Jubilee Bells: A Christmas Meditation on God’s Redemption in Christ

gold colored and black hanging bells near wall

  Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.
Luke 1:68 

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.
Luke 2:32

27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near.”
Luke 21:27–28 

But [the two disciples] had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel . . .
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them
in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Luke 24:21, 27

Since I was a child I have heard and sung Jingle Bells too many times to count. At Christmas, that song is a staple. Yet, until this year I had never considered the place that Jubilee Bells, or rather a Jubilee trumpet might play at Christmas. And as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ I want to share a few reflections on Christ’s birth that relate to the Jubilee told in Leviticus 25, retold in Isaiah 61, and folded into the swaddling cloths that held Jesus.

Indeed, Jubilee is not just a part of the Levitical law, nor a planned redemption of Israel’s land and people. Jubilee is a part of God’s revelation that prepared the way for Christ. In Luke 4, Jesus announced his ministry with the words of Isaiah 61, which tell of the redemption God was planning for his people. Clearly, Jesus had an understanding of his role in redemption, as one who was fulfilling the prophetic word. Yet, Isaiah 61 goes back to Leviticus 25, and the redemption of redemptions promised in the Jubilee.

Even more, as we read Luke’s account of Christ’s birth with the light of Leviticus 25, we can see how the Evangelist portrayed the birth of Christ as indicating the coming of Jubilee and the restoration of all things. While this biblical theological meditation would require a full consideration of Leviticus 25, Isaiah 61; Daniel 9, as well as Luke and Hebrews, in the spirit of Christmas, I will focus on what we see in Luke’s Gospel. For in itself, Luke shows in at least four ways how Christ, from his birth to his death and resurrection, fulfills the ancient promise of Jubilee.

With that in mind, let’s consider how Christmas requires us to sing not Jingle Bells, but a carol of the bells celebrating Israel’s long-awaited redemption. Continue reading

The King Has Come: Two Christmas Sermons on the Kingdom of Christ

TorahOver the last two weeks, I have preached two sermons on the significance of Christ’s birth.

These messages have considered many ways that Christ’s birth fulfilled the promises of God’s kingdom to David, but also how Christ’s birth confronts our world and the governing authorities who are reigning in unrighteousness. Too often our Christmas hopes are shaped by Victorian England, especially Charles Dickens and his famous A Christmas Carol. Likewise, the troubles of life often press us to make Christmas as un-worldly as possible. We want to escape from political turmoil, cultural upheaval, global strife, and every other worldly discomfort. Yet, against the sentimentality of Dickens and the strident folly of earthly politicians, a biblical view of Christ’s birth calls us to reconsider the world around us.

To that end, these two sermons are meant to train our eyes on Christ and to see all the ways that the birth of Jesus recalibrates our hopes and grounds our faith in Christ’s eternal kingdom. Christmas is not a season where God’s Son makes peace with the darkness or causes Scrooge’s to be less sinful. Rather, it is when the light of the glory of God, veiled in humanity, shines into the darkness. At Christmas, we need to let the truth of God’s unassailable kingdom strengthen our faith and purify our hope. To that end, I offer these two messages. May they be a blessing to you, as you celebrate the birth of Christ this holiday season,

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

What Does It Mean That Jesus is the ‘Son of David’? Nine Stars in the Constellation of Jesus’s Kingdom

three kings figurines

This month, Track 2 in the Via Emmaus Reading Plan—which is going to get a refresh before the new year—takes us through the book of Luke. And as I reading Luke this month, I am also looking at Volume 6 in the Scripture and Hermeneutics Series, Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation. In one essay, “Kingdom and Church in Luke-Acts,” Scott Hahn traces the theme of Jesus’s Davidic kingship in Luke and Acts. Then bringing order to his observations, he identifies a “constellation of concepts, locations, and institutions that were immediately related to David, his legacy, and [to] one another” (299).

For those interested in studying the theme of Jesus as the Son of David, or knowing what Jesus kingship and kingdom are like, it is imperative to see how Scripture speaks of David, Jesus, and the Jesus relationship to David. As the New Testament declares with great emphasis and repetition, Jesus is David’s son and thus, it teaches us to see Jesus’s kingship as a fulfillment of David’s, only greater.

Thus to know Jesus as Scripture presents him requires a growing knowledge of David. In his essay, Hahn does the exegetical work in Luke-Acts to show where Luke identifies Christ with David (297–99, cf. Luke 1:27, 32–33, 69; 2:4, 11, 8–20; 3:21–22, 23–28; 6:1–5; 9:35; 18:35–43; Luke 22:29–30; 23:37–38; Acts 2:14–36, esp. vv. 25–36; 13:16–41. esp. vv. 22–23, 33–37; 15:13–21). Then, he outlines eight stars in the constellation of Christ’s kingship. Below, I share those with you, as they present in short order what David’s/Jesus’s kingdom is like. Then, I will add one more star to the constellation—the oft-neglected priestly nature of David’s kingship. From this ninth star, we will see why Christ’s kingship stands out against all the other kingdoms of the earth.

Continue reading

At Christmas Don’t Lose Jesus’s Divinity: Celebrating the Incarnation with ‘Extra’ Care

pro-church-media-kSjsDWDn3WM-unsplashWhat happened was that at the incarnation, while continuing to exist eternally in the form of God, He added to that by taking the form of a servant.
— J. N. D. Kelly —

 Given the importance of the extra in historical theology, it is surprising how quickly it is rejected or replaced with something else. The extra is crucial in helping the church to explain the full scope of the Scriptural presentation of the incarnation and how the Son functioned in and through both natures,
— Stephen J. Wellum —

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. And with candles glowing and carols singing, we draw near to the babe born of Mary and celebrate the fact that God is with us—Immanuel.

At the same time, when we celebrate Christ’s condescension, there can arise a significant misunderstanding about Christ’s humanity. In song, as well as sermon, we find lyrics that describe Jesus “leaving heaven,” or not knowing about why he is coming to earth—“Baby Jesus, do you know you will die for our sins?”  These boilerplate Christmas tag lines, but are they true? Do they faithfully represent the miracle of the Incarnation?

On the surface, they may sound fine. They praise God for Christ’s birth and his sacrificial mission to bring salvation. Yet, when we probe more deeply, it becomes apparent lyrics like these and many unchecked thoughts about the birth of Christ assume beliefs that have often been described as heretical in church history.

In particular, Christmas has a way of unwrapping the kenotic heresy—the belief that when Jesus emptied himself (ekenōsen) and became a man,  he also left many (or all) of his divine attributes behind. The theory, expressed in many ways, asserts that for the Son of God to become human, he must set aside his omniscience, his omnipotence, and his omnipresence. After all, true humanity does not uphold the universe, right?! For Jesus to be fully human then, his humanity must be fixed in one place, ignorant of many things, and unable to do all the things that God does. Continue reading

Introducing Lottie Moon, Her Sacrifice, and the Missions Offering Taken in Her Name

lottie.jpeg

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
— Hebrews 13:7 —

On Christmas Eve in 1912, some eight months after the sinking of the Titanic, there was another loss of titanic proportions. On the other side of the world, on a boat in the harbor of Kobe, Japan Lottie Moon—all 50 pounds of her starving body—breathed her last. She had run her race to the end and finished well!

For forty years, this 4′ 3″ firebrand served as a missionary to the people of China. After growing up in Charlottesville, Virginia and becoming one of the most educated women in the South, this single woman took her teaching gifts to the other side of the world.

At the age of eighteen she was convicted of her sin and trusted in Christ. For twelve years, she taught school throughout the South. But compelled by the need for the gospel in China, Lottie Moon followed her sister Edmonia to become a teacher on the other side of the world.

In a short time, she faced incredible difficulties. Personally, she was forced break an engagement with C. H. Toy, a prominent but every-increasing liberal Hebrew professor. Vocationally, she faced the hostility of a people who despised her and called her a “foreign devil.” And relationally, she saw her own sister succumb to sickness, forcing Edmonia to leave the mission field.

Still, through the difficulties that spanned twenty-years and beyond, she changed her gospel methods, adapted her accustomed dress, and endured in the face of hardship. Continue reading

Love Came Down: A Christmas Meditation on John 3:16

rawpixel-com-445786Christmas is a time filled many wild and wonderful traditions.

 

For instance, the Japanese celebrate Christmas with their favorite holiday meal—Kentucky Fried Chicken. Since 1974 KFC has been the Japanese’ Christmas meal. If you traveled to the Philippines in this season, you’d come across a festival of giant lanterns, where 11 different village compete to build the largest and most elaborate lantern.

If you go to Europe, you will find the Austrians pair Saint Nicholas with a demonic figure named Krampus. St. Nick rewards the good boys and girls; Krampus punishes the bad ones. And if you go up to Iceland, you will hear of 13 Yule Lads—13 tricksy trolls who break into homes and lick spoons, slam doors, and steal yogurt.

Here in America too, Christmas is filled with tradition. From gifts under the tree to long lines at the mall, from Santa Baby to the Trans-Siberian orchestra, our country celebrates the season with all sorts traditions that make us feel the Christmas spirit. Continue reading

Come and Worship the King (Isaiah 60)

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Come and Worship the King (Isaiah 60)

At Christmas we celebrate God’s light come into the world. And on Christmas Eve this year we looked at how Isaiah 60 both predicts and expands our understanding of God’s glorious light. In the fullness of time, we see how the Magi in Matthew 2 fulfill Isaiah’s promise of the nations coming to worship the Lord. This teaches us that coming to Zion is not simply a future reality; it is something we also experience through Jesus Christ.

As Hebrews 12:22 tells us, when we worship the Lord we have come to Mount Zion and join in the worship that is ever present in glory. Truly, this way of thinking stretches our imagination, but it is the way Scripture leads us to think—which a firm grasp of finding our position in Christ in the heavenly places (cf. Eph 2:5).

At Christmas, we ponder both the coming of God from heaven to earth. But we should also consider what that means, and how Christ’s Incarnation leads us to heaven—just as Isaiah 60 envisions.

With that in mind, you may find the following discussion questions and additional resources helpful. You can also listen to the sermon online. I pray these resources are an encouragement to you as you celebrate the birth of our Lord. Continue reading

The Divine Warrior Wrapped in Swaddling Clothes

samuel-zeller-364234And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob
who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.
— Isaiah 59:20 —

Wars and rumors of war.

Throughout the world right now, armies are planning and preparing for various military operations. Closer to home, domestic abuse, interpersonal strife, and political injustice continue unabated. Just this week, I learned that a man was shot and nearly killed less than a block from my house.

All that to say, we live in a violent world. And it is right, to pray for, work for, and want for something better. But it is wrong, to think that this sort of violence is new or that God is unaware.

As Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun (1:9). Injustice, immorality, and bloodshed are as old as sin itself. But just as old is the promise that God redeem his people and deliver them from the curse of sin.

This was the promise in Genesis 3:15, when God said 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.” And this ancient promise is just as good today as it was 4000 years before Christ.

Indeed, if you’re familiar with the Bible, you know how strange and circuitous God’s story of salvation story is. God did not bring peace to his people in Genesis 4. Rather, he let the world go to seed—literally.

In Genesis 4, Cain killed Abel in cold blood. Theologically speaking, the seed of the serpent killed the seed of the woman. And from this first act of aggression, bloodshed has followed. Yet, in the face of this violence, God chose one people from whom he would bring a peace-maker. Often Israel, like Abel, would find themselves subjected to the serpent’s seed. But at other times, they would themselves become a brood of vipers, earning the divine wrath of God.

This is how Isaiah 59 depicts Jerusalem, when God compares their sin to that of snakes and spiders. And it is this graphic image that Paul applies to the whole world, when he quotes Isaiah 59:6–7 in Romans 3:15–18:

Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.

For us who live in the same dark world described in the Bible, we need to remember that this is the backdrop to the birth of Christ. Continue reading

The Divine Warrior in Mary’s Womb (Isaiah 59)

Torah

The Divine Warrior in Mary’s Womb

Perhaps Isaiah 59 is not the first passage that comes to mind when you think of Christmas. A month ago, it wasn’t on my radar as a “Christmas passage,” either. However, after doing some preliminary study the armor of God in Ephesians 6, which quotes Isaiah 59:17, I soon realized how much Isaiah 59 (with the rest of Isaiah 56–66) prepares the way for Christ.

Today, we began a three-part series on Isaiah, where we considered how the promise of salvation in Isaiah 59:15–21 resolved the problem of sin in Isaiah 59:1–9. Indeed, in response to Israel’s confession and plea for mercy (Isaiah 59:9–15), Yahweh promised that he would bring salvation. And as Isaiah 59 and the rest of Isaiah foretells, this promise ultimately leads to the birth of Christ in a Bethlehem stable.

You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are below, along with some additional resources on Isaiah and the meaning of Christmas. Continue reading

Mapping Isaiah and Beholding Christ: A Literary Study of Isaiah 59

himesh-kumar-behera-216019This Sunday I will preach Isaiah 59. And to prepare for this Christmas message, I have spent time getting to know the landscape of Isaiah. Because the literary shape is so important for understanding the (theological) message of any book, I’ve spent time trying to figure out how this one chapter fits into the whole of Isaiah.

In what follows, I will share a few observations from what I’ve found. If you are interested, I’d love to hear your feedback and insight into this glorious chapter. Continue reading