Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Greatest Gift

This is the fourth installment in a Christmas series that seeks to know the reason Christmas was necessary.  It began with creation, and how God made everything, including man and woman just as it should have been.  “Very good” were His words.

Adam and Eve were given complete freedom in a Garden that provided them everything they would ever need.  Their one and only restriction was to avoid eating the fruit from a single tree.  It was a test designed to give them daily opportunity to prove their love and trust in their Creator Father.  There was no need to eat that fruit.  But the perfection of everything God had provided them proved in their minds to be not quite enough.

Eventually the temptation overcame Eve, who then broke down Adam’s resistance as well to the forbidden fruit.  Created in the image of God and without a nature to sin they chose by that one act to disobey and rebel.  Immediately their spirits’ fellowship with God was broken, and that broken spiritual life was then passed on to all their descendants.  What God had created, including the earth, as “very good” suddenly in a moment was corrupted and dead.

Adam and Eve tried to cover up their newly discovered nakedness with fig leaves.  But, apart from the life of the tree from which they were plucked, the fig leaves at best could only give temporary covering.  And really, their attempts to hide their sin from God were silly.  Ever since men have come up with new ways to make themselves acceptable to God.  However, none have removed the taint of human depravity.

But, God had a plan.  The Scripture tells us that even before the foundations of the earth were created God knew how to fix broken people.  After all, He created us.  His plan was simple, yet so difficult, both for Him.  In fact, His plan would prove to be offensive to humanity because we like to think we can fix ourselves.  We cannot, but God can.

Throughout the Old Testament God promised the One who would provide us the way back to a relationship with Him.  He’s called by many names and given many titles in the prophecies.  So many of the stories of God’s deliverance to Israel were to point them to His plan for all of mankind.  The Law He gave to them through Moses was not designed to remove their sin, but to make it clear that they had sinned.

Through the prophets He foretold of Bethlehem, a Messiah, Emmanuel, the virgin birth, a descendant of David…so many details were given of the future Savior to let them know all was not lost.

Then when the time was right (Galatians 4:4) God came in human form to become the second Adam.  He would be born into poverty, not in a palace, and would live life, with all of its temptations (Hebrews 4:15) never sin.  Like Adam, He was born with no innate nature to sin, because like Adam He had no human father.  But unlike Adam He would show God’s intent from creation. 

More importantly, because of His unique sinlessness, He alone qualified to pay the penalty for Adam’s (and ours by inheritance) sin.  As our substitute He would be crucified, the sinless for the sinful so that we might again have a relationship with the God who created and loves us.  That baby in the manger was far more than a wonderful story.  The angels announced His birth to the shepherds that night because this was the long-awaited answer to the ultimate need of every heart.

Most amazing aspect of God’s plan is that the salvation from sin that Jesus came to provide is offered freely to all who believe in Him.  Indeed, the Christ of Christmas is the greatest gift ever given.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Why Christmas? Because Everything is Broken.

(Part 3 of 4.)

All of us have at some time turned on a mystery television show or movie well into the story line and found that because we missed the beginning we can’t follow the plot.  I’ll do that sometimes to my wife…walk in on the middle of a drama and during the next commercial ask, “What’s this all about?”  And she’ll try during the commercial break to fill me in enough so I can grasp what is happening.

Even though Christmas is about a birth, and in many ways the ushering in of something new, it’s far from the beginning of the story.  In fact, it’s closer to the end.  And if you never read or understood the third chapter of Genesis, which is back at the beginning, you could never fully grasp the need for Bethlehem’s babe.  And, as we’ll see next week, the incarnation of the Son of God – the Christmas story – was only the first paragraph of the final chapter of the story.

Maybe it is for this reason that Christmas truly has become a most misunderstood celebration.  The plea of the familiar children’s Christmas song to “be good for goodness sake” is one example of that misunderstanding because it proposes the impossible.  We can’t be good for goodness sake because we are by nature broken.  The solution is not to try to be good.  The solution is to be fixed by our Maker.

After God created the heavens and the earth and pronounced it “very good” He then placed the first of our kind, Adam and Eve, in a garden of perfection where every need they might have was met by God in creation.  Their Father provided food, shelter, vocation, and companionship all. 

He also placed within their daily view a test.  God did not create us as robots, but with a free will to choose right from wrong.  That test, at fruit bearing tree, was the only one of its kind and served as a proof of Adam and Eve’s love for their Father.  Jesus, in His teaching would state that principal this way: “If you love me keep my commandments.”  So there was a tension within paradise.  There stood the forbidden tree.  With it came a warning from God: eat from it and die.

Death was never intended for mankind.  Life was to be enjoyed and spent in fellowship with God and with one another, and meant to last forever on a perfect earth.  I don’t know if Adam and Eve were actually tempted to cross that line and eat the tree’s fruit prior to Genesis 3 and if they were how difficult was the temptation.  We’re not told.  Neither are we told how long into their lives it was when the day of infamy came.  But no doubt the restriction from God and the warning were a daily remembrance that kept them from falling.  That is until one fateful day.

Satan, the deposed worship leader of heaven who led a rebellion of angels against God had been cast down to the earth.  And it became his goal to foil and spoil what God had done – create a being with the ability to choose.  So Genesis 3 gives us the story of how Eve, then Adam failed, going from perfection to depravity.  It’s not a pretty story when you realize all that was lost, not only for the first couple, but for all of their descendants. 

Some have commented that the third chapter of Genesis is the most important theologically in all the Bible.  The impact of that fall, becoming sinners by choice has infected every human born since. We all start dying the moment we are born! 

And that’s why Christmas is indeed the total opposite.  That’s why Christmas is supposed to be merry!  It brings the Good News that God didn’t give up on His creation and that He has the fix to our brokenness.  That’s where we’ll go next week.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

When Perfection Wasn’t Good Enough

(This is part 2 of 4.)
This month I’m looking at why Christmas was needed.  Why did God come to earth, nurtured for nine months in the womb of a virgin to be born a pauper in a stable?  The answers are found “in the beginning” – in the first 3 chapters of Genesis.

Last week we saw how God, in His creative work made everything “good”.  That’s Genesis 1.  Then in the second chapter we’re given more information about the habitat God provided for the man and woman who first dwelt here.  There we’re told that from the dust of the ground God crafted Adam.  So it isn’t really surprising that when our bodies decay after death they return to “dust”. 

But there was Adam, (the perfect man at this point) with a list of tasks, such as naming all the animals, but without someone with whom he could share life.  I believe God knew Adam would be lonely.  He just wanted Adam to experience being alone so he would have a greater appreciation and love for the partner God then provided him.

Not from the dust, but from a rib in Adam’s side God created woman – another human like him but different.  They were to complement one another and to get busy populating the earth with offspring.  Theirs was a perfect environment in Eden.  All of their needs were met.  You can let your imagination run wild and come to the conclusion that they had it good.  It was paradise.

Imagine living in a place where you are surrounded with every kind of fruit and vegetable to eat.  And it was all perfect.  The climate was perfect.  It must have been because we’re told Adam and Eve existed in nakedness.  I’m thinking about 76 degrees with no humidity and a gentle breeze in the day and a drop to 72 at night.  Yeah.  That would be about right.  They didn’t have to work for anything other than reaching up or down to pick their meals.  And Adam never had to contend with a mother-in-law!

You would think (at least I do) that in such a perfect, sufficient, idyllic place they would have been satisfied.  I try to tell myself that I would have been!  But God put a tension there in the Garden.  In the form of a fruit tree God designed a way to test the man and woman’s love for Him.

“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.’"  (Genesis 2:16-17)  See that one tree?  It’s off limits.  Everything else is yours.  But eat from that one tree and everything changes.  Death comes.  Perfection is lost.

I remember as a boy my mother telling me to never play with matches.  But I would watch my dad strike a match to light his cigarette and was amazed that the strike produced a flame.  I wanted that ability to light a match.  But to do that I had to “play with matches” which I had been warned not to do.  Yet it never seemed to bring anything bad on Dad when he struck a match. 

So one day, when Mom wasn’t looking, I opened a closet door where I knew some matches were kept.  Now, I didn’t burn down the house or even start a fire.  But I did get burned.   The flame came down the match until it came in contact with my never-before-burned flesh and I screamed in pain.  A blister quickly formed and it hurt!

I should have listened to Mom.  Here I am, 50-plus years later and I still remember what happened when my curiosity got the best of me. 

God established some limits and boundaries for Adam and Eve.  Not because He was a killjoy.  Because he loved them.  But the day would come when they would exchange that love and the life they had for a momentary pleasure.  And that’s why Christmas had to happen.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas Looks Back to Creation

Let me be the last to pronounce that we are in the season of Advent.  Even though we’re less than a week after Thanksgiving, we’ve seen the evidence that Christmas is coming for three months in the displays and commercials seeking to condition our minds into pulling out cash and plastic.  To a growing number the reason for the season is what stimulates the economy.

Indicative that our society has lost its memory of the meaning of Christmas was the theft last week of a Salvation Army kettle containing perhaps fifty dollars at a Belk store in Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. 

Yet it is for these very kinds of wrongs that we need Christmas.  I’m going to use my opportunities here in December to explain just why it was necessary for Christ, the Immanuel – “God with us” – to step down from His throne on high to be born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough for livestock. 

Go back with me all the way…at least all the way as far as our existence is concerned to creation.  In the first chapter of Genesis, as God spoke the universe into existence He paused seven times to pronounce each aspect of His creation as “good”.  In fact, the last time He looked at our home and said, “It is very good”.  Of course it was!  God don’t make no junk!  (Pardon my grammar.)

Creating the day and separating it from the darkness of night caused God to say, “It is good”.  Separating the dry land from the seas, He called the continents and islands “good”.  All of the vegetation He created was “good”, (which let’s us know sandspurs came later).  Sun, moon and stars?  All “good” according to God.  The birds of the sky and the creatures of the sea were “good”.  Then He made all the animals that live on the land, from livestock to the creepy-crawlers and said they were all “good”.

His last creation was us.  Putting His own image into humanity was a step above the rest of earth’s occupants.  And when that was done verse 31 tells us, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”

Can you imagine with me a world void of any sort of pollution?  None of the animal kingdom was on an endangered list because the “good” earth allowed them all to thrive.  Think of the brightest, starriest night you can recall.  In the beginning every night was like that.  It was a perfect world, beautiful in every way.  In fact, we’re later told that creation itself was enough to show our world how much our Creator cared when He made all this and that He alone is God.

But something adverse would take place that ruined perfection, turning God’s masterpiece into much less.  Fast-forward to these words of Paul to the Roman church, describing what followed. 

“They [mankind] exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever.” (Romans 1:25 HCSB)

Then fast forward again.  Way forward this time to one of the last recorded phrases uttered by Christ.  In Revelation 21:5 He says, "Look! I am making everything new."  His plan is to re-create what has been broken.  That day is yet to come.  And Christmas was a necessary event in re-creating the earth and final perfection.

(This is the first of four Christmas posts for 2013.  They are also being printed in The OuterBanks Sentinel.)