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The Descent of Christ  (122)

Matthew 1:18-25
Luke 2:1-14
John 1:1-18

James R. Davis

I am always thrilled at this time of the year when the majority of the world grinds to a halt and recognizes the birth of the Christ child, although most of the pomp and ceremony have more to do with man made tradition rather than scriptural teaching. Nativity scenes are prevalent at this time of the year as the world celebrates Christ coming. We see signs that say "Peace on earth and good will toward men." It always amazes me at how many place nativity scenes in their front yard. We have shepherds, lambs, donkeys, Mary and Joseph, and three wise men standing under a thatched roof gazing at a baby in a manger. We end up taking these scenes for granted.

David Roper said, "We keep the Christ-child around to grace our mangers, but he's merely one symbol among many: Rudolph, Scrooge, St.Nicholas and his elves, toy soldiers, little drummer boys, shepherds, angels, Christmas trees, Yule logs and Jesus all vie for our attention; everything alongside everything else. There's nothing special about the Son of God any more. He's just part of the Yuletide clutter."  (The Roper Library,  htttp://cyberhighway.net/~roper/)

So I think that it is only fitting for us to give some thought as to why Christ came. If we only focus on the manger we will lose sight of Jesus. The world needs a clearer vision of Jesus. In a sense preachers are spiritual optometrist; a preacher's job is to help the blind to see. Just as an optometrist endeavors to sharpen our vision with each click of the lens, preachers endeavor to sharpen our spiritual focus of Jesus with each sermon preached.  Our job is sometimes very difficult because  people endeavor to see Jesus through the circumstances in which they live. This makes it hard to see Jesus as he truly was.

At this time of the year there is much passion that surrounds Jesus' birth. When we tell the Christmas story it is usually verbally and emotionally embellished. We clean up the barn, take down all the cobwebs, clean out the manure, poison the rats and place the barn on our front lawns. We place Jesus in a manger and for some there he will ever be. But to truly see Jesus we must understand who he was and we must follow him each step of the way as he travels from eternity to the manger to the cross. Then each step we take will be like a click of the lens of an optometrist bringing Jesus into sharper focus.

When we go back to the Bible to take a fresh look at Jesus our focus is enhanced. Then we can see the real Jesus. Imagine seeing Jesus like you would endeavor see any great historical figure. When we go back to study the great men of the past you may not know what they physically looked like but you endeavor to understand what made them tick, so to speak. What motivated them, what was the driving force behind their lives? When we understand these aspects then we get a mental picture of what these people were all about. So it is with Jesus. If we only see the renditions that we have been exposed to, whether in the secular world or the religious world, then we cannot really know him, his motives, or the driving force behind his life. If we would endeavor to see who he was and the reason for his coming, then that would give the mind's eye a much better picture.

We Have Difficulty in Seeing Jesus

In Philip Yancey's book, The Jesus I Never Knew, he speaks of the many ways in which Jesus is seen. The Dakota Tribe sees Jesus as "the buffalo calf of God." The Cuban government distributes a painting of Jesus with a carbine slung over his shoulder. If you look at the world of academics you encounter Jesus as a political revolutionary, as a magician, a Galilean charismatic, a rabbi, a peasant Jewish cynic, a Pharisee, an equivalent to a sixties hippie. (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) pg. 19.

"Norm Evans a former Miami Dolphins lineman, wrote in his book On God's Squad, 'I guarantee you Christ would be the toughest guy who ever played the game . . .. If he were alive today I would picture a six-foot-six-inch 260-pound defensive tackle who would always make the big plays and would be hard to keep out of the backfield for offensive linemen like myself.'" (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) pg. 19.

"Fritz Peterson, former New York Yankee, more easily fancies Jesus in a baseball uniform: "I firmly believe that if Jesus Christ was sliding into a second base, he would knock the second baseman into left field to break up the double play. Christ might not throw a spitball, but he would play hard within the rules." (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) pg. 19.

Comparative religious studies about Jesus aren't much better. Even some religious books have the foul smell of propaganda when it comes to defining Jesus. We see Jesus portrayed in pictures with a lamb cradled in his arms. In other scenes we see him with his arms outstretched. We portray him on Christmas cards saying "Peace on earth and good will toward men? We see him portrayed in portraits in clothing he supposedly would have worn if he were living in the 15th Century.

What Blocks Our Vision

The religious people of Jesus' time had difficulty-seeing Jesus. The Pharisees saw him having a demon, a winebibber and a glutton, a blasphemer because he claimed to be God; they saw him as a lawbreaker, a man who preferred the company of sinners, etc. But they were like many who go to the Bible with vested interests, they had a need to support a theological bias concerning the Messiah.

Even Jesus' disciples came away scratching their heads baffled asking themselves "Who is this guy?" It is amazing that the disciples had left all to follow Jesus and they were endeavoring to give him all and yet Philip came to Jesus and said, "'Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.' Jesus answered: 'Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves." (John 14:8-11)

When we study the Bible we  invariably bring to the text all that we are, with all of our experiences, culture, and prior understanding of words and ideas. Sometimes what we bring to the text leads us astray or causes us to read all kinds of foreign ideas into the text. This  was happening with the disciples as they looked at the scriptures concerning the Messiah. As they look at the Messiah face to face with all those ideas distorting their sight they failed to see the Messiah.

The disciples initially failed to see Jesus. They didn't understand what he was trying to do. They didn't understand why he did the things he did. And they didn't understand how he was doing what he did.. "Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?" Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." (John 14:22-24) And if you don't understand what Jesus is saying here it may be because you don't see him as clearly as you ought.

The disciples were like many of us; they had difficulty seeing Jesus because he failed to meet their expectations. They were trying to see him through  the blurred vision of their own hopes and dreams.When they looked at Jesus their minds flashed forward to the hopes and dreams of a restored national Israel and they were seeing him as a victorious revolutionary conqueror and a king. But Jesus acted like anything but a revolutionary conqueror or royalty. The difficulty in seeing the real Jesus is that we tend to make him into what we wish him to be. So he becomes the toughest defensive lineman on the field, a baseball hero who plays hard ball without breaking the rules. A shepherd holding a lamp or a person with outstretched arms saying no matter what you do everything is going to be all right or Jesus forever becomes a baby confined to a manger.

The Descent of God

Matthew begins his gospel with the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ and traces his lineage to Abraham. Luke begins his gospel with the birth of Jesus Christ tracing his lineage to Adam. But John begins his book with Jesus' eternal existence. John emphasizes that Jesus was God. He created all things. He is the light of the world. He became flesh. He dwelt among us. He was full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-18) All the miracles that John recorded were for the express purpose of allowing us to see his deity. (John 20:30-31)

"When John wrote his gospels the phrase Son of God was tainted with misleading associations in the minds of the readers. Jewish theology used it as a title for the expected human Messiah. Greek Mythology told of many "sons of gods," supermen born of a union between a god and a human woman. But in neither of these cases did the phrase convey the thought of personal deity; in both, indeed, it excluded it." (J. I. Packer, Knowing God, Inter Varsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1973 pg. 55)

When God became flesh, he had not ceased to be God; he was no less God than before, but he had begun to be man from the time of his conception. God confined himself to the uterus of a woman. God came to this world as we all come into this world. He was born outside that hotel because no one had the decency to offer a young woman in labor a bed. So God was place in a manger. A thoughtful person can't imagine the callousness and degradation this scene portrays. It is even harder to imagine why God chose such a lowly birth to save degraded callused sinners. But the gospel writers tell the birth story dispassionately and without comment about the circumstances, other than just stating the facts. To them it wasn't the circumstances of the birth, except that it fulfilled prophecy by taking place in Bethlehem, (Matthew 2:1-6), but they dwelt on the identity of the baby. (J. I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1973) pg. 54.

The baby was God. What an entrance God made into this world. The God that made man was now learning firsthand what it felt like to be man. God had made the angels and now he is lower than the angels. (Psalm 8) The angel that rebelled and became Satan would now become his tempter and the perfection of his life could only be accomplished by conflict with the Devil. (J. I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1973) pg. 57.

Hebrews 2:16-18
For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 4:14-15
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin.

We wonder why the gospel writers so dispassionately pass over the circumstances of his birth? It is because they emphasize the steps downward that led God to Calvary. It is at Calvary that their passion and God's are displayed. John says the word became flesh (John 12:14), but Paul makes a passionate statement about God in the flesh, "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9) He emptied himself, stripped himself of all privilege, made himself no reputation; he became poor for your sake. (Philippians 2:1-6) He came to do for us what we can not do for ourselves.

We see the story of creation in Genesis, we see the call of Abraham, we see the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, we see God working with Joshua, with the Judges and Kings of Israel, with Ezra and Nehemiah bringing God's people back from Babylonian captivity but when we come to the life of Christ we witness the greatest mysterious event eternity had ever witnessed. It was here that God refused to cling to the privileges of heaven while leaving us to grope with the stark realities that sin brought into our lives. He stripped himself of every advantage by consenting to be a slave of human nature. It was his 33-year life lived upon this earth that defines his greatness. And it all ended when he humbled himself and became utterly obedient to the point of death, and the death he died was that of a common criminal. It was at this moment that God descended into the greatest moments of his existence. He confounded the wisdom of heaven and earth. This was the defining moment of his being. "I Am that I Am!" This is what Christians celebrate as we surround the Lord's Table.

1 Corinthians 1:19-20
For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1 Corinthians 1:27-29
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-- and the things that are not-- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

1 Corinthians 2:6-10
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"-- but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

We glorify Christ's ascent to heaven but it was his descent that was the crowning achievement of his life. "The Bible makes it very clear that Jesus came down into this world and he came down from the very top. The One worthy of all worship and the Source of all power was born as a helpless baby in a dirty animal stable. Once his life on earth began, Jesus never stopped descending. Omnipotent, He cried; the owner of all things, He had no home. The King of Kings, He became a bondservant; the source of truth, He was found guilty of blasphemy; the Creator, He was spit on by the creatures; the giver of life, He was crucified naked on a cross--bleeding, gasping for air. From the pinnacle of praise in the universe to the ultimate debasement and torture of death on a cross." (Bill Hybels and Rob Wilkins, Descending Into Greatness, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1993) pg. 18.

It was Christ life and his death as a man that violated every tenet of heaven and earth. The Sustainer of all things came to pour himself out upon the cross. The one who possessed everything became nothing. From the world's perspective he was a fool and the cross became a symbol of that foolishness. But it was through this downward plunge that Jesus truly received a name that is higher than every name. God descended into his own greatness. (Bill Hybels and Rob Wilkins, Descending Into Greatness, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1993) pg. 19.

So Why Did Jesus Come?

So Why Did Jesus Come? The reason for God's descent was to model for Christians what they should be. Paul says, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 2:5)

Philippians 2:1-13
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

What really concerns God is our desire to ascend rather than to descend. We promote ourselves, to advance our cause. We redefine Jesus through the circumstances of our lives and try to make him fit into our way of thinking. So Jesus becomes the toughest lineman on the team and the baseball player that plays hardball with the rules to win. Then we use Jesus to justify our main objectives in living as we strive for money, power and material possessions to spend on our own self-indulgence.

But when we follow Jesus from the manger to the cross it is anything but a life of self-indulgence. And Jesus says each step of the way, "Take up you cross and follow me." Each step leads us downward. It is hard for us to even imagine that deity came as a servant in the upper room in the position of a foot washer. How much more could one descend? Well he can descend all the way to a cross. It is hard to fathom God on his knees washing his follower's feet and dying on a cross to wash us from sin. In Philippians 2:1-5 points to Jesus' example as the way must embrace. God is saying, If you want to follow me, follow my example. Don't just do what I say, do what I do every day of your life.

"Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (Luke 9:23-25)

We live in a world where losing is not easy. If you don't believe that go with a bunch of fellows to the golf course and watch the losers. It even comes closer to home when we see members pout because they don't get their way. But if you want to win, you must be willing to lose it all.

Conclusion:

God wants to be conceived and born in you and through you. Paul said that God has chosen him from birth to reveal his Son in him. (Galatians 1:16-17) God also wishes to reveal his son in you. This is the most basic lesson Christ taught. This is what Christianity is all about. This is the only hope for the world. Jesus was God in the flesh and God desires to live within your heart. "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John 14:23)

When you in repentance turn from selfish-indulgence and refocus your life on Christ, then God can began to reveal him to you and through you. Jesus said, " . . . and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him." (Luke 10:22) He begins revealing himself when you turn to him in obedience.

You initially make that commitment of obedience when you confess Christ as ruler, master, Lord of your life and commit to burying yourself alive in that watery grave of baptism to arise from those waters and begin your descent to the cross. Each step of the way will lead you closer to the very heart of God.

You may be the only hope that some have in refocusing their mind's eye to see Jesus. You see God wishes to reveal the true imagine of his son through each of us. That is the only way he can refocus the thinking of the world. He wishes to reveal his son in you through your descent into his greatness.

The only way he can do that is for you to turn from sin and refocus your life on Christ. Then you must follow him to the cross and die with him there. When we accept Jesus Christ we will follow Jesus from his descent from the manger to the cross. We will do it with the attitude and mindset that he had and in doing this we will reveal Christ to the world.

Luke 10:22-24
All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him. And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

Matt 11:27-30
All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

The matter of following Jesus is not just a matter of what he ask me to do but it is a matter of obedience on my part. If I choose not to obey and choose a self-indulgent course then I will have to pay the price of emptiness and disappointment. There is high adventure awaiting you if you will follow Jesus to the cross.
 
 

 

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