December 16, 2020
Dr Ritch Boerckel and Pastor Josh Beakley
Josh: Welcome! It’s good to see everyone who is able to be with us here onsite and those who are online. We’re thankful to be able to connect in any way we can with the church family. This is our midweek service. We have been looking at the passage that we’ve studied on Sunday morning, reflecting on it a bit and really trying to engage with questions that people have coming in. So if you’re here, you’re welcome to text in questions and if you’re online, you can text in questions. Then that goes to the tech crew in the back who has been amazing and faithfully serving. Then they forward it over to us, and we’ll do our best. The passage at hand is Matthew chapter 2. But if you have other questions that maybe aren’t related to that but you want to send them in, we’ll see if we can get to those, too.
Ritch: Sure. And especially about anything related to Christmas. This is our last Wednesday night for 2020. So we’ll not be here next week or the week after. In fact, I don’t know. Are we prepared to say when we’re coming back in January?
Josh: We’re taking even some more weeks off in the beginning of January. And then, Lord willing, I believe we’re not fully settled on the date yet, but for sure at least, the plan is by the 27th of January, we’re going to be able to start into a new mini-series that we’re looking to do for the new year. So Wednesdays will continue to be Better Together, but a little bit different. We’re going to have some specific topics, some hard topics, controversial topics that we’re going to schedule and plan to discuss.
Ritch: Yes. So those of you who are here and out there online, look for the advance notice of what those topics will be. We think there is just going to be a broad interest among believers, but even unbelievers as we talk about really hard subject matters related to things that happen in our world and the empty promises that this world provides to bring hope and joy to people. But tonight, if you have any questions about Christmas, tonight’s the night to ask that because this is going to be it before we are able to celebrate Christmas as families and as people gather together a bit.
Josh: So let us know if you have questions and we’ll look forward to talking through Matthew 2. We’re talking about Christmas hope in a time of trouble. As we enter next year, we’re going to talk about some of the trouble that we face in our own culture, some of those empty promises, hard, hot topics that people are wrestling with and try to engage. For now, Christmas hope in a time of trouble a couple thousand years ago, and that hope persists today. So chapter 2. Maybe I’ll read Matthew 2:1-12. That kind of gives us the sense of what you taught on, though we’ll probably just cover anything in chapter 2 because it’s our last Wednesday, and then if you wouldn’t mind praying for us.
Josh: Matthew chapter 2. Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Ritch: Let’s pray together. Father, thank you for sending your Son. Thank you for telling us about His advent all through recorded revelation, from really, Genesis 3 on through Malachi, and then, Father, to see all these promises fulfilled in Christ. We know that all your promises are yes, or have their Amen in Jesus, Lord. So help us to fix our eyes on Him. He’s the author of our faith. He’s the perfecter, the finisher, the completer of our faith. Lord, we’re still on a journey and we need you. We need your Holy Spirit. We need your Spirit to speak to us through your Word. We need your Spirit to point us to Christ so that we would follow Him. Tonight, as we worship you and as we think about Christmas, we think about what you did, Lord, fill us with just the marvel of the glory of Christ. Lord, that we would see Him more clearly, that we would love Him yet, more dearly and zealously and Lord, that we would follow Him in our thinking, in our words, in our actions and in every way. Lord, that we would follow Him throughout this life and then that we would see Him. Lord, we would see Him face to face and be transformed into His likeness. So bless our time together. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Josh: Amen! Well, thanks for your message on Sunday. It’s good to think about Jesus as the King. You talked about a few different aspects of what kind of King He is. You talked about these areas, and I guess it sort of came to me about Him being a Savior King and a necessary King, these different aspects. In thinking about Jesus as the Savior, the angel said He has come to save His people from their sins. But thinking about Jesus, He’s the only Savior for anyone, and that everyone needs a Savior but that Jesus doesn’t need anyone. Some of these aspects of just how unique and special He is as a King are really contrasted in the passage by the present king at the time, Herod. You kind of see a real legitimate king and an illegitimate king, in one sense. Herod is very threatened by Jesus.
But it strikes me so powerfully in the passage that the thing that God’s doing that is most special in Jesus, is a thing that’s very subtle, almost imperceptible to the people at the time. The guy who seems important and big and all the things that are really happening in the world, is almost downplayed and diminished and threatened by this little tiny infant. You see the way that God works is so different from what feels like the influential powerful meaningful things happening in the day; the control and the people influencing the culture. You see God at work in these really subtle, small ways. It kind of brings meaning and hope to ordinary people like us and also causes us to question the things that we think are powerful and important, the fact that someone like Herod would be threatened by an infant. But maybe a question just as you think about those two kings, and almost in one sense, you’ve got two kingdoms. But what are some reasons that you say in the passage, why Herod would be so threatened by a baby? What triggered that? Him being such a powerful guy, and he’s so threatened.
Ritch: Sure. So it is a stunning contrast between these two kings. One is an earthly king. One is a, we’ll say, a sovereign King. He’s the king of the heavens and the earth. One is a king that is eternal; the other is a king that is temporal. Part of Herod’s fear was he knows, earthly kings know that their kingdoms are temporary, yet they’re trying to hold onto it for as long as they can. It’s futile. It’s like grasping the wind to try to find eternity in time. Yet, Herod is trying to do that.
Herod is very interesting. He’s very well-known in secular history. It is well-established, so many of the details of his life. Some of those details are very noble. So he really was the guy that brought Roman peace to this area. That’s why he was given the opportunity to be called the king of the Jews. He was a really strong military leader in his early years. He understood that it was important to be gracious to the people most of the time. He did a lot of things throughout his reign that showed human kindness or generosity. I think it was selfishly motivated so that his rule would be one of tranquility and the tax money would continue to flow upward to Rome and Rome would be happy with him. But he was also a very paranoid man. He built so many huge structures, like the Temple. You can go to Jerusalem today and see this massive temple mount that was destroyed in 70 A.D. He built Masada, which is this fortress out in the desert. He built the Herodium, which is another sort of fortress that just is so elaborate, so ornate.
Josh: And you’re speaking of these from experience. I know I had the privilege of going to Israel with you at one point, but you’ve been many more times than me, to see those places, which are very impressive.
Ritch: In the ancient city of Caesarea, he built a human-made harbor where there wasn’t any harbor. Ships weren’t able to come into Caesarea and he built a harbor, which today, all of this still sort of is an engineering wonder.
Josh: Yes. Beautiful, gigantic stones, amazing architecture, and some lasting until now. And you can go and see this amazing stuff.
Ritch: And as a result, there was economic prosperity. He is called Herod the Great because he did some really great things and his fingerprints are still seen 2,000 years later. Yet, he’s a man of great paranoia. He always knew his kingdom was temporary and he was so afraid, for instance, and you’ll see some of his cruelty in this as well. He married a Jewish woman, Mariamne, and he did that because that was a wise political thing to do. He’s really from Esau, an Edomite, so he wasn’t in, but once he married a Jew, then the Jews accepted his rule. Even though he still represented Rome, it was still somewhat of a peaceable matter. But he ultimately had her killed because of fear. He had three of his sons killed, and then, right before he died, he had another one killed, executed because he was afraid that they would take his throne. And there is a Greek word huios, which means son and hus which means pig. So there was a phrase of that day that it’s safer to be Herod’s hus than his huios. It’s a play on words. It’s safer to be his pig than a son, because as a person married to a Jew, he’s not going to kill a pig. But if you’re a son, it’s very likely that he can have you put to death. One of the reasons why he built these fortresses, like Masada, was so that he could escape if there ever were an uprising.
Josh: He had lots of backup plans. But you’re kind of painting a picture of an earthly king, of sort of our approach as an earthly king, to…
Ritch: Control at all costs. Seek after your own power, your own authority. Make sure you maintain it even if it means ruling in a very wicked and selfish and sort of ugly way.
Josh: Right! As humans, we haven’t changed that much. Anybody, as you watch the trail of people in authority and power and positions without Christ, you see that human nature. Even for people within the church, you see sin and the human nature and we tend towards these kinds of fleshly responses to authority and try to control it. But that’s coming forward. If you go backward, Herod also, if you’ve read the Bible, it echoes so powerfully, especially as you continue the chapter, back to Egypt. You think about Pharaoh and the responses that Pharaoh had and his damage that he does to God’s people.
Ritch: Herod murdered children. And Pharaoh likely murdered more Hebrew children than Herod did. Herod had all the children two years old and younger killed. It’s likely that there were, people say, thirty to forty children at that time living in that area; twenty to forty I guess is what scholars kind of guess. It’s terrible! Terrible! But Pharaoh would have been in the thousands of how many Hebrew children he had murdered. Yet, Moses said there is going to be a prophet coming after me that is greater. And here we have this deliverer. He actually comes out of Egypt, because God sends Him to Egypt sovereignly so that He would be seen as the Deliverer; capital D. Moses was the small d deliverer. God used him. There is also a comparison between Moses, just as there is a contrast between Herod and Jesus.
One is this power-hungry, fear-consumed sort of maniacal king and the other is this gentle and humble servant who came to suffer and to save, and yet, whose glory is infinite. Here is a person, a king who has some glory. In other words, Wow! He has a wow factor, but that wow factor fades. It crumbles. As we mentioned, you can go to Israel today and you see sort of the shadows of the wow, but the wow is gone. The temple is torn down. Caesarea is broken apart. Jesus’ glory never fades for all of eternity. It only grows brighter and brighter to those of us who are privileged to see it. Here is one king who uses his people and the other who serves His people. He says, “How can I come alongside and bring blessing?” You couldn’t have two greater contrasts.
Yet, the irony of the world’s response is that everybody longs for this kind of king. But they continue to reject this king. Why is that? Well, it’s because they continue to believe the lies of this other king. They believe that there actually is glory over here, where century after century of human history has laid out that one impressive individual after another has risen and one impressive individual after another has fallen and been removed from the world stage. That lie that somehow we can have glory apart from God is such a strong pull that people choose the glory of Herod, whatever that means. It’s earthly. It’s temporal. It’s this world. It’s me-centered. They choose that over the glory of Christ. That shows us again the condition of the human heart in our rejection of God.
Josh: In one sense, you can look at the Bible in the frame of a tale of two kingdoms from the beginning. You see these two kingdoms at war and it builds toward the very end. Matthew is depicting, here’s Jesus, the true king. And he’s going to go and talk about Him as the new Moses and the legitimate king. Almost like Moses, you see Him go up to a mountain and then begin to teach. And He references, “you’ve heard it said,” and He talks about Moses. “Let me tell you what truly is the nature and heart of God.” You see Him give these messages. I think if I remember right, it’s five sermons almost sort of like the Torah, where He’s just unpacking, here’s the Word of God as the King. Then ultimately, Matthew is saying this is the true King. And you see the New Testament build towards what we know in prophecy is that there is this war of kingdoms. There’s a kingdom of man that’s going to be someone trying to unite the kings of the world against God and against Christ. Ultimately, Christ is going to win. But that’s always going to be a part of this life that we live in; a battle between these kingdoms.
Ritch: Just like with Moses, there was a human king seeking to cut off that deliverance. There is a human king over here in this story that is trying to cut off the Deliverer. Also, just like with Moses, Moses doesn’t deliver from a distance. He enters right in with the people. So when the people are thirsty, he’s thirsty with them. When the people are hungry, he’s hungry with them. When the people are hot and tired and exhausted, he’s hot and tired and exhausted with them. That is the message of Christmas. It’s that God took on human flesh to be thirsty with us, to hunger with us, to feel sorrow with us, so that He could represent us as our Savior and He could ultimately deliver us. There is no deliverance without one who took on flesh to represent us and ultimately to die in our place. Without His humanity, without Him taking on human flesh, He could not save. I know some kick back against that and say, “Well, God can do anything.” Well, there is certain truth of that, but God cannot do anything contrary to His nature. His justice required that man suffer for man’s sin. So the whole purpose of Jesus’ incarnation was for suffering. Without Jesus’ incarnation, how does God suffer? He doesn’t. But Jesus took on flesh so that in weakness, He could suffer and ultimately die.
Josh: Yes. It gets back to our conversation last week, for sure. But this is a question that relates to what you said. The question comes in: did Jesus appear in bodily form in the Old Testament? So before this appearance here as an infant, did He appear in bodily form? And if so, was He in a glorified body? Can you explain how He could have appeared before He came as a baby? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Ritch: Yes. So the word “appear” is clear. He did not have a human body in the Old Testament. He could appear as to have a human body. That’s easy for God to do. The miracle is the incarnation, which took place inside Mary’s womb. It didn’t take place before that.
Josh: Right! I forget what the word is in John; manifested, maybe. But yes, in terms of dwelling among us, in that sense, in human flesh…
Ritch: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Josh: At the incarnation, right? But before that, I think we would agree and teach that there were appearances of the second person of the Trinity. So this is God the Son appearing in the Old Testament. I think the theological word is “theophany” or Christophany, but just this showing or appearing of God.
Ritch: The appearing of God, the appearing of Christ, the Messiah prior to the New Testament. Yes.
Josh: Right! And so often times, and there are some who fall on either side of this debate, but people would teach that the angel of the Lord, the angel of Yahweh spoken of in the Old Testament is a theophany or Christophany. It’s an appearance of the second person of the Trinity. This is God the Son appearing as an angelic form of some kind. But then also, you have these other theophanies where no one has seen God the Father, Jesus says, but here’s an appearance of God the Son. In Moses’ time, there is a burning bush. Then as the Israelites would come, there is also this flame, this smoke. And there are times where it seems God the Son presented Himself and appeared in a certain form. But this is not the same as the miracle of the incarnation in which He took on flesh. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, which was a unique miracle that carried forward. These are appearances. So did it happen? I think we kind of touched on that question.
Ritch: You mentioned the angel of the Lord. You can search your Bible or if you have an online Bible, searches are so great. The computer has made it so great to do searches because you can search more than just one word. In a concordance, you can search one word at a time, but you can search “the angel of the Lord.” And what you’ll find is that little phrase appears quite often in the Old Testament. It’s different from, just to take a notice of Matthew 1:20. “But as Joseph considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.” Matthew is careful not to call that angel the angel of the Lord, but an angel of the Lord. So at that point, the angel of the Lord is now incarnate in the womb of Mary. So the angel of the Lord now is taking on human flesh and growing from that conception. But in the Old Testament, whenever you see the words “the angel of the Lord,” then it seems to me and to many people who study the Bible, that that is the pre-incarnate appearing of Christ. So for instance, Balaam was riding the donkey and he wanted to go in a direction and the angel of the Lord appeared. The donkey saw the angel of the Lord, but Balaam didn’t until the angel of the Lord appeared to Balaam, this false prophet, too.
Josh: Right! Even there were times where the foreign army comes in and here is the angel of the Lord to do battle for God’s people.
Ritch: I like that because it shows that there is something more than physical going on with this appearance because the donkey could see the angel of the Lord, but Balaam could not. And then suddenly, Balaam was allowed to see the angel of the Lord. So there is something more than a physical flesh and blood. That is an appearance of, I believe, the second person of the Godhead.
Josh: Yes, that’s a good question. There’s a lot to come into that. Also, it helps you to see the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are not two different Gods. Some people will teach that and it actually can be really destructive. “There’s an Old Testament God and there’s a New Testament God. I don’t believe in the Old Testament God. I believe in Jesus.” But this was Jesus. When you think that they’re two different Gods and you don’t realize that this is one God, the I Am, you misunderstand who the I Am is. You misunderstand who Jesus is if you don’t see those connections. In fact, you go all the way back to the Garden in Genesis, you see God walking in the cool of the day and you recognize Jesus isn’t new to the scene. He’s not new to the story of the Bible. He’s at the very center, in the beginning, and obviously, at the end. So He’s who the story is about.
Ritch: And maybe for both the pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus and the incarnate appearance of Jesus, it tells us something amazing about God. That is that God makes Himself known to us. God voluntarily reveals or shows who He is, and He doesn’t have to. It’s not for want of attention. He does it for our sake, which is this humbling. That’s where Philippians 2, He humbled Himself by taking on the appearance of man. That humility of setting aside glory for the sake of loving creature is remarkable. That’s why even for us Christians, the Bible is so precious. (Holding up the Bible) This is God humbly revealing Himself to us. He’s stooping down. He doesn’t gain by our knowledge of Him, but we gain everything by our knowledge of Him. So that revelation, again, is love-oriented toward us.
Josh: Right! It does give a sense of why John would later say that God is love. We see this kindness of God making Himself known. And that is what’s in question. A lot of people in our culture would kind of talk about God as removed. We think about God as removed. He’s not a part of what’s going on here. The Bible is really totally opposite to that. The message of Jesus is, here is God speaking into this, coming into this, invading what we think is our own territory and isolated away from God. Then here’s man. You think of the tower of Babel, building our kingdom. We’re going to be like God. God has created us in His image and now He comes and takes on flesh to become man and then to die in our place and to bring us to be with Him. It’s an amazing story.
Ritch: It’s great! One other devotional application of this is if we could choose between seeing the angel of the Lord today or meeting with Christ in real fashion. The real fashion He reveals Himself is not by appearing in flesh and blood to us today. That’s why He says, “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe,” and yet fellowship. This real Jesus still calls us. He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I’ll come in and I’ll dine with him and he with me.” It’s this offer of genuine, authentic communion. We live in a time in which this physical appearing of Jesus is not, we’ll say, at least, the norm. Whether we argue whether it ever happens or not, but it’s certainly not the norm. He tells us there is going to be a future day when He will appear in great glory and we’ll all see Him, and we’ll be transformed when we see Him. That’s our blessed hope. But I guess my point is that these former appearances of Jesus aren’t better than this new appearance that we have today. Does that make sense? So often, we would long for this, we’ll say, physical experience, and yet, day by day, sort of dismiss or neglect this real invitation of communion with Christ. I want Christmas this year as every year, to awaken my heart and the warmth of my heart to the gift of God’s Son in real relationship with me, that I grab hold of every morning, every noon, every evening and take some time to just enjoy this gift of the real presence of Christ in our lives.
Josh: Right! There is a part of these people who have known God, this great I Am, Yahweh, from the beginning. You see in the Old Testament especially, like the Psalms, talking about how precious the Word is because through the Word, they experience Christ. They know this is God. This is God made known. This is the same God that we get to know and follow. But another aspect that’s interesting about the body of Jesus, the physical body, is that we recognize that like when Saul of Tarsus was going around and persecuting Christians, he was throwing them in prison. And Jesus said, “Why are you persecuting me?” He was identifying the body of Christ. There is actually something very special about the church, about followers of God. We come together as the body of Christ and we get to enjoy and experience that presence and the transforming work of Christ in a very unique way as a part of the church. So these are things that are part of why this last year was so hard and why the church is so special and we’ve experienced. There are things worth investing in for sure. It’s even why we call tonight Better Together.
Ritch: Yes. I have to look it up again, but I know we’re reading that devotional Fixated. Do you remember today’s reading? It was about this thing that you are sharing. I’d have to look up where he was reading from. I’d have to capture it again because this just came into my head. But his point was that when we gather together as a church, we’re not just hearing Josh or Ritch preach the Word. We’re hearing Christ preach the Word to us. And he ties it to the text. When we sing together, Christ is the one who calls us together in a real way. It’s not just sort of a make believe kind of thing. But by faith, we see the presence of Christ giving a song, interceding for us and praying with us together, proclaiming the Word through a human instrument. But it’s Christ that is proclaiming the Word. And when we can see that by faith, it causes that worship service and our, I’ll say, reception of the grace of God in our corporate worship services, to take on totally new meaning. We don’t yawn and say, “When is this going to be over?” Or, “Boy, the speaker is boring today.” That might all be, but if we understand that Christ wants to say something to us, Christ wants to hear us sing together, Christ is here with us praying and He’s interceding. In all of those things Christ is very active. His ministry is real. Then we see with the eyes of faith and it will change our experience with one another and with our times of worship.
Josh: Yes. Well, we’ve had a lot of questions just stream in here, so we’re going to try to hit a couple if we can.
Ritch: Okay. Good. Let’s go fast now.
Josh: So, I’ll tie two together because they’re kind of similar. These deal with Christmas, and I’ll say both. One question comes in, why is the Christmas tree one of the main Christmas icons, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus except the star or the angel? So that comes from a student. Then tied to that, here’s another question from somebody else. There are many passages in the Bible that warn us not to celebrate pagan holidays. There is nothing in the Bible that says or indicates Jesus was born in December and Scripture doesn’t tell us to celebrate Jesus’ birth, necessarily. So December 25, they are saying, originally was a pagan holiday celebrated by the Roman Empire. Are we deceived in our celebrating Christmas? So I’m tying those together. Culturally, we’re used to Christmas trees. Culturally, we’re used to celebrating Christmas on the 25th. So here’s the question. Why do we do that as a church?
Ritch: This is actually an historical question with various degrees of, I’ll say, biblical concern. Some of the concern is sort of fueled by some teachers who I think just want to fuel division and conflict. So I would be careful of getting on a website. If you’re just gauging the heat measure, how angry is this person as they write? I would say to be very careful. The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. And you hear the anger even just by reading it. Does that make sense? So I would first caution, because a lot of times, the question comes from that kind of presentation that someone is giving.
Josh: It’s a position of heat more than light.
Ritch: It’s a position of real condemnation and a judgmental, censorious spirit. Like, “I hate these other Christians or they’re terrible people.” Just that kind of censoriousness that Jesus actually taught us in the Sermon on the Mount to avoid. So I would say first…
Josh: I’m taking this all in while you have a Christmas tree behind you.
Ritch: And yet, there are some legitimate questions about those things. I can only tell you where I land. It’s not “thus sayeth the Lord.” There are two positions. I’m going to be getting a little bit more technical. One position in church history is called the regulative principle, where the only thing we should do related to worship is what God has prescribed or given us by way of example. So for instance, the regulative principle strictly enforced would not use any musical instruments that aren’t found in the Bible. Or the songs we would sing would only be the Psalms or other songs in the Bible. These are the only things we can do. I don’t believe that’s the tenor of Scripture, that we’re bound in our freedom, to only embrace those things that are commanded or that are shown by way of example. I think there is great freedom. So certainly, whatever is commanded, that’s what we should do. This is important!
Churches, when they meet together for worship, there should always be a public reading of Scripture. That’s actually commanded in the Bible. Don’t neglect the public reading of Scripture. Yet, you’ve probably gone to many church services where there was no public reading of Scripture. There should be a teaching of the Word. Preach the Word. There should be prayer. There should be singing songs and hymns and spiritual songs. There should be on some times in our worship, the Lord’s Supper. These are the things that I would say we must do these. If you do anything in addition, I don’t think it’s wrong to do additional things. Just don’t do them and neglect these. Does that make sense? So then we’re free. As long as the expression is bound by the righteousness that God presents in the Word, we’re free. So if we want to have a decoration of a Christmas tree, we’re free to do that. Does that make sense? And if we want to attach some meaning to it, like a star helps me think about the star. The angel helps me think about the angelic appearances to Joseph and Mary and to the shepherds and others in the Christmas story. If we want to put lights on it to represent that this is a time when the Light has come into the world. If you don’t want to do that, then don’t do it. There shouldn’t be any judgmentalism on Christians about whether you have a tree or not.
Josh: Sure. And there are questions about what kind of, the word there is “pagan,” but what kind of pagan influence there is through certain cultural icons and actions and music and clothing and this kind of stuff. Which gets into a question that probably is a large discussion in the future, but this is a part of it. To what extent do we take account of our culture and what things represent to other people when we decide what to talk about or do or live in? Since we don’t have time tonight, one thing to go to is go back to Pastor Ritch’s sermons through Romans 14 and 15. There is a lot of discussion there about that. I think those are good questions.
Ritch: It seems like we didn’t cover them very well, but we certainly want to engage folks who may have that more seriously as a concern in their heart. Most of the time it is because of some very specific teaching that they’ve been given. Some of that teaching is rooted in things that are not exactly historical or true. Or there are wrong understandings of specific verses in the Bible. There is a verse about a tree that was used for pagan worship, but that has nothing to do. But it’s often conflated and made as a hard and fast application. So for some of us, if you’re one of those that would say, “This really is disruptive to my soul,” it would be great to sit down and talk more.
Josh: Sure. So we’re inviting more conversation. And this isn’t the first time you’ve had a conversation like that, I’m imagining. So it’s not a bad thing to talk more about that. Here’s a question. The wise men, the Gentiles, kept calling Jesus, King of the Jews, King of the Jews. Pilate was also a Gentile and proclaimed Jesus as King of the Jews through the sign he put on Jesus’ cross. Obviously the Jews did not like that. They wanted him to change that. This individual says, I’m thankful God allowed Gentiles to proclaim His Son to others. But how can we take this same message of Jesus as King to people in our culture? America doesn’t have a king. So how do we share the Gospel and how is this good news about Jesus is King to a culture that is sort of like, “We don’t have a king. We don’t like a king. Don’t talk to me about a king.” And we’re like, “Well, here’s a king.” How can we be bold and say this is a good thing, that Jesus is King?
Ritch: We still understand the idea of a king very strongly because there are kings all throughout the world. And actually, I think it helps us to talk about the wisdom of our government on why you don’t want to have a king. Human kings always fail. But I think the word “king” still resonates. I would be cautious of removing any words that the Scripture uses and replacing them with some modern equivalent. Rather, I would be much more comfortable with saying keep the words of Scripture and then explain them if they need to be explained or if they’re foreign. But “king” is not foreign. In my experience, it’s not foreign to people I talk with. They understand exactly what a king is, which means there is no other authority. This person’s word is sovereign, and this person is to be recognized as the ruler, as the one whom we follow.
Josh: Yes. That’s good. A question just came in from someone. Did Pastor Josh just say it was Jesus walking in the Garden of Eden? So when I look at that passage in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3, it’s Yahweh walking in the Garden. So this is Yahweh God, I Am. Obviously, Jesus is God. There is some kind of manifestation of God. So I’ll give you a chance if you want to sharpen and correct. It may be a little bit too simplistic to just say simply Jesus because this isn’t the incarnate Jesus, but that God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit manifested here through a theophany. I don’t know if you think that’s a legitimate thing to say.
Ritch: It’s helpful. I think you could use each of the three Persons in that statement and be completely accurate because they’re not separate. They are one. So you could say the Father walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. And you could say the Son walked with Adam and Eve. Or the Spirit walked with Adam and Eve. I don’t think you’re inaccurate. Wherever the Father is, the Son and the Spirit are. Wherever the Spirit is, the Father and the Son are. Wherever the Son is, the Father and the Spirit are. This is a great mystery. You come to the end of language and you can almost feel the stretching of the biblical writers as they communicate underneath the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to communicate who this God is who is three-in-one. I would always caution against the obliteration of lines so as to lose the three. But I would really also caution against these walls of partition so as to lose the one. Modern heresies typically lose the sense of oneness. There is polytheism. Does that make sense? But I would caution against making these lines so distinct that those kinds of things will bother us. It’s sort of similar to asking, should we pray to Jesus or to the Spirit? We talked about that I think last week.
Josh: So, we’re getting lots of questions, here. How about this one? Are Pastor Ritch’s sweater and socks a set? Did they come together in a set? (Laughter!) I don’t know if it’s showing through on screen well, but did they come in a set? Is that true?
Ritch: They do come in a set. No! (Laughter!) But it’s very interesting. I will tell you one quick story, a 10 second story. I was at the doctor today and the nurse actually commented on the exact same thing. “That’s the coolest sweater and socks that I’ve ever seen.” She thought it was a set.
Josh: Well, there you go. Since we’re on the topic of trying to make your face red, here’s another one. I heard Pastor Ritch knows how to yodel. Would he be willing to demonstrate that skill? (Laughter!)
Ritch: Boy, these are some good Christmas questions.
Josh: They’re great Christmas questions, aren’t they? I’m just trying to be honest here and read the questions that are coming in. So I’ll let you think about that one. You don’t have to answer. If you think that’s hard, here’s another one. If God is outside of time, Alpha and Omega, beginning and no end, could you talk about the incarnation? Is it a distinct change in the Trinity and time?
Ritch: I wouldn’t say it’s a change in the Trinity unless the only thing you mean by that was that the Son had added to Him, humanity. I would be very cautious of using that language. If that’s all you mean by the change in the Trinity, then I would be comfortable with the meaning of that. But I still would be cautious of using that language because it tends to move to the idea that the very nature of God changed. That’s not what happened. He had humanity added to His Person.
Josh: Again, that goes back to our conversation last week. It’s a big question and even the concept of God being outside of time is unique. It gets into a very big and mysterious area of doctrine and theology about God and His relationship with time.
Ritch: I would encourage you as you guys are asking those questions about the Trinity, there are some great books on the Trinity. I don’t think very many believers think enough about the Trinity. But we do serve a triune God. There’s one book, Delighting in the Trinity that is really good. But it carries out this whole idea that the reason why God is love is because He is three in one. He’s been loving from all of eternity past because there has been love inside the Godhead itself. So when He created the world, it wasn’t like love was created when He created the world. Love was always part of His being, as well as this holy devotion to the other and for His own glory. There was interplay and relationship where each Person pursued the glory of the other, which was pursuing the glory of the one. Then when He creates the world, that’s what the center of purpose is. It’s created for His glory.
Josh: And better, the very nature of God is the nature of love. That’s a very big contrast to other religions, where that’s not possible; where love is a created thing or sometimes even a non-existent thing. This is why the good news about Jesus is truly good news. Here’s a question that my daughter actually asked and then now it’s coming in. She asked this the other night. Are there both men and women angels, or do they have a gender? So angels, are there only men or there only women, or are they non-gender? What’s the deal with angels?
Ritch: Jesus said that angels are not married or given in marriage. So we don’t have a sense that they are procreating creatures. He says in Mark 12, “When they rise from the dead they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” So the idea is that they don’t have gender like mankind has gender.
Josh: In terms of their relationship and marriage, there are some interesting discussions about angels and their interaction with humans, in another sense. The appearance of angels seems to be and it seems like they are at least spoken of I think grammatically, in male form. He never spoke of an angel, unless I’m mistaken, in a feminine form. You know, “she said this.” It’s always, “he.” It’s how it’s spoken of. But there are obviously some elements of mystery there and some other…
Ritch: It’s very similar, I guess, in reference to God. The male pronoun is used of God, yet He’s not male. He created male and female…
Josh: But He created male and female in His image.
Ritch: He is not male like man is male. Does that make sense? So we want to be careful because God made them male and female and thus He created man. Together, they are humankind. God is of a different kind than humanity. So when we answer that question, I would say we should use pronouns that are masculine for God. And even metaphors like Father, is the typical for instance. But let’s not think of Him like He has gender like humankind has gender or other created animals have gender.
Josh: It gets interesting when you think about the church. The church is referred to as the Bride of Christ. So here we are as a part of the Body of Christ and yet recognize that the church in one sense, is a bride. And it’s not wrong for us to understand ourselves even within that metaphor and what it’s intended to convey. So there is beauty in the design of God in male and female but also there are limitations in that design. So there’s a lot to talk about. It touches on a lot of questions in our culture. Here’s the last one. We’re over our time already, but I’ll just ask this because it came in, here.
We’re in a world where we’re tempted to have cool Christianity and there is an appreciation that you said that God says Jesus isn’t going to be cool. I know there are some qualifiers there. But Jesus is not going to be cool. Yet how do we speak about Jesus winsomely to unbelievers in a world very confused about who He is and what He stands for? How do we wisely represent Jesus to individuals and not unnecessarily offend? That’s this question. We may not necessarily be cool, but how do we not unnecessarily offend people when we talk about Jesus?
Ritch: So the winsomeness is not so much in the description. We hold to the descriptions the Bible teaches. The winsomeness is in our own personality not having anything that is abrasive, that’s unnecessarily offensive. It’s in not having an attitude like “I’m smarter than you are” or “your ideas are stupid,” that kind of attitude. I think we really have to be careful in not thinking of winsomeness as a lack of clarity or diminishing those attributes of Christ or of God that are hard for us to accept. That’s not winsome to do that. The Bible isn’t winsome in that way. But if like when Paul says I was gentle among you, and to be an elder, you have to make sure that you’re a person who corrects with gentleness. Jesus says, “I’m meek and lowly. Come to me all who are weak.” That’s the winsomeness of Christ. It’s the meekness. It’s the lowliness. It’s the humility. If a person is funny, they should sort of unleash their personality. I’m not trying to say to keep your personality boxed in. But you shouldn’t think that you have to do something that entertains others or that creates a big positive impression in others in order to preach the gospel or to talk about Jesus with others. In fact, that can get in the way. You have to be super careful that your own magnetism, for those who are magnetic, wouldn’t keep the person from actually seeing Christ.
Josh: Right! Proclaim the true Christ as God would the good news and not trying to add to it or take away from it. It’s just the good news about Jesus. In one sense, maybe the word “cool” could use some definition for another time. But we can say He is awesome! I wouldn’t think it’s wrong to come to church and think this is going to be awesome. When you start to study the Bible and see it, you start to actually see how awesome He is. And everything else starts to fade as we see the glory of Christ unveiled through truth.
Ritch: Yes. The difference is where are our eyes fixed? If they’re on God and saying, “I’m enjoying God as being awesome,” then you’re exactly right. If they’re on other people, “do other people see? Who are the other people? How are they responding? And then maybe I’ll think it’s worthy for me.” That’s what I mean about He’s going to be rejected. If you’re looking around at people to find out whether He’s worthy to follow, you’re going to see a lot of really great winsome fun people saying, “No, He’s not for me.” And if your eyes are over there, you’re going to get discouraged.
Josh: Yes. That idea of popularity, “cool” is something finding its value in what other people think versus Jesus having value in and of Himself because He is of Himself awesome.
Ritch: And discovering that value for yourself without anybody having to tell you other than Jesus.
Josh: Right. Then that way you’re not contingent. No one can take it away because that’s who He is. He has made Himself known and we can be known by Him. So let’s pray and we’ll wrap up 2020 for these sweet times we’ve had together. Father, thank you as we think about what it means to follow Jesus together. And thank you that even though we’ve had a season where we couldn’t come together physically, even electronically we had to work really hard. You brought gifted people from our church family, courageous people from our church family and wise people from our church family to help us to try to map a course through this year. It’s not been easy, but we thank you that through your design, we’re one body. And whether it’s online or in person, it is better for us to follow Jesus together. In fact, following Jesus can’t happen alone. It’s something that we do as a family, as a church body, as a part of your people, your flock that you are preparing for the future. We know that that happens as we center around Christ and proclaiming Him through the good news of your Word. And we ask that even as we go into the next couple of weeks and we have very unique opportunities as a church family to share this good news about Christ and His awesomeness with neighbors, with maybe coworkers, with families coming in from afar, help us to be bold, to be winsome and gentle, but faithful. And prepare us so that we can continue together as we head into 2021. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.