Sunday, December 14, 2014

Who Is This?

For the last few weeks I've been working to help you to use Advent wisely so that you will be prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus. The sermons have pointed out various aspects of His coming for you to consider. This morning, I'm going to do the same. And I'll use a question from one of the Gospels to do that. This question was raised by Jesus' disciples when they were in the middle of a serious problem. They were on the Sea of Galilee when a tremendous storm rose up. They were sure that they were going to die. They awoke Jesus and accused Him of not caring. Instead of joining them in their panic Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to hush. Suddenly, everything was calm and still. Seeing that, the disciples responded with this question.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Mark, being the good writer that he was, does not offer an answer to that question. He wants his readers to answer it and then to ponder their answer. And that is what we are going to do this morning. Answering that question will help you as you prepare to celebrate the birth of this man who did more than just command wind and sea.

So then, who is this Jesus? Early on the Church had to come to grips with this question because there were many dangerous answers that were floating around, answers that were misleading the saints. After studying the Scriptures, the Church decided on this answer. Jesus is fully God and fully man. Let's take that apart.

Think about God. Doing that is always worth the effort. In working to understand the God we worship, the Church has discovered and labelled some of His characteristics revealed in the Bible. So, there are the 'omnis': God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing) and omnipresent (present everywhere). God is also eternal, doesn't have a body, is infinite, isn't made up of parts and lots more. I must say, however, that the characteristic of God that has intrigued me most is His aseity. That's just a fancy way of saying that God depends on nothing outside Himself. We need air, water, food to survive. We also need other people like parents to give us birth and friends to encourage and instruct us. We even need a place in which to exist. God needs none of that. Before there was any creation, before there was even space or time, there was God. Aseity.

Now, try to pull together all of these characteristics of God, all the omnis, that He is eternal and infinite, His aseity and lots of other things I haven't mentioned. When you do that you have described what makes God glorious - or to translate - what makes God beautiful. It's these sorts of things that draw us to Him. These are the things that make Him God. And that's what we are talking about when we say that Jesus is fully God. All of these characteristics are true of the deity of Jesus.

Now, let's consider the flip side of that: the humanity of Jesus. Jesus is also fully man. What does that mean? It means that He had a beginning. He was conceived at a certain point and then born. He had feelings just like  you have feelings. So, even though the Christmas carol says,

The cattle are lowing,
The baby awakes.
But little Lord Jesus,
No crying He makes

Jesus cried. When He got hungry He let Mary know. There were times when His playmates said cutting remarks about Him. That hurt. I wouldn't be surprised if there were times when He ran home to cry on His father's lap because of what they had said. He had plans that didn't turn out as He had hoped so He felt disappointment. There were those times when He was working in the shop with His dad that He cut Himself on some sharp tool. It hurt. And He bled. And even though Fran doesn't like it when I say this, Jesus would have enjoyed being married, but wasn't. Read through the Gospels, and you'll find that Jesus got tired. He was hungry when Satan tempted Him. He asked the Samaritan woman for a drink because He was thirsty. And He wrestled with the will of God in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was a man, a real, honest to goodness man.

So, the Christian faith asserts that this Jesus was, and is, both fully God and fully man.

Veiled in flesh
The Godhead see.
Hail th' Incarnate

Jesus, the God-man.

Now, let's take the next step. What had to happen for God to take on flesh? Paul mentions one particular that you need to remember.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Jesus emptied Himself to become a man. Emptied Himself of what? Here's one thing: His glory, what made Him beautiful. Remember this from Jesus' prayer in John 17?

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

What is Jesus asking for? He wants the glory that He used to have to be restored to Him. So, at the least, Jesus emptied Himself of His glory. Our catechism uses a particular word to describe this. It's the word 'humiliation'. I think that they were trying to express that it was more than your everyday humbling. God was humiliated in order to become man. And when you remember things like God's aseity and put it side by side with a baby born into poverty and a hard life, humiliation doesn't come even close to being too strong.

So, this is what we will be celebrating. Jesus, fully God and fully man.

Now, what can you take away from this? What can help you to prepare to celebrate? I have two thoughts.

Here's the first: a sense of wonder. God became man. God emptied Himself. He endured humiliation. Why? Another carol answers that question.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay.
Remember, Christ, our Saviour,
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

God became man, with all of the humiliation that involved, to rescue us.

Now, as you consider that, ask yourself this question. 'Why would He bother doing that for me?' I think that that is a really good question, one that you should ask yourself from time to time. Remember, He doesn't need you. Aseity. And it's not like He was obligated to love you. You've forfeited that too many times to count. And yet, God became man for you. And words like 'love' and 'grace' come to mind. Now, there's something to think about as you prepare to celebrate Christmas. It will add a little something to some of the carols that you will sing. And it's a good question and answer to rehearse at other times of the year as well. So, the first take away is a sense of wonder at this God.

Here's the second takeaway. Jesus provides a model to imitate. Jesus emptied Himself of what made Him so beautiful as God. He was humiliated so that He might love. As you consider that you need to bear in mind how Paul's words about Jesus emptying Himself start. 'Have this attitude in you which you find in Christ Jesus...' Jesus is the example that you are to imitate. Empty yourself. And bear in mind it just might require you to be humiliated. But isn't this what Jesus calls all of His disciples to do when He says, 'Follow Me'? That's not about trying to live by some rules in a book. That's about you becoming just like your master. Jesus emptied Himself. Imagine what happens when Christians imitate Jesus in this.

Now, none of this will work if it's just a matter of telling yourself to try harder. Nothing works unless God blesses. So, you need to pray. Ask that the Spirit would give you a growing sense of wonder at who your God is and what He has done in coming as Jesus. And then, also pray that you would be able to imitate Jesus more and more by emptying yourself of your glory, even if it means being humiliated before the watching world.

As these two takeaways develop in your life there will be some interesting results. Here's just one: joy. When someone really gets what Jesus has done in coming here and when he sees himself actually imitating Jesus, then life makes sense. He will grasp better what God is up to. That's when he can say in all honesty, 'Life is good'. That's when he will rejoice that he has a role to play in this grand design of the Gospel. And that's one thing that will make Christmas merry.