The Incarnate God: Peace on Earth

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…. ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased’” – Luke 2:10-11, 14

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” – Romans 5:1

“No justice, no peace” has been the mantra of recent protestors throughout the nation. Although they do not intend to carry Biblical weight, the cry of activists echoes a Scriptural reality. Without justice, there can be no peace. As we meditate on Christ this advent season, let us consider that he was incarnated to justify sinners and put them at peace with God.

The Old Testament is full of prophecies concerning a Messiah, one who would save Israel from ruin and make all things right again. This Messiah that was foretold is God himself and not only God himself, but the God-man. He who was self-sufficient from eternity past, adored in Trinitarian fellowship, and who with his omniscient word created the heavens and the earth, subjected himself to time, space, and the human condition.

The angel in Luke 2, claims that Israel’s long awaited redeemer is their own God, born in flesh to a woman. The heavenly being delivers “good news of great joy” (the gospel) to a group of shepherds in the passage from Luke displayed above telling them that the Savior, the King, God himself is born in Bethlehem. God is born! Their response is joy. Why would this gospel be joyous? The reason this gospel is joyous is because of peace.

Since the fall of man, people have toiled to make their lives better. Societies have struggled to be good enough. Humans have looked for something to satisfy their deepest longings. We have been let down by our inadequacies, convicted by our failures, dejected by our shame, and proven by our weakness that all is not well and all will not be made well by our own efforts. We strive to be made right with God, but our hopes are misplaced and the wrath of God remains on us for trusting in our sufficiency. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). We are not at peace. We are unsettled because we know that when justice is done, we cannot stand before God with a clean conscious. Surely he will punish us for our wickedness.

But he will not condemn them who have faith in Christ as their substitute.

Our hope is that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). The same verse that evidences our Godless state proposes the remedy for peace in a person. So who is the “him” that Isaiah 53:6 speaks of? It is the God-man. The babe, born of the virgin Mary. The one of whom the angel said to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest”.

Jesus lived so that he may die. He took on flesh so that he might suffer. As Augustine puts it, “The Maker of man became man that He…the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die.”

Jesus entered into humanity to experience our suffering, taste our pain, intimately know our brokenness, and substitute his perfect life for our severely blemished lives. Jesus’ humanness allows us to have peace with God, because in his flesh God put forward Jesus “as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26). This is the Christmas story. This is good news! Let us receive it with joy!

All Things New

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. – Genesis 1:31

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. – Romans 8:19-21

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:5

 

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a short story titled Leaf: by Niggle. In this tale, a painter named Niggle (a synonym for trifle) is working on what could be his life masterpiece. He envisions a grand landscape of mountains, fields, and a huge tree that the birds of the air come to make their homes in. He begins painting this tree, concentrating his efforts on little details but life quickly gets in the way of him making much progress. Niggle knows that he soon has to leave for a long journey (which is actually death, though he is not aware of this) and is concerned that he will not finish his grandiose project. When a driver shows up at his house to pick him up for the journey, Niggle’s prevailing fear becomes true. The painter dies barely having touched the canvas for his masterpiece. Niggle leaves this world unaccomplished and frustrated. Over time, the only thing that survives from his painting is one leaf.

Do you feel like Niggle? Struggling to get by. Striving to accomplish but not achieving. Always getting distracted. Tired of trying so hard to do something worthwhile. Are you curious if your life will even make a difference? These are common feelings of the human experience. Although despair may come to us at times, the promise of the Bible is that Jesus meets us in this despair with the good news that he is making all things new.

I didn’t tell you the other part of Niggle’s story. Tolkien writes about his character’s life after death and this part of the tale gives us a glimpse of hope. After the long journey, Niggle finally reaches heaven. There in heaven, in the middle of a field is the tree that Niggle never finished painting. The trunk is round and sturdy just as he imagined it. The wind is blowing the leaves just how he intended. The mountains are towering in the background and the birds are finding haven in the welcoming branches of the tree just like he wanted to paint them. This is the glorious painting he envisioned, right in front of him! Every detail is represented in real life, though he only finished a miniscule percentage of the masterpiece in the previous life.

In some ways, Niggle’s story symbolizes the hopeful tension that Christians live in. The Scripture presented above tells of this tension. According to the Bible, God created everything good. However, sin entered the world through the disobedience of mankind and the consequences were devastating. Death entered the world. Nature itself began to decay and suffer the effects of man acting contrary to his design. Everything was and is affected by the consequences of sin. This is what the Romans passage tells us. Even creation is currently in a state of depravity. Just like Niggle and his work, everything is passing away. There will be a day when there is no more breath in our lungs and a day when our work, done here while we are alive, will perish whether finished or unfinished. So then what hope is there for us?

Jesus is the one who makes the claim in Revelation 21:5 that he is “making all things new”. How can he say this? He can say this because he is King of life and death. Paul, author of much of the New Testament, writes in the book of Colossians that Christ was raised from death and seated at the right hand of God (Col. 1:20). This means Jesus is in a place of authority because he has conquered death. His resurrected body is hope that those who place their faith in him will be resurrected too. For those who belong to him, he has the final say over life; death has no ultimate claim on their lives. He is making all things new. He is making people new. He is making the earth new. He is making our work new.

Tolkien’s work Leaf: by Niggle gives us an example of tension to live in. Christians can recognize that life is full of disappointments and hard work. In fact, life can be so difficult that not all of our striving will pay off here and now. However, we can have certainty that this present life is not all there is. When Jesus takes us to be with him, there we will see all things new. To point us to this hope I will end this post with the first question and answer from the New City Catechism.

Question: What is our only hope in life and death?

Answer: That we are not our own but belong, both body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

Taste and See

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” – Psalm 34:8-10

The other day, with the wise guidance of my fiancé, I bought some maple bacon Kettle Brand chips at the grocery store. Call it an impulse buy. Call it an eye for a good deal. Call it one of the best decisions of my life! Since buying these chips I let my roommate try them and I told a few other people about my purchase. You may think that this is strange, but I think this discovery has changed my life. Not radically, but at least in the way I think about chips. Who knew that they could make potato chips that taste like breakfast? This is a game changer! I promise I don’t normally rant about junk food, but I had to let people know how great these chips were. You would have done it too. I promise.

My maple bacon celebration is a micro example of the human condition, namely we praise whatever we delight in. C. S. Lewis observes this phenomenon in his work A Reflection on the Psalms, saying,

“The world rings with praise- lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poets, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game- praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars”.

Have you ever thought about this? Our natural, everyday activities are filled with praise. Perhaps we wouldn’t use that word to describe the action. Maybe we would call it something more like adoring or commending. Yet, even these words get to the heart of praise.

Adoring and commending are responses to nouns. We cannot adore or commend without something to adore or commend. And even still, those things that we adore or commend do not get our praise unless they are praiseworthy. If we do not delight in something, we will not consider it worthy of our praise. On the converse, we will always praise that which we delight in. C. S. Lewis explains why he believes this is the case. He suggests,

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and to find no one to share it with”.

We see what Lewis is talking about in the Psalm quoted above. Here, the psalmist is praising the God of the Christian Scriptures. He is consummating his delight in God. The natural overflow of his enjoyment is praise. Yet, this text shows us even more than what the psalmist loves. This text is an invitation by the psalmist to his reader, those singing it, and those hearing it, to try God. It’s a call to find enjoy God, to enjoy his goodness, to trust in that goodness. In essence, he is proclaiming, “let God satisfy you”.

I did the same thing with my maple bacon chips. To my roommate I said, “You have to try these chips, they are so good!” To my fiancé I said, “That was the best purchase of my life! Thanks for telling me to get them!” The chips have satisfied my hunger for a great tasting snack. This idea is a reflection of a much larger satisfaction, namely the psalmist being satisfied in God.

The meaning of this text in Psalm 34 is well reflected in the hymn “Satisfied” written by Clara T. Williams in 1875. The chorus of the hymn is this: “Hallelujah! He has found me, the One my soul so long has craved! Jesus satisfies all my longings, through his blood I now am saved.” The Bible is full of people whose enjoyment of God bursts forth into praise. In fact, their praise consummates their enjoyment of God. Likewise, this blog is an extension of enjoying God. Please visit this site again and explore the claims that these posts make. I hope that the riches of God’s grace will find you in these readings. I hope that you will taste and see that he is good.