Assorted Christmas thoughts

Christmas: not that man became a God, but that God became a man. Not that a male impregnated Mary, but that Jesus was conceived with zero male participation.

Was Jesus already a man before the incarnation? No.

When did Jesus become a man? At the incarnation.

What is the significance? He stooped down in humility, servanthood, love, and condescension.

Was he a demigod, or a superman? No. He, fully God, became fully man.

Did Jesus become a man to become more fully God? No, he was already fully God, and become a man, not by progressing his divine nature, nor by subtracting from his divine nature, but by adding a fully human nature.

Further reading: John 1 and Philippians 2.

The significance of virgin birth is much like significance of Genesis 1, especially in Ancient Near Eastern context: It was an act of creation requiring no physical contact or sexual union, accomplished by the effortless, omnipotent word of God.

Definition of “virgin birth”: zero male participation. But keep in mind: God the Father isn’t male.

OT/NT creation parallels:

Genesis 1:1 vs John 1:1
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Genesis 2:4 & Matthew 1:1
“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created…”
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…”

Genesis 1:2 & Luke 1:35
“And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

“Matthew’s description of the Holy Spirit’s role in Mary’s virginal conception sets the account apart from any alleged Greco-Roman parallels, since parallels from the broader pagan world all depend upon a god having sexual intercourse with a human. Matthew excludes any hint of such activity from his description of the conception.” (Köstenberger, The First Days of Jesus)

Neat truth I got to share with Lydia: Jesus also had an adoptive father! Joseph.

Who supplied the Y-chromosome in Jesus’ conception? Christianity: The Spirit created it by an effortless, touchless, omnipotent act. “That which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20; cf. Luke 1:35) 100% of the DNA was mortal, and none of the DNA was transferred from any divine being.

Why such a long genealogy to begin the birth narrative of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew?

Abraham? David? Deportation to Babylon? Who cares?

Some background:

– When cursing Adam and Eve, God says to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Someday, a descendant of Eve and Satan would have an epic showdown.

– God calls Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2)

– Jacob to his son: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Genesis 49:10)

– Nathan to David: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:16)

A descendant of Eve, a descendant of Abraham, a descendant of Judah, a descendant of David. Who will it be?

After David, the nation declines. David’s descendants are scumbags. So much idolatry. Prophets warn the people: judgment is coming. Assyria and Babylon conquer Israel (722 BC) and Judah (586 BC). Exile. Pitiful return of the Jews.

The situation is dire. The Psalmist cries out in pain: “Where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (Psalm 89:49)

> “Why has God abandoned his promises? Why has he broken his covenant? … The promised offspring of the woman has not (yet) come. The world has not yet been set right. Blessing has not come to the world through Abraham’s descendants. The scepter has departed from the line of Judah. David’s kingdom has been defeated and lost, and no Davidic ruler reigns to mediate God’s blessings to the nations.” (First Days of Jesus)

Enter Matthew chapter 1 verse 1. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…”

Four notable features of the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (quoting here from “The First Days of Jesus”):

1. “The first two Greek words of the New Testament, biblos geneseōs (“The Book of the Genealogy”), mirror the language used to introduce creation itself and the genealogy connected to Adam. The use of this language points the attentive reader back to the creation of the world and links Jesus’s genealogy to God’s original plan for his creation.

2. “Second, the inclusion of four women in the genealogy is unusual, particularly in light of the fact that each of the women was an outsider to Israel with a questionable background. Most ancient genealogies excluded women, particularly women who may have tarnished the family line. Matthew does the opposite… The inclusion of these non-Israelite women foreshadows the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles and bears witness to the grace of God that actively seeks to forgive and restore sinners and to reach out to those who are marginalized and viewed as outsiders.

3. “Third, Mary falls in line with these other women by conceiving a child in an unusual, questionable, or surprising manner. The family tree itself anticipates the virgin birth of Jesus by breaking its normal pattern of presenting information….

4. “Fourth, by dividing salvation history into three periods of fourteen generations each (Abraham to David, David to the exile, the exile to Jesus), Matthew communicates the theological truth that God was in control throughout even the most difficult periods of Israel’s history— the Babylonian exile— to move history toward this climactic point in the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Interestingly, Jewish apocalyptic (end-time) literature commonly divided history into set time periods to indicate God’s control and guidance of history. Such divisions also aided memorization in a primarily oral culture, and the use of the number fourteen may have even emphasized the link to David via gematria (numerology).”

December 16, 2017

So much Christmas-related joy in Luke 1-2!

Gabriel to Zechariah:

“You shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.” (1:13-15)

Elizabeth to Mary:

“Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (1:41-42)

And Mary:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (1:46-47)

And Zechariah:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (1:68)

And the angelic host:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (2:14)

And Simeon:

“He took [baby Jesus] up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation'” (2:29-30)

And Anna:

“And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (2:38)

“Man’s maker was made man, that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that the Truth might be accused of false witness, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.” – Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1)

“Any world with Incarnation and Atonement is a better world than any world without it… This value can’t be aggregated by any creaturely good. So no matter how many excellent creatures there are in the world, no matter how excellent, beautiful, and sinless their lives are, the aggregated value of their lives would not match that of Incarnation and Atonement… And no matter how much sin and suffering a world contains, the aggregated badness would be outweighed by the goodness of Incarnation and Atonement.” (Alvin Plantinga)

“He by whom all things were made was made one of all things. The Son of God by the Father without a mother became the Son of man by a mother without a father. The Word Who is God before all time became flesh at the appointed time. The maker of the sun was made under the sun. He Who fills the world lay in a manger, great in the form of God but tiny in the form of a servant; this was in such a way that neither was His greatness diminished by His tininess, nor was His tininess overcome by His greatness. (St. Augustine, Sermon 187)

“The Son not only obeyed the Father after becoming incarnate, but he obeyed the Father in coming to become incarnate.” (Bruce Ware, “The Man Jesus Christ”)

“That God upon a throne should be an infant in a cradle; the thundering Creator be a weeping babe and a suffering man, are such expressions of mighty power, as well as condescending love, that they astonish men upon earth, and angels in heaven.” (Stephen Charnock)

The Christian doctrine of the virgin birth is incredible. It entails that:

1. Mary did not conceive Jesus by having pre-marital sex with a man. It wasn’t a cover-up religious story to make up for the fact that she was immoral. The Pharisees insult Jesus, “We were not born of sexual immorality!” (John 8:41) But Jesus wasn’t conceived the way they assumed. Mary and Jesus know this. He tolerates their ugly slander of his mother. For now. Oh, what patience Jesus had…

2. Mary did not conceive Jesus by having sex with a god. “Matthew’s description of the Holy Spirit’s role in Mary’s virginal conception sets the account apart from any alleged Greco-Roman parallels, since parallels from the broader pagan world all depend upon a god having sexual intercourse with a human. Matthew excludes any hint of such activity from his description of the conception.” (Andreas J. Köstenberger, “The First Days of Jesus”)

3. The conception of Jesus was accomplished much like creation was accomplished. The Ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis 1 helps one see how amazing it is.It was accomplished by the effortless, omnipotent word of God. It required no conflict with creation, no sexual activity, no interaction with an enchanted realm, and no physical touch. “Let there be…” Only God can do this.

4. It was fitting for a king. Christ came in such humble circumstances, yet God smiles, and ensures that Christ arrives as true royalty. “Man exalted himself and fell; God humbled himself and raised him up. Christ’s lowliness, what is it? God has stretched out a hand to man laid low. We fell, he descended; we lay low, he stooped. Let us lay hold and rise, that we fall not into punishment. So then his stooping to us is this: ‘Born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary.’ His very nativity too as man – it is lowly and it is lofty. Whence lowly? That as man he was born of men. Whence lofty? That he was born of a virgin.” (Augustine)

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