The Christmas Message

The below is a special guest post by my friend, coworker, and brother in Christ, Andrew Lin.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Paul begins this verse or statement with the following: “the statement is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance”. This should immediately grab your attention. Paul prefaces his upcoming statement by saying that it is not only trustworthy but also deserving of full acceptance. In the Greek, it literally reads “trustworthy is the statement”, placing the emphasis on trustworthy; this statement is worthy of banking your whole life on. In addition, Paul adds that it is deserving of full acceptance. Here I want to draw your attention to the word full, it speaks to two possibilities here in which I think Paul is emphasizing both. Full implying the attention of all peoples that would hear this, and also full implying the entirety of one’s being. On the one hand, Paul is saying that this deserves the attention of everyone, all humans. But also, for each and every one of us, it deserves our entire, full, undivided attention. What an introduction to the following statement!

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” I want to draw your attention to the subject of this statement: Christ Jesus. Paul is talking about the person of the Trinity who took on human flesh. Literally Christ meaning the “anointed one.” It was his title. And Jesus transliterated from the Hebrew, “Yahweh-saves”, God saves. It is the person of Christ that the gospel centers upon, and it is the person of Christ that Christmas centers on.

“Christ Jesus came into the world.” This coming into the world indicates not a coming into being, but rather coming from another place. This speaks to Jesus coming into this world, taking on human flesh, coming from another world. Jesus came from Heaven where He existed from eternity past in perfect fellowship with the God and the Holy Spirit. John writes in his gospel “1In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God and the Word was God… 14And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us.” And lets not diminish the action of coming into the world. Jesus left his place in Heaven where he experienced full joy and satisfaction to come into decaying world, a world filled with sin, a world that hated him. This condescension demonstrates the humility of Christ. It demonstrates the ultimate sacrificial love in which Jesus would leave his place in Heaven to come into the world among sinners.

For what purpose did he come? Paul continues to write that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That was His primary purpose in coming. This is what the whole Christmas story is centered upon; not only did Christ come into the world, but he came into the world to save sinners! Christmas is not about gift giving, holly, Christmas trees, fat Santa, and apple cider, but rather is about God who comes to save His people, to save sinners.

Paul is specific here, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He did not come into the world to save the righteous or the holy or the unblemished, but that he came into the world to save wretched sinners. The distinction here is not that there are those in the world that are sinners and those that are not, those that need Christ and those who do not. But rather this is the mentality that is echoed in Paul’s following statement: “of whom I am the foremost.” It is the reality, made known through the word of God that we are all sinners. “None is righteous, no not one”–Romans 3:10. It is the realization of sin in the face of a righteous God in which Paul recognizes the greatness, the infinite nature of his sin. And in this humility he cries out “of whom I am the foremost.” It is this humble attitude and recognition of undeserved mercy and grace, that demonstrates true and authentic faith in Christ.

I think that if we are all honest, Christian and non-Christian, we would concede that we are somewhat sinful. However how many of you would tell your friends that you are the worst sinner, the worst person you know? Probably not many, but this is what Paul is saying here, that in contrast to God and his infinite holiness and a proper understanding of our sinfulness, this an appropriate response. And in this humble statement, Paul is direction our attention not to himself necessarily, but to what he finds his value in. He continues in the next verse saying that he receives mercy for the reason that Christ Jesus would be the foremost. His value, his joy, his assurance is not found internally, but externally. It is found in the person of Jesus Christ.

This simple statement is the gospel message, the Christmas message. You are wretchedly sinful against a holy and infinite God. This has separated us from true fellowship with Him and your sin demands payment. The Bible informs us of our utter need for a Savior and the insufficiency of imperfect substitutes. Just look at the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. But God in his grace and mercy provides for us the perfect sacrifice, the perfect substitute as payment for our sins. And He is Jesus Christ. The Christmas message more than anything is a message about the Savior of the world who has come to save sinners, to save us.

I encourage you this holiday season to consider Christ. Consider the depths in which God condescended from Heaven to come into this world. To be born into a filthy, ordinary manger in human flesh. That he lived a perfect life so that he could be the all-sufficient solution to our dire need. He has come into the world to save sinners. Understand that Christmas is not so much about a cute baby in a manger, but a God-man who came into this world; it is not so much about giving gifts to one another, but the ultimate gift God has given in his Son; and it is not so much about warm fuzzy feelings of joy in a festive season, but a humble recognition of our sin and Christ as the perfect atonement for us.

And be encouraged as well. The verb here that Paul uses is “came”. It is past tense, it means that it has happened. The gospels each testify to Jesus coming into the world and testify to Jesus living a perfect life, and finally testifying to his death on the cross. And it doesn’t end there, but that Jesus was raised from the dead in victory over sin, and sits at the right hand of God. This has been accomplished for the purpose of saving sinners. Believe in him, trust in the Savior.  Take joy in the fact that your salvation, that your assurance of faith, that your sanctification lies not in your own self, but rather in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

That is the Christmas message.

Being a Love Extremist

During the seasonal breaks, I try to read books outside of my required reading to sharpen and shake me up. In this Advent season, one of the books I picked up is called “The Hole in Our Gospel” by Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision U.S. This book has struck a chord in so many ways… making me cry at certain points, biting my fist in frustration at other times, and sometimes simply just humbling me because I know how I have contributed to the issue that he talks about… The issue that Richard Stearns references is as he shares about Isaiah 1:10-17, he talks about how God is:

“sick of churches and people who just ‘go through the motions.’ And He is weary of seeing a shiny veneer of faith but no depth of commitment. That is the hole in our gospel, and until we fill it, ours is an empty religion, one that God despises” (184-185).

And what Stearns is challenging us to do is to live out our faith and to ask this question… what if… what if all followers of Jesus looked outside the wall of their churches and worked together and reclaiming the world for Christ’s kingdom? What if we actually demonstrated God’s love for the world instead of just talking about it? What if we embraced the whole gospel of loving God AND loving our neighbors?

This what if has been particularly on my mind especially since as many of you know I am often the one that is always thinking and concocting up all kinds of ideas and ways to “do things”. The reality is… my doing is not for the sake of doing. My doing is motivated by something deeper than just the work outside but is driven by this fire that burns inside… this desire to express God’s love to this world … His Gospel. It is for his glory and not mine! The following words I hope somehow expresses a glimpse into this concept. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about “extremist”… in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”…

“But… as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ Was not Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.’ Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ Was not Martin Luther an extremist: ‘Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.’ And John Bunyan: ‘I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.’ And Abraham Lincoln: ‘This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.’ And Thomas Jefferson: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…’ So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime – the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

What MLK is asking is what kind of extremist are we? Are we an extremist for love/justice/the Gospel/truth/hope/goodness? Or are we extremists of hate/oppression/immorality/indifference/self? This is an important question to ask ourselves because the extremist of love, of Jesus Christ, of the Gospel… of justice is one that does not simply sit there and does nothing. They are not a person that sits comfortably with everything and ignores the cries of those in need and in suffering around them. They are not the person that separates but desires to connect, desires to share and show love to enter into this world and to engage the culture and world to proclaim the message of our wonderful Savior. This is the love extremist, who can not sit by and just watch as these injustices continue and turns a blind eye to it. You see, the extremist of immorality and hate and self only desires one thing… separation from God…dependency on self and to them, it is a dog eat dog world… sucks to be those that are suffering. That is the difference… where as God fosters hope, and community and relationship,… those that are of the other persuasion often are all about separation, indifference and disregard…it is focused on self rather than others and offers no hope or joy but just self pursuit and reliance. The season of Advent is a time to remember something amazing that happened in the past…to consider our lives and how we are living it in the present…and to look forward in anticipation to what is coming in the future. Remember, Christmas means nothing if not done for the source of its word… “CHRIST”. The Messiah, King, arrived in the most humblest of ways. As God, He did not sit aside hearing our cries, our desperate need for a Savior, for hope, for love, for reconciliation and did nothing. As God and as one that loves us so much, Jesus initiated a connection with us through His humbling Himself as a baby and entering this world in the most lowly and humblest ways in a stinky animal’s stable/cave. Then He chose to engage our world by experiencing and living in it amidst what we experience… whether pain, suffering, temptation, hardship, hurt and all the things we experience… and then chose to die in the most unjust and inhumane way … this is our Savior…this is our Hope, a God that engages us in our circumstances and meets us where we all are at! As we live in the present, how we live matters, because it matters to God. We are his instruments to love and engage this world. So why aren’t we better engaging this world that He deeply loved and died for? Distance and indifference can not be our excuses! God traveled the greatest distance already and met us! God cares so we must care. As we look forward to the future, do you know He may return at any time?! Are we excited for this? How will we respond when He asks us how we lived our lives today? Have we been faithful? Have we been living out His commands through Christ? Will we be extremists of love and hope and the Gospel during this Holiday Season?!

As you take some time to consider this, I challenge you to consider this video:

Here is a way that one of my close friends (future contributor here) desires to love this world. She aims to build a well by giving up her Christmas gifts for the Holiday season so as to give clean water to a village for twenty years! Last year she raised over $5700 to build a well in Ethiopia, and this year, she is doing it again.

http://mycharitywater.org/christmasgift2010

Another little sister in High School, wanting to support the above cause, bought chocolate and went around school selling candy and raising funds to support this cause of building a well.

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=176662932362629

Another brother started a “You like, I give” page on Facebook that promised to donate $5 for each person that liked his page to the above cause as well.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/You-Like-iGive/168383623197133

What kind of extremist will you be? How are you loving radically? Merry Christmas!

Living as a Citizen

As Christians, we should strive for a union between what we believe and how we live our lives. If we truly consider ourselves citizens of heaven, then that should be reflected in the choices we make, the things we do, and the words we say.

Consider Paul’s argument in Philippians 3:8:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Paul really believes that knowing Christ is the most worthwhile thing in life, and I think we can all happily agree with him. But what does it mean to know Christ? Paul gives us the answer:

“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (3:8-11).

Now do we still really want to know Christ? It’s not as easy as we usually make it out to be, for Paul clearly seems to think that knowing Christ means knowing him in his suffering. Knowing Christ means the loss of all things, and, more than that, participating in his suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Are we prepared to accept that? We say that we believe in Christ and desire to know him, but do we embrace everything that entails? Or are we just like the rest of the world in the way we live? Paul, at least, is consistent with his belief; he is ready and willing to suffer.

Fortunately, suffering and death give way to resurrection in Christ. This is the prize that Paul seeks, the goal for which he is straining (3:14). Paul really believes in the future glory, and that defines the way he lives in the present.

So, my question is, How we live on earth as citizens of Heaven? What does that look like for us? My guess, based on the rest of Philippians, is that it has to do with living for the sake of the Gospel (1:21-22), and that it is expressed as humility (2:1-11).

What do you think?