Easter

The Manifold Significance of the Resurrection (Part 3.1) – One Man’s Triumph as the Pattern of New Creation

The resurrection (along with the cross) stands at the very centre of history. Others may argue that some other event – the invention of writing, say, or the onset of the industrial revolution – represents the decisive turning point in the story of humanity and the world. But, if the gospel is true (and I believe that it is), then the resurrection was more than one man’s divinely-ordained and divinely-empowered victory over his own, personal demise. It most certainly was not an isolated phenomenon. Rather, the raising of Christ represented the very first step in new creation. Indeed, it was the point at which the Creator God showed a rebellious and corrupt creation that he had, in principle, re-claimed it. Rather than abandoning his world to death, God commenced the final, decisive phase of his project to re-create what he had originally made, flooding it with life. At a multiplicity of levels – personal, corporate and cosmic – God set about fashioning something entirely new. Through the raising of his Son, the Creator became Redeemer, proving climactically that his redemptive work had broken into the present deathly course of a sin-stained world. So begins my foray into the last image of the resurrection’s significance. Having already explored its connection to justification and sanctification, it is time now to turn to underlying principle, the end goal – the telos – of that glorious process, and how it began in Christ, “…the firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18).

It would be difficult to overstate the epochal magnitude of this event. Before Jesus’ resurrection, the seemingly inviolable law of death, decay and corruption shadowed everything bound by the finitude of time. After it had occurred, the world, for all its ongoing chaos and frustration, had changed. The empty tomb (along with Calvary) divides the history of God’s creation into two distinct ages, something that the writers of the NT – not least of which is Paul – declare. But nothing would have happened if, after Jesus’ death, he remained in the tomb. We have already seen that, for Paul, the death of Christ is meaningless without the accompaniment of the resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:17-18). For if the death of Christ was the decisive response to sin, then the resurrection was the paradigmatic triumph over death. It was the resurrection – the new, incorruptible, bodily life in which Jesus was clothed – that represented the first step of God’s new world, breaking into the present. To put it differently, the raising of Jesus from the dead was the beginning of another genesis; the new life into which he entered three days after he died was a moment of both inauguration and anticipation, looking forward to cosmic and creational renewal. Like the mighty acts that God initiated at the time of creation, fashioning from nothing and bringing forth order from chaos (see Genesis 1:1-2), the raising of Christ was an act of unbounded creativity, of life in the midst of death. And, just like the original creation, the empty tomb was the beginning of something completely new.

My interest in juxtaposing Christ’s resurrection with God’s first creative acts is not an act of arbitrary poetics, forced onto an unwilling text. Much of the NT speaks in these terms, especially the Gospels. Of the four accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds, none is as explicit in pairing creation and new creation as John’s. From the very beginning (a word that is apposite here), the fourth evangelist has in mind creation, as it is lyrically described in the Bible’s very first book. John 1:1, for example, starts with, “In the beginning was the Word…” – a clear nod, for a first-century Jewish audience, to the first verse in Genesis. As one proceeds through the book, one becomes increasingly aware that John is using the Genesis account of the world’s origins to frame his reflections on the theological significance of Christ’s own work. It builds up into a theological theme that presents us with a picture of Christ standing above time and history; over both initial creation and re-creation, yet radically involved in both eras. When God began his great, creative works, the Word – that is, Christ – was (eternally) present as an equal partner in that project (John 1:1; cf. Gen. 1:1-3, 6, 9ff). Even more important is the fact that in the opening verse, John is hinting to his audience that just as the Word was present at, and involved in, the first creation, so too is he involved – not just marginally, but as the primary agent – in new creation.

The Word, then, is both generative and redemptive, and it was his incarnation that saw God’s plan to inaugurate another, yet more bountiful, creation reach a climactic phase. John reiterates and expands upon this central truth throughout the entire Gospel. Indeed, it is there in John’s prologue, throwing light across the evangelist’s opening gambit; it emerges periodically from beneath his narrative, as the story of Christ wends it way – slowly but inexorably – towards the events of Easter; the raising of Lazarus serves as a particularly overt symbol of it; and, of course, the theme of new creation effortlessly gives shape to the raising of God’s Holy One in John 20. There, “early on the first day of the week,” Christ was raised from the dead (see 20:1). Emerging from the shadows, something strangely new had occurred. Given the evangelist’s emphasis on the notion of God’s efforts to reclaim his world and launch a completely fresh creation, mention of the resurrection of Jesus in this manner is no accident. Rather, through this seemingly innocuous detail, John is subtly – yet unambiguously – declaring the start of a new creation “week”, just like the week that saw the generation and establishment of God’s original creation (see Gen. 1:5,8,13ff). The darkness of the old world was giving way to a light, shining: the light of Christ’s resurrection, which pointed, and still points, to the promise of God to restore his world.

Paul is also interested in the theme of new creation as he explains the raising of Jesus. He has a very robust theology of creation, and uses it to provide a rich canvass to explore and expound the significance of Christ’s resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15, for example, the apostle is explicit, as he was in Romans, in drawing out the contrast between the first man and the last man – between the original Adam and the second “Adam”, Christ. Both stand at the head of two “races”, two separate humanities, as it were. Those who have participated in the sin of the first Adam will die; those who participate in the second “Adam” “will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22; cf. vv.45-49). Paul deliberately uses, echoes and alludes to the Genesis narrative of creation and fall in order to parallel the paradigmatic significance of Christ, in contrast to the first man. However, it is vital to remember that this contrast occurs within the context of Paul’s exposition of the resurrection. In other words, Paul – like John – is motivated by a hermeneutic of new creation; he, too, sees the raising of Christ in terms of the commencement of God’s efforts to reclaim, remake and redeem his world. The curse of death, as poetically described in Genesis 3, was broken by the triumph of Jesus. This, too, is surely in view as Paul contrasts the heads of these two ages. Of course, “the end” had not yet arrived, and Paul had no trouble highlighting this (v.24). Even so, through the resurrection of his Son, God had inaugurated the coming of his redemptive reign, the undoing of the tragedy of the Fall, and the concomitant destruction of death.

The rest of the NT authors are immersed in the redemptive, re-creative and epochal significance of Christ’s resurrection. Their writings and reflections are grounded in the fact of this unprecedented act. So much of the early church’s preaching, as evidenced in Acts (see Acts 2, especially) was shaped and informed by this radically changed situation. Peter, the chief preacher in those early chapters of Acts, knew that Christ was now Lord over the world, and that this had been proved by his triumph over death. The writer to the Hebrews wrote about the dominion of Christ, applying OT references to the idealized dominion of man over creation to the One who had suffered and been glorified (Heb. 2:5-9, citing Psalm 8). Though resurrection is not mentioned in this passage, it is surely presupposed in what turns out to be a sophisticated reflection on the fulfilment of humanity’s vocative purpose in Jesus Christ – again, with the theme of creation forming a backdrop to present discussions. Moreover (and at the risk excessive anticipation), Christian hope is grounded in the tangibility of the unshackling of Jesus from that final foe. All this was part of God’s sovereign plan. It was not as if the cross was the accidental death of a would-be Messiah, with his resurrection representing God’s attempt to undo the damage. No – this was always God’s plan, for as Peter declared, “…it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24).

To those who have become inured to the seemingly insurmountable mechanics of the present world, and the apparent finality of its laws, the resurrection is a challenge. It overturns our assumptions about the ways of this world, and breaks into the daily patterns of death and decay. Moreover, it is evidence that creation is not simply subject to its own, meandering evolution; God has been, and is, at work to transform it. The resurrection of Christ was, and is, proof that something from the outside, something that is not a product of this present corruption, has been at work to redeem, to heal, and to enliven. Thus, the secularist is challenged. So, too, the escapist, for Christ’s resurrection – whilst something unprecedented and gloriously new – was an emphatically physical event. When the writers of the NT wrote about the raising of Jesus (and resurrection generally), they were referring to a bodily occurrence. If Jesus is the paradigm for those who are his; and if his resurrection was bodily in nature; and if that transformed body was the first sign that God’s new world had begun; and if that new world was, and is, here, within his creation; then all attempts to paint the consummation of history and ultimate Christian hope as an escape from material existence are profoundly mistaken. I shall say more later; for now, it is sufficient to say that the resurrection of Christ is, in Tom Wright’s words, an emphatic “affirmation” of God’s world (renewed and restored, to be sure) – not, as some might think, the validation of a heavenly abode, liberated from body and creation alike.

I fear that I have already said too much. But if I have, it is only because I seek to bring those who have read this post (and the others like it) towards a deeper understanding of the raising of Christ. Even so, we have not reached the end of the journey, for the paradigmatic act of Christ’s resurrection was exactly that – paradigmatic. In concluding this series, I shall take a look at how the new creative order ushered in by the risen Jesus affects believing individuals, God’s people and his world. That, however, will have to wait.

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When Glory and Wisdom Die

Easter is upon us. Many have been, and will be, flocking to churches to sing, praise, worship, listen, pray and fellowship. Many more will elect to devote their time to other things, perhaps forgetting (or not knowing in the first place) the events that lie behind this cherished time.

Those events are what I want to celebrate, and so this post is a kind of paean to the God who initiated them; who set them in motion, so that his image-bearers might be saved, rescued – redeemed. Of course, I refer to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, God’s Son, in whom “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Through these epochal acts, God in Christ secured for us what we could not accomplish by ourselves. Through Christ’s death, God took upon his own shoulders the pain and penalty of sin; through his triumphant resurrection, God defeated sin’s companion, death, and vindicated his Son’s sacrificial offering.

That is, admittedly, a very rough treatment of something that cannot be grasped in a few sentences. In fact, one might say that the church’s entire biblical and theological reflection upon the events of Easter has barely scratched the surface of the manifold wisdom of God. The analogy of a diamond springs to mind. Like a diamond, the cross and the resurrection are multifaceted to a seemingly infinite degree; no one perspective – no one image – is alone capable of capturing the brilliance of what we see.

With that in mind, my post may well be seen as reductionist. For I seek to hone in on the first part of God’s redemptive work – the cross – and distil two particular dimensions pertinent to its significance: the revelation of God’s glory; and the demonstration of God’s wisdom. The cross stands as the paradoxical occasion for both these divine attributes, and indeed, can be seen as the “theatre” (to borrow Calvin’s term) of their supreme manifestation.

The Cross as a Revelation of God’s Glory

John’s Gospel is unique for many reasons; indeed, it is quite unlike the Synoptics in several respects. One of the most significant differences is the way in which it treats the cross. For the fourth evangelist, the cross itself functions as a revelation of the glory of God. Consider the prologue (John 1: 1-18): the evangelist begins this section by equating the mysterious “Word” with God himself. Later, he declares, with stunning imagery, that “the Word became flesh” and dwelt in the midst of humanity (v.14). That concept (i.e., the Word dwelling amongst flesh-and-blood people) can also be translated as “tabernacled”, and conjures up the idea of one pitching a tent or, as is the case here, a tabernacle. It is a clear allusion to the notion of Yahweh’s glory becoming manifest, visible, brilliantly apparent, in the tabernacle he directed the Israelites to establish for him.

What the evangelist is proclaiming is that the same Creator God, who dwelt with his people and displayed his glory thus, is also the very same God who has made his “home”, as it were, in human flesh. One hardly needs to possess unparalleled interpretative skills to realise that the fourth evangelist is talking about Christ when he speaks of the “Word”. What surprises is the connection between the embodied life of a Galilean peasant with the resplendent majesty of the sovereign Creator. Indeed, John links the Incarnation with the revelation of divine glory in the very next part of the verse. He writes, with the awestruck sincerity of an eyewitness, that “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only”, with “One and Only” functioning as a veiled reference to the uniqueness of the one true God. The manifestation of God and his glory are here inseparable, and the evangelist pinpoints them in Christ himself.

So we see that the self-abnegation and humiliation of the Word (read: Jesus Christ) is intimately, though paradoxically, linked to his glorification from the moment of his advent. But it does not end there. For John takes the strange unity of glory and humiliation beyond the Incarnation, and marries them at Calvary in a way that would have seemed nonsensical to many of his contemporaries. Three times in his gospel, he records Jesus as using the phrase, “lifted up” (3:14; 8:28, 12:32), which is not only a literal reference to his crucifixion – in particular, the act of his being raised up on the wooden cross as part of the process of execution – but also a metaphorical nod to his glorification. His being “lifted up” did not simply pertain to the physicality of being nailed to a piece of wood above a throng of onlookers; that event, grisly as it was, actually revealed the unmitigated glory of Father and Son in harmony.

It deepens further the paradox of Christ’s mission, almost to the point of offense. How indeed, we might ask, could a form of execution – used not only to kill, but to subject a person to the most extreme form of public humiliation – be the site of the manifestation of God and his majesty? How could Christ himself say, with the cross clearly in view, that the “hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23)? How could he pray to the Father, the night before his death that “…the time has come. Glorify you Son, that your Son may glorify you” (17:1)? Clearly, Jesus thought of his death, not primarily as a form of debasement (though on a certain level, that was the case – cf. Philippians 2:8c), but as a necessary part of his revelatory work. Bearing in mind that God’s glory cannot be separated from himself, the unveiling work of Christ on the cross was the supreme unveiling of God.

On the cross, the Son revealed the splendour of the Father. On the cross, the saving sovereignty of God was manifested. On the cross, the power of God to vanquish the powers of evil, death and sin were uniquely revealed through its accomplishment. The diverse attributes of the triune God – love, mercy, justice, authority, wrath, judgement – were drawn together at a single point with the violent demise of one man. And it was in that demise that these attributes were seen in all their pristine beauty. We beheld his glory – the glory of a man, mangled by the brutality of a world that had rejected its god.

The Cross as a Demonstration of God’s Wisdom

Some people are loath to admit this truth. For moderns, the cross seems like a bloodthirsty act. At the very least, it seems morbidly ridiculous to suggest that God would reveal himself through something as shameful as the cross. Even if salvation was a necessity, why should God elect to accomplish it through something so at odds with what we normally think of noble and praiseworthy? It is not simply a problem for moderns; the apostle Paul confronted a similar dilemma when he preached the cross to cultural and ethnic contemporaries. Writing to the Corinthians, he freely concedes that the cross is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23). It was the very antithesis of the ideals possessed by Greek culture and Jewish religion. But, Paul declares, Christ crucified is the revelation, embodiment, of God’s wisdom and power (v.24). Paradoxically, the cross fulfils Greeks’ search for wisdom and Jews’ search for miraculous might (cf. v.22), doing so in way that confounds the world’s expectations. But that is part of the point; the apostle suggests that the wisdom of God bursts the boundaries of – and indeed, is unbounded by – the cultural and religious frameworks that man imposes on truth and knowledge. Rather than conforming himself to the ways of man, God enacted something entirely new; something unprecedented; something so unlike the wisdom of the world that it would hardly have been believed.

No matter. For Paul, Christ is indeed the demonstration of God’s wisdom, despite the apparent foolishness of that statement. Two things are noteworthy. First, Paul appears to be singing from the same hymn sheet as John. Both testify to the embodiment of God’s wisdom in and through the person of his Son, Jesus (1 Cor. 1:24,30; cf. John 1:1-2, where “Word” should be seen as a synonym or sorts for wisdom). God’s truth has become supremely known in Jesus – and that, supremely enacted in his shameful death.

Second, Paul’s notion of wisdom is not a static, intellectual concept, any more than it was for his companion, John. Both men, standing in the tradition of their religious forebears, regard wisdom as a dynamic, creative process. It transforms and changes. It is, one might say, powerful, in that it can wrought a shift in reality. Think Proverbs 8, which speaks loftily of wisdom being a partner in creation. Thus, for Paul, God’s wisdom is authoritatively revealed in the salvation of sinners. It is embodied in Christ crucified, whose death was God’s way of effecting the redemption of his image-bearing creatures, ending the reign of sin and death, and inaugurating the age of new creation. He has shamed the wise and the learned, for their sophistry – skilled as it might be – cannot solve the ultimate question of humanity’s predicament or its relation to the Creator. However, the ministry of his Son, who has dealt with sin, once and for all, through his own sacrificial death, has provided a definitive answer. Through death and apparent failure, God in Christ has, ironically, defeated the powers arrayed against humanity (cf. Colossians 2:15) and opened up the way of reconciliation between himself and his image-bearing creatures.

The cross of Christ radiates the upside-down brilliance of God. Nevertheless, his saving work is left incomplete if we do not consider Calvary’s necessary sequel, the empty tomb. Indeed, the cross cannot be understood except in light of the resurrection. The enigma of Easter Sunday is one that I will explore in due course. For now, let us celebrate and commemorate the strange, yet irrevocable, hope elicited by the death of a loving God.

On Christmas

Well my faithful readers, I am back after a few weeks’ hiatus. It’s been rather busy, and this explains my absence. However, I thought that the imminent arrival of one of Christianity’s most important days warranted a new article. So here I am, bringing to you my thoughts on Christmas. Again, I was hoping to continue my exploration of how Christians should engage with this world, but that will have to wait.

Here, I want to make some comments regarding the nature and significance of Christmas. To some, its significance does not extend beyond the mad rush to find that perfect gift, or the seemingly interminable round of dinners and meals through which one has to go as one runs the gauntlet of little-known family members and awkward bouts of small talk and chit-chat around the table. Others may put a more positive, optimistic spin on Christmas time, but it is clear that the religious, spiritual and theological overtones of the season have been lost (or in some cases, deliberately ignored). That in itself demands a response, since I would argue that the marginalisation of any specific Christian references during Christmas (which, funnily enough, is a specifically religious term) reflects a wider process of neglect and exclusion, to which Christianity has been subjected, that has been occurring for some time.

However, it is not my intention to enter into that debate (not now, in any case). What I want to do is to focus explicitly on the theological and spiritual background to Christmas, which, when boils it all down, is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Although there are only two explicit references to Jesus’ birth in the New Testament (one in Matthew, one in Luke), it is a much-cherished doctrine within the church, and an important part of the question of Jesus’ identity and mission. And although brief and unvarnished, those two references contain within them the seeds of great theological reflection and understanding. My aim is neither to match that reflection or try and imitate that understanding. But by looking at these passages, I hope to draw out the theological significance of Jesus’ birth and what it means for us as his people. Along the way, I shall draw together various other strands of NT thought in an effort to do justice to the different images the theologians of the first-century church used to reflect upon the advent of the Son of God.

The first image that comes to mind is the royal advent of the king. This is especially apparent when one reads the birth narrative in Luke (2:1-7). The passage begins with Caesar issuing a royal decree, compelling all people who lived within the borders of the Roman Empire to return to their ancestral homes in order that a census might be taken. And so, because of this decree, a young Jewish couple make their way to Bethlehem, whereupon a baby is born to them. Luke is making a subtle, subversive – and yet, when one reads the birth of Jesus in context, wholly apparent – point about the lineage and origins of Jesus. Already, when an angel of the Lord visited Mary to tell her that she would bear a child that would be known as the “Son of God” (Luke 1:35), we have the sense that this will be a royal birth. Remember, the term “Son of God” had kingly, royal overtones, and we should not miss its significance. What is more (and I must acknowledge that I picked up the following point after reading a piece by N.T. Wright), Luke has structured his narrative in such a way that the birth of John the Baptist (1:57-66) – the account of which constitutes an important part of the evangelist’s story – is meant to echo the miraculous birth of another individual in Israel’s long-line of prophets and royal heralds: Samuel. This may not seem apparent at first, but when one looks at the parallels between Luke’s account and the narrative in 1 Samuel, the point becomes clear. The barrenness of a righteous woman who, through God’s miraculous intervention, gave birth to a boy who would eventually grow up to be a prophet, a forerunner and a herald to royalty, are some of the parallels between the two passages. And when we understand that 1 Samuel is, at least in the beginning, about the advent of David, the true king, and Samuel, the herald who would announce him, we should also understand that Luke pictures the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus through this particular historical lens. For him, the birth of the Baptist is nothing less than the advent of the one who would prepare the way for the return of the king.

And so we come back to Luke 2:1-7, where Caesar lifts his little finger, forcing Mary and Joseph to travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem (note the importance of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the true Davidic king). As I said earlier, Luke is making a rather subversive point. Although the earthly parents were compelled by royal decree to travel to Bethlehem, our evangelist is under no illusions as to who the true king really is. The one who ordered an empire-wide census was just another pretender; his power was illusory and fleeting. In an extraordinary reversal, Luke is suggesting that the real king – the real lord (Luke 2:11) – was the one born in a stable, in the dead of night, to a poor Jewish couple. This was, and is, the true king, the one who now rules over all the earth. Luke’s mention of Caesar is only significant insofar as it sets up a contrast between the pomp and arrogance of royal imposters, and the humility and sacrifice of true kingship.

The upside-down nature of Jesus’ royal identity is something that permeates the gospels, and to no greater extent than in the birth narratives. But the NT writers were not simply speaking of an earthly king who reigned over a merely earthly province. They were instead speaking of the cosmic universal Lord who reigns over all things in heaven and on earth, but who entered into the chaotic flow of time and human experience as one of us. Paul waxes lyrical about the great condescension of Jesus in Philippians 2:5-7. Now, Paul is well aware of the kingly nature of the one about whom he writes. At the end of the passage from which my quote comes, he speaks of Jesus in terms that ripple with regal overtones. There, in poetic form, the apostle speaks of Jesus “being in very nature God…ma(king) himself nothing”. Though he does not mention Jesus’ birth, Paul is adamant that this man was none other than the incarnation of the Creator God. Indeed, he proclaims that the equality between Jesus and God prior to the former’s earthly incarnation was total, complete, whole – indeed, not something that Jesus possessed by force or false claims, but by virtue of what he was, and is, by nature. And yet, he left his place of heavenly glory to take his place amongst sinful humanity; the king walking amidst his rebellious subjects. His birth focused and crystallised that act of sacrifice and humbling, as the true Lord began the final phase of his mission to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under him. This, finally, brings me to the second image with which I associate Christmas: that of divine sacrifice. Via his birth in a small Palestinian village, the one true king humbled himself in a manner, and to an extent, that is difficult to fathom. The life of Christ was one of constant sacrifice on behalf of humanity, and it began in Bethlehem.

The final image that comes to mind when I think of the Christmas period is the advent of Jesus as true humanity, which helps to make sense of the other two images. It was (partly) in order to give us a picture of true humanity that the true king condescended, giving up the glory of unfettered deity to humbly live amongst us. Here, the miraculous element to the birth story takes on new significance. What is striking is that both narratives do not spend much time on the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth; it is a simple, unvarnished fact. Nevertheless, there lie within these deceptively simple descriptions great truths that flesh out the already grand picture of Jesus’ identity. As with all the miracles recorded in Scripture, this one was not simply meant to be the divine equivalent of a spectacular magic trick. It contained within it theological meaning – meaning that not only goes to the heart of Jesus’ mission and identity, but also impinges upon our own end as God’s redeemed people. Part of the logic of Jesus’ miraculous birth was the fact that his advent effectively bypassed the sinfulness inherent in humanity. Rather than being the product of two sinful parents, Jesus came into this world as a product of the direct and sanctifying work of the Spirit. To be sure, he came in the likeness of sinful man (Romans 8:3), but that likeness did not include the intrinsic corruption that has afflicted God’s image-bearers. God was able to have his cake and eat it too, so to speak: on the one hand, he entered into the realm of human existence in a most profound and intimate way; on the other hand, he was able to avoid the apparent inevitability of human sinfulness as he sought to lead his image-bearing creatures out of that sinfulness as their model and representative. For Jesus was, and is, the incarnation – not simply of God, but of what humanity was always meant to be. That lies at the heart of passages such as Hebrews 2:5-9. It also lies at the heart of other passages, including John 1.

Indeed, if we read John 1:14, we find the evangelist, in his own version of Jesus’ entry into the world, speaking of the “Word” becoming “flesh”. Now, John’s depiction of the Word is clearly inspired by the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2. And in those narratives, we find God’s creation climaxing in the formation of man. There, God breathed his Spirit into his image-bearer, and divinity and humanity came together. With the miraculous birth of Jesus, the natural and the spiritual – divinity and humanity – came together in an even more profound manner when God’s wisdom took on the fleshly existence of man, and a baby was born to a young Jewish woman. It focused the entire trajectory of Jesus’ mission in one spectacular act and set the stage for what would follow, culminating in the epochal events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. If Jesus represented true humanity to the world – and by that, I mean the perfect union of God and man – then his birth dramatized that purpose and established the precedent for his ministry and the model he presented to sinful humanity. Thus, the birth of Jesus – in a word, Christmas – means the entry of true humanity into this dark world, a light shining in the darkness.

So much more could be said. For example, Christmas makes no sense without Easter. In other words, the Incarnation means little without Calvary, for Jesus did not simply model true humanity; he also gave his own life in order that sin – the one thing standing between humanity and God – might be defeated and man might enjoy reconciliation with his Creator. There is a strong link connecting those two events. But, since this is Christmas, I wanted to reflect on the events that set this ministry, this mission, in motion. Let us give thanks for the king who humbled himself twice: first, by adopting the likeness of sinful humanity; and second, by dying the perfect death for us so that we might be saved, redeemed, set free. We will celebrate the latter in a few months. Let us celebrate the former now.