O Come Emmanuel!

man in praise

…the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.
(Isaiah 7:17)

This ancient promise was fulfilled over 2,000 years ago when a virgin girl named Mary gave birth to a child with no human father. He is truly the Son of God.

His coming was and is “God with us”!

His passion was “God for us”!

The announcement of His birth included this bit of information.

…he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21b)

And so it is, this one of lowly birth and social status is the only Savior. The Holy Scriptures are explicit. Jesus, who is the Christ, is the only one who can save from sins and death.

 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12)

Not any depth of personal morality, not any acts of kindness, not ten thousand rites and rituals can set ungodly men and women right with God. It is Christ Jesus alone who fulfilled the Father’s requirement for righteousness. It was the God-man who took upon himself the sins of the whole of humanity and offered his holy life in a cruel execution so that God can now declare those who trust him to be righteous and His own dear children.

Every promise of good from God to sinful humans is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ our Lord.

All the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

How can we not be thankful for this unspeakable gift? Emmanuel has come!

Royce Ogle
Monroe, LA

Preacher, Are you making actors or disciples?

Christians are supposed to be good people, right? So preaching to them, teaching them to be good must then be good, right? Maybe good but not best.

As Jesus went about his ministry on earth he was counter-culture and often at odds with the established status-quo of the religion of the Jews. He visited the homes of sinners, he ate with them, he went to parties with them. He was cross-cultural. He once went out of his way to encounter a woman hated and despised by the Jewish religionists because of her ethnicity. And he had an ongoing habit of in-your-face confrontations with the religious elite, even telling them they were children of the devil and did not know God.

Why would Jesus slam the best people in the Jewish community? They are the ones who never miss synagogue. When the doors open they are there. They are the ones who hold the Scriptures in high esteem, who meticulously copy it by hand, who memorize it, and pass it on to others. What pastor wouldn’t want church members like that? Not only did they hold the Scriptures in high regard, they kept its teachings, strictly! In fact, they had taken the ten commandments and developed over 600 more to make certain the ten were kept precisely. They were faultless people who prayed often, fasted, tithed, and live out what they preached. Isn’t that the hope of every pastor, elder, teacher?

If not, then why does the majority of Sunday morning sermons focus on behavior? Why is so much of what is preached aimed at the results mentioned above? I fear that many preachers are preaching “therapeutic moralistic deism” at the expense of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Oh yea, you still mention that Jesus died on the cross for our sins but you don’t go much further, not into the place Jesus did.

In what is considered his most important sermon Jesus made an astonishing statement to the listening crowd. In the gospel of Matthew chapter 5, after Jesus had spoken about the Law of God, and that he had not come to abolish it, but rather to fulfill it, he said this:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:20)

Can you imagine the look of horror on the faces of some of those who heard those words? What? Is Jesus demanding better law keeping than those who do it best? Is that what this is about? Is he crazy? Can anyone enter the kingdom of heaven?

This teaching comes very early in Jesus’ ministry and yet he is changing the paradigm of law keeping and morality. The old template was “do this” “don’t do that”. Jesus is introducing a new template for righteousness, “a new heart”. He moves the conversation from the external to the internal. He is laying the foundation for the transformation of the human condition from the inside out by the power of his worth and work.

Notice his direction. “You have heard that it was said…”, “But I say…”. Don’t forget, he is not suggesting that anyone take the law of God lightly. He has just established it’s validity and that keeping it is a non-negotiable. Let’s see what he says about murder for example.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment”.
(Matthew 5:21)

You’re thinking, “I’ve got that one covered! I have never killed anyone. I’m not even a hunter, I wouldn’t kill anything.” But Jesus continues.

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment… (and it get’s worse)
(Matthew 5:22a)

Do you see what Jesus has done here? He moved from the external action, murder, to an internal sin, anger. I can imagine the listeners thinking “I can never meet his standard of righteousness!”

There’s more. What about adultery? You reason, I have never been unfaithful to my wife, I have never had sex with another woman. I’m clean on this deal. Here’s the external rule.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.
(Matthew 5:27a)

Here’s the internal rule.

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart
(Matthew 5:28)

You see, folks can look good in the community. They are model Christians at the ball park, at the civic club, and even at church. If the rule of thumb is the external acts, (murder, adultery, lying, stealing, etc) and the positive side of the external (good works, tithing, leading a prayer before meals, visiting the sick, etc.) we are good people. But Jesus said…..

The point Jesus is making is that by human effort no one can be right enough to enter the kingdom of heaven. The heart must be changed.

The only way to stop adultery in it’s tracks is to have lust rooted out of the human heart by the application of the gospel of Christ by the Holy Spirit. The way to stop murder is to have anger rooted out of the heart so that it is replaced by love and long suffering.

In this sermon Jesus makes it plain as day that left to themselves no one will make it to heaven. Only those with a better righteousness than human behavior can produce will in fact enter the kingdom of heaven.

Don’t focus your teaching on trying to change the external behavior of your congregants. Instead, preach the good news about what Jesus has done for them. He was accounted as a sinner, dying for them, so that they may be accounted as righteous, and was raised from the dead putting an end to the dominance of sin and giving us the promise of living forever as His dear children.

Every sermon, every ministry, every method in our churches must be shaped and executed in view of the transforming power of the Christ who alone can give a new heart with new hope and a new ability to say no to sin and to love as Jesus did.

Preach the gospel. Love it, embrace it, wallow in it, make it who you are and what you do. It’s a life and death matter for those you preach to every week. Preach so that you are allowing God to change hearts as people come to put their whole trust in Jesus. Do what you do so that every word of praise, every hint of glory, goes not to the church or to you but to the Lord Jesus Christ.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Crucified with Christ Yet I Live

Central to Christian teaching is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life afforded in the person and work of Jesus Christ our Lord. Every earthly expression of the Christian community does not agree on how, or upon what basis, God forgives sin and makes sinners a part of His own family. But, every Christian group to my knowledge admits that mankind is sinful and that God frowns on sin.

In his letter to the believers at Rome Paul gives a brief version of the origin of sin and how that sin invades every person.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— (Romans 5:12)

When Adam sinned he represented us all, each of us has an appointment with a grave. Physical death is a result of sin, first of Adam and then all of his decedents.

Adam was (is) a “type” of Jesus (Romans 5:14) in that he too was our representative in his life and death.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. (Romans 5:15)

How then did God choose to break the curse of Adam’s sin,  and our common death? He accomplished that by the representative death of Jesus. Central to the gospel is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3). And when Jesus died “for us” he represented us in his death so that the effect is we died with him. It is specifically for that reason that His death is effectual for us.

One way Paul illustrated this dying was to use the death of a woman’s husband. A widow is no longer bound to her marriage vows and to her husband. Death ends the marriage with it’s obligations.

Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. (Romans 7:1,2)

In the same way a wife is freed from the law of marriage through the death of her husband, we Christians are freed from the law of sin and death in the same exact way.

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:4-6)

The question that is raised is, “When did we die the death that frees us?”. The answer is in the passage above. “you also have died to the law through the body of Christ“. When Christ died for us God counted, or reckoned us as having died with him. “How can this be?” you ask. In the same way God counted the sinless Son of God utterly sinful (2 Corinthians 5:21) on the cross, he counts us as having died when He died.

Paul goes at this truth from another vantage point in Romans 6. Here our baptism is used as an illustration of this very truth. Paul is combating the idea that those who are in Christ are free to go on sinning as before.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:1-11)

Our symbolic dying is in the waters of baptism. We are “baptized into his death” in the watery grave acting out what actually happened when Jesus died. It is not in baptism that we actually die to sin. Baptism points to the reality that “our old self was crucified with him…” and, “we have died with Christ..”. In the exact sense that we do not actually rise from the dead when we come up out of the water we don’t actually die when we go into the water. The symbol never stands alone but always points to the reality.

In light of the truth that when Christ died we effectively died with him, and by that death are no longer are under the dominion of sin, Paul says “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11) Another way of saying this is to count yourselves dead as God does because you died with Christ.

One of Paul’s best known statements is found in Galatians 2.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20)

Ours is a salvation accomplished outside of us without any help from us. Christ reconciled us to God by the blood of his cross. Paul therefore writes to the Colossians these words.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. (Colossians 1:21,22)

Sinners are reconciled to the Father, not by what they know, not by what they do, but by what Christ has done.

Let’s roll back the odometer of history, to the first century? No, further. To the time of the patriarchs? No, further yet. Let’s go all the way back before history was being made. Let’s go back to pre-creation, pre-earth and see what God was up to.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

All of this love, this definite plan, before time, to be implemented in time, and at just the right time. Our God is a God of purpose and his purpose is the praise of His glory! God’s salvation leaves no room for boasting in ourselves.

Without regard for some nuanced meaning of what “righteousness” or “justification” means in Paul’s writings two things are crystal clear. God is just! And, He is the justifier of the ungodly! Jesus saves! Your salvation? You didn’t build that!

Royce Ogle
Monroe, LA