Christmas points to Easter…and Easter to Christmas

Which holiday is more important? Christmas or Easter?

I remember having a conversation with my dad many years ago where we discussed the relative value of Christmas and Easter as holidays. During Christmas Christians celebrate the birth of Christ and God’s intrusion into human history to dwell with people; on Easter (and Good Friday) we celebrate his death and resurrection and what he accomplished for us through his death and resurrection; namely, the appeasment of God’s wrath, the transfer of Christ’s righteousness, and the consequent reconciliation to God for those who repent and believe.

Dad and I concluded that Easter should be the bigger celebration. Easter was when God dealt with our problem of sin by the crucifixion and resurrection of his Son. Jesus died the death we deserve to pay the penalty for our sin, and then he rose from the dead to secure our new-creational, resurrection life. I think most Christians would agree with our conclusion – at this time of year many Christians rightly explain that the real marvel of Christmas is that Jesus came as a baby to grow up and die for our sins.

However, I am beginning to think that Easter actually points back to Christmas.

At Christmas we celebrate the fact that “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). When Jesus entered history as a baby boy, God dwelt with people in a visible, unique, incarnational way. That is the glory of Christmas!

But the dwelling of God with people is also the aim of Easter. The goal of the Gospel (which is the good news, the salvation news, of Easter) is that we get God and we get to glorify God in getting God. As the book of Revelation draws to a close (as the Bible draws to a close), the Apostle John writes: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3 ESV). God began to dwell with people at Christmas. And through Easter he definitively accomplished, once for all, his dwelling with people as we live with him, presently through union and communion with Christ, and then eternally as we behold him face to face (Rev 22:4).

So both holidays are glorious. Both holidays point to the awesome reality that we get God.

Therefore,the obvious application is that this Christmas we ought to make time to dwell with God. Seek him out while he may be found. Worship him. Commune with him in Scripture and prayer. Come and adore him!

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The Cream of Calvin’s Crop

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I enjoyed a great sermon yesterday that pointed out the difference between extraordinary miracles and the daily providence of God. Divine Providence is the Christian doctrine that God sees past, present, and future, and overrules all events in history with certain purposes, aims, and provisions for his creation – he provides and he does so sovereignly. It was a sermon that made me recall what I find is the most wonderful section of Calvin’s magnum opus – The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin, of course, is controversial, mostly because of his view of predestination and free will – and that’s ok – many good things are controversial and misunderstood. Anyway, regardless of where one lands on Calvin, there are rare gems underneath his view of God that are a real blessing for believers to cherish.

In my estimation, when we are discussing Calvin’s voluminous writings, the cream of the crop is in book one, chapter 17, and sections six and eleven of The Institutes (which was originally written as a Christian bedside devotional):

“The Christian, then, being most fully persuaded, that all things come to pass by the dispensation of God, and that nothing happens fortuitously, will always direct his eye to him as the principal cause of events, at the same time paying due regard to inferior causes in their own place. Next, he will have no doubt that a special providence is awake for his preservation, and will not suffer anything to happen that will not turn to his good and safety. But as its business is first with men and then with the other creatures, he will feel assured that the providence of God reigns over both. In regard to men, good as well as bad, he will acknowledge that their counsels, wishes, aims and faculties are so under his hand, that he has full power to turn them in whatever direction, and constrain them as often as he pleases. The fact that a special providence watches over the safety of believers, is attested by a vast number of the clearest promises.137 “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” “Casting all your care upon him: for he careth for you.” “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye.” “We have a strong city: salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.” “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” Nay, the chief aim of the historical books of Scripture is to show that the ways of his saints are so carefully guarded by the Lord, as to prevent them even from dashing their foot against a stone. Therefore, as we a little ago justly exploded the opinion of those who feign a universal providence, which does not condescend to take special care of every creature, so it is of the highest moment that we should specially recognise this care towards ourselves. Hence, our Saviour, after declaring that even a sparrow falls not to the ground without the will of his Father, immediately makes the application, that being more valuable than many sparrows, we ought to consider that God provides more carefully for us. He even extends this so far, as to assure us that the hairs of our head are all numbered. What more can we wish, if not even a hair of our head can fall, save in accordance with his will? I speak not merely of the human race in general. God having chosen the Church for his abode, there cannot be a doubt, that in governing it, he gives singular manifestations of his paternal care” (1.17.6).

“But when once the light of Divine Providence has illumined the believer’s soul, he is relieved and set free, not only from the extreme fear and anxiety which formerly oppressed him, but from all care. For as he justly shudders at the idea of chance, so he can confidently commit himself to God. This, I say, is his comfort, that his heavenly Father so embraces all things under his power—so governs them at will by his nod—so regulates them by his wisdom, that nothing takes place save according to his appointment; that received into his favour, and entrusted to the care of his angels neither fire, nor water, nor sword, can do him harm, except in so far as God their master is pleased to permit. For thus sings the Psalm, “Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust; his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday” &c. (Ps. 91:2-6). Hence the exulting confidence of the saints, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? The Lord taketh my part with them that help me.” “Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.” “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” (Ps. 118:6; 27:3; 23:4)” (1.17.11).

Translated by Henry Bevridge and copied from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.toc.html.

William Temple on Worship

I have very little exposure to the Church of England, although my Dad’s side of the family comes from that tradition. That said, I really appreciate this quotation from William Temple, an Anglican preacher and author who died in the 1940s:

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.
It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness,
Nourishment of mind by His truth,
Purifying of imagination by His beauty,
Opening of the heart to His love,
And submission of will to his purpose.
And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.”

-Archbishop William Temple

Why Christmas is such a Big Deal

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Why is Christmas such a big deal?

There is a Presbyterian Pastor in Idaho named Douglas Wilson who wrote a book about Christmas called “God Rest Ye Merry” and the book’s subtitle is striking: “Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything.” Really? Is Christmas really the foundation for everything?

Yes it is. At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation – when God, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Creator and Sustainer of the universe was born with little hands, little fingers, and a little heart. Little Lord Jesus was born – no crying he made? I doubt it. He was a real, human baby – that’s the point. God put on flesh and dwelt among us.

In John’s Gospel it says that “the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14 ESV). A more literal translation of that is “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” What? “Pitched his tent”? Yes Jesus came down and built a tent, a dwelling place, among us; in fact, he built a tabernacle, a tent. There was a time in the Old Testament where you went to the tabernacle to encounter God. And that is why Jesus “pitched a tent” as it were when he came to earth. When we come to Jesus we encounter God, which is why John goes on to say, “…and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). That is the wonder and glory of Christmas – when we encounter Jesus we come face to face with the living God, the same holy God who dwelt in the tent in the wilderness.

And that is the foundation for everything. Since Jesus came down we have a new and living way to come face to face with God. By Jesus, and through repentance and faith, we get to enjoy God, worship God, commune with God, and dwell with God in whose “presence there is fullness of joy” and at whose “right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

Merry Christmas!