December 24, 2017
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 14:30 in the audio file.
Or, Celebrating Christmas Responsibly
The man who keeps jumping up and missing a higher level gets a better view of the side of the cliff, even if just in the moments he falls past them, than the man who made the jump successfully and is standing on top. Seeing the standard, and seeking to reach the standard, yet failing to reach the standard, may help one to appreciate the glory of and the difficulty in the standard. Someone who is “there” already, someone who more naturally does a “thing,” can’t always explain it or value it.
A couch to 5k-er knows running differently than a Kenyan. A more introverted kid, who grew up as an only child, handles loud laughing and large group feasting differently. A short person thinks about the top shelf differently, and is more thankful for step stools than a tall person. And image-bearers get a serious kick in the pants with Christmas truth.
Christmas is revelation. When Jesus was born godliness was manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). The Word became flesh and showed glory, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he (the Word) has made him (the Father) known” (John 1:18). Christmas reveals attributes of God, His love and initiation and even humility (see Philippians 2:7-8). Being laid in a manger is one thing, but the fulness of God in a body itself is a bigger deal.
But Christmas does more than reveal God. Christmas also reveals the “image of God.” We learn about God in Jesus, and we see the standard of what God made us to be in Him. The more we see Jesus the more we see that all of us fall short of the glory of God.
This morning I have to goals: 1) to exalt Christ’s incarnation as good news so that we would rejoice in Him, and 2) to examine Christ’s incarnation as the true pattern of image-bearing so that we would reflect Him.
Let’s rewind to the beginning of the tape. Adam was great, really glorious, made in the image and likeness of God. God gave Adam a wife to be responsible for, a garden to be responsible for, a promise of children to be responsible for, and a prohibition against eating certain fruit to be responsible for. He was given broad shoulders for a big task of loving his wife and stewarding his stuff and expanding his influence, to “fill the earth and subdue it.”
Then: sin. Adam did not fulfill his responsibility to protect his wife from the ancient dragon. Adam did not fulfill his responsibility to obey nor did he take responsibility for his disobedience. When God came to confront him he blamed Eve, and ultimately God for giving Eve to him.
The consequences of Adam’s irresponsibility continue to play out today. God cursed the ground so that man’s responsibilities would be more difficult, dirt with sweat and back-bending discomfort. God judged Eve not only with painfulness in child-bearing but also with a bent toward bossiness. Even internally, the power of sin corrupts desires and distorts reality so that we do not even know what we’re made for, let alone what to do it. Instead of fellowship we experience isolation and bitterness and hostility. Instead of meaningful work we have greed or laziness or frustration. We need redemption and yet we’re blind to that need and to the source of it.
Fast-forward the tape. Then: Bethlehem. Then: unto us a Son is given. Then: God with us. Then: the word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory. Then: Christmas. Then: the Second Adam from above.
In Jesus we see the image of God that we were created to be. In Jesus all the world comes together.
A couple weeks ago Jonathan included a couple verses from “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” in his email to the music ministry group. After sharing the lyrics he wrote, “That sort of systematic theology put to a Christmas melody helps us to see that there are significant and clear reasons to celebrate Christmas.”
Absolutely. So what if we call it Christematic Theology? Systematic theology is an attempt to arrange and summarize biblical truths in a self-consistent whole. So we could say that Christematic theology aims to see the entire system of reality and revelation fixed together in Christ, and in some ways it starts with Christmas.
Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). “In him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). The good news is about the “glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
And in all of those contexts Christ is at work, responsible for creation and for salvation.
In Colossians 1 He created all things and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15, 17). So also in Hebrews, the Son is the heir of all things, the one through whom God created the world (Hebrews 1:2). Even now He “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:4). He keeps speaking and things keep existing. The planets spin and orbit, dogs bark, milk spills, whales spout, snow falls, stars shine, kids grow, all because of Christ. He is responsible for it all.
Likewise, all of salvation is His work. He was born in order to reconcile “all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross” (Colossians 1:20). He was born to reconcile in His body of flesh by his death (Colossians 1:22). He was born to make purification for sins (Hebrews 1:3). He was born as the God-Man, the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He was born to be the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18). He was born to be the faithful husband laying down His life for His unlovely bride (Ephesians 5:25).
Christ was born for taking responsibility. This is amazing. I love the good news that Christ was born to die for all those the Father gave to Him. But like the doctrine of the Trinity, I thought this was great theology but not a pattern.
Then a few years ago I read N.D. Wilson’s book, Death by Living. The L2L leaders and wives and elders and wives are talking through it together this year at our Wednesday meetings. It it N.D. offers an inescapable picture of the image of God.
When Eve ate the forbidden fruit, what should Adam have done? There are at least a few options. He could have eaten it with her, joined her in disobedience in order to die with her. He could have distanced himself from her, expecting that God could make him another wife if He wanted, so she would die and he wouldn’t. Or, Adam could have done what he was created to do: die for her.
Adam would not have been the well-behaved Mormon teenager, abstaining from the fruit. He would have looked at Eve, seen her curse, seen her enemy, and gone after that serpent with pure and righteous wrath. He would have then turned to face the pure and righteous wrath of God Himself (that Adam had just imaged), and he would have said something quite simple, something that would be said by another, thousands of years later.
“Take me instead.”
Adam could have been conqueror rather than conquered. Regardless, fallen or unfilled, he was born to die. (Death by Living, 80)
This is what the Second Adam did. The Second Adam did not distance Himself from the rebels. He clothed Himself with frail humanity. He took on flesh and became like His brothers in every respect so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest (Hebrews 2:17). He sympathizes with our weaknesses, and has in every respect been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
The Savior was born to take responsibility for sin, for us. This is the image of God.
It is both truth to believe and an example to follow. The incarnation is a reason to rejoice as well as an archetype to reflect.
The apostle Paul clarified this question (in 1 Corinthians 15) when he spoke of the first and second Adam. He uses the name Adam in the sense of the head of a race, one who continues living as part of that entire race and corresponds to its type. (Kuyper, Pro Rege)
Adam was made in the image of God and he failed, not just to obey a rule but to reflect His maker. The Second Adam revealed the image of God in fulness, also not only in His perfect obedience but in His loving sacrifice.
What are we asking for when we sing verse 4 of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”?
Adam’s likeness, Lord efface,
Stamp thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner man:
O, to all, Thy self impart
Formed in each believing heart.
The work of the Second Adam is to restore the image of God, fallen in the first Adam. Which means that as the image of the Second Adam is stamped on us, as we are conformed more and more to the image of God in Christ, we will be taking responsibility for others. This includes their unlovely parts.
This includes how we celebrate Christmas. We ought to celebrate Christmas responsibly, by which I don’t mean soberly, not getting drunk. Don’t get drunk, yes, but that’s because there is more to do.
I understand that it is a vacation day for most, as in you don’t have to go in to the office or store or truck or wherever. But there is food to make and tables to set and kids to watch and relatives who are needy. It is good to rest, but God gives rest so that we can give ourselves for others. Our sacrifices don’t redeem others, but loving sacrifice for others is a significant part of living as the image of God.
When you get time, what do you do with it? When you have money, how do you spend it? When you are strong, who are you serving? I know some with ongoing health problems, chronic and debilitating pain in some cases. Whey they have a day of less pain, or when their meds kick in, they use it to spend on themselves. I’m thankful for the example of my wife who does the opposite. She spends herself on the kids or the school or some big project for someone else.
It’s quite difficult to fully embrace our personal responsibilities, let alone as those who are responsible for others. It is not everyone’s first instinct to run toward the fire. But this is Christmas. This is the incarnation of God to deal with our hostile disobedience. He didn’t watch us from heaven, He came to earth to spend Himself on our behalf.
As you grow in Christlikeness, you will see more clearly how short you fall of Christlikeness. You will jump, trying to reach the next level, and you will hit your shins on the hard edge. You will jump and grab onto the edge with your fingernails before slipping down.
But this is also part of the good news. Christ not only came to forgive us for failing, He promises His own strength for following in His steps. He promises grace to the weak. He exalts the humble. He imparts Himself to every believing heart.
When the house is messy and the kids are surly and the relatives are complian-y, when the presents aren’t wrapped yet and the car breaks down, when you’re tired and overwhelmed and you want to get away, remember Christmas. Celebrate Christmas responsibly as an image bearer.
Christ made us with the capacity for responsibility, and He took responsibility to save us and fill us to bear His image.
Come behold the wondrous mystery
He the perfect Son of Man.
In His living, in His suffering
never trace nor stain of sin.
See the true and better Adam
come to save the hell-bound man.
Christ the great and sure fulfillment
of the law; in Him we stand.
(“Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery”)
The world is blinded from seeing this gospel, of salvation from death and of mankind’s purpose to give ourselves for others. It is no wonder their Christmases are so hollow and disappointing.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3–4)
We rejoice in the good news of salvation and we are being transformed reflect the Second Adam. May we be worn out as clay pots, showing that the surpassing power belongs to God, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. Merry Christmas, and celebrate Christmas responsibly.
God always gives great gifts. When we remember the gift of His Son’s coming we rejoice that He’s coming again. When we remember the gift of our salvation, we rejoice that He will sustain us to the end. So thank God that He takes responsibility for us, and let us celebrate His faithfulness by giving ourselves for others.
[Y]ou are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:7–9, ESV)