of men and a lot of women. But there was only ONE who could be called righteous before the judgment throne of God. Only one who never caved to Satan. Only one who was born without the corruption of Adam. And we are celebrating that birth this week.

And this same one is also true God. Everything you can say about God you can say about the baby in the manger. He is omnipotent, simple, everywhere present, eternal, infinite in power and majesty, upholding the universe by his decree. How one person can be omniscient and sovereign and have to learn how to walk and read is a mystery that we cannot explain. But we confess it and sing it and remember that his name is Wonderful.

Why then would we exchange the only mediator between God and man with a sinful creature? Why do we look to husbands or wives or kings or presidents or pastors or popes to act as the bridge between God and man? There is only ONE mediator.

David was anointed by Samuel, appointed by God, given a kingdom. God placed his name and his blessing on David’s kingdom. God blessed Israel for David’s sake. God blessed his people and loved his people and prospered his people for David’s sake.

And David sinned and thousands and thousands died from the sword of the Lord. We need a far greater mediator than that!

When your mediator is a sinner, you are a dead man walking.

As we celebrate the birth of this Mediator, as you read and hear about his birth, when you think about angels and shepherds and wise men, remember this inconvenient truth. The sword of the Lord has been sheathed for a while as the gospel is proclaimed. But that sword will fall. The wrath of God is still coming. How can anyone believe in a good and holy God and not believe in the coming judgment? Of course God is coming in judgment! That sword must fall because God is good and men and women are idolaters, murderers, fornicators, thieves. And the sword will indeed fall.

But before it falls, God has provided a perfect substitute, a perfect king, a perfect priest. He wasn’t sinful and weak. Born in a manger, and yet without sin. Worshiped by shepherds and wise men, wrapped in strips of cloths for a diaper. The creator and sustainer of the universe crying at night for the breast and a burp. And eventually nailed to a cross to take the sword of the wrath of God completely.

When we believe on his name and trust in him alone, the life that he provides is given to us. He who believes on him shall never die. The sword is put away forever in Christ, and there is now no condemnation. His resurrection is a sure pledge of OUR resurrection, because his sacrifice was accepted. And his sacrifice was accepted because in him, God was well-pleased. He was sinless, so that we could live.

Put away trust in men, put away faith in other mediators. Put away your blind faith in pastors, husbands, and kings. When your mediator is a sinner, you are a dead man walking. Rest in him alone. There is only one mediator: Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Filed under Christology, Eternal Subordination, Gospel

The Meaning of Christmas

It’s inevitable this time of year.  People seem obsessed with “putting Christ back into Christmas”.  They seem to mean by this that we should put Nativity scenes up instead of Christmas trees, and that we should rant incessantly about spelling the holiday “Christmas” instead of “xmas”. Soon we will be asked to share memes if we agree that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Even now, perhaps there are some that are concerned that I might be taking too light a view on changing Christmas to “xmas”.  No, I’m not. “X” is simply a Greek chi, and for 2,000 years it has stood for the name “Christ.” Everyone relax.

I agree that at many times the holiday seems overdone, vain and aesthetically offensive. Christians are not immune to this charge.  There are only so many times that you can hear “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Mary did you know?”

On the one hand, people become obsessed with gifts, wrapping presents and staying busy to ‘get into the Christmas spirit”, and the marketplace takes advantage.  On the other hand are those who decry the commercialism of Christmas, and shout to “remember the true meaning of Christmas”.  Movies and stories abound, teaching us that the true meaning of Christmas is family, doing good to others, sharing, and basically remembering that we can make a difference with sacrificial works and putting others, primarily children, first.  

But did God send His Son into the world in the womb of the virgin in order to teach us better ways of being better people?  Did God really become flesh and dwell among us so that we could go to Walmart and buy plastic idols to put on our front lawn, patting ourselves on the back for putting Christ back into Christmas?  Not according to the Bible.

People have tried for thousands of years to “make a difference” and after a few well-meaning spurts of outward displays of charity they  immediately return to their vain, shallow, cruel and abusive lives.  The fact is that we are all so hopeless, powerless, vain, shallow, self-centered and sinful that there was absolutely no hope in humanity whatsoever.  Every single one of us from the fall of man until now is subject to death and misery.  We aren’t smart enough, loving enough, strong enough or good enough to do anything about it.

But our natural religion says that we can fix this mess by greater motivation, or bigger acts of charity.  We can make a difference by doing better things better, by loving more, by “remembering the true meaning of Christmas all year round”, or by electing people smart enough to fix all of our problems.

It never works and never has.  But as a dog returns to his vomit, we return to our folly.  Every year at Christmas we offer our incense to the plastic gods of our self-righteousness, pat ourselves on the back for being basically good people, cry over “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and try to convince ourselves that we really can make a difference if we just try harder.

But what if we really aren’t good enough?  What if there really isn’t anything that we can do to make a difference?  What do we do when something happens in our lives that leaves us devastated, and there isn’t anything that we can or could have done about it?

What sacrifice will you offer to your gods that will take away the pain, misery and emptiness of the vanity of life?

Now we can begin to see the true meaning of Christmas.  The angel told Joseph “You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins”.

It isn’t about the spirit of giving.  It isn’t about the message of Santa inside of each one of us.  It isn’t about our basic goodness and kindness, for we have none.  The fact is this:  We are so hopeless, vile and corrupt that there is no possibility of saving ourselves in any way.  If there is any hope for man, God must save him.  So God became flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary in order to take the curse of death upon himself.  He gives us His righteousness, for we have none of our own.  And He takes our vile rags on Himself, dying under God’s curse, so that we might live.

When He rose from the dead, He showed the world that the curse was finally taken away, and He now reigns until all of His enemies are put under His feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Fellow professing Christians, please quit fretting about “secular humanists” or Hollywood taking Christ out of Christmas.  We have been managing the mangling of the gospel just fine without their help.  When we send the message that it’s about nativity scenes, “xmas”, Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays, giving and works of charity, all we are doing is enforcing man’s natural religion: that we can make a difference by our efforts and good will.

If we could have made a difference in this world, Jesus would not have had to come. The baby in the manger was the eternal, almighty, glorious Son of God, “whose goings forth are of old”. Instead of teaching us the inherent goodness of man, it teaches the opposite. We were so lost and helpless that it came to this. God became flesh and came to save us. He became poor, despised, rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief in our place.  That was what we deserved – the outer darkness of hell. But Jesus took it upon Himself. Every child but one was born to live. Jesus was born to die.

Only when we get that figured out can we eat our bread with joy, drink our wine with a merry heart, live joyfully with our wives, and do what we can to relieve some of the suffering around us.  But this is only possible if we aren’t trying to save the world.  God will not give his glory to another, and there is only One Savior.  We will never save the world.  We will never HELP God save the world.  Only Jesus is strong enough, wise enough, good enough and loving enough.  All we can do is offer our lives to Him with gratitude and awe.  All we can do is wait and see the salvation of the Lord.

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Filed under Christmas, Gospel, Hope