Category: Incarnation (Page 1 of 9)

The Second Incarnation

Jesus is the incarnation of God. Incarnation just means flesh and blood. The Gospel of John says the Word of God – the will of God, who God is and what God wants for the world – became flesh and blood in Jesus so we could see it and know it. In his own words, Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” You see it and you know it. You get it because you’ve experienced it in me.

The Church is the second incarnation. And, yes, we are mostly a mess. We’re just like the people Jesus called to follow him, just like the people he surrounded himself with: ordinary fishermen and business people, blind people, loose women, weak men, liars and cheaters and cowards. And people who’ve been hurt. All of us have been injured. We’re all wounded and put back together with duct tape and twistie ties. And grace.

Grace that in Christ we are God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. It’s a great mystery, but for some reason the Church is the way Jesus has chosen to be real and present in the world. He lives in us and through us by his Spirit. His heart beats in our chests, his eyes see through ours; when we speak, his voice is heard; and his welcome is felt in our embrace. We are the flesh and blood Body of Christ.

When people see the Church, they expect to experience God. When Jesus says, “You give them something to eat,” he’s talking to you. He’s talking to us.



The Flesh and Blood Church

You’ll hear people argue that when Jesus called people to follow him, he had something else in mind other than Church. Something spiritual and pure. Non-corporate. Non-institutional. Lofty. Divine. Not of this earth. The Church, as we experience her today, is not what Jesus intended. Christ’s salvation and transformation work is happening somewhere other than at Church.

No. Jesus is a flesh and blood person and his Church is a flesh and blood people.

That’s the beauty and the glory of our salvation: our God didn’t just come to us, he became one of us! That’s God’s salvation plan, that he would put on our flesh and blood. And when Jesus comes, it’s the messy flesh and blood part of it that’s so compelling.

As you read the Gospels, you can almost taste the dust. You can smell the animals. You can hear the people arguing. Jesus is not so much about inspiring concepts and uplifting ideals, he’s about fishing nets and mustard seeds and lost coins and lepers. Our Lord is more about tears and frustration and spit mixed with dirt and sheep and synagogues and sermons and suppers than he is about theological abstracts and disembodied ideas. Jesus is all about weddings and funerals, betrayal and forgiveness, thunderstorms and olive trees. The flesh and blood reality of Jesus as a real human person is in your face in the Bible.

And it’s beautiful! It’s magnificent! We praise God because he became one of us in Jesus Christ. Our eternal salvation is grounded in the fact that Jesus is a flesh and blood person, that he experienced everything you experience, that he knows you intimately and understands completely what you’re going through because he went through it, too. It’s awesome and mysterious and wonderfully glorious! What other God would do that?

Jesus the Christ, the Holy One of God, is a flesh and blood person. So, of course, his Church is a flesh and blood people.

I think churches long to throw off their flesh and blood nature and soar like Superman. Or supersaints. But that’s not going to happen. We’re a body. When people complain about the Church being too preoccupied with money or buildings or doctrine or prestige, when people gripe about the Church being closed-minded or boring, what they’re telling you is that they don’t like that the Church is a body. Bodies sweat. They get sick and require maintenance. Bodies produce weird smells.

But the Church is the Body of Christ. This is the flesh and blood form our risen and reigning Lord has chosen to be present in the world. It never fully meets our expectations; we can become disappointed in Church, or even embarrassed. But this is exactly how our God intends it.

Church is not another civic club or social organization, it’s not a non-profit charity or a spiritual retreat. We are a chosen people, a holy nation, chosen by a holy God to be the Body of Christ. Sometimes it may feel irrelevant or past its prime, but we are the very Body of Christ. This is how our God works for the sake of the world.



Joyful in Our Salvation

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you!” ~ Isaiah 9:2-3

In Isaiah 9, God is speaking through his prophet to a people who have trusted in their own power instead of the Lord’s. They’ve rejected God and his ways. In their own pursuits of power and pleasure, wealth and success, they’ve turned their backs on God and his will for his children. Instead of having the canopy of God’s protection over them, instead of being guided by the pillar of cloud and fire, they are living in darkness. They are in bondage to the Assyrians. They’re destitute. In distress. The very nations they have trusted for protection have now imprisoned them. They’ve been plunged into deep darkness. The land of the valley of the shadow of death kind of darkness.

And the Father in Heaven, our God, the eternal Creator of Heaven and Earth, looks down with compassion on his burdened children and says, “I will not leave them in the darkness.”

In the very places where the Assyrians conquered them, in the very location where the death and destruction began, God says, a new light will dawn. For these people walking in darkness, I will send this great light.

And as a result of God’s gracious intervention, because of God’s generous and merciful act, the people will rejoice.

God’s people will experience great joy and they will rejoice just like farmers after a record-breaking harvest. They will rejoice just like the soldiers after VE Day. The people will rejoice as if a loved one had been raised from the dead, like a Powerball Lottery winner, like a Hail Mary touchdown pass to win the Super Bowl! The people will rejoice!

The yoke will be shattered. The burden will be lifted. The enemy’s tools and weapons will be destroyed. Bright light will shine into the darkness. Victory will come from defeat. Life will spring from death. And the people will rejoice!

When? When is this going to happen? And how? How is God going to accomplish this?

“For to us a child is born. To us a Son is given.” ~Isaiah 9:6

God accomplishes the salvation of the world in the birth of a baby. Immanuel. God with us.

All  of your fears, all of your pains, all of your sins and your brokenness — it’s all met head-on in Jesus Christ and dealt with forever. All your hopes and dreams, everything you know as right and good and true, all your deepest longings — they are all found in Jesus and delivered to you forever. God has been born to us, he has come to us. He made himself subject to all our pain and suffering in order to bring healing and comfort. He became open to loss while he is mighty to save. He is vulnerable to death in order to give eternal life. He walks in your darkness — he walks through your darkness with you — and shines his salvation light.

It is through this Christ, this promised Savior, that God personally gets involved in your situation and fixes it. He enters your mess and makes things right. God in the flesh comes to this earth, in the very place where your brokenness and sickness and sin took over your life and wrecked everything — that’s where the new light dawns! Jesus brings right into your circumstances the eternal Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of everlasting peace, of which there will be no end.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem and the light shines in the darkness. God himself walks our streets and touches our people, he hugs our kids and eats with us and loves us. Distressed people are encouraged when they meet Jesus. Hopeless people are given hope when they encounter this Lord. Prisoners are released, outcasts are brought in, cold people are warmed, hungry people are fed, sick people are made well, sinful people are forgiven, the weak are given power and the tired are made to soar on the wings of eagles! The devil’s grip on God’s people is broken forever! Sin and death and Satan and all the things that work around the clock to separate us from God and from one another are eternally destroyed! That’s the Son of God! That’s our Savior!

To us a child is born! And the people rejoice! They can’t help it!

May we all be joyful in our salvation.



Helpful in His Spirit

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” ~Titus 2:11-14

While we wait for the coming of Christ, we are to help others in the name and the manner of the One who came here to help us. During this Advent Season, we notice in the birth of Jesus that our God does not separate himself from the pain of the world. God through Christ enters the pain of others. He takes your pain into himself, he becomes your sin for you and takes it to the cross where he annihilates it forever. He dwells with us today in the middle of our suffering by his Holy Spirit. God has come to help his people. And as a people belonging to God, we join him in helping others. We are helpful in his spirit, in his name and manner, eager to do what is good.

We look to Jesus and we do God’s work for others the way he does it. In humility. No arrogance. No lording it over anybody. No beating anybody over the head with a stick. Or a Bible. Or a doctrine or tradition. Humility and service and love.

Look at the first coming of Jesus. God’s way is to join people where they are, level with them in their contexts, serve their needs, honor their humanity, become one with them, become one of them, even to the point of risking terrible loss. God could have very easily come to this earth to dominate us, to force us, to overpower us, and push us to where he wants us to go, even for our own good. But he didn’t. He came to us in humility and grace. To help.

And helping others is not something we do to get salvation, it is our salvation. We are being saved, we are being taught and shaped; it’s a long process. We do keep our eyes on that final glorious destination, but never at the expense of the journey. You know, Jesus talked all the  time about the Kingdom of Heaven, but all his teachings had to do with living right here, right now, in the present age, with people.

“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

Jesus says whenever you feed someone who’s hungry, you’re feeding me; whenever you give a drink to a thirsty person, you’re giving that drink to me; whenever you invite in a refugee or clothe the needy or visit somebody in prison, you’re helping me. That’s not just a metaphor. That doesn’t mean, “Oh, Jesus’ heart is with those kinds of people.” It means Jesus is those kinds of people!

When God came to earth and put on our flesh and blood, he chose to become homeless. He decided to identify with the jobless, the poor and needy, the hungry. That’s our Lord. And when you decide to follow Jesus, when you pray for God’s Spirit to transform you more into his holy image, you’re deciding to help the people without power, the people without beauty, the people without money and wealth. That’s how you help in his spirit.

The same grace of God that has appeared to all people in Christ Jesus and saves us is the same grace of God that trains us how to live in the present age while we wait for his second appearing. His gracious help for us turns into our help for others.



Both Advents in Titus

There are several Bible passages that mention both the first appearing of Christ Jesus on this earth and his promised second coming, our Lord’s first and last advent, in the same context. One of those passages is Titus 2:11-14.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

Christ’s  1st Coming Saves Us – The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, not to condemn the world, but to save the world, the whole world, all people. Our God comes to us in the person of his son Jesus, God himself appears to us, he appears with us, in order to save us. When Jesus raised the widow’s dead son back to life in the town of Nain, they all said, “God has come to help his people.” When Jesus goes to Sychar and preaches and heals there for two days, the townspeople called him the Savior of the world.

Now Paul says our great God and Savior Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness. We are forgiven of all our sins, we are washed completely clean by his saving blood, and we are purified for God as a people who belong to him, who are his very own. Through the first coming of Jesus and his sacrificial death and his glorious resurrection, we are restored into a righteous relationship with God the Father forever. Christ’s coming brings to completion all the ancient promises that first gave birth to God’s people and ultimately brings his salvation to every part of the world.

Christ’s 2nd Coming Trains Us – While we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of Jesus. This waiting teaches us. It trains us to live a certain way in this present age. Notice how waiting for the glorious future and living in the not-always-so-glorious present are connected. It’s not that we should focus on his second coming so much that it doesn’t matter how we’re living right now. In the past, one of the criticisms of the Church was that we are too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. Now, I’m afraid we could be rightly criticized for being too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good. Paul says here, the way we live on earth in this present age, while we wait, is shaped by the reality of what we’re waiting for.

If you’re babysitting for somebody at their house, the reality is that they are coming back. They may tell you they’re not coming back, but they are kidding. They will return to their home. And it’s a good idea to make sure you feed their kids, help put the toys away, get the children to bed on time, and clean up your own dirty dishes before they inevitably arrive. Your behavior in the present is trained by the reality of the future.

Jesus told stories like this all the time. You know the landowner is returning. While you wait for him, don’t just sit on the couch and scroll through Facebook. Put your gifts and abilities to work for the cause. The ten bridesmaids know the groom is going to show up. While you’re waiting, make sure your lights are shining.

The Advent Season is about both: knowing that Christ Jesus has come and he is coming again. Something happened that changed your life and redirected your destiny and altered all of history forever. And it will happen.



To All People

“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people!” ~Titus 2:11

This grace of God, this coming of Jesus, his flesh-and-blood birth as a human baby in Bethlehem — it has been made manifest to all people. This is what the angels told the shepherds the night Jesus was born: This is good news of great joy that is for all the people.

When Jesus is just 2-1/2 months old, Joseph and Mary take him to the temple in Jerusalem where they run into an old man named Simeon. The Gospel says Simeon is righteous and devout and he is waiting. Waiting for the consolation of Israel. Waiting for deliverance, waiting for rescue, waiting for God’s salvation. And the minute he lays eyes on Jesus, he takes the baby in his arms and he praises God.

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised… my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people!” ~Luke 2:29-31

Christ has appeared to all people. Simeon is holding a baby, but he sees the saving grace of God.

Anna is there that day, too. She’s an old widow lady, a prophetess, the Gospel says. And Luke tells us she never left the temple. She worshiped there night and day, fasting and praying around the clock. Anna was at church every time the doors were opened. And as soon as the baby Jesus appeared to her

“…she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption.” ~Luke 2:38

Anna is looking forward, anticipating. Simeon is waiting, waiting, waiting. And they both finally see it in the arrival of Jesus. They see the glorious fulfillment of all God’s promises. Israel was being brought back together as God’s united people because of Jesus. The powerful were being brought down and the lowly were being lifted because of Jesus. Evil would be defeated and the captives would be set free because of Jesus.

God had always promised to comfort and console his people, to protect and provide for his people. God had always promised to rescue and restore his people. Simeon and Anna see it finally coming true in Jesus. And not just for Israel, but for all people. Not just for them, but also for you.



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