This afternoon I took down Christmas wreaths, garland, trees, and brightly colored lights, to be stowed away in the attic for another year. This annual ritual signals the Christmas season is over. For a few weeks now Christian believers the world over have talked about, and thought about, and celebrated the incarnation of Jesus who is the Christ of God. The incarnation, the fact that God became flesh, was announced with great fanfare! An angel brought the good news and a multitude of heavenly creatures sang and praised God. A star was assigned to this great event! It was a big deal!
Jesus came from heaven, became a man, lived a very simple life, had a short ministry of about 3 years, and though he never did anything wrong, was murdered by religious zealots. He was buried, and just as promised, he was raised from the dead and in a bit less than six weeks he left earth in the clouds and no one has seen him since. Well, that’s not completely true. What about the second incarnation?
If possible, perhaps even more mysterious than Jesus becoming flesh to live, die, and be raised back to life for us is that even as you read these words Jesus is all around the world in flesh right now! Christianity is a very mysterious religion to say the least. And, God let some of his Old Testament prophets in on some of the mystery. For example Isiah 53 was written hundreds of years before Jesus became a man but when I read that passage it’s almost like I’m reading the account of an eye witness. However, there was one subtle mystery that was not revealed to those men of old.
As the Apostle Paul sat in a prison cell waiting to be tried he wrote these words.
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:24-29 ESV)
Paul spoke of “the mystery hidden for ages and generations” it was to those first century believers, and to you and me God chose to “make known how great…are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is CHRIST IN YOU, the hope of glory”. Jesus is incarnate in every one who is his own. I don’t know about you, but to me this is pretty mysterious! But, it is true!
Remember Jesus talking to his inner circle in John 14 when he was preparing them for his leaving?
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:15-20)
His promise to them was in part I “will be in you”, and “I in you.” This wonderful truth is the secret of the abundant, fruitful, joy filled, sin killing, Christian life. Jesus again spoke to his disciples on this subject. He said something to them that must have seemed very odd. “It is to your advantage that I go away.”
“But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me,‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:5-7 ESV)
As the disciples had begun to be understand that Jesus was leaving them, as this passage says, sorrow had gripped their hearts. Oh how they must have dreaded the time when he would no longer be with them. What they were about to understand was that He was coming back in the person of the Helper, as John put it, the Holy Spirit in them. When Jesus was living on earth as a man he was confined to time and space. He could only be one place at a time. But, when he would dwell in his people he is where they are, all the time! His promise “I will never leave you” takes on new meaning.
Jesus lives in His people! This wonderful truth raises the question that all of us who claim him as Lord must grapple with, How shall we then live? If this teaching is true, if Jesus really lives in me and you, what sort of people must we be? How do we “flesh him out”? How different should we be? I think Paul’s words in the Colossians passage gives the clear answer.
“28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:28,29 ESV)
The Christian life was never to be lived by the resources and energy of human flesh. That “The flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63) is very true. When a man does what he does relying only upon himself the result of his effort will only be what flesh can do. God calls it “nothing”. But, when we surrender, when we cease from all of our trying and start trusting, it is only then the Holy Spirit will do his will and work in us.
To be our best for Christ we must live every waking moment conscious that “I can’t” and that “Only he can”. God’s strength is only powerful in our weakness. It is not the dedicated life God uses but the surrendered life. Many Christians try desperately to be holy, to live consecrated lives, completely by sheer determination. And, they fail, over and over and over again. I think everyone who reads this article will have to agree they have been there and done that!
One last passage to advise our living and to help us allow Jesus to be front and center in our lives.
“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13 ESV)
You see, it is His will and His work that pleases him, not what you and I can do on our own. It is only in light of this verse, and the impact of it’s truth, that the preceding verse makes sense. It is very familiar to most of us.
“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12b ESV)
As my friend Edward Fudge often says of this passage, “It is our job to work out what God has worked in” and he is right. We should live in awe of the truth that Jesus lives in us and his mission has never changed one tiny bit. He is still about redemption and reconciliation and invites us mere mortals to participate in his ongoing story of loving ungodly men and women.
The question remains, will I give up so Jesus can show up? May God bless you as you surrender to his Lordship day by day.
(This post is also running athttp://wineskins.org)