Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Immanu-El, Part 3: Let God love you!

The last two weeks I've written about "Immanuel" (also spelled "Emmanuel" meaning "God with us") as the explanation of why and how Jesus, the Son of God, became flesh.  Essentially, God became one with us so we could become one with God.  --Well, at least, all the good people, right?  So some believe we're good enough to have God smile on us, but those of us who still struggle with sin -- at least, what we understand to be sin -- continue to feel unworthy and left out.

Not so fast...in fact, not at all!  "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" says Paul in 1 Tim. 1:15; and even Paul's own history as a strict Pharisee still didn't let him claim to be good.  He continues, "and I am the worst of them all.  But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners" (the rest of verse 15, and verse 16).  Here we see two great truths:  first, nobody is so bad that God doesn't show mercy through Jesus, because that's why Jesus came; and also, that there aren't any people who are good enough to claim God's favor by their own works.

Does that acceptance only apply to people who have repented of all those specific sins and then been baptized?  Does God, after this enormous gift to us of his Son becoming flesh, living a perfect life, dying as a perfect sacrifice, and then being raised from the dead, throw the task of completing our salvation back on our incompetent shoulders?  Paul continues in 1 Tim. 1 "others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life" -- but where does the belief come from?  In verse 14, he exclaims "Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus."  And let's understand, that is the perfect faith Jesus displayed during his earthly ministry, the complete trust that the Son has had in the Father from eternity, as part of their Triune relationship.  Jesus has believed for you, obeyed for you, and died for you, as a complete gift, because neither you nor I can do any of it well enough for a perfect God.  

The whole universe has been united with the Father through the Son: "For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross" (Col. 1:19-20).  I looked up the word "everything" in the Greek.  Guess what?  It means "everything."  So unless you're not in heaven or on earth, it means you, dear reader, are also "reconciled" or made at peace, with God.  No matter what you've already done, or not done yet.  Because of Jesus Christ, we are already fully accepted by the Father.

So if it's all been done by Jesus Christ, Immanu-El, and even our belief doesn't earn our place with God, what's the point in believing?  Because that's how God becomes real to us, so we'll begin to participate in the relationship he established for us in Jesus.  So, we Gospel preachers say, renounce your self-reliance, let go your efforts to clean yourself up, and simply let God love you. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Immanu-El, Part 2

Last week I wrote about the 'big background story' of humanity and salvation:  Adam and Eve, the Fall, and the nation of Israel as the foundation of what God would reveal in the Messiah.  Now we move to the actuality:  how God came to be among us, "God with us" as Isaiah 7:14 says.  If God is perfect and we most emphatically are not, how can the two come together?

It's simple, yet profound and earth-changing:  The two come together in Jesus, Immanu-el or "God-with-us," the Son of God born into human flesh as the firstborn son of a peasant girl.  Luke 1:26-38 says that Mary's womb became the growing place for a child who would be called the Son of the Most High.  Matthew's gospel records the angel telling her specifically that this child was fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy, in Mat. 1:18-23.  What a strange event:  God, the Creator, coming into his creation to become a human, just like his other human creations!  For the first time, the Almighty God became limited by being part of his creation.  God, who had sent prophets and leaders to speak for him, this time came to speak for himself (Heb. 1:1-3). 

When God came into human flesh, he joined himself completely with humanity (Heb. 2:14-18)!  Jesus (whose name means "Yahweh saves") was both fully human (he was able to experience all our human life, Heb. 4:15) and he was fully God (Heb. 1:3).  So when he died on the cross, Jesus the man was able to die just like all humans; but when Jesus the Son of God died, he died for your sins and mine, not his own (Heb 2:14-15).  To put it another way, God became one with humans, so that humans could become one with God.

It was God's plan before time began to adopt us, to give us his nature (Eph. 1:3-6) which is a completely free gift (Eph. 2:8-9) and cannot ever be earned.  It was through Jesus, who was the perfect human and is the only human ever to be perfectly accepted by God, "When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven" (Heb. 1:3).

Because of Immanu-El -- Jesus -- all of us can come to God completely without fear (Heb 4:16) any time.  We are fully accepted and loved by God (John 17:23) because of his Son.  Even when we've made a mess of our lives, even when we look more like the Three Stooges than anything else, even when we're ashamed of our own behavior, we are still fully loved by God, because of Immanu-El, God with us, Jesus the Christ. 

And that's the meaning of Christmas!