Wednesday, December 13, 2017

God Came Near

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of Christianity is called the imminence of God, which means he comes close to us. Almost all religions consider God transcendent, which means that he is different in nature and above humanity. Only Christianity tells us that God is both transcendent and imminent.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Prophet Jeremiah predicted that God would come near. It is a messianic prophecy but also a prediction that God would come near. Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me, for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?'  declares the LORD. "'So you will be my people, and I will be your God.'" (Jer 30:21-22).

This is the promise of the incarnation. God would come so near as to become one of us. Jesus entered our world at Bethlehem and forever became a man to be identified with us. When God sent His Son to Bethlehem, he was deliberately saying, I will make something of this place. I will make these people my people, and I will be their God. That is a relationship. God came imminently close to have a relationship with us.

God moved into our world, moved into a human body, and lived among us. He moved into the neighborhood where we live and die. That is the Christmas message. God entered our world to reach us. When Jeremiah spoke these words, they were meant for the nation of Israel that was living in captivity. These were words of hope that God would come, heal them, and set them free. They are also words to us—words that pointed to Jesus’ coming. But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD, 'because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.' (Jer 30:17).

When these words came to Israel, they gave them hope because they thought God forgot them. They certainly had forgotten who they were. They no longer believed that they were God’s special people. They had forgotten who God was. They felt trapped with no way out. How many people today because of sin and anxiety have lost their hope? Life has become a miserable existence. Too many shattered expectations that never came true have left life one big drudgery, and they feel that nobody cares.

Jeremiah told Israel that the cause of the problem was their sin. They were so abandoned and lonely because “your sins [are] so many” (Jer 30:14-15). Sin is something we do not hear much about, but the Bible exposes the problem. Sin steals our hearts and destroys our lives. What makes sin so damning is that we cannot free ourselves from the trap of our own sin. God came to Israel to save them from their sin, and Jesus came to this earth to save us from our sin.

Jesus introduced his ministry with these words, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed” (Luke 4:18). He truly came near to us to set us free—free from our addictions, free from our guilt, free from our shame, free from our failure, and free from all that imprisons us.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

As Good As Done

We all know people who are so reliable that when they say they will do something, it is as good as done. If they write you a check, it is as good as if it is already cashed. When the Apostle Paul was writing to the Ephesians about Jesus’ ascension and exaltation in heaven, he wrote this way.

After Jesus spent about 40 days with his disciples after his resurrection, he ascended up to heaven. Luke described it as if he slowly disappeared from their sight while he blessed them (Luke 24:50-53).

Paul says that Jesus was exalted to the highest place in heaven. The name that was given him at birth, the one that Gabriel told Mary to name him—Jesus, that name has been exalted above every other name (Phil 2:9-11).  Jesus has a body—the same one he was born with, although it has been glorified. He has it for all eternity. He bears in that body the marks of our redemption.

The Incarnation is what happened at the conception when the Holy Spirit planted the seed in Mary’s womb. When Christ took that same humanity to heaven, it was meant to give us hope of one day redeeming our bodies the same way. Paul says that Jesus has become "the firstfruits" of his people through his resurrection and ascension (1 Cor 15:20).

We have not experienced resurrection the way Jesus has, and we still have the same old bodies, but one day we will. Paul says our turn is coming (1 Cor 15:23). We are always glad when our turn comes, especially if we have been waiting a long time. Paul sees this as so real, that we have in a sense already ascended with Christ. To the Ephesians he describes Jesus’ exalted status as being above all rule and authority—He is above all (Eph 1:20-22).

Paul goes on to say that because Christ is exalted, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). It is as if Paul says our resurrection and exaltation is as good as done. We have the check, and all that is needed is to cash it.  One day this hope will be fully realized.