Descent of Christ (122)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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?"
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.
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.
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
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.